Susan Olding: In Anna Karenina Furs

Olding makes sense of her own affair through an encounter with Tolstoy’s heroine @ Masionnueve.

So cold, it hurt to breathe. The squeak and crunch of snow beneath my boots, a flicker of lights from across the frozen lake. I walked quickly, swinging my arms, my whole frame vibrating, struck like a crystal goblet and still ringing. The cold, I told myself. It’s only the cold that makes me shiver.

It was mid-January, the night of my thirty-second birthday, in Kingston, Ontario, and I was on my way to my legal ethics professor’s house for supper. My husband, also a student—I’ll call him Arthur—was out of town, visiting his family. He hadn’t seen them over the holiday, and I’d sent him off with my slightly grudging blessing. Later, I felt sorry for myself. I didn’t want to be alone. So when my teacher, Mark—I called him that even then—stopped by to drop off some materials, I invited him for tea. We talked, and kept on talking, and eventually he suggested we continue the conversation over an evening meal.

Mark and his wife had separated a few years earlier, and she was living in their former home. He was renting a place from a colleague on sabbatical. The main rooms of the house were fronted with glass, and, as I approached it through the darkness, it glowed.

From the street, I could see Mark setting the table. I didn’t find him handsome. Although he was tall and dark, he was thin and wore nerdy eyeglasses. But I liked the way he moved. There was something graceful in the way he held himself, something deft and alert in his attitude. I thought about my husband, who was also tall and thin, but who seemed so much heavier, somehow, with his big raw bones. All autumn and winter, he’d been sleeping ten hours a night or more, and still he was always tired.

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