Everybody Likes Cher
2009 Barrett Winner
3rd Place Marina Vorobieva
Well, Armenian men sang well. Until then Irina had heard only Georgian men sing. The famous Georgian ensembles of singers and dancers have often toured all around the country and performed on radio or TV. But Armenian men sang so well. How many men were singing? Many. And they were from one family, the family with an old traditional Armenian last name, Sarkisian, which, possibly, they got at the beginning of Christianity from the name of Santa Sarkis. Among them were five brothers. But Irina could not tell one from another. It seemed, they had one face; all had black curly hair, brown eyes, and, of course, famous Armenian noses and mustaches.
The song was quiet, maybe old, very old. It seemed the song swam around the house, and the song knew this house. It spent a little time in the basement with bottles of homemade wine; some bottles were from the harvest of the youth of the father, maybe even the grandfather. Then the song had gone into the garden. Enshrouding young and old trees, farther still, onwards, the song departed to the mountains, to the foothills of the Caucasus.
Irina had known David Sarkisian for the last five years. They studied together at the university in St. Petersburg on a work-study program. Both were architects. One created his architecture projects in Armenia, the other in Middle Russia. David's wife had died and left him with two children. His sister, Anna, helped him run his household and raise the children.
But before Irina had met David, her friends, the worshippers like Irina, gave her as a birthday present a poster of American actress and performer Cher, whose success and popularity in Russia were huge. Irina's mother had liked this gift; she liked Cher's big individuality and called her a lovely freedom. Looking at the poster, Irina's father had stated not a man's but a father's opinion: "It is not bad to look like a modern holy icon. Pray, maybe she will send you a little courage; you are too shy." But "the icon" sent her a boyfriend. And what was especially funny, and what reinforced the belief in the icon was that the last name of Irina's boyfriend was the same as the last name of Cher, the last name of Cher's father, Sarkisian. It was a favorite joke among Irina's family and friends.
Twice a year during their five years of school, David and Irina, and "the icon" too shared a small apartment. They had spent a vacation together, and had gone on two trips: one on the river ship, another to Irina's city where she had lived with her parents in their house. As is common in Russian tradition, David soon became Irina's family's favorite guest. Her parents and her family were delighted with him. When Irina's family with its many uncles and aunts, nephews and nieces gathered together, the honorary place of the family's table was saved for David. "In favor of progress" is a traditional Russian toast David liked very much. And of course, family members asked him whether he had some common roots with Cher. But David didn't have common roots with Cher, although he didn't deny the talent and originality of Cher and was proud of her Armenian blood and appearance. With a Caucasus self-confidence, he answered Irina's relatives calmly, "Yes, of course, I understand that Cher is a woman of evolution. But where there is evolution, there is revolution and all it brings, and what for, since religion many centuries ago has defined the place of woman in life."
"David is not like modern men; he is the self-contained man," Irina's father said to her. "What is the problem with the children? They are not small. In a pinch, his sister Anna will help. Be braver." This was her father's advice.
Irina thought she had it all: "the self-contained man" with his household, their dating for a long time, flowers, gifts, and an offer of marriage. She was not old, but not young anymore, and no one else had proposed marriage. Two weeks before, Irina had learned that she was expecting his baby and that she should take David's offer. So she went to David's house in Armenia. On this day, David's family met her as his future wife. When Irina and Anna set the large table for the family in the biggest room of the house, Irina wondered which place at the table would be for her where the family's members would notice her blue eyes, because today her eyes were as blue as her new dress, like the flowers of flax on a sunny morning.
But, why had only the men come? Where were the women? Why should she sit with David's children in another room, and they have their own small table with food? Why? The family came to meet her. Why are there so many "why's"? thought Irina. The beautiful old song continued.
Anna, silently, like a true Armenian woman, ran back and forth between kitchen and guests and brought them food. In three days Anna would go away and leave the housework and two children to Irina.
"Irina," David had called her calmly. Irina hadn't noticed when he came and sat near her. "Irina, you are so beautiful today, your dress fits you very well. It is so nice you will be the mother of my child. See, all the family came to us; my brothers agree that I will have a Russian wife. See in the window how it is wonderful all around, how the Caucasus Mountains are magnificent and calm. Do you see, that big mountain, with snow on the top? It is Mount Ararat. Noah landed there. He was with his wife. From that time the man possesses the wife; it is a law. To keep this law is man's job. But Cher? The poster of Cher we will hang in a room, we can hang Cher's posters in every room, hundreds of her posters, and, we will praise her."
Oh, Cher. Cher. It is amazing that Cher exists, thought Irina surprisingly to herself. Let this song continue. Let this family be happy with their traditions, she wished. Now Irina was firmly assured that her own child would run on Russian vastness. If her child were a boy, the Armenian nose would decorate the man. If it were a girl, she would look like Cher. Everybody likes Cher.