I was married once.  Twice, actually.  No, just the once, really, because the union had been annulled before I married again for the second or, rather, the first time, on the legal grounds of mutual and substantial misunderstanding.  In reality, just then I had met the woman who would become my second or nearly first wife and whom, 18 years later, I would divorce for the sake of another, though it was she, my second wife, who would file for divorce, on the legal grounds of adultery with an unnamed woman.

One I shall call Kay, and to the other, unnamed woman, who incidentally never did marry me in the end, no name can be given save her own, and I have not the energy to write it here.  Kay was 17 when we met, 26 when she bore me a son, 35 when she signed the divorce papers.  How beguiling the safety one finds in numbers.  But one’s confidence may be misplaced, and in the first instance her actual age was 17 years, 2 months and 9 days.  Commencement exercises at the school where she boarded, two hours from Grand Central Station, were held on a certain date that May.  The vernal equinox was the day of her birthday in March, and by subtracting the lesser from the greater I now arrive at that totally accurate figure.

The day in March, the first of spring, is the Persian New Year, Nawruz.  This was the name a Persian ancestor of mine brought with him to Russia in the reign of Ivan the Terrible, along with the consignment of a carpet.  It must have been quite a carpet because, with his name jauntily Russified by the addition of a possessive suffix, the wandering idler stuck to Muscovy and was later ennobled, with the title of Prince of Greater Kabarda.  Kabarda being an inaccessibly mountainous principality in the Caucasus, I suppose the honorific was of delicate bloom.  I have always imagined it as a 16th-century equivalent of having squirreled away just enough to pass the remainder of one’s life in a Warsaw café.

Kay still had a year of school ahead  and was only at the commencement to see the older children rewarded for their good behavior, their way with the lacrosse stick, and their family’s loyalty to the famous school.  I was there with my wicked godfather Igor, a painter, once well known in Moscow and now a displaced person like myself, whose children were in the graduating class.

It was Godfather Igor who had bullied me into marrying in the first place.  “What else do you want,” he pronounced from behind his easel, after being introduced to a girl who had offered to help me find investors to keep a publishing project of mine going, “the girl’s comely enough.  She’s from a rich family, she’s politically connected, she’s sober and organized.  Marry her, and she’ll make something out of you, something serious I mean.

“If you don’t, you’ll just be a rootless idler for the rest of your life, a Russian flibbertigibbet with funny opinions incongruously resident in the United States of America, a provincial country where eccentrics are not allowed to be poor any more than foreigners are allowed to be clever or women ugly.  But then again, the present is inherently fraudulent everywhere.  We used to live in a godforsaken place where falsification of the past was a way of life.  What we must learn to cope with, now that we’re here, is falsification of the future.”

Under the law of the Russian Church, a man may marry three times, and it is sometimes said that the first time round he marries for no reason, the second time for love, and the third for fun.  Here, at least, was a reason, and while it can be argued that my hearkening this marked a tentative step in the direction of prostitution, equally it can be argued that prostitution has no need of reasons, every penny of its quid pro quo as transparent as those of baking and candlestick-making.  Much more so than those of marriage.

The fact that the reason worked on me was in itself problematic.  I was living in a paradoxical country, one that could be described as provincial only up to a point.  Culturally, America was antipodean, and although the attitude to the three sample groups—eccentrics, foreigners, and women—might have been picked by my godfather out of the painted air of this inveterate jester’s splenetic fancy, it was alarming enough to remind one that here the world one had grown up loving had been stood on its head.  Still more ominously, America was futuristic in its general outlook—in the same benighted way Bolshevik Russia appeared futuristic to H.G. Wells, who after all was an expert in the subject—that is, forward-looking in the sense that it was filled with a foreboding of totalitarianism.  The omens of this future were almost never discussed, either among the general mass of the population or by Wells’ successors in optimism, but we foreigners, having come from godforsaken places that have been through the hoax, thought ourselves too clever to keep our mouths shut.

It was the futuristic idea of womanhood that in my impressions of life in the United States I singled out for contemplation.  For, ever since Adam strayed into horticulture, it is by how man tends woman that he stands or falls, and the treatment of women is the Rorschach test of every subsequent civilization.  Besides, the chief nutrient of my impressions at the time was wild oats, and women were the fertile ground.