Daniel Watkins and Marilyn Ackerman

Marilyn Ackerman
Inspiration piece

The Geisha of Pompeii
By Daniel D. Watkins

I saw Moldir Shirinova again in the Kempinksi Palace Hotel, Abu Dhabi. She was sitting in the lobby fiddling with her phone oblivious as I walked across. Only when I stood over her did she glance up into the golden world and clock me.

“Oh. Mr Nicholas. I’m sorry.”

She rose and I stepped back a little.

“I was just texting Chopin. She’s expecting you.”

I smiled.

“Good to see you again, Moldir. It’s been, what, three years?”

She hadn’t changed a bit. The same impeccable movement of her fingers, the lissom perfection beneath her slim blue dress. Her Silk Road eyes.

There was an awkward silence.

“Please, we can go now.”

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Moldir took me to Chopin’s suite. It looked out over the dead white glare of the beach and the flat turquoise Gulf beyond. It’s funny but I had always felt a Benjamin Braddock to Chopin Baysakova’s Mrs Robinson, which was, of course, ridiculous. After all, there had been no affair – just the hint of lupine despair somewhere behind her eyes and in the clink of ice cubes bobbing against crystal.

“She will come soon. Please can you wait?”

“Of course.”

The two of us glanced round the opulent space.

“It’s okay. I’ll sit here.”

Moldir looked as if she might have replied, but her phone took her attention away and she was gone, responding to a silent voice in her own quiet Russian. She wandered back to the front door and she left me there to wait.

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It was late afternoon before Mrs Baysakova arrived and met with me. She offered a brief excuse. Actually, I felt more annoyed with Moldir and recalled how it often worked like that.

“Have you eaten?” she asked.

The question was rhetorical and I glanced at Moldir, who had followed the oligarch’s wife into the reception room and now hovered at the doors. Perhaps there had been a discourtesy?

Mrs Baysakova smiled suddenly. Shopping bags were arriving and Moldir turned to deal with the hotel’s butler.

“Well, Mr Nicholas, I am so glad you came. I enjoyed our discussions before. That book. Where was it, now?”

“West Egg. Long Island in America,” I replied, mischievously recondite.”

“St Moritz. Yes, I remember, now. Do please sit. Let me order you something. I don’t know why Moldir didn’t arrange lunch for you. You must be famished. Moldir?”

More bags were arriving. I protested. It was fine, I wasn’t hungry.

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Mrs Baysakova gestured again so I sat. The lounge was too large and we glanced at each other as if across a marina, yacht to yacht.

“Did you read the book?” I asked.

“Would you like a drink, Mr Nicholas?”

Without waiting for my response, Mrs Baysakova seemed to walk away. She glanced over her shoulder.

“We Khazaks are big drinkers, Mr Nicholas. You remember, right?”

She smiled and frowned, fussed over at the mini bar and returned with one vodka.

“Yes, I did. Were you trying to tell me something?” She sat down.

“I don’t know. Not really. I thought it might appeal.”

Chopin gave a desolate laugh.

“Scott Fitzgerald? And Lowry? ‘A few white clouds were racing windily after a pale gibbous moon. Drink all morning, they said to him, drink all day. This is life!'”

She raised her vodka. The ice tinkled like tiny bells.

I leaned as far forward as I could.

“So you liked ‘Under the Volcano’?”

The hand was lowered and Mrs Baysakova sighed and leaned away.

“I’m sorry I was late. The traffic from Dubai was dreadful. How do people live in Dubai? It’s a shopping mall full of corpses. I liked our chats before. A little culture can’t do any harm, can it?”

“No. I suppose not.”

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“But the women, Mr Nicholas. To be run over by a car is plausible, but a horse? I hardly think so. Only an alcoholic would kill off his women with such impatience. Yes, I enjoyed your book, Mr Nicholas. It was a good choice.”

Chopin closed her eyes.

“Shall I get my copy? I’d like to ask you some questions, Mr Nicholas … about the ending. I have some notes. Please, let me get them.”

Then, like a somnabulist, she suddenly rose and made to leave me, but paused. Her shoulders sagged and the glass in her hand threatened to capsize.

“No se puede vivir sin amar. Oh, Mr Nicholas, we are buried, buried in ashes.”

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