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Sovetskoye Shampanskoye

Story by Berit Ellingsen (Read author interview) October 3, 2011

art by Gay Degani

0 is wholeness and emptiness at the same time. It’s the crystal stars and the path of the northern light, blood from the sun that evaporates high up in the atmosphere. The aurora spills green, blue, yellow, white across his retinas and shows him what love is. The snow creaks under his short and stubby skis, pushed by his shorter and stubbier legs. He stumbles—he learned to walk just a year ago—but the ski poles catch him.

1 is a thin stream that trickles past birches and ferns and Lady’s Mantle on the ground. The mud makes it hard to walk and easy to fight. Here he learns the difference between the needs of others and his own. The officers throw the recruits a raw salmon. He grabs the scaly flesh, bites and swallows without chewing, bites again, before someone punches him in the gut, elbows him in the back and takes the food from him. He wipes his greasy fingers on the trunk of a birch.

2 are the bulbous, many-colored domes on the capital’s cathedral that are not yet covered in white when he arrives. The snow mutes long avenues, red walls and heavy coats. Not looking native, his passport says he’s from Vilnius. In a city of immigrants, nobody asks him about Lithuania.

3 are the lace curtains that lift in the summer breeze while he moves into and out of the body of the committee member’s young and dark-haired assistant. She types 100 words a minute and comes from somewhere behind the Ural Mountains. He warms her naked body with his smile, like he does with everyone he meets. He smiles like everything happens for a reason, and maybe it does—that’s why his smiles work?

4 is the number of glasses his wife, the former assistant to the committee member, now a member herself, places on the table for the committee secretary and his spouse. She also places unfertilized sturgeon eggs from the warm and muddy waters of the Black Sea in a leaded crystal bowl with a wide-handled silver spoon, along with sparkling Belarusian Chardonnay—Sovetskoye Shampanskoye—Soviet Champagne. In the light from the living room candles, the serving cart gleams golden. He smiles.

5 is the cold mirror of the Moskva river and the stripped trees in Gorky Park that watch a western asset on a long-term visa, his status exposed by an anonymous phone call, be garrotted in a doorway. In his briefcase are documents and microfilms. At three a.m., the gilded Regency doors of the apartment of the newest central committee member vibrate loudly. Her husband opens in his bathrobe. The security forces push their way past him and into the committee member’s office. In the hall, under the tinkling light from a Czechoslovakian crystal chandelier, he presses his naked feet against the checkered floor and doubles over.

6 are the white tiles he spatters when they ask about his wife’s documents and microfilms, again and again. He tells them about her late hours in the committee building. They apprehend her and she doesn’t come back. Behind the gilded Regency doors, underneath the unlit crystal, he stands in silence while he considers the nature of truth. He takes up a new position.

7 are the years that follow, the information he gathers and transmits. It is the years of warm smiles and cold handshakes he gives out, while the ice shrouds and flays and shrouds the Moskva River and clouds rush across the sky like time.

8 are the number of days it takes for cosmos to become chaos in the pewter sunlight from the river. Assets are lost, intentions intercepted. They take him back to the white tiles and ask him harder. The information he transmitted had been tailored to distract. Now he’s no longer useful and his employer has been notified. He expects to be killed, desires it almost. Instead, they put him in a noisy plane and fly.

9 is the ammunition that bulges in their guns as he steps onto the steel of Glienicke bridge. Will it come from the betrayed past or a pre-emptive future? The air smells of the West, fitful and variegated. When he reaches the midpoint of the water, he moves his gaze to the person that passes him. The spring wind rustles long dark hair, reminding him of the taste of unfertilized sturgeon eggs from the warm waters of the Black Sea, served in a leaded crystal bowl with a silver spoon, along with sparkling Belarusian Chardonnay.

About the Author

Berit Ellingsen is a Norwegian author and science journalist whose work has appeared in various online literary journals and print anthologies, most recently or forthcoming in The Medulla Review, Sein und Werden and Metazen. Berits debut novel, The Empty City, is inspired by the philosophy of nonduality.

About the Artist

Gay Degani has been nominated here and there for Pushcart consideration, Best Small Fictions, and a few various and sundry honors including the 11th Glass Woman Prize. She is the author of a full-length collection of short stories, Rattle of Want (Pure Slush Press, 2015) and a suspense novel, What Came Before (Truth Serum Press, 2016). Her micro “Abbreviated Glossary” appears in the anthology New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fictionedited by James Thomas and Robert Scotellaro. She occasionally blogs at Words in Placeand is currently working on another novel of suspense.

This story appeared in Issue Thirty-Three of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Thirty-Three

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