Myr sat forward with her hands falling between her knees. Her brother Mikhail, slouched on the sofa across from her, studying the carpet like it held the answers to life’s greatest questions. His shaggy, light brown hair a mess; he was still asleep when she arrived. She watched him, waiting for a response. Any response.
“I forbid you to marry him,” he said, finally making eye contact with hard, grey eyes.
Not the response she expected. “You can’t forbid me,” she retorted, straightening in her seat.
“Mama and Papa would’ve if they were still alive. They didn’t bring us out here to let us die so young.” He would not allow her to risk her life with that boy. He didn’t care how old they were now. They were still kids to him and he made a promise to keep Myr safe.
His reasoning was as flimsy as an old floppy disk, making it impossible to contain her response. “Maybe if they hadn’t brought us out here, they wouldn’t have died in the plane crash when they went back for Deshka’s funeral.” She leaned towards him. “And they didn’t bring us out here for you to continue the oppression we left behind in Russia.”
“What do you know about oppression?” he asked mirroring her posture. His eyes narrowed to slits and his eyebrows almost touched. “You were just six when we left.” He hooked his thumb towards his chest, “I was seventeen. Everything changed for me when we moved here. I had to learn a new language-“
She reined herself in and interrupted quietly, “And you speak it very well, Misha.” She used the shortened form of his name to soften him and chose not to point out how things were different in Russia now. Their motherland would always be the Soviet Union to him; not the recent years of Gorbachev, perestroika, glasnost, and the end of the Cold War. “Besides, not everything changed. Natasha came a few years later and you have your own family now.” Once again, she used the short form of Natalya’s name to keep the mood light.
She thanked God that Natalya and the kids were at the park. They didn’t need to bear witness to this, and this was about to turn ugly. Mikhail had a temper he could not, or would not, control.
He stood and glared down at her. “That’s not the point.”
She rose to her feet calmly. “You’re right. It’s not. You don’t treat your kids this way. So why are you doing it to me?”
“Because you know about family honor!” He waved his arms around frantically. “You could die but it will reflect on me. People are going to look at me and say to themselves, ‘There goes poor Mikhail. His sister is dead because she married someone with AIDS.’” He set his hands on his waist.
“He’s HIV positive. He doesn’t have AIDS yet. And it’s nothing to be ashamed of. You don’t have to be afraid for me or you or your family.” She kept her gaze on him without blinking. “I’m going to marry him. Mama and Papa liked Chris and would want me to be happy. You have to let go of this fear you have because of the accident. God took them home with him.”
“There you go with that religious stuff again. It’s all a bunch of fairy tales.”
“How do you know? Huh?” She paused a beat to see if he’d answer. He didn’t. “Christianity wasn’t allowed. We had orthodoxy with no personal relationship with God until we came here.”
“Sure,” he replied sarcastically and crossed his arms over his chest. He couldn’t debate that with her because she was right on the last point, so he chose a different tack. “If you go against my wishes, don’t expect me or my family at your wedding. We are no longer family.”
“But you’re supposed to give me away,” she protested while pain seared through her gut. Mikhail was full of the unexpected today and this last stand shredded her heart. Her brother was the last of her family and he wanted to toss her aside like a useless, broken toy.
He forced the hardness in his voice so she would never see him breaking behind his tough exterior. “Tough shit.” He marched past her his bedroom in the back and slammed the door.
Myr headed for the front door. As she placed her hand around the cold metal knob she heard Mikhail shouting in Russian. Phrases she hadn’t heard since she was five.
They lived in a small apartment in Leningrad. Just her, Mama, Papa, and Mikhail. Deshka took her out for a walk one day and when they returned, Mama and Papa were yelling at Mikhail for being stupid and selfish. She didn’t know why they were yelling and no one ever spoke of it after that. Deshka led her to the bedroom she shared with her brother and she asked him about the phrases she didn’t understand. He laughed and told her she would know someday.
“I understand now, Deshka,” she whispered, glancing towards Mikhail’s bedroom.
She sighed with more sorrow than when their parents died, then left with her brother still yelling in his room.
©Debi Smith, 2014