Dystopia Chapter 20

From the Story Arc: Dystopia

Previous Story in the Arc: Dystopia Chapter 19 by Krasnaya Zarya (Sunday, August 13, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Dystopia - Sofia's Journal by Krasnaya Zarya (Thursday, August 17, 2006)

(posted Tuesday, August 15, 2006)


September, 1984

Sofia peeled the potato slowly and with relish, the knife scraping along the peel, dark ringlets falling down onto the cutting board.

“I hate this stuff,” she noted coolly.

She was sitting, cross-legged, in a folded blanket in the middle of a rather humongous potato field, the brown grubs and green poisonous leaves making a background to her bucket of peeled produce and the ever decreasing mount by her side. Aleksander, rubbing sore hands, stared at the fire which he was poking a long stick into.

They had just finished pulling approximately a third of the field – she, Aleksander and seven more of their student-friends, as well as four of their teachers. Sofia happened to be professorless on this endeavour, and consequently deprived of the opportunity to make good impressions and get along with her work… in the great amount of spare time they had. Sasha was luckier, as were three of their mathematician fellows and the lone would-be doctor. She and Aleksander happened to be alone, just at the moment. The others were still busy poking at the dirt, and the medic decided she would rather go stretch her legs, and unbend her tired back than stick around and cut the salad, or something.

“Well, we all know you brainy types,” said Sasha, who was having trouble with English tense coordination, and would much have preferred building his new particle accelerator in his parents’ garage, “hate physical labour. Alas, the people need potatoes” – he picked said vegetable up and stared at it with something like hatred – “and the kolkhoz members need their afternoon nap, having worked so hard at drinking themselves to death in the morning. So it’s us to the rescue, or nothing.”

It could be worse, she supposed. It could be rainy, and sluggish, and mid-October in Siberia, like it had been last year, and not this rather atypical soft September. Or it could have been something other than potatoes. At least their lunch was mostly provided for, and they were not trudging through endless mud. Obviously, they hated these forays of educational communism – Aleksander as much as herself, and all other students and professors besides – but at least three months out of the year were thus spent. Last year it was building, next year it’ll likely be another pointless endeavor that either appropriately skilled, or unskilled labour could do with much less hassle. One day she would understand what use the State got out of throwing a genius like Academician Polinsky, or even her annoyed companion, at fields and forests instead of letting them do their job.

“Everybody likes potatoes.” She sighed.

“My parents were admiring,” noted Aleksander dryly while dumping out fishing lines, bolts and screws out of the kettle and presenting it to her by the handle.

“Your parents admire anything that looks to be from the stone age. Why they let you study physics instead of being a barefoot peasant or factory worker, is beyond me.” Said Sofia scornfully. She dreaded the day when her family and Sasha’s will finally meet. His parents were old school, genuine article idealists, moving to Siberia because it offered opportunities of employment, as well as nearness to some key sites at which his own physicist father worked. Despite having lived through all twists and turns of the regime – Stalinist horrors and purges, as well as he intended squalor of the twenties before that, they remained loyal believers.

Sofia’s family… not so much.

It was true, her mother said often, though not in a very loud voice, that Communism had allowed her an escape from the little village to which she would have been forever bound were it not for the 1917 revolution; had allowed her to study medicine at the Moscow university, had let her work and free herself from the Ghetto, the Pogroms and the pettiness of female peasant life, it had done her disfavours, as well,

Sofia’s grandparents, and parents have been tossed around, thrown about the immense country that as the Soviet Union of the time, and spewed forth by the system as less and less wanted elements. As Jews who – quite unlike Alexander’s parents, coming from the same origin but pursuing a mostly different attitude – retained a sympathetic approach towards religion and Zionism, they had been under surveillance. When the Great War swept the country, their parents’ home became something of a focus for throngs of escaping ex-Pale inhabitants, some of them less than pleasant for the regime to admit the existence of; Hassidic rabbis, activists and intellectuals. As members of the intelligentsia, they did not fondly view the attempts to bring into line art and literature, and unlike Alexander’s natural scientist family, the aligning of intents hit Sofia’s family in the gut.

Then came the order for them to move from post-war Moscow into the frozen Siberia, making their way by open truck and chilled railway in the middle of harsh winter, proceeding, parents and two children, cross-country and living in what bordered hunger for years, struggling through the Doctors’ Affair with – by this point – two generations of medics in the family, they did not retain any fondness towards the government. Aleksander felt right at home with them in their ideological wasteland.

Sofia, on the other hand, fund herself watching every other word, and the visits to Aleksander’s parents became harder and harder. Their son must have been getting along with them by discussing nothing more troubling than string theory. Sofia covertly studied the man who was most definitely
not her boyfriend. They’d been trading lessons for a year now, more or less – ever since she threw a book at him – and he was not pursuing her… per se. At the moment she wasn’t certain whether she was, or was not, happy with that state of affairs.

They certainly argued enough. It took Sofia about a year, with intervals for other things, to convince the die hard physicist that Linguistics was, indeed, a science. He nonetheless seemed not to be too benevolently inclined. She’d have to marry someday, wouldn’t she? Sofia tossed an unsuspecting potato into the bucket, and realized that her pile was done. She’d want to marry someone prospective, wouldn’t she? Aleksander was
very prospective. She’d heard that despite his obvious eccentricities – so long as he made sure not to display them too much – professors and work assignments have already put two eyes and even more on the young nuclear physics student.
Besides, she thought to herself wryly, I am not exactly radiating warmth and beauty. I need someone like Alexander. Calm and logical and not afraid of an argument; someone who won’t confuse me with bouts of romanticism. Someone whose love I can count on…

And that was the gist of it, of course. She’d seen what happened to the other girls – the pretty girls, the nice, sociable girls. She saw them flare, like moths next to a candle flame, and twirl and lose themselves in love… And there they were ten years later, twenty years later, stuck with a man they barely knew, whose romantic juices ran out within the first three weeks of marriage, and who was, even now as they watched and grew old, chasing younger things with prettier wings out and about.

Logic and sensible analysis were trustworthy. Granted, they might not be so poetic, but most things that are valid once, are valid for far longer time than emotions. Compatible characters remained compatible, and a relationship based on friendship tended to work out for longer periods of time than romantic passion.

So… was she Aleksander’s friend? She thought so. Was he hers? She rather thought so too. In fact, and that one she would not necessarily trust, her instincts in that regard were not particularly brilliant, she had a distinct feeling she was getting attraction vibes from him. Which had already set him apart from every single other male she'd ever encountered...

She shrugged to herself while piling the soon-to-be-boiled potatoes into the bucket again, having refilled it with new, clean water. What could she say? She was seventeen, and quite disillusion with the world. Everybody wanted pretty faces, warm approaches and low requirements. It was better here than elsewhere she'd heard. Russia may have done nothing good, but it gave women the professional boost they needed. It didn't exactly eliminate chauvinism – it hadn't even tried, in fact – but since everyone was expected to pull their own weight, a stay-at-home mother was rather the exception, and not the rule. All that, not to mention certain... nationality issues. Her parents would be much happier this way.

“You know, Sasha...” she said, somewhat hesitantly. “I've been thinking...”

He grinned. “Astonishing news.”

“I'm trying to be serious, you know,” she muttered, glaring at him over her shoulder,

“Seriousness is a plague, Sofia,” Aleksander smiled back at her. “You become serious, you might start believing in something. What a notion.”

“Well, all right then,” she muttered, in a huff. “I suppose I won't broach the subject of possibly taking this relationship further than it is. Pointless, anyway.”

“Broach anything... Wait, wait. What?” Sofia turned around, slowly, almost like in a movie, and saw Aleksander's very bewildered blue eyes. For a moment, he looked floundering. And deadly serious.

“I think you should backtrack here a little,” he said, trying to keep his voice very quiet. “Maybe we should argue that one over. Then again,” he looked at her, considering. “Maybe we shouldn't.”