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A Room Apart

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Truth I stick by my Pasha like my sweat be made of glue. Not a step he take that don't be shadowed by myself. The soldats they jeer. Call him soft. Ain't lies. If he ain't feel sorry love for me he would bedrag me along like misbehaving child. Weirdo old man that choose me to love. See me special before I see myself.

"Be wife," he say in rooish. "Be wife."

Back in Massa woods, he tell me this plan. He be murderer in my mind then with Karim and that fourteen boy with the simpers. Truth, he do worse crimes before and after. I do same mally things and more without lifting my own hand. Still I agree. I say be pretend wife before he ever be Jesus. For my Driver. Not for nothing to with Pasha.

To these people we be married. To ever people other than my Sengles and my people in Marias also. El Mayor. Mamadou. They know we not marry for real. But my Pasha know more about me than my own self. That be marriage. In Sleeper times when people live five lives they know every damn thing about they partner. How they don't hate them I don't know. If I get cure, my Pasha know these things about me forever. I be a crumbly old lady and he know about me light hunting through Massa woods.

But that ain't something to think about.

That is for other times, the dreaming times before you awake enough to open eyes. It be for the telephone cocktail times if they ever come again.

Vampire Toborev walk me along like I child who don't know how to move one foot after the other. It be an easy way to live. The soldats soon get sick of looking. They have boozen talks to have theyselves. Pasha never learn me word for rape but they teach it to me. They say it like a phlegm bespitten. One step and we where you can taste the sweat water stink in the air. Another step and we through a door where the light is gone and the stink is in the back of your throat. My heely boots echo on the metal floor. It full of raised dots.

"Yo what time you soldats have if you be making dots on floors. Why not have it plain?" I ask.

"Who know of time?" say Pasha. "No time before you, my Ice Cream."

He never call me full name much before. I always ice. Like hearts and dying winters. This be the game he play now. Be husband. Be lackey for the General. Get me work for Roos. Get me save my country.

It be a long game.

He play at being casual while he raise he bruisen fist to dull door with symbols scratch in way no child can read.

"What say that?"

"Say General . In Russia letters different." He say this casual too. Pretend to be. His eyes be blank for fear.

"I talk them." I say Rooish to make point.

"Don't read them no."

The door open and there be no room inside. Pasha still squeeze me in. Hold tight. My nose be at his shoulder. When it brush his sweaten shirt I remember I be in his jacket. Ugly dapple thing hide my Maria dress. Be gratty for it now truth. Soldats seen enough.

There be ten men at least in this shrunken room. They crowd around desk bolted to floor.

"Good work," Razin say to Pasha.

Pasha shrug. Say, "Ain't work. Be wife."

"Wife who ignore you at house," add one other man. A balden one with scar right down his shiny pink head. My Keepers Ten would love to see a head like that. Ho, she would laugh.

"Wife who stand right here," I say. Pasha grip on me go tight like he try squeeze juice from my bones. He told me not to talk. He told me to heed. Must do this for my Sengles and the people leave behind.

"Korolyova, do you agree?" Razin ask me. This be the man who I keep warm and give water just because we both people. Now he be wanting me to be a cog in machine. Say his words with my mouth. Cause his war.

Be tired of causing war.

"Nothing left for me in Quantico. No safety in Marias if Roos be there now. I stay with my husband."

Pasha let loosen grip on me a little. I say right words. He need to start coaching me if he going to get so mad every time I have to speak.

"Marias people. You call apostles," Razin go on, parley like the field.

"Opossums," I say, giggle. That was better times.

Pasha's grip go snare me again.

"They have holy rules. I understand. We have Orthodox at home."

"Ain't comprehend that Ortho word. Be like bone physician book. But, ya, Have rules. Rules for girls mainly."

"Like Virgin Maria."

"Like that," I agree. "But I be a ..." I stop myself here before I say Sengle to this room. They don't need know my people from my selfen mouth. "I be breaking rules."

"For your husband."

"We be together first," Pasha interrupt. "Before Marias. We plan come here together and those Catholics kidnap."

"They won't have you back if know you not unsullied."

"Maybe she is," add balden man. "Maybe vampire took so much gero his blood stop pumping."

"Ain't no problem there," Pasha say, easy smile.

"Rules only images. Like your photos to get the slaven children. Just what people before me want to see."

"Maria before Ice-Cream Star had two abortions. Church know. Minsters arrange it," Pasha say.

"And you, Korolyova?" Razin ask.

A lump like choken bread ball in my throat. My enfant taken. My love could have been.

"I had only one," I say-croak.

"That will do for now," Razin say. This be a man still high from winning. He thinks can win me too. Probably know too Pasha told his plan. Don't care even. "Toborev you two can have corner room. You know it."

"Soldat's should be in the bunk and women in the hold," protest one skinny child with ears like handle jug and clumsy rooish.

"Wife stay with me," Pasha say. "I bring you victory. I least get to keep my wife close. Any other get too close, I cut off their balls and make them eat them for breakfast."

"Charming." Razin says. "our Vampire Prince."

And Pasha pull me back through soldat men who suck in their bellies, suck in their breath like they scared now to let it on me. I walk chin high, clinging to my Pasha and my stomach lurch when I glimpse my image in dirty glass.

I be simper like in walk, expression, even cut of my dress be way a Simper wish if she had means. This be why they act so silly. Why they clung to my Mamadou. They be scared. They be desperate.

I be a maggoty corpse for ways I think on them before. Look at me tripping and I not even be raped. Hardly been beaten.

"Few more steps." Pasha breathe. He already slink out cigarette and I think he only thinking until he can have two hands free to light it.

"Til what?"

"Our room apart," he says. "A door we close."

The room be coffin narrow. Dark as dirt. Pasha he close the door and the only light be creeping under it. Flick a switch and we see not much. Sink with dripping taps. Locker full of scratches. Bed so skinny only littles be comfy there.

"Shee. This be bed where you love into bidding. General might want to consider."

Pasha let go my hand to cover my mouth. "Quiet. Soldats listen."

"No point in door if door have no use." My mouth taste the dirt on his hand, our sweat mix together and tinny blood. I catch his bluish eye. Show him my mischief. It was this way with me-Pasha before no matter the feary time. Be that way again.

He let his mouth smile. The tear streaks on his dirty cheek stretch obscene like fat-skinny skin. Hand leave my face. Shoulders go slack. I reason on his ways before this night. Can be scared all times or not. So have to snatch moment when squash fear like itchy spider and just smile.

Say Pasha, "Have use. This door. Be privacy."

"For the love we do?"

"Ain't joke, Ice."

"Is joke," I muttern while he open door. so much for the privacy. Pasha bark in rooish at first person he see. No doubt soldat be lurking their on order of General . To listen. To make sure we don't. Pointless. Where we go? It be like time with elevator and telephone. He tell faceless child bring me food, clothes. He pace, clanking boots, on the lumpy floor until boy return. Pasha block boy. He don't come in room.

"Have use," he say.

"Clothes always have use. Even stank Maria dress."

"No. Can be door have use." He shove some rooish clothes at me. "Change. No-one looking now." He turn his back, take rollen blanket and put it at the bottom of the door so not even light get into this coffin room. My face be heaten as I peel away my dress. I wince my injuries like they attached to the dress self. Cover my breasts with my arms when it come free. Where this shyness come from I ain't known. Me-Pasha be together alone so many times it should not mean a damn thing. I seen him shirtless. He seen me good as naked. Never it mean anything. Be like enfants playing in streams. Never mean like when I see Mamadou, can't stop looking at every slope of skin.

General words infect my brain so I take down my hands and use a greyish cloth to wipe away some dirt. Befoul this rooish item with my filth.

"Ready," I say. "Dressed."

Pasha straighten with his hand on his back. Yo, he be like plumpy girl with enfant in belly way he move all slow and groaning. Highish giggle come out my mouth.

"Pain funny, Ice?"

"Shee, I finally see you old man."

"Rude." Pasha pat his hard belly, pull his thin tee up a dash. "I be fit as jones."

"Be my husband. Should be seeing good things." I say but to myself. Long time pass since I see my Pasha as pink ratten boy. I come to like his face, how you see it flush when he embarrass. Child, no Man, soldat, whatever he be be my Pasha. He got a face like silly sevenish little. Think he hiding everything but everything he think be plain to see. I even know his moron lying face now how he go blank like sleeper in photograph.

I see his same face go seriose when I say husband. Like I call him scum instead.

"Ain't need say that when we alone, Ice."

"Be truth."

Pasha wipe his eyes hard like he try blind his self. Scrunch his owlen face when he pull firsts away. There only be one cloth for washing and I got it all muck with my work. But water be good for dipping. I rinse it, squeeze like laundry lake day and go soft along my Pasha's jaw with it. He be so grandy I have stretch on toptoes to reach it. Time he would have push me back but tonight he go still like Maria mannequin.

"I old enough to be your otyets."

I shove Pasha shoulder so he sat on narrow bed. "Ain't comprehend."

"How you say father."

"Sengles have no fathers," I say. "Yo, listen. This not be normal world. Not saying like queen or christing wife. Just we together. We always have love, since Massa have love."

Pasha shake his head. I wash his face.

"Don't worry about bed," he say, after quiet stretch forever. "It be like Marias. You sleep. I watch." When I leave down sodden rag he catch me by waist, hands so light they make my body feel like air and tug me onto skinny mattress. I bounce to his solid chest and bed squeak. Laugh come out my insides like tyre be deflate. This be fiction in some way. So people outside, if they not too concerned with their boozing, killing, raping night hear us be marry people.

But it real, too. Pasha touch be always real. He never do it casual like El Mayor or angry-habit like Mamadou. No, unless teaching something Pasha be stingy with his body.

"Ain't no pillow." I complain like it matters. Like I ain't been sleeping every other way since been born.

"I get you one ."

"Nay." Settle my head onto his lap, his twitching thigh, this comfortable place. I throw all words Razin say of Pasha raping into trash. Ho, we lie together countless times. He fight me, squash me, pin me to ground and never been no hardness poke me. My Pasha's whole body be safe to me. Only thing on this mally ocean, this roo boat, this whole nasty world that be safe to Ice-Cream Star.