Day One of the Five Day Plan: The Bed-In

From the Story Arc: A Snake In The Grass

Previous Story in the Arc: Un rezo a mi madre, part 2 by Mosca (Monday, August 16, 2004)

Next Story in the Arc: Day Two of the Five Day Plan: The Way to Red Saviour's Heart by Red Saviour (Saturday, August 21, 2004)

(posted Wednesday, August 18, 2004)

Day One: The Bed-In



The dust coating the windows of Natalya Shostakovich’s apartment glowed with the dawn light. It touched Santiago’s eyelids, a tentative ray, but he jerked awake, ready to defend himself. Sleep clouded his vision but his jungle fighting reflexes had already evaluated potential threats in the vicinity and declared him safe. He unclenched his fists and levered himself to a sitting position on the couch. The bed pillow that smelled of his Natya fell on the floor.


Ay! He was in Red Saviour’s apartment. It wasn’t often that he awoke on a lady’s couch instead of her bed. His back made it known that the CCCP did not have a large furniture budget.


Groaning, he stretched. He parted the curtains and opened the window with a creak. The industrial stench of King’s Row greeted his nostrils.


It was a delightful smell: the smell of his beloved’s home.


An electronic whine and an explosion shattered his reverie. It had come from Natalya’s bedroom! He grabbed a web grenade from the utility belt on the floor and dashed to her room.


Mosca burst through her door, grenade primed and ready. The room was dark, shades drawn and dirty enough to block all light. The only human figure in the room besides the sleeping Natalya was his own shadow.


On the nightstand, the remains of her clock radio smoldered with mystic energy.


He wedged the pin back into his grenade. Natalya threw a sleepy arm over her face, murmuring something in Russian.


Santiago closed the door without a sound. He tip-toed back to the couch, dressed, and slipped out of the apartment, whistling a Venezuelan miner’s strike song.


***


“Querida! Wake up to the world. The sun, it has warmed the earth, and your breakfast is ready.”


Natalya winced at the loud sounds. Covering her eyes from the light behind Santiago, she rolled over to check the time. In place of her clock was a pile of melted plastic.


I am needing new clock, she thought blearily.


“What is time being?” she said into her pillow. Also in Russian. She repeated herself in English without a mouthful of cotton.


“It is eleven o’clock, mi Commissarina. Your first day of unemployment is off to the grandest of starts.”


Natalya yawned and stretched her arms. When she opened her eyes, she saw Santiago in the doorway of her room, watching her. She became aware of her state of undress: a nightshirt that had shrunk from careless washing and torn underwear. A sheaf of hair fell over her eyes.


“Am dirty, do not look at me,” she said. She patted the bed to cover herself with a pillow.


“I cannot obey that order, Commissar. Please issue another.” He grinned at her and openly looked her over.


“Ah, svinya!” She threw the pillow at him. He ducked and skipped out to the kitchen.


“I have made you are tortilla francesa, with my own recipe of patatas a lo pobre. It is sturdy Spanish worker’s food. Do you wish to clean up before you eat?”


“Nyet.” She cast about the room for pants, but saw only her discarded uniform, a heap of red and teal on the floor. “Santi, where are my clothes?”


“You do not remember?” he called from the kitchen, accompanied by kitchen sounds. “You had nothing clean, all charmingly filthy, so we dropped them off at cleaners, si?”


She sighed. The uniform on the floor turned her stomach. She covered it with her remaining pillow. Perhaps, she thought, recalling the look on his face as she woke, I shall give him a little tease for waking me.


Santiago stopped buttering her toast when she walked into the living space of her apartment, shirtless, covering her chest with folded arms. He gawked.


“At attention, comrade!”


He saluted with the butter knife.


“I have no suitable clothes for my day of leisure. I am requisitioning your shirt.”


“My…” Knife in hand, he stripped off the tee shirt and held it out.


“Turn around. Quickly!” He twisted around, holding the shirt out behind him, looking as though he was about to be arrested. She plucked it out of his hand and pulled it over her head. The shirt covered her more than the old nightshirt.


“Horosho.” She reached past him for piece of toast, but he swatted her hand away.


“Do not eat here, Commissarina. Please, back to bed with you. You know the rules.”


Santiago pushed her back towards the bedroom, shushing her protests. At the bedroom door he pointed at the unmade bed.


“That is your station today! Guard it well.”


She climbed back into bed, recovering the pillows to prop herself up. She had never been served breakfast in bed before. What if she made a mess?


A bare-chested Santiago, his scar across the stomach visible as a shadow, brought in her fried omelette and toast on a single plate. A smaller dish, balanced on his forearm, contained the potatoes, dripping with olive oil.


“You have no trays, eh?”


She pushed the sheets out of his way. “Nyet. Trays, dinner tables, decent vodka glasses…these are all decadent luxuries, according to CCCP Moscow.” He set the plates on the mattress. “Having to buy real vodka glasses myself.”


“Hmmmm…” Santiago regarded the plates on the mattress. “This is not the way to treat your guard post. Let me help.” He gestured to the fork. “Please.” Natalya took up the fork.


“You would like to start with?” he said, passing his hand over the plates like a salesman. She giggled and pointed at the potatoes. “Si! A classic Russian choice.” He lifted the plate to a comfortable height before her. She tasted a single potato chunk, raised her eyebrows, then speared three at once. Santiago chuckled.


She finished off the meal at a ferocious rate. Mouth full, she asked for water. Santiago brought back a glass of grapefruit juice. It was gone in moments.


“What about you?” she said, wiping her mouth.


“I ate on the way back from the corner market.” He gathered the plates. “Gracias for the asking.”


“Gracias for feeding me.” She regarded him. “I was not knowing you were such good host. And in my own flat.”


“Oh,” he said as left the room, “I have learned what makes una mujer happy.”


Natalya sank into her pillows. Such a blithe admission…was she simply allowing herself to be seduced? The thought squeezed her heart.


“There is a muy delictido fruit salad here. I am sure you are wanting more, si?” She was silent. “Commissarina?”


He peeked into the room. “Natya? You are so quiet, suddenly. Fruit salad?” He waved a bowl brimming with strawberries and melon chunks. Seeing the look on her face, he sat next to her, bowl in hand.


“Que? What is wrong?” She stared at her hands, crossed in her lap. “Oh, oh…it is my big mouth. I am sorry. How do you say in Russian? Izvinit. I am very izvinit.”


She shook her head.


“I cannot lie to you, Natya. Many women have wanted my company. Am I so cruel as to say no? But these mujeres, such fine people, I could not love them for long. I…” He paused, considering his words. “It is much easier in Spanish to explain.”


“Da, I am sure it is being so.” A hint of bitterness crept into her voice.


“No, no, mi corazon! I am trying to tell you that you…you are different to me.” Putting down the bowl, he took her hands in his own. “You are my Commissar, for thing uno. I follow you to the death into battle, no? You say catch bullets, I say, how many? If I was looking to bed a woman, right now she would be making breakfast for me.”


Natalya studied his face. “You are very bragging.”


“Si! I am bragging because it is true, but I am not proud.” He held up his hands. “Okay, a little proud. But I am more proud to sleep on your couch than enjoy the lusty delights of a lesser woman.”


“I am not ready for conversation such as this, Santiago. I am believing you, but…but, I do not know but.” She presented the back of her hand to him. “Is it not Spanish custom to kiss hands of pretty girls?”


“Si!” He took her hand gently in his and kissed it, lingering for a moment.


“Da, spasibo. I just wanted to see what that was like. Is very nice…I have decided to believe you.”


“This is good news!”


“And I will give you confession too. I am very, how do you say…insane to you.”


“Ah. Do you mean ‘crazy about me’?”


“Da! That is expression. But I have had very terrible week, and I do not know if I am crazy because of bad news, over and over, or because you are special friend.” She took his hands again. “Please to give me this time to think about such.”


“But of course, querida. There is no rush.”


Natalya patted his cheek. His smile unfroze her heart. “Then you do not mind the couch?”


“It is the finest couch I have ever surfed.” Without realizing it, he stretched his sore back. Natalya did not miss it.


“You are tonguing honey with lying. Come here, I will fix back.”


She laid him out on his stomach, saddled him, and cracked her knuckles.


“Comrade, this will hurt little bit.”


***


They skipped lunch and laid in bed for the rest of the afternoon, propped up on pillows or elbows. At Natalya’s prompting, Santiago launched into vivid narratives of his struggle against oppression in South America. The more gory the detail, the greater her delight. By the end of his stories he was shattering skulls and peeling the flesh off fascistas.


When he spoke of his parents, killed by his enemies, she held his hand. His description of his mother, particularly, came slowly, as if English could not express what he felt. She wished she knew Spanish…and she wished to hear him lose his glib tongue this way when he spoke of her as well.


Towards the end of the afternoon, they napped. Cast in the role of gallant knight, he offered to return to the couch. In response she pulled his arm behind her and nestled against him. For over five hours, she had not thought of CCCP at all.


She awoke to his snoring. The perfect man has a flaw, she thought. I wonder if his long line of admirers ever dared to tell him? She resisted the urge to pinch his nose shut, and instead rose and went to the bathroom. She used the toilet, looked at herself in the mirror, then decided a shower was finally in order.


Under the hot water, muscles she had not realized were tensed up began to relax. Her jaw hurt from clenching her teeth in anger so often. Why did she do it? Anger seemed to thrill her at times; a primal reaction to a punch in the face. The purity of it secretly pleased her, and gave her strength. But the anger she’d felt lately was helpless anger as she tried to navigate through a sea of bureaucracy. The blue papers, covered with densely worded orders from Moscow. How long did it take them to learn to write so obscurely?


What should she do with herself? As retired Commissar, she decided, she would first wash her hair. There were times that she neglected it for days, and the knots that developed were suspiciously hardened. She lathered her hair twice, then stayed under the showerhead while hot water cascaded over her face.


A job? How could she work any job after leading one of the most powerful superhuman organizations on the planet? The only other two groups with which she was acquainted were the Strangers and the Iron Pact. The Strangers were mutants, and obsessed with their own lives. They were friendly to her, moreso than most Amerikantskii, and their leader Amy Zoller seemed a kindred spirit. But they struck her more as a support group than a crimefighting organization. The Iron Pact were Communists, true, but hardliners like the ones in Moscow that drove her crazy. Whenever she felt too doctrinaire, she thought of Mad Marxist for a sense of perspective. Someday, she feared, she would be forced to hunt them down as terrorists. That day would sadden her.


Employment at an American corporation, or for their government, was unacceptable even if it was possible. That left few options: work as a solo hero, pulling the meager weekly paycheck offered by Freedom Corps, or…


The thought came unbidden from deep inside before she could quell it: marry Santiago and settle down as a housewife.


She leaned against the shower stall’s wall. Why did she even entertain that notion? Giving up everything she worked for over the last decade, just to be a typical wife to a man she barely knew? Foolishness. Wish fulfillment. It was the pressure, making her think childish thoughts.


But the mental images of quiet times with him would not leave. If every day of married life was like this afternoon, it was a heaven she never knew existed. The lure was undeniable.


There are many ways to do one’s duty to society, she thought. Fighting fascism is one. Raising a family is another, in some ways a harder task. Am I a coward to avoid this for so long?


I am nearly thirty. What if I am a withered superhero at forty, and I can never bear children? What if I die first, alone? Which crime prevented will be the one that validates my life as it passes before my eyes?


Ach, too many questions! She regretted the shower now. Sleeping next to Santiago, she found a peace that she had battled for years to create.


He will awake and think immediately of feeding me again, she knew. He will order Chinese food, or pizza, and we will watch each other eat in my cramped bed. I will pay attention to every movement and reaction again, devouring them along with my dinner. He will be charming and sweet as he cleans up from dinner, and lies down on my couch for another back-breaking night’s sleep.


The water became cold, but Natalya let it run over her, helping the thought that wouldn’t go away raise goosebumps on her skin. I love him.


I am afraid to tell him, I’m afraid I might be fooling myself, but I am in love with him.