Winner of RPGC #33: Treasure
How far for treasure?
It is good that the bite of winter is not so sharp this time of year, otherwise the tears might have frozen to my cheeks. Instead, they dribble down and drop to create diminutive splotches on the dirty piece of paper which I still clutch tightly between both hands. I am afraid it might be taken by the guards, by the other prisoners, that I might drop it, that the words will fade. I am just so afraid. I haven’t heard from you since the arrest, a desperate cry in the night and a wail at the top of your lungs to tell me that your world had shattered. Trucks arrayed in the streets, ready to shuttle us off to God knows where, one for the children and the rest for us. Terror is the tool on their belt and the sound of silence doesn’t carry the same weight so they let you shriek. I was so grateful because it meant you were still alive and I had hope. I still have hope now, though your words cut through me like a knife and I am lost on how to respond. There was a bliss in ignorance, in only having the scream, but there is a greater happiness in knowing where you are. The saddest sort of happiness.
I can see snowflakes through the window of the bunkhouse. Each crystal floats with the light airy freedom of a dancer on the stage, defiant with the wind against the force of gravity. A memory flickers faintly and I am drawn to the Bolshoi, or the street in front of it. I promised I’d take you one day, so we could see the dancing and songs together. Inevitably the force is overwhelming, however. In the end every speck falls to the ground. Resistance. Betrayal. Counter-revolution. These are the words that wrap like weights around me, staining a perfect memory with dirt. Another broken promise in a nation of shattered trust. For miles there stretches a sea of the accused; mothers, daughters, and wives gossip and swap stories to pass the time whilst stationed on the very edge of the world. Behind us lay the remnants of a failed dream and in front of us the ocean seems to swallow any notion of turning back the tide.
The food is bad, not that you could expect much better from the roots and water we’re given. A little tin of the stew sits untouched beside me now, atop the surface unidentifiable lumps seem like flotsam amidst the wreckage. Eat up. That’s what you would have said, a sick reflection of my own instructions every night at the dinner table. I taught you to follow orders. Every aspect of life was regimented around a schedule dictated from the podium of parenthood, and, dough eyed, you would obey. A professor here was explaining that human beings are conditioned to be commanded, it’s hardwired into us before we’re even alive, but if that were the case then that doesn’t explain why you have been taken so far away. I take a spoonful of broth and force it down my throat. Nobody told me to and none would look any closer if I never ate again, it’s just what is done. So I keep taking sips. Shadows of this horror were lying in wait every single day and it should come as no surprise that you are just doing exactly what we taught you. Of course if that were the case then I wouldn’t be sitting here reading your words. The words they let through. The words I have to reply to.
Am I everything they say I am? A simple question really; a yes or no would suffice.
The newspapers say that on the night of my arrest the Party was defending the people of the union from enemies of the state. A list of names is attached to the article, of which I am one, and assurances are given that each of the perpetrators has received a swift and just punishment for our crimes. Tales of espionage, terrorism, and deceit abound like in the pages of a romantic thriller. The plot plays out as expected; in a time of disarray great heroes step forward to shine light on the faces of evil and smite all they find. The story might be entertaining for someone not playing the role of the villain. In amongst the fact and the fiction your father is also identified, along with every aspect of our life and an account of exactly how it led us to betray everything we loved. Including you. Your father isn’t here with me, they took him somewhere else, and it’s just as well since I know he’d insist I tell you the truth. We are not what they say we are and we never have been.
I will fight, Mama. This idea is terrifying to someone who cares so deeply for your safety. If I am falsely imprisoned, if the Party is all wrong and they lie, then you write that you will oppose everything it stands for with every fibre of your being and you will never be one of them. How could something that claims to care for the people take away your perfect mother? I would love to answer this rhetoric in person. The answer still eludes me, however. Plans of resistance and disobedience are outlined carefully in the neat and simple handwriting of someone so young they cannot possibly understand the danger they are in. Out here in the wastes I have nothing, only pain and loneliness await me here. They would not be so kind to someone who wanted to fight. They have no compunction in killing a child, enough have died at the hands of the revolution that the feeling must now be numbed for them. I refuse to imagine what else you would suffer before they even chose to kill you. Such thoughts would shatter my resolve and I still have so much to do.
That is because the letter does not end there. Ever curious and naive, you have accepted the claims of the orthodoxy might also hold true. If they are correct, you state, then you hate me. Someone who would betray the people, the revolution, and the country is not deserving of love and you will never write to me again. You plan to join the youth league and work diligently, earning a place in one of the technical institutes to train as a doctor and save lives. You will prove to me that the greatest service is to the good of the state and I, as a wrecking parasite, will languish in the knowledge my own daughter is making up for my errors. Banishment to the farthest corner of the world is a better fate than I would deserve, they executed another sixteen foreign spies last Thursday, but given how unimportant I am it would probably be a waste of a bullet. Your words are salve laced in poison. I am so desperate for the soothing ointment of your closeness, which the writing goes someway to mimic, yet I am sickened by the lies you will subscribe to and your allegiance to the very thing that has ruined our lives.
You simply ask me to tell you the truth. Am I everything they say I am?
The truth is so powerful in times like this, when liars distort it like reflections in the puddles of water on the floor of the bunkhouse. Boots meant to protect our feet feel paper thin on the warmest days, but when the thought of what I have to do crosses my mind there seems to be no safety from exposure. Raw, open wounds on my body and soul feel rubbed with salt following every new draft I imagine. Is I love you appropriate at a time like this or would it only cause further agony? Questions like these spring up then collapse, all the while I shiver with a pencil clenched in one fist and a dirty piece of paper - handed over by a guard - spread out on the makeshift desk. Finally I master my fear, I know what I have to do, and I manage to put thoughts into writing. The words appear and I loathe every syllable. Still, I commit them to eternity and lay my head upon the block. Dear Dinara,
I have thought of you every single day after the night they took me away. I am so very sorry you had to go through that and I promise you it was never supposed to happen. Your father and I have been proud of you since the moment they handed you to me in the hospital, wriggling and pink with a pair of iron lungs. They speak the truth. I am a traitor and was discovered trying to wreck the nation. Do not weep for me and hate me if you must, but know that I will care for you now and forever. It does not matter how far you go, or how hard you might try to forget me, as I will never stop loving you and praying for you. They say God is dead, but I beg and plead with him every night to take care of you. You are everything good in this world.
Barely a side of paper but I dare not write anymore. Too much and they might tear everything up. Then you will be lost to me. They will certainly check what I have written and safety here is assured by silence. A friend warned me to never write anything down, that way I can never be caught, but they gave me the letter and everything I needed to reply. They want me to answer. They want me to admit my guilt. There is nothing real when anything can be made the truth through confession. The pain on my skin has seeped deeper, like the whip flaying my soul, but I am not empty and hollow as they hope me to be. I am keeping you safe, they will not hurt you now, and whilst you live a good life I know I have fulfilled my duty. An oath as old as your conception, one sworn silently arm in arm with the man I love. I believe I will die out here, cold and surrounded by countless women who have also been taken from their families, but I still live right now in the knowledge that I have shielded you. Very few have the same luxury. It required my body and my soul but there is nothing I wouldn’t give to you. You might still go to the Bolshoi and see the dancers, even if I cannot be there to take you. Even if you hate the thought I wanted to take you.