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Russian Dolls
About the Author: Eliot Hudson's work has appeared in The Missing Slate, Lalitamba, Every Day Fiction, The Punxsutawney Spirit, Exploration, and his poems have been featured in the collections, “Garlic and Saphire,” and “Cleaves.” His short story “Hummingbird Suite” will be coming out in Story Of later this year. He also writes music and performs as “Eliot Hudson and the Hudson Underground”.

- A court order to keep him in the hospital expired in December and he is free to leave.

- The mother of one of his victims said he is ‘incurable’ and demanded he stay in the ward.

- Daily Mail, 8 February 2019

Why do I have all the cemetery maps? You must have read my articles, no? Then what gives you the right barging in here, questioning me like you do? Inspector, what was it? Petrovich? Porfiry? Well if that’s the case then I must tell you it started in 1979. I was nine and Leonid Brezhnev was still the Chairman and would be for a few years more, as you well may know, though I doubt you were born yet. Anyway, we called it the Era of Stagnation, and it felt like that in Gorky. Excuse me, Nizhny Novgorod. It was Gorky then. You don’t remember it, because you’re not from Gor—Nizhny Novgorod—but there was an air of everything failing. Industrial growth rates declined as heavy industry and arms were prioritized. Soviet consumer goods were neglected, and I must say we noticed it. With every meal we ate, drab clothes we wore—the holes of our shoes like the growing void in the Soviet sole. Apartment blocks were still being poured of concrete, but just; dirtier. Grimier. Not looked after. The stairwells increasingly smelled of pee, worse than the ’90s even. Oh, it was not like that in St. Petersburg? Well, I don’t care. It was like the entire Soviet machine was on its last legs. And I, too, was much like that Soviet System. Neglected. No, don’t interrupt me, this has everything to do with why I have the cemetery maps! Anyway, as I was saying … Perhaps that’s why no one noticed when I was taken. It was early spring and I remember patches of snow still collecting on the cold, damp earth—earth finally thawing enough to dig graves, for that’s where the men took me.

Three men. Two in fake leather jackets, and one in a western-style blue jean jacket he’d surely acquired from the black market. At first I didn’t notice them pull up in the yellow Moskvitch until the car skidded to a stop on the gravel. Furthermore, in those days children were told to mind their own business, and never cross men in blue denim jackets. I was on the playground alone. This was nothing out of the ordinary, for there were few kids in my neighborhood—and, I must admit, I was not a very popular child.

Evidently, these three men were en route to the funeral of an eleven-year-old girl, Natasha Petrova, and they dragged me, young Anatoly, along to her coffin. I didn’t know the girl well, only had seen her around school, for she was two grades my senior. I didn’t even know that she had died—or what she’d died of—because in those days people told children little other than to behave, stay quiet and out of trouble, which I did.

Well, these three toughs cajoled me into the Moskvitch—yellow as the plaque on their teeth. It sounds strange now, but in those days you trusted adults. There was an air of stoic, melancholic compliance that was omnipresent among Soviets, and so I didn’t feel frightened; more unpleasant. But it was 1979 and everything was unpleasant. The driver—the man in the blue, denim jacket—took out one of the green, Soviet Military flasks you see the villagers using these days. He unscrewed the top and took a gulp of vodka before handing the flask to the other two men who took swigs. In the vein of Soviet camaraderie, they offered me a swig, which I declined, and they laughed snaggletoothed sniggers. They drove into the cemetery gates, beneath the solemn, gray sky and pulled up to a woman wearing all black by Natasha’s open casket. We were the only ones in the cemetery, and when I got out of the car all I could hear was the wind wrestling through leafless birch trees and the woman’s little sobs.

There I was, little Anatoly Moskvin, thin as a birch tree and paler than its bark, standing before the diminutive birch coffin. I shuffled in my shoes with holes in them, not knowing what to do exactly or where even to look.

I thought I was brought to attend the funeral service, but the men suddenly grabbed me by the wrist, pulled my arms out wide and twisted them while pushing my face down into the coffin. They shouted:

“Kiss the girl! Kiss your bride!”

This story appears in our JUN 2019 Issue
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