When you have everything but nothing, you spend most of your energy trying to persuade your mind that the “nothing” doesn’t exist. That’s how Valenka lived after her twenty-five-year marriage ended abruptly. The separation and divorce may have been quick, but the decline in her marriage was a slow and humiliating one. She married as a young, naïve girl from Siberia whose only dream was to be a top swimwear model. She traded that dream to model expensive swimwear on the bow of her new husband’s yacht. 

In choosing the sureness of her husband she denied the truth of herself. Her father gave her the nickname “little wolf”. She allowed herself to be tamed, caged and treated like a household pet. She was the aggressive, fearless one out of the three girls in the family. She was creative, resourceful and determined. But she was no match for New York City in the 1980s. At first, her wolf-like grey eyes framed by thick, black hair drew the attention of agencies. At 18, she was just under six feet tall with a strong, fit physique from growing up working on a hillside sheep farm. Some thought she was too toned and needed to soften up. She had muscular legs and a pronounced butt from life in the mountains. Other casting directors thought her gray eyes were sinister and unappealing. Agencies were waiting to see what the little wolf could do.

Her father arranged for her to stay with a distant relative in Brooklyn for a few months until she could find her own way. Valenka traveled from the interior of Siberia, a town near Esso to the shipping ports of Palana by bus carrying only a small dark canvas bag with a few clothes, some photos, and her journal. She waited until mid-winter to travel so she could hide her beautiful hair under a heavy fur hat and cover her physique in her manly farmer’s clothing and worn coat. She had even practiced lowering her voice from her girlish normal tone to a raspy less intelligent one. She had taken up smoking to yellow her teeth and help her blend in. Her only challenge was her gray eyes and her full naturally red lips. 

It was night when she arrived in Palana. It was snowing lightly and the air was crisp. The passengers trudged off the bus. Some met friends and relatives. Some entered nearby buildings. Valenka looked around and planned her next move. When she grew up in Siberia, she developed a fondness for climbing. Her town was surrounded by rough, rocky mountains with snowy peaks. There were no trees, only small bushes so climbing meant fierce cold winds most of the way up. She set off before sunup and hiked to the base of a mountain. Valenka shed her heavy coat, then placed it in a plastic bag and hid it behind some rocks. She wore close-fitting brown wool pants, a wool sweater and a short navy blue rain jacket with the hood covering her gray wool cap. She had worn black leather gloves to protect her hands from the rocks. Her teeth chattered in the cold for the first quarter-mile until her body warmed up. The first beads of sweat on her temples signaled Valenka it was time for her assault on the mountain. She started to jog, hopping from rock to rock. She’d pull herself up and over boulders, choosing the best line to make her assent. It would seem “little goat” would be a better name. But Valenka moved like a wolf on the trail of her prey.

(Excerpt from the novel – Queen of Passion – to be finished 2019)