A Real Spy Story: Part Twenty-Three

This is the twenty-third part of a fiction serial, in 795 words.

I had received a message as I ate breakfast that morning. Helen had telephoned the pub and told them to tell me not to go to her house that day, but to come as normal the next day. The manager’s wife brought the message, and she was polite enough not to ask who Helen was. To say the least, I was curious. She had never asked for a day off from being interviewed before, but the fact she had said to go back tomorrow as normal implied it was nothing serious.

With a lot of unexpected free time, I took the opportunity to collate my notes into some order, then got into the town centre before the shops closed to buy some more memory cards and notebooks. I was back at the pub in time to receive my laundry delivery, and to reserve a table for one at six-thirty for dinner.

At eleven sharp the next morning, Helen opened the door, smiling. I could hardly recognise the woman infront of me. Her hair was dyed light blonde, she had flawless make-up on her face, her nails were painted, and she smelled fresh and perfumed, dressed in a smart two-piece with some pearls around her neck. She saw my surprise.

“I smartened myself up, as you can see. About time too. Come in, I have just made you some tea”.

The beauty treatment had taken years off her, as least ten years. She looked more like a sixty-five year old recent retiree, than a woman of seventy-six. But some things had not changed. She brought her tumbler of vodka through with my tea, and lit a cigarette as I set up for recording.

“So, Martin. Today, we are about to do some time-travelling. We are going forward into an uncertain future, and leaving Moscow behind. Get your notebook ready, as I am raring to go. As you know, and so do I now, in nineteen ninety-one the Soviet Union ceased to exist. At the time I had no idea. I had celebrated my fortieth birthday in prison, then my fiftieth. I had been almost insane, then recovered my wits. I was fifty-two years old, and had gone through the menopause while incarcerated. Olga had retired from being a prison guard, and Alina only had a few years left to do. Governor Makarova had been replaced by a younger model, and I had been a prisoner for almost thirty years. I had started to think in Russian, as it was so long since I had spoken English, except for the short spell of teaching Olga. Then one cold December morning, two guards I had never seen before came into my cell. They told me to pack up my stuff, and gave me a canvas bag to carry it in. I asked them what was going on, but they refused to reply”.

Helen seemed to be in a good mood that morning. Her voice was lighter than usual, and she was very keen, speaking quickly. She downed most of the vodka, lit another cigarette, and continued.

“Alina was at the back gate when they took me out. She handed me a transfer document, then gave me a gentle hug. No tears, but there was something genuine in her farewell. The female guards handed me over to two soldiers who walked me to a black car. No handcuffs, a seat in the back next to one soldier, the other driving. I looked at the document on the way, having to hold it at arm’s length as my eyesight was failing for reading. I could make out the main headings, and saw Penal Colony 4 written there. Also Sankt Peterburg, which surpised me. I had only ever known that city as Leningrad. Back then, I presumed it was some kind of administrative error. We were going by train, and I was pleased to have my coat and Valenki, as it was so cold. At the station, the soldiers handed me over to two female soldiers. Again, no handcuffs, though we did have a private compartment on the train. The two young women chatted during the journey, though not to me. But they did let me smoke, and one of them brought me hot tea with sugar already in it. It was less than four hours on the train, and when I asked to use the toilet, one woman just nodded. She didn’t even walk there with me and stand outside. As I sat there peeing, I realised that I was no longer considered to be anyone worth bothering about. And that made me cry”.

Refilling the vodka in the tumbler, Helen shook her head as she reflected.

“From that moment, I just presumed that I was going to die in prison”.

39 thoughts on “A Real Spy Story: Part Twenty-Three

  1. “No tears, but there was something genuine in her farewell.” Sometimes those are the hardest farewells of all. There is also the idea that no matter what difficulty you’re going through…there generally is something tangible at the “end” (where ever the end may be) to grasp a hold on. So the final sentence: “I realised that I was no longer considered to be anyone worth bothering about. And that made me cry…” is a breaking point that can speak out to many. Nice writing ~

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  2. It sounds like maybe Helen is reaching the end of her time in prison which she has dealt with most remarkably really given how long she has been there another great instalment, Pete…Happy Easter 🙂 x

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  3. (1) “For Martin, I’ll smarten myself up. That’ll hearten him!”
    (2) To compensate for taking 10 years off her face, Helen bought a bottle of vodka that was 10 oz larger.
    (3) Helen almost went insane. Nevertheless, at age 52, her mind was still playing with a full deck of cards.
    (4) Olga was found floating in the Volga River. In her suicide note, she wrote, “I’m going to muster English if it’s the lust thing I dew.”
    (5) Makarova was replaced by a younger role model, Klinka Baryshnikov. She knew how to cell herself to her prison fans.
    (6a) “Alina didn’t shed any tears, but there was something genuine in her farewell:
    ‘Alas! Parting is such sweet sorrow! Shall I live to see the morrow? And what of your beauty that shall no longer fill my eyes with joy? Beauty that would have shamed Helen of Troy!’
    It was all I could do to keep Alina from kissing my Valenki!”
    (6b) Saint Valentine wore Valenki. And he loved them!
    (7) A comrade of mine claims that Sankt Peterburg was named after a certain Mr. Johnson.
    (8) Penal Colony 4 ain’t so bad. Helen could have been sent to Fiorina 161.

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  4. I compare her life to mine, being that we are of similar age) and I try imagining everything that happened to me, during those years as having not happened. It’s hard to get my brain around it. I am so curious about what is in store for her next.

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