I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day or night.
A POSTCARD FROM VIENNA
BIG SUR, CALIFORNIA
He woke up suddenly and then he remembered: Today was his birthday. Today he was sixty years old.
He was sweating. The sheets were damp. His nightmare had been terrible.
No answer. He opened his eyes. Light was streaming in through the shutters. He squinted. Another blinding California day. They were all blinding here.
The dogs! Where were the dogs? 'Irina!'
When he heard her footsteps he lay back against his pillows and composed his face.
'Happy birthday.' She gave him her look when she said it, the one she'd been giving him for years. It reminded him of her expression of amusement and contempt from the days, so long ago, when they still made love.
The dogs bounded in after her, Boris and Peter, great black shaggy leaping things, eyes moist, excited, gums wet, salivating. He petted them, massaged their ears. The maid followed with his breakfast tray.
'Felicidad, Senor Targov.' She was Mexican, young, pretty, dark. A good figure too-he often spied on her when she swam laps up and down the pool. While she arranged the tray, he watched Irina throw open the shutters.
'Take the dogs out with you, Bianca,' she instructed the maid. Targov gave them each a final roughing of the ears.
'Why exile the dogs?'
'To talk privately.'
'And you're afraid they'll overhear? Really, Irina, I think maybe you should go back to that psychiatrist.'
She ignored him. 'There's a load of mail. Letters, telegrams. The phone's already ringing.'
'I'11 look at it all later. Rokovsky can handle the calls.'
'That journalist, Boyce-he's coming for lunch.'
'Fine. Serve something good. Not that salt-free stuff. Good Russian food today.'
She didn't reply, and when he glanced up from his breakfast tray he saw that she was studying him.
'You're going to say something awful. I can feel it. So go ahead, Irina, say it now and leave.'
He glanced at her again just as she smiled. Then it seemed to him that her entire face turned into a net of fine wrinkles and lines. The effect reminded him of a slow-motion film he'd once seen of a bullet fired at a pane of safety glass. The glass smooth and perfect, then suddenly crosshatched. When she smiled her face became a web.
'Anna wants to go.' She announced the fact triumphantly.
'I'll talk to her.'
'She's made up her mind.'
'After all we've done for her.'
'She acknowledges everything. Very grateful too. But now she's ready to move on. She doesn't like it here. A 'hothouse' atmosphere, she says.'
'Hothouse!' He laughed. 'Well, she may be right…'
'Of course she is. And much too young to be cooped up with us. Very comfortable here with the pool, the servants, but she's suffocating. She must get out, perform, and be with people her age.'
'Find a nice young man. Isn't that what you mean?'
'Oh shut up! Here! I've been holding this.' She flung a postcard at him. 'It burns my hand!'
The card came at him fast, then stopped in midair, then fluttered down slowly until it settled on his quilt. He reached for it, but not before he glanced at her again. This time her expression was more than triumphal. It was gloating, crowing. God, how she must hate me, he thought.
He examined the card. A few words in Russian, a signature hastily scrawled. Then, when he understood what it was, he gasped and put it down.
'So he's out.'
'A transit camp.' She still wore her conquering look. He photographed her with his eyes, wanting to fix this image of her forever, knowing that someday he would look back upon this moment as one of the most crucial of his life.
'This didn't come today. Too big a coincidence. You've been holding it back.'
'Only saving it for the proper time.'
'My birthday! Irina, you're a snake.'
'And what are you, Sasha?' she hissed. 'Tell me-what are you?'
'I'm an old man,' he said finally.
She laughed. 'Sixty. That's nothing! You're strong as an ox.'
'You've always had them. Ever since…'
'My sheets are soaked.'
She came beside the bed, touched the sheets. 'Just night sweats. Nothing to worry about.'
She sat down on the bed and arranged his napkin so he wouldn't spill coffee on his quilt. It was an amazing quilt. He'd designed it himself, a multicolored patchwork filled, like a Russian futurist painting of the 1920s, with curves and arabesques. People admired it. A collector wanted to buy it. There had even been an inquiry from a commercial bedding firm asking if he would consider licensing the design.
'Tell me about your dream.'
'Your nightmare, Sasha. I want to hear.'
'Oh.' He tried to remember. 'I was to be assassinated. But I saw it all through the assassin's eyes.'
'Tell me.' Her voice was comforting now. She took a corner of his napkin and carefully wiped his brow.
'He had a rifle with a telescopic sight. He was up on the hill, in the woods above the road, and I was there too since I was him. He was waiting for me, lying prone in the leaves. There'd just been a rain and I could smell the earth. Then I saw myself through his sight. Do you understand? I saw myself enclosed in a circle, everything foreshortened, as if through a telescopic lens. I was on the terrace playing with the dogs. He set his cross-hairs on me. I could feel his excitement. And then, when he fired, I could feel the rifle jump. Next thing, I saw myself leaning over Boris, pressing my ear against his chest. Peter was crying. My beautiful Boris was dead! I became enraged. I saw myself furious, through his sight again, turning to him, shaking my fist.'
'I woke up. Ten, fifteen minutes ago.'
'Oh, Sasha,' she wiped his brow again, not so bad. Not really. A little nightmare, that's all. Just a little