The Lovely Frost
Mashka’s anxious mind relaxed when she saw Aleksei’s bike parked against the house. A heavy sense of nervousness had been weighing her down all day, culminating in the encounter at the flower shop. The last thing she needed was to come home and not see her brother. She opened the door while she took off her shoes to put on the house slippers. “Aleksei, where are you?”
Upstairs, her brother jumped when he heard her voice. In his startle, he pressed on his bruised cheek, causing him to wince. He held back a sudden onset of tears as he attempted to nurse the large welt on the side of his face. “I’m in the water closet,” he answered.
He heard Mashka walking up the stairs.
“Hurry up! I need to get a shower.” she ordered.
“Uh, da, da...” Aleksei glanced around. For a moment, he looked at Mashka’s makeup in consideration, but shuddered. He was not that desperate to hide the mark.
“I’m done,” he replied, as he sheepishly opened the door.
As he expected, Mashka gasped at the sight of the bruise that covered the upper right side of his face. “How did this happen?” she placed her hand gently on it and he winced.
“I had an accident,” he said plainly.
Mashka had an immediate sense of distrust. “You’re lying,” she asserted.
“Why would you think that?”
She smiled, “You’re a lousy liar.” Then the smile vanished into a frown. “Now what happened?”
Aleksei sighed. “I got in a fight with some boys from school.”
“Did a teacher break it up?” she asked.
“No,” he shook his head, “not at school, but boys from school. I was on my way home and stopped for a break in an alley.”
Mashka blinked and asked, “And why were you in an alley?”
“You know when I told you I found a way to keep the water from coming to my hands? Well, I can now move water vapour.”
Aleksei raised his hand to show her as droplets coated it. He quickly evaporated them making a small cloud around his hand. Then he gathered the fog into a tight mass by twirling his hand gracefully, and placed it at the base of his middle and index. He then flung his hand towards the mirror guiding the cloud with his two extended fingers. The little ball made contact and the mirror fogged up instantly.
“That is... wow,” she said in wonder, then returned to her interrogation, “but you still have not told me how you got the black eye. Who did it?”
She sure is persistent, he thought to himself. “Alright, well, I was about to practice when Radik and his gang--,”
“Oh them, I see,” she cut in. “so they beat you up.”
“Not exactly,” he said grinning mischievously, “Radik got a punch in, but I scared them with a small… show.” he finished hesitantly.
“You did that thing with mist?”
He nodded. “Yes I did, but on a much grander scale.”
Mashka sighed wearily, “Listen, you should avoid using your ability. I spoke with Prof. Chekhov, the English instructor who came over yesterday. He knows all about us and what we can do. He said that there are people who want to hurt or use us. According to him, we are not being watched, but I don’t trust him, so we should be as discrete as possible.”
“So, we might have stalkers?”
Mashka nodded. “Something to that effect. Is there anyone at your school who seems to be watching you?”
“Actually, I think so. The new janitor might have seen me when I evaporated some water.” Aleksei paused a moment, as he remembered how inexplicably terrifying the situation had been. “Even without that in mind, the man has an overall, non-janitor sense about him. However, he has not even spoken to me once, so he’s not like Chekhov the Chatterbox.”
“Just try to avoid him, and don’t do that little trick of yours.”
“It’s called atmidokinesis,” Aleksei corrected.
“At-mi-do-ki-ne-sis, it‘s Greek and it means that I can move water vapour. I spent all evening online looking it up. To think that they have articles about this stuff!”
Mashka rolled her eyes, “Well whatever you call it, don’t do it.”
“Alright,” he glanced at the microwave clock. “Oh! We should be going before the night gets too cold.”
Aleksei walked down the stairs to the refrigerator and retrieved the flowers as Mashka fetched two thick coats, and both of them bundled up and headed out to the car.
Iosif removed his unneeded spectacles while he climbed the hardwood stairs of his apartment building. He fished for the keys in his pocket as he let a quiet yawn escape his lips. He was about to open his door when his cell phone rang.
He slumped forward in exhaustion. “Professor Chekhov, who’s calling?” He rolled his eyes at his automatic use of his alias title and name. 'This combination of day job/night job is going to kill me.'
An all too cheerful voice, chimed in through the speaker. “Hello sir, this is surveillance. Subjects have broken regular patterns. They are driving east along the river.”
“Do you have someone following them?” Chekhov asked.
“Err, well,” the man paused awkwardly, “The agents assigned… they have a flat. You’re the next available person. Lucky you!”
“I’ll be right there.” Chekhov slapped his phone closed and walked back down the stairs to his car. He was slightly annoyed that he did not get to put his feet up, and rest from the long day. Even though ‘professor’ was a cover it was still exhausting. 'I want to go back to one job,' he inwardly griped.
As he drove, his fingers fumbled in the dark to put his earpiece on. “Keep me posted on their destination.”
“Da sir! They have parked next to the…” Chekhov heard a shuffle of paper, “St. Dmitri cemetery.”
“I know the place. Be there in ten minutes.”
Chekhov parked around the corner, behind Mashka’s grey sedan. Quietly, he got out, wincing as he shut the car door with a light thud. Silently he tread over the lawn of the cemetery, until he stooped behind a large statue of an angel and watched the two figures.
Mashka carried the bouquet as she and her brother walked through the dark cemetery. Aleksei held his sister's arm, keeping a comforting hand on her back. They stopped at a very plain rectangular gravestone. She gently laid the flowers before the dark plaque, and the two of them stood in silence.
“Mashka," Though Aleksei hated to break this special stillness, he felt he needed to ask the question. "What do you think mother would say about our dilemma?”
“Which one?” Mashka’s voice lilted, in an attempt at humour.
“The fact that I drip, and you,” he paused, “well I’m not sure what you do. But what would mama say about it?”
Mashka changed her voice and quoted from memory, “‘Don’t worry, God takes care of all things in their season.’”
For a long time, all that could be heard were the rattling branches of the bare trees and the distant noise of sparse traffic.
He shifted awkwardly as he continued his musings, “Do you think that what we can do is a gift?"
Mashka cocked an eyebrow, "Eh?"
"Like, how Elijah could withhold rain or call down fire from heaven or Samson had his strength?”
“I could hardly see this as a gift!” she replied, exasperated.
Aleksei cocked an eyebrow and turned to his sister. “‘Anything can be a gift if you see it that way,’ that’s what mama said. And everything has a purpose. I just want to know what ours is.”
His sister scoffed at where she knew the conversation was headed, “This is starting to sound like the beginnings of a poorly written comic.”
He shrugged coolly. “I don’t know, but this is happening to us for some reason. And it’s important to know why.”
She squeezed his shoulder gently. “Mama always called you the little philosopher. So fill me in when you figure it all out. But life has not changed Lyosha.” Looking up, she examined the star filled sky. “We need to go now. It’s getting too cold.”
He clasped her hand and replied, “You go ahead. I just want to stay here a moment longer.”
“Very well, I’ll warm up the car.” She rubbed his shoulder once more and left.
Kneeling down before the stone, memories flooded through Aleksei’s mind. He brought his face close to the plaque so he could read his mother’s precious name. He sighed and watched the breath from his mouth hit the stone and freeze. With the tips of his fingers he caressed the cold surface as he outlined the letters, stopping at the middle of a tiny engraved flower. Gradually, a frost design began to radiate outwards from his finger until it covered nearly the whole face of the inscription. He pulled his hand back. There on the stone, the vapour had frozen into a design which resembled a large open rose.
“I love you, mom,” his voice choked. He did not like to let his sister see his mourning. Nor did he let her know that frequently when he was late home, it was because he would come and kneel before the tombstone, wishing with all his heart that his mother was listening each time he told her what had happened that day. He knew it was not a healthy thing to do. He was making his mother into an idol, asking her for advice, rather than the Lord of Heaven. He could only hope that God, in His compassion, would forgive him.
Finally he rose, but he stood still. He looked from the tombstone to the car and then back again. He wondered how his sister seemed to be able to keep walking onward. Already she was well on her way to a career that would pay for their livelihood. After their mother’s life insurance and saved alimony cash ran dry, and when Aleksei graduated, any child support would vanish from their estranged father. And here he was, no plan for his future. His eyes were always gazing back at his past, leaving him blind to that which needed his attention.
Filled with renewed grief and self-loathing, as he compared how weak and aimless he was to his sister. He finally walked back to the car.
Iosif emerged from behind the statue and radioed with his ear bud, “Are they going home?”
Chekhov glowered at the sing-song reply. Out of mere curiosity, Chekhov wove his way to the gravestone and the yellow roses laid before it. He flicked on his flashlight, and had to blink from the glare of the surreal crystalline rose on the stone’s surface. Behind the rose the inscription read, ‘Inna Sharova, beloved mother, gentle of spirit.’ The inscription continued in Hebrew letters with the date of her birth and passing at the very bottom, ‘1963 to 2005.’
He walked thoughtfully back to his car. He could not help but sympathise for them, even though they were simply future members of the project. But right now, they were just two lost children hurting for a mother. Taking them from their home was bound to aggravate their already strained existence. However, the fact was that these two were potentially dangerous. Someone needed to rein them in, before they fell into trouble. Only The Association could do that.
Iosif was about to collapse on the sofa when he heard a sultry voice, “Hello Yuri.” He leapt from his seat as if he had sat on a tack, and spun around to see a woman leaning on the kitchen counter, shadows concealing her face. “Or is it Iosif now?” she added, walking forward, revealing herself to be an attractive woman in her late twenties sporting brown hair, and large green eyes. “I’m always loosing track of what persona you’re using.”
“What are you doing here?” Iosif demanded quietly, not wanting to wake the neighbours at such an unholy hour.
“Didn’t you miss me?” she asked cheekily.
“This is how you talk to an old friend? I would have expected at least a ‘privet.’”
“Anya, I thought you were stationed in Moscow. What are you doing here?”
“Keeping an eye on you. They told me you were going soft. I’m sure that’s not true, da?” she answered coolly.
“So you were sent to watch me? Somehow I doubt that.” he said crossing his arms over his chest.
“Alright, I give in. I am also to give you,” she stepped forward, “incentive to remain with us,” she placed her hands on his shoulders.
He plucked her hands and took them off. “If your job is to watch me, you can do it from outside my apartment.”
She replied with injured dignity, “I remember a day when all I had to do was flick my hair and you would do as I say. Whatever happened to that man I knew?”
“Get out. Now!” He hissed.
She walked slowly to the door. “I suppose that was an exaggeration. Anyway, I’m glad that you are well.” Before she left, she sighed and said, “See you in the morning tovarisch.”
'Tovarisch,' he thought to himself, 'I have not been called that for a long time.'
He sat down on the sofa. Anya had been his ‘comrade’ for five years. He had not seen her since the Minsk incident. Back then, she was a relatively reserved young lady. Now the woman he had just seen with the close-cropped, brown hair and the black clothing, looked more like a hardened assassin. This was definitely a very different Anya than he had seen before. The business had gotten to her. All he needed was one more thing to be added to his current situation.
He turned off the light, lay down, and reviewed the day as he drifted off.