For Victoria’s “WRITERS’ FOURTH WEDNESDAY: Character Development in Fiction” challenge

[…] Running towards the kitchen she felt the smell of burnt and she began to question her perception of time “How on earth didn’t I feel an hour going by?!” She opened the window and started the ventilator, then turned off the oven and took what was supposed to be a chocolate cake out of it. She felt like crying – not because of the damn cake, she could make another in no time. But a feeling of unexplainable frustration had taken control over her. She glanced at the tray, now smoked and black and filled with something that looked too much like ash and too little like pastry, and after swallowing the knot of tears that was forming in her throat she threw away the former cake and started to wash the dishes.

– Mama, chto ne tak? What’s wrong mama?

She was startled by the sound of Masha’s voice, and took a second to adopt a smile, then turned around and winked at her daughter:

– Nichego strashnogo, Masha. Nothing is wrong. Tvoya mama nemnogo glupa segodnya, your mama is only a bit silly today. I will have to make another cake dear, the one I made earlier got burnt.

– Mama is silly, mama is silly!

Masha began to laugh while repeating that, and jumping on one foot she headed towards the room where Tamara, her sister, was playing with some dolls. Her playful scansion brought a real smile on Karina’s face, easing in a certain manner her strange discomfort. She returned to the dishes in the sink and finished them, then took out the ingredients for a new cake. The sunlight was too dim that day over Samara and she thought while mixing the eggs that probably the only place one would have enjoyed such a day was the shore of Volga. With a touch of melancholy in her soul she stopped for a second and threw a glance towards the sky, remembering the long nights she used to spend on that shore years ago, before getting married, making campfires with her friends and singing with them whatever crossed their minds. “Ou sont les neiges d’antan?!” she wondered, then she smiled again and lowered her sight towards the bowl in her hands, concluding ironically “It’s worse than I thought if I’m starting to transpose the nostalgia into French instead of Russian or English…”.

Karina Ruseeva had been a brilliant English teacher some years ago, before the twins were born. “How thin is the border between feeling all and nothing…or at least feeling close to nothing…”. She missed the days when she had to deal with entire classes of high school teenagers, trying to explain them the mechanisms of a foreign language, breaking the rules of pedagogy and explaining to them that the meaning of a word was above grammar or phrase structure – that a language based first on structures and then on meaning was like a body without a soul – maybe perfect in its appearance, but with a hollow existence. “Hell, my whole life is just a grammar thing…”. Sometimes she used to prove her theories right by quoting the famous line from the Bible “At the beginning was the Word”. Not grammar, not structure, not writing. The WORD. Which her lessons always explained to be the bearer of immense quantities of energy and power, if placed in the correct circumstances and used because of the meanings implied. Karina knew that it was difficult for common teenagers to understand the complete implications of what she was explaining to them, but not just once she had had the most amazing surprise of pupils coming to her with linguistic issues and demonstrations, asking for help in matters she wouldn’t have dared to propose to them, digging deep and dissecting English and Russian literature and especially poetry in unorthodox ways. Those moments were priceless for her, when she had the chance of taking teaching a step higher, even if that meant for her to cut from her own spare time, getting that way on the nerves of some of her much older colleagues that were teaching in the same high school. Many of them had been relieved when she had to give up teaching because of the birth of her two daughters. As much as she loved children, in the second she had found out that she was going to be a mother Karina felt that her world was starting to diminish. She knew that her husband was crazy about kids, and she would have never considered an abortion, but deep down inside she wanted to cry, feeling that this pregnancy was going to limit her life in yet unknown ways. After bringing the girls to life, her deepest fears came true. Karina’s parents were dead for many years now, and the relationship with her in-laws was quite thorny, because they had always felt that a teacher, no matter how good, was no match for their sole son, engineer by profession. So Karina had to give up her own job in order to take care of the twins, because under no circumstances she and Alec could have ever afforded a babysitter, and that way the only financial source left was her husband’s job – one more reason for her in-laws to consider that their marriage should have never happened. And what was worse, was that Karina herself had more and more often moments when she thought the same. Never had her husband given her actual reasons to complain, he was an exemplary father for the two girls, no acts of unfaithfulness towards her, no vices – except for smoking, but considering that ever since the birth of Masha and Tamara he had contented himself of smoking only outside the house this could have hardly been considered anymore a vice – no violence…”But no passion anymore either” sighed Karina. She knew he was too preoccupied with providing for his family, which was a huge pressure already, and therefore things were somehow justified, so she knew she had no right to reproach him his always colder attitude. Some years ago, when she had met him, she thought he was “the one” destined to make her understand the meaning of “forever”. They were indeed very different one from the other, and many people didn’t actually see a marriage coming out of their relationship. But she had stubbornly clinched to the idea that all that mattered was that she and Alec wanted to be together. So she had willingly closed her eyes to all the differences, molding herself on his temperament and personality and wanting to believe that he was trying to understand her too. “Sheer stupidity…”. Too late had she realized that he had actually taken all her gestures for granted, as if deserved, and cared too little about her inner needs, about her passions and desires. However, now it was much too late for complaining, and the reality was that Karina’s life was slowly being reduced to just taking care of the two girls, which, no matter how pleasant an activity, was far from being enough for her spirit.

Reaching this point of self-analysis, that she had reached so many times already, Karina filled the cake-pan with the batter, turned on the oven and placed it inside, then cleaned the table and sat on a chair. She was aware that she had lied to Masha when she had said that everything was fine. But what could have a four-year-old understand from her throes?! “Well, except for those two angels, my marriage is toast, so I might just as well smear butter and honey on it and eat it for breakfast…after all, Alec will be home soon, and my time for self-pity is done for today. I can at least pretend I’m enjoying this simulacrum of a relationship for the sake of my girls…”. However it was more than obvious that she didn’t know for how long she was going to be able to preserve this image of “perfect marriage”. Or for how long she was going to WANT to do that. […]


© Liliana Negoi

(the fragment above is a part of my yet unpublished “Solo-Chess” novel – everything is pure fiction and any similarities to real characters is accidental – inserted here as a submission for Victoria’s “WRITERS’ FOURTH WEDNESDAY: Character Development in Fiction” challenge

4 Responses to “For Victoria’s “WRITERS’ FOURTH WEDNESDAY: Character Development in Fiction” challenge”
  1. I like how you use Karina’s experience and action with the failed cake (I can relate to that) to introduce her to your readers and ease into a bit of background. The dialogue also can tell a lot. I think you’ve set the stage for your story.Also, a good intro to the setting, that tells me a bit about her. I enjoy Russian novelists. May you rise to the top!

  2. Jamie Dedes says:

    Liliana, this is a lovely story with a protagonist we can love and relate to. I like the demonstration of her character that is revealed by the discussion of language. I also admire that you are not afraid to tackle a hot topic. Impressive. Though I recognize that this is a draft, just want to remind you to break that long paragraph down into shorter pieces so that readers are encourage to read on. A delight to study this. A job well done. Ditto Victoria – “May you rise to the top.” – I think you are well on your way. Thank you for participating in our event.

    Warmest regards,

    • Thank you Jamie, for gracing my page as always with your words and presence :). I’m glad that you like my text – and even gladder because of your kind suggestions :). Thank you again!

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