In a corner of Sasha’s basement, Mirya was sorting a pile of hand-typed literature into piles for distribution when Vasily found her. “So,” he said. “Why did the Siberian buy a refrigerator in winter?”
“Because, as a Soviet-made appliance, it was prone to overheating,” Mirya said.
“Close! Since it was -20 outside and -10 in the fridge, it was the warmest place in his igloo!”
“Very funny,” Mirya said.
“Where’s that revolutionary idealist of yours off to?” Vasily asked, pulling up a chair.
“He’s got a meeting with our sponsor,” Mirya said.
“We have a sponsor now?” Vasily said. “I’m not sure I like what I’m learning about this job after the fact.”
“I was completely honest when you came begging for work,” Mirya said, sticking out her tongue. “Wanted: ex-KGB agent to forge official-looking documents in service of sabotage, revolution, and other acts of all-around hooliganism. Well-adjusted individuals with no penchant for telling corny jokes need not apply.”
“Nothing in there about a sponsor,” Vasily said. “I have to report you for misrepresentation.”
Mirya crossed her arms. “Trying to keep me from getting work done, Vasya? That wasn’t in the description either.”
“I just want to talk, Mirya,” said Vasily. “All I have to go home to is a dank corner and a shrew of a landlady, with toaster assembly to follow at work. Being here, with you…that’s the high point of my life right now.”
“Oh, stop it,” said Mirya. “Roman wouldn’t like that kind of talk. He’s very protective, you know.”
“Roman’s not here,” Vasily said.
Mirya raised her eyebrows. “And?”
Vasily sighed. “What do you see in him, Mirya?”
“You of all people should know,” she said. “He’s everything we both left home to find.”
“A lot’s changed since then,” Vasily said. “Help me out here.”
“Roman is a revolutionary, Vasya. He believes in things passionately and he’s willing to risk everything. He’s got big ideas, big plans.”
“What about me?” Vasily said. “I’m a part of his cause. Without the passes I forged and the uniforms I found, Roman would still be sitting down here passing out cheap copies of banned books.”
“Don’t you see, Vasya? Even that was something,” said Mirya. She gently took Vasily’s hand. “You being here is the best thing that’s happened to either of us in the struggle. But you’re aimless; unless there’s someone strong to lead you, you’d just sink into a rut with only a few jokes to lighten the way.”
Vasily squeezed Mirya’s hand. “You could be that someone. You’ve always been the strongest person I know, even when we were children.”
“Like when I convinced you to steal sweet potatoes from your mother’s garden? That’s not strong, Vasya. I need someone to show me the way forward, and you do too.”
Drawing closer to Mirya, Vasily dropped his voice a note. “What about just before I left for university. The attic, remember?”
Mirya blushed. “That was just us being children,” she said.
“That’s not what you said then,” Vasily said, only a few centimeters from Mirya’s face.
“Vasya, I…we…no,” Mirya said. She pulled away. “That was a mistake. It’s different now.”
“Does it have to be?”
“I need you here, Vasily,” Mirya said. “The cause needs you here. But please don’t ask me to choose. That choice was made a long time ago.”
“Please, just go.”
Vasily stood up and trudged toward the door. “The General Secretary’s son felt out of place riding to university in a limousine instead of the bus like other students,” he said over his shoulder. “The General Secretary told him ‘don’t worry, I’ll buy you a bus so you can drive it to school just like your friends!”
“Good night, Vasily,” Mirya said. She was able to suppress a smile until just after he left the room.
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