Where Begins the Motherland

by | Jun 11, 2024 | Fiction, Issue Thirty-Nine

On the archipelago Novaya Koncovka, a mass of ice calves whitely from the Duginsky Glacier.

“She’s squeezed out another,” cheer all except for Babushka who, regarding herself a witness to a prophesied catastrophe, crosses herself in keeping with the outlawed religious institution, Eastern Orthodox.

Monitoring the incident, two spies from Special Services Slavic Security (or SSSS) each jot: “three fingers, right to left.”

It’s springtime. The temperature today is an unseasonably clement minus twenty. There’s an industrious two-hundred-year-old continental European wind contributing to a punctual Armageddon. A hundred men and eight women grin solidly and clap. They try to sync the rhythm of zeal but achieve instead a compulsive polyrhythm, unsettling for this tight-knit community of Russian exiles.

One of the spies, Igor, was twelve when he was expelled from school whereas the other spy, likewise named Igor, graduated with High Honors from Aleksandr Dugin Civil Defense Academy of the Ministry of Emergency Situations. And though this thankless underpaid dead-end counter-intelligencing is a second career for both Igors—conscripted in their late 50s—the temperaments of the two mid-level professionals cannot be equated: the former oversensitive, unconfident, splenetic, slight, used to be a psychotherapist; the latter calm, competent, resigned, plump, used to be a plumber (still plumbs on family occasions).

The two Igors are in plainclothes: laminar armor of wood and bones, newspaper-lined Nikes, ushanka hats made of fish-fur: the dress of the outcast jubilant people here. The spies stand at the back of the crowd and attend to their assignment. At this stage their reports are identical (the dolt Igor has copied off the brainy Igor) but they will in their final entirety—eventually folios—greatly differ. The plumber, in preparing his work product, employs the more high-minded syntactical flourishes and spiritually authentic hyphening strategies. Whereas the psychotherapist struggles to keep up with the current political upheavals and ideological fixes which necessitate frequent orthographic reform.

The weather is sun with teeth. Mother Nature knows best, they say. But they also say, Mother Russia wears the pants in the family.

The plumber breaks out his metrics. Navigating a cumbersome Viking right mitten gauntlet with articulated thumb plate, he draws a diagram of the position of the law-breaker Babushka’s fingertips as she makes the sign of the cross: they form a tight cluster like a hardy pale-pink rosebud of the species Rosa duginskya. He hums softly to himself a patriotic tune; it’s hard to tell which one though he has perfect pitch. But he’s good at the aspect of his job that involves humming covertly. (Maybe it’s Veniamin Efimovich Basner’s “Where Begins the Motherland?”)

The psychotherapist holds his Krasin 2m pencil fist-wise like a toddler. He was standard-issued the left mitten gauntlet, which is protecting his left hand from the chill. But he’s a righty (like the plumber). His notepad flutters; his writing-paw clenches; he chatters like a true Slavic underdog a string of curses: complaints under visible breath at a traceable volume, which his colleague is noting (and will snitch to the authorities).

A warm string of saliva runs soothingly nose to mouth along abysmal smileless folds: “They’ll have my musky balls on a seal spear if I don’t get this perfect,” says the psychotherapist.

Suddenly Babushka, benignly demented, barks, “My Lord, may you be present in every breath I take as I recognize the value of stillness.” But then she hobbles and shoves though the crowd, which won’t let her through but then does, to the slushy front edge of the glacier where it slopes and terminates. Over Babushka’s lifetime the Duginsky, coerced by gravity and energy, has lost masses. Today the glacier is no bigger than a soccer field. In back of the spies there is a relocation station, a barracks, which compactly accommodates a hundred and eleven. Further back there is another retreating glacial terminus against which the rising sea steadily beats.

Babushka falls to her knees. Her ushanka has been scalpedright off her by the crowd. With a shaky squint and palm she tries to shield herself from the toothy sun and to see through scant blowing strands of gray but the small iceberg, only minutes ago groaningly shed, has already disappeared on the horizon.

The sea rises and splashes on Babushka’s Nikes. The sun nips, takes chunks out of and chews up her exposed flesh. Blood flecks the melting, once robustly-frozen, motherland. Will it be achieved in this way (chunk by chunk?) Babushka’s perfect union with God, for which eternal thermal solitary end she has been praying and suffering abuse?

In the vast unclouded sky starts up the pulsing honking of dozens of small pink-breasted gulls. Not to be outdone by birds, the crowd breaks out again in thunderous applause.

One imperturbable spy and one irritable spy, despite divergences and with some key convergences, have written in effect the same irrevocable recommendation. The psychotherapist has concluded with a prosaic full stop, while the plumber has generated with an unprecedented six exclamation marks: “Shoot the decadent Babushka and throw her over, may she drown!!!!!!”

The sea is in turmoil, as is the Russian tongue.

Pin It on Pinterest