Torture, dear Petrov, begins simply. Too many lights, not enough clothing. Deprivations. It is the length of them that wears one down. I could sit naked in front of the river and feel the cold for an hour or six and not be afraid. It’s when the night drops its veil that my skin takes on the sharp prickle of warm coat, boots, hat, scarf, thick gloves. It is then I know I’m weary. More weary than I can recall. Morning stalls— the mountains blocking light. And my eyes, they will not open though the light gets brighter in milliseconds. Each day, the light. Dear Petrov you hold a map of my roads. Lodged within you its markers. Each that I will travel. You can trace the ruts and the holes where I might twist an ankle. Get a wheel stuck. Or possibly turn over the entire cart. Goods spilled everywhere. The road littered: me and other things. Yet you don’t speak yet you control my destiny. If I am to break down on corrupted roads, you will know in advance. You will know just by knowing. There is no secret to that.
What will happen when the walls mold over and the softness falls in on us. Will we smother or find a way to break through. As fish manage in the muddy bottom waters. The mold having what type of odor? Dear Petrov I am sensitive to smell. And what of our eyes. Will they go black from chimney soot pushing down into the house? Our rooms have always concerned me. You come and go as if no notice is taken. Decay. The part that breaks me most. For instance: the stove is a labor. My arms grown too heavy to take on the splatter of cooked meals. You scarcely notice the food you swallow. You eat and drink from my font. You appear and you’re hungry. I fill your wishes watching my own dissolve into vapors. You eat and drink, dear Petrov, then leave climbing heavily. These stairs cannot take too much more in the way of entreaty. These stairs that have begun to loosen. Boards grown shaky from the milk of the lamb.
While you were gone, dear Petrov, I rearranged the lamps. I brought them into the parlor. Now the light during evening trickles over table tops, dances across the walls. You danced with me once in the lake house with the mountain looming. We were alone on the floor. Others sat drinking, watching. Smells of wood smoldering in the stone hearth. Outside, a sudden storm moved clouds over the lake. The wind picked up and I shivered in your arms. Then a moon larger than a city seemed all at once to vanish. You said it was late. We left up the back stairs. I shivered again, certain you were shameful of our ways. You fell onto the bed and instantly to sleep. Your boots on all during the night. I sat in a spindly chair near the window waiting for the moon to return. Thoughts of going down the stairs and out to a small boat. Then it seemed a cold thing. You left with only your boots.
Author’s note: “Dear Petrov” began as a single micro-fiction of that same title. A woman speaking of an itinerant lover, or perhaps husband, named Petrov, who seems to function outside of her desires. He appears to be some type of soldier. Each short piece has its own title and is linked abstractly to the others. Our narrator implores, laments, and attempts to understand Petrov’s motives, as well as her own. The setting is Russia mid to late 18th century.
Susan Tepper is the author of four published books of fiction and a chapbook of poetry. Her current title “The Merrill Diaries” (Pure Slush Books, 2013) is a Novel in Stories. Tepper has received 9 Pushcart Nominations, and one for a Pulitzer in fiction. She’s also a named-finalist in story/South Million Writers Award 2014. www.susantepper.com
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