The Front Line

Submitted into Contest #135 in response to: Write about a casual act of bravery.... view prompt

22 comments

Romance Contemporary

Bohdan Kozak had lived on the outskirts of Kyiv all his life and he’d seen Russian tanks trundle past his front door before. Thirty-five years ago, his house had trembled on its foundations as dozens of heavy old Soviet T-62’s retreated East to Moscow. He could still recall the thunderous approach and the sulphurous fumes left in their wake. His wife, Oxana, had compared them to a flight of cantankerous dragons suffering from acute halitosis. They’d laughed at the time and brushed off their home’s minor structural damage as one of life’s unfortunate events. Deep down, both knew there’d be no apology and little recourse for redress; distress would get them nowhere.

#

Today’s return visit had started two days ago when the first platoon of shiny T-14 tanks had rumbled towards them, followed by support vehicles and A.P.C.’s packed with fresh-faced conscripts. The tanks travelled two abreast and were the head of a long column that disappeared into the far distance. There had been a news blackout. The local TV station had gone off the air. There was no explanation for the sudden appearance of Russian tanks. The old couple had no choice but to ignore the rumpus and hope the commotion would soon desist. 

For two long hours, the couple’s windows rattled and the internal woodwork creaked as the mighty battalion ground its way towards the capital. Oxana resorted to burying her head under two feather pillows and Bohdan stuffed his ears full of cotton wool. Their precautions dimmed the racket to a certain degree, but did nothing to stop the house from complaining. Its timbers and beams shrieked as the weight of the passing cavalcade twisted and undermined the property’s fabric.

After the din diminished, the house relaxed once again, and Oxana raised her head and gesticulated at Bohdan to check outside. Bohdan exhaled dramatically and shook his head as if he couldn’t believe what had happened. It was a relief that the commotion had stopped, but Bohdan had an unpleasant surprise. The noise had subsided; it was true, but that was because the endless line of armoured vehicles had come to a halt. Eight feet away from their front door, there was a solid wall of heavy metal; caterpillar tracks, armour plating and countless 125 millimetre cannons.

#

Clutching her ear protection to her chest, Oxana poked her nose past her lace curtains and peered out of her front room window. The stationary vehicles’ exhaust pipes coughed and spluttered noxious fumes and that was the only sign of life. However, as the afternoon drifted away, they heard orders barked, distant shouts and the crackle and splat of radio transmission. 

The column remained motionless in front of their home and, by early evening, there was an eerie silence. All the engines had stopped belching out diesel fumes and as the sun dropped below the tree line, Bohdan detected nervous birdsong in the surrounding woodland. He recognised the familiar chirrup of a friendly blackbird, but it seemed more remote than usual. It was as if the creature had retreated to a safe distance, just in case.

#

Oxana fretted all afternoon, and Bohdan did his best to calm her. She’d made noises about an evening meal and said she couldn’t wait any longer. 

“It’s no good,” she says at last, “one of us must collect the groceries. 

Bohdan inhales with my mouth closed tight.

“Mister Kalashnik’s store isn’t open all night and he’ll be closing his store soon,”

Oxana says, presenting Bohdan with a list of groceries as though it was both a challenge and a commission to accept or be damned.

Oxana had trained her husband well over their long marriage. Bohdan was an obliging fellow and his partnership to Oxana had flourished for four decades despite all the regime changes that had occurred over the years. He accepted her scrap of paper, double-checked the list of provisions, and saluted Oxana. 

“I may be some time, my dear,” he says, hauling on his outer coat and knotting his scarf. 

Oxana pinches his long, straight nose. “Now, don’t you stop on the way and get talking to any strangers,” she says, pursing her lips and frowning.

“I won’t,” he says, clapping his hands together.

#

There was a fug of wood smoke outside the house, and Russian voices echoed up and down the column of static metal boxes. Bohdan shuffled up his short garden path, closed the gate behind him and edged his way past the convoy towards the village. 

It was a pleasant ten-minute walk on most days, depending on the weather or any local impediments. The rolling pastures beyond the pine trees support cattle and it’s not uncommon for a herd of Ukrainian Greys to delay a trip to Mister Kalashnik’s store. Milking times occur at regular intervals during a working day and all traffic stops when they cross the road. Bohdan wondered if there’d been any cows traversing the tarmac today or if they’d abandoned the milking schedule.

 #

Mister Kalashnik is folding his metal chairs and coffee tables outside his store. 

“Hey, Kalashnik!” Bohdan says, checking his list again. “Had a busy day?”

“Busy day?” He asks. “It’s always a busy day. I’m busy here and busy there and I’m busy everywhere.”

“Is that good business?” 

“I’m always busy in my business and any business is always good.”

Bohdan enters the premises and places his wicker basket on the counter. 

“You have Oxana’s list for me?”

“You know me too well, Mister Kalashnik.”

“I can supply most things, but…” He scratches his chin. “Business today has been---” 

“Busy?” Bohdan asks, frowning. “But we live here and---”

“I can’t turn away extra business and today I’ve had an extra busy day.”

“We’ll take what ever is available.” 

“I’ve had a run on toilet rolls and flour is in short supply, too.”

“Milk and butter?”

He shakes his head.

“Bread?”

“Yesterday’s only.”

“You have been busy.”

“That’s business.”

#

Today’s unwelcome visitors have lingered longer than expected. 

We do not know when they’ll leave or in which direction they’ll depart.


The End





March 05, 2022 04:58

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22 comments

Michał Przywara
22:13 Mar 10, 2022

I like the perspective Bohdan and Oxana present. It's kind of a surreal situation, everyday life turned completely upside down without any explanation, and them going through the motions of preserving normal as best they can. It might even be darkly comedic, if there wasn't a real world tragedy. A good reminder that real people, with real histories, hopes, and dreams, are affected by these events, and there's often little they can do to cope. I did find the shifts in tenses a little jarring though, where most of the story seemed to be past...

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Howard Halsall
22:56 Mar 10, 2022

Hello Michal, Thank you for reading my story and leaving your thoughts; they’re much appreciated. I hope it made sense despite the jarring tenses. Let’s hope a solution can be reached to end the horrors in Ukraine. It truly is a nightmare situation that echoes Stalin’s atrocities from the 1930’s and particularly the Holodomor. HH

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Graham Kinross
12:34 Apr 09, 2022

I thought I had commented on this before, must have forgotten. Very poignant stuff just now. I was just reading about Ukraine getting back Chernobyl. It’s mad how history is repeating, people don’t learn.

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Howard Halsall
00:48 Apr 10, 2022

Yes, indeed, that’s very true, Graham, The situation in Ukraine is the stuff of never ending nightmares. The current age seems to be full of horrific scenarios and lunatic leaders: Trump, Putin and Assad etc One couldn’t invent the awful things that are happening right now…. I trust you’re keeping well and surviving the madness HH

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Graham Kinross
02:19 Apr 10, 2022

I’m doing ok. Sadly it’s all too easy for me to think of other names for your psychotic current world leaders list. I’m looking forward to being a dad and hoping we pass through this awful time and know peace. Hopefully the financial ruination of Russia being imposed by the rest of the world puts other aspiring invaders off. The worlds economy is too intermingled for anyone to think they can go it alone. Watching the news makes me start planning my survivalist post apocalyptic strategies. Being a pessimistic person with 24 hour access to wha...

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L.M. Lydon
01:09 Mar 11, 2022

I like the cantankerous dragons with halitosis analogy in particular! You have several great turns of phrase. Thank you for taking the perspective of the "ordinary person" in such a difficult time.

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Howard Halsall
03:18 Mar 11, 2022

Hey there, Thank you for reading my story, I’m glad you enjoyed it and hope it all made sense. HH

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Charlie Murphy
19:31 Mar 08, 2022

Great story! Your dialogue flows well.

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Howard Halsall
20:04 Mar 08, 2022

Hey Charlie, Thanks for reading my story and leaving a positive response. HH

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Charlie Murphy
21:13 Mar 08, 2022

You're welcome. Thank you for liking mine! Can you critique it?

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Gip Roberts
18:26 Mar 08, 2022

It's easy to think of a distant land as just being a name on a map; however, the way you wrote this gave it a real personality. It described the tension and uncertainty well, while also adding a bit of lightheartedness in the midst of the seriousness with Kalashnik's emphasis on the word "business" in that conversation at his store.

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Howard Halsall
18:48 Mar 08, 2022

Hello Gip, Thank you for reading my story and leaving your thoughtful comments; they’re much appreciated. It’s tricky introducing a comedic element into a piece relating to the current set of circumstances. The whole situation is absurd, but I was interested in the idea of people clinging on to normalcy regardless of the consequences. Who was it who said, ‘a bayonet is a weapon with a worker at both ends?’ Ironically, it’s often attributed to Lenin, but I think actually coming from Clydeside trade unionist and socialist John Maclean. Howeve...

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Sharon Hancock
02:07 Mar 07, 2022

Excellent story I really enjoyed it. A bit unsettling bc of current events. I liked how you included the run on toilet paper, which brought back memories of coronavirus. Thanks for sharing!😻

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Howard Halsall
13:14 Mar 07, 2022

Hello Sharon, Thanks for reading my story and responding with such positive feedback. Further to this, let’s hope the situation over in Ukraine improves and the madness stops as soon as possible. HH

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Sue Hunter
20:15 Mar 06, 2022

A very well done story, and a little chilling considering the current state of things. Still, this was well written. I was tense the whole time I was reading, waiting for the other shoe to drop, so to speak. Great work. :)

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Howard Halsall
00:08 Mar 07, 2022

Hello Sue, Thank you for taking the time to read my submission and leave such a positive response; it’s much appreciated. It’s interesting to read that you were affected so profoundly; it’s more than any writer could hope for. Let’s hope the horror In Ukraine ceases sooner rather than later; it’s just so destructive and senseless. HH

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18:11 Mar 06, 2022

I cannot imagine what it would be like to live in such a world. Very touching.

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Howard Halsall
23:55 Mar 06, 2022

Hello Mc, Thank you for reading my story and leaving a positive response. We can only pray that the horror stops as soon as possible... HH

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Michael Regan
01:20 Mar 06, 2022

Unfortunately, an all too real scenario.

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Howard Halsall
23:52 Mar 06, 2022

Hello Michael, Thank you for reading my story. I’m glad it moved you and I’m relieved it made sense too. HH

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Riel Rosehill
14:45 Mar 05, 2022

Oh, I was wondering if anybody else would be inspirid by current events - delivering on my expectations! I got to say, the last sentence "We do not know when they’ll leave or in which direction they’ll depart." I found very chilling.

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Howard Halsall
23:18 Mar 05, 2022

Hello Riel, Thank you for reading my story and leaving a positive response; it’s much appreciated. HH :)

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