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NATASHA by Vladimir Nabokov (Fiction from The New Yorker)

from The New Yorker


NATASHA by Vladimir Nabokov

 

In the stairs Natasha ran into her neighbor from across the hall, Baron Wolfe. He was somewhat laboriously ascending the bare wooden steps, caressing the bannister with his hand and whistling softly through his teeth.

“Where are you off to in such a hurry, Natasha?”

“To the drugstore to get a prescription filled. The doctor was just here. Father is better.”

“Ah, that’s good news.”

She flitted past in her rustling raincoat, hatless.

Leaning over the bannister, Wolfe glanced back at her. For an instant he caught sight from overhead of the sleek, girlish part in her hair. Still whistling, he climbed to the top floor, threw his rain-soaked briefcase on the bed, then thoroughly and satisfyingly washed and dried his hands.

Then he knocked on old Khrenov’s door.

Khrenov lived in the room across the hall with his daughter, who slept on a couch, a couch with amazing springs that rolled and swelled like metal tussocks through the flabby plush. There was also a table, unpainted and covered with ink-spotted newspapers. Sick Khrenov, a shrivelled old man in a nightshirt that reached to his heels, creakily darted back into bed and pulled up the sheet just as Wolfe’s large shaved head poked through the door.

“Come in, glad to see you, come on in.”

The old man was breathing with difficulty, and the door of his night table remained half open.

“I hear you’ve almost totally recovered, Alexey Ivanych,” Baron Wolfe said, seating himself by the bed and slapping his knees.

Khrenov offered his yellow, sticky hand and shook his head.

“I don’t know what you’ve been hearing, but I do know perfectly well that I’ll die tomorrow.”

He made a popping sound with his lips.

“Nonsense,” Wolfe merrily interrupted, and extracted from his hip pocket an enormous silver cigar case. “Mind if I smoke?”

 

[ click to continue reading story at newyorker.com ]

Posted on June 20, 2008 by Editor

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