by Chris Green [Eller]
Pyotr sensed the warmth of the sun on his young nose and cheeks as the winter winds of 1911 blew across his estate. A new January and a clear bright day glistened off the snow.
The privileged boy surveyed the unending grounds of his estate. Heavy snow loaded up the trees. Today’s sun would help the trees lose their weight. Pyotr didn’t care about the snow, well, except for the several hours every day he played deep in the snow.
Pyotr ran to the shed to grab his toboggan when a motorcar came in the gate between high walls. A MOTORCAR! The girl! Pyotr remembered. A new girl will live at their estate! A girl his age.
Pyotr forgot she arrived today. She would live at their house–his house. Now he would play with the new girl every day.
The motorcar stopped in front of the house where carriages used to stop for many years. Horses came and went, but motorcars are the things today. The driver got out in his odd uniform and opened the door for the girl. She stepped out and glanced around. Yes, she seemed to be about nine years old, Pyotr’s age, and tall like Pyotr too.
Pyotr ran to the car. “Hi, I’m Pyotr!”
The girl stared at him. “I’m Petrova.”
Pyotr and Petrova. And now she paid attention to him. Pyotr smiled at her and told the driver he would carry the bags for him. Pyotr would show Petrova he was a man; a strong man can carry any bag he wanted.
“Go on,” the driver said, “I’ll get Petrova’s bags”. Pyotr ignored him and grabbed a bag to show her he could–not carry the fat case. The big bag wouldn’t move–too heavy!
“Okay. I gotta do other things.”
Pyotr turned red and ran into the woods to the shed. He ran around to the back and plopped on his butt and leaned against the shed. Did she see he couldn’t move the bag? He turned his body and peeked through the trees to the wall nearby. His wall in the winter. He would pull his toboggan up the hillside to the wall, survey his vast lands, and race to the bottom of the slope on the sled.
He jumped up, forgot about the girl, and ran around to the front of the shed and went inside. The long wooden sled stood against a corner. He dragged his sled outside and remembered her. Now she’d look as he pulled it–now she would learn he was strong. Pyotr glanced at the house. She went inside and didn’t know where he was or that he was alive. He dropped the sled flat onto the snow and sat on top.
After a few minutes of staring at the house, lost in a daydream, he didn’t notice her standing in front of him asking him something. He jumped to his feet.
“I’m Pyotr–remember. Do you want to ride the toboggan?”
“Hello Pyotr. I don’t want to ride now. I want to see you ride.” She smiled, and all the snow melted in Pyotr’s world.
He looked at her, pulled the heavy wooden sled up, and turned running up the hill. Halfway up he stopped and turned around. He called back to the girl at the bottom. “You sure you don’t want to ride?”
“I want to be the race judge–you go!”
Pyotr stared at her for a second, smiled, turned and dragged the heavy old sled up the hill with all his might. The hilltop only stood a few hundred feet but Pyotr was on top of the world today. Famous and the fastest. He waved to Petrova, ran and jumped onto the world’s fastest racing bobsled and careened down the world’s biggest avalanche. The ride ended in seconds. He rolled over at the bottom and went flying off into the snow.
He jumped up out of his snow crash. “I like to crash,” he lied, sort of.
She laughed as she walked over to him. She stopped and smiled.
“Can we ride together and not crash?” Pyotr’s smile reached as far as imaginable.
“Sure! Come on. I’ll pull the world’s fastest racing bobsled up my hill for us.”
He turned and pulled the sled like the mighty man he pictured in his mind. He would share his toboggan and his hill with a girl.
“Slow down. I can’t keep up with you.”
“Okay, I’m not tired though.”
He stopped and smiled back at her. She walked about ten feet behind him.
“This is my hill. I always race here, even when the snow is all gone. When the snow is gone you can race with me too.”
She smiled and kept climbing. He turned and ran the rest of the way to the top as the sled bounced behind him. At the top, he turned everything around and pointed to the front where she should sit.
She sat down and grabbed the rope. “Not too fast — and I don’t want to crash.”
He glanced at her for a moment, shrugged and ran to jump on the back of the toboggan sending them racing down the snowy slope.
Everyone sat down to dinner at the long dinner table. The staff brought dinner out on covered carts into the expansive dining hall.
“So Pyotr, I guess you met Petrova?”
“Yes ma’am. Well no, I wanted to carry in her bags, but the driver wouldn’t let me.”
“You’re supposed to stay away from the drivers Pyotr. You were outside with your toboggan earlier. Maybe you’ll invite her to go with you tomorrow.”
Pyotr glanced down the table to Petrova sitting with other girls out of range of the conversation. The day would be like he imagined. Tomorrow she would sit in front and he would show her how fun racing was. He would share his hill with her. His racing mountain could be her hill too.
“As I explained to everyone last week, Petrova will live with us from now on. Petrova, you’re safe and at home now. Everyone here is like your family.”
Petrova nodded and panned around the table and ended at Pyotr. She smiled and he melted. Every tomorrow would be his day–the best day–the greatest day ever.
During her first week at the estate, Pyotr took up most of Petrova’s free time. She didn’t mind. Pyotr made things fun and he made her laugh a lot. Pyotr was funny. One day he even told her she was pretty.
They took lessons together with the other children. One of the staff members taught them every day. During lessons, Pyotr would make notes for her. He also got up before everyone else and stayed up late at night and wrote notes to Petrova. At lunch he would give the notes to her. He wrote and told her the house and lands were part of his kingdom. He didn’t like taking lessons every day, and he planned on stopping them when he got older. When he ruled everything one day, he wouldn’t need lessons.
The days left in weeks, weeks in months, and the months went by in years. In 1914 Pyotr and Petrova grew to be almost teenagers. And they shared their first kiss.
Early one winter morning the got the toboggan out of the shed and Petrova stopped Pyotr and turned him around. She peered deep into his eyes and said something he didn’t catch.
He stared back at her.
She leaned in, closed her eyes and he smiled at her warm breath on his lips.
She kissed his lips with her lips.
Petrova pulled her head away from him and peered into his eyes again.
His eyes glowed with surprise and shock and happiness and a strange sensation he only felt before when their eyes and smiles met during their lessons or at dinner.
She smiled too.
This time Pyotr pulled her to him. He closed his eyes and kissed — her jaw! He opened his eyes and she looked at him amused. This time he found her mouth and kissed her again.
They pulled apart and admired each other, smiled, laughed, and ran out of the shed without the toboggan.
She chased him around the shed to where he waited. He threw a snowball at her and ran up the hill. She made a snowball and threw it and hit him on the back of the head. The day went by in half the time God gives to other days. That day they lost track of how many times they kissed.
Near evening heavy strange thunder boomed in the distance. He chased her around the back of the shed. They kissed again and again and ran around to the house to be inside before dinner and the rain.
They ran into the side door of the house and into the kitchen where the driver stopped talking to the kitchen staff when Petrova and Pyotr came in. The thunder boomed far away, and the staff considered each other in silence.
“What are you talking about?” Pyotr asked.
The driver started to say something, but more thunder interrupted him. “There is a war Pyotr. Did you–” One of the nannies hit the driver. “Don’t talk about such things to the children.”
The nanny turned to Pyotr, “Never mind about the war; go play or kiss or something.”
Pyotr turned in horror to Petrova. They had seen them kissing! “We didn’t kiss! We never kissed!”
Petrova stood shocked at Pyotr; she turned and ran from the room.
Pyotr faced at the nanny, and the rest of the staff in the kitchen. He turned and ran after Petrova. He found her crying in the hall.
“I didn’t think they knew.” Petrova stared at him with tear filled eyes and stopped crying. “You stupid boy. I don’t care if they saw us.”
“Why are you crying?”
“You told them you didn’t kiss me. You lied. You didn’t like kissing me. I should never have kissed you. You’re a boy and you don’t care.”
Pyotr looked around bewildered. “I want to kiss you. I like kissing you. I like you. I love you, Petrova.” He ran back to the kitchen.
The driver and staff sat talking about something. They stopped as Pyotr ran in and yelled.
“I kissed her! I kissed her! Tomorrow I’m going to kiss her again!” Pyotr showed them he was angry. He turned away, then turned back to them.
“Every day I’m going to kiss her — every day.”
Pyotr ran out of the kitchen.
Outside the estate…
The war continued outside of the walls of the estate. Pyotr and Petrova, and the family and people listened and peeked over the walls but never went outside. The war came close to the woods around them. Close enough that everyone felt the thunder and booming. The war came by them twice, but never touched the estate.
The first time the war came by soldiers, horses, artillery and great machines roared by outside of the woods headed to the West. The second time, a few years later, men and a few horses went by the edge of the woods towards the East. This time they didn’t pull their big war the machines, their artillery had been destroyed, and only some men returned.
Deep in the woods, behind their walls, behind the trees inside, Pyotr and Petrova sat in the trees and looked over the wall at the soldiers padding by.
Soldiers returning home from war…
“Look, they’re looking at us now.” A tired soldier pointed over to the top of the walls for his comrade. A young boy and girl sat in a tree watching with blank faces as the soldiers went by.
Inside the walls of the estate almost everyone, except the people in uniforms, stared as if they too fought the last years on the front lines with the soldiers every day as their comrades died in horrible ways.
“Tvarish, wonder what they’re thinking?”
“Are they thinking?”
“Must be nice not to think; you never lose anyone.”
The soldiers continued.
They marched and followed their caravan past the edge of the woods around the people in the state sanatorium.