Dinner at Mikhail and Igor's
© 2003 Linda Eisele
Mikhail turned the stereo on. Strains of Chopin drifted through the living room. He placed the hand-crocheted doily his mother made for his bride, Luticia, in the center of the dining room table, weathered fingers smoothing white lace. He arranged daisies and roses from his garden in the crystal vase. His son, Igor, was bringing home a girl. He remembered the night he brought Luticia home. His father prepared a feast... long ago, far away. He sighed.
When Luticia was pregnant, she and Mikhail left Russia to immigrate to America. The new culture made her spoiled. When she was thirty-five, she left him and their seven-year old son. It was hard raising Igor alone. Mikhail taught Russian to students from the university, helped Igor with his homework in the evenings, shopped, cooked, cleaned, washed and ironed. He researched Russian music in his spare time, if there was any. He was mother and father to the boy, but it was worth it. Igor had grown into a healthy young man. He made acceptable marks in school and he loved music, even if the rock music he played with his band wasn't exactly Mikhail's taste.
"A good boy, my Igor. Yes. He has rhythm and style. If only he would not drink so much. Perhaps this new girl will calm him down. Studying medicine: a serious profession for a woman. Perhaps she will provide the mother's touch my boy has missed."
The borsch, a red beet soup made just the way his father taught him, was ready; roastbeef in the oven. Mikhail added a dollup of butter and fresh cream to the mashed potatoes.
Igor drove his old Nissan across town to Natasia's apartment. She was the most lovely girl he had ever met. He spotted her watching him from the audience at a concert. When he smiled at her from the stage, she smiled back. She was elegant and tall with shoulder-length, auburn hair and skin so pale it seems to glow. Gold flecks dotted the irises of her almond-shaped eyes. During a break, he pushed his way through the crowd to reach her. He couldn't believe it when she agreed to meet him. He hoped his father, near-sighted, absent-minded and clumsy, wouldn't make too big a fool of himself. "Oh well. I can't put off the inevitable forever. And Dad is Dad." He slipped a CD of his band's rock music into the CD player before climbing out of the car to ring her doorbell.
Shutting the oven door with a smile, Mikhail surveyed the fresh strawberries from his garden, homegrown salad, dill and chives from the flower pot on the window sill, everything washed and ready to serve. He whipped the cream, then arranged silverware and china on the dining room table. Should he light a candle? The living room reminded him of Luticia. He dipped a spoon into the cool, creamy borsch and lifted it to his lips -- perfect: pour it into bowls, add a swirl of sour cream, a sprinkling of chives, and...
The pot lid fell from Mikhail's hand and landed in the soup splattering the stove top, the carpet, and his shirt red. His eyeglasses tumbled to the floor. Setting the soup spoon on the counter, he knelt and patted the carpet. "Good heavens, Igor!"
"Let me help you Mr. Petrovinski." Kneeling beside him, the blurred figure of a woman, hair the color of borsch, a smear of cream, two dark spots for eyes and a smudge of pink where lips must be. Natashia slipped the glasses over Mikhail's ears and came into focus. She was the most bewitching creature he had seen since Luticia walked out their front door. "Here, let me help you clean this up." She reached for a washrag.
"Thats o.k. He can handle it now that he's got his eyes back." Igor took the rag from her, flushed it with cold water, squeezed, and handed it to his dad. Mikhail stood and drew in a breath, sharply, barely noticing the wet rag dangling from his fingertips as he drank in the vision before him. "Oh, yeah," Igor added, "Natasha, my dad, Mikhail Petrovinski. Dad, this is Natashia."
"Enchanted my dear."
"Likewise, I'm sure," she smiled, amused.
"Why don't you two lovebirds take your places at the table in the dining room. No harm done here. I'll be with you in a minute."
When they were alone, Natashia whispered to Igor, "Your dad is so cute."
"Sort of a klutz, but he's got a heart of gold and he's a great cook. He's been working on this meal for you for two days. Wait'll you taste his dessert. He's so proud of his borsch; always bragging how he got the recipe from his dad back in Mother Russia, like hinting that maybe I should learn it, too."
"Maybe you should."
"Yeah, sure. Rock musician cooks."
"The way to a woman's heart is through her stomach. He has excellent taste in music, too."
"Don't you think this stuff's a little slow? Let me put on something with a bit more beat." Igor slipped a new CD into the player. Drumbeats filled the room. A steel guitar slid down an octave followed by a plaintive wail.
"Couldn't we listen to the music your father chose? I think it fits better. He's gone to a lot of trouble creating this atmosphere. Look at these flowers!"
"He grew those himself, just like the vegetables you'll be eating. He's sweet, but so old-fashioned it's unbelievable. I think his soul is back in Mother Russia. He tries his best to bring her here."
"I think that's wonderful. People ought to hold onto their traditions. It's romantic. Men used to know how to win a girl's heart. My mother tells me stories. The world back then sounds so much simpler, clearer, kind of beautiful."
"Yeah, but what about all the rest that goes along with that old stuff: 'a man's home is his castle,' and, 'a woman's place is in the home.' That doesn't fit in with your plans, now does it Madame Doctor-to-be?"
"Don't you think it's possible to have both?"
"How would I know?"
"Sure." Igor replaced the CD. A ripple of piano filled the room, then violins soothed by an oboe. Mikhail returned carrying two bowls of borsh. "Just like in Mother Russia," he exclaimed, proudly.
"Thanks to 'good ol' Mother Russia,' I have to go through life with a name like Igor. Sounds like a character from a horror film."
"Igor is sweet," she giggled.
"I'm changing my name, Dad. Lenin. That's a good Russian name. Kind of Russian and kind of American."
"Igor, we've been through all this before. Please. Not now. Not in front of the lady." Mikhail placed the soup bowls in front of the young people with the loving care of a five-star waiter. Natashia leaned over her bowl, closed her eyes, and inhaled. "Mr. Petrovinski, I believe you have created a masterpiece."
"Why thank you, my dear." He returned to the kitchen, beaming.
" 'Created a masterpiece!' What's gotten into you, Natasha?"
"Your dad has gone to so much trouble. Come on Igor, be nice."
"He's calling you 'my dear!' What's gotten into him, too?!"
Mikhail returned with another bowl and sat down at the head of the table. "Some wine, my dear?"
"That would be lovely." Natashia gazed at Mikhail's face as he poured.
"Igor?" Mikhail asked.
"Uh, what do you think, Dad?!"
With gracious calm, Mikhail poured the wine. As dinner progressed, he and Natasha sipped as they talked about Russia, history, politics, travel. Igor refilled his own glass again and again.
"You are Russian," Mikhail stated.
"My parents were. They moved to America before I was born."
"Ah! Like my lovely wife, Luticia, and I before our little Igor was born."
"Dad!" Igor groaned and downed another glass.
Natasha continued. "I grew up here. I feel American, but I think I would love Russia, at least from what my mother says, and from what you have told me." She gazed into his eyes. A trickle of harp music washed over them. "Oh, I love this! The harp is my favorite instrument. I wanted to take lessons when I was a child. My mother gave me a choice: harp or piano. Harp lessons cost twice as much, so I chose piano. Maybe it was a mistake. Mother would have paid for the harp. She was always ready to do anything for us. But I was worried that maybe we didn't have the money. I've never stopped loving the music, though."
"Who is your favorite composer?" Mikhail inquired.
"Chopin. Definitely Chopin. I love the way he makes his chords combine and, you know, migrate through the variations."
"Migrating chords! Jesus, Natashia!" Igor downed another glass and poured some more.
"Do not swear, Igor, especially in front of the lady," Mikhail reprimanded.
"Oh cut the crap, Dad."
"I am sorry my dear. I do not know what has come over my son."
"Whats gotten into me!? Christ, Dad! You too, Natashia!"
"I think your son has had a little too much to drink." She lifted the wine bottle and set it on the table between her and Mikhail. "Dinner was lovely, Mr. Petrovinski."
"Thank you, my dear. I am very glad you have enjoyed it. Why do you not call me Mikhail?"
"Thank you, Mikhail. I will."
"Oh for heaven's sake." Igor slouched deeper into his chair and held his forehead.
"I'm afraid I must be going. I have class early in the morning. I don't think Igor is in any shape to drive me." She looked at Mikhail, hopefully.
"I would take you, my dear, but because of my eyesight, I cannot have the license to drive. I will call you a cab."
"That would be wonderful. Thank you, Mikhail."
When the doorbell rang, Mikhail held Natasha's coat as she slipped her arms into the sleeves. He held the door for her and accompanied her outside and down the steps. The screen door shut behind them. Igor stood and gazed at it. Awkwardly, he carried the dishes into the kitchen and piled them into the sink. He drained water from the vase into a potted plant and tossed the roses and daisies into the compost bin. He poured the rest of a bottle of red wine over the dishes, walked to the CD player in the living room, and turned the knob to off.