What signifies this onrush that inspires terror?
— Nikolai Gogol (Dead Souls)
She was almost there. I could tell by the look on her face: eyes half closed, lips slightly parted, head thrown back—or nearly so. She wasn’t quite ready yet, but I knew it would happen. It was only a matter of time. I just had to be patient, focused, and not jump the gun. My own face was flushed. I had done this before, but I felt self-conscious performing before a crowd. I could feel a half dozen eyes flickering in the bar’s dim light, darting between me and Olya. I had to pace myself, but was taking too long. I was beginning to get embarrassed, though I was the one who had invited them to watch.
Class had let out about two hours earlier and Prof. A— had proposed that we continue the Gogol discussion at a nearby bar. En route, we walked together and I told him about this crazy thing Olya does, about the way she just erupts, leaving me overwhelmed and yet thrilled and terribly proud of myself, as though I had accomplished something monumental. Perhaps I had been a bit indiscrete sharing this with my academic adviser, but, with his curiosity piqued, Prof. A— confessed that he would like to see such a thing for himself. I assured him that this very night he would.
Olya had no idea she was the center of attention. She was drunk, as was much of the audience. I had more or less sobered up as a result of my efforts. God, it seemed like we’d been at this for hours! I was beginning to get distracted. My throat was dry. I wanted a drink. If I pulled this off, both Prof. A— and Misha had each promised to buy me a beer. I would accept one as my prize and give the other to Olya. It was the least I could do. Bets had been placed and the poor dear didn’t even know that she was the long shot.
I call Olya Tsvetya, which, in Russian, means “Flower.” But while she’s very pretty, with her dark eyes set daintily into her pale oval face, partly framed by a short bob of jet hair, she doesn’t generally project what I would call a sunny disposition. She can be sullen and down right combative in class or out to dinner. When she calls me at night from the street, I often have to keep the receiver at arms length from my ear as she curses and lays verbal waste to every “fohking asshole” who passes her on the street. With her, everything begins as an argument. If I call her up, there’s no cheerful “Hi, Kevin! I was just thinking about you!” awaiting me, just an insolent “What?” I wish I could say it was just her way of flirting, but it’s more like a fist fight.
No, I don’t call Olya “Flower” because she’s pretty or bright or bubbly, rather, because occasionally she wilts. One minute she’s standing firm, argumentative, and calling someone an idyot to their face, but get her well into her cups and her defenses begin to splay and droop like the petals of flowers left too long in the vase. Her bangs fall over her eyes and stick to her forehead. Her malevolent bravado is gone with her hair gel and she becomes something close to affectionate. In short, she loses all control. And that’s when it can happen.
After what feels like an eternity, I think I hear a moan, like a faint breeze, coming deep from the back of Olya’s throat. It’s soft, hardly audible, but—yes!—definitely there. Finally! Her hair has fallen over her face and a strange, dreamy smile is stretching her dark, full lips to either side of it. Her eyes, now nearly shut altogether, become soft, faraway, as if in a dream. It’s happening!
Another half-moan slips from her mouth, then another and another, in staccato! All eyes are on Olya while I keep at her. Her head is thrown back. The low, barely perceptible noises unite in one long rush, taking on an increasingly higher pitch until she’s undone altogether, erupting in a deafening fit of shudders, whinnies, and shrieks. I did it! It had taken everything I had. I feel used up, spent, exhausted, but terribly proud of myself. I look around at my classmates, who appear shocked by what they had just witnessed, as if they didn’t think it was possible—Olya giving herself over to such abandon! And in public!
Everyone in the bar is staring in our direction, stunned by Olya’s outburst as her convulsions begin to dissipate and she wipes away the beer that has somehow exited her nose. A waitress hurries over and tells us that if we’d like to stay we’d better keep it down. “Some customers are complaining about your group!” she admonishes, shooting Olya a particularly dirty look. Something about this sets Olya off again. A second time! And so soon after the first! Unheard of! She’s nearly screaming, her shrieks fill the bar, and more beer flows freely from her nose. We’re thrown out.
On the street, Prof. A— worries that this might get back to the department head, but adds that it was certainly worth it. “Quite remarkable. How did you do it? She doesn’t even laugh at Gogol.”
I hail a cab, pour Olya into it, and get in beside her. “That story you were telling…back in the bar…Did that really happen to you?” she asked as we pulled away from the curb.