Читать онлайн "Greasy Lake and Other Stories" автора Бойл Том Корагессан - RuLit - Страница 8

 
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This was my element, sun, wind, water, life pared down to the basics. Gulls hung in the air like puppets on a wire, spray flew up in my face, the shore sank back into my wake until docks and pleasure boats and clapboard houses were swallowed up and I was alone on the broad gray back of the river. After a while I eased up on the throttle and began scanning the surface for the buoys that marked my gill nets, working by rote, the tight-wound spool in my chest finally beginning to pay out. Then I spotted them, white and red, jogged by the waves. I cut the engine, coasted in and caught hold of the nearest float.

Wendy, I thought, as I hauled at the ropes, ten years, twenty-five, a lifetime: every time I look at my son I’ll see your face. Hand over hand, Wendy, Wendy, Wendy, the net heaving up out of the swirling brown depths with its pounds of flesh. But then I wasn’t thinking about Wendy any more, or Marie or Nathaniel Jr. — I was thinking about the bottom of the river, I was thinking about fins and scales and cold lidless eyes. The instant I touched the lead rope I knew I was on to something. This time of year it would be sturgeon, big as logs, long-nosed and barbeled, coasting up the riverbed out of some dim watery past, anadromous, preprogrammed, homing in on their spawning grounds like guided missiles. Just then I felt a pulsing in the soles of my sneakers and turned to glance up at the Day Liner, steaming by on its way to Bear Mountain, hundreds of people with picnic baskets and coolers, waving. I jerked at the net like a penitent.

There was a single sturgeon in the net, tangled up like a ball of string. It was dead. I strained to haul the thing aboard, six feet long, two hundred pounds. Cold from the depths, still supple, it hadn’t been dead more than an hour — while I banged at my own front door, locked out, it had been thrashing in the dark, locked in. The gulls swooped low, mocking me. I had to cut it out of the net.

Back at the dock I got one of the beer drinkers to give me a hand and we dragged the fish over to the skinning pole. With sturgeon, we hang them by the gills from the top of a ten-foot pole, and then we peel back the scutes like you’d peel a banana. Four or five of the guys stood there watching me, nobody saying anything. I cut all the way round the skin just below the big stiff gill plates and then made five vertical slits the length of the fish. Flies settled on the blade of the knife. The sun beat at the back of my head. I remember there was a guy standing there, somebody I’d never seen before, a guy in a white shirt with a kid about eight or so. The kid was holding a fishing pole. They stepped back, both of them, when I tore the first strip of skin from the fish.

Sturgeon peels back with a raspy, nails-on-the-blackboard sort of sound, reminds me of tearing up sheets or ripping bark from a tree. I tossed the curling strips of leather in a pile, flies sawing away at the air, the big glistening pink carcass hanging there like a skinned deer, blood and flesh. Somebody handed me a beer: it stuck to my hand and I drained it in a gulp. Then I turned to gut the fish, me a doctor, the knife a scalpel, and suddenly I was digging into the vent like Jack the Ripper, slitting it all the way up to the gills in a single violent motion.

“How do you like that?” the man in the white shirt said. “She’s got eggs in her.”

I glanced down. There they were, wet, beaded, and gray, millions of them, the big clusters tearing free and dropping to the ground like ripe fruit. I cupped my hands and held the trembling mass of it there against the gashed belly, fifty or sixty pounds of the stuff, slippery roe running through my fingers like the silver coins from a slot machine, like a jackpot.

Ike and Nina

The years have put a lid on it, the principals passed into oblivion. I think I can now, in good conscience, reveal the facts surrounding one of the most secretive and spectacular love affairs of our time: the affaire de coeur that linked the thirty-fourth president of the United States and the then first lady of the Soviet Union. Yes: the eagle and the bear, defrosting the Cold War with the heat of their passion, Dwight D. Elsenhower — Ike — virile, dashing, athletic, in the arms of Madame Nina Khrushcheva, the svelte and seductive schoolmistress from the Ukraine. Behind closed doors, in embassy restrooms and hotel corridors, they gave themselves over to the urgency of their illicit love, while the peace and stability of the civilized world hung in the balance.

Because of the sensitive — indeed sensational — nature of what follows, I have endeavored to tell my story as dispassionately as possible, and must say in my own defense that my sole interest in coming forward at this late date is to provide succeeding generations with a keener insight into the events of those tumultuous times. Some of you will be shocked by what I report here, others moved. Still others — the inevitable naysayers and skeptics — may find it difficult to believe. But before you turn a deaf ear, let me remind you how unthinkable it once seemed to credit reports of Errol Flynn’s flirtation with Nazis and homosexuals, FDR’s thirty-year obsession with Lucy Mercer, or Ted Kennedy’s overmastering desire for an ingenuous campaign worker eleven years his junior. The truth is often hard to swallow. But no historian worth his salt, no self-respecting journalist, no faithful eyewitness to the earth-shaking and epoch-making events of human history has ever blanched at it.

Here then, is the story of Ike and Nina.

In September of 1959, I was assistant to one of Ike’s junior staffers, thirty-one years old, schooled in international law, and a consultant to the Slavic-languages program at one of our major universities. 1 I’d had very little contact with the president, had in fact laid eyes on him but twice in the eighteen months I’d worked for the White House (the first time, I was looking for a drinking fountain when I caught a glimpse of him — a single flash of his radiant brow — huddled in a back room with Foster Dulles and Andy Goodpaster; a week later, as I was hurrying down a corridor with a stack of reports for shredding, I spotted him slipping out a service entrance with his golf clubs). Like dozens of bright, ambitious young men apprenticed to the mighty, I was at this stage of my career a mere functionary, a paper shuffler, so deeply buried in the power structure I must actually have ranked below the pastry chef’s croissant twister. I was good — I had no doubt of it — but I was as yet untried, and for all I knew unnoticed. You can imagine my surprise when early one morning I was summoned to the Oval Office.

It was muggy, and though the corridors hummed with the gentle ministrations of the air conditioners, my shirt was soaked through by the time I reached the door of the president’s inner sanctum. A crewcut ramrod in uniform swung open the door, barked out my name, and ushered me into the room. I was puzzled, apprehensive, awed; the door closed behind me with a soft click and I found myself in the Oval Office, alone with the president of the United States. Ike was standing at the window, gazing out at the trees, whistling “The Flirtation Waltz,” and turning a book of crossword puzzles over in his hands. “Well,” he said, turning to me and extending his hand, “Mr. Paderewski, is that right?”

“Yes sir,” I said. He pronounced it “Paderooski.”2

“Well,” he repeated, taking me in with those steely blue eyes of his as he sauntered across the room and tossed the book on his desk like a slugger casually dropping his bat after knocking the ball out of the park. He looked like a golf pro, a gymnast, a competitor, a man who could come at you with both hands and a nine iron to boot. Don’t be taken in by all those accounts of his declining health — I saw him there that September morning in the Oval Office, broad-shouldered and trim-waisted, lithe and commanding. Successive heart attacks and a bout with ileitis hadn’t slowed the old warrior a bit. A couple of weeks short of his sixty-ninth birthday, and he was jaunty as a high-schooler on prom night. Which brings me back to the reason for my summons.

     

 

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