Still Air, Shareefah Pereira
After Vladimir Nabokov and his second greatest love affair | For Ms. K
You’re forty-two years old and you don’t know how you got here. It’s 1:16 the morning of your own execution, you had beans on toast for dinner last night,
you can still taste the soggy bread stuck to the roof of your mouth like that of a kindergartener who has consumed glue.
Consume glue, bottles upon bottles of it, consume the pages of your journal, until your internal organs become a papier-mâché gift to leave behind.
Before they took you away in the night, your second wife kissed your brow and said she’d never met a man as cruel as you.
Her smile reminded you of the way blood pools on asphalt when a car strikes a pedestrian hard enough to be fatal.
You’ve never seen this happen, but you have a good imagination, so you picture it.
It’s 4:19 the morning of your first child’s birth. You name him Dmitri, earth-lover.
He faces a different direction than you—you, who stares up at the gallows above,
who waits patiently for it all to finally make sense, failing to realize that it has all made sense for years. He faces the butterflies, gleaning sodium from animal carcasses.
Vladimir Nabokov’s family fled Russia with the onset of war. Does this make them cowards? In the end, who gets to decide?
Dmitri will turn twelve, turns twelve, turned seventeen and then died in a hospital.
Dmitri. Earth-lover. A life cut short long before it ended.
Someone from Alaska keeps writing you letters, but it’s someone you’ve never met. Dmitri. You’ve never met him in your life. At least, you’ve never met him in this life.
You don’t have any children. Your first wife didn’t stick around long enough, and your second wife didn’t trust you,
and that didn’t matter, because you don’t trust you, either, to produce any life worth living.
Perhaps you met Dmitri in a Saint Petersburg farmers’ market. Perhaps you met him walking through the postwar rubble you never tried to avoid.
In nineteen fifty-five you decided to take a road trip across the rugged American terrain to find your own ruins. But your own ruins followed you,
behind your back and gone every time you looked around. If only you could have seen them, then maybe—
Vladimir Nabokov’s father was assassinated in Berlin after the family’s retreat from Russia.
Would he be proud of the man you have become? Picture him kissing your brow,
calling you “son” when you try to cut out your own heart for the wayward love it continues, despite your objection, to carry.
Dmitri, light of my life. Dmitri, I adore you so horribly. Dmitri, Dmitri, Dmitri, Dmitri, Dmitri, Dmitri, Dmitri, Dmitri, Dmitri.
Repeat till the line is full, repeat till the page is full—printer, with whom I will be hanged—
printer, with whom I have spent my last days and eaten my last meal and told my last words.
Before they took you away in the night you thought to yourself: I will be a better man for him. I will be a better man for him, but it will not be enough.
Heart, head, Dmitri, everything—you tried. He knows you tried.
There was no one else, he knows, there was never going to be anyone else. Not in this life. Not for you.
Vladimir and Véra Nabokov were married for fifty-two years. You don’t know how heavy the weight of so much time would be.
You’re forty-two years old and you are about to die quietly, without a fight. It’s the morning of your own execution,
but they won’t have to execute you. It’s finally time to hang yourself and beat everyone else to the punchline.
If your heart fails, it’s a metaphor. Your heart will fail. You’ve frankensteined this love; you weren’t supposed to. You’re ready.
His socks are white, and you love him so—Dmitri, take this deafening roar—Dmitri, take key three forty-two and go back to the hotel alone.
There will be no shared immortality. You have come here now to die. You’re ready.
This time, no one has to watch.
About the Artist
Shareefah Pereira · State University of New York
Shareefah Pereira credits her parents for her early interest in photography. Currently, she is working towards a degree in Early Childhood Education and she hopes to combine her passion for photography with her work with young children. Still Air first appeared in Gandy Dancer.