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Good Citizens Need Not Fear by Maria Reva

Good Citizens Need Not Fear by Maria Reva

Author:Maria Reva [Reva, Maria]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Published: 2020-03-10T00:00:00+00:00


* * *

When Konstantyn opened the trunk of the car, the girl drew back, as if he were about to throw her inside it. He gave a small high laugh. “It’s for your things.” He pointed at the remaining sack of his wife’s clothes as an example (he had kept it back at the last moment for pageant needs). The girl gripped her bundle tighter to her chest. When he opened the passenger door, she made no move toward it. He rolled down the window, hoping this, too, would somehow prove the car’s safety. He demonstrated getting in and out of the car while she watched, and thought he caught a cruel curl of her lip. He even suggested she walk beside the moving car as he held her hand—he feared she might run away—anticipating she would eventually tire and get in. But when he extended his hand, she struck it with the back of hers, hard. The orphan’s strength alarmed him. When at last he threatened to drive away, leave her in that terrible place, she glowered at him, daring him to.

He sank behind the wheel but did not start the engine. With shaking, stinging fingers he tried to light a cigarette. On the fourth try he succeeded, and was about to take a grateful drag, when the cigarette left his lips.

The girl leaned in through the open passenger window. His cigarette hung from her mouth. She took a long, delicious pull before exhaling politely away from the car.

“I have more.” He brandished the box, tapped the cartoon rocket shooting across its front. He hated himself for stooping so low.

At last the girl took the front seat. She sat her bundle on her lap.

During the drive, all conversation remained determinedly one-sided. Mostly, Konstantyn pointed at forest and meadow, saying, “See that big oak.” “See that patch of daisies.” “See those mushrooms, very poisonous.” The girl kept her eyes on the muddy road.

He tried to ignore the smell of her, sweet and rank, like barley fermenting in urine. Keeping one hand on the wheel, he lit a second cigarette, inhaled. “Where’d you pick up the habit? From the older children?”

She shook her head.

“From the sanitarki?”

She nodded.

“You can talk to me. I don’t bite.”

She shot him a look: I do.

Konstantyn laughed; the girl did not. A rabbit dashed across the road. Her name came back to him. “What happened to your lip, Zaya?”

She said nothing.

“A bad fall,” he guessed.

She shook her head.

“Thorny branch.”

No.

“Fishhook.”

No.

“Angry bird.”

She took another pull. No.

“A three-headed dog you fought off valiantly.”

No response.

“I thought so,” said Konstantyn.

“An old baba sewed it up.” The girl slurred her words. “She made leather boots.”

Konstantyn winced. He didn’t want to know more, but after a moment, he did. “This wasn’t at the internat?”

She shook her head again. “I ran away, she took me in. Her hut burned down, she brought me back.”

The forest receded. They drove between the sunflower fields in silence. Soon Kirovka welcomed them with its bent metal sign framed by rusty braids of wheat.



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