Academic journal article Chicago Review

From the Hall of the Singing Caryatids

Academic journal article Chicago Review

From the Hall of the Singing Caryatids

Article excerpt

Translated by Andrew Bromfield

Uncle Pete called a week later, when Lena had already gotten over it. The call came early in the morning. Lena's sister, who answered the phone, said: "Some hot shot's looking for you."

Lena didn't realize who it was at first, but when Uncle Pete called her "Yugoslavia" she guessed she must have passed the audition.

"I never had any doubts about you," Uncle Pete told her. "The moment you lifted that leg, I knew. ... Are you free this afternoon?"

"Yes," said Lena. "Of course."

"Know where the Radisson-Slavyanskaya Hotel is? Be there, at the entrance, at three, and bring your passport. You'll see someone holding a placard that says 'semiotic signs.' Go up to them."

"Why?"

"Because, my dumb little dolly, the person with the placard will take you where you need to go. What, you think it's something bad? Don't you worry, there's no more bad stuff to come. Only good stuff and very good stuff. Unless, of course, you forget how to blush. That's the most important thing in our business. ..."

And Uncle Pete laughed.

Lena was there at a quarter to three.

It looked as if the Slavyanskaya Hotel was hosting some event of enormous importance for global semiotics- there were several women in hotel uniforms standing at the doors, holding those placards in their hands. One of them checked a list and led Lena to the business center, where a whole crowd of semiotic boys and girls had already gatheredit reminded her a bit of September and the first day of school.

The woman in uniform took Lena to a small, semicircular conference room with black armchairs that was clearly intended for small, private presentations. Some girls she'd never seen before were sitting there. By force of habit, Lena went to the back row and sat down next to a petite girl with an Asiatic slant to her eyes who looked super Japanese.

"Asya," the Japanese girl introduced herself and smiled so enchantingly that Lena immediately realized the other girl had also passed the audition.

"Lena," said Lena, shaking the outstretched hand. "What's going to happen now?"

"I heard it's some kind of introductory session."

Lena looked round at the gathering. In all, there were twelve girls in the small conference room- they were all gorgeous, but so assorted, so different, as if specially chosen to play up the contrasting types of physical appearance- just to drive home the beauty. There were two black girls, one cocoa, two dark girls from Central Asia, two Japaneselooking ones with small, narrow eyes (Asya was more beautiful than the other one), and five generally European-looking girls: three blondes (Lena included herself), one brunette, and one with chestnut hair.

After a few minutes of waiting, Uncle Pete entered the room wearing a brown, double-breasted jacket over a black polo-neck sweater. He was accompanied by a young man with dark hair in a grey Zegna suit with a tie of such a discreetly elegant shade that any Ungering doubts Lena might have had about the seriousness of what would be happening were at once laid to rest.

Of this duo, Uncle Pete was clearly not the senior partner. He treated the young man very obsequiously, turning the microphone on for him and even brushing nonexistent dust off his chair.

After seating himself at the microphone, the young man looked round at the girls, smiled sadly, and started speaking.

"You know what's going on in the world right now, don't you, girls? The geopolitical confrontation between civilizations based on either the spiritual or physical has intensified to its breaking point. This is the result ofthat same secret tension of forces as in that early morning before the Battle of Kulikovo Field, as the Orthodox host awaited its hour of the star-and-cross. ..."

The young man glanced round sternly at the girls, as if hinting at who the Orthodox host would be this time around- but Lena had already figured that out ages ago. …

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