“Moscow”

Before the war I was a pastry chef, a milliner, a streetcar conductor, the foreman of a vodka distillery. My name is Josef, is Karl, is Alexander, is Anastas. I am a Muscovite, I was born in Kiev, in Minsk, in Leningrad. The first lesson the agents from the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs taught was to make every answer sound as if it is a lie. The first lesson was to make every lie ring true. The first lesson was the three-ball juggle. We were shown mimeographed diagrams, issued croquet balls, sent to the park to practice and to be sneered at by passersby for our decadence. The first lesson was from the musings of Comrade Lenin: A lie told often enough becomes the truth. The first lesson was: Fascism is capitalism in decay. The first lesson was: Nazis are landlords and noblemen. My love’s name is Sunlight, Dirt, Wasp, Honeybee. I begged to be a member of the troupe. I was offered two choices: join and learn to juggle, or bullet in the back of the skull. Dirt betrayed me. Sunlight groaned my name again and again when we coupled after curfew in a dark corner of the park—Vyacheslav, Nikoli. Shells screamed overhead in the frozen, silent October air. Stars burned like bulbs screwed into the sky. The moon and the constellations were obscured by clouds. Before the war I was a juggler, a pastry chef, an electrician. The plan devised by the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs is as follows: If the Germans break through the lines and overrun Moscow, we will offer to perform as part of their victory celebrations. The first lesson was: Germans like art, especially if it is not too serious. The plan is: If the Germans overrun the city, I will kill Honeybee’s husband. The first lesson was: One man with a gun can control one hundred without. The first lesson was: Every cook should be able to govern. The plan is: I juggle three grenades, painted red, striped blue, and marked with yellow stars, and as the finale I pull three pins and throw the grenades at the laughing landlords and noblemen. Before the war Wasp was true to me, she was inconstant as water, she wore a hat with a feather and ate decadent French pastries I brought her and washed them down with vodka while she rode the streetcar. The first lesson: The most important thing when ill is never to lose heart. The first lesson: In war, the heart grows ill. The first lesson: Sometimes—history needs a push.

 

 

–“Moscow” first appeared in Epoch

Josh Russell

About Josh Russell

Josh Russell's novels are Yellow Jack (W.W. Norton), My Bright Midnight (LSU Press), and the forthcoming A True History of the Captivation, Transport to Strange Lands, & Deliverance of Hannah Guttentag (Dzanc Books), and his chapbookof very short prose is Pretend You'll Do It Again (Greying Ghost Press).