A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
(For Part VIII click here)
Somewhere around one in the morning, Karga decided that Madison’s attentive young man was getting a little too attentive and sent him home. After that, people began switching from raki to coffee and, with it, bowls of Turkish Dondurma ice cream, made from wild orchids. The party was winding down. There was no more dancing and the music was slower, sadder — like the stories, tinged with politics and tragedy. A little later, Taavi came back and Karga and several of the older men went out onto the balcony. Too shy to approach Sahin in person, most of the young people stayed at their own table, and Madison and Sylvia were pretty much left alone.
“I’ve never seen you dance before,” Madison said. “That was like totally hot.”
It was clear that Madison had been drinking.
“Not bad for an old lady, huh?”
“Did you really have a boat?”
“Umhum, it was a beautiful old sailing ship. I lived on it for a while.”
“Until the Russians blew it up.”
“Yeah, until the Russians blew it up,” Sylvia laughed.
“Weren’t you scared? Like, I’d be totally petrified if somebody tried to blow me up.”
“I don’t really remember. I guess I didn’t think about it at the time. There were just too many things happening for us to worry about being scared.”
“How come nobody knows about all this, like, in the family?”
“Well, dear, it’s not something you bring up around the dinner table. ‘Pass the pepper and, oh, by the way, I used to smuggle cigarettes and whiskey into the Soviet Union.’ Come on, Maddy! Can you imagine your mother?”
Madison laughed loud enough to ripple the conversation at the other table.
“That’s too good. She’s always going on about how me and Sara should experience life and get out there and do things and not get saddled with a husband and a bunch of kids.”
“Like she did?”
“Like you did.”
“No, no! I didn’t mean it like that. She loves you, like, lots. It’s just that’s she’s always talkin’ about how you never do anything without Poppa, and if it wasn’t for him, you might as well be in a convent. I’d love to see the look on her face if she knew what we were doing right now.”
“You can’t breathe a word about this, Maddy. This has got to be our secret.”
“Yeah, yeah, totally. But it would be funny.” Madison stopped laughing, “Does Poppa know?”
Sylvia exhaled and reached for her glass. She took a small sip.
“No-o-ot really. I always meant to tell him, but it never seemed to be the right time. And then, over the years, it just got to be embarrassing. Your Poppa’s a wonderful man, but how many men want to hear that their wives used to run with Turkish gangsters?”
Madison thought about that for a few seconds. She looked around the room, smelled the hot coffee flavour in the air and heard the music in the background, sweet and melancholy.
“Were you and Karga in a relationship?” she asked.
“You mean were we sleeping together? No, dear, we never did. He was married, and I was young and foolish. And, before you ask, I never slept with Teddy or Freddy either.”
“Oh, I thought they were gay.”
“Hmm, I never thought about it, but from what I remember, they probably had their innings. But let’s not talk about them right now. Teddy and Freddy aren’t a topic of conversation around here.”
“They stole Karga’s money, didn’t they? What would he do to them?”
“He’d kill them, dear.”
Madison saw the serious cloud cross Sylvia’s face, and she looked out at the men talking on the balcony. They might dance and laugh and tell funny stories, but these were dangerous men, and Sylvia had been part of that world. She looked across the table for some sort of reassurance, and Sylvia seem to read her mind and said, “They’ll be back in a minute. Let’s get some coffee. I know you don’t drink it, but try it. It’ll be a new experience for you.”
Madison relaxed a little bit.
“Tell me about your boat,” Madison said.
And Sylvia told her the story of the Sahin, silently slipping under the Soviet radar, quiet as a deer, her hold full of capitalist plunder. Then, waiting nervously off the beach, watching the dark horizons for patrol boat silhouettes, while Ukrainian fishermen unloaded their loot. And then, the last hatch closed, turning into the morning wind and full sail running for home.
“Then the bastard Spetsnaz turned her into firewood,” Sylvia said, her words harsh and bitter.
The big glass door opened, and Karga and the men came back into the room. The men started gathering up their various people and Karga walked over to Sylvia and Madison.
“We have to go Sahinim. There are many things we have to do. Do you remember Havuzlu in the Bazaar?
“Yes, I remember it.”
“You need to go there tomorrow, for lunch, at one o’clock.”
Sylvia didn’t speak, but her face was full of questions.
“Someone will meet you there. You can do this thing.”