On the eve of that fateful day, Alina had a foolish dream.
She’s walking with her beloved biology teacher along International Street after school, as she usually does, until its intersection with Frunze Street, and her teacher is telling her something about medicine and anatomy because it’s already been a year since Alina decided that, after high school, she’ll go to a medical institute in Kyiv. No matter what the teacher talks about, it’s always super interesting and new and, as per usual, Alina is listening to her teacher’s intelligent speech not just with interest, but with a sense of deep delight. This is because her teacher moved to Yevpatoria from Leningrad and speaks properly, without a southern accent, exactly like broadcasters on TV or famous Soviet actors. They reach the intersection, Alina’s teacher turns to her and, in her calm, confident, slightly feline voice, begins to speak:
“Learn Latin, but do it methodically––gather together an herbarium or collect butterflies and write down their Latin names in order to grow accustomed to this great language. Don’t forget that, even though it’s dead, all of Europe once spoke it.”
Alina’s teacher nods to her and smiles with her small, plump, feline face. Then Alina suddenly speaks up:
“Natalya Rodionovna, please teach me how to poop properly.”
This is so unexpectedly stupid that Alina becomes terribly ashamed and freezes in place like a tree. She’s expecting her teacher to say something mercilessly clever and humiliatingly harsh, something that will force her to run home and sob into a pillow for a long time, biting her fist. But, entirely unexpectedly, her teacher instead pronounces:
“Come over whenever you’d like.”
And, now, Alina is walking over to her teacher’s place. It’s nighttime. Yevpatoria is sleeping, the streets are dark, stuffy with dust, unusually narrow, and littered with all sorts of trash. Alina turns onto Frunze Street, which seems to have narrowed to an incredible degree and is so filled up with junk that it’s like a garbage dump. Alina has to squeeze her way through all of this rotten, ramshackle, crumbling stuff––occasionally, she even crawls. Finally, she reaches her teacher’s house. It’s very small, lopsided, and damp with rot, just like her own neighbors’ old chicken coop. A luxurious apricot tree shrinks down into a torn bush of dried berries out front and, instead of a stone porch, there’s a sort of square door reminiscent of a ventilation window.
Alina crawls through the ventilation window and suddenly finds herself in an enormous space. It’s a forest of incredible trees, wide and reaching skywards with powerful crowns, which intertwine way up high, letting through only the occasional ray of sun. The forest is gloomy and splendid. Alina’s heart seems to stop when confronted with the splendidness of the forest.
“Is that who I think it is?” the teacher’s voice rings out.
Natalya Rodionovna comes out from behind an enormous tree. In comparison with the tree, she’s the size of a chess piece with a cat’s head.
Trembling, Alina strips naked.
“Now let’s head over to the clearing.”
Her teacher takes her by the hand and leads her through the forest to a small clearing. A sunbeam that’s beaten its way down from up above illuminates her.
“Sit down,” her calm, intelligent voice rings out.
Alina squats down. Beneath her feet are soft, enormous leaves that have fallen from the splendid trees.
“Now, collect your wits and poop properly like a responsible and attentive student of our Soviet era, a student who knows how infusoria differ from mandatory homework assignments on medical cyberneticists of geometric labor of the cosmic herbarium of Matricaria chamomilla so’s that in the principal’s office an accumulation of root minerals of the meat-milk spare legs belonging to the principal would know the feats of the ‘B’ class, they’re eighth graders, if the attentive test tubes are filled up with sprouted seeds of magnesium and sodium and those shall in their turn bring fertilizing freedom to square agricultural plants . . . ”
Alina begins to poop as she listens to this calm, intelligent voice. She feels so good sitting in a beam of sun atop huge, warm leaves, so good that she goes numb with pleasure and begins to sob with gratitude, understanding that, now, for her whole life, she’ll only poop in this magical forest, a forest revealed to her by the wise Natalya Rodionovna, and, now, everything in Alina’s life is going to be good and proper, she sobs, sobs, sobs. Then wakes up.
Having woken up in the middle of the night, she realized that she really, really had to go to the bathroom to do a number two. She got up, walked barefoot along the moonlit corridor, passed the kitchen door, went into the bathroom—also where the bath and sink were in their apartment, not in a separate room from the toilet as in many Soviet apartments––turned on the light, and squeezed her eyes tightly shut. It was too bright. The bath was filled with water and the floor was entirely covered over in pots, watering cans, and jars also filled with water. As always in August, the water only got turned on in the mornings. Alina sat down on the big old toilet with the new wooden seat made by her grandpa and began to poop. This was no diarrhea. It was just that, for whatever reason, she had to go at night, which happened to her very rarely. ‘I ate melon, rice with zucchini, and some meatballs . . .’ she began to sleepily recall. When she was finished, she wiped with a cut-up issue of Crimean Truth, and tugged at the metal handle connected to a chain disappearing into the green tank hanging up above her. Water gushed forth with a roar. Then the tank began to gurgle.
Alina went back to bed. Grandma was sleeping in her own bed with its copper bedposts, snoring and whispering.
Pulling an empty duvet cover over herself, Alina remembered the dream, groaned at her own stupidity, then laughed into her pillow. And fell asleep.
The next morning, she and her grandma slept through the fish market. And her mom and grandpa had spent the night with Aunt Kapa in Zaozernoye.
“You an’ I are some real leisuresome sleepyheads!” her kind, plump grandma shook her curly gray head of hair as she sat there atop the saggy, creaky bed. “Those lil’ bluefish of ours have swum away! Your mama goan thank us for that!”
After eating fried eggs and tomatoes for breakfast and drinking delicious condensed cocoa diluted with boiling water to accompany Grandma’s cookies, Alina began to busy herself with her herbarium, pasting dried flowers into an album and writing their names down in Russian and Latin, then read through an issue of Pioneer and helped Grandma to take the pits out of cherries for jam. When Grandma started boiling the jam, Alina poured some roasted pumpkin seeds into her pocket and, gnawing at them, set off to wander around the city.
The weather was hot, August exhaling pure swelter, melting the asphalt, dust flying down hot streets, despite the fact that they were washed every morning by street-cleaning cars that looked like mustachioed beetles. Walking through the market and not meeting any of her classmates other than the unbearable Vika Bytko, who was helping her screamy mother sell peaches and farmer’s cheese, Alina turned off of Gagarin Street and onto Tokarev Street, then passed along the lengthy ichthyology center, clambered through a hole in the MPS sanatorium’s fence, moved through the park where it always smelled of eucalyptus and thuja overheating in the sun, clambered through yet another hole, and found herself on the grounds of the children’s sanatorium. Children sick with poliomyelitis and rheumatism were treated here. Mom had told her that this had once been an NKVD sanatorium, but that it’d then been given over to the Ministry of Health.
Nibbling seeds, Alina moved through the sanatorium garden. No sick children came out to meet her, of course not, they were all on the beach that began at the bottom edge of the sizable yard. Alina wasn’t interested in the sanatorium’s beach. And the nurses in their white coats might’ve kicked her out if she went down there too. She walked over to the peeling treatment center and began to move along it, glancing in through the windows. The offices were empty, only in one were two nurses and a female doctor standing by a wide-open window, smoking and cheerfully discussing something. They didn’t even glance at Alina as she walked past.
‘All doctors smoke,’ she thought. ‘I need to start smoking before I go off to school.’
Sonka and Verka from the ninth-grade B-class were already smoking to the max with dudes during recess.
Having turned the corner of the building and now walking along a concrete path, Alina made her way through the spirea bushes, shaking the bronze beetles from the little white flowers, then found herself on a playground. Here, there was a smallish merry-go-round with red horses, a couple of swings, four poles with attached basketball hoops, and a big wooden tank. A boy with glasses and a tubeteika sat atop the tank’s track. A thin woman, also wearing glasses and a wide straw hat, was feeding him cherries from a baggie. The boy was eating, spitting out the pits, and kicking his bare legs, one of which was especially thin. On this leg, he was wearing a massive black boot, whereas the other leg was bare. The boy was twirling around a water pistol in his hands, periodically shooting it at ants. Underneath a wooden fly-agaric mushroom, a chubby girl was sitting in a sandbox with a nurse. The nurse was reading the newspaper and the girl was making mounds for a castle and placing them onto the rim of the sandbox, muttering something from time to time. She had a teacup to mold the mounds with, though the usual tin molds with which to make mounds out of sand were lying nearby. Alina noticed that the girl was kinda grown up, almost her own age. She listened in.
“To first shoot down all kings, then all wings, then all housekeepers, then all mousekeepers, then all postmen, then all mostmen, then all boastmen, then all reachers, then all teachers . . . ” the girl was muttering with a serious expression upon her face.
Then, suddenly, she belched loudly, closed her eyes, and opened her mouth wide, as if she were waiting for someone to put something into it. But the nurse just sat there, paying no attention. The girl closed her eyes, then began to mutter once again.
Alina passed by and moved toward the brick fence.
“Whaddaya think yer doin’ here?” someone asked her from up above.
She raised her head. An elderly gardener was sitting on a stepladder leaning up against an old apricot tree.
“Nothin’,” Alina muttered, then, still nibbling on the seeds, continued on her way.
She found a familiar hole in the fence, squeezed through, and crawled into a passageway between the fences of the two neighboring sanitoriums. The polio sanatorium had a concrete fence and the pulmonary sanatorium had one made up of bricks and grating. Between them, the ground was knobbled with mudflows and dusty nettles grew out from underneath the fences. Tons of old things were scattered around too. Avoiding the nettles, Alina moved up the passageway toward where streams of water came down when it rained. There was all sorts of stuff: a wheel from a wheelbarrow, rusty cans, rags, scraps of roofing paper, a broken hoe, a holey watering can, a piece of concrete, a bottle, some kind of rusty device, and a plastic doll’s head. Alina pulled the head out of the ground and wiped it off. The head had neither hair nor eyes, but did have plump red lips. Sticking it onto her finger, Alina continued up the slope, where water had washed a whole ravine into the ground with dry junk stuck together at its bottom. Alina walked around it, got stung by nettles, dropped the doll’s head down into the bottom of the depression, swore, then quickly left the aisle of the passageway and moved out onto the wasteland grown over with wild raspberry bushes. The two fences diverged, which was what formed this wasteland. This place was simply known as “Tatar Raspberry.” Grandma told her that Tatars used to grow garden raspberries here, real tasty ones too. Then they were all deported from Crimea because, during the occupation, “they’d lick all the Germans’ asses.” When she was little, Alina didn’t really understand what this meant and imagined that, whenever he met a mysterious German walking down the street, every Tatar would drop to his knees, the German would lowed their pants, present their ass, and the Tatar would lick the German ass. ‘And they got deported just for that?’
Alina stepped into the raspberry bushes. They were totally overgrown, raveling outwards, mixed with wormwood and nettles, and altogether dried out in some places. It was dark and stuffy in the bushes and smelled of a particular flavor of hot humus. The pickable raspberries were long gone, but dried fruits still remained on the branches. They were tasty to chew on. Moving through the bushes, Alina began to pick dried berries. Snakes also hung around in these bushes. Chewing and watching where she walked, she proceeded down the stuffy tunnel through the bushes. And suddenly heard a moan. It came from the depths of the raspberry bushes. A woman was moaning. Alina continued down the tunnel, glanced over to the right, then squatted down.
Two people were lying on the ground in the dry grass. A thin, muscular man tanned almost black and wearing a white undershirt and black pants was lying on top of a woman in a gypsy dress. Her legs were bare and spread wide, her face turned off to one side, and her cheek pressed against the grass. In the man’s hand was a knife. Its tip rested against the other woman’s cheek. The woman’s eyes were black, tarry, darting around even as the face pressed down onto the soil was motionless––it feared the knife. The man’s black pants were around his ankles and his thin, pale ass was visible. And on this ass, upon each of its buttocks, a single eye was tattooed. An open eye with eyelashes. The ass was moving emphatically, even as the man himself lay motionless atop the woman. And the eyes were glaring out from the buttocks. The woman moaned weakly. Her thin arms wrapped ‘round in bracelets were thrown powerlessly outwards. The man periodically growled something into the woman’s face and her legs began to jerk strangely, as if she were trying to help him. But they were so thin and powerless that they could do nothing. Alina was squatting down and holding her breath. The dry berries remained in her mouth. The man’s ass continued to move, to move endlessly as if it were entirely separate from its owner. And this just went on and on. Time froze. And Alina froze with it. A cicada was chirping nearby. Then a second one joined in. They just chirped and chirped, as if they were helping the big-eyed ass to move, subtly adjusting their tempo to accord with its motion.
Alina knelt there without breathing. Everything that surrounded the two people lying there seemed to suddenly thicken in her eyes.
Suddenly, the man shuddered, growled, and swore roughly. His big-eyed ass stopped moving. Lying atop the woman for a little while longer, the man then stood up. And Alina saw his penis. It was like a stick and totally red with blood. The man wiped off his penis on the woman’s dress, stuck it back into his pants, pulled them up, buttoned them, then straightened up. He stood over the woman in a wide stance. Alina couldn’t see his face. His hair was cut short. And his shoulders and arms were entirely tattooed over. He folded the knife, put it away into his pocket, spat on the woman, muttered something, stepped off to the side, and disappeared into the raspberry bushes.
The woman just kept lying there. Her body drenched by the scorching sun, wearing a bright gypsy dress, with her legs still spread and her groin totally dark, she lay there motionless, moaning weakly. Then, muttering something in her own gypsy language, she raised her curly head of black hair and sat up, supporting herself with her hands against the ground. She scanned it with her crazed black eyes. And found a large chunk of bloody cotton wool. Alina had been having her period for two years already, so she knew exactly what this cotton wool was. The gypsy woman picked up the cotton, felt for the panties dangling from her left foot, put the cotton into them, lay back down onto the ground, then pulled them up. Adjusting her dress, she got up onto her knees. A little slipper that’d come off of one of her feet was lying nearby. She reached out for it, grabbed it, put it onto her foot, and glanced from side to side. A little ways away from her, a large straw bag with pieces of textile sticking out of it was lying on the ground. Standing up with some difficulty, the gypsy woman put her hand to her lower back, moaned, then swore filthily in Russian. Noticed that her dress was terribly stained with blood and howled helplessly, lamenting and shaking her head with its large silver earrings. Grabbed the bag and hung it from her shoulder. Then, suddenly, her quick black eyes met with Alina’s.
“Freeze, bitch!” the gypsy woman shouted angrily, hissed, turned away, then walked out of the raspberry bushes.
Alina froze, as if she were caught up in some kind of playground game. Squatting there, she didn’t move. Above the crushed, sun-scorched grass where the man and woman had just been lying, all that remained in the stuffy, overheated air was an emptiness. Alina saw it very suddenly. And felt it. Before, this had only been a word for her: emptiness. Which is to say: there’s nothing there, it’s empty. But here, this emptiness was an emptiness. It was hovering above the crushed grass. And hovering there somehow very seriously and unbelievably calmly. And the more Alina stared at this emptiness, the better she felt. And not just better, but so, so good, just so good, she’d never felt this good before, and so protractedly good, good in such a new way, it was as if there were nothing, really nothing, as if there were only emptiness, which exists nowhere, only here, in this clearing, above this burnt grass, is this emptiness into which you can stare and stare and stare endlessly and this emptiness speaks without words, saying that which nobody has ever said to Alina ever before and it’s important and intelligent and it clarifies absolutely everything, simply everything, everything, everything and this clarity of everything is the most necessary thing in the world.
Alina’s eyes rolled back.
And she fell unconscious onto the hot brushwood, the odor of which was redolent of humus.
The David Bohomoletz Gallery in New York hosted a predictably successful exhibition of the famous American artist Alina Molochko’s work; she was showing the next work in her already well-known TR series. This, the thirty-sixth installation, was a representation of the same narrative that she’d been repeating annually, with small variations, for the last thirty-five years in every one of her previous thirty-five installations, which had been exhibited in various galleries and museums around the world: eight sumptuously man-made raspberry bushes surrounded a clearing carpeted over with yellow grass, a dark-skinned woman in a white ball gown was lying in the clearing and her legs were spread, a shaven-headed Asian in a worn-out blue factory uniform was lying on top of the woman, his pants were around his ankles, and a not-very-neat tattoo stood out from his naked bottom—two open eyes. The two figures had been constructed from plastic materials with incredible attention to detail and were practically indistinguishable from real people. The Asian was raping the woman, his ass moving rhythmically, the woman was moaning faintly, and her beautiful long legs with white patent-leather shoes on their feet occasionally quivered. A sparse snow fell down unhurriedly onto the installation from up above.
After the splashy opening, Alina and her young girlfriend Victoria (or just Vic) didn’t return to their room at the Ludlow paid for by the fashionable gallerist, the talkative, silver-haired David; they’d already spent a week there prepping for the exhibition, so they just flew back to where they lived in San Francisco. There, an Uber rushed them away from the airport and down the highway, jangling over the hilly streets of their native city and bringing them up to a two-story wooden home painted marengo-black and with four old palm trees in front of it. Tian, the maid, met the travelers and took both of their suitcases into the house. On the porch, Alina looked up at the sky. It was as if the edge of the moon, big and dark yellow, were being eaten by an invisible celestial slug. Unlike rainy New York, October was always magnificent here, the familiar, intoxicating scent of brugmansia hanging in the warm, clean night air. Alina went into the house and hadn’t even managed to suck in the smell of the entryway with the enormous pleasure she always did when Vic, big and tall, wrapped her long, strong arms around her from behind and kissed her on the neck with tender lips.
“Home . . . home, sweet home.”
Alina turned around and hugged Vic back. They began to kiss. And, during this long kiss, Alina suddenly felt how much the evening had exhausted her.
“Have we really . . . ?”
“We’ve been catapulted . . . ”
“Away from art-world parasites?”
“Yes . . . yes . . . ”
Vic pulled away sluggishly and walked into the living room where Tian had already set the table for a nighttime tea. Vic always moved as if she’d come out of a dream.
Alina followed after her. The spacious living room, furnished by the deceased Esther in a ’60s style, always delighted and soothed her in equal measure. Alina glanced at a black wooden statue of an African idol, from whose pointed ears hung Esther’s beads, and smiled. She could hear that, upstairs, Tian was already unpacking their suitcases. Vic shook her head, as if she really couldn’t believe they were back. Then, raising up her weighty, beautiful face, she suddenly cried out in a deep, strong voice:
“Yes!” the maid cried back.
“There’s a green jar in my suitcase! Bring it here!”
“What’s in it?” Alina didn’t understand, rubbing at the nape of her neck.
“Matcha from Gwyneth. From dear, sweet Gwyneth. She came to see us. She loves your art. We should drink some now, right? And her food’s in that bag . . . Ti-i-i-a-an! The bag of superfoods too! The white baggie! Bring it down here! It needs to be refrigerated!”
“Matcha . . . this late . . .” Alina glanced at the clock on the wall showing a quarter past two. “Isn’t it a little late for that? Or, like, too early?”
“No, no . . . it certainly isn’t too early . . .” Vic hugged her from behind once again with her usual heavy sigh, then began to sway. “You were so, like . . . divine today . . . they were all crawling around you like bees . . . like bees frozen by smoke . . . ”
“But the swarm started to buzz a bit too . . . pitifully.”
“Frozen! Frost. NYC’s eternal frostiness.”
“And such unbearable music. I gotta admit, the New York art scene has become totally, like, unbearable. The pandemic did something to people. And none of it’s by accident.”
“That’s a little . . . heavy . . . I’m still super cold . . . will you warm me up?”
“Of course, baby. Existential frost, that’s the name of the game. If this is the new metaphysics of our era, like, I bet its destructiveness is just beginning to be felt. What’ll things be like in a year? In two years?”
Vic shook her big, beautiful head resignedly.
“No, no, no. No way we’re gonna be there. Never. And we’re right on time . . . right on time . . . ”
“And that idiot from Artforum popped up too . . . He’s gonna write about my ‘painfully inevitable experience of self-quotation’ again!”
“He’ll write . . . atrociously . . . such icy prose . . . ”
Alina yawned nervously.
“I mean, who else am I to traumatically quote? Burden? Acconci?”
Vic rocked Alina.
“My warm little thing . . . I want you . . . wa-a-a-ant you . . . wa-a-a-a-a-ant you . . . ”
“Vic, baby, I’m already fallin’ asleep.”
“I won’t let you, won’t let you, won’t let you . . . you’re gonna drink sweet Gwyneth’s matcha . . . and I will too . . . ”
“And you will too . . . ”
“I will . . . you will . . . we both will . . . Tian!!!”
The maid came into the living room with the jar and the bag.
“Make us some of the tea from that jar.”
Alina’s iPhone dinged to indicate she’d gotten a text. Vic picked it up with her big, white hand and turned on the screen.
“It’s Allison. A buyer from Taiwan. That’s it! The Germans were too late.”
“That fast. Chinese factory clothes . . . ”
“Do you control the weather? Or did you, like, create this geopolitical neurosis in the face of the subaltern?”
“So fast . . . so fast . . . ”
“Or, like, maybe it’s just because he’s raping her without a mask on?”
Vic smiled as if she were remembering a wonderful, long-forgotten dream. Laughing, Alina stretched out, shook her head, walked over to the low tea table, sat down, and clapped.
“Quickly! Blindingly fast. It took TR-35 four months to sell, right?”
“It’s no coincidence . . . it’s all for you, my divine one . . . the wind’s shifted . . . ”
“The new old days?”
As always, they drank their tea in silence. Then Vic took Alina into her arms in her usual way and carried her up to the bedroom on the second floor.
After a bout of caresses upon the enormous square bed with its violet sheets, Vic fell asleep. Alina lay down next to her for a little while, then stood up and walked out of the bedroom naked and into her large workshop. Esther had built it especially for Alina thirty-seven years ago, breaking two partitions between rooms and giving up her own office in order to do so. In the workshop were three large work tables with sketches, a computer monitor, photos, albums, figurines, dolls, and clippings from journals and newspapers. Here were also: the massive easel, at which Alina hadn’t worked for a long time, a chest of paints, vases filled with brushes, a turntable, speakers, and shelves of albums, books, and records. The workshop’s one windowless wall was entirely covered in photographs in identical frames. Alina walked over to the photographs. From left to right along the wall stood the chronicle of her life: childhood, Crimea, Yevpatoria, mother, grandmother, school, Kyiv, medical institute, Moscow in the winter of ‘83, Esther and Alina embracing against the background of the Kremlin, them again in the bath with glasses in hand, them again kissing atop a snowdrift, a courtroom, Alina in the dock, Esther, having been deported, giving an interview in a New York airport, Alina in the barred window of a prison mental hospital, Esther with a bunch of feminists holding a demonstration in front of the USSR consulate, 1986, a press-conference held by Alina after she was released from the Soviet mental hospital and had just flown into the United States, Alina and Esther with Susan Sontag, Nancy Reagan, Joseph Brodsky, Patti Smith, Martina Navratilova, Yves Montand, Catherine Deneuve, and George Harrison, the California Institute of the Arts, the piece Alina did as her dissertation––an enormous woman’s head in a transparent cube of boiling water, two more art-objects, and then––TR-1, the first installation, which immediately gave birth to a new name in the art world: Alina Molochko. Real raspberry bushes, Alina in the flesh in a bright dress giving herself to a mannequin holding a knife with eyes tattooed onto its ass. TR-2, TR-3, TR-4 and the famous TR-5, which made a real splash at the Venice Biennale––a white-skinned albino robot, a perfect copy of a man raping a black woman, also a robot, the raspberry bushes were rustling like the real thing, the berries changed color, alternating shimmeringly between scarlet and burgundy. TR-5, TR-6 . . . TR-12, TR-18, TR-30 . . . how many of them there’d already been! Every year in galleries and museums, Venetian palazzos and exhibition halls. The bushes changed, their shape and color, the figures of the people lying in the clearing between the bushes changed too, their proportions, the color of their skin, the quality of the anthropomorphic robots’ rendering, the style of the tattoo on the man’s ass. The clothes changed, the shape of the knife, the precise tones of the moaning and growling voices changed, the movement of the tattooed buttocks and the woman’s trembling legs changed. . . . sometimes it was rain, sometimes snow, and sometimes simply variegated light accompanying the installation.
An empty frame for TR-36 was lying on the table. All that was left to do was print out a photo of the installation with the color printer, put it into the frame, and hang it up on the wall next to TR-35.
‘Tomorrow . . .’ Alina thought, then smiled, realizing that tomorrow was already here, as it was getting light outside the window.
And this pale morning light from nowhere, which filled up the workshop and seemed to push its walls apart, forced her to remember what she necessarily thought every time another TR culminated in a photograph in a narrow frame upon the wall. Alina walked over to the far right corner of the workshop. It was empty, but dry grass was always lying on the floor here.
Alina squatted down, looking into the corner as she did. Her naked, slender fifty-five-year-old body with its sleek skin and still-young breasts froze.
“Emptiness!” she commanded loudly.
And a hologram immediately flashed up in the corner: a swarthy black-eyed woman’s face in a halo of curly black hair.
“Freeze, bitch!” the woman screamed furiously in Russian, then disappeared.
Embracing herself around the knees, Alina stared into the empty corner. She was totally tense, focused, and had stopped breathing. A minute passed. Her heart was beating, beating harder and harder and faster and faster, she could feel it in her throat and temples. A second minute hadn’t yet passed when Alina sank down powerlessly to the floor and began to breathe greedily.
After she caught her breath, she raised her head.
Glanced into the corner.
But the corner was still empty.