Babies lay in the living room-slash-workshop, thrown on dirty blankets or in broken cradles. Babushka watched them by yelling to the others to keep them quiet.
Alexia was the only worker without kids, and Viktor laughed about it every time she began to bleed.
“Still not a mommy?” he’d smirk each time he found her prostrate on the bathroom floor.
“When you become mama, Dӧcha,” Alexia’s mama would say, “then you will be happy. No bad will hurt you then.”
More than anything, Alexia wanted to be happy. But still, none of the babies were hers. The other girls looked at her as if she was broken and kept their babies from her, like her inability to carry a baby in her womb meant she would be unable to carry one in her arms. Alexia couldn’t touch the babies, and she couldn’t escape the crying that wouldn’t stop, day in, day out.
“Alexandria,” Viktor called.
Alexia looked up from the table, where she had just finished sewing on a fake Prada label.
“It is time for break now,” he said, heading out. She found him waiting in their bedroom. He grabbed her as she entered, pulling her to him, hiking up her skirt as he did.
He was in her, pushing and pounding, shoving her onto the creaky bed.
“Louder,” he demanded, her whimpers never enough. When she went back into the workroom, he wanted them all to know what he had been doing to her.
After, he whispered in her ear, “For pleasing me, knock one bag off your quota.”
Maybe this time he would stay happy, she thought. But she knew he wouldn’t. Later, she would anger him somehow and would deserve the bruises she would get.
Maybe this time she could become happy, she thought instead. But she knew this was impossible. The doctor had told her.
The crying became worse. When would it stop?
“Why do you stay with him?” whispered Mia, when Alexia got back to her machine.
Mia was the only one of the girls who would speak to Alexia and one of the few workers who had not been shipped from Russia to help Viktor with his American dream. Mia was American, but she was young, 13 at most – a runaway.
“My step dad couldn’t keep his hands off me,” she had told Alexia. “And nobody touches me but who I want to.”
Mia was strong-willed and arrogant like all Americans, but where had it gotten her? She was a kid with no home, getting paid shit for working her ass off.
When she got older, Alexia hoped, Mia would find that sometimes letting people touch you was not the worst option. And when the girl learned this, she would stop judging Alexia.
In answer to the girl’s question, though, Alexia shrugged.
The real answer was that Alexia stayed because she had loved Viktor when she was young, before he had moved to America, when all the girls worshipped him. She had dreamed of large babies with his blue eyes and thick hair. She had known he would make his dreams come true, and she thought he could do the same for hers. When her father got the call from Viktor, asking him to send a bride, she had begged her papa to send her. The day Viktor had agreed to take her had been the happiest of her life. But now, her dream was dead, and it didn’t matter what Viktor did to her: nothing could hurt more than that. These were not things she could tell Mia, though.
Much later, as Alexia’s fingers cramped and her eyes strained over the endless stream of sewing, Viktor came behind her and placed his hands down her shirt, grabbing the fake breasts he had bought her as a wedding present.
“When you finish this bag, go to the car. It won’t start, and I can’t figure out what is wrong,” he said.
Alexia had learned much from her mechanic father, and she felt more comfortable when Viktor needed her help with the car than she did in the workshop. She went to the yard and lifted the hood, but before she could see what was wrong, she heard giggles coming from the shed.
There, against the door, were Viktor and Nadia, the meanest of Alexia’s tormentors. He was writhing against her, her soft moans carrying across the yard.
He looked over, making sure Alexia was watching. He winked, moving faster, becoming louder.
She looked away and saw what was wrong: Viktor had disconnected the battery. He hadn’t needed a mechanic. He’d needed an audience.
Over the grunts of her husband, Alexia could still hear the crying. All day long it happened. Distracting her. Mocking her.
It hit her then that it would never stop.
They finished and went back to the house, shouting at Alexia to not take long.
She reconnected the battery, got into the car, and turned it on. She started driving, spinning faster and faster down the street, around the corner, left again, and then another, another, building up speed until she was back.
Viktor was on the porch, angry, yelling at her to get out of his damned car. And still she kept driving. She came through the yard, up onto the porch, over Viktor – she saw the terror in his eyes right before she hit, felt the crunch of bones under the wheels – and kept driving through the blackened glass into the living room.
She kept going, over the workstations, through the nursery. Even over Babushka. The girls ran, but where could they go?
She heard shattering glass and screams and thunkcrunchbumps. And, as always, the crying. She crashed into the wall. Finally, there was silence.
Later, the newspaper headline would read: Betrayed Wife’s Revenge Leads to 10 Dead
But it hadn’t been revenge. That was wrong. Alexia hadn’t wanted to hurt anyone. It was just that she had needed to stop her crying.
Ashley Shaw is a high school teacher by day, college teacher by night, and graduate student by later that night. She still somehow finds time to get a few creative stories down on paper, usually flash, all while maintaining some semblance of a social life.