her head. ‘He didn’t. We know that.’
him, then. Or maybe he’s one of them.’
‘One of who? Are you talking about Koschei?’
‘What do you know about him?’ Tanya turned her attention on me, the fire relighting in her eyes. ‘Where is he? You know his real name?’
‘No,’ I said, getting to my feet. ‘I don’t . . . Galina told me about him. She said he—’
‘Who’s Galina?’ Tanya asked. ‘Where is she now?’
I picked up my hat. ‘There was an old woman here last night, one of the villagers. I knew her. She was a friend of my mother. Galina. She said someone called Koschei did this and I thought . . . I thought she was confused. I thought . . .’ I looked across at the old man’s body. ‘This was her husband, Sasha. Now I have to look for the others –’ I swallowed hard ‘– and I’m afraid of what I’ll find.’
‘Where is this old woman? I want to talk to her.’
‘Galina?’ I ran a hand through my hair and pulled on my hat, staring out at the lake. ‘She went into the water. Drowned herself.’
?’ Lyudmila asked.
‘Yes.’ When I looked at them, I saw the way the women watched me, something like suspicion in their eyes. ‘It’s the truth,’ I said. ‘Her husband dead, the others gone . . . I tried to stop her, but it’s what she wanted. I
her. She was my mother’s friend.’
‘But you let her go?’
‘It’s what she wanted. To be with the others.’
‘With the others?’ Tanya said, and she and Lyudmila glanced at one another, then they both looked out at the water. For a while neither of them said anything. All three of us were alone in that moment; each of us retreated into our own thoughts.
‘He likes to drown the women,’ Tanya said in a quiet voice. ‘Koschei. I’m sorry.’
It took a moment for her words to register. As she spoke them, they were just sounds without meaning, but as they unravelled in my mind, they brought a numbness, a crushing white weight bearing down on me.
He likes to drown the women
The words repeated like an echo of themselves and I saw Galina entering the lake, breaking the thin ice, disrobing, sinking and disappearing. Before she went under, though, she turned and looked at me and I saw that it wasn’t Galina. It was Marianna’s face that looked back at me from the water. Then she was gone, sinking, falling among the reeds and the dark unknown at the bottom of the lake.
‘—about Koschei?’ One of the women was speaking but the voice was like a distant whisper. An unimportant inconvenience. All that mattered was Marianna, and I began walking, moving towards the lake. It came to me that she might still be in there, moving gently in the depths with the other women, their faces white and bloated. Like my own mother, the lake had taken her in its watery embrace.
I repeated her name as I approached the water, saying it over and over, feeling the tightness of my heart and the overwhelming need to be with my wife.
The forest was no longer there. The wind stopped. The crows vanished. Nothing existed anymore. Only me, the lake and Marianna.
He likes to drown the women
I was almost at the water’s edge when hands gripped my arms and pulled me back.
‘There’s nothing you can do,’ Tanya was saying. ‘I’m sorry.’
I fought against her for a moment, stumbling back and falling so that I was sitting, looking out at the lake as if I had come to watch it on a warm spring afternoon.
‘There’s nothing you can do,’ Tanya said again.
‘You think she’s in there? Marianna?’
‘Maybe it was different here,’ Tanya said. ‘Maybe . . .’ but she didn’t finish. There was nothing she could say to change what had or hadn’t happened, and there was nothing I could do to find Marianna. If she was in the depths of the lake, she was gone for ever.
I pulled my coat tight against the cold.
‘Did the old woman tell you what he looks like? What’s his real name?’
Carol Durand, Summer Prescott