Monday, March 14
Content lives walk through the halls of monotony,
Prepared not for the hands of destiny,
With sharp claws shall pull them away.
Take Heed of the Watchers
Dull brown eyes squinted as the youth tried to peer through the humid darkness. Something moved in the grey-toned world, brushing against the young man’s calf. He gasped and backed away, the omnipresent mist swirling around him and giving him cold, wet embraces as he moved within the murk.
Finally, the first sound besides the youth’s heavy breathing entered the area, voices, whispering in unison.
The young man wanted shout out, but his mouth clenched shut.
“You hear?” the indistinguishable voices asked in a whispered cacophony. “We are tired of our rest. Let us emerge, and open our eyes.”
The surface on which the boy stood vaporised and he tumbled into oblivion. All the way, the voices whispered in his ear and a great throat below him opened and emitted a hiss, before trapping him inside.
The scents of breakfast wafted up the stairs from the kitchen. It carried the odour of buckwheat kasha, fried cow liver, and freshly brewed coffee. The aroma drifted into the first floor bedroom, but was not able to wake the occupant.
On the ground floor, Mashka took the kasha off the stove and put it atop the small table in the kitchen/dining/laundry room.
“Dobrae utro, brother! Come down, the kasha is done.” There was no answer. She proceeded to serve up the cow liver and carried a plate to the foot of the stairs. “It‘s fried liver, onions and mustard seed, your favourite!” she coaxed, fanning the scents up the stairway. Still no answer. Now it was time for her third approach. “Aleksei, get down here now!” she barked in military style.
Startled, Aleksei fell from the bed with a thud. “Oj!” He felt covered in water even though he was dry. His hands shuddered as he attempted to rise, and recover from his bizarre dream. He hurriedly answered, “Coming Mashka!”
Satisfied, his sister stood by the table, brushed any stray oats from her clothes, and adjusted her headscarf along with her demeanour.
Aleksei walked down, his golden hair in complete disorder. “Prastite, duscha, it’s not right that I sleep after you made such a meal,” his voice dripped with well-practiced charm. He stood on tiptoe and kissed her forehead, being a couple centimetres shorter.
“Apology accepted,” she said curtly, “Though the flamboyance makes you sound like a fop. Now will you pray or will I just look at this food?” she prodded.
He muttered a short blessing and they sat. Mashka began eating, enjoying the hearty porridge kasha immensely. Aleksei showed a little less vigour. His eyes were drooping.
His sister noticed and being concerned asked, “Hey, wake up, you tired? You need to eat. There is going to be an exam today.”
“I will.” He stared out the window to the dark twilight sky. “You know what day tomorrow is?”
“I'll be getting the roses today.” Mashka replied quietly.
Mashka remembered her younger brother had been this way last spring, and she had hoped that another year would have healed the wound. It is in the spring when the flowers bloom and life is renewed, but four years ago, spring only brought a sequential sorrows to their house. She wanted to say something, but she never knew what.
After an awkward silence, she asked, “Is there anything else I should get while I am out?”
“Summer sunshine would be nice,” Aleksei said with a grave face, but a subtle grin started to creep across.
Mashka smiled in reply. "Take your vitamin D and get ready."
After the meal, Mashka and Aleksei put the dishes in the sink and gathered their books.
Mashka grabbed the keys. “Do you want a ride to school, Lyosha?”
“Nyet, it’s still early enough. I'll take my bike.”
“Well, pokah. The professors wait for no one.” She stepped out into the cold morning, breathing in the crisp air. Spring was beginning to return to the city, heralded by bluebells, which were sprouting in sheltered places around the courtyard that the Sharov household shared with a dozen other homes and two cottage businesses. Mashka backed up the car and drove out the cul-de-sac via the wide alley to the street.
Dreary grey light streamed into the drab cafeteria filled, with an aria of cheerful conversations that danced and twisted amidst the gentle atmosphere. Contributing to the ambiance, a pair of evening blue eyes beamed as their owner narrated his date, the night before, with the beautiful Natalyja. Aleksei was only half listening to his friend’s saga, instead choosing to focus on the infuriating piece of lettuce that somehow found a way into the other boy’s hair.
He sighed in long-suffering. The two boys, on first appearance, were not much different. They were both of low to average height, both blond, with identical smiles, and shared similar ways of dressing. They were so alike, it was not uncommon for classmates or teachers to mistake one for the other. However, just beneath the outer façade, the two of them could not be more different from one another. Aleksei was quiet, unsociable, down-to-earth, and received average grades. Yegor was easily distracted, flirtatious, cheerful, and a stellar student.
Aleksei diverted his focus away from the lettuce shred to the large windows on the eastern wall, his eyes seeming to glaze over as they reflected the overcast sky. Yegor finally noticed his friend’s inattentive attitude.
“You haven’t been listening to me, have you Yakych?” Yegor asked, using Aleksei’s patronymic nickname.
“Somewhat,” Aleksei shrugged.
“Hey, Yakych! Snap out of it. This is about Natalyja! She’s hot, and you’re not at all interested?”
“Yegor,” Aleksei began, his eyes not leaving the grey clouds. “I'm certain Natalyja would not appreciate you disclosing all of this personal information. And I need not concern myself with every girl you date.” Aleksei offered a sharp sideways glance to emphasize his irritation.
“Aleksei,” Yegor’s face implored for his friend’s attention. “Why are you so down? Aha! I think you’re just jealous.” Yegor poked his friend in the side playfully. “Didn’t know you liked Natalyja, too.”
Aleksei set his jaw before replying. “You’re flattering both yourself and her. I assure you, I'm not jealous of your girlfriend, past or present. Oh, and doesn’t this Natalyja make…” he paused to count on his fingers, “number twelve since last April? That’s an average of one point zero nine girls each month, lest I force you to do the math.”
Yegor held up his hands in defence. “I was just joking, you statistician! If you would put the same effort in class and not my love life, you're grades would not be so passe.” His face changed to concern when he noticed something behind Aleksei’s stoic expression. “Why are you so glum?”
The other boy slumped over. “I don’t know, I have just felt…” he paused, trying to find the right words, “...cold and damp. It’s as if this winter is more humid than usual.” he sighed, showing uncharacteristic fatigue.
“I haven't noticed anything different about this winter. However, come to think of it, we have received more precipitation than usual,” Yegor replied thoughtfully.
“That’s probably it,” Aleksei conceded, his eyes returning their wistful watch to the windows.
“It's the anniversary isn't it?” Yegor asked, putting his hand on Aleksei's shoulder.
Aleksei glanced back at his friend, surprised he had remembered such a detail. “Maybe that’s it,” he nodded thoughtfully. “I guess I’m just going through a different stage. Perhaps I'm finally letting go of mom.”
His friend chuckled awkwardly, “The school counsellor is going to lose a job if you keep talking just like him!” Yegor said, then stood up on his chair, “should I get the other students to come to you for advice from now on?” he suggested, threatening an announcement.
Aleksei smiled, noting that the stubborn piece of greenery maintained its hold on Yegor’s head. He considered rescuing his friend from embarrassment; that was until he noticed Natalyja and him making nauseating glances at one another from across the room. So instead, Aleksei simply bid farewell as he got up to go to class.
Climbing down from his perch, Yegor pointed. “Uh, Yakych, your essay is wet.”
Aleksei glanced at the paper under his hand.
“Better get that dried up!”
Aleksei lifted his palm. He knew he had not spilled water on his essay, but there on the paper was a wet hand-print. He felt his hand as water trickled down his wrist. Not wishing to afford further thought to the event, he dabbed the paper dry with a napkin and was greatly relieved that the ink had not bled to an unreadable state. However, before making his way to class, he dwelt a moment on the fact that he had been drinking tea, not water.