Oh, Kolya, do you remember our street? How the dust whirled into fluffs before the toes of your shoes as you casually escorted me to our home? To that ever-sad place where our shared grandmother mourned not the sons that had bequeathed us to her, but her pony stolen by "them" when she was, "just your age, Katia"? The sons betraying her, us, became "them", lost to her. They were just two more willing participants in a "New Golden Age" that left her bitter and defiant. Our mothers were then rather as sisters and comrades and occasionally met us when we came in.
But what I remember most is that in all those hours as we made our way home, I never dared to take your hand, nor you mine. I think too of us as always together, always separate from the others, from granny, from them, from everyone outside, and in. (Once, just a few years before I left, I laid two flowers on a famous grave in St Petersburg. I pretended it was yours. You would have been surprised to see me there and how I looked. It was winter and I wanted to come back in the deep night and lay my head upon that stone and feel the snow blanketing me and die there and awaken next to you. You see, I had already begun to become very foolish.)
Do you recall the street. Our street? The log houses where, in winter's afternoon, the candles flickered a bit, there in a hidden room, as we stepped, as visitors, yet strangers, past? And how the snow sprinkled slowly on the old boots you always had to wear? We would vie to see who caught the first flake on our nose. It was always you. You ever swore it was me.
Do you still hold somewhere in you a picture of her icon there, on the bent old table in the corner of our house? You used to whisper that it scared you. And both of our mothers screamed at her incessantly, that woman who had raised the men that left her and them and us, what a fool she was, what a wasteful old lady she was, buying those candles that stood there, there, when they had other needs for the money she wasted on such trivialities. And all for the memory of a stolen, long-lost, dead pony, requisitioned from her father's farm before he was shot and her mother taken away.
I told you once that I was glad for the candles, the icon, cheap as it was, and understood about the pony. You held me stiffly by the shoulders- you had suddenly become so tall - and said, "Your hair reminds me of wheat." It was years before I understood. (Forgive me.)
Kolya, do you remember when granny's brother came from Moscow? How the crooked sugar cubes he brought were piled in the old blue and white bowl there beneath the kitchen shelf and that each night for weeks we held one each between our teeth as we sucked in our wonderfully-too-hot tea?
And the last two we got, just you and me, at New Year's?!
You used to say "Someday I will marry you and I will buy you a real piano and we will have sugar every day."
When you were 12, your mother took you to another street. Not far. You lived there with the terrible Misha. You were not HIS son. You one time, meeting me at the gate, walking me home, laughed and determinedly announced that " Well, someday I'll show him that I'm not his son with a bullet. I'll point a Nagant at his head as he's sleeping and say it."
I slapped you. You touched my face and then, oh so gently, so softly, leant down and kissed me on the forehead. This is the kiss I remember.
And that day, a few years past, you in your uniform. And I wearing my much-too-old-school-uniform skirt. We walked past the sad farms, the bowing wheat, and then on into the town amongst the scurrying, hysterical people.
You stayed with grandmama and us that night. And I saw you off on the troop train. I gave you a scarf full of bread, a waxed packet of honey, some sugar and some precious cigarettes.
The station, so little time before a special place, a place of hoped-for-arrivals, beloved visitors from far away and presents, had become that day, a station of fear. And seeing that, feeling that, in our small, yet previously grand station, made me feel as sad as someone leaving everything forever. Still, it was there, in that newly-lost place, that you embraced me fully and for the first time as a man takes a woman into his arms against his complete strong body and declares, without speaking, everything. I was 16.
And then, oh Kolya, do you know, it came: the smoke and the dust sent flying, but not from the wind, and the ground shaking, yet not from a summer's glorious storm, and the wheat golden from flames other than the sun's? And the kisses parried, and the thrusts to be wished to have come from a blade? Do you know?
And granny was no more. Nor my mother, nor yours.
Katie is the only one who has ever asked who you were. A few weeks ago I awoke to her sitting near the bed - she had brought me flowers - poppies and daisies - and the only word she had been able to understand from my naptime ramblings was your name.
And you? Oh Kolya, do you remember our street?