The Red Notebook
Harry had apparently unloaded papers and cuttings on to the table and then began a lecture on the history of the Russian Communist Party, starting from the days of Iskra. Olga sat opposite, suppressing her yawns, smiling and full of charm and preserving the civic politeness that is owed to progressive guests from abroad. At one point she asked if he were a historian, but he replied: ‘No, I am a socialist like yourself, comrade.’ He took her through years of intrigues, and heroism and intellectual battles, missing nothing. At about three in the morning she had said: ‘Will you excuse me a moment, comrade?’ She went out, and he had sat thinking that she had gone for the police and now he would be arrested and ‘sent to Siberia’. When Jimmy asked him how he felt about vanishing into Siberia, possibly for good, Harry had replied that: ‘For such a moment as this, no price is too high.’ Because of course he’d forgotten by now that he was addressing Olga the interpreter, the pretty twenty-year-old blonde whose father had been killed in the war, who looked after a widowed mother, and intended to marry a journalist from Pravda next spring. By that time he was addressing History itself. He waited for the police, quite limp with ecstatic acceptance, but when Olga came back, it was with two glasses of tea she had ordered from the restaurant. ‘The service is beyond words appalling, Anna, so I can imagine that he was sitting there waiting for the handcuffs for some time.’ Olga sat down, pushing his glass of tea across to him, and said: ‘Please go on, I am sorry I interrupted you.’ Soon after she went to sleep. Harry had just reached the point where Stalin had arranged for the assassination of Trotsky in Mexico. Apparently Harry sat there, cut off in the middle of a sentence, looking at Olga, her gleaming plaits slipping forward over her slumped shoulders, her head fallen sideways. Then he pushed his papers together, and put them away. Then he very gently woke her, apologizing for boring her. She was overcome with shame at her bad manners, but explained that while she enjoyed her work, as interpreter for one delegation after another, it was hard work, ‘And besides, my mother is an invalid and I have to do the housework when I get home at nights.’ She clasped his hand, and said: ‘I will make you a promise. I promise you that when our Party Historians have re-written the history of our Communist Party in accordance with the revisions made necessary by the distortions imposed during the era of Comrade Stalin, I promise you that I will read it.’ Apparently Harry had been overcome by her embarrassment because of her lack of manners. They spent some minutes reassuring each other. Then Olga went off to see Jimmy to say that his friend was over-excited.
I asked Jimmy what happened next. ‘I don’t know. We had to get dressed and packed in a hurry, then we flew back. Harry was silent and rather ill-looking but that’s all. He made a point of thanking me for getting him on to the delegation: a very valuable experience, he said it was. I went over to see him last week. He’s married the widow at last and she’s pregnant, I don’t know what that proves, if anything.’
[Here a double black line marked the end of the red notebook.]