Holiday 2014 — THE POTOMAC

Kyiv Sestina

  Naomi Telushkin

               When I move to Kyiv, they tell me my phone is tapped, my calls recorded. "Not to worry," they reassure—"It's been standard procedure since the sixties." It puts me in a detective novel, makes me Bond, I feel like a spy. I imagine two men, one tall, one short, holding newspapers over their faces, eyeholes cut out, waiting and watching each charcoal morning as I leave my apartment. Winter in Kyiv is gray and raw, sunlight an occasion. My townhouse however, and those around it, are orange, blood red and green—colors bursting in the Ukraine winter like a butterfly.
               My boss enjoys playing the suave, in-the-know gentleman, the man with a dark past, a secretive spy. He comes from Tel Aviv, has a smoker's voice but a young man's body, broad shoulders of a heartbreaker in his twenties, hunched over like a man in his sixties. A secretary sits outside his office, young and blonde, a headband in her hair with a bow shaped like a butterfly. My boss asks me to type up stories about the Jewish community in Ukraine and send them to American donors, to send photographs of holiday events, synagogues, Jewish life recorded. I attend dinners with American donors when they come to Eastern Europe and my boss asks me to charm them on occasion. Charming donors really makes me feel like Bond, especially when I bring a charming donor back to my apartment.
               He makes fun of me, an idealistic girl in a lavish Kyiv apartment. He tells me it's better to make lots of money and live in New York and give charity on occasion. He is a tall man, well over six feet, and his skilled hands imprint themselves on my mind, his smirking eyes permanently recorded. When its over, we lie in bed and he tells me how he got ahead, how he surpassed older men for high positions, men in their fifties and sixties. He tells me all of his secrets for getting ahead and making lots of money, while running his hands over my back, and I curl and uncurl like a butterfly. He says the secret is knowing what's bullshit and what isn't, how to get past the bullshit and get inside information, like a spy.
               We go to the Lavra, the holiest site in Eastern Orthodoxy, and monks wear black robes for the occasion. I tell him about my imaginary men with newspapers on the way back; he pretends to look for them when we return to the apartment. The donor dwells on the white and gold churches of the Lavra and wonders if they were rebuilt, if they were destroyed in the sixties. I tell him they were preserved under the Soviet Union, that they are not remakes of anything, not beautiful versions of unbeautiful things, like a butterfly. He cannot fathom how the Soviet Union could have left any religious life recorded.
               I want to learn his secrets, I want to become like the donor and make money, be a wealthy socialite, a butterfly. The donor convinces me that I can, that I need to keep my eyes open for the right occasion. The donor tells me my boss is tricking me into staying, pretending my tiny salary and tapped phone are acceptable because of my fancy apartment. The donor says I should write down the things I have to put up with, the lack of drinking water and tapped phone, keep these things recorded. I can go to New York like him and do better, that I should contact him about job opportunities outside the apartment from Skype, like a spy. He says there are entry-level jobs in New York with salaries that start in the sixties.
               The donor left, back to New York and his business and a sky-rise apartment. My boss asks me what I said—he donated more money than anyone's donated since the sixties. I tell my boss I let him do all the talking, my boss asks if I kept his comments recorded. My boss says I should always note the words of a successful businessman, they will open up opportunities like a butterfly. I feel guilty, talking to my boss while I hatch an escape plan, an emotional spy. I feel so guilty I offer to take my boss to lunch, he laughs and asks, "What's the occasion?"
               We go to lunch, a café near my apartment, and I confess to my boss that I slept with the donor, that the donor seduced me like a butterfly. I tell my boss that there is no proof, that nothing of our night is recorded, but that I felt pressured into it because my boss told me to charm donors on occasion. My boss says I behaved ridiculously, I misinterpreted, that this isn't the fifties or sixties, my boss tells me I'm not a spy.

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