Historical truth is not only a collection of dry facts but an intricate infusion of views and impressions of information with all the impossible, controversial and fantastic thrown in.
This story is about a young woman's survival from a brutal attack and a rape and her emotionally complex affair with her rapist.
There was a time in my life when I met Death, and fell in love with him. Death was impressively tall, with a military posture, symmetrical, pale features, soft, full lips, and innocent, baby-blue eyes.
It was a fickle Russian September when the summer warmth rapidly changes into wet, bone-chilling cold. The early frost slipped its icy fingers under my clothes and painfully caressed the sensitive enamel of my front teeth every evening as I stepped from my warm work place into the street and, increasing my pace, pressed my stomach tight against my spine to stop shivering. It was a short walk home, but done in the darkness of a blind man.
My neighborhood, �Red Bank of the River Orsha,� was located between three cemeteries, Jewish, Russian and Polish, on the outskirts of town. The main street, named after Fredrick Engels, never received the official attention it needed. All the streetlights were broken, and the only public phone was mutilated beyond repair. There were no buses that ran through this part of the neither town, nor taxi service to Red Bank after dark, even if one could afford it - and I could not. The private houses, pocked with dingy little windows, were placed far behind fences and stood concealed by neglected, entangled vegetation and shed no light on the desolated country landscape.
On this cloudless night, only the moon was the queen of navigation. I sensed movement in the thick darkness directly ahead of me and heard a gentle voice ask forgiveness for disturbing me, and pleading for guidance. �Excuse me, please, I am completely lost and I had to report to the army base 15 minutes ago. If it�s not too much trouble, please, could you give me directions?�
I focused my vision to try and penetrate the flat space of invisibility and identify the source of the placid voice. The night rippled into a six foot, seven inch, Red Army Major. The moonlight reflected from his polished brass insignia. Someone was lost in my lightless neighborhood. It wasn�t the first time.
So why should I be frightened or surprised now? Plus, the Major didn�t seem at all out of place, but stood comfortably, almost bored, as he calmly received my blabbered and gesticulated directions, which I gave with my back to him. �And then you take a right, and then a left and after you reach the bridge�� As a good-natured person and patriotic citizen, I had to make sure the solder wouldn�t remain lost.
It was the sudden, overwhelming, abstract, sense of a panic, as if something was burning above my head, which forced me to turn to face the Major. I beheld the crazed eyes of the lost soldier glowing with orange flames against the endless satin of the darkness. I disappeared into his stare, falling into the abyss of the avoidable moment. In anticipation of a struggle, my body jerked. I tried to scream, but the sharp edge of terror pricked my throat and no sound reached my lips. The silent roar of horror exploded in my chest.
Violence is like a giant, foul, stale, fart that fills the air with a sulphurous, suffocating, rotten egg odor. The lungs refuse to breathe, the nervous system shuts down, the heart stops its rapid race, and the spirit abandons the body.
Before my twentieth birthday, Death had come for me.
I surrendered easily as my spine cracked under the pressure of the trained-to-kill, iron grip of the Major�s coarse hands. He tossed and twisted me like wet laundry, trying to squeeze some struggle out of me in order to reach the ecstatic intensity of his predatory game. The excitement of the chase and hand-to-hand combat sweetened his pleasure of killing. But I gave him only the remains of the real me: my limp limbs. I had abandoned my body as soon as it landed in a puddle of icy water.
From a distance, my spirit watched the brutal end of its physical existence. How long would it take before someone discovered this insanity? Definitely by morning, when a pair of still sleepy eyes would notice my smudged, dirty, nude body on a pile of slimy, rotten leaves. The person would go through an entire range of emotions: shock, wonder, panic, fear and sorrow. After that, there would be the obligatory police investigation and, of course, the funeral.
The investigation was not important for me to fantasize about, since I was almost certain that no one would ever apprehend my murderer. I skipped all the legal procedures and my thoughts went directly to my funeral. The yellow polyester dress, which I inherited from my cousin Raisa after she purchased it for a special occasion and used for her long-held wish of a wedding, which was now too small after the arrival of her baby, would be my first choice to wear in my coffin.
I hoped people would say nice words at the final farewell. A small town has neither pity, nor mercy. The locals will kill you over and over with spiteful tales of who deserved what, and for transgressions real or imagined. Good girls, bad girls. The reality was that at the end of the burial services, everyone would get awfully drunk with Samogon - 120% proof, home-made potato vodka. People often forget the purpose of the gathering and amuse each other with dancing, laughter and stupid, vulgar jokes. Also, a funeral is a perfect place to settle old disputes. Before nightfall, some will inevitably start a fight and shed some blood. A few might even shed some tears.
�Are you a virgin?� Death�s voice took my spirit by surprise, interrupting the flow of its meditation. My spirit jumped back into my body and I suddenly felt cold.
�Are you a virgin?� Death repeated.
�Yes, I am,� I lied.
Death gave me an unexpected kiss. I responded to it, softly sucking his tongue, caressing his neck, admiring the Major�s stars on his epaulets. Forcefully, I entered into the mysterious territory of someone else�s emotional labyrinth, and became lost in the translucent structure of time. My body became disjointed and weightless and my energy dispersed and scattered into floating confetti of fire that fell on me like hot ashes from a cigarette. Still feeling the Major inside of me, my body spasmed and shook. The bitter taste of silent tears flooded my mouth. I choked, but was too frightened to display my discomfort. So, instead, I moaned.
�You are my girl now,� Death declared.
�Only yours, to the end,� I responded. Sometimes, in the formation of simple words, there is a secret lie.
My consciousness unfolded into a measureless surface of astonishment, coupled with a cheap desire to know what was coming next. Then, merciful Death put me on his wide shoulders and carried me home. I only had to point in the right direction. A few minutes later, I was alone, scratching the front door of my house like a homeless cat. In the struggle, I had lost my keys.
�Let me in please,� I whispered to an empty space. My boneless body wanted to give up, slide down, and melt in to the concrete porch. The cold air was so comforting. I closed my eyes for a minute. First, there was a total stillness of thought and then an eruption of repressed anger as I saw my fist banging on the glass of the front window.
Pow! Pow! Pow! The sound of trembling glass bounced against my chest. My lips folded into a pipe, jaws shifting from ear to ear, mouth turned inside out and a liquid ball of vomit slapped the porch and my shoes. The sour taste of stomach acid bubbled inside my throat, as I coughed out the words, �Ma! Op-en the door! �The do-or! Ma!�
Without turning on the light, my sleepy, cursing mother opened the front door. She turned around immediately and dragged her fungus-infested, stinky slippers back to bed. On the way, she farted loudly, cursed again, and slammed the bedroom door.
My mother�s indifference was formed during War World II. Well informed Jewish families fled from Belarus to the South of the Soviet Union to avoid execution or concentration camps. When my grandfather joined the Byelorussian Front, my grandmother, with her five daughters, aged five to fourteen, went to Uzbekistan with very bleak prospects for the future. A sacrifice had to be made to save family from starvation.
In 1942, my mother, aged twelve, was sold - or better still � �exchanged� by her mother to a munitions factory for a bag of barley, a large jar of lard, and three pieces of soap. Ma was sent to the Siberian border with a forged birth certificate indicating that she was old enough to work twelve hours a day.
Robbed by adults of her winter clothes and food rations, my mother was destined to be a war casualty after just a few months of slavery. She escaped the factory and survived the long journey back to her family in Uzbekistan, to a war refugee settlement near the capital, Tashkent. Her mother died only a few days before her arrival, and her sisters had been given away to different work camps.
I didn�t want her to see me all bruised and disheveled. We all learned young: keep it to yourself. Which is exactly what I did, even with a dislocated shoulder, a swollen ankle, broken fingernails, and hair plastered to my skull by wet mud that dripped on my back like cold kasha. Over a basin of cold water, I washed myself and brushed my sticky hair until my skull began to bleed. I tied towels around my twisted ankle and shoulder, covered myself with a shabby, bacon-smelling coat, oily from years of use, and sat down.
I lit a cigarette and stared into the night. Our kitchen was damp, cold and crowded with the sharp mushroom smell of rapidly spreading mold on cheaply built walls. It was furnished with a thirty-year-old, beaten and chipped refrigerator, bare wood country chairs, and a plastic coffee table. I hated this chicken coop. Desperately, I wanted to cry, but the tears stuck somewhere in the bottom of my eyes. Instead, I smoked till dawn and then slipped into oblivion.
I dreamt that I sat on a park bench reading a book on a clear summer day. A woman appeared and began a conversation. She was worn out, tired-looking, and had short, bleached-blond hair and a wrinkled face. Her age was uncertain, maybe forty, perhaps over sixty. No one could call her attractive, but her watery, turquoise eyes were hypnotizing, provident, and caring. I couldn�t stop staring. She put her chapped lips close to my face. I felt her warm breath on my cheeks as she whispered that she could read the future from facial wrinkles.
She said that I longed for balance and security and that emotionally, I was just a passive and insecure reflection of others. The dark side of my nature would bring me many dramatic experiences. But, I was going to live a very long life of one hundred and twenty seven years and that, sometime in the future, I would laugh at all my sorrows and pain, which would surely be transformed into creative and dynamic expression. Then she said that emotional balance must to be earned.
Confused and frightened over her predictions, I demanded to know whose wrinkles she was reading. She answered that she read her own, but that my future was reflected in her face. �Who the hell are you?� I demanded, losing my temper. �Why, my dear, I thought you would know by now. I am your fate, of course,� she calmly replied. Then, she let me touch her timeless, tired face.
�One day we will go up in flames from your fucking cigarettes!� Mother�s screeching voice rang in my head. �Go-od mo-r-ning!� she screamed in my ear. She snatched one cigarette from my pack, lit it, inhaled with pleasure and added, �Never smoke on an empty stomach. It�s bad for you.�
I excused myself on account of my �terrible menstruation� and went to bed. Luckily, it was Saturday and I had two whole days to recover before going back to work. My salvation lay in taking some date-expired aspirin washed down with mother�s homemade liquor.
Monday came and life went on. That week, a sudden heat wave swept through the town. Indian summer arrived in full splendor. The reflection of sparkling sunshine in the thick brocade of autumn foliage contrasted against the sapphire sky and created a spectacular view. The air was heavy with the perfume of honey, apples, and winter blossom flowers, mixed with bitter smoke from the burning leaves on every front yard. Cats were going crazy from the sudden comforting warmth and serenaded the moon every evening, bringing total frustration to the local residents. People screamed profanities in the night and threw scalding water onto the street in the hope of injuring some cat but, instead, innocent bystanders would get burned, and these situations would escalate into vicious arguments or fistfights.
How to take advantage of the glorious weather was everyone�s concern. As always, there were hurried, last minute preparations for the long, frigid winter. Mother and I worked our small patch of land after my day job and during my precious weekends, though we hardly equaled a pair of man�s hands. So, for many years the husbandless woman and her cub were creative in approaching the difficult task of everyday survival. The field needed plowing after the final collection of roots and vegetables. Renting a horse was not within our budget, but to continue working with just shovels was total insanity. Borrowing a plow in exchange for a portion of our harvest seemed to be the only realistic approach.
I functioned as the horse and mother the plowman. Wrapping leather straps around my waist and shoulders, I pulled the plow while, at her end, mother tried very hard to steer the blade in a straight line. Work was progressing well and it would take us two days to finish the job. My shoulder still hurt from my encounter with Death. I had to stop often to adjust the plow straps. Mother�s patience began to wear thin.
It was then Death suddenly reappeared with a bouquet of flowers. Standing in the middle of the potato field, Death looked so proper, clean, and polished. Did he simply fly over here? He certainly wasn�t lost this time. I could see my reflection in his black army boots. There was no sweat on his forehead, even though it was a very hot day, nor even a speck of soil on his boots, nor dust on the sleeves of his army jacket. Closely shaven and perfumed, Death was irresistible.
Mother was pleased with Death�s looks. �Boys like you should guard the Kremlin!� she told him. Flattery is very tasty bait. Death volunteered to help us. He stripped down to his waist, carefully folded his belongings, and asked for a pair of work shoes. I glanced at Death�s over-sized feet and froze in place stuttering like a retarded child. Mother, on the other hand, always wise about seizing the moment, quickly found a pair of old galoshes my uncle left behind after freezing to death in his yard because his wife was worried about her monthly beating and refused to open the front door. The drunken idiot thought that cigarettes would keep him warm till morning. Instead, he let the severe Russian frost lullaby him into a better world. He fell asleep and became an icicle. His death was a full figured, G-cupped snowwoman.
Meanwhile, my Death, using only a shovel, worked like a film on fast forward. I felt dizzy watching the half nude, sweat-glistened being move around with the power of a portable tractor. All the work was finished in a couple of hours. Mother called our neighbors to display the splendor of our glory. We now had a male friend and protector who loved to work, a Red Army Major, a handyman and a gentleman, who brought us flowers and planned to repair our leaking roof.
Mother set the table with bottles of homemade wine, boiled potatoes, marinated mushrooms and her secret stash of dry sausage. Even faced with this banquet, worms of worry chewed holes in my stomach, as I imagined Death drunk and loose in the Red Bank neighborhood between the three cemeteries.
Ocean-blue-eyed Death was reticent and enigmatic. Respectable neighbors and beloved relatives wanted to please him by guessing his desires. Oh, maybe this, or maybe that. Try, please, a little more of this, a little more of that. After a few shots of mother�s potent liquor creation, everybody wanted to chat with handsome Death, to stroke his hair, to hear his opinion on the war in Afghanistan. While surrounded by the tipsy, doting and affectionate crowd, Death looked straight into my eyes with silent devotion and smiled. I looked at his perfect teeth and felt a winter frost lick my neck and chill my body with a violent desire. I walked with Death, hand in hand, through a grove of apple trees in the total silence.
Desire is blind and the heart a foolish prankster. On piles of golden and burgundy leaves, without exchanging any words, we made love passionately like true lovers, lovers that hungered for love, rolling on the ground, pressing into each other�s sweaty body with fury, reaching deeply into each other�s soul, and into that sacred place where the color of ecstasy infuses itself with the color of pain. Death stretched his hairless body on the ground and offered it to me like a bench. I made myself comfortable on his flat abdomen. While nude, we smoked cigarettes and showed each other ways to make smoke figures.
The level of our intimate connection grew deeper when Death tenderly caressed the black and blue marks on my skin, which, by that time, were hardly visible under my Gypsy-dark suntan, and I told taboo political anecdotes.
When Leonid Brezhnev died, because of his important contribution of twenty years of dictatorship in Russia, he had a choice on how to spend his eternity: Heaven, or Hell. In Heaven everything was clean, light, quiet and peaceful. Brezhnev�s tour of Hell, however, brought some excitement because there Brezhnev saw his former comrade Nikita Khrushchev having wild sex with Marilyn Monroe. Brezhnev settled for Hell, wanting Nikita�s piece of the action. Instead, he was dragged into the Inferno. �Why is Nikita better than me? I am a Soviet hero four times over!� Brezhnev complained. Satan calmly responded that the sexual escapade he had seen in Hell was not Nikita�s reward, but Marilyn Monroe�s punishment!
Death giggled at this sacrilege like a little boy. In the magical glow of the scarlet evening sky, with streaks of gold on the horizon and scattered patches of peacock clouds, accompanied by a chorus of noisy insects and the matrimonial dance of flashing firebugs, Death became my pet.
A box of nails would appear on the front porch, or a truckload of quality wood would be unloaded in the front yard, complete with all the proper papers of ownership. Cans of army food found their way to my home, which added spice to our existence. The boiled potatoes tasted heavenly with fatty chunks of beef from those cans and every evening mother tried to collect every drop of the exquisite taste by dipping a bit of sour, black rye Russian bread into the melted fat, while worrying out loud about how long this luxury would last.
My relationship with Death brought me a higher level of respect from relatives and neighbors. Now, I had an official breadwinner, a provider. People talked about my secure, prosperous future with some degree of envy. Mother mentioned that she finally could see a light in the end of the tunnel. I was asked often how I met the Major. Well, we met on the street and it was love at first sight. What a beautiful story. Yes, indeed.
Then, Death disappeared and, two months later, a postcard arrived from Afghanistan, written in the almost illegible handwriting of a first-grader. Our Major found himself in appropriate circumstances for his skills, where he could polish his particular talents to perfection. A soldier belongs to war, he declared. Civilian life was suffocating and depressing. I had to be strong and patient, since glorious Death would be back one day.
Death�s postcard melted into dark ashes in the fireplace. I stared at the red-hot coals for a long time. Mother mumbled complaints about the fickle nature of men and of life�s disappointments in general. I kept quiet, as always.
YELENA TYLKINA @2006