Елена Вахненко

Great-grandmother's portrait

The English version of the story "Портрет прабабки"

The original version of the story (in Russian)
The Ukrainian version of the story

 

The portrait took up almost a half of the wall and actually dominated over the room, suppressing all around with its own grandeur. And the woman in the picture was very alive, soulful... nearly breathed. She smiled mischievously and a little playfully, contemplating the world with her almond-shaped eyes.

-She’s beautiful... - Oleg said thoughtfully, looking at the portrait.

-My great-grandmother! - Kate replied proudly. - We’re said to be very similar! Is it true, how do you think?

Trying to see these similarities, the guy looked at his girlfriend…. He’d found something in common, of course: the same fine-moulded face, the same soft black curls... however, Kate seemed too simple, there was not much class about her. She was a real Tomboy next to her noble great-grandmother... Well, with Kate’s jeans and t-shirt, such a simple garment, she couldn't impress anybody… another matter, the drawn gorgeous brunette, who showed off a refined and exquisite black-and-purple outfit and coquettish lace bonnet that emphasized deep jet-black color of her hair. Oleg admired this charming headdress, which reminded him of an elegant female jewelry. Cuties of the past centuries knew how to present themselves properly!.

-She's your real copy! - Oleg said, smiling widely.

Girlfriend winked playfully at him and took a cutesy pose, in imitation of an actress in the role of an ancient aristocrat. Oleg was tempted to frown, but restrained himself again. He didn't want to see an angry grimace on her pretty face, didn't want to fight (a fight would be inevitable!)... his desires were much more simple and mundane... and, alas, so obvious! Following this obvious mundane desires, the guy ran his eyes over the rounded bulge of Kate's chest, well drawn under a thin t-shirt.. though he should say something... he could not keep silence forever!..

-So, you have the aristocratic origin, - Oleg told to her in a serious tone, hiding a smile.

Kate didn't feel the mockery.

-Yes, - she replied. - I was told so... during the revolution we had lost everything... not just money and position in society, but many family members too, - a note of easy complacency sounded in the girl's voice.

Oleg, being completely unimpressed, only stifled another yawn. An unexpected transformation of the frivolous beauty into the aristocratic lady with a tragic story didn’t pleased him, and her pompous tale seemed boring. The guy was familiar with Kate not so long ago, their romance had been developing according to the standard sample and, given young Casanova's rules, had to go through well-defined "development stages". And that's why this abstruse conversation was very, very inappropriate...

Oleg, smiling gently, began working more actively: he told a couple phrases that meant nothing, about beautiful great-grandmother, mentioned her charming granddaughter... and then proceeded aggressively with the practical side of things… Kate didn't resist and reacted willingly... Ten minutes later they were enthusiastically kissing on a comfortable couch, having forgotten about the "portrait lady".

At least Oleg had forgotten. Kate, as it turned out, hadn't.

-You know, her name was Olga... - the girl whispered between kisses and quite out of place. - Oleg and Olga... you fit each other, huh?

Oleg who did not think so at all, cursed the moment when he’d seen this damn portrait. Irritably moving away from the girlfriend, the guy asked angrily:

-Is it really necessary to discuss this right now?!

-What's wrong? - she blinked with incomprehension, having sat down on the sofa and touching her hair distractedly. - What did I do?

Oleg didn’t say anything. What's the use of explaining?! The mood had been spoiled anyway! A waste of time and money! Turns out, he had been courting his lady for nothing! Both flowers and little gifts presented by him, had gone in vain too. Eh... it's not worth continuing... no sense... alas!

Oleg felt such “embarrassing moments” instinctively and knew that the situation couldn't be corrected. There'd be no pleasure with Kate... well, maybe another time, and maybe never!

Having made the decision, Oleg opened his mouth to give some impromptu excuses, but said nothing. He detected with surprise and even panic, that a modern furnished Kate's room had disappeared, and disappeared along with its pretty hostess! By some miracle (that's really the right word!) the guy found himself in a completely different, unfamiliar room with elegant antique interior, perhaps, the bedroom... the bedroom that couldn't belong to his native and beloved 21st century! It was clearly a different era…

The main space of the room was occupied by a luxurious bed, covered with white starched linen where a lady (not Kate, a completely different girl!) sat among the pillows and blankets. The unknown young woman dressed in a foam-white nightgown, had marble-pale thin face and long jet-black curls and was wonderfully charming. She thoughtfully thumbed the plump leather-bound book, absently biting her lower lip. The sight of such a touching spectacle made Oleg feel the tenderness... what's up with him?! He went crazy?

-Who are you? - Oleg asked, confident that he wouldn't get an answer. And so it was -  a hallucination not talking to him, continued reading the book. Apparently Oleg was not a participant now, but just a spectator... uninvited witness of the distant past!

-Mother will get angry at me, if she sees you reading this book again, lady, - a female voice said disapprovingly, and a middle-aged and average-looking woman in a uniform outfit stopped next to the bed. The maid, as Oleg concluded.

The young lady frowned with annoyance, running her eyes over the page:

-You do not say, Nina, - the voice was velvety and deep. And through this tender sounding Oleg’d almost fell in love with the unknown pretty girl…

Nina sighed, shaking her head:

-Of course, Lady Olga. But it's still wrong for the young lady to read this kind of books…

Olga?! This was Olga?! Shocked, Oleg stared at the beautiful white face, looking for resemblance with the portrait. Well, Olga in this room, Olga who nestled down in bed with the book in her hands, was much younger, just a child (about sixteen years old!), while the age of the “picture lady” was close to thirty or at least 25... and still they were both pretty... However this Olga, the young one, really lacked the soft charm, which according to the artist, was going to appear later... but Oleg liked her anyway, she was so touching and fragile right now.

The guy didn't understand what was happening, and what trouble he'd got... moreover, he didn't want to think about it... didn't want to doubt the power of his own mind. Young man’s thoughts were full of her, of Olga. Mystic, no less! In the end, he could not have suddenly fell in love with a long-dead girl he saw for the first time in his life! It'd be rediculous!

-What's wrong with this book? -  Olga muttered lazily, still not looking away from the page. - It's just love lyrics... you had better bring me some milk with honey.

-Okay then... - Nina mumbled and left the room, continuing to discontentedly grumble under her breath.

And Oleg being almost tete-a-tete with the comely girl now, felt a strange excitement, forgetting about his unusual phantom role in this "dead" world.

“Love lyrics! - he mentally smacked, shaking his head. - I wonder what she's reading?... poems about love? Erotica?”

Oleg sighed, recognizing the absurdity of his own assumptions. In the end of the NINETEENTH century girls from good families were unlikely to be allowed reading erotica... of course it could have also been the beginning of the twentieth century, but who cares?

“Stop! - Oleg thought with horror, involuntarily turning pale. - And if it's the 20th century?.. What had Kate been telling me about the tragic history of her family?”

Damn, why didn't he listen?! Why didn't he ask what fate was waiting for this lovely lady?! The guy felt annoyed, although he didn't understand the reasons of his own anxiety. Why did he care so much what kind of life this black-eyed beauty had lived, how she had met her death?!

At that very moment Olga as if having felt someone's presence, raised her head and looked at Oleg… and she seemed to have seen him! There was surprise in her eyes, beautiful lips trembling… he was expected for a question that definitely had to sound, but it didn't…

The fog had enveloped the room, dampness had filled the air... Oleg leaned forward with despair, he reached for the melting Olga's image... but he wasn't able to stop something beyond his understanding. The only thing he could do was sitting and waiting for... for what?! He didn't know.

Fortunately, the wait didn’t last too long; the haze had been gradually dissipated, and the guy saw that the action scene had changed, but never returned to his native time. Now there was a huge ball room, much more bigger than Kate's one. However, Oleg ceased being surprised about strange time travel - or, at least, decided to postpone his doubts for later, for now he had become an obedient and silent spectator.

He’d found Olga almost immediately - she stood a little distance in a company of an older lady, probably her mother.

“I guess parents were looking for suitable grooms for their daughters at the parties like this one...” - Oleg assumed not quite confident and felt, to his own surprise, a twinge of jealousy. The idea of Olga marrying someone else, was unpleasant... even if such a nice instance as Kate was going to see the world many decades later!

The thought of Kate was fleeting, even accidentally, it had gone, hardly having been born. Oleg's attention was fully captured by Olga’s loveliness. Guy's eyes were literally caressing girl's slender body, he openly admired her using the privilege of his own invisibility.

So gorgeous! In light ball gown, with a tiara in her blue-black hair, she resembled a fairytale Princess, overshadowing all the women in the room who seemed to have darkened around her beauty. Some of them were dressed too bright, clumsy, others did not attract with their faces or postures... and someone looked too tired and unhappy. And Olga was giving off a clean glow of youth, beaming smile; she was obviously enjoying every passing moment. Perfect, just perfect!

Oleg suppressed a sigh, regretting that he could not invite her to dance. The guy imagined himself waltzing with Olga, gently hugging her beautiful slim body… feeling a stirring warmth... smelling skin, hair... he had never experienced such tenderness to other girls in the past. Passion - yes, it happened, and many times, but the tenderness... no, he did not know this feeling before! Maybe the reason was Olga's mysterious inaccessibility?

But what's the difference? Oleg wanted her in every sense of the word, he wanted at least to dance with her... and could not, could not... and own helplessness was literally killing him, he was not used to inactivity!

And it was especially annoying to watch other men in the room gladly taking the opportunity that he lacked. Oleg hated everyone who invited Olga to dance and even more - those who had recieved her desirable "Yes", who enjoyed her smiling when music playing...  one of them might become her husband. The father of her children. Kate's Great-Grandfather…

“Why do I care?! - Oleg asked himself again and again. - Why is it irritating me?!”

He asked into the void, no one could answer him…

 

It all ended as suddenly as it had begun. A moment ago, Oleg was in the great hall, and here he is again sitting on an old tattered couch next to scared and uncomprehending Kate. The guy wondered how long he had been absent? Or everything that happened took no real time?

Everything that happened, ha! As if he knew what had happened... maybe it was just his imagination, or even the insanity of his mind? Otherwise the Olga’s portrait would have had magical properties... which acted very selectively, choosing men who had a thing for exquisite dark-eyed female strangers.

“Nonsense!” -  Oleg noted mentally, trying to recover himself. It was not easy: the mind had not been cleared up, the room was slightly blurred, so the guy was doing his best to turn the attention to Kate.

“She really looks just like Olga! She only needs to wear dresses and skirts...” -  he thought with surprise, eyeing the girl. The same aristocratic pallor, the same grace of physique, the same soft smile and huge bright eyes… Well, of course, she was short of Olga's self-confidence, her ability to behave as a true lady. However, it was fixable! In the end, every woman blooms when it comes to love…

“Strange idea!” - Oleg surprised. Could he really fall in love?... with her, with Kate?

Yes, he definitely could!

The thought was unexpected and a little frightening. Oleg was sure his destiny would consist of many mistresses and frivolous girlfriends... he wanted to live a free bachelor life, without any obligations... well, the guy was going to get married one day but his future wife would have to be chosen rationally. No feelings, only cold logic.

And now his habitual beliefs had lost their power, just “flew out the window,” as the Americans say. Everything he believed lost the meaning... amazing!

-What's wrong with you? - Kate spoke up, anxiously looking at Oleg. - Are you okay?

-No... - Oleg said after a pause, listening to himself. - No, I'm not okay…

The guy reached out to her and stroked her cheek gently, imagining as he was touching Olga... in fact, they were so similar! The girl's skin was soft, pleasantly cool... resembled silk.

-What's wrong with you? - asked Katya again, her voice sounded tender.

“I think I'm falling for you...” - he'd like to tell to her, but did not dare to pronounce the fatal words out loud and just said:

-I think there can be something between us... something special

It was not of course a Declaration of love... but it meant a lot, too. And given the joy in Kate's beautiful eyes, she knew it. And fully shared his feelings...

There really could be something special between them. In the end... why not?!

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