She sat in the train compartment and leaned her head up against the window, her right temple bouncing against the glass as the train lulled and swayed over the landscape outside. With each second that passed and each tree that flew by her vision, Zoya grew more aware that she would never see her home again.
She forced herself to keep her eyes dry and hide the truth, that she was now an exile from the only place she had ever known; but her vacant eyes — dry as they were — betrayed her. She stared at everything but saw nothing, only the images of her love back at home, standing in the doorway of their little apartment as if everything was the same, standing there angelically in the rubble of a destroyed dream.
Everywhere Zoya went, Mashka followed. In the street, in the mirror, on the front step, Mashka was there, or at least the memory of Mashka was. Zoya knew it wasn’t real; she knew the Maria she was seeing in her mind was not the Maria of flesh and blood. She knew Maria was long gone now, her Mashka, the girl with the big blue eyes, who couldn’t bear to leave her family, who couldn’t bear to forsake her homeland, even if it meant becoming another number in the body count or being persecuted for loving the wrong person.
Zoya knew this. She told Mashka to flee with her, to run away — France, Belgium, Italy, anywhere — to escape the impending devastation that the Red Army was sure to inflict, the danger of being a woman in love with another woman. That was a forbidden love back home, and Zoya wasn’t even sure where she was going — wherever that was — would accept her love either. But it did not matter now. Here Zoya was on the train, barreling away on this locomotive far away from her life before. Her eyes focused and unfocused as she rolled by. The farther west she traveled the redder the trees seemed to be in this late autumn weather, as though the Bolsheviks were following her the whole time, their colors poisoning the safety she felt on this train traveling away from the toxic epicenter. But home had become grayer and bleaker to her the longer she was there, growing more war-torn in the days before her departure; it was now a dead country to her, as dead as Mashka would soon be.
She stared out the window forlornly as the scenery changed on the ground beneath the rolling wheels of the train: fields, flowers, trees, rivers. Her eyes followed them all, and she tried to feel some sort of excitement, any hope whatsoever about her next destination. This was her chance to start anew. She was going somewhere she had never been before; it all depended on where the train stopped and when she would be forced to get off. There she could start over in a safe place. Zoya could become a new person. She watched the vibrant colors outside fully knowing the next possibilities in her life would be far more robust than any opportunities in the past five years at home.
But all she thought about was Mashka. Nothing could tear her from those thoughts. Now Zoya felt a lump in her throat and she swallowed hard, hoping her breathing would regulate itself despite all the pain she felt inside. Everything was tense: her hands, her stomach, her breaths.
Though her body leaned limply against the windowpane, Zoya’s mind was frantic. She suddenly had an urge to stand up, run to the compartment door and leap off the train into the field alongside the railroad tracks. She wanted to go home. She wanted to scream Maria’s name at the top of her lungs as she ran as fast as possible back to the town where they had lived. She wanted to push aside the soldiers and lift her skirts to spring even faster to the door where she knew Mashka would be waiting for her, having heard Zoya’s cries. There she would leap back into Mashka’s arms, kiss her face and neck and sob at having ever left. She wanted Mashka to comfort her. “Prosti menya, prosti menya,” she would sob into Mashka’s bosom as her arms held her tightly.
An abrupt jolt from the train car over the rails shocked Zoya back to reality. “Ya lyublyu tebya,” she whispered unconsciously. Across the compartment from her, an elderly woman peered over her newspaper at Zoya with a withering gaze, but Zoya didn’t notice. She had lost herself in memories. She closed her eyes tightly to prevent the tears welled up behind her eyelids from spilling out, but it was no use. She relented and let tear after tear fall down her face, next to her nose and over her lips.
As she tasted the salt running over them, she remembered the taste of Mashka’s lips on her own, the soft touch of skin against skin as the nerves on their lips connected and sent warmth through both their bodies. Through this simple act of affection, the two women had melted into each other, holding each other closely and thinking of nothing else but their bodies wrapped around each other.
Anguish surged through Zoya as she thought of those kisses now, and more tears poured from her eyes. She would never again feel Mashka’s lips on hers. It was only Zoya now, and the cold steel bars of the window against her head.