Most mornings Mme Saukhalova threw open the front door of her tiny pied-à-terre and took a single step backward, her head recoiling dramatically as if by whiplash, and then alluringly crossed its threshold onto the landing, glancing furtively left and right to see who might have noticed. Down, down, down each step she gingerly reached bunioned and stockinged toes tightly strapped into pointy sandals, a pink duster billowing behind her. The lavender leotard she wore beneath a sweeping black skirt was gathered at her furrowed and freckled décolletage, a gaudy rhinestone brooch pinned there drawing the eye directly to it. An oddly girlish chiffon bow strategically positioned at the nape of her neck concealed whatever device held her low chignon in place. Or perhaps her hair stayed there obediently on its own: it was not clear when Mme had last washed, nor whether the sheen in her hair occurred naturally. But wisps of heavy perfume that followed her mercifully kept onlookers at a respectable distance.
A pair of Yorkies tugged at the bejeweled lead in Mme’s right hand with urgency: Tristan und Isolde. (This was her second Tristan, third Isolde.) A passerby would try to avert the gaze from this oncoming spectacle as if from a traffic accident, but finally could not: Mme Saukhalova was a force of nature who changed the very energy of the space around her simply by standing in it. Nobody embraced this truth with more fervor or passion than Mme herself, else she’d have departed this world long ago.