The Bronze Horseman
Author:Simons, Paullina

She knew of evacuation from the stories Deda and Babushka had told her of the unrest around the time of the Revolution of 1917, when they went just west of the Ural Mountains to live in a village whose name Tatiana could never remember. Waiting for the train with all their belongings, crowding in, crossing the Volga on barges…

It was the change that excited Tatiana. It was the unknown. She herself had been to Moscow once for a minute when she was eight—did that even count? Moscow wasn’t exotic. It wasn’t Africa or America. It wasn’t even the Urals. It was just Moscow. Beyond the Red Square there was nothing, not even a little beauty.

As a family the Metanovs had taken a couple of day trips to Tsarskoye Selo and Peterhof. The summer palaces of the tsars had been turned by the Bolsheviks into lavish museums with landscaped grounds. When Tatiana wandered the halls of Peterhof, treading carefully on the cold, veined marble, she could not believe there had been a time when people had all this to live in.

But then the family would return to Leningrad, to their two rooms on Fifth Soviet, and before Tatiana got to her room, she would have to walk past the six Iglenkos who lived off the corridor with their door open.

When Tatiana was three, the family vacationed in the very Crimea that this morning had been attacked by the Germans. What Tatiana remembered from that trip was that it was the first time she ate a raw potato. Also the last. She saw tadpoles in a little pond and slept covered with a blanket in a tent. She vaguely remembered the smell of salt water. It was in the frigid April Black Sea that Tatiana felt her first and last jellyfish, floating past her tiny naked body and making her shriek with delighted terror.

The thought of evacuation filled Tatiana with stomach-churning excitement. Born in 1924, the year of Lenin’s death, after the revolution, after the hunger, after the civil war, Tatiana had been born after the worst but before anything good either. She had been born during.

Lifting his black eyes to her, as if measuring her emotions, Deda spoke. “Tanechka, what are you even thinking?”

She tried to make her face calm. “Nothing.”

“What’s going on in that head of yours? It’s war. Do you understand?”

“I understand.”

“Somehow I don’t think you do.” Deda paused. “Tania, the life you know is over. Mark my words. From this day forward, nothing will be as you have imagined.”

Pasha exclaimed, “Yes! We’re going to boot the Germans back to hell, where they belong.” He smiled at Tatiana, who smiled back.

Mama and Papa were quiet.

Papa said, “Yes. And then what?”

Babushka went to sit on the sofa next to Deda. Placing her large hand on his, she pursed her lips and nodded, in a way that showed Tatiana that Babushka knew things and was keeping them to herself. Deda knew, too, but whatever it was they knew did not measure up to Tatiana’s tumult. That’s all right, she thought. They don’t understand. They are not young.

Mama broke the silence of seven people. “What are you doing, Georgi Vasilievich?”

“Too many children, Irina Fedorovna. Too many children to worry about,” he said dolefully to her, struggling with Pasha’s suitcase.

“Really, Papa?” said Tatiana. “Which of your children would you like not to worry about?”

Without replying, Papa went to Pasha’s drawers in the armoire they all shared and started haphazardly throwing the boy’s clothes into the suitcase.

“I’m sending him away, Irina. I’m sending him away to camp in Tolmachevo. He was going to go anyway next week with Volodya Iglenko. He’ll just go a little sooner. Volodya will go with him. Nina will be glad to have them go a week early. You’ll see. Everything will be all right.”

Mama opened her mouth and shook her head. “Tolmachevo? He will be safe there? Are you sure?”

“Absolutely,” said Papa.

“Absolutely not,” said Pasha. “Papa, war has started! I’m not going to camp. I’m going to enlist.”

Good for you, Pasha, thought Tatiana, but Papa whipped around to glare at her brother, and, sucking in her breath, Tatiana suddenly understood everything.

Grabbing Pasha by the shoulders, Papa started to shake him. “What are you saying? Are you crazy? Enlist?”

Pasha fought to break free. Papa would not let go.

“Papa, let go of me.”

“Pavel, you’re my son, and you will listen to me. The first thing you’re going to do is get out of Leningrad. Then we’ll discuss enlisting. Right now we have a train to catch.”

There was something embarrassing and awkward about a physical scene in a small room with so many people watching. Tatiana wanted to turn away, but there was nowhere to turn. Across from her were her grandmother and grandfather, behind her was Dasha, to the left of her were her mother and father and brother. She looked down at her hands and closed her eyes. She imagined lying on her back in the middle of a summer field eating sweet clover. No one was around her.

How did things change in a matter of seconds?

She opened her eyes and blinked. One second. She blinked again. Another second.

Seconds ago she was sleeping.

Seconds ago Molotov spoke.

Seconds ago she was exhilarated.

Seconds ago Papa spoke.