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It's Never Over

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You should never have come home, Oleg Igorevich.

Your Mama knows it. You can see it in her face each time she looks at you. Mama, who always understood this country better than you, who has been keeping secrets for longer than you've been alive. Mama, who called you into her room and lifted up the hem of her dress so you could see the spool of barbed wire wrapped around her right ankle, trailing out the window behind her into the snow. And she told you that sometimes it was tight, and sometimes it was slack, and sometimes the pull was so strong that she had to hold on to you, your brother, your father to keep from being dragged back. Back where, you asked but she closed her mouth and shut her eyes and shook her head. So you followed that wire out the window and into the snow to see where it led you. And where it led you was the Kraslag.

You didn’t understand it then. Mama in the labor camps, Mama with her faded gold hair and soft blue eyes. How did she survive?

It seems treason runs in the family. For a moment you can almost understand your father, and you feel so envious it makes you sick, thinking of him leading Mama out of the camps like Orpheus, never once looking behind him, only straight ahead even all these years later, until a kind of blindness crept up around him and he couldn’t turn back if he wanted to. No one in this country can, they can only look forward, pulled towards a destination they cannot see.

Would you have been loyal too, if Nina had lived? If your name had been enough to bring her out of the gulag, like Eurydice rising from the dead. But these are times of inflation, Oleg Igorevich, and your name is a weakened currency. 

Is it strange that you feel closer to her now than you did when she was alive? That when you wake up in the dark sweating from nightmares where you hear yourself speaking English in the voice of a man angry with his country like a boy angry with his father, it is her body you imagine lying beside you in the bed. Her body, that lay with other men, lied to other men, but not to you. No, it was not capable of that.

Your body is slowly learning what hers already knew, that treason is a sickness that starts in the heart and spreads out into the extremities like a debilitating disease. Your hands shake, your bowels cramp, you cannot sleep, cannot eat. You can almost pity your father, he lives with three ghosts now; you, your mother, and the picture of Yevgeny on the wall. He puts food onto your plate in hopes you will eat, brings girls to the table in hopes you will forget. If you asked him, he would spend all the fragile capital of his name trying to bring you up out of the dark. But it will not be enough. Your country expects loyalty from its favorite sons. They will deliver you trussed up in audiotape like a pig ready for roasting, a gift to the people of this country who are starving because of families like yours. 

It will not be much longer now, Oleg Igorevich. You have begun to feel a gentle tug on your right ankle. Sometimes it is tight, and sometimes it is slack, and sometimes it pulls you forward toward a destination you cannot see.