This story is by Rahille Manus and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Today is a first day of the Spring.
“Oh, look white Snowdrops, tiny heads are starting to peer through the snow here and there…and the yellow Winter Aconites… and what are these blues? Please, snip me one, they are so dainty. I can feel their fragrance. I think they are Netted Irises’’, I kept on stopping, blurting my usual cheerful outbursts.
I was pleased, he agreed to break his busy schedule and venture for a stroll in the forest with me, fresh air might help him with his headaches.
Sun is caressing my face. It’s warmness reminded me of my sister’s palms.
When I was a little girl, in winter, I used to come home from outside, playing with my friends. My cheeks were cold and wet, either because of melted snow or crying. I had my regular fights with boys.
Tania, my half-sister, was 14 years senior than me.
She left our turbulent home as soon as she finished her studies.
I remembered how gentle and forgiving she has always been with me. She would put her warm palms on my cheeks, crouch in front of me and say “it’ll be all right’’ and kiss me on my forehead.
I miss my Tania. She was chirpy and buoyant. She loved singing loudly and never miss a dance at school.
Those times, after completing the college, Soviet Administration, would send all students to the designated work places. Tania was sent to work at the large factory a couple of hours away from Kiev.
We had only one letter from her and that was it. Mama did not even know where to ask? Soon we got posthumous notification from militia, they have accidently discovered her in a ditch by the road the following week after her disappearance from the hostel, where all new recruits lived. They have never found the killer, but who would even attempt to look? KGB were “too busy’’ of hunting Government spies, not the slayers of good citizens.
It’s been almost 40 years ago, the darkness of it all still presses on my mind. Mama has never been the same after that, she blamed her inability to keep Tania at home. But how could she? When you leave in a Communist State you are not a CEO of your destiny. There is always “an Uncle Vania’’ who would assigned your life course in the useful for them direction.
“Oh, what is it in the bushes? Something wide and bulky. I’m scared, please have a look”, I begged.
“But, be careful, it could be a snake there, still sleeping after the winter hibernation”.
“I don’t care, let’s just keep on walking”, he dropped briskly, without stopping.
“No, I can’t, something is telling me, we have to check it out.”
“You always find the way to spoil our walks. Do we have time for this?”, he grumbled.
“Yes, we do”, I said.
“Ok, ok, what I’d do to please you. Promise, you give me a kiss and you cook borsht, I’ve been asking you for months”.
“Can you do something without trying to bargain? But, only because I’m scared and I just asked you”, I became impatient with him.
Tom went to the bushes, bent down and froze down there.
I only could see his buttocks sticking out, long enough for me to notice that he, again, sat somewhere and its going to cost me another $20 to dry-clean them.
< It seemed a bit too long for a quick glance>, I noticed hesitantly.
Finally, he straighten himself out, turning towards me.
“What is it, what is there? What’s the matter, your face is grey”, I said nervously.
He looked ashen and sickened. He stood quietly. I have not seen him like that for yonks.
“Its, it…it… it is a… it… is a…a…”
“Stop that sudden stuttering, what’s the matter with you?”, I could not stand his childishness.
“Please don’t scream, let me come to my senses, I’m scared myself”, he whispered.
“What is it down there?’’, I insisted, without listening to him.
“Ok, it’s a cadaver pouch in there”, he murmured.
“Ahh… Is there a dead body inside?” I did not allow him to answer.
I grabbed him and pulled him away.
“Let’s run from here. May be killer is in the bushes and is watching us. I’m scared to death. Let’s run”, I kept on pulling him by his sleeve.
But, Tom was, like one of those trees, anchored and stunned.
I shook him wildly.
He said quietly, “Don’t look, it’s horrible, we need to come back immediately, but, not the way we walked in here. It’s too long to return to our home. There is a short – cut towards Brisbane, but we have to shoot through the woods, there is a small canteen right near the road. They bound to have a phone and other facilities, let’s go, dear’’.
He suddenly became soft and gentle. I did not dare to ask him anymore, what he saw down there, in those bushes. He continued being quiet, and was leading me by the hand. At times, he would squizzed my fingers to the point that I wanted to pull away, but he would not let me go. Sun was sliding down, ghostly elongated shadows stretched their wonky limbs to swallow us in.
I tripped, his tight grip halted me from flattening myself down into the mud. He straighten me up, crouched, touching my grimed naked knee, protruding through a huge hole of my pretty new woollen tights.
’’Hurts?’’, his eyes quizzes my scrunched up face.
He petted my head and pulled me slightly along.
We pushed on assiduously.
Our town was dotted with ruins for decades. Once, we found a dead, doll like, baby under the rubbles. Kotika stayed with me far into the navy blue night, awkwardly petting the back of my head and chewing his lips till my yowls would ebb.
I kept on diving into my memory,
Odessits are usually a loyal bunch. They were trying to raise again their beloved city with honour and dignity, rebuilt and find new life for those, who were coming back home by hundreds from the places, they were evacuated during the war.
Tom would jerk his head at every sound. Birds were gathering in the trees for the evening supper, before they’d quiet down for the night. Screeching sounds did not gladden our ears. I’ve noticed black crows flew towards opposite directions we were heading.
he suddenly had an outburst of loving admission.
I could not decipher what he muttered under his nose, he slightly pulled my hand, pushing on a bit faster.
I was thinking to myself, < if that’s what takes to make my husband more pliable, I should lure him into the bushes more frequently.>
This, type of sinister thought, caused me to shiver. Yes, I’m tired of our constant bickering. It’s not worth it. I need to find mercy towards both of us. I was dumbfounded at the transformation he got, just by bending over into the bush.
I’ve arrided to myself at the idea, and, probably, made some noise.
He turned back and looked at me with unusual tenderness in his eyes. Semi smile played on his lips, we reached the woodland edge. Flickering lights could be seen down the road. I opened my arms and threw myself on his chest. Long hungry kiss was overdue.
A few days later, I have heard in the car that the dead body of young lady was found in adjacent National Park, she head horrific injuries to her face. These muffled radio words were throttling me, the black and white images from my childhood have flooded my mind. I stopped by the curb with flashing lights on. It reminded me of the photos militia sent to us, her face was unrecognisable. Oh, Tania, I sobbed and sobbed and drove back home.
No wonder Tom kept it from me, he expected these shocking news would reach me. He stalled, but could not prevent it.
I rushed to him to be a fluffy cloud resting on the chest of my rock, my loving husband, who likes petting my head and cuddling my bottom.