Natalya stood on the porch, her eyes glued on the mountains in the distance. The sun was beginning to set. It was pretty, or at least it would be to somebody who appreciated the beauty of nature.
Natalya wasn’t the kind of person who appreciated the beauty of nature. The only things Natalya appreciated were tangible goods, such as Hermes Birkin bags and vintage Chanel. Diamonds. She appreciated diamonds.
She also appreciated the importance of a man to provide those things frequently, abundantly, and with little to no nagging. Natalya thought of her husband and nearly smiled. Such a dear man.
Her smile faded. Too bad he forced her to live in this horrible country far from her family, friends, and decent shopping. Natalya tightened her ostentatiously Burberry cashmere shawl tight around shoulders. Not that she was cold… she was a Muscovite, for God’s sake… it was only that this place was damp, like London, but worse, because at least London was London.
This place was nothing, filled with nothing people that were worth nothing, meant nothing, whose little lives came and went with absolutely no relevance. She rubbed her forehead. Poverty made her head hurt.
Unlike the native population, Natalya was not a nothing. Natalya’s father had been rich and war made him richer still. She attended Heading Hall, finished up at Marlborough College, and achieved her undergrad degree at Harvard. It was all quite posh and exceedingly unnecessary. Education for the sake of education. After all, Natalya would never work. Perish the thought.
Her family picked out her husband, as was appropriate for a woman of her status. He was fine. Dear, even. Secretly, it bothered her being married to a man who was so old that he once courted her mother, but she was an obedient child. Love… money… love… money. The world rarely gives you a choice.
Once they were married, her husband received his marching orders. His job was something… she didn’t know and cared even less. What she knew was that he was rich, and that it required him to live in the Western Hemisphere until things were settled.
This would have been fine, because New York, but no-ooo. They had to live in the south. Or west. West of Virginia? Whatever. Somewhere, where there were lots of poor people, and lots of other people who were poor but who thought they weren’t.
Those were the ones who truly confused her. When she first arrived, she had accompanied her husband to dinner with the newly appointed governor–a greasy old man who kept accidentally on purpose poking her breasts with his elbow–and his wife, a former stripper, who insisted on showing off her mink coat collection.
“I just love me a good mink coat,” the stripper had said in her horrible accent. “They’re so soft and furry. Feel how soft.” She tried to shove the sleeve in Natalya’s face, but Natalya managed to dodge it. “Don’t you want to feel?”
Natalya had gone to the bathroom and thrown up. Not from the fur, but from the woman’s perfume. Whatever it was, it was nauseating.
After the dinner, she’d come back and taken an hour-long shower. That was the thing about poverty… it stank and would make you stink if you didn’t wash it off right away.
Just thinking about those people… she shuddered and got out her tin of Bach Rescue Pastilles.
Still. She wanted to be a good wife. Chin up and all that. She could handle the Transition. It would only be for a few months, then they could go back to Paris and she could brag about to her boarding school friends about it. Until this morning, when her husband finally admitted that they would have to stay between five to ten years.
Five. Or. Ten. Years? Five or ten years in this hell? Natalya began to shake. “Nikky!! No! We can’t! I’ll be… I’ll be… I’ll be ancient!”
“We’re a little behind,” her husband admitted as he put on his cuff links. “These people… they can be stubborn. There’s a real hardheadedness here that’s to their detriment.” He plucked out a stray nose hair. “It’s a shame, how they act against their interest.” He plucked a second. “Day after day, the trains go out full.” He met her eyes in the mirror. “Soon there will be no one left.”
“Is that such a bad thing?” she asked.
“Natalya.” He frowned. “You’re better than that.”
God. He could be so sentimental. “Nikki, I want to go home!” She pointed at herself. “I hate it here! Me. Me, me, me! I want to go home! It’s dirty, and everyone is poor, and they all have such strong accents!”
Her husband sigh. “We’ll go home when we have won the peace.” He slipped on his jacket and checked his phone. “Why don’t you go to the house? Meet with the interior designer. Once you get involved in the community, you’ll see. Show them we don’t have to be enemies.” He patted her head. “Be a diplomat.”
She yanked her hand free. “No! I don’t want to be a diplomat! I want to go to fashion week!” She burst into tears. “You’re horrible, and my life is horrible!”
“Try? For me?” He pushed her hair back. “There’s a Birkin in it, for you.”
She sniffed. “I can’t be bought.”
“It’s not buying. It’s incentive.” He kissed her. The door slammed.
“Nikki? Nikki! Wait! What color Birkin?” Too late. He was gone. Figures. He could never understand her pain.
Oh, well. A Birkin was a Birkin. She got up, rolled out of bed, and got dressed. An hour an a half later, she stood on the veranda of this 200-something year old house with the interior designer her husband picked out, a thickish woman somewhere between thirty and fifty.
Natayla curled a lip. Why were they all so fat?
“Gorgeous, isn’t it?” the interior designer asked with a nervous smile. “Imagine having breakfast out here every morning. So-ooo romantic. I was thinking something playing that up with varying shades of white, and letting the landscape bring in the color.”
What a horrible accent. Can’t she hear herself? “Monochrome rooms are dated,” she sneered, “I like color. Have you any plans for the grounds?”
“Well, the estate consists of nearly three hundred acres.” The interior designer’s cheeks burned a bright crimson. “One hundred are developed and can be farmed, if you so choose. In fact, if you’re interested, I can give you the names of several local people–“
“I am not interested. We have our own people.” Natalya pointed at an odd shaped hedge in the distance. “What is that?”
“Oh! That’s a hedge maze!” The interior designer perked up. “We’ve been looking for it. It’s over 200 years old and was based on a design–“
“Pull it up. It’s ugly. I do not wish to see it.” Natalya pushed past her and marched back into the house. “What’s next?”
The interior designer followed, wheezing a bit. “I think you should keep the floors. They’re original to the house.”
Natalya smirked at her and scrapped a line in the wood with her spiked heel. “I hate them. Change them to something else.”
The interior designer mumbled something she didn’t catch. “What was that?” Natalya turned. “What did you say?”
“This is a historical property that is almost 270 years old…” Her voice drifted off and she studied the floor. “I… I don’t think I’m the person for this job. Maybe you would like your own people–“
“270 years old is almost new.” Natalya flipped her hair. “And I would happily bring someone from New York, but Nikky wants me to make friends. Show me the upstairs.”
The interior designer bit her lip. “I’m not sure you should see the upstairs.”
“Why not?” Natalya raised an eyebrow. “Are there rats?”
“No!” The interior designer looked flummoxed. “No rats. But it’s better, perhaps, to make this floor into your living area.”
“Oh, for God’s sake.” Natalya rolled her eyes. “Get rid of these floors. Use the Hermitage as your inspiration–” she turned “–you’ve heard of the Hermitage, have you not?”
“I’ve heard of the Hermitage… I think they have parquet floors… but I must insist… we really shouldn’t go upstairs.” The interior designer chased after her, breathless. “Miss… Mrs… um… no! Please, it’s dangerous.”
“Why? It doesn’t look dangerous to me.” Natalya trotted up the stairs and patted the wall. “I’d like the walls painted, though. Maybe yellow? Orange? Can you do a bright palette?” She entered the room. The clouds cleared, giving a better view than the one from the balcony below. French doors opened to a small patio.
She cocked her head. “Not bad. I saw something like this on Prime Minister Ivanka’s Instagram.” She got out her phone and held it to the sky. “No signal. I hate this place.”
“This is the master bedroom,” the interior designer continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “Legend has it the original owner was forced from this house during by the British. Using native American techniques he’d learned from fighting in the French and Indian Wars, he killed each soldier by hand, saving the commander until last.”
Natalya gave her a look. “Don’t tell me. Did George Alexander sleep here, or whatever his name was?”
The interior designer turned. “Do you mean George Washington?”
“Was that his name?” Natalya pulled out her 24-karat Guerlain compact and touched up her Yves St. Laurent lip hue. “Not that it matters any more.”
“The owner found the commander standing on this very patio.” The interior designer’s face went slack as she drifted onto the balcony. “It was a hard fight. The owner was gravely wounded, but in the end, he managed to throw his enemy down into the ravine below. They never found his body.”
Natalya joined the woman on the balcony. “That’s nice. I’ve changed my mind. Maybe a neutral palette would work here, after all.” She paused. “But if you use beige, I’m putting you on the next train to Arizona.”
“It is said that the his ghost roams these halls. To this day, he continues to protect his country and his house.” The interior designer stared at the mountains, her eyes unblinking, then shook her head. “Oh! Where am I? Mrs… you shouldn’t be out here. Please, move away from the edge.”
Natalya pulled a leaf off her shoe. “Omigod. These keep falling. Is there a way to keep them off the building? I don’t want them ruining my shoes.”
For a second, the interior designer simply stared at her. “Oh, fuck it,” she said and pushed Natalya over the edge.
A man joined her on the patio. The interior designer glanced at him. “You know, I put a lot of work into that story. Damned if it went right over her head.”
“You put up with her longer than I would have.” He handed her a phone.
She sighed. “Her phone fell with her.”
“We’ll recover it with the body.”
“You took care of her security?”
He nodded. “They’re dead.”
“Good.” The woman tapped in a number. “Yes, I’m calling for Secretary Ivashusin,” the interior designer said. “Can you give me a time frame of when to expect his wife? She’s not here yet, and I have other appointments.”
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