Ieva ran down the stairs of her home as soon as she felt the glass breaking. Dressed. Undressed. It didn’t matter. She held her police baton tight under her arm, and moved as fast as she could without making sound. Her instincts told her that there was no-one in the hallway; without the need to turn on the lights. And that the smash couldn’t be from the living room window either. No breeze. Ready to explode. She turned to the back of her home and tuned down, walking slower, timing her thoughts to the strikes she’d delivered a thousand times back at the academy and on the street.
Ieva heard a hand groping through the glass in the porch. She tip-toed through her kitchen and headed towards the noise; envisioning the strike angles she’d deliver in the slim hallway. The key turned and the latch went. She decided to wait and see how many entered as she stood flat against the wall of her kitchen; placing her in a good position to strike behind the intruders. Just one. That’s good, she thought in the dark.
They were being as cautious as she was. She could tell they were unhurried in their approach; paying attention to their movements. The intruder wasn’t storming over the broken glass; merely shuffling one foot forward at a time, like an antenna checking the next step before they took it.
And it is better that you are not here with me here Sergei, my love. But how I miss you. But you would kill this man for breaking into our home. And I hope that you are safe across the sea. And I will see you soon and boast about how easily I felled this man.
Ieva kissed the handle gripped in her fist as the intruder twisted the door knob beside her. She raised her right arm up, holding the baton aloft; ready to spray a routine of strikes behind the burglar’s knees, skull, ears, face. The kitchen door opened as Ieva rose to the balls of her feet – willing – the man not see her. The door opened and she sunk as far into the corner as possible.
However, she picked up an odd sense of leisure within the intruder’s actions as he stood near her, waiting to enter. Ieva held her arm up ready to flick his legs away with his next steps into the kitchen. The man seemed not to care about going any further. Instead, he stood in the doorway whilst he lifted the balaclava up over his mouth and took out a cigarette. He even hummed a low tune whilst he searched for a light.
“He recognises your singing Ms Grigorevna?” the priest said to the woman mopping Serge’s brow with a damp flannel. “Yes yes, he likes it, see-” Sergei’s eyelids flickered as she sang, exposing his upturned pupils that were attempting to curl behind themselves. “I am not sure what I can do here,” the priest said, looking down at the young man. “You must make her leave him Father, it is her ghost that stays,” Ms Grigorevna said, backing away from the bed.
“I will do my best. Sergei was a good man, he always came to service… When did he become like this?” The priest asked the old woman.
“He was fine when he came back from service,” She said, beginning to weep.
“It was when he came back from the hospital; the doctors, they explained, how Ieva died when giving birth… They told him – the details – it was too much… then he just, slowed, he did not come back.” She said, combing his hair to the side he liked.
“He… Wouldn’t talk. He still ate himself, a little, but one day he just drops his phone as his sister speaks – just lets it smash – just leans back in his chair. A doctor visits, says there is no way of telling how long he will be like this.”
“The child?” The priest asked, walking around the bed and touching the old lady’s shoulder.
“Stillborn,” She added, placing small pieces of fish into the soldier’s mouth from the plate in her lap.
“He can still eat?” The priest said.
“Yes, yes! That’s what gives me hope,” she added, smiling, as Sergei’s jaw chewed, and she began to hum again. The priest sat down beside her and continued to speak.
“We are all waiting for you Sergei, you must speak… You must live like a man again,” he said, drawing a cross on his forehead. “The Lord will sustain you where your heart cannot. You must leave your pain; you must not carry it anymore,” he added, leaning in to Sergei, whispering further private words into his ear.
The kitchen lights turned on as the intruder lit his cigarette. He took a deep drag, leaving the remaining part of the balaclava on his face. He turned to see Ieva breast-feeding in the kitchen. Leant against the wall.
He immediately passed his hand through the smoke whilst putting the cigarette out in his hand.
“Hey. Why didn’t you tell me that you were here?” The man said to her, dropping his hammer and walking up to them both.
“Your daughter’s name is Vyzivyette Sergei, like ‘vyzhivat’. You always loved that word,” she said, rocking the child.
Ieva picked up her pup in her teeth and took her over to the basket in the corner of the kitchen, where she placed Vyzivyette, and lay inside the basket with her, licking her ears and face and dreaming with her.
“Ha, you always said that I’d make a better dog than man,” Sergei said, leaning down to stroke them both. He pushed Vyzivyette into her mother’s teats where she suckled and lay in the basket with them.
The priest watched Ms Grigorevna as she rubbed the white sheets on her son’s chest. She continued to sing as the priest spoke. “Sergei, use the light of the Lord to free you. We’re here for you, and I will always be here…” He said, placing his hand on top of his mother’s.
The sun separated in the middle, like an amoeba cutting itself in two, and making itself again. And Sergei held his hand over Ieva’s eyes as they watched it happen in the sky, sat on a flat rock near the shore line.
“See, we came back, I told you that we could come back here.” He said watching the twin suns continue into two dozen, and flowering faster than he could count.
The same expansion occurred in the rock below them. It returned to rubble and sand as they sat and rocked with the universe to and fro. Suns tore as the last heat increased from the multiple divide, raining on their faces as they dispersed into the water, where they swam, the fins of their three bodies cutting through the sea and creating its union.
“Does he always react this way when you sing to him?” the priest asked Mrs Grigorevna.
“Mostly yes. It’s what I sang to him when he was only small,” She said, wiping his forehead again with the flannel.
“Would you be – offended – if I asked you to leave me alone with him, Mrs Grigorevna? I will finish feeding him,” the priest said, reaching for the plate as she handed it to him.
“No. No Father, that would be absolutely fine,” She said, rising.
She turned her back at the door and said: “He loved her, you know,” before leaving the room. “Can you tell me about her, Sergei? Ieva that is – I know you’re there,” he said, putting the plate down.
“Her hair grew when I saw her. It always grows so fast,” Sergei said, talking to the ceiling.
“We go back to the place we first went for holiday. We swim.” Sergei said, closing his eyes to smell the air.
When they surfaced above the sea, Vyzivyette was the best swimmer among them flapping her feet below the surface like a beaming duck that thought little of the strange tide. Sergei circled them close with his arms, as the sea’s current turned into a rush that flowed into the mouth of the whale approaching them.
Within the boned vessel of the animal they swam in its bile, changing into the whale’s blood as they sank below the surface. They travelled within the creature’s pulse; supporting its heart and nerves as it swam, watching it palpitate inside the soft flesh of its own child.
“Her hair grew so long, I can touch it,” Sergei said, lifting his hand a little, touching the plate lying on the sheets he’d been fed from.
“Sergei Grigorevna! You will stand again and live! I hear you now! I know that you can stand if you wish!” the priest said, grabbing the soldier’s hand.
“It grows here, Father,” Sergei said, twisting out from the priest’s grip, fingering the fish bones on the plate. Ieva grew whilst Vyzivyette grew.
The sun separated as the earth did, touching all the parts of their face as they walked together, marching like statues through the heavy stone of curtains in Sergei’s room. The dust within the silk moved; it reflected the light shining into the room, away from the grave stones of his wife and child. The pores of their skin sucked in the warmth of the day and released seeds that spun inside the curtains texture like purple dots hovering inside the grooves.
Sergei looked through the window watching his family outside, beyond the window and within his room. They trod within the blooming desert dunes as he had, wearing his full kit, beating as he did, from the way the sun wouldn’t sleep until late, changing the leather of his boots into skin; where the dunes rose up and pierced his eyes with green, lighting his hands into sweeps of desert stars that broke apart like glass when he moved his hand in front of his own face.
“God will protect you in your struggle, my son. You must wake fully,” the priest said, placing his hand on the man’s heart. Sergei looked back from the curtain and stared at him. He smiled at the priest’s concerned face as his hand scuttled through the fish bones. Then stopped. Like a crab deciding to lie still as the wave comes for him. He sighed, and smelt the hair of his wife and daughter; his heart obeying his mind’s will.
The priest felt something leave the room as Sergei’s pupils finally flew behind themselves. He checked for the boy’s pulse and felt it still beating, in a rhythm that hibernated. Twice slower than that of the living. The priest laid his hands inside his lap. He looked at the dinner plate beside him where Sergei’s hand had been playing with his food.
It said, in scattered fish bones.