A Soviet Woman and a Unicorn

One evening, I saw him put his coat and hat on and start marching out the door.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“Oh, I just noticed we are out of bread,” he said, “so I’ll just go downstairs to the convenience store and buy some.”

I’d heard all of the mythology. I knew these men existed somewhere. Just like unicorns. You don’t expect to encounter a unicorn in your living room, though. They are stuff of legend, and fairy-tale land is where they belong.

“Ah, something must be going on,” I realized. “Something weird is happening and I’ll find out what it is soon.”

After he returned with the bread, however, no revelations awaited me.

A short while after that, I came home from work and he told me, “Honey, the toilet in the second floor bathroom is backed up. Just use the one on the first floor for now and I’ll try to repair it. If I can’t do it, I’ll call the plumber.”

This was when I got really scared. I hadn’t had any alcohol for over two weeks, so I knew I was sober. And there was the unicorn right in front of me, talking and breathing. I was terrified.

A while later, we were driving home from a restaurant when the car started behaving in a weird way.

“Shit!” he said. “The stupid wheel! OK, I’m going to pull over and change it. Give me half an hour.”

He changed the wheel, and we drove home. By that time, I was resigned to the idea that I had married an actual live unicorn.

If you are not a Soviet woman, you are probably completely confused by now and have no idea what I’m on about. If you are, though, you must be chuckling wistfully and saying, “You don’t know your luck, woman.”

I grew up among amazing, kind, gentle, super intellectual men who could explain Kant to you in a second, offer a profound analysis of the global geopolitical situation, recite poetry for hours, and quote Shakespeare for fun. These were men who’d never raise their voice to a woman, or say anything offensive or demeaning to her. They respected women’s choices and decisions to the point of complete self-effacement.

They were also schooled to defer to women in their lives for any decision whatsoever.

“Honey, I’ve suffered 2nd degree burns,” you’d say wringing in pain (real story, this one, just like all of them in this post).

“Oh, sweetie,” he’d respond, “that’s so horrible.”

And he’d tear up because he loves you and feels your pain.

“My love,” you’d say, “please please help me, I’m in pain.”

“What do you want me to do?” he’d ask eagerly.

“Please go to the pharmacy and bring me something to ease the pain!”

“But I don’t know what to get,” he’d say compassionately.

“Just anything, please. Ask the pharmacist, call a doctor, I beg you, I’m in horrible pain.”

So he’d leave and come back an hour later empty-handed.

“I asked the pharmacist,” he’d say, “but she suggested three different ointments. I had no idea which one to choose, so I just left. Are you feeling any better? Maybe you can go there and choose the ointment you prefer?”

He wasn’t being malicious or trying to torture me. I was the love of his life, the woman he’d worship forever. He honestly had no idea how to proceed without a woman’s guidance, though. A woman who was wringing in pain could offer no instructions, so he was lost.

We separated. I met many wonderful, gentle, amazing, ultra intellectual men. They could recite Heidegger, compose poetry, sing songs under my window. But they’d always call me at 8 am to say, “My love, I’m going to work and I have no idea what to wear. Should it be the gray suit? Or the brown suit? Or maybe the black pinstriped one?”

I’d sometimes tell them, “Angel, we are out of bread.”

“Oh,” they’d respond. “What should we do?”

“I’d go buy some at the convenience store,” I’d say wearily.

” Good!” they’d reply.

Great guys they were. But they were no unicorns.

So when this actual, real-life unicorn bought the bread, changed the wheel, and repaired the toilet without my guidance, I called my mother to share.

“You don’t say,” she answered. “Is it possible that we have finally got one in our own family? Hah! Is something seriously wrong with him, though?”

P.S. This is supposed to be a short story. Every word of it is true but it’s still a short story. People keep asking me why I don’t write fiction, so here it is, autobiographical fiction. Or rather, what I call “blogger-style fiction”, a new genre that I predict will gain more and more popularity with time.

4 thoughts on “A Soviet Woman and a Unicorn”

  1. Interesting.

    Back in the 1960s I was living in Britain and wanted to buy an 8mm movie projector (I hope you know what that is). I went to a shop and there were two on offer for the same price: a Russian Luch II and a Hanimex. Hanimex was a British firm, but I suspect they rebadged equipment from Taiwan or somewhere nearby.

    They demonstrated both in the shop. The Hanimex had lots of bells and whistles. It had a zoom lens and automatic threading and all sorts of refinements the Luch II lacked. The only thing it couldn’t do was project a decent picture. I went home with the Luch II, and was impressed by the design concept. It was rugged and simple. It had a cast iron body, and if you undid a single screw the body opened so you could access every part for maintenance.

    I pictured people battling their way through rough snowbound roads to remote collective farms and showing films, and if the projector broke down you could fix it without having to make a 300 km journey to the nearest shop, who would send itn back to the factory for repair and promise you could have it back in three weeks. .

    So that gave me a picture of Soviet men as resourceful fix-anything types. I didn’t realise until I read your article that it was only the women who were like that.


  2. Strange… My impression from growing up in the FSU was that most people were just forced by difficult life to learn all kinds of practical skills… Including the members of “the intelligentsia”. Clarissa, are you sure that in the case of your earlier boyfriend it was indeed real ineptness and not passive-aggressiveness and a desire to condition you into not asking for anything and basically forming a relationship with you unidirectionally caring for him without him caring for you?


    1. Of course, the moment I left him he discivered how to pay bills and buy food. 🙂 What I’m describing, though, is a wide ranging social phenomenon. The movies, the jokes about it abound. Like the one where the guy says, “what if the war starts and im tired?” Or the one with the Frenchman saying, “and you sleep with this horse, too?”

      The phenomenon exists across social classes and generations. It’s the result of the postwar male scarcity.


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