April, 1952

My name was once Viktoriya Mikhailova, but there was nothing left in that name. So I took the name of another, she wouldn't be needing it in the afterlife. Her fingers could clasp onto it for only so long until they crumbled to dust. I had watched silently for many years, and learned her ways. The exact angle she craned her neck when she was searching for her brother; the gentle sound her feet made as she stepped across a room, barely touching the floor; the bell like laughter that she only used when she was genuinely amused. In a dark corner of my mind I kept all of these facts, these habits of hers. I had thought that one day they would come in handy if I ever wanted to better myself, I hadn't intended to become her. I promise, I meant no harm in it.


October, 1987

The walls of this prison were damp, a small stream of light filtered in through the high window. The woman, now at least twenty years older than the last time I had seen her, did not even look up when the cell door creaked open. A rat scurried out, taking every advantage of the chance at freedom. She did not move. In all my years, I had never seen a case such as this. They didn't know what to do with her, so they kept her here, a psychiatric ward which was hardly better than a prison itself. The walls had once been painted white, but the paint had since peeled and turned grey. "Comrade Mikhailova, do you remember me? My name is Alexander Rostov; we knew each other many years ago."

"Romanova." She insisted, after all of these years, she still insisted upon that same story.

"Comrade Romanova," I began, how strange it sounded to pair the word comrade with the name of the tsars, I shook off the thought and continued, before she could have the chance to slip back into her dream world, "how are you fairing?"

"Mama always told us to pray hard for Aleksey, to beg God to show him mercy. I did, I prayed. We all did, though I suspect that Nastulya's mind often wandered to other things. So I prayed doubly hard." Her voice was weak, and as I watched her, I noticed her hands had been twisted by age and arthritis, and her eyes had clouded over with blindness.

"Did she? Have you seen Aleksey or Nastulya recently?"

Her blind eyes turned in the direction of my voice; I could see the sorrow that crossed her face. "They died with me that day," her hands knotted together and she leaned as close to me as she dared, "July 17, 1918. Mama could not even finish making the sign of the cross," her gnarled hands moving in the same old pattern, as though finishing it for the dead, "I died quickly, though first a few bullets bounced off my corset, we'd hidden our jewels inside. It taken months, stitching them in slowly and carefully, but we'd eventually secured many of our favorite ones." Her hands ran to her belly, patting it softly, "one bullet to the neck." Her eyes closed. "I could hear Viktoriya screaming, they beat her with their bayonets. Eventually she too, fell silent. We were dead, all of us." She turned from me, her story over.

"This Viktoriya, did she die as well?"

"We all died."

"Would you like anything, comrade Romanova?" I asked, though I knew she was done speaking to me now.

"Your grief is indescribable, the Savior's grief in the Gardens of Gethsemane for the world's sins is immeasurable, join your grief to his, in it you will find consolation."