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The Madonna

By Mary Lou Heilman


A little backstory about Sasha's flashback to what the Blue Madonna represented:

"Die, why won't you die?" Dr. Lermatov screamed, all control lost now.

Sasha should have looked at his face, but all she could see was the scalpel glittering in his hand, then hand became fist, held high.

But Lermatov wasn't looking at her. His gaze had swerved to her coworker and friend Alex. 

"What are you, immortal, Alex Plisakovsky?" 

Alex stood transfixed, his face bloodless.

"Your great-grandmother should be here, in the lab, to see what will happen, finally, finally," Lermatov said. "Oh, she was the clever one, singlehandedly saving her family. But another family starved, another family died, my grandparents, my parents, my uncle, all dead.  All dust, dust somewhere, maybe in a dump, maybe under a cellar.  Who knows?  I don't know."

Lermatov seemed to need the satisfaction of Alex knowing, knowing what his great-grandmother had done, before Alex died.  "That icon, the Blue Madonna, that had been ours, ours," he said.  "I read in my grandmother's diary how my uncle had wrapped it, our last and best treasure.  Priceless, handed down in our family, part of our heritage, but now it could be bartered for something even more priceless, food.  My grandmother wrote about the look in my grandfather's eyes, the pain, as my uncle set out to sell the Blue Madonna.  But Grandfather had only said, 'Take it.  Your children must survive.  Our line must continue.'"

 "That day in the lab.  Your great-grandmother told the story," Lermatov whispered.  "I knew.  I knew then. And bragging, bragging about how she had seen a man collapse on the street, a not uncommon occurrence during the Siege. What had saved your family was her prying, no, stealing, that precious package out of a dead man's arms, my uncle's arms, and then selling it.  What had saved your family had doomed ours,"

Then Lermatov was through talking.  He lunged.

What was strange, Sasha thought later, was that Alex never cried out.  Even as Sasha backhanded  Lermatov with the laptop, which flew out of her arnms.  Even as it struck.  Even as Lermatov's scalpel glanced Alex's arm.  Even as the blood gushed. 

Dr. Lermatov stood looking at the scalpel, seemed to gain determination, seemed ready to strike again, but not at Alex.

Sasha scrambled behind a lab table, grasping anything, anything she could use to ward off the scalpel's blow.  She grabbed a microscope's handle, pulling it, tearing its cord from the wall.

"You," Dr. Lermatov's attention, and the scalpel's, nailed Sasha.  She held the microscope to her chest, but Lermatov had long arms, steady even in rage. They had no trouble reaching across the narrow lab table to seize her.  She struck his arms with the heavy microscope base, but he was oblivious to the blows.

Too late, Sasha realized that the aisle between the table and a bank of the lab's tall windows was narrow, too narrow for her to escape backwards.  And now Lermatov began to circle the table.  Sweat trickled down Sasha's neck as she scrabbled back.  But then felt the edge of a corner.  Felt…nothing behind her.  Not even a window screen.  Her one hand was clutching the microscope, other hand gripping the window frame.  As Lermatov slashed, her flail of the instrument knocked him off balance.  For a moment.  In that moment, she pivoted over the windowsill onto the ledge of the roof slightly below, using her bent arm for leverage.  But slippery, why so slippery?  Slippery with icy sweat.  Why did Sasha have time to envision a Matryoshka doll, fragments of its outer shell spiraling off to reveal the middle doll, whose pieces were disintegrating to the wind and exposing the nightmare doll?  And Sasha was clutching, nails digging into a seam where the roof tiles were repaired.

Lermatov's arm arced, steel catching the sun's glimmer.

Then fell, as Lermatov crumpled to the floor.

Alex looked over the lab table, then at the heavy chair in his blood-soaked hands, its legs splintered near Lermatov's head.





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