Every day Elena wakes up black-eyed like her new husband's beat her. Every night she goes to sleep with her face alight like Pavel came back and kissed her senseless in the far north town. Her husband does not beat her, the villagers say, though she's a kulak woman and he a mob man, and he showers her with love, they say. Why then does she weep?
Elena's first husband was a big rough man who smacked her across the cheeks to make her blush and then kissed her senseless and swooning out in the Wormwood Wood and he rode a big black horse of iron to work and brought her flowers before turning her out on the forest floor like the dogs would a bitch. But he brought her ribbons and pretty things and so when he asked for her, she was all full of child already, far too late.
Pavel kisses Elena every night and tells her he loves her, and does not leave bruises. He has pale, delicate fingers like a chicken out in the farmyard or an icicle menacing from a Gulag hanging tree.
This is true: the reactor exploded and the Wormwood Wood glowed. When Elena was taken from their home, her big rough husband in his black car did not come with, for he was at the plant. When they told her he was gone, she sat stiff and still, not speaking. They resettled her, and Pavel found her.
This is maybe true: when Elena brushes in the morning, blood comes from her gums and she blots it up with a towel. When Pavel kisses her, he wonders for the pennies he tastes at her lips.
This may never be true: every night, Elena's black-haired lover smacks her across the cheek to see her blush, and his eyes glow blue in the cement-lined dark.
Her husband takes her one night and leads her into the reactor core where he died.
He smacks her across the cheeks and takes her there on the mountain metal until she glows from within, cheeks lighting up like low sodium lamps.
The next morning when Elena goes to blot the blood from her gums, her teeth crumble away and bulging pink flesh is underneath.