I silently open the door to the wine cellar. The stairs are long and morose, and I try to move silently. All the adults in the house are talking over dinner and drinks about the escalating political climate and I’m doing my due diligence to join in the New Year’s festivities but on my own. At this point, I’m probably better to accompany myself than anyone else is. A girl with a dead fiance and an imprisoned ex-lover leaves little room for comradery, friendship, and trust.
The selection is large, but not being picky I grabbed the one closest in my grasp and try to tuck it out of sight. I fear being caught doing this. I don’t think I would get any favor for stealing alcohol from my parents, let alone mercy.
“Anna?” I hear a voice and my stomach drops to the bottom of my feet. There would be a hole in the floor if it were anyone else but her. I did not want to hear any servant's voice, but Sofia’s was less unnerving. She knew me well and was closer to me than my own mother. She would do what she had to do, but it was out of the concern and not a vicious spirit.
“Oh, Sofia. How are you this evening?” I lean against the railing of the hallway with the bottle behind my back. Her look is less frustrated and more of concern as she pauses, wondering what I am up to.
“I’m fine. You look pale though, is everything alright?” She asks, placing her hands in her lap and focusing her eyes on me. She would know if I’m lying, since I was a little girl I was notorious for diverting my eyes and avoiding the question. The only way out of her line of authority and curiosity was to be direct. I had to hurry out of her sight.
“Yes, mam. Just tired from the night.” I say in an attempt to maintain eye contact. Though she is not intimidating, her disappointment frightens me because I did not want her to feel that way. I wanted her to look at me with as much pride as always instead of seeing me as a petty thief taking an unscrupulous way out to deal with my own letdowns on New Year’s eve.
“You’re not going to welcome in the new year?” Sofia approaches me, moving like she is about to pet a frightened stray dog.
“Nope, I’m just heading to bed. Have a good night!” I chirp, moving one hand with the bottle to my other side. I shift my shawl over the glass bottle, pulling my arms close and moving quickly to my room which was right down the hallway.
“Anna-” I can hear her as I shut the door and lock it. Though she does occasionally pry, she could leave me alone when I desired it. I think the locked door and dimmed lights would be signifying enough to her to leave me to my own comfort. The past weighed on my mind and I would love to burn it away with the clock strike of the new year.
I watch the amber liquid shift inside the bottle as I pop it open. The scent is abrasive and musky, poisonous like Gregor was. I had no affections for him but I wondered if we would have come to love one another in marriage. If it would not start in romance, but rather grow in companionate love and true affection. This would only have occurred if in the time I would let go of Kirill and move forward. At the thought of Kirill with another woman, I can feel myself grow angry and sick, but he had felt the same pain at me marrying his cousin.
The marriage between Gregor and myself had been arranged since we were children. I had waited for a loophole, or for him to commit impropriety and be married off to someone else in the haste of scandal. Despite his impulsiveness, he never seemed to be condemned for any of it. As far as I could understand his grandparents always got him out of it.
It wasn’t until a cold evening where Kirill had ventured too far in his pursuits that any excuse out of this marriage would occur. My soon-to-be husband had drowned and the man who drowned him was the one I loved. As the story comes to mind I take a swig of the firewater. It burns and I so desperately need it right now. I remember the brief excitement felt upon hearing the news of Gregor’s death. The release from a loveless marriage was enticing, when I had not known who the killer was I was enthralled.
My eyes start to water from my poor ability to hold the drink, or was it, Kirill? I role off the bed and open my drawer to find a picture I had. I open the closed gold case to see his face. Blonde hair and calm eyes staring at me in his military uniform. I feel the tears well up as I suppress the sobs behind my lips. What if things were different? Would they ever be?
Everything hurts in moments; my chest, my throat, Kirill’s arrest, and his following absence. What would be worse, a loveless marriage or a marriage to a murderer? I fear for him in the Katorga, but would the measures he was willing to take be more dangerous if left unchecked. At the knowledge of what he did, I told him to get away from me.
A year ago we had been exchanging glances at parties when we weren’t supposed to. We pretended for years that we would find a way around me marrying his cousin. As I feel myself entering the haze of my stupor and falling asleep, I want to hear his voice and know he is next to me. I had cast him away upon his arrest but I desired his presence near me.
My consciousness is awakened and twisted. It is Spring and I am sitting in the library. The light blasts through the window and the trees show signs of life as their shadows are cast against the gold and white bookshelves. I am the only one in the large room. Until I hear my name called.
“Anna?” The voice is familiar and tender. I feel like a young girl as again as I turn around and my heart jumps.
“Kirill!” I cry as I run into his arms. Whether he is there or not I am happy, and all that mattered was that we were together. I could look at him and caress his face in my hand. We held one another in silence and my heart slowed. This peace was something that had been taken away from me this year and I did not want to wake up.
Everything stays until he pulls away slowly and looks me in the eye. He looks upset and in pain like he did when they took him away, or when he came back from the military to the reminder that I was engaged.
“Why did you shun me?” His voice is soft and quiet. He was not a violent soul, the thought of him killing someone would never make sense. Up until this year, he was the sweetest soul and now he had blood on his hands. I could not reckon this.
“What? Kirill-” I try to speak but he interrupts me. Around us I start to notice flames pick up on the curtain and the books start to ash and shrivel under the pressure. If he had not cut me off I would not have seen the blaze going on around us.
“You wouldn’t even look me in the eye when the police came for me. Things could have been different.” As he says this I am speechless. I cannot breathe as the fire builds around us, consuming and engulfing our beings. What could I say?
Suddenly, I hear the glass windows break.
I awoke, lopsided on my bed with broken shards of glass on the floor. I must have fallen asleep and knocked it over. I would have to find Sofia, maybe confiding these feelings of longing would be beneficial to me.
I step out into the hallway to look at the time. It is three o’clock in the morning as a large bong comes from the contraption. I can still hear gentle hums of conversation down at the bottom of the stairs, but it had grown much quieter.
“Happy new year, miss”, I turn around to see Sofia. Just the person I need, she would understand.