She sat ramrod straight on a brown tavern chair in Annapolis, Maryland. Annapolis is a nautical town, home of the United States Naval Academy, a quaint town full of silver-haired men sitting in oaken bars like the one she was in. She’d had four or five glasses of wine and looked fresh as a daisy.
She was herself the daughter of a Soviet-era nuclear submarine commander whose rank had its privileges. She was accustomed to men standing up when she walked in the room. A white Russian, she was Nordic blond, pale skinned, green-eyed, used to the finer things in life.
It was twenty mintes before last call at McGarvey’s. A lit cigarette was in her hand, an American cigarette. It was noisy. She wanted to move to the quieter room where we could talk but I said no, I was enjoying the loud music. She wanted to tell me something, and she started making those squirming movements just before a woman tells a man something important, something final.
"Siberia. Do you know?"
She pronounced it Zib-EAR-ee-yuh. She stopped and looked at me. I wasn't sure of the intent of her question, but it was obvious that she could wait all night for my answer, and would. I replied with something tangential:
"Siberia. Yes, I know. My aunt spent seven years working in Siberian salt mines."
She stared at me with her piercing eyes. Shook her head. Wrong answer. "Siberia. History? Do you know?" The last word was emphasized.
"What do you mean, like political prisoners? The camps? Alexandr Solzhenitsyn?"
She stubbed out her cigarette and looked up again. "Ya." She continued.
"Nicolas, before Revolution. Do you understand? The camps were made then, before the Communists. They were afraid of. Revolution, You know? They sent the people" Ze pipple. "The people sent to Siberia were not criminals, they were the best." Zay vair ze BEST. "Men. Professors. Academicians. High people. Educated. Yes? You know?"
Like her family. "Yes, I know."
Mmmm. "Yes, you know." She nodded.
"The women, they say to their husbands, We will go with you.” (pause) “To Siberia. Do you understand?"
She looked at my eyes like a teacher examining her pupil. Her stare was rock solid for an ungodly amount of time.
I said nothing. She lit another cigarette, inhaled, letting the smoke curl around her upturned face, eyes closed, remembering a country, her country, far away, hard lessons learned.
She opened her eyes and looked at mine again. Leaned into me, cigarette in her hand.
"Do you know when they say, We go with you? What that mean?"
Another slow drag.
"Women. Children. They go with their husbands, to Siberia. They go to die.” Pause. “Do. You. Understand?"
"The Russian women." Razhian Vi-men. "They know they will die. They rather would die with their husbands and their children. But together. Do you understand? Together." Zay vood DIE. Bot to-Gezza. To-Gezza.
Stubs out her cigarette one final time.
"I am Russian woman. Russian women, when they love, they love like this. Forever. Do you understand now? Yes? Do you understand?"