Agusia was a handful and a piece of work. "Handful" is probably more accurate because Agusia had, in place of ribcage and a midsection, an accordion tucked just under her breasts, extending toward her pelvis, resting on her two hips. To be exact, it was a bayan, not an accordion. A bayan's melody-side keyboard resembles a typewriter more than it does a small piano, and this was just the detail resting on Agusia's hips. For sakes and purposes of visualization, however, fine, it was an accordion, more or less, though the bayan was invented in the early 20th century in Russia, some might say, to have a richer quality of sound, some might argue. Someone once called Agusia a "squeezebox," in part to make her laugh, which she did not do because she almost never laughed, at least not very sincerely or with joy. In part to relay feelings of desire toward Agusia. This was nothing new. She was a much sought-after woman. Well, half-woman, half-bayan, or one-fourth, or accordion.
As masochistic as people tend to be, they liked the way Agusia made them feel because she went out of her way to make them feel nothing, or if push came to shove, like nothing. She was selective in the way she let her features move. Feeling a smile crawl up her face, Agusia would tug at her cheekbones to plateau her lips. It was all very charming, the way Agusia tried to make herself unattractive and in doing so made herself more attractive, not to mention lovely and delightful. She had little to no control over her mid-section, which played cheerful melodies, the kind you might hear at a cheerful wedding in a seaport town on the Black Sea, or something, every time she shuffled her feet down grocery store aisles, or crossed her legs sitting on city benches, or, you know, gesticulated. Every time she moved a muscle or a tendon connected to the reeds inhabiting her upper body, she resonated with ecstatic tones and chord progressions, which passer-bys accompanied with claps, loud laughter, and their whooping. Agusia didn't mind the claps and laughter as much as she did mind the "whooping." She even hated the word, "whooping," in almost any language. The sight of people tapping their feet, doing a grapevine step around her, feeling carefree and satisfied, for once, embarrassed Agusia, and mostly on behalf of people temporarily consumed by confidence. Agusia hated being in the presence of liberated limbs and faces, but wasn't altogether a misanthrope.
Agusia asked her family physician, once, whether she had the option of some easy surgical procedure to rid her of her mid-body accordion, or at the very least, to rid the accordion of its ability to produce sound. The family physician, tapping his foot and humming, said something mildly disturbing and not at all comforting in an affected and truth-seeking tone, along the lines of, "We begin dieing the moment that we begin living," or alternatively, "You bring much joy to people's hearts and pace-makers. I am a doctor. I can monitor levels of joy with relative ease." This proved to Agusia that her physician wasn't really listening to the questions she was posing, nor was he listening to the answers he was giving, he was listening only to the music that resulted from Agusia's breathing deeply in and out as he pressed on the folds of her back with a stethoscope.
Earlier in the physician's office, before the doctor had come in, Agusia had made such a noise while putting on her hospital gown, a nurse appeared to ask whether she might consider volunteering at the children's ward, because such music would certainly raise the children's spirits, not to mention blood pressures, as needed. Agusia did not like to be made to feel guilty with thoughts of sick and moribund children with low blood pressure, so after several seconds of stammering she said, "I'm afraid I'm not very good with kids," and was certain she saw a look of disapproval cross the nurse's face before she (the nurse) said, "Give it some thought" and closed the door maintaining eye contact. By the way, the doctor had once assured Agusia that she would be able to conceive when the time came, no problem, because she had "All the uterus and fallopian tubes a girl could ask for," the doctor had said, then cracked a joke about the child flopping out looking like a hand-held fan.
People addressed Agusia in sloppy, woozy voices, even with blood alcohol levels reading zero. It was because the music emanating from Agusia's midsection reminded them of being intoxicated, which was enough to make them act and speak as if they were, in fact, intoxicated. "Agneshka," people would spit at her, rolling their tongues inside their wide and toothy mouths. "Agneshka, have a piece of bread with butter on it, darling. Have some caviar, or try this fresh, smoked trout. Have some paté, Agusia, eggplant ragout, or eat a slice of melon, will you, nightingale? Will you enjoy this fruit campote, a chicken leg, but don't make such a mess inside your stomach, Agusia, but on this happy occasion, go ahead? 'Neshka. Another glass of wine, or have a drink of something stronger, and drink it to my health. Better, your health. Agusia, let's drink to you, and eat another piece of chocolate tort, or layered cake, with heavy creams, followed by cups of strong, sweet aromatic coffees. And, you can eat it all with gold and ornamented spoons, off of our high-end porcelain china, isn't it very beautiful, Agneshka, you look good."
The only products people ever saw Agusia buying at the grocery store, under fluorescent lights, between sub-zero drafts and cardboard boxes, were products low in saturated fats, however, like lentils, green beans, and brown rice, which should have been a grave and massive disappointment, but wasn't, really, only a thing to talk about when silence filled the gaps between two faces.
About the author:
Katya Tylevich writes for The Onion A.V. Club, among other publications like Flux, Russia!, Quick Fiction, and Heeb. She is the founding editor of a vaguely nostalgic arts journal, writes short fiction, and recently completed a children's book too melancholic for children. Katya is based primarily in Los Angeles, with frequent trips to New York, and she originally hails from Minsk, Belarus.
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