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Biological instincts

The Third Component: Part III, Chapter 33

Alison Christy 7 June 2009

Evolution has ensured that the act of procreation is the most pleasurable and desired activity

Editor's note: We are pleased to continue the weekly serialization of The Third Component, a novel by Alison Christy: a scientist at loose ends after earning her PhD sets off to Russia in search of a missing piece of her family's past.

Chapter 33

Determination of Sex By Forensic Decision Analysis

The light outside is eerie and bright, what passes in Siberia for evening, when Anna finally leaves Laima’s house and stumbles down the shaking wooden pathways over the wet grass. There should be a bonfire by the river – she knows this from Michael Perch’s article – where the adults sit and talk and enjoy the long hours of sunlight while the kids run and kick a ball through the overgrown grass.

She has to find him, she thinks. If she could find him everything else would make sense.

She sees it from a distance, just as Perch described: the large fire pale in the sunlight, the children shrieking and running through the high grass, the adults drinking beer from bottles and swatting mosquitoes. She had almost forgotten about Frank, but like the frog in the moss he is there, sitting on a log by the fire, talking to an older man. Who knows what he has been doing all day, who he might have been spying on. He is holding his guitar but he is not playing.

She sits down beside him but he doesn’t turn to look at her. All of the other adults are watching her now, as closely as if she was the bride at a wedding, and even the children seem to keep her in the corner of their eyes while they play. She is the American, she thinks: for them, she is the essence of a young American woman. They will all talk about her tonight, and maybe for the next few weeks. They may be talking about her right now. There is nothing for Anna to do but watch the fire flicker transparently into the strange pale sky.

Frank talks with the man sitting on the other side of him. She likes listening to Frank speak Russian; his normal voice retreats to the back of his throat and makes thick, complex sounds. She can’t understand what he’s saying, and the meaning of his words doesn’t matter at all, just a mush of hums and percussives and gutturals, and she lets it calm her, refusing to wonder what he is saying or who he really is.

She is watching the children, who are running and shouting and playing like children anywhere, when a thin young man comes and sits on the other side of her.

“Hi!” he says. He is probably in his early twenties, with well-combed sandy blond hair and a black leather jacket that looks freshly oiled. He tells Anna in English that he is named Petra. His parents live in Krolosk, but he lives in the city – by which, she realizes, he means Kolpashevo.

“I want very much talk you English,” he says. “I interest America, very much. You like movies?”

She talks to Petra, as slowly and clearly as she can. They talk about Petra’s favorite movie, Pulp Fiction, and he asks her if she’s ever been to Hollywood, which she hasn’t.

“If I was American,” Petra says, “I go to Hollywood.”

There are other American movies that Petra likes, like The Godfather and My Best Friend’s Wedding, and Russian movies called Brother and Brother 2. Anna does not care, but she smiles and nods.

Frank plays on his guitar and sings something in Russian, and all the men around him cheer and clap and pat him on the back.

Petra keeps talking, and eventually, he reaches out and takes her hand. Anna isn’t sure whether this is normal or not, and she is too tired to fight anyway, so she lets him.

“I want talk you English,” Petra says, very intensely. “All night long.”

Anna is still processing what Petra’s words might mean when she feels Frank’s arm move across her shoulders, pulling her closer to him. She thinks that Frank has been paying attention to their conversation, and he is now protecting her from Petra’s advances by pretending to be with her. She turns toward Frank a little and he leans over and kisses her, on the mouth.

And then he goes back to his guitar and his conversation with his Russian companion as though that were a normal thing to do. Anna turns her face back toward Petra, but she can’t think of a single thing to say. She can feel her heart beating in her face.

“I understand,” Petra says. He is no longer holding her hand, although Anna couldn’t say when he might have let go. “You and he. Okay. Tell me, you like music? You like the Snoop Dogg?”


There is no reason why the contact of their lips should change everything, but it does. Frank takes her hand as they walk back down the sidewalk to Dima’s house, and it doesn’t matter; after all, there is no longer any way she can ruin her quest anymore than it has already been ruined. And in a few days she will be on a plane to America, and she will never see Frank ever again, so it doesn’t matter what he thinks of her, her unwashed, stringy hair or her naked body, and it doesn’t matter if he is a spy or a hired mercenary or just a drifting graduate student. She is leaving.

Dima’s front door is unlocked and a single, fold-out couch has been made up for the two of them, as if everyone else knew exactly what was going to happen, as if it was all inevitable anyway.

This isn’t a new thing, after all, to either of them, or to anyone in the world. Evolution has ensured that the act of procreation is the most pleasurable and desired activity, because no animal would procreate as much as they do if they were only trying to reproduce. Every creature feels this way: the female cat, yowling as though in pain while each male takes his turn; the male scorpion, who plants his penis in the ground and impales his lover upon it; the male and female frog who will cling together for days. Probably even yeast thrill as they bud off their daughter cells. The most primitive and basic of biological instincts.

But it doesn’t matter what she knows; in the end it feels private and important, like the bread that rises whether or not the baker has heard of microbiology, or the sun, which still rises and sets, even though everyone knows now that the Earth actually rotates around the sun – even if this simple rhythm of rising and setting does fall apart in Siberia, where the sun clings jealously to the moonless sky.

She lies under Frank’s arm and thinks about Michael Perch.

“Will you come back to Moscow with me?” she hears Frank’s voice say, softly, in her ear. “I’m only staying for a couple of weeks.”

She can’t think of going back to Moscow, she can’t even begin to imagine going back to that tense, hostile city, the one place on earth where she knows she will never, ever find Michael Perch.

But instead she says, “What about Marina?”

“Marina?” Frank says. “What do you mean?”

"Marina said you couldn't be tied down to any one woman," she says, letting each word leave her mouth and hang in the air. “She said God meant you for each other and that the only thing keeping you apart was your fear of commitment.”

Frank is silent. Then he says, “She’s a strange girl.”

Anna closes her eyes. A normal Anna might feel guilty about breaking Marina’s trust, but nothing about Anna feels normal anymore, and what does it matter anyway, when she is sure she will never see either of them ever again.

Frank says that he and Marina are no longer together. “She told me to go to Tomsk,” he says. “She said Eef you arr so obsessed with thees garrl, you must go to her.”

“So that’s why you came to Tomsk,” she says, her eyes still closed.

“Well,” he says. “There were some archives I wanted to look through.” She can feel him shifting in the bed. “And I wanted to see you again, and I wanted, I don’t know, to get out of Moscow for a while.”

She feels him lace his fingers through her hair; she keeps her eyes closed.

“Marina and I have a long history together,” he says. “Sometimes it gets complicated.”

“She wants a relationship, but you don’t,” Anna says. “But you still sleep with her occasionally.”

Frank is silent.

“Nice,” Anna says.

“You don’t know anything about it,” Frank says.

Anna shrugs and rolls over on her side, turning away from him. She shuts her eyes tighter to block out the light coming insistently through the windows, and tries to sleep.

{Continued next week}