The neatly-gentrified Mtsensk District plaster buckled in all the permitted places. With fashionable decay, the yellowing windows matched the grey-painted walls. A bare mattress laid in the center of the room. Its sagging middle reminded me of the hall guard outside.
It was a well-upholstered citizen’s slum, drawn to exacting state specifications. Local housing authorities recommended childless tenants. I bade myself welcome.
At once, I over-heated the flat with the help of Dmitri, a young neighbor. After five doses of vodka prescribed by my black marketeer, we spilled a sixth over our bodies. “Wise tovarishch rent their own fireside to raise a glass,” he said. Pointing to the lower half of his uniform, Dmitri whispered, “Drink there.”
Our sweat became a bourgeois fever. Using the floor like a towel, our fluids fraternized. Our rapture was a criminal act, as was our prayer afterward, said to contraband icons. Our bodies then slept.
Aurora’s explosions reported through my dreamless first night, while Dmitri buried his tears in the pillows, trying to silence the echo of Mil gunships in the Hazarajat. Upon the closer examination of many dawns, however, our naked revolution became clothed in patriotic tenderness.
I invited Dmitri to join me for many collectivist meals. In the crimson light of a hundred candles, we fed on each other’s secret poetry and drank the communal smell of our voices. Dmitri left every morning, yet he remained, occupying my mind like a liberating army. Our unaligned bodies soon formed their own brethren ministry.
Alone in the Gor’kiy, I realized my fantasies were a careless footfall down a crooked staircase. I knew each naked picture was a counter-revolutionary flight of relentlessly westward steps that no political trial would slow. Dmitri hid his coward’s tears in the Kremlin wall.
Yet, our bodies took an exploitive angle under a frescoed wall. The depictions unclassified the State secret of my love’s irregular childhood, a picnic from the Masurian Lakes to the Pripet Marshes. We began to read hundreds of official pages, thousands of approved words, medal-winning chapters of caged-life images put down on torn pages, torn from Dmitri’s closed eyes, down on the Tajik carpet.
With conspiratorial pride, we gazed at the colorful Sputniks orbiting over our conversation. There were no lies inside our bed, even though I lied to the watchers, to the listeners, and to myself, over and over, lying about love in general and my unapproved love in particular. I felt every inch of our joined bodies being faithfully documented by Sinyavsky and Daniel. When my young neighbor finally fell asleep, I chronicled our obscurantist passion in a small notebook autographed by my hero-poet, Zhenia.
The verse was seditious.
The following weekend, we ate unshelled Cuban peanuts and drank post-colonial African beer. We wrote banned lyrics between our committee’s approved texts, but failed to censor a single word. Our dissent was sensual; our lust, medal-winning heroism. In our feathered gulag, our mutual blasphemies became one great, unobeyed ukase, unpunished in any labor camp.
Over morning tea and bread, I mustered the courage to send my confidential journal to a friend at a State publishing house. Weeks later, Zhenia himself mailed a precocious reflection on Dmitri and I. We read the dangerously human verse over and over. With Shostakovich playing in the candle-lit surety of the background, we intruded on each other’s Decemberist body and spent the night in each other’s unlight.
I never believed it would end. I eventually learned Dmitri had disappeared into a Western embassy. Was my transfer and promotion a punishment for this? A distressingly businesslike tear fell from my eyes and drowned the sight of my loved brother. Without him, my heart became a cold wind, swept with the adolescent mysteries of a million Petersburg call-boys.
I met one such prostitute along a crumbling embankment of the Neva. Osip was a glorious people’s achievement. In no time, our body’s speculation turned to art. Without irony, the curtain of scarlet between us soon rose. It was elation enough to arrange the next sunset. If one of us were a woman, the State would have taken enormous pride in our longing.
How ashamed one is, standing in the train station, reading censored newspapers, smoking Uzbek cigarettes, counting boys as if they were medals on a commissar’s chest, waiting for Osip to make me older and verbose.
Shuddering babushkas waited to explode while we stood among them at the bus stop, naked in the October frost. I was temporarily protected by my new rank, but Osip’s unimportance was a sentence waiting to be given. All zhopachniks were one pogrom away from baby Jesus. Ours was a village apart, not on the maps, burned to the ground in a battle no one remembers.
The ashes burnt my feet as I inspected Osip’s gravesite, accompanied by another Komsomol hustler who was very thorough in his feigned mourning. My tears made damp white imprints in the snow. Komsomol wiped them clean before he confided, “Death is still far off.”
He made me believe him with committee-scripted words made out of kisses, and the even more terrible policies of his body. Our first beautiful slander took place in the Karelian pine needles, free of police surveillance.
Under strict bureau orders, I congratulated the pedriks being sent elsewhere. In their underground villages, they were famous. Outside, they became the season of grey that made the passage of solitary hours knock trustfulness from my small soul. Gloomily, I knew they were the next meal for the revolution’s terrible steel.
I’ve been reading how such pure blood falls apart. All of official Moscow believed it, but they stayed strange to the jailed church of our lost Israel. In the rain-soaked diaspora of the Dnieper, our family was lost. Chrysostom abandoned us for mute children who might choose to pray in the post-nuclear future. The sweet pastel light of my queer brethren died, lying to the liars about the lie.
Back in the city, watching an arrest sidled me with fear. My empty apartment felt like a boyar’s grave. Like those lads I rent, I slept alone that night.
Despite the danger, Komsomol kept calling me.
He kept coming to the Ministry, and came every night in the laughable safety of my arms. As a bad joke cracked over our last Uzbek, I asked for every one of my roubles back. Without his usual street-ridden suspicion, Komsomol rolled them into an exotic cigarette, which we smoked to celebrate our betrothal.
Komsomol wanted a honeymoon, but insisted it be kept secret. My heart stayed silent. Believe me, not every love sprouts love – sometimes, it just comes, like frozen breath on a train window.
Beneath captive quilts, we dreamt of another train, this time unsealed, to Prague, to read poetry to one another over the Charles Bridge, to feed on each other under the Hunger Wall. Locked in the disappeared comrade’s dacha, Komsomol’s young, white body was a laid-back shore that let the dark green depths of my uniform surge over it.
In the subway, people were really talking now. The conjugal saliva had frozen on our lips and made them red. Until the Zil limousine came to fetch us back to Dzerzhinsky Square, the crowd’s sniggering gave off smoke in its derision. Their subsequent silence made our whispers that much more expressive. Our light died when I wrote a lament for my imprisoned brothers and mailed the treasonous letter to France.
Someone dangerous whispered, “Say thanks to your tears,” before the bellow of roaring tanks overcame us. Our bridegroom suite became the cross of solitudes. In no time at all, the country house was re-assigned to State servants of better record and higher quality. Our feeble hearts were reduced to a provisional strike. The garden’s yellow flowers held fast in solidarity, but official censure soon put that to an end.
All we had left were the kind ringing of the icicles. Their delicate carillon was our only remaining friend, lulling us to obedient sleep despite the nonconformity of our frigid bodies.
The twentieth century sun bathed over our veranda, making the snow glisten like a collective that grew diamonds instead of wheat. Memories of the city disappeared under the gentle white night that walked past our private gulag.
What a rude sobering the spring is. Refusenik advice leaks like sewage from a clover field. Dwarf birches are blossoming through the cracks in our bedroom window. Cast off from his fellows in the train station, Komsomol is very quiet these days. He still authors me a poem every day and, like Osip, hides it in my lunch for safe-keeping.
Something about our silent, two-comrade Soviet is brave, yet, we are betrayed. We live and are alive. We are completely free, but, even together in faculty and heart, we are without joy in the falling wind.