Jane Rose Porter

The Night Vera Robinov Got Shot

Everyone heard the gunshots on the lake the night Vera Robinov went walking. She should have known better than to roam around late at night is what they would say.

People wanted to know what an old lady like her was doing poking around in the bushes like a thief after midnight. Didn’t she remember, not fifteen years before when a runaway had sneaked into her very house at night and killed the previous owners? Even after fifteen years, a thing like that would put people on edge.

When the police and medics and firemen arrived, Vera didn’t budge. She feigned she couldn’t speak English. But she understood far more than she let on. She was simply scared the life leaking from her would stream out faster if she spoke.  

Instead she lay there looking up at the firmament of stars, the strangers’ faces intercepting her viewmen in uniforms and rubber gloves whose job it was to save her.

Before: Vera steps along the edge of lake where the ground is packed and muddy, chunks of earth eroding in spots. She has always wanted to weave around the lake like this, walking over other people’s land, no people’s land, land that had been transformed in some places to carefully manicured lawnswoodchips spread in circles under trees, solar-powered light sticks lining paths, a trickling fountain behind a fake log cabin, cobwebbed gazebos, rotting Adirondack chairs, flipped canoes.

She could care less what others think, couldn’t give a hoot if they looked at her sideways or wondered her crazy. They could never see inside her head, never know what sealed-up, stacked-high, crisp-as-cardboard memories she had in there. She needn’t bother sharing them with anyone. That’s what she told herself as she walked the lake.  

The mind is like one of those shifting images that change when you move, she finds herself thinking. Her son-in-law Yuri has one of those pictures in the kitchena boat on the water that turns into a giant whale when you rock side to side, front to back, the waves crashing all around. Vera’s mind is always busy turning boats into whales.

There are certain details that stick, planting themselves all over her life like sagebrush, even when they have nothing to do with it anymore. The pear tree from the dacha, her brother’s face as he holds a snatched up piece of bread, her daughter Ella holding her babycooing to her with her dying voice. They stand always in relief, like they’ve been sculpted into the surface of her mind. She can almost run her fingers over them like braille.

Her progress is slow at first, cutting through the darkness along the edge of water until her eyes adjust to the moonlight and she can see just fine.  It isn’t the best moon for strolling, not like the moon over the Neva late in summer, so close to the rim of water, you can reach your arms up and almost dip them into its pool of glistening light. Nothing was like that moonfiery orange yellow, a looming lantern overhead.

The moon on this night is more like a wafer held up to a light, a giant bite taken out of its side. But no mindshe can see just fine, has enough light to set one foot in front of the next without falling, the lake lapping and lapping like a dog at her heals.

And of course, there is the night waterbeams of faint light barely quivering on its surface. The