Daughter of the Bear (Blog Five) by Dan Watt, author of Brackish, and Queen of Caelum, References at bottom of page.
Sion Airport is almost 4,000 meters lower than The Matterhorn and he can feel the pressure difference. He chews Chocolat Frey peppermint gum to relieve the pain in his ears. As the car winds its way down the mountain the driver looks back and asks, “D’accord?” as he pushes play on the car’s radio.
“Non,” he replies. He hears the band Yokko playing Loaded Dice on the radio. Circle comes on next and it reminds him of the first training session his mother gave him.
They were renting a cottage not far from the Yasny Launch Base. His mother and Sofia slept in the larger of the two bedrooms because the bed was Queen sized. He liked having his own room.
One day when the wind was howling so hard it rattled the windows his mother asked him to stop playing with his Hape optical science lab toy that his father had mailed to him for his fourth birthday. In the doorway he could see Marina suckling under a blanket Sofia had wrapped around her. She was about eight months old.
“Okay,” he replied. As soon as Marina heard his voice she turned her head so the top of the blanket fell away. She stared at him with her clear blue eyes. In a flash Sofia covered her again.
“She knows your voice Mikhail,” Sofia said with a beaming smile before she cooed at Marina. In Russia he was always called Mikhail. It confused him initially because when he went to visit his father in Munich, his father insisted he be called Erwin.
“Come, Mikhail,” his mother commanded with a soft voice.
He followed them to the small living room with the 165 cm Samsung UHD HDR 8K TV. On the heavy oak coffee table Marina’s father had made he saw a cookie tin.
“Sit on the couch before the cookie tin,” his mother instructed.
He had wondered if there was a special treat inside the cookie tin.
His hand tenderly touched the coffee table that Marina’s father had made. Her father was a former major in the Afghan wars where he was injured when another officer walking nearby accidently stepped on a landmine. The explosion partially ruptured her father’s eardrums and after being blown sideways his temple struck a rock. Erwin had only met him once and it was after he and Sofia had already divorced. He was a big burly man with a high forehead and dark eyes that seemed distant whenever they looked Erwin’s way. But he was friendly and cordial. As he watched Marina’s parents talk to each other when Marina was four months old, he saw no animosity but love. Perhaps the love between two very close friends that discovered they were better as just friends and not lovers. Her father’s eyes did become alive when he gingerly took Marina into his arms.
His mother lifted the lid of the cookie jar, let him look inside for a moment and closed it. “What did you see Mikhail?”
“A knife!” he exclaimed, “and a paper with phone and e-mails.”
“The knife is a Shaitan knife. It can be used for cutting and throwing. You must be very careful with it,” his mother warned him with a shaky voice but determined face. “The sheet with the phone numbers and e-mail addresses you are to memorize. Do you remember any of them already?”
“Yes, I remember six of the eight,” he had replied.
“Good boy,” she had said tousling his hair and kissing his cheek. “I will teach you how to use it tomorrow.”
He had taken the knife and sheet into his room. As he studied the contact sheet he overheard Sofia say to his mother. “I’m so sorry about this. I love what my ex does but he angered very powerful people.”
“It’s okay,” his mother soothed. “When we are both working your aunt will teach Mikhail how to use the other weapon?”
“Yes,” Sofia had replied with a sob. “And he will teach Marina when she is strong enough.” He had heard other sounds then but was never sure what they were.
Later that night as he lay in bed reading a used copy of Miriam Morton’s A Harvest of Russian Children’s Literature his mother carried in Marina’s crib. Sofia followed behind with Marina. Sofia kissed Marina on the cheeks before putting Marina into the crib. Then his mother kissed the top of Marina’s head. Sofia made a Shhh sound towards him as they left.
As he tried to continue reading he saw Marina standing up inside her crib staring at him. He put a finger to his lips and made a Shhh sound just as her mother had. Once she lay down in her crib, still staring at him through the bars of her crib, he turned his reading light off.
Once Sofia had to go back to work Marina’s great aunt, Nina became her babysitter. Nina was a tall stout woman in her early seventies. She was also a former sniper in the Soviet army during WWII.
When Marina was three she insisted that he watch Masha and the Bear with her after he came home from school. Because his mother and Sofia often worked later at the Airforce Nina usually stayed until they got home. He was surprised when Nina set the same cookie tin on the coffee table his mother did every time she wanted to test his memory.
“Marina, do not touch,” Nina had said as she opened the lid a moment before putting it back on. “Shhh Marina. What did you see Mikhail?”
“An old pistol, I think, but in parts and a screwdriver awl and a little bottle of oil.”
“It’s called a Tokarev TT-33 pistol. Very old,” Nina had told him. She re-opened the lid and before his shocked eyes reassembled the gun. “This is what it looks like put together. Now can you see in your mind what it looked like disassembled?”
“Yes,” he had replied.
Nina had placed the gun back in the cookie tin. “Your new game is going to practice assembling and disassembling the TT-33.”
“Oh,” he had replied feeling very excited. “I will let father know. He always encourages me to make things.”
“Better not tell him,” Nina had said. Her smile was warm but not the look in her eyes.
Once he learned how to disassemble and reassemble the TT-33 he was given a TOZ 8-01 training rifle. The rifle Nana would teach him to shoot with.