by Nicole Maffeo
The late night F train barreled down the dark subway tracks toward
Brooklyn. The steady whirr of the wheels filled the air. A Russian
woman sat hunched over in a dark littered corner of the dingy
train, clutching a bag of cleaning supplies on her lap, a forlorn
expression on her face. Her eyes were dark and dazed like
two pools frozen in time resting in the sunken hollows of her
face. Wrinkles creased her leathery skin. The woman’s once
red hair was now grey and lay piled messily upon her head. She
lifted her bony hand and brushed aside a loose strand of hair.
The woman wore a long patched moss-colored skirt and large black
boots, and she had a worn brown coat draped over her thin shoulders.
She carried a torn umbrella beside her. The woman placed her hands
back onto her lap, her fingers intertwined as if she were praying.
As the train rocked back and forth the woman stared around the
car. She fell to remembering.
Fatigue washed over her as she remembered a time before she scoured floors and swept out trash. She remembered her life in her native country, Russia. She remembered her little house on a hill outside of Aleksandrovsk that she had cared for so lovingly. She recalled the garden that she kept out back where she grew fresh vegetables and planted beautiful flowers in the moist dark earth. She remembered, with a smile, her husband whom she had loved and her young son, Mikhail, who had run in the woods through the snow drifts during the cold winters as the wind blew tickling his face making him laugh, his eyes sparkling. These were the good times, and she kept them in her memory like a book that she could open and read.
She also remembered vividly that last terrible winter in Aleksandrovsk. It was a bitterly cold day and the snow had started to fall creating a thin cover over the already iced snow. She had been inside her home looking at her son through the kitchen window smiling as he danced in the snow catching snowflakes on his tongue. Heavy snow and hail began pelting the house and windows and suddenly the daylight darkened and the sky became the color of charcoal. In her kitchen the lights flickered and went dead, and she searched quickly for the gas lantern that she always kept for emergencies. She lit the lantern and then pushed open the heavy wooden front door where she was met with a gust of wind. The thick snow was falling furiously now, and it was then that she screamed for Mikhail.
She pulled on her heavy fur coat and rushed out looking for her son. She ran blindly confronted by the dead end of a heavy white wall of snow in every direction. She continued running tripping over tree roots and dense clumps of snow. Lying on the pearly white carpeting of snow she found a single mitten tiny and colorful. She snatched it from the ground clutching it against her chest. Calling Mikhail’s name until her voice grew hoarse, she stumbled across the land until she came upon the pond behind their house. Searching the landscape like a hawk after prey she came finally to a dead stop. By the edge of the pond near her feet she saw little cracks like veins in the ice leading to the middle of the pond where there was a jagged hole.
She ran onto the ice recklessly and peered down into the murky depths of the water. All she saw was the reflection of her pale ghost like face shimmering above the glassy surface. She stuck her hands into the freezing water groping and grasping at nothing but the water. Her face was cold and numb and her hands felt icy; her breath came in short shallow gasps now. He was gone.
Her husband buried himself in his sorrow. He disappeared and left home for days at a time, returning home late at night. Their home was a constant reminder of the loss, like salt in a wound, unable to forget, unable to look at the land where Mikhail had once danced. Their home was now filled with a deep silence. Gone was the laughter that once rang throughout. She knew then that she had to leave the land that she had once loved so much. Her husband had become a ghost as though he were a wraith trapped on earth. She knew they had to leave. She packed what little she could and they left their country.
The conductor’s voice rang distantly in the back of her
head like a dull cassette as her memories slipped slowly away
from her mind. She tried to cling to the last sweet images but
now they were nothing more than misty vapors floating away.
The woman reluctantly opened her eyes, her lids heavy and drowsy.
The conductor’s muffled voice came over the loudspeaker,
announcing the next stop. The metal doors closed as the train
pulled out of the station. The train rattled along the tracks
picking up speed. She plummeted farther and farther away from
her past and memories. The train came to a halt, its
wheels screeching. The doors opened at Brighton Beach. The
woman picked up her heavy belongings and stepped out onto the
cold damp platform. She walked slowly up the stairs, bracing
herself for the long journey home through the cold and empty streets.
Russia she whispered softly as she climbed up the steps leading
out of the station and hurried home to join her sleeping husband.