Late spring in Saint-Petersburg is a romantic time. The snows have gone, trees are coming into bud, there is sunshine and clear skies. A time for love. A time for lovers.
It is the custom, almost a rite of passage, for young Russian couples to inscribe a padlock with their names, secure it to the railings of the Dvortsovy Most and throw the key into the River Neva, thereby ensuring that the bond of their affection would never be severed. However, the city fathers have recently become concerned that the combined weight of the numerous locks attached to the bridge was threatening to damage its structure and came up with the idea of erecting along the span a row of metal trees whose branches could be used for the same purpose.
Among those who chose Saint-Petersburg for their romantic tryst, Svetlana and Dmitri had spent the weekend exploring this beautiful city. They visited Peterhof, the Yusupov Palace and the Church of the Resurrection of Christ on Spilled Blood, went shopping in Nevsky Prospekt, took a boat trip along the Fontanka and Kryukov canals and had dinner and watched a floor show in Katyuska Restaurant.
Shortly after midnight, they stood at the bottom of the steps alongside the Neva, close to the site of the Hermitage – the former Winter Palace of the Czars – which was resplendent in pastel green, gold and white colours.
‘I love you,’ Dmitri whispered into Svetlana’s ear, ‘and I am truly sorry about what happened. I give you my solemn promise that I will never even kiss another woman again.’ His cheek bore the scratch which she had gouged with her fingernails in her fury at his betrayal when, earlier that evening, he had confessed tearfully to a one-night stand with a woman he met through an internet dating website. He had spent the last few hours apologising and begging her to forgive him.
‘I believe you,’ Svetlana said quietly, smiling into his eyes. Then she gazed over his shoulder and across the river at the Academy of Sciences and the Anthropological Museum, illuminated on the opposite bank. ‘I believe you,’ she repeated, still smiling. ‘I’m sure that you will never kiss another woman.’
He took his arms from around her waist and stroked her hair with both hands. She leaned forward, gently brushed his lips with hers and pushed his chest with her open palms. Not very hard, but just enough to tip him off balance, so that he toppled backwards from the step. She stood there for a few minutes, watching in case he should reappear above the surface of the black water.
Then, she turned and made her way back towards the lovelock tree in the middle of the bridge. She slipped a hand into her pocket and wrapped her fingers around the cold metal object with which she had resolved to dispose of the incriminating evidence of their relationship.
It always pays to carry a spare key, she thought.
By Frank Bray