Night of Falling Stars, published in Litro (June 13, 2013)
Masha’s Burning Memory, published in Eating My Words, National Flash Fiction Day 2014 Anthology by National Flash Fiction Day and Gumbo Press.
When the men came with their burlap sacks, Masha was crouching in the attic with slices of the duck meat her mother Yalena Ivanovna had set aside for smoking. Downstairs, their huge oven was lit, and smoke poured out of a chute into their farmhouse. The gruff voice at the front door could only be their neighbour’s, his hostility evident even from the roof.
‘Yalena Ivanovna,’ he bellowed, ‘we have orders to search your house and land.’
‘Sergei Oleksandrovich, good day. Pray, what are you looking for?’
This question brought only the sound of trampling boots. Masha tip-toed to a corner, knowing not to make a squeak; from a tiny crack she spied at least six men. In the middle was Sergei, surveying their bread and cabbages with a sneer. His twisted mouth made Masha start. She had always been afraid of him, even on his first visit, when he was still a lowly Party member; now that he had risen in rank and fervour, she felt quite sick. Masha crushed her nose against the straw-strewn floor to gain a better view.
Yalena Ivanovna stood glowering, a hand on each hip. Masha prayed silently; now was not the time for pride.
‘We are here for the rest of your goods.’
‘You know I have already given everything. We had an agreement, don’t you remember?’
‘Then was then, now is now.’
‘But I have no more to give. I have five children.’
‘No more to give? What do you call this?’ Sergei gestured towards the table. ‘And the wheat in your fields? You keep chickens too, don’t you? Horses, cows? Nothing to give! Bah!’
‘You cannot take my chickens, horses, cows or wheat.’ From her mother’s steely posture, Masha could sense trouble brewing.
‘Still behaving like a landowning farmer, are you? Once a kulak, always a kulak! We’ll teach you!’
Masha heard a scuffle, and then scraping. The men snatched up whatever they could: bread and cabbages, jars of beans, pickled vegetables from the corner cupboard. They stuffed their burlap sacks. Sounds rang out in Masha’s head: the table overturning; her mother shouting ‘You will stop now!’; someone falling over; the brittle cracking of jars; the fury in Sergei’s voice ‘Now we really will teach you!’; her mother’s hard panting; a cry of ‘Hold her feet!’
Four men dragged Yalena Ivanovna, horizontally, each holding onto a limb.
When their oven door creaked, Masha did not know what to think. The walls trembled, but Masha could not believe. It was only when her mother screamed, wrenching her soul in such a way that it would never heal, that Masha understood. The whole of her came alive: every cell, every nerve, even senses she did not know she possessed. She shivered. Saliva rose in her throat. She cried. Masha wanted to die.
Through the billowing smoke, a figure rose on the makeshift ladder. Masha glared at Sergei with burning spite. Dust and ashes, she thought. You will be nothing but dust and ashes.
The story above was inspired by events that took place during Ukraine’s Holodomor. With thanks to Olga Pobedash and Roman Bogun, friends living in Kiev, Ukraine.