Dystopia Chapter 14

From the Story Arc: Dystopia

Previous Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 13 by Krasnaya Zarya (Tuesday, July 25, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 15 by Krasniy Zakat (Sunday, July 30, 2006)

(posted Thursday, July 27, 2006)

November, 1992

The airplane swerved, and its wing scraped the clouds. They were very white and gossamer and the sharp edge broke through them like a knife through butter, slowly arcing upwards at a gentle tilt. The sky burst out of the whiteness in a spray of blue, where previously there was only slate-gray, and the sun contended for dominance in a brilliant outburst of scarlet.

Sofia Rabinovich shifted with discomfort on the protruding, hard-backed cushion of the cheap seat, the blue artificial wool crackling softly under the pressure of her shoulder blades. Blinking at the sudden, unexpected burst of sunlight, she leaned over to tug at the window shutter, tangling her hand in a myriad of tubes and stretching her seatbelt to its limit. Vexed, she unclasped the belt with trained fingers, and leaned over to the window once again, persistently tugging at the annoying shutter.

She loved flying; loved the incredible exhilaration of abandoning the ground, where man so clearly belonged, and seeing the clouds fromup high. From a distance, there wa a fractal quality to them; clouds looked like mountaintop, and mountaintops reminded one of clouds… she could feel every tilt and rise of the plane, watching with fascinated eyes as he great mystery of this incredibly heavy bird lowly lifting its wings up unfolded.

Takings off were a wonder of technological dance and landings held the deadly thrill of a controlled fall.

In the seat next to her, his intravenous and system check monitors beeping peacefully, her husband slumbered with a book tossed in his lap. She regarded him with pity, her throat clenching with worry as she examined his pale, drawn face with locks of unruly red hair tousled all over, and noticed just how gaunt and small he seemed, dwarfed by the machinery, tubage and support systems.

That was how it was, though. Years of hospitalization, therapy and medications only stabilized the situation at a barely tolerable level of liveability. At the best of times, Alexander could remain awake for several hours straight, reading or writing, as he chose, and only had to come into the hospital for regular treatments once a week. At the worst of times… At the worst of times she often found herself wondering, looking at him immersed in life-support systems and milling crowds of medical personnel, if he was still alive, or whether what she was seeing was a mere illusion – lungs pumped by the machinery, heart still beating, but no Alexander there to be found.

At such times, sometimes days, sometimes weeks, she hovered in endless white and green corridors, fell asleep on chairs and even on the floor by the side of his bed, and had repeatedly discovered dark, bloated circles underneath her eyes. She had been barely past 19 when the world blew up in her face – she could almost not remember a different kind of life than the endless landscapes of hospitals, almost no other conversation that did not involve her husband’s state of health.

On the better days, they worked on their PhDs. On the worse days, they worked on staying alive.

Sofia plucked the book from her husband’s nerveless fingers and stuffed it with feeling down the throat of the net in front of her seat, expressing with the act her attitude towards the world, the plane, her husband’s uncomfortable accommodations and the Russian immigration authorities, all at once.

America she thought, confused. What had that country to offer them? She’d been, participating in a conference to which her university flew her, more out of pity and of desperate need for vacation than anything else – tyranny or no, communism knew to show compassion – and did not like the place. But Russia was in ruins now, and, except for Israel perhaps, they had nowhere else to go. And even Israel was not stable enough… she sighed inaudibly. It had been a tempting option – Israel would open its gates to two Russian-Jewish scientists – but rejected. All other considerations except for Sasha’s life took second place at best, and while Israel had good medicinal care, accommodating many of the victims of Chernobyl’s civilian population, it would prove insufficient for the insane, impossible amount of radiation her physicist husband, working at the reactor core, had sustained.

So America it would be.

It took her almost three years to disentangle them from Russia.

At first there had been empty promises, optimistic doctors and new specialists. The optimism failed more and more as time passed and no visible improvement beyond the first miraculous recovery was visible, the empty promises went undelivered, and soon were no longer even made… as for the new specialists, she could not half the time distinguish between them and charlatans.

Then there had been endless fights at the OVIR – the immigration and permanent residency authority – to even consider letting them go. Sasha had been privy to too much sensitive information, and even she, as his wife and the resident of Chernobyl, was too dangerous to ever let out. For three years she had screamed her lungs out in room after office room, had strolled down thousands of kilometers of corridors and carpets, filled out mountains of paperwork and given hundreds of rubles’ worth of gifts – all for naught.

Until in August of this very year the regime began to shatter, and Sasha’s secret was a secret no more – the OVIR gave in. Then there was a rush for documents, pleading before the indifferent American officials and filling out more paperwork, her soul’s despite and abhorrence, that she could even begin planning this flight.

Obtaining the parental permission, that was most difficult of all, at least emotionally. Her own parents were no longer alive, having both died from various reasons, at a young and tender age, just several years earlier; she hadn’t even time to properly grieve for them. Her brother and younger sister had done, and repaid her with resentment by severing most contact. It still pained her, desperately sometimes, and as a dull ache at the back of her mind, that she had so repaid her own parents and their gifts to her – but she was Alexander’s now, and he needed her far more than dead parents, or resentful siblings could.

Alexander’s parents – them she resented. They never visited, never called, never asked… They simply left the two young Rabinoviches alone, to deal in the isolation of pariahs with their pain and grief. They were loyal citizens, his parents, unlike her own semi-exiled family, and proper citizens of the old school like them could not permit themselves to see what happened on that day.

So they had ostracized their own son, from fear of the truth as much as from fear of radiation exposure. And would have continued to so do, refusing to sign permission for Sofia and Sasha to leave the country, if she had not dragged his mother, almost bodily, to see her son.

That was one of the bad times. Alexander was mostly unconscious, on respiratory support, with the oxygen mask covering half his thin, starved face. Sofia knew what impression this scene usually made, and she was right. The mother-in-law cried, sobbing helplessly into a handkerchief which Sofia distantly offered the elderly woman, then retreated out of the room, her face nauseated. Sofia could only hear her steps, quick and receding in the distance.

The next week they had received, via mail, the signed parental consents.

Two weeks after that, the fateful tickets were acquired, and now here they were.