The Russian Drinks

This was his Moscow, now, swishing around lazily in his vodka glass. The land provided potatoes, and while it was a nice notion to think it was so the people would not starve, any true Russian knew it was so they would not be cold in their bellies. He loved the land for her thoughtfulness.

Things were different again, and so he was used to them.

His own father had never been a big drinker. The church was not against drinking, for it liked its position in Russia, but his father was a simple, almost ascetic man. The one time his father had been drunk, at his sister’s wedding to a promising, young army officer, it had seemed sad, like someone falling out of love.

When the Red and White clashed, he had quietly slipped out for a drink. By the time he felt like coming back, the country had no czars. He had felt guilty for not doing anything about the girl, but quickly dismissed it as inability rather than inaction, and chased her face away with more vodka.

There had been much to do as Mother took in more children. He had always excelled at violence, but had found sometime earlier that he could no longer profit from it without spending his nights shaking and vomiting. His dreams were plagued by the absence of death, and the battlefield’s horrible labors never ceased while he slept.

Sometimes he dreamed of his wife. His first wife, who had seen such great things in him, and who had had watched him fall apart as a prelude to the dissolution of his entire family. She was in Heaven. He knew this for a fact, and it tormented him greater than Hell ever could have to know he would not hear her again, chastising him for playing in the field all day with their son instead of playing politics with the court to get ahead. She always packed them a picnic lunch the next day, though, and kissed them both with a smile on her face each morning as they set out.

He had spent a good amount of time wandering. Most like him did. Much of that time he had spent drunk, another trend in people as wizened as he was getting, he’d noticed. The sack had been the first thing to go, cast into the sea, despite the fortune it could have brought him in any number of ways. The deck of cards was harder to get rid of, but eventually found its way into the hands of a child, who, if he had noticed the deck’s peculiar qualities, had never brought them up. All he had left was his whistle and his dancing, and they had supported him over the years when real work was dried up.

He claimed to seek solitude, but had made a surprisingly stalwart supply of friends. A few of them had passed away, and all of the girls he loved had done the same, but there were a handful of stubborn bastards he could count on to be there anytime he stopped by for a drink and a chat.

In Los Angeles, around the turn of the century, he had met a man who nobody else could see. The man had been as surprised as he was, and they got along wonderfully. The Californian would often ask about women and places the Russian wasn’t sure he had mentioned before, but he always slept soundly after these visits, and his first wife would not reappear to him for many weeks.

Later, he had spent time in France, eager to see if Paris was the same glorious Paris his fellow soldiers had talked about marching on for revenge in his youth. Outside the city, in the farms, he had come across a mournful statue of what could have been a man, had God seen fit to be cruel. It made anguished bellows at night, like whales on the sea. He sat next to it for three years of nights, until he could sing back. It was like nothing he had ever experienced; sounds and images flooded his heart when he spent time with his Gallic friend, for the statue was the last of its kind. It knew this, it had told the Russian, because it couldn’t hear any choruses to its song on the winds anymore. For years, it had heard echoes, and they had filled it with hope, but those sounds, and that hope, had faded.

There was a displaced man who was constantly on the move. The Russian had encountered him on almost every landmass, and each time, they got dinner and caught up. Though he had the bearings of a hunter, the man was clearly running from something, and the Russian, a man who had charted the course of constellations over the seasons, had noted they never crossed paths on a full or new moon, and he had never seen him in the northern regions of the New World.

The Russian drained his glass and motioned the bartender over. He instructed him to leave the bottle, which he then slipped into his ragged coat, still bearing a tattered badge from his fighting days. Moscow was changing again, and there were luxuries to be had. It was up to him to make his own heaven.

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