Tuesday, February 1, 2011

WIP, Struggles of different kinds

It seems I can’t help myself.
I am following my Valentina distraction in my WIP again.
She isn’t quite the only force in my writing at the moment though.

I have also been rewriting and shifting the perspective of a large chunk of what I have already written.
In my novel (as in the last) I write using multiple narrators. A fair portion is seen through the eyes of a woman who spends years living intimately with another. One has always been silent in terms of narration, the other verbally effusive. Now a change in plot (partly driven by Valentina) means I have to shift the speaker from one to the other.
It can be surprisingly hard to rewrite scenes from another viewpoint. I always want to stay true to the original, after all a character shared her story with me.
But no two witnesses ever see an event quite the same way so of course things come together differently.
It remains hard to draw the silent one in a partnership out.

Anyway today I have been following Valentina again. Three years have gone by since the end of the war and her rescue of the little girl in the ruins of Berlin. The Berlin Airlift is in full swing. Still in the Red Army, and with the Berlin wall still thirteen years in the future, Valentina plays tourist in West Berlin.

Once again this is a rough first draft.

Valentina Meshcova
Berlin 1948

The odds must have been vanishingly small.
I went to a UNICEF meeting in the American sector, as usual it was a near total waste of my time none of the proposals put forward were anything I could accept.
As I came out an airplane roared low overhead, for weeks now the whole city had shaken almost continuously with the sound of aircraft engines. The Berlin Airlift was in full swing.
A sudden desire seized me, I would take advantage of the remaining daylight and have a look at what must be a historical moment.

Stalin had decided to starve the city to force the Capitalists out. All of Berlin would be his.
The Americans in their usual way had refused to give in without a struggle.
American military security at the airport would not let me on to the airfield. I didn't argue although technically there was almost nowhere they were entitled to prevent a Soviet soldier going under the Four-Power Agreement that ruled the city.

Turned away from the field I went to the passenger terminal.
My aide remained in the Jeep, while my driver checked something under the hood.
It was one of life’s little ironies, half of the vehicles we were using in Berlin were American lend/lease vehicles left over from the war, while the British army was mostly using German Volkswagens.
Of course the Americans had plenty of their own to spare.

The terminal was crowded, a sea of military uniforms with the occasional civilian suit. My Red Army dress uniform attracted a lot of stares, most of them hostile. I ignored them, after all little is frightening after spending years under fire, or battling Soviet bureaucracy.

I stood in a large picture window at the front of the terminal and watched a continuous stream of transport aircraft landing and taxiing.
It was amazing. The capitalists' capacity was absolutely amazing. However this episode ended it would be remembered. No wonder they were largely able to shake off the effects of our blockade.

'Can we help you at all major?' The phrase from behind was in Russian, accented but good enough to impart sarcasm. I half turned toward the speaker, 'Bloody hell… Val.'
Only one person ever called me Val.
He stood with his hand over his mouth, shocked, uncomprehending.
He was as handsome as ever, maybe even more so.
When we had been lovers he had been drawn and tired, now he was fit and healthy. Incongruously he was in an army uniform, although when I knew him he had been in the navy.

I stood frozen, I had drowned and buried Ronnie a thousand times in my mind, anything to make being so hopelessly parted from him more meaningful.
Then, finally, with the work at the orphanage I had almost stopped thinking of him. I had not forgotten him, I could never forget him, but he no longer haunted every dream.

How I still longed for him, and here he was, flesh and blood, in front of me.
His hand brushed a wisp of hair from my cheek, and he gently, ever so gently cupped my scarred cheek in his hand.
I closed my eyes and placed my hand over his nuzzling into his touch kissing his palm. I didn’t believe in heaven but this must be what it would be like.

His eyes overflowing, he looked so tentative, as if I might turn to smoke and blow away.
‘Val, how… what?’
A wave of terror hit me. An agony of fear, he was my death.

My love and my death.

‘No, Ronnie, I can’t.'
I twisted and ducked under his hand.
I didn’t dare glance back, I couldn’t have kept going if I had seen his face. I pushed through the crowd. His voice plaintive behind me, ‘Val, wait, Valentina!’

My driver still had his head under the Jeep’s hood. As I clambered into the vehicle I shouted, ‘Get it going! We have to go!’
Alarmed, he dropped the hood. Ronnie appeared at my side while he was staring the engine. ‘Valentina what is happening? Val look at me…’
His face streaked with tears, crumbling, I trembled at his anguish. He reached for me, I fought his hands off. ‘Leave me alone!’
The jeep’s engine roared into life, ‘Get off me!’ I hissed, ‘Leave me alone, you will get me shot! SMERSH are everywhere!’

Bewilderment, then understanding lit his face, followed by burning hate. He dropped my arms like I was on fire.
With a crash of gears the jeep roared forward. I looked once over my shoulder at his blazing eyes. Then I doubled up and did what no true Soviet Major would ever do, I sobbed uncontrollably.


Kathleen Jones said...

The meeting and its ending have real power, Al. Your new book is shaping up well! Three cheers for commuting?

Old Kitty said...

Oh poor Ronnie!!! What's going on? Why is he being spurned??

As always - I love how you are able to gel the big picture (the political aftermath of WW2) with the more personal one of Valentina and poor Ronnie!!! Take care

Al said...

Hi Kathleen,
Thank you!
Commuting by train is doing wonders for for my WIP so yes three Cheers!

Hi Jennifer,
I agree poor Ronnie. And poor Valentina.
Thank you!