Chapter 09 - Amour
(Written in 2010 and Published in 2020).
Past - Cold War USSR, Early 1980s.
It was the threshold, where the lungs sting with immense pain, the thighs begin to shake under the pressure of supporting the rest of the body. It was that moment where the mind is well aware of the commands it is sending to the rest of the body, but for that split moment, it beings to doubt its reasoning. The body temperature rises sharply, yet the iced chills begin to break out as sweat pours over porous skin. All systems are go; yet for that one second, that one split instant, the systems begin to quiver, to shake, to question, and the systems that flashed a green light look for the red light; the emergency break, something to make it all stop.
She wasn’t sure that she would make it out alive. She knew going into the situation that she ran the risk of her life, a pretty lofty risk at that. Five kilometers in, she knew she could keep going, as she had done many times before - but with five kilometers in, her body was trying to flash the red light to tell her to find the emergency break out of this situation.
When the mix of cold sweat and increasing body temperature collided at the perfect moment, she halted, standing at the end of a bridge. Holding on to its green metal frame, she questioned if she was going to be sick, literally, if she was going to vomit off of the side of the bridge. It was the strangest feeling; at one moment she was utterly sure that she was going to puke everything left within her off into the water below, and yet there was some pleasure that pulsated throughout her. At the climax of puking she wondered where the pleasure was coming from. Was this all fact or fiction? The unusual situation of her unusual life made her wonder the usualness, the reality, of everything that had happened to her. Was this world real; was this all real around her?
To seek some form of confirmation, she grabbed hold of the metal frame of the bridge and clutched on to it as tightly as she possibly could, to the point where the cuticles of her fingernails turned white. When the pain from gripping the metal framework became too much, she screamed out at let go. Head over the rail of the bridge, she gasped in deeply and desperately, hoping that the icy air of the world around her would bring clarity to her mind.
There came that moment again, that moment when she was sure she was going to puke, and oddly, creeping up through her thighs, lower abdomen, stomach to chest to head, a wave of pleasure, a rush that did not belong in this reality.
His face flashed in her mental picture frame.
He was the source, the reason, for just about everything. He was the reason why she was there in the USSR, in a world so plagued with tension that it seemed as if it might implode from the pressure building from the fear of one another. He was the reason she had dangerously agreed to serve her government as a spy in this backward society. In a society she didn’t understand, she agreed to pretend to understand, to pretend to exist in this world as if nothing mattered but this man and his life. She was recruited for her specialization in Russian. When many students chose the romance language in their college careers she chose the class that seemed to be the easiest, or the easiest to seduce the student teacher into an “A”. Standing at the edge of the bridge, she laughed at the thought of her college days, her academic selfishness and seductiveness.
She agreed to her government she would be nothing more than his little adoring, loving wife with a large adoring and loving secret.
Russian; it went from an “easy A” to a real fascination with the language, the society. It was a dangerous fascination. For, at the turn of the world, when the world went from hot to dangerously cold, to align yourself with a fascination that is perceived as the ultimate enemy is to sign a political death wish. Her parents repeatedly told her that she was lucky she hadn’t been studying such nonsense during the McCarthy trials for she would have never survived. Again, standing at the edge of the bridge, she had to laugh. To think of McCarthy’s possible reach, possibly extending to a dimwitted college student.
Where she would have been a political disturbance to the government then, they were completely indebted to her now. She agreed, not so willingly, to leave her life behind, to forget about her crazy parents and her younger brother who had a quiet and respectable profession as an accountant. She could hear her mother’s voice ringing in her head still…
She left that all behind, and with the same conviction that she seduced the student teacher with, she was to seduce a prominent physicist of the USSR, who could reveal more about the progress of their nuclear development. That would ultimately aid the United States in knowing if the world was truly holding on by a mere thread. Coming back to the present moment, she caught a glance at herself in the water gently flowing beneath the bridge. She remembered.
* * * * * *
She remembered then, sitting in the vanity, Vladislav standing in his closet, looking for a tie for the evening. They were expected at yet another gathering of the remaining elite. They would speak in code and drink to their hearts' content. He didn’t know she had broken the code and she always refilled her glass with water after the first shot of vodka they shared with the others.
She reached for the pearl earrings he had given to her soon after they had married. God, that was three years ago, she in English.
Three years would come crashing down upon her when Vladislav turned from the closet to peek in on Ana, a woman he presumed to be a political refugee from Poland who had fled to the USSR for equality and protection.
“Ana,” he began. “Ana, I must tell you that I am conflicted.” She assumed he was going to begin narrating yet another mathematical roadblock that he had hit in his research. That had been the most consistent and verifiable information that Jolie (Ana) had been able to relay to the US government since being located to Moscow three years prior.
“Yes, darling?” she responded robotically.
“No, Ana, this is not another problem, mathematically speaking, that I must solve. You must listen to me, dearest.” Ana swiveled around and peeled away her gaze from her image in the mirror. She continued to fasten the pearl earrings in, attempting to engage with Vladislav without showing too much interest. Complacent, adoring—that’s what I am to be.
He walked out of the closet and towards her. He knelt in front of her and held her face in his soft, academic hands.
“Ana, we have made a brilliant breakthrough, something tremendous to the security and to the ultimate victory of our home, and to all of mankind. Well, that is what I am suppose to think. I know that what we have done is significant and tremendous, but how can I think it is victorious to all of man? How can I? When I look at the schematics and the plans to possibly use this weaponry, all I see is you. I see you, somewhere in the world, loving a man just like me, with such a heart, and I see you in pain and in agony. Ana, I see you dying, and I see you, I see you…” his eyes began to fill with tears.
“Darling, darling, I am right here,” Ana assured him.
“Yes, I know! But I see you! I see you reaching out to me, begging me to stop it and reverse all that I have done. You always ask me how can I love you, how I can love this world, this earth, and do such tragic things? And I contemplate, as I hold you, and try to ease some of the pain. I try so hard, Ana! Yet, when I finally come to the conclusion, to tell you that there is no right answer except the one that says I was truly wrong in my actions… When I try and tell you that, you, you die.” With his final emphasis on his last two words, he fell quiet, his hands still holding his Ana’s face.
They sat in the silence, the both of them searching for something to say. They were both rational, logical minds, with tragic souls that so deeply loved each other, no matter what the premise of their love was. Jolie, his Ana, loved him despite of his research. She tried not to think of her love for him; she had to suppress it to protect her country. But in this moment, this state of mind, she knew she loved Vladislav and would do anything to heal the pain that was mounted within this moment shared between them.
“I know, what I say must be some form of political treason on some account…”
“Darling, shh. I will not hold you to political treason or any form of political reason for that matter. For, I think you have had the most brilliant breakthrough in all of your research. You have truly, truly, reasoned,” and she placed her hand upon his heart, indicating what was his true source of reason.
He held her hand atop his chest. “Then, I shall do it.” He swiftly pulled away from the moment and walked to the closet where he had previously been standing. She watched him walk to the deepest corner, where he kept his shoes and briefcase.
He came out with his briefcase in hand and placed it upon their bed. He undid the side locks and popped it open, revealing a file that was thick, and at first glance, filled with formulas and notations. Even with Jolie’s trained eye, she could not make out what it was.
“We shall keep this file here and never let anyone know,” Vladislav said as he rose from the side of the bed and moved towards a drawer in the nightstand.
“No! It won’t be safe; it will never be safe…” Jolie, his Ana, had to make a decision between her two identities. Would Jolie and justice prevail? Would she continue to let him hide it in the nightstand and then sneak the files to her handler in the night? Or would Ana, her heart, amour, prevail? Would she protect the man that was not just a subject, but the subject of her world?
“Amour,” she whispered.
Ana grabbed the files from Valdislav and ran into the small sitting room of their apartment. Before he could reach her, she threw the files into the burning fireplace. The edges turned brown with the heat and she felt the heat of Valdislav’s anger rise. In the fire, her chance of proving her worth and providing the US government with some intelligence burned, leaving her with nothing more than the scar of a traitor; all in the name of love. She took two deep breaths in the silence of the moment, her back turned towards Vladislav who was still standing in the door way, shocked with disbelief. She was too afraid to turn to face the increasing heat of his anger.
That was until she felt his hands slide around her waist; his head nuzzle into the crevice of her neck and shoulders. He was cool, his cheeks wet as she felt one of his tears run down her shoulder, her arm, her elbow…
“What, what have you done?” he whispered when he could finally find the words.
She turned to face him, his arms loosening their hold around her. She looked into his eyes, as dark and as cold as she had assumed he was to be when she first received the assignment. She came to learn that they were troubled as they were dark, confused as they were cold, for he was human, too. She loved him for that.
“Amour,” she whispered and cradled herself into his body.
They stood in that moment for what felt like the perfect eternity.
* * * * *
She ran from him, soon after they had reached the gathering of the remaining elite. Prior to arriving, she had no intention of running. In fact, she imagined enjoying the evening, linked in her husband’s arms, and following that, they would go home and she would certainly remind him, in more ways than one, of how much she truly loved him.
But there, across the corner from the in-house bar, she saw him. Her handler was standing in the shadows, disguised as a server for the evening. He was collecting drinks when she first noticed him. It was when Michael slipped into the shadow of a hallway and winked at her she knew he was here for more information, not just to check up on his agent in the field.
It triggered her that he must know of the breakthrough, too. After all, if the US government was going to send both the agent and the handler to the USSR, they weren’t going to make one do more work than the other. While her role was a little more prominent, his work was still important. Michael still worked and still produced important intelligence.
She knew what she had to do.
Ana leaned into Vladislav (who was drinking at the bar with a few other gentleman) and balanced herself upon her tippy-toes. With her one hand on his parallel cheek, she kissed the cheek at her side so closely, so passionately, that Vladislav knew something must be wrong. When she pulled away and turned to walk from him, he grabbed her wrist as if to silently beckon her to stay. She gently placed her free hand atop his and nodded, as if to say, don’t worry, I’ll be right back. He was momentarily soothed.
She nodded at Michael subtly to say she would be with him shortly and headed for the ladies room. She prayed to find some escape there.
Where she had envisioned having to climb through a window within the restroom, she found that the hallway that included the ladies room also included a backdoor. Quietly, she pressed against its glass frame and snuck out into the night.
She ran, at first, to gain as much distance as she could before Michael would notice what she had done. However, she risked the chance of pausing for just one moment as she met the major cross streets of her apartment. She peered to the right, looking down the street and up to the skyline of their building. Amour, she thought. That thought, however, was interrupted by the even more pressing thought of Michael. She took off in the opposite direction of their apartment building.
Running for five kilometers had led her here, to this bridge. Running as hard and as fast as she could, led to the breaking point of nausea, of puking, and of pleasure. She had betrayed her blood, yet protected the person she loved the most. Maybe that person was more in her blood that the flag she pledged her allegiance.
She broke her gaze with her reflection in the running water below when she heard a noise in the shadows. Fuck, Michael.
She withdrew a knife from beneath her dress, inherently flashing whoever was preying upon her. Her intentions screamed treacherous, her conscience screamed self-defense. He charged from the shadows, holding a knife similar to hers. From the scream, she instantly knew it was Michael.
“You traitor, Jolie! You Bitch!” he screamed. She stood in the ready to defend herself.
“Jolie?!” came a second voice from the shadows. It took her so off guard she dropped her defenses and in the instant she recognized that Valdislav was standing in the shadows, too. He had followed Michael to this bridge.
She dropped her defenses and, in that same moment, Michael dropped the silver metal into her lower abdomen. She dropped to her knees and he dropped to the cement when Valdislav shot him in the back of the head.
Vladislav rushed to her, witnessing the bleeding coming through her beautiful dress. Her face was distressed, his heart was a mess. In a panicked and subtle cry, all he could say was, “Jolie?!”
She gulped, trying to stabilize herself, calm herself. “I am sorry, Valdislav, so sorry… But I do, I do…” it pained her to speak.
“Shhh,” he whispered to her. “I know, Ana, I know.” He knew she loved him, regardless of the word that called her his rose. She was still sweetly, lovingly, his.
He sat with his back supported by the bridge and tucked her into his lap. He had no way of calling for help, and there was no way she would make the journey to a hospital. They were too far secluded. All he could do was cradle her.
He cried. It was the last thing she felt, his rolling tears down her shoulder, her arm, off of her elbow and into her lap. He cried and that was the last thing she felt before she died.
He cried, for he lost her, and his dream became reality. It was more of a prophecy now, for silently, she was reaching out, begging him to reverse what he had done, and just to, simply, love her.
He looked down upon her, her lips looked poised as if to say, “Amour.”