The men staked out their corner of the room. Their quarters were in a state of overcrowded, arrant disrepair—dark, encrusted with an indescribable coating of muddy ice, all collapsed lamely, as if against a crutch.
They were assembled as usual, in what was beginning to feel like their assigned places: Tenderov lay reclined upon his bunk reading a slim, beaten volume of poetry, occasionally picking up his hand and making a play at the card game Grigory and Anatoly were both taking more seriously (but had trouble keeping track of due to Yevgeny’s constant comings and goings with the dog). In the furthest corner, away from all the men and merriment, Dmitri Petrov sat upon a chair playing his cello; the flowing motions bringing hushed vibrations to the room that floated above the cacophony of men. His eyes were closed, his forehead tense, but every other part of him seemed at ease, in a way they never witness in the life beyond his music.
Dmitri Petrov finished his song, opened his eyes and gazed upon the men. They were crouched, playing cards upon the ground.
“What happened to the card table?” he asked.
“We burned it.”
“Burned it?” repeated Dmitri.
“Why?” The white heat of Dmitri’s temper was rising.
“Well, fire is very hot,” said Yevgeny, “and it was very cold.”
“It is always cold.”
“Well look, we had a bit of a discussion about it and then we—”
“That’s what I said, yes.”
Dmitri Petrov considered this in disgust.
“If it is any consolation” chimed Grigory “it burned very well…”
“Oh, well then!”
“—Indeed Mitya!” Yevgeny cheered his bunk-mate, “Quite bright! All those great games and laughed we shared were in the wood!”
“Yes,” Grigory smirked, “it went up in an instant and burned so brilliantly— as if it had been doused in alcohol.”
“Woof!” Yevgeny laughed, but could see that Dmitri was distressed, and so moved closer, consoling him, “Look it’s all right, Dmitri Petrov, we simply play on the floor now.”
“Good God, what is the point of anything anymore?” Dmitri slammed his bow down and stood, clutching his head. It was precisely the overreaction of a thinking man whose mind has been kept idle in a prison camp.
“Dmitri, it is only a table!”
“Only a table? It was all we had!” Dmitri roared. “What will you all burn next? Our beds? The roof? My own cello—shall you use it for scraps as I sleep?!”
“Calm down, Dmitri—” Grigory barked, “—get a hold of yourself! Hysteria does not become you.”
That was how it was when Shura entered that night.
“Good evening, men” she greeted, a little breathless. Locking eyes with Dmitri Petrov, her face conveyed all the probing curiosity of her thoughts, “Mitya, Mikhail says to meet him.”
“Meet him?” at this, Dmitri Petrov ceased his rant.
“At this hour?”
“Very well…” Dmitri placed his cello on its side, and grabbed his coat. “Not a one of you is to touch, or stroke or even think of burning that cello—” he bit on his way out, “—not out of any desperation. The next man who even looks at it sideways and I will burn them!” He stared them down and stormed out with the look of a tiger about to shred his prey.
“…Touchy…” muttered Grigory Boleslav, eyebrows raised.
“Basta!” declared Anatoly, clapping, “I win!”
Grigory and Tenderov handed over their trinkets, three cigarettes, a little vile of liquor, a pair of fingerless gloves.
“I didn’t want your bounty anyway, Anatoly. Who knows where yours has been in the presence of that mutt…” Grigory sneered in reference to Yevgeny and his dog, though which he spoke of exactly one could not tell.
“Well, I’m off for some air,” Andrey Tenderov declared folding his book and rising. “Losing makes the air stuffy…” He smiled, grabbed his coat and went out too, Anatoly eying all of them as he counted his winning goods.