The eyes slowly floating back from me to whatever duties their owners had been handed. The soup began to be poured out as the kitchen filled up again. Everyone but the children had come out; I could finally see that all of the faces from the other room were there. I, with my own flask, watched as Marina tipped out the light-coloured gloop, then pushed it across the counter-top on which she had done her part. Due to the speed and skill of her work, many hands then shot out to receive the bowls, their faces obscured by dark hair. Finally, Maripose and Vladimere slid the bowls into the correct placements.
“Dinner is served!” Mr. Karkroff announced with a bark. His head appeared above all the others and her beckoned towards the dining room, sweet, warm smells now drifting towards us.
I slotted back into my seat, giving Elsie a cheesy thumbs-up. This time, she smiled, but her smile was merely polite; not only did the creases not reach her eyes, but the inside of her pupils deeply pleaded to be relieved of all the hubbub.
The instant I had taken one spoonful, the whole table burst into chattering talk. Though there were a thousand little words being spouted across the room, and the courtesy of a quiet dinner seemed lost, one conversation merging with another, the main thread itself caught my attention.
It was clear to me why Vladimere was a politician.
“You’ve a nice place here,” he began. “I noticed that you have a lot of old ornaments and busts around the rooms. The Karkroff legacy is rich, I assume? Your father left you quite a richly adorned property?”
“Yes,” Mr. Karkroff replied. “I was the last of the Karkroff line- until Ivor appeared, of course- and inheritance. Otherwise, the money goes to the government.”
“Hmm. Doesn’t it occur to you that it is a waste of money? You don’t need all this.”
“It could be used to support other causes.”
“What’s wrong with being fashionable, Mr. Sterinsky?” Marina asked.
“Being fashionable is not what I have a problem with. It’s that waste of being artistic. There’s a time and place for such frivolities...maybe in the past. You could certainly be better spending time devising for a better life. There’s nothing real in art; it’s just a copy of another life.”
“You’re not the emotional, artistic type then?” Marina said. I caught the hint of mockery in her tone, but Mr. Sterinsky, oblivious to the art of theatre, didn’t.
“Not at all.”
“-And so, you live by Platonic rule?” I noted it as I said it, displaying the little snippet of what I knew about the philosopher: his views of art were all focused on worthlessness.
“Irrefutably, Miss King,” he promptly replied, the sole one to be impressed by my knowledge.
“Miss Rusav, there is nothing I dislike more than a useless show of artistic pleasure.”
“So I gather you’ve not yet approved the motion to build that new community art building?”
“There’s one to keep up with the politics of our country, Ms. Peterson. Yes, a decision has not yet been made by my party, and I doubt we will come to make one for some time yet.”
“What’s that?” I attempted to whisper across to Carrie.
“There’s currently this whole debate about whether or not to build a community art-centre, a large one that Moscow is certainly lacking, on a spare patch of earth that used to house a government building. It was knocked down about ten years ago, but there’s been so much debate that nothing has been built to replace the structure. The development will, so the tabloids report, be the hinge-point of the next prime minister’s election.”
“It used to be the steel works. The last prime minister closed it for the good of the people,” added Marina.
“So he said.”
I raised my eyebrows at the politician, but there was nothing more to say to him.
“Mr. Sterinsky has been campaigning- and a long campaign it has been, so I’ve read-” Carrie continued, “-that the site should be made back into a government building.”
“It used to be one of my quarters, so I have a soft spot for that place.”
There were solemn head-nods across the whole table.
“And your idea is being accepted?” I hadn’t meant to sound incredulous, but...
“It is on the rise...” he replied.
“But surely you see something glorious in art?”Marina retorted again.
“I’m more of an advocate of sports,” he added.
“Sports?” I jerked my head. Aside from when it was necessary for me to run for my life, I wasn’t a fan of sports.
“Yes, I was brought up in the Olympic College. Fencing was my strength…but politics caught hold of me before a love of sport was able to evolve into a championship.”
“I still don’t understand what it is-”
“Marina, darling-” This time it was Mr. Thomason who interrupted her, and, having not spoken for a while, his voice sounded strange in my ears.
Even if Marina seemed about to go off violently on her tangent again, a choking noise cut all other conversations short.