Can you Defend Moscow?
Written by: Nataša Milić
Translated by: Sonja Pavlović
“I am asking with a pain in my heart. Reply sincerely, like a Bolshevik!”
I said that Moscow had to be defended.
“Moscow is our mother”, his bloodthirsty butcher, damned Lavrentiy Beria replied.
As if he hadn’t just laid out a plan for government evacuation to Kuybyshev, Volga. He figured that we didn’t have enough food or weapons to curb the enraged Muscovites together with the refugees, and let alone endure a siege or go and meet the enemy.
“They will shoot us like rabbits”, he wailed, but the wrinkle between Stalin’s eyebrows transformed him into “the defender of the mother”.
Malenkov and Kaganovich remained powerless and openly advocated the escape. Molotov, as difficult a person as the name he gave himself implied, didn’t utter a single word. Therefore, it was all up to me.
“Give us the tanks, comrade Stalin”, I said. “Provide the reserves and you will see what the Red Army can do”.
„There are no reserves”, he replied to me abruptly. “Every idiot can defend the town with the reserves. I am expecting more of you… Kutuzov didn’t have the reserves, either”.
There was a smirk underneath his mustache. A small one, barely visible. I was going to say that Kutuzov had left Moscow, but luckily, that smirk stopped me.
„Kutuzov didn’t have the tanks”, he added. „However, you will get them. Right from the Japanese border.’’
The smile spread across the apparently ordinary face of the Georgian peasant.
“Elaborate the defense plan of Moscow!”, he ordered me and then turned to the others.’’ “You… Forget about the wagon where your wives and lovers packed the crystal! We will remain in Moscow.”
I wandered through the desolate and darkened Kremlin, convinced that I, Grishka Zhukov, was trusted with a life task. The defender of Moscow, that is what I am! A hero of my age, one of the greatest in the recent history. I could never envisage that the true ordeal was waiting for me, not here on the battlefield, but among the ancient shrapnel-torn walls of Kremlin.
The very fortress did not have adequate shelters and one of its parts was strangely masked. The enormous canvases with painted facades of houses covered the river-facing walls.
Right here, with an imaginary settlement in the back, I spotted a man dressed in an old-fashioned way, in a ridiculously gallant costume. I thought it might be a tramp, one of the victims, crazed from starvation, aimlessly dragging around Moscow. Perhaps he, naked and barefoot, managed to find a suit in the theatre. However, why would he put a fake beard and a wig on? His posture was the one Stalin could be envious of.
I waved at him to stay away from the walls, why he would unreasonably lose his mind, but he didn’t even look at me. He stared in fascination at the place a katyusha had been removed.
“When you have this, you do not have to be born as an emperor!” he whispered and I winced since I miraculously saw him behind my back. I looked back quickly but momentarily, he was swallowed by darkness.
We briefly met face to face, which was enough for me to recognize from the memory of the faded pages of a textbook the ascetic sunken cheeks, crooked lips and big spiteful eyes of the terrible tzar.
I am good at drinking, really good. I endured many drinking parties from which Stalin’s guests returned on all four (or they wouldn’t return at all), and the terrors I had seen in the youth didn’t leave much space for nightmares and hallucinations.
I didn’t accept life after death. I didn’t believe in fairytales or spiritual nonsense. What crossed my mind was that someone like, perhaps Stalin himself, was joking with me so cruelly.
„No more emperors!’’, I yelled at the dark.
I didn’t expect a reply from the dark. But I heard it, I heard the same voice, a whisper hidden within myself, from the deepest and the most contentious part of my being.
„You, stupid soldier!”, he told me. “How can an empire exist without an emperor?! But the empires will always exist: the various terrestrial ones as well as the celestial one … and that third one”.
“The third Reich?”
„How stupid you are! Nonetheless, I have to rely on your wits now … I beg you to show me how the thing covered over there works!”
„Don’t beat around the bush! I mean the one that spits fire and makes the sound named after your master, the Stalin’s Organs.’’
„Ah, katyusha!’’, I laughed.
„Gladden the deceased, my dear one, and in return I will show you something that the eyes of the living have not seen in centuries. Follow me!”
A well-garnished attire fluttered in the darkness and I followed it, treading the underground ways I had no clue about or I could remember, though I trusted to have known Kremlin like the back of my hand. After a long meander, an imperial ghost led me to a place as legendary as the ghost itself was. It was an incredibly spacious room and the last lost library was inside of it. It was built by an emperor’s namesake, tzar Ivan III for the books brought as a dowry by a sister of a Byzantine emperor, Sofia Paleologist.
I was struck-dumb before the scene that neither counterrevolutionary, nor a traitor, nor a foreign mercenary nor Stalin himself could create. The works from ancient Greece, Rome and Persia, lost Indian writings and lots of strange volumes adorned in gold or jewels, precious in every way. The mosaic of the world culture would be reassembled and made so different by the unknown, priceless pieces.
„And the lack of culture, the deceased said. „To be precise, political history. Nothing would have been as it is now.’’
„There are no such books that will change the events!’’
He laughed loudly, and that death giggle was stifling and torturous to me.
„ Books do it all the time. God itself knows if all of their usable value is in it, as you would put it. Sometimes, I regret dying and not showing this place, though in my days there was no hand worthy to be given the key. I would be remembered as a sage and enlightener, a protector of fine arts, not as the Terrible one… Though, I was terrible to my enemies. Just like you, the defender of Moscow!’’
„My hands aren’t more worthy, either”, I said, foreboding that my participation in the defense of Moscow and therefore in history, would be finished before I had expected. I will die on the place some believe was lost and the others it never existed.
Terrible for life, tzar Ivan didn’t surely change his whim in death. Why had he brought me here? If we put aside the fact that I was alive and in an extremely antimonarchist mood, it could be said that we were on the same side. The warrior and the emperor united before the shadow of the alien conqueror! He had better strangle Hitler, including Stalin, the lunatic who never stopped the war against his people. Didn’t he want us to defend Moscow?!
„Of course I do, son! All I am waiting for is you to show me how the katyusha works. I have been around for so long but I haven’t seen such a thing yet!”
Nataša Milić was born in 1976. She graduated from the Faculty of Law, University of Belgrade in 1999. She lives and works in Belgrade. She writes short and a little longer fiction stories. Some of them have been published in the collections of short stories from Istra, “Emitor”, “Marsonic”, “UBIQ” and “Sagita Sign” magazines, “The Roads of Culture”, Kruševac magazine, “Macrocosm 21” (Refesticon 2016), “Parallel Worlds”, “Haarp and Other Conspiracy Theory Stories” collections and Whistle and Homol Collection of Tales “The Guardians of the Golden Fleece”, as well as in e-magazines.
Sonja Pavlović was born on April 6th, 1995 in Belgrade, Savski venac municipality. She graduated from Đura Jakšić primary school and grammar school in Ćuprija and was awarded the Vuk Karadžić diploma for exceptional overall success. She graduated from the Faculty of Philology, University of Belgrade, Department of English language, literature, culture in June 2018 and obtained a master’s degree at the same faculty in May 2019. She is to enrol in doctoral studies at the same faculty in October 2019.