On the Red Arrow Express

Moscow to Leningrad

Imagine if I had been born among birches and barricades, gold domes and gulags, in this dangerous land, familiar and strange from childhood, first seen now in a luminous Arctic July. ... Who would I have loved? Would you have appeared on this train at this hour, would we have known how to speak with each other? Would my hedonistic rebellious nature have been tempered by merciless winters, unseasonal famines, eternal threats of prison and wars? In a 1942 photograph of the Siege women are digging an antitank trench or a mass grave. One girl lifts a spade heavy with rubble, smiles at the camera. Cheekbones wide, eyes too close, untidy curls. Rib-thin. My double, age 10. A cousin? Did she survive the Blockade? Would I have? The train rockets on between cabbage fields....

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