‘Rome, 1978′ by David Bezmozgis


From The Walrus:

Samuil krasnansky looked out his window and saw Italian militia with their submachine guns lined up the length of the platform. He did not like being under foreign guard, but he preferred the Italian militia in their blue uniforms to the Austrians in their green. The Austrians offended his sensibilities. When last he had seen Austrians like these they had been marching in long, dejected columns under Soviet command. He had been a young officer then, a revolver on his hip, and the soles of his boots worn down by the rubble of Eastern and Central Europe. Men still chose their words carefully when addressing him. Fussy women with clipboards had not felt entitled to pry into his thoughts and personal business.

Once again the baggage had to be deposited onto the platform. The same method they had used to get the baggage into the train was now reversed. His daughters-in-law descended and stood waiting beneath the windows. His sons wrenched the bags and suitcases from the floor and the sleeping berths and lowered them to their wives. Samuil and his wife, Emma, were assigned the task of looking after the grandchildren. Emma held each boy by the hand. At first, still half-asleep, they were obedient. But that lasted only a short while, until a suitcase slipped out of Rosa’s grasp and crashed loudly and heavily to the cement. From the train, Karl cursed, and Rosa responded that he had handed her the suitcase improperly. She could not be expected to manage all that weight if he practically dropped it on her. She wasn’t going to risk her head for souvenirs and tchotchkes. She had the boys to think about. Did Karl want the children to grow up motherless orphans? If that’s what he wanted then he had nearly succeeded. At the sound of the word “orphans” the boys started to revolt. They didn’t want to be orphans. They didn’t want their father to cripple their mother with the suitcases. They thrashed in Emma’s grip and tried to free themselves to assist their mother.

— Stay, don’t move, Samuil instructed them, but they didn’t heed him.

— Boys, you can help your mother by behaving, Emma said.

Just then another bag fell from the window and somehow wedged itself between the train and the platform. This time it had been Alec who had released the bag. It was one of the duffel bags, extremely heavy and unwieldy, and Polina tried in vain to dislodge it.

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