July 01, 2021

The Girl from the Hermitage


The Girl from the Hermitage
Panorama of the Atlanteans at the Hermitage, St. Petersburg. IGOR PARSADANOV

This excerpt from Molly Gartland’s The Girl from the Hermitage, is the novel’s beginning. The story follows the turns of fate over nearly a century of a single family in St. Petersburg, whose lives are forever altered by a portrait assignment.

Mikhail scrapes a knife against the wall and a strip of yellowing floral wallpaper curls on the metal edge, peeling away from the plaster. Cradling it in his palms, glue side up, he returns to the kitchen. He holds the paper over a pot of water and scratches the knife across the brittle surface. Flakes of paste drop into the liquid. Hissing gas fuels a flame. Mikhail clasps his hands around the warm pot. Heat grows, pricking his palms and fingers. He lingers another fraction of a second before pulling them away. Pressing his warm hands to his cold cheeks, heat transfers through his skin, disappearing into his core.

Using a wooden spoon, he stirs and the flakes disintegrate. The smell, papier mâché, reminds him of his student years at Leningrad Academy of Art. As he waits for it to boil, rubbing his hands together in the warm steam, he thinks of his daughter, Galya. This stale old glue is not enough nourishment for her. He scrapes another strip from the corridor wall and scratches more paste into the pot. Holding it in the steam, the paper softens. The water begins to boil. It is not enough. He is useless.


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