The Dealey Five
Chapter 15 (or, "Ivan's Daughter")
Where We Last Left Off: The kids had found their fifth comrade, but lost Jason’s boombox in the process. Tama takes the new kid, who calls himself Didi, shopping to blend in, and Milaya disappears to who knew where.
Brighton Beach was quiet at this time of night, especially on a Tuesday.
Milaya had walked the distance from the Saint Arbucks in Manhattan to this alley by herself. Nobody had bothered her. There was no reason to bother her. She walked like a girl on a mission, and nobody wanted to disturb her. Her only company was her shadow during the long walk. She was tired, but forced herself to go on, knowing if she stopped, she would never continue.
She knew that Mac, Tamasine, and the others might still try to stop her. Stealth was her strong point, so she had been able to leave Mac’s apartment without anybody finding out. But Jason was fast -- too fast. Fast enough that he should have been able to retrieve his boombox earlier from that Chinese KGB man whom had stolen it.
There was the question: how had that man stopped time like that? And why were he, and this boy from their world, part of the KGB? And more importantly, why hadn’t she been told about all of this? If she was so important, then she would have liked to be more in the know with their maneuvers. Some princess, some cherished one she was. She wanted to talk to Dimitri in person and get some answers.
The way she pictured it, she would have to do it from outside the compound, because she didn’t want to go back to Dimitri. Tamasine’s blini gift had proved to her Dimitri saw her as a pawn. But she had to stay strong. If she could get her answers, she would be able to settle the score once and for all, become a full member of this “Save The World” club the other kids had formed. And if she picked up some clues along the way as to how Jason could get his boombox back, the better.
She hid in the shadows, behind a fire escape, her eyes on the door that melded into the darkness. Even in regular daylight, it looked just like a normal door, but this was the only entrance -- or exit -- to the KGB’s headquarters here. If she knocked on this door, guards would try to escort her in, but she would have to stand her ground, insist she meet Dimitri in the alley. It wouldn’t be easy, but if she went in the building, she had a feeling she would never come out.
She stayed in the shadows for a moment, waiting for the right moment to come out, to make herself known to the security cameras that probably already knew she was here.
And then, in the still of the night, she thought she heard a voice.
She stopped breathing. It wasn’t in English or Russian, but it had still sounded familiar. She shook her head. She was hearing things again --
She raised her head from the table. “Yes, Mammochka?”
“I already told you not to sit around all day. If you are going to enjoy yourself, go do it outside.” Her mother hit her with her feather duster as she passed by. “Now go and have fun.”
She knew why her mother was doing this -- in three weeks time, she would turn thirteen, the age where she was eligible to work at the same factory her mother did. She would probably get a morning shift, unlike her mother, but that was how it went. Anything to help pull in more for their small family. It had been understood, ever since the accident, that she would stop being a child at thirteen. No more games, three weeks from now.
She didn’t want to be at home right now anyway, listening to her mother get on her like this. So, she took her bag from the table and said, “Okay. I’ll be back in a while.”
“Don’t get lost or talk to strangers.” Her mother smiled from where she was standing, a ladle now in her hand. “Glory to our Soviet homeland, milaya.”
She didn’t understand why her mother always said that. The Soviets always got the glory anyway, right? It was like a fact that didn’t even need a reminder. Yet, her mother still liked to say it, and if it made her happy, then she figured it didn’t matter.
It was a half an hour walk to where she wanted to go. She knew this because she came here all the time. The main road only led so far down, and she would have to walk along the train tracks the rest of the way. She kept her ears open and, when she didn’t hear a train, she ran on them, to the right, past where normal people went.
She got to the gate without any time to spare, and jumped off of the tracks just before the train came into sight. As the train passed, she prayed that nobody saw her here. A blonde girl like her shouldn’t be around these parts. While they wouldn’t consider her a runaway, her mother would rip her to shreds if the KGB escorted her home.
Breathing a sigh of relief, she turned and found him standing right there at the gate. “Ivanovna,” he said, and she smiled.
Milaya tried to clear her head. She was still standing in the alley, wasn’t she? Dimitri. The strange Chinese man. Answers. She looked around, making sure the coast was clear, but that just reminded her of watching out for the train. Was that her in those memories? They weren’t memories, were they?
She easily jumped over the fence that separated her and the boy, making sure her bag came with her. He didn’t ask, but she knew he was excited for what she had brought.
“I got the cheese,” she said, opening the bag and handing it to him, “as well as this loaf of bread and a flask of fresh water. Don’t use it all at once now.”
She didn’t know his name, but they had met when she had been exploring one day, tired of the same area of Moscow and the day to day routine the officials had marked out for her family. He didn’t know her full name, only Ivanovna, her patronymic middle name given for her late father. It forever marked her as Ivan’s daughter.
They sat and talked for a while on the outskirts of the fenced area, the dark-haired boy talking to the light-haired girl. She told him how the rations had changed, how she was, in a way, excited to be working in a short time. He told her about how the old man got whipped again, how there was a stray cat the guards shot, and how the rain had washed his hair again. There wasn’t that much to talk about -- things generally stayed the same in the compound -- but it was still nice to enjoy one another’s company.
She jumped back over the fence and made the long journey home, not a soul discovering where she had gone. Nobody could. She was playing with fire, but as long as nobody knew, she could get away with it. This would only be happening for another three weeks, anyway.
Milaya steadied herself in the alley. She had to go back to Mac’s apartment, but didn’t know if she could get that far. These memories...they had to be hers, right? She remembered Tamasine in the hallway, passed out, blood on his forehead from the explosion. If she wasn’t careful, the same thing would happen to her. She reached for her phone, then remembered she had left it with Mac so the others couldn’t track her. She figured Mac would have found the phone by now, in his backpack pocket. By now, they probably figured she was never coming back, right?
She looked up at the sky, but it provided no solace, no light to see by. There was nobody there, save for her own shadow.
“Today will be the last day I can be here,” she told him during her next visit. “Mammochka is taking me to the office tomorrow to be registered. I’ll be under her watchful eye from here on out.”
“I can’t forget you. You’ve helped my family so much over these months.” He gave her an honest smile. “What can I do to repay you?”
She didn’t know. She couldn’t say to leave, because his entire family lived here in the compound, and he wouldn’t leave them. He could jump over the fence just like she did, but he wouldn’t. She knew the laws wouldn’t be changed, that his family and his people would always be here, controlled so they could not contaminate the rest of society.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small handkerchief, embroidered at the bottom with the circular, looping script of his people. “Please take this, if you can. Can you?”
She nodded, taking the handkerchief from him. “I will try to find some time to visit. Even late at night. You know I will.” She couldn’t forget all of the happy times, all of the games they had played, the things she had learned about his family and homeland. “I will keep it safe.” And then, she considered she had nothing to give him to keep safe. “Now I have to repay you somehow.”
“Ivanovna, you don’t have to do that --”
“Rifka.” She smiled. “Call me Rifka. There are thousands of Rifkas in Moscow, and probably many Rifka Ivanovnas. I am still safe.”
She sat on the ground, leaned her head up against the wall. The world spun in circles around her. Was this how it always was? Would it always be this way? If she tried to get up, back on her feet, she became too dizzy to do so. She was in plain view of the cameras now, and she was certain Dimitri would be out to get her any second now.
And, the problem was, she couldn’t do anything about it.
Three days before her thirteenth birthday, she planned a surprise. She sneaked out of her house late at night and walked the train tracks to the compound. If she jumped over the fence, she could see him one last time. She hadn’t been anticipating the smoke rising from the nearby trees as she crossed the tracks.
KGB members were all around the fence, and the smoke was so thick she couldn’t even see through it to the other side. They grabbed her shoulder, pulled her away from the site. “What’s going on here?” she asked. Even then, they didn’t have answers for her. “I demand to know!”
“What does it matter to you?” The men asked for her name and returned her to her house, strong arms dragging her the entire way. The next morning, her mother forbade her from leaving. “You will start work in two days. Enough of this nonsense. I do not know what you were doing outside at that time of night, but if you do so again, I will submit you to the state school instead of having you work.” Rifka knew what this meant: she would never see her mother again, instead training to become a KGB soldier herself.
When her mother left for work that night, she turned on the state television, her family’s only link to the outside world. The fire and the flames played on the television again, a reminder of last night played to all Soviet people. She had heard the truth from the boy -- that they had been forced out of their homeland, now part of the mother Soviet, and had come to these compounds to work instead -- but this was different. It wasn’t just his compound; areas across Russia and the Soviet land were aflame.
These television spots insisted there was a revolution happening, and if the dogs weren’t put in their place, all of the mother Soviet land would be overrun by them. So the KGB was doing just what they had been told to: putting the dogs to sleep. By now, there wasn’t supposed to be a single man, woman, or child from his land left.
She was powerless to stop it until she took out his handkerchief, studied the woven script. His name now existed only here, in these seven letters she could not read. And then she understood that there was more than the mother Soviet, that millions of people had burned and been murdered just because somebody said so, because they felt threatened. Only the Soviets could pull it off in one night.
She stuffed the handkerchief in one pocket. It wasn’t right for her to be here, alive, when she knew the truth. She kept seeing his face, the nameless boy she had grown to love, the boy whom had never given her his name for fear they would attack him. They attacked him anyway. It made her sick, and she couldn’t sit still anymore.
“Mammochka,” she said, to nobody in particular, “I’m sorry, but I have to leave. And I don’t know if I’m going to come home this time. But you have to understand. You love your Soviet mother, but I don’t know if I can love something that destroys innocence.” She touched the table. “I have to go now.”
She took the frying pan from where it had been sitting on the stove and walked out the front door, leaving it unlocked. The streets were quiet, on lockdown because of this supposed revolution that was happening, but she no longer cared. She took the normal route, crossing the train tracks, and forced herself to look. Beyond the fence, there was nothing left of the compound. Smoke, ash, dust, ruins. She held the only remnant.
The guards were back and surrounded her. One guard came closer. “You were the girl here the other night, the one with yellow hair. Why do you dare to come back? You are a daughter of our Soviet mother.”
And she met his eyes dead on and spoke what she could. “в настоящее время, ես հայ եմ!”
They lunged for her, but she was ready. She gripped her frying pan and swung hard, but never connected. Opening her eyes, she saw that all five of the men were frozen in time, not moving an inch. Looking up, she saw the sky beginning to change colors, smoke now gone, morning finally coming.
She opened her eyes.
She was still seated on the ground, by the alley. The only sounds came from outside. With one hand she felt up to her breast pocket and realized the handkerchief was still there. She had forgotten entirely about it -- but so had everybody else.
She looked up into the security camera, suddenly becoming aware of her mission, just as the door opened. “Well,” a voice said, “who do we have here?”
She couldn’t find the words to talk in English, but she was certain her addressor would still understand her. She stood, shaky, coming to her feet. The sky was clear, but she could still see the smoke.
“Me,” she said. “Just me. Just the person you didn’t trust with your plan. Who is Tao? Why did he call me a traitor?”
Dimitri did not look forgiving in the low light. He emerged from the doorway and walked toward her, closing the space. “He called you a traitor because you are one. Where have you been? With them, that’s what. I see where your allegiances lie, and we do not need you now.”
“You don’t need me just like you didn’t need them.” Rifka pulled out the handkerchief and waved it in the air. “What is this? What is this, Dimitri?” She tried to keep from crying. “You don’t even care. You could care less.”
“I will be completely honest and say I have never seen that before, Milaya --”
And now she lost it. “I am not your Milaya! I am Ivan Moscovitz’s daughter! Maybe you’re -- you’re right that I’m a traitor, but I’d rather be a traitor than with you!”
She turned to run, knowing Dimitri would grab her -- he was too close -- and found herself being lifted up and over the fire escape without any warning. She grabbed the metal railing to keep from falling, landed on her feet, and stuffed the handkerchief back in her pocket. Now a story above Dimitri, she took a moment to get her bearings, then ran up the fire escape stairs As she ran, she saw someone very familiar flip over the metal structure, beating her to the roof with seconds to spare. She didn’t know what he was doing here -- probably after his boombox again -- but she was glad to see him.
She didn’t want to spend another second in Dimitri’s presence. She never wanted to hear of the Soviet motherland again. If it was gone, then it deserved to be gone, in whatever form that was.
She finally got to the roof and his arms were there to help her up and over. She could now see that this roof connected with several others, leading a path that would take them to another fire escape. It would be hard for her to get to safe ground, but she had a feeling he would help her.
He put his hand on her shoulder. “We’ve been worried sick about you. Did you come here for the boombox?”
She shook her head. She could understand him still, just not reply.
He rolled his eyes. “Leave the boombox. We’ll figure it out. Do us all a favor and don’t run off like that again?”
She tried to find the words to say, but couldn’t. “спасибо” was all she said, and Jason knew.