09 September, 2012
“What is it?” asked Andrey Tenderov.
“Clearly it is a fence” said Dmitri Petrov.
“I know,” said Andrey, wrapping his arms tight about himself for the winds were impaling, “but what is it? Why is it there?”
“Well, to keep things in, of course” Dmitri clipped.
“And to keep things out” droned Grigory Boleslav.
The air stabbed with a new kind of utterly forbidding cold. It reduced the prisoners to a constant nervous irritability that broke out over every trifle—no one could think or work or sleep.
“It is so ferocious!”
“Oh that’s nothing—” said Grigory, “you should have seen the fence they put up around the factory where I worked in Petersburg. It was an abomination.”
“No one asked for your life story Grisha” Dmitri snapped.
“Oh sit on your cello bow” Grigory retorted.
“Well, I don’t think I would enjoy that as much as you.”
“Ah, ‘Piss off’—the retort of the inarticulate!”
Shura couldn’t take it,
“Both of you be quiet—” she barked, “it is too cold.”
Just then, Yevgeny approached with a broad smile, holding a dog nearly half his size. The dog’s face was comically expressionless—his body inert in Yevgeny’s arms, neither distressed nor delighted.
“Hello!” Yevgeny cried in sheer delight. “Look! Look!”
“What on earth is that?” Dmitri Petrov asked, aghast.
“It’s a dog!”Yevgeny lifted the dog upwards toward them as if he had loved the creature all his life.
“I know it is a d—” Dmitri Petrov caught himself in the center of his frustration. Shura had recently teased him about having a temper. He was appalled, and endeavoring to be better (though he insisted that he did not have a temper, it was Yevgeny that merely had an effect on him). He closed his eyes, took a breath, and said calmly, “Where did you get the dog?”
“He crawled below the fence over there!” Yevgeny exclaimed, gesturing with his shoulder.
There it was, clear as anything: if you looked hard enough one could see the dog had indeed burrowed himself a tunnel through the frost below the fence. The plainness of the action pleased her. She looked back at Yevgeny, beaming.
“Well done, little one!” she said, wrapping her hands around the dog’s snow-covered face, scratching behind his ears.
“Isn’t it marvelous Shura?” said Yevgeny, “Look at him— he’s got nothing! No owner, no food. But he has free-ness! Look at him! Take in it!” With that he placed the dog down and watched as he ran, barking, calling for Yevgeny to chase him! “The rains fall, he doesn’t mind, he bathes in his freedom!” He picked a stick up form the ground and ran toward the dog, tossing it for him to fetch. He turned back to them, his smile somehow warming the entire day.
“What shall you call him, Yevgeny?” called Perchik.
“What?” Dmitri Petrov snapped, as he threw his attention to Grigory who was doubled over in hysterics.
“Yes! In honor of you Mitya! Now we shall have Dmitri the Dog and Dmitri The Person. Isn’t it lovely?”
Dmitri Petrov looked to Shura and Mikhail for assistance in the matter, but they both just shook their heads and smiled, the entire proceeding deeply amusing to them both. Mikhail extended an arm to his friend and pat him on the shoulder, as if to say come now Dmitri Petrov, it is actually very sweet. He was met with a stony stare, and a plain-stated,
“I am leaving…”
Dmitri folded his arms over his center, turned on his boots, and headed back toward the barracks. They watched him go, muttering to himself, kicking the ground as he traveled. Perhaps it was best.
Shura turned to Mikhail and they shared a laugh—honest cheerfulness (the kind not manufactured or played at) was hard to see these days, but here it was: his thinning face produced a smile so spirited her heart heaved. He pulled her toward him, kissing the side of her head, overcome with the joy of it all.
“Wait! Just wait until I show Anatoly! He so loves dogs!”
They all watched as the dog returned to his tunnel and slid to the other side of the new, imposing fence, then back again, his every atom free of care, his every interest, merriment.
“Well, I’m going back” Grigory Boleslav said, “watching creatures have fun in internment depresses me.”
She turned back to Yevgeny. He watched as the dog dug his way to the other side for the final time, below the fence and out of sight. As if he sensed the play was done,
“Look at that” Yevgeny said, suddenly reverential, “the dog does not know borders. We should learn from him.”