The Bronze Horseman
Author:Simons, Paullina

Tatiana was wearing her splendid white dress with red roses. She had the dress since 1938, when she had turned fourteen. Her father bought it from a market vendor in a town called Swietokryst in Poland, where he had gone on a business trip for the Leningrad waterworks plant. He went to Swietokryst, Warsaw, and Lublin. Tatiana thought her father was a world traveler when he came back. Dasha and Mama received chocolates from Warsaw, but the chocolates went a long time ago—two years and three hundred and sixty three days ago. But here Tatiana was, still wearing her dress with crimson roses embroidered on the thick, smooth, snow-white cotton. The roses weren’t buds; they were blooms. It was a perfect summer dress, with thin shoulder straps and no sleeves. It was fitted through the waist and then billowed out in a flowing skirt to just above her knees, and if Tatiana spun around fast enough, the skirt whirled up in a parachute.

There was only one problem with this dress in June 1941: it was too small for Tatiana. The crisscross satin straps at the back of the dress that Tatiana could once tie completely closed had to be constantly loosened.

It vexed Tatiana that the body she was increasingly uneasy with could outgrow her favorite dress. It wasn’t as if her body were blossoming to look like Dasha’s, full of hips and breasts and thighs and arms. No, not at all. Tatiana’s hips, though round, remained small, and her legs and arms remained slender, but the breasts got larger, and there was the problem. Had the breasts remained the same size, Tatiana wouldn’t have had to leave the straps loose, exposing her bare spine under the crisscrosses from her shoulder blades to the small of her back for all the world to see.

Tatiana liked the notion of the dress, she liked the feeling of the cotton against her skin and the stitched roses under her fingers, but she did not like the feeling of her exploding body trapped inside the lung-squeezing material. What she enjoyed was the memory of her skinny-as-a-stick fourteen-year-old self putting on that dress for the first time and going out for a Sunday walk on Nevsky. It was for that feeling that she had put on the dress again this Sunday, the day Germany invaded the Soviet Union.

On another level, on a conscious, loudly-audible-to-the-soul level, what Tatiana also loved about the dress was a small tag that said fabriqué en france.

Fabriqué en France! It was gratifying to own a piece of anything not made badly by the Soviets, but instead made well and romantically by the French; for who was more romantic than the French? The French were masters of love. All nations were different. The Russians were unparalleled in their suffering, the English in their reserve, the Americans in their love of life, the Italians in their love of Christ, and the French in their hope of love. So when they made the dress for Tatiana, they made it full of promise. They made it as if to tell her, put it on, chérie, and in this dress you, too, shall be loved as we have loved; put it on and love shall be yours. And so Tatiana never despaired in her white dress with red roses. Had the Americans made it, she would have been happy. Had the Italians made it, she would have started praying, had the British made it, she would have squared her shoulders, but because the French had made it, she never lost hope.

Though at the moment, Tatiana walked down Suvorovsky with her dress uncomfortably tight against her swelling adolescent chest.

Outside was fresh and warm, and it was a jolt to the consciousness to remember that on this sunny lovely day full of promise, Hitler was in the Soviet Union. Tatiana shook her head as she walked. Deda had never trusted that Hitler and said so from the start. When Comrade Stalin signed the nonaggression pact with Hitler in 1939, Deda said that Stalin had gone to bed with the devil. And now the devil had betrayed Stalin. Why was that such a surprise? Why had we expected more from him? Had we expected the devil to behave honorably?

Tatiana thought Deda was the smartest man on earth. Ever since Poland was trampled over in 1939, Deda had been saying that Hitler was coming to the Soviet Union. A few months ago in the spring, he suddenly started bringing home canned goods. Too many canned goods for Babushka’s liking. Babushka had no interest in spending part of Deda’s monthly pay on an intangible such as just in case. She would scoff at him. What are you talking about, war? she would say, glaring at the canned ham. Who is going to eat this, ever? I will never eat this garbage, why do you spend good money on garbage? Why can’t you get marinated mushrooms, or tomatoes? And Deda, who loved Babushka more than a woman deserved to be loved by a man, would bow his head, let her vent her feelings, say nothing, but the following month be back carrying more cans of ham. He also bought sugar and he bought coffee and he bought tobacco, and he bought some vodka, too. He had less luck with keeping these items stocked because for every birthday, anniversary, May Day, the vodka was broken open and the tobacco smoked and the coffee drunk and the sugar put into bread and pie dough and tea. Deda was a man unable to deny his family anything, but he denied himself. So on his own birthday he refused to open the vodka. But Babushka still opened the bag of sugar to make him blueberry pie. The one thing that remained constant and grew by a can or two each month was the ham, which everyone hated and no one ate.

Tatiana’s task of buying up all the rice and vodka she could get her hands on was proving much harder than she had anticipated.