January 15th, 1935
Mikhail Alkaev opened the door as soon as he heard the breaks of a car. Clad in a formal dress shirt, burgundy waistcoat and a black single breasted jacket with matching trousers, he carried a welcoming but stern disposition as Sergei Mihaylov exited a 1922 Ford Model T. The sun, which was higher than usual, caused Mikhail to squint slightly. A steady wind blew Sergei's black hair and his brown wool coat to the right a bit like a thick borough with winter leaves still attached.
"Good morning sir!" Mikhail said, shouting to outdo the wind.
Sergei smiled and embraced him as he walked through the doorway. "You know you can call me by my first name."
Mikhail shut the door, took Sergei's coat and placed it on the hook on the wall.
"Yes," Mikhail said, "but it's the formalities of business."
Sergei laughed as he walked across the wood floor of the large foyer with a high cathedral ceiling. A glass chandelier from the Czar's Palace hung overhead giving a soft light to the place. To the right up against the far wall was a fireplace. On the mantel was an unfinished portrait of Czar Nicolas painted in during his final hours. His uniform was perfect, his medals displayed with dignity, the right in the coat pocket, the left loyally on a piece of paper, most likely The Address of Bloody Sunday that was never written or given but should have been. It was very fitting that the head was not present.
Two chairs, a rug and a coffee table lay near the fireplace but they offer little importance to the inhabitants the estate- Mister Vladimir and Sonya Mihaylov-Romanov who, like all believers in the Tsar, refused to believe that this Stalinist government, or as it is now referred to as the new regime of the law, existed. In fact, they behaved as if they were stuck in 1905, when Nicholas II of Russia was still salvageable from his ruin- then again; in 1905 he was busy with domestic affairs, namely tennis. In other words, Tsar Nicholas II running an incompetent absolute monarchy.
Vladimir, who was dressed as if he were facing a military inspection, walked down a staircase with his wife and daughter in law in tow. The head of the house smiled as he looked down and saw his eldest son and rushed down like a child at Christmas.
"Sergei!" He said optimistically, "I'm so glad you're home!" The man almost hugged the officer but settled for a hardy handshake. "How are you these days?"
Sergei smiled and placed a hand on his father's shoulder, "Fine отец, just fine."
Vladimir's wife, Vera, wore a purple dress and matching necklace for the occasion. She smiled and hugged the military man with a warm embrace as if she had been yearning to see if for several years now. Sergei smiled back, the embrace of his mother made him feel like a military puppet and more like a human being.
"How are you?" Sergei asked.
"Fine," Vera replied, "better, now that you're around."
The daughter in law and Sergei's sister in law, Abigail, was a radiant woman originally from England. With the grace and beauty of a queen, she smiled and cherished Sergei lovingly and warmly more and more with each second, as if he were a filler for her husband, a reminder of him. In a way, that's how she felt about him, Sergei, for ever since Vasily's disappearance, the world grew dark, malevolent, full of forces to be reckoned with, and people to hate and to fear.
"It's been too long Sergei," Abigail said, still having her arms around him, "how've I've missed you."
"It's great to see you too, Abby," Sergei replied with a smile as he forced her to let go with a respectable retreat. "If you're wondering about Vasily, I haven't received-"
Abigail smiled and placed her finger on Sergei's lips, "Don't speak of it now Sergei," she said, "I'm sure he's fine."
She moved towards the dining room and turned towards Vladimir.
"Are we to eat or are we to starve." She said.
Vladimir nodded and ushered Sergei and his wife into the room.
It was Victorian style. A chandelier over the large table that could seat fourteen, six on one side, six on the other and one at each end. Candles in silver candelabras shone with grace and pride, taking no mind in giving the fine silverware and china a chance to gain some recognition. The ceiling was the color of a French crème pasty and the faces of the seraphs gently serenaded of daring feats of valor with knights and debutantes.
Lunch was already served onto three plates. It was a meal of a roast beef sandwich with pepper jack cheese, olives and mustard with a bowl of homemade potato soup. For drink there was water- alcohol was forbidden in the house.
As the benefactors of the house sat down at the table, Mikhail dutifully stood at the threshold of the kitchen and foyer. Humble footsteps, belonging to Mrs. Sonya Fidget, came down the stairs. At the moment, she wore her mandatory service cap and apron, both of which were crisp white. Carrying a large tray under her left arm she turned rather militantly to the dining room, almost as if she were preparing to enlist in the Red Army.
"Why Mrs. Fidget," Mikhail said smiling sweetly, "how are you this morning?"
"Wonderful sir," Sonya replied with an equal smile. She stopped almost immediately and took a breath from all the rushing. "Master Nikiv isn't feeling well this morning, he has a slight fever, so I'll just be sending up a plate for him."
"Very good," Mikhail replied with a hand motion towards the room, "do send up my regards."
Sonya laughed a bit as she entered the room, grabbing a plate and glass and setting them on the tray.
"He's not dying," she said turning back to Mikhail, "he just has a minor chill that's all."
"Oh, is something the matter with Nikiv?" Vladimir asked.
"Just a slight fever sir," Sonya replied, "should be well by dinnertime."
Vladimir nodded, satisfied with the answer as he reached for his spoon and began partaking the potato soup. It was divine. A gift from heaven in a land plagued by winter and crass politics. The potatoes were tender and moist like a warm summer's afternoon and the smell of it effectuated the nostrils in a way that was almost poetic, something out of Shakespeare or Innokenty Annensky- beautiful, tragic, and elegant.
Vera slowly at her sandwich, keeping watch of Sergei only a concerned mother could. She noticed the way that his shoulders were broader, his hair was given a touch of gray, and his eyes, which were once blue and full of energy, were now grayer as if the life had been vacuumed out, the fire of the revolutionary boy was extinguished and was replaced with nothing.
"So, Sergei," Vera said in attempts to engage in formal conversation, "what is the news from St. Petersburg?"
Sergei sighed and stopped himself from taking another bite of food. He was about to finish his roast beef sandwich.
"Mother," he said, "I wish not to talk of political affairs at the moment."
"Oh but we must talk about political affairs if we are to survive in this new regime, Sergei." His mother replied with a small but noticeable laugh.
Sergei rolled his eyes as footsteps belonging to Mister George Barrett, a British footman and Ivan (otherwise known as Kent), a conditioned mouse who served as Barrett's assistant, entered the room. George, who was carrying Kent via his hand, slowly asked around to see if any refills of drinks were needed. As he made his way to Sergei, the footman sat Kent down on the table. The mouse immediately began to scurry over to the vacant seats and straighten out the silverware with his teeth and nose, pushing and pulling the forks and knives and such in their proper places. The mouse then moved to the candelabras to simply look at see if the wicks were still burning. After satisfying himself with that knowledge he proceeded to move from Mister Vladimir down to Sergei gently waiting until each person petted him or not as a way of showing appreciation to be allowed to work. His payment of course was food. When Kent reached Sergei, the career military man reached out his right hand and stroked Kent's back and smiled.
"You're a good one Kent." Sergei said. "Make sure to help yourself to the cupboard. Don't want you starving now."
George came back around to collect his little helper. "Don't give him any ideas Mister Sergei." George said, "He may not be able to talk, but he understands what you're saying."
Sergei laughed as he let Kent jump from the table back into George's hand and let George and the rodent exit without another word.
"I know there's a reason for you coming here that you're simply not telling us." Abigail, who sat across from Sergei, said.
"Come now," Vladimir, who sat at the head of the table that faced the window, replied, "if he does not wish to speak of it let him keep his business to himself."
Sergei looked in his father's direction, even though he was at the other end of the table, he could see that a large single gray hair was stuck to Vladimir's right lapel and that his hands were relatively frail and shaky, as if he were suffering from a scare or the beginning phases of Parkinson's disease.
"Father," Sergei said, "are you alright?"
"Yes," Vladimir replied, looking back at his son with a smile, "it's just old age that's all."
A voice came from upstairs followed by footsteps. "Is Uncle Sergei here?"
"Yes," Mrs. Fidget, who was with him at the top of the stairs, "but don't hurry yourself, he'll still be there when you get down."
Sergei smiled, stood from his place and walked out of the room and into the foyer. When he saw his nephew dressed in his best clothes and still smiling as if there wasn't a fever to speak of, Sergei smiled and laughed.
"How's my little soldier today?"
"Wonderful!" Nikiv said, "I'm doing a lot better now."
The boy and the maid descended the stairs and when they reached the bottom, Nikiv gave his uncle a bear hug and a kiss on the cheek. Sergei removed his hat and placed it on the boy's head.
"You've been a good boy while I was away?"
Nikiv laughed, "Yes."
"Hmm…are you sure?" Sergei asked playfully.
"Yes!" Nikiv said.
"I don't think you are!" Sergei laughed as he bombarded his nephew with tickling and quality time at the base of the staircase.