Vector by Yvonne Zipter


 

historical fiction by Yvonne Zipter, an excerpt from the novel Infraction 

St. Petersburg, Russia, 1875

 

Not for the first time, Marya reflected that the men at the gatherings her Aunt Lidia held to find a husband for her were, to a one, boors.

“It’s 1875!” she thought to herself. “Who does this sort of thing anymore? Shopping for a husband. Well, sure, most everyone,” she conceded. “But they shouldn’t!” she muttered.

The thought of the blather generated by her gentlemen callers caused Marya to vow that when next they assembled she’d remind the pack of louts that rope is good when it’s long, while speech is better when it’s short.

Irrespective of her irritation with her aunt’s foolish salons, Marya recognized she owed her a debt of gratitude, for it was the fatuity of the functions that had stirred her to explore the Alarchin courses. Further, had she not gone to the Alarchin School, she admitted, she would likely never have met Vera Dashkova, by whose comely demeanor she’d been struck immediately, despite her reticence to give her heart again when it had so recently been broken. But how resist those eyes, blue as the Gulf of Finland in June, cheekbones of architectural majesty, hair the color of a wheat field in autumn? How indeed!

But Marya did try to resist. Once she had greeted the woman in the seat beside her in the lecture hall, she thought there was an end to it. She had set her focus to Gonchorov’s anatomy lecture. But then the ghostly touch of another’s gaze would trail across her neck, compelling her to turn toward that illusory caress. Upon finding its source, each time, Marya couldn’t prevent her face melting into a smile. Wishing to prolong their tenuous connection, the two had found themselves at a women’s meeting after the lecture.

In the days that followed, Marya tried to distract herself from the thought of Vera. But each book she tried to read—whether Riemann’s Basis for a General Theory of Functions or Turgenev’s Smoke—fell slowly into her lap, the pages obscured by the vision of the girl’s face filling her mind. Even holding a conversation with her aunt proved a challenge.

By the evening of the next lecture at the Alarchin School, Marya could think of nothing but seeing Vera again. She attempted to fool herself into believing it was furthering her education that excited her, but the multiple changes of gown to achieve precisely the right effect belied her true interest. Though no doubt Lidia would have found each gown as dreary as the next, for Marya, each portrayed her in a shade different light: this one serious, that one solemn, a third stern, and another sincere. In the end, she settled on a black skirt, white shirt with stiff collar, and narrow black tie. Though she took special care with her hair, as well, in the end she was dissatisfied and ran her fingers through it and wouldn’t let herself examine it again. For by then she had all but convinced herself that likely Vera wouldn’t appear again anyway and, further, Vera’s presence or absence would be of no interest to her regardless.

But the moment Marya saw Vera beside the Alarchin Bridge, her heart leapt. Vera, peering down Angliisky Avenue, didn’t notice Marya on the bridge. Marya stood, hands in the pockets of her pea jacket, deciding whether to risk the pain of loss again or to bypass Vera altogether and sit far from her in the lecture hall. She chewed her lip, trying to ignore the pleasure she got simply from gazing at this woman who smiled at her so kindly and with whom she’d conversed so amiably.

The odor of water and decay drifted up from the Ekaterininsky Canal on the damp evening air, and she brushed at the sleeves of her jacket as if she might whisk away any trace of deterioration. Then she ran her fingers through her hair and, with a smile blooming on her face, approached Vera.

“Good evening, Vera Lvovna.”

“Oh! You startled me.” Vera raised her gloved hand to her collarbone to form a V at the base of her neck. Marya thought fleetingly of how those fingers, thus arrayed, resembled the symbol for vector space, how like arrows Vera’s forefinger and thumb were, how they might describe the sum of the forces at work as her gaze fell into the hollow that dipped between the fine bones crowning Vera’s chest. Vera’s hand closed more closely around her neck in an unconscious protective gesture. Vera cleared her throat.

“Good . . . good evening, Marya Iuryevna.” Her gaze dropped to the muddy road.

“Shall we go in?” Marya gestured toward the door.

Vera nodded assent and took the arm Marya offered.

The two women found a place in the lecture hall. There were women of every class and manner of dress, but Marya was aware only of Vera. Her skin tingled from Vera’s nearness, causing an involuntary shudder. Normally, a phrase such as “numerical sequence” would have pulled her attention like a charged particle to the speaker of these words. But the faint fragrance of lilacs emanating from Vera exerted a far greater pull. And though Marya’s eyes were, for the most part, dutifully fixed on the man delivering that evening’s lecture, she hardly noticed his long tresses, which sprang frenziedly from his receding hairline, or the generous beard that rambled from his chin, or the rough cut of his coarse-looking jacket. And in those moments when Vera’s nearness overpowered her, Marya would chance a look, reassurance she hadn’t conjured a phantom to appease her longings. And if their eyes happened to meet, Marya couldn’t suppress a glad smile, causing the color to rise across Vera’s cheeks before she averted her eyes.

So distracted were Vera and Marya, they would perhaps have been unaware the lecture had concluded if not for the noise of others leaving. Marya cleared her throat and opened her mouth to speak, but Vera looked away shyly. They walked in silence to the door, though Marya’s thoughts were anything but quiet. She didn’t know what Vera might be feeling, but she understood all too well her own feelings. Again, Marya struggled with whether to hold herself safe from harm and say goodnight as they exited the door or relent to the insistent prodding of her yearnings.

The crowd of eager students dispersed along Angliisky and Ekateringofsky Avenues and across the Alarchin Bridge as Marya and Vera stepped out into the brisk night. Marya couldn’t bear simply to turn her heart away from Vera, and so devised, on the spot, a test: she’d offer Vera her hand to shake. If Vera seemed to disdain this gesture as too masculine, then the decision would be made for her. As Marya reached her hand out, she felt as though the very blood in her veins fell still, waiting.

Vera reached with hesitation for Marya’s hand. Marya squeezed Vera’s hand lightly. Thinking, I can’t bear the torment again, she didn’t wait for a response but said, “Goodbye, then.” With that, she turned to walk away.

“Marya Iuryevna!” Vera called.

Marya pressed her eyes shut against the sweet pain of her name on Vera’s lips. Certain she should leave, Marya turned to Vera, telling herself it would be discourteous not to hear her out.

“I, that is to say,” Vera began, “would you care to come back to my rooms for some tea?” She pulled her lower lip between her teeth and pierced Marya with her eyes as though considering Marya a specimen for her Kunstkammer—her cabinet of curiosities.

“Thank you, Vera Lvovna, for your kind invitation.” Marya bowed, fully intending to decline, but said, instead, “Yes, I should like that.” Then, before she should regain her reason, Marya hailed a coachman.

When they arrived at the house where Vera took rooms, Marya helped Vera from the coach, then followed her up the stairs. The two climbed in silence. Once or twice Vera glanced nervously over her shoulder. The stairs’ creak and the swish of Vera’s gown were being inscribed on Marya’s memory like a simple equation.

When finally Vera stopped beside a door, she paused with her hand upon the knob and turned to Marya. Her eyes moved about Marya’s face, and each place Vera’s eyes landed, Marya felt their subtle touch.

“My rooms . . . my rooms are spartan,” Vera said, and cleared her throat. “But . . . but I hope . . . I hope you’ll find them comfortable. Nonetheless.”

Marya said nothing but strode right in, her eyes roaming over all, from the gouged wooden table and chairs, tarnished samovar, worn velvet chairs, and small writing table in the modest sitting area to the bed, closet, and washstand she glimpsed in the adjoining room. Marya feared that she appeared to be taking inventory, perhaps even judging, but her scrutiny was a tactic to provide her time to decide what next she should say or do. Marya paused beside the writing table and absently ran her fingertips across its glossy but scarred surface, noting, without thinking about it, the odor of cooked cabbage that had followed them in from elsewhere in the rooming house.

Marya noticed Vera standing in the doorway, watching as she took in the details of her life. Marya knew it would be a kindness to say something of what she saw but was for once unable to find even the simplest of words. She turned, then, toward Vera, hoping for rescue.

“Excuse my rudeness!” Vera said, springing to life. “May I take your coat?”

Marya slipped her heavy pea coat from her arms and shoulders and handed it to Vera, who brushed past Marya to the closet in the cramped bedroom area. Marya, having noticed some photographs on the wall, leaned across the writing table for a closer look.

“My mother,” Vera said, observing Marya’s gaze. “And my father. Let me put water on to boil.”

Marya, still mute with trepidation, could manage only a smile and a raised eyebrow. A gesture of her hand inquired whether she might sit.

“Oh!” Vera said. “Yes. Please, sit down. Do forgive me. I don’t know where my manners are tonight.”

Vera pulled a white cloth from the cupboard and spread it across the little dining table, where Marya pulled out a chair for herself. The scrape of the chair resounded in the sparsely furnished room. Seated, Marya busied herself with smoothing nonexistent creases in her skirt and adjusting the sleeves of her blouse. She wasn’t so engaged with these “tasks,” however, that she didn’t perceive herself being observed. Which caused her to again tug at her cuff.

Aware as she was of Vera’s eyes taking her in, Marya was nevertheless startled when Vera cleared her throat. She looked at Vera, then, for the first time, truly, since she’d entered these rooms.

“Perhaps . . .” Vera cleared her throat again. “I mean, if you’ve thought better of coming here—for tea—to have tea—you could, I mean, if you’d like to . . . I would understand if you . . . shall I—”

“What? Oh, goodness, no!” Marya jumped up so abruptly the chair nearly tumbled over, but Marya was able to catch it, just. “Oh! No. No! If I gave you the impression . . . no, Vera Lvovna. It is only that I . . . I’m happy to . . . Tea. Is the tea yet . . . ? Oh, then I shall sit again, until . . .”

During this jumble of fragmented remarks, Marya had stepped toward Vera and, without thinking, wrapped her hand around Vera’s upper arm from behind. The instant she realized where her hand was, she released her grasp as though a flame had risen up the wick of Vera’s arm to burn her palm. Marya returned to her seat, the chair scraping inharmoniously again.

Finally, the tea was ready. Vera brought everything for their light refreshment on an enameled tray and sat opposite Marya. Self-consciously, they each prepared their tea, exchanging awkward smiles from time to time.

Vera then placed her spoon poorly at the edge of the table and it dropped to the floor. Both women bent to pick it up and bumped their heads together. They laughed.

This unexpected contact apparently put them at ease, for they began to talk, at last, and talked, in fact, for several hours about their lives, their families, their studies, their opinions on this matter and that. The time flew by quickly on their amiable talk and easy laughter, and Marya silently noted with a mixture of fear and delight she was even more enchanted with Vera. She found Vera’s voice warm and sweet, her mouth altogether pretty. And she was all but captive to those blue, piercing eyes.

As tender feelings began to well up in Marya, she felt she must go, apprehensive of what she might do were she to stay a moment longer, certain she couldn’t bear it if she were mistaking Vera’s kindness for something more.

“Thank you for a lovely evening, Vera Lvovna.” Marya abruptly pushed back her chair and stood.

“Oh, you are . . . yes, I suppose it’s rather late.” Vera went to retrieve Marya’s coat, while Marya closed her eyes and tried to think only about breathing.

When Vera returned, Marya searched her eyes as she handed Marya her coat. Vera returned her gaze, but soon reddened, and looked down, brushing at an imaginary crumb on her skirt.

When Marya leaned to kiss Vera’s cheeks, she ached to kiss her lips and savored the brush of Vera’s cheek on her own. But she cautioned herself not to be like the woman in the proverb who had no trouble and so bought a piglet. Marya took care to put literal space between herself and Vera, hoping to lessen Vera’s gravitational pull. She placed her hands on Vera’s arms near her shoulders, but this seemed a too-forward gesture as well. She swiftly withdrew a step away.

“I won’t, um, I won’t be at the lecture tomorrow evening,” Marya said. “I have . . . another engagement.” She slipped her empty hands into her coat pockets lest Vera see how they trembled. “Goodbye, then. Until Wednesday?”

Marya reluctantly turned to leave and walked out onto the landing.

Descending, she heard a faint “goodbye.” Or imagined it? She didn’t check to see which. For she felt certain that, were she to look upon Vera one more time, she might find answers to questions she wasn’t yet ready to ask.

***

The intervening days until the next lecture seemed an eternity, eager as Marya was to encounter Vera again.

In the lecture hall, they again sat side by side, while a professor championed his theory that activity in the brain was associated with an energy stream. Marya was curious about the brain’s inner workings, but having Vera sitting beside her ensured that, at the lecture’s end, she’d learned less than she’d anticipated.

Marya was longing to leave with Vera—desire being a delicious sort of torment to court—but as they made their way out, a woman began to walk beside them.

“We have met, yes?” She looked directly at Vera and Marya as if to reassure herself she wasn’t in error. “At the rooms of Varvara Kuznetsova. On Kanonerskya Street?”

“Ah! Yes,” Marya said, remembering at last why her face looked familiar. “Your name . . . your name is . . .”

“Avdotia Fyodorovna,” she grinned. “You will join us this evening? Vera Filippova is meant to come to speak of her plans to study medicine in Zurich. She is certain to be an inspiration. You will be there?”

Marya stole a look at Vera, thinking to see what her wish might be, but decided it didn’t matter since Marya could no longer bear to stand beside Vera and pretend every particle of her being didn’t ache for her. Though Marya hadn’t made a conscious plan, she realized she’d hoped to discover that evening what Vera held in her heart for her. If Marya were to find that they were to be but comrades in education, she’d school herself never to think of touching Vera’s face with her hand, kissing her lips—

“Yes, I suppose it will be a topic that will provoke much discussion,” Marya said, breaking short her perilous train of thought. “But . . . I have other plans this evening. I can’t attend.”

“And you?” Their would-be companion turned to Vera.

“Well . . . I . . .”

Marya raised an eyebrow at her.

“Oh. Well. Yes, but . . . I. No, I mean yes, I have a prior engagement as well.” She knit her forehead.

“Ah, such a pity. You will join us some other time then, I hope. Yes?”

“Oh, yes.”

“Of course. Yes.”

Vera and Marya offered quick assurances and bid farewell to Avdotia as she crossed the Alarchin Bridge. Then they turned their attention to each other.

“Well. Goodnight, then.” Vera said to Marya, with the air of a question.

“Wait! I, ah, I had hoped those plans were with you.” An atypical shyness made Marya stumble over her words.

Even beneath the gauzy glow of the streetlamp, Marya could see Vera’s face open into a smile. Then Vera ducked her head timidly and said, “I should like that.” The snorting horses of a passing troika nearly overran her softly spoken words but Marya heard them and grinned.

When they had made their way to Vera’s rooms, and the samovar was gaily burbling, Marya longed to reach across the table and know the feel of Vera’s face beneath her fingers. Marya found this yearning so intensely there was a physical ache in her chest. To distract herself, Marya directed the conversation away from herself.

“Are you sorry, then, Vera Lvovna, not to be in attendance now with Avdotia Fyodorovna and Vera Filippova? I hope I didn’t cause you an unwelcome change of plans.”

“I like them, the meetings, well enough. And the discussion seems to be quite lively among those in attendance. But I do find . . .”

“Yes?”

“Oh, it’s naught. No more than rude curiosity.”

“Then you must share! If it is ‘rude’ it is sure to be of interest to me.” Marya smiled to think what unladylike remark someone so tender as Vera might share.

“Avdotia Fyodorovna—do you find her . . . do you like her hair?”

“I haven’t thought much about it!”

“It’s so short.”

“Is that not a new style?” Marya spoke with genuine ignorance, having paid scant attention to fashion.

“Of . . . among a certain sort.”

“I don’t grasp your meaning.”

Vera cleared her throat.

“I wanted to ask you . . . I wondered . . .”

Vera was clearly nervous, which made Marya nervous. What concerned Vera so?

Vera waved her hand, as though at an irksome fly. “No, no. It’s nothing of concern. It’s nothing. I should have left it be.”

Vera’s voice trailed off, and she began busying herself with some sugar grains on the table, clustering them together.

“Vera Lvovna.” Marya learned forward. “If there is aught troubling—”

“Troubling? Oh, no. I wouldn’t say tr— Why do you dress as you do, Marya Iuryevna?”

“And how is it I dress?” Marya withdrew her arms from the table and sat tall in her chair. Shall I be nervous? Angry? Disappointed? Marya decided to defer making a decision until Vera explained.

“Your skirts . . . plain . . . they are . . . um . . . short . . . Plain and short. Dark colored. It is nothing,” she mumbled and blushed furiously. “I mean no offense,” she said, then looked Marya in the eye. “I just mean to understand. Are you a narodnik? It matters not. To me. I just wish to know with whom I take tea.” Her manner had turned bold and Marya was equal parts amused and affected.

“No, Vera Lvovna. I’m no revolutionary. I do sympathize with the way their lot wish to break with tradition. And so I find them interesting to converse with as they have a tendency to think—not merely to accept all manner of traditions and ‘values’ precisely as presented to us. But I prefer more solitary pursuits. I’m not the sort to find my place in a flock.”

“But then—”

“Why do I dress thus? Practicality, merely. No—practicality and on health grounds.”

“Health reasons!”

“Yes. Have you never noticed how your corset prevents you from breathing properly, from bending at your waist, the way your long skirt sweeps up all manner of filth—dirt and mud, cigar ends, bits of fallen food, the spit of coachmen along the roadway? And the weight—the weight of all that excess fabric, the petticoats—do you not grow tired hauling that about with you, everywhere you go, day in and day out?”

“But that is—”

“What? The fashion? What is expected? I must move freely, Vera Lvovna! How can one move or even think, so burdened? What must lashing oneself up in a corset to the point of altering your body’s shape—what must that do to one’s internal organs? It cannot—cannot!—be good, Vera Lvovna.”

“I’ve never thought of it thus.”

They sat quietly, then, each with her own thoughts. Marya worried over what might come of such talk, fearing Vera’s overconcern for convention wouldn’t bode well in the long term. She cast a sidelong glance across the table but found no clue as to what Vera might be pondering.

“Do you not worry,” Vera said moments later, “what others—”

“What others think? I don’t give a fig for the opinion of anyone who would question such a sensible approach to clothing! I’m not some man’s object, or anyone’s, for that matter, to be decorated with frills and ribbons and ruffles. I care not. And you, Vera Lvovna, what think you?”

“I? Surely you can’t care what I think.”

Was there bitterness in her tone? Dismay? Marya didn’t yet know how to decipher Vera’s hidden meanings. And perhaps, now, she never would. Marya frowned.

“But I do care, Vera Lvovna. What you think matters a great deal just now.”

Vera narrowed her eyes but said nothing at first. Marya had an impulse to fidget, to shake the table—shake, even, Vera, maybe—so anxious she was for an answer. Instead, she held herself rigid.

“But how do you bear the opprobrium? The . . . the stares of reproach?”

“A goose is not a pig’s friend, Vera Lvovna. I concern myself little with how the ignorant, the fools, perceive me. But . . . this is a concern . . . of yours? It troubles you . . . to be seen with such a one as me?”

“No! That isn’t what I . . . what I mean . . . my only concern . . . well I do wonder . . . There are times when I feel eyes set upon us—you—unkindly.”

Marya’s chair grated against the floor, then clattered down as she rose abruptly.

“I thought you weren’t like the others, the shallow ones who care only—I shall take my leave now, Vera Dashkova.”

Marya hurriedly retrieved her coat, anxious to exit as hastily as possible so Vera wouldn’t see how misery had deformed her face.

“No, Marya Iuryevna. Don’t leave! Let us not part so. I meant no offense. I wish only to understand . . . to . . . to . . .”

She, also, had risen quickly and reached for Marya’s sleeve, but Marya shook her off.

“Enough! I won’t be humiliated. I need neither your judgment nor your pity.”

Marya closed the door sharply and ran as swiftly as her feet would carry her, hardly pausing long enough to touch each stair. When she reached the street, she leaned against the building, her breast heaving as much from sentiment as exertion. She pounded her fists upon the stone wall behind her until the outer edge of each palm was excoriated. And much as Vera had asserted, passersby did indeed cast curious glances Marya’s way.

Scraped raw from little finger to wrist on each hand, still pressed to cold stone, Marya found herself manipulating her sense of what had so freshly transpired—dividing and multiplying and carelessly adding to it—until she could find no way to resolve the equation with reason. After some moments, she bounded up the stairs, often taking two at a time. Though she could no longer ascertain what it was she felt, she was determined to tell Vera, regardless. She banged open the door to Vera’s rooms, and Vera turned toward the sound of it with a small scream of fright. In Marya’s state of agitation, she mistook Vera’s alarm to be revulsion, which tormented her all the more.

Marya grabbed Vera roughly at the shoulders and shook her.

“I embarrass you? You don’t wish to be seen with me?”

“Marya Iuryevna! No, that isn’t at all—”

Vera tried to grab Marya’s wrists, but Marya shoved her away.

“I shall save you from that ordeal! You won’t find me at your side again.”

Marya lurched toward the door, but Vera clutched the back of her coat.

“Marya Iuryevna! Please not like—”

Marya yanked the coat, hoping to wrest it from Vera’s grasp. Vera held fast, however, transforming Marya’s coat into a whip, which whirled Vera into a corner of the table. Crying out in pain, she released Marya’s jacket. Though Marya had no intention of concerning herself with Vera, she couldn’t resist a final look of disdain at the woman who had abused her heart.

Her searing look, however, was wasted, as Vera covered her eyes and wept. Something of Vera’s posture—the bowed shoulders, her arms raised neither in defense nor aggression—caused Marya to regain her senses. In that instant, she realized how foolish she was to have doubted Vera. Could such a being as Vera ever bear anyone ill? Marya considered that perhaps she was now being as hasty to view Vera in a positive light as she’d previously been to judge her negatively. But how abject Vera was! And to think she, Marya, was the cause! Though Marya was ofttimes rough-edged, certainly she wasn’t devoid of compassion.

“Verochka.” Marya’s voice broke as she reached to remove Vera’s hands from her face. Vera flinched at her touch. Marya’s chin fell to her chest in her shame. She closed her eyes against the pain of her humiliation and thought about leaving. But her horror at how Vera must think of her now caused Marya to try to right things.

“Darling,” she whispered and haltingly reached for Vera’s hair. Vera had turned from Marya and started to raise her hands to her tear-stained cheeks but, perhaps sensing Marya’s movement near her, she instead froze like a rabbit wishing to escape notice by the wolf, keeping her hands like shields before her eyes.

Marya held her own hands up before her, palms outward, in a gesture of submission, though Vera couldn’t see her. Marya’s fingers curled into fists as she dropped her hands to her chest, as though her heart might not stay there without their weight atop it.

“Forgive me, Verochka. I don’t deserve it, but please—please!—forgive me.”

Marya fell to her knees, then, and wrapped her arms about Vera’s thighs, laid her head against Vera’s hipbone. Vera shuddered, then tentatively let her hand drop to Marya’s shoulder, only to snatch it away again. Marya could feel Vera’s body strain against her embrace and though she vowed not to hurt her again, she couldn’t—not yet—let there be space between them. She held to Vera gently but firmly. And like a wild thing lulled by stillness, Vera gradually relaxed into Marya.

Vera lowered her gaze to look at Marya and pulled gently at the arms encircling her.

“Come,” she said. “Come: off your knees, now.”

Marya was reluctant to see her ignominy reflected in Vera’s eyes, but at last she rose.

“Verochka.” Marya took Vera’s face between her hands and their eyes locked. But for Vera’s streaked face, Marya felt she could almost have forgotten there had been trouble between them.

“Verochka,” she said again, and without thought leaned toward Vera and let her lips press against Vera’s mouth while she cupped Vera’s face in her hands. Vera neither resisted nor reciprocated. Though Marya perceived this inequality, in that moment she didn’t care. Then her awareness of what must seem like a vile trespass to the woman she had so recently mistreated made her draw back, ready to blurt out another apology. But to her surprise, Vera brought her arms up along Marya’s sides, and with her hands pressed to Marya’s back, wrapped Marya more tightly to her. Vera lifted her head, then, and returned the kiss she had moments before passively received.

Marya savored the moment, closing her eyes. But her eyes flew open again when Vera wrenched away. Vera averted her gaze, but pressed her hand to Marya’s shoulder—a connection, still, but one that mapped a distance between them.

“Oh! Mashenka! Forgive me. I don’t know what possessed me to . . . to—”

“Hush. Hush now. It’s fine.”

Marya reached for the hand at her shoulder and clasped it in her own.

“You are shivering,” she observed.

Marya led Vera to the bed, then, and lifted back the heavy quilts. Then she sat and slid beneath the quilts, pulling Vera toward her.

 

About the Novel 

Marya Zhukova is a woman of many passions. Her husband isn’t one of them. Driven to continue learning, Marya immerses herself in mathematics and literature and fights for women’s higher education in the socially turbulent Russia of 1875–76. Her greatest passion, though, is her lover Vera. The fictional counterpart to the true-life subject of a nineteenth-century gynecologist’s case study, Marya is the fiery center to a small solar system of point-of-view characters in the novel Infraction, each of whom depends on her to shed light on their own lives. There is her aunt Lidia, a spinster who, dying of consumption, exacts from her niece a promise to marry. There is Grisha, Marya’s one-time math teacher, who longs for Marya to achieve scholarly glory. There is Vera, a young tutor surprised to find she’s fallen in love with a woman. And finally, there is Sergei, an earnest librarian at the Imperial Library captivated by Marya’s intellect and careless beauty and willing to do whatever it takes to be near her, even if this means a platonic marriage. 

About the Author 

Although Yvonne Zipter’s work has appeared in such periodicals as Poetry, Calyx, Crab Orchard Review, and Spoon River Poetry Review, and although she has two poetry collections—Like Some Bookie God and The Patience of Metal—the highlight of her career thus far is having a stanza from one of her poems read on-air by Pat Hughes during a Cubs game, with Ron Santo chiming in. She is also, it so happens, the recipient of a fellowship to the Summer Literary Seminar in St. Petersburg, Russia, and an Illinois Arts Council Literary Award for the poem “Grace Lesson.” In addition, she is the author of the nonfiction books Diamonds Are a Dyke’s Best Friend and Ransacking the Closet. The as-yet-unpublished novel Infraction was born out of her work as a manuscript editor at the University of Chicago Press, where she edited an archival report from a gynecologist about his several lesbian patients. The authentic detail of the novel was garnered by means of extensive research at the University of Chicago Library, through correspondence with Russian-studies scholars, and from the aforementioned time in St. Petersburg. Infraction was a semifinalist in the 2016 Del Sol Press First Novel Prize and in the 2005 William Faulkner–William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition (under its previous title, A Broken Moon).

Yvonne Zipter’s Poetry at EIL  

“Good Dog” by Yvonne Zipter at EIL 

“Love Cycling Through Twilight” by Yvonne Zipter at EIL 

“Waking” by Yvonne Zipter at EIL 

“Night Noise” by Yvonne Zipter at EIL 

You might also like:

An excerpt from Rachel Dacus’s The Renaissance Club

An excerpt from Katherine Knapp’s Through Chagall’s Window