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The Bronze Horseman
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Light came through the window, trickling morning all over the room. Tatiana Metanova slept the sleep of the innocent, the sleep of restless joy, of warm, white Leningrad nights, of jasmine June. But most of all, intoxicated with life, she slept the exuberant sleep of undaunted youth.
She did not sleep for much longer.
When the sun's rays moved across the room to rest at the foot of Tatiana's bed, she pulled the sheet over her head, trying to keep the daylight out. The bedroom door opened, and she heard the floor creak once. It was her sister, Dasha.
Daria, Dasha, Dashenka, Dashka.
She represented everything that was dear to Tatiana.
Right now, however, Tatiana wanted to smother her. Dasha was trying to wake her up and, unfortunately, succeeding. Dasha's strong hands were vigorously shaking Tatiana, while her usually harmonious voice was dissonantly hissing, "Psst! Tania! Wake up. Wake up!"
Tatiana groaned. Dasha pulled back the sheet.
Never was their seven-year age difference more apparent than now, when Tatiana wanted to sleep and Dasha was ...
"Stop it," Tatiana muttered, fishing helplessly behind her for the sheet and pulling it back over her. "Can't you see I'm sleeping? What are you? My mother?"
The door to the room opened. Two creaks on the floor. It was her mother. "Tania? You awake? Get up right now."
Tatiana could never say that her mother's voice was harmonious. There was nothing soft about Irina Metanova. She was small, boisterous, and full of indignant, overflowing energy. She wore a kerchief to keep her hair back from her face, for she had probably already been down on her knees washing the communal bathroom in her blue summer frock. She looked bedraggled and done with her Sunday.
"What, Mama?" Tatiana said, not lifting her head from the pillow. Dasha's hair touched Tatiana's back. Her hand was on Tatiana's leg, and Dasha bent over as if to kiss her. Tatiana felt a momentary tenderness, but before Dasha could say anything, Mama's grating voice intruded. "Get up quick. There's going to be an important announcement on the radio in a few minutes."
Tatiana whispered to Dasha, "Where were you last night? You didn't come in till well past dawn."
"Can I help it," Dasha whispered with pleasure, "that last night dawn was at midnight? I came in at the perfectly respectable hour of midnight." She was grinning. "You were all asleep."
"Dawn was at three, and you weren't home."
Dasha paused. "I'll tell Papa I got caught on the other side of the river when the bridges went up at three."
"Yes, you do that. Explain to him what you were doing on the other side of the river at three in the morning." Tatiana turned over. Dasha looked particularly striking this morning. She had unruly dark brown hair and an animated, round, dark-eyed face that had a reaction for everything. Right now that reaction was cheerful exasperation. Tatiana was exasperated herself -- less cheerfully. She wanted to continue sleeping.
She caught a glimpse of her mother's tense expression. "What announcement?"
Her mother was taking the bedclothes off the sofa.
"Mama! What announcement?" Tatiana repeated.
"There is going to be a government announcement in a few minutes. That's all I know," Mama said doggedly, shaking her head, as if to say, what's not to understand?
Tatiana was reluctantly awake. Announcement. It was a rare event when music would be interrupted for a word from the government. "Maybe we invaded Finland again." She rubbed her eyes.
"Quiet," Mama said.
"Or maybe they invaded us. They've been wanting their borders back ever since losing them last year."
"We didn't invade them," said Dasha. "Last year we went to get our borders back. The ones we lost in the Great War. And you should stop listening to adult conversations."
"We didn't lose our borders," Tatiana said. "Comrade Lenin gave them away freely and willingly. That doesn't count."
"Tania, we are not at war with Finland. Get out of bed."
Tatiana did not get out of bed. "Latvia, then? Lithuania? Byelorussia? Didn't we just help ourselves to them, too, after the Hitler-Stalin pact?"
"Tatiana Georgievna! Stop it!" Her mother always called her by her first and patronymic names whenever she wanted to show Tatiana she was not in the mood to be fooled with.
Tatiana pretended to be serious. "What else is left? We already have half of Poland."
"I said stop!" Mama exclaimed. "Enough of your games. Get out of bed. Daria Georgievna, get that sister of yours out of bed."
Dasha did not move.
Growling, Mama left the room.
Turning quickly to Tatiana, Dasha whispered conspiratorially, "I've got something to tell you!"
"Something good?" Tatiana was instantly curious. Dasha usually revealed little about her grown-up life. Tatiana sat up.
"Something great!" said Dasha. "I'm in love!"
Tatiana rolled her eyes and fell back on the bed.
"Stop it!" Dasha said, jumping on top of her. "This is serious, Tania."
"Yes, all right. Did you just meet him yesterday when the bridges were up?" She smiled.
"Yesterday was the third time."
Tatiana shook her head, gazing at Dasha, whose joy was infectious. "Can you get off me?"
"No, I can't get off you," Dasha said, tickling her. "Not until you say, 'I'm happy, Dasha.'"
"Why would I say that?" exclaimed Tatiana, laughing. "I'm not happy. Stop it! Why should I be happy? I'm not in love. Cut it out!"
Mama came back into the room, carrying six cups on a round tray and a silver samovar -- an urn with a spigot used for boiling water for tea. "You two will stop at once! Did you hear me?"
"Yes, Mama," said Dasha, giving Tatiana one last hard tickle.
"Ouch!" said Tatiana as loudly as possible. "Mama, I think she cracked my ribs."
"I'm going to crack something else in a minute. You're both too old for these games."
Dasha stuck out her tongue at Tatiana. "Very grown-up," Tatiana said. "Our Mamochka doesn't know you're only two."
Dasha's tongue remained out. Tatiana reached up ...