sunset_shea_nov_2010
Lancashire Moors, December 24, 1959

The blizzard rages through the small hours, howling like a banshee. A frightful squall whips around the fell, lashing the car on all sides. Uneasy, Sims lies awake as the doors quiver, rattle and creak. Drifts smother the bonnet, creep up the sills, and bury the boot. Blasts of icy air moan through the vents, sending flurries of snow into the cockpit. But Blyth snores on oblivious, dreaming of Styx drowning in her vat of curds. Styx, the demon spy who never lets him rest. Styx, the succubus of Poland, who rides him over the Outer Carpathians, born on the screaming wind. Blood spurts from her jugulars in marbled swirls, as he ducks her head, again, and again, and again…

Yet as soon as the ghastly deed is done, he yearns for her resuscitation. He stands there gasping, propped against the vat, his face haggard and drawn. Her limpid blue eyes still peer from the whey. There was danger in those eyes. Why had he not seen it before? Her full lips part a little to show her ivory teeth. It was a mouth made for kissing. For devouring. Had she not eaten his soul? As she sinks beneath the curds, he feels lost inside her.

‘Forgive me Styx,’ he whispers.

But why should he feel guilty? She was an agent for the Sozialistische Volksrepublik. He’s been here countless times before. He feels quite lucid. His dream has all the hallmarks of a cheap news-stand novel. Not the one he wanted to write, but the one he wanted to burn. He knows what’s coming next: her hideous cackle as she rises undead from the vat. How could a maiden, so pretty and pure, change into a such ravenous, bristling beast? How could those cool blue eyes, so beguiling and demure, burn like coals of hell? It was her demon nature to seduce – to corrupt him with the blandishments of socialist lies. Like a stuck record, their illicit liaison repeats each night. He swoons at the suggestion of her profane lips. Any second now, he will feel her pearly fangs sink deep in his flesh. And he will succumb to her forbidden lusts, the willing victim of her sorcery.

He courted her for weeks in Lublin. A small back room in a tavern, not far from the Krakowska Gate. Every Sunday, she ravished him to death and their orgy lay waste the whole land.

He lights a cigarette and says:

‘You’re too young and beautiful to be caught up in this sordid game.’

‘And you’re too old and foolish.’

‘I’ve been ordered to kill you. You do know that, don’t you?’

‘A chance that I am willing to take.’

‘For what?’

‘For love. What else?’

‘Hard to believe you could love an old fool like me.’

‘We don’t choose who we fall in love with.’

‘I’m not a handsome fellow. I’m going bald. And I’ve got a pot-belly.’

‘I think you’re adorable. Like a little bear.’

‘I thought I was just another one of your coucheries utilitaires.’

‘My what?’

‘People of influence that you sleep around with.’

‘You have a very low opinion of me. You think I’m using you?’

‘Well aren’t you?’

She lies back and throws her eyes toward the ceiling; the plaster is riddled with cracks and stained by a sooty oil lamp that hangs above the bed. There are heavy drapes to the window, once bright yellow, but now brown with the grime of ages. Daylight punches through the moth-eaten pelmet, illuming a small wooden crucifix nailed to the wall. At length, she says:

‘Don’t leave. Don’t go back.’

‘I must. I’m expected.’

‘We could disappear.’

‘What do you want me to do? Become your Stasi supplicant? Join your company of witches? Be the Devil’s double-agent?’

She smiles and sits astride him, her auburn hair aflame in the afternoon sun:

‘Yes darling, become my supplicant. Together we shall rid the world of the bourgeoisie, raze their estates to the ground, and share their gold with the proletariat…’

‘We are like two trains, you and me, running towards each other on the same track. We can’t stop and we can’t turn back. We just keep on going, faster and faster, until we collide, head on. So much unnecessary human wreckage.’

‘We should jump off. Before it’s too late.’

‘That’s impossible, I’m afraid.’

‘Stay. Life in Poland is not so bad.’

‘How do you know? You have nothing to compare it with. A girl like you certainly lifts the gloom of the place. But the very idea – that I should live out the rest of my days in The People’s Republic of Poland – or anywhere else in the Eastern Bloc for that matter– it’s absurd. The Polizeistaat? That’s perfectly insane.’

‘Will I ever see you again?’

‘Maybe next year.’

‘I didn’t mean it when I called you a fool. You must be very clever.’

‘Clever?’

‘The Żelazna Kurtyna. Few cross it so easily.’

‘It’s not easy. There’s a double-barbed wire fence fifty meters from the border, and the space between is littered with land mines. Not to mention the dogs and guard towers.’

‘So how do you do it?’

He remains silent and blows a plume of smoke from the corner of his mouth.

‘Tunnels?’ she asks.

‘No.’

‘You have a pass? You use the checkpoints?’

‘Don’t be ridiculous.’

‘A balloon?’

‘If I tell you, I’m a dead man.’

‘Help me defect.’

‘What’s the matter? Don’t you enjoy life in the people’s democracy?’

‘It’s not a democracy. It’s a dictatorship of the proletariat.’

‘A few seconds ago you said it wasn’t so bad.’

‘I want to get out. I want to be free with you. Forever. We could live in Berlin. Or Paris.’

‘You forget, I have a wife and family.’

‘Do I mean nothing to you?’

‘You can’t fool me Styx.’

‘Don’t call me that.’

‘I thought you liked your code name.’

‘I hate it. Yelena.’

‘But the porter calls you Olga.’

‘Yes, but my second name is Yelena. After my grandmother. It means Shining Light.’

‘That’s a lovely name.’

‘Only close friends call me Yelena.’

‘You count me as a friend?’

‘More than a friend. Much more.’

‘Do all your assignments become friends? Close friends?

‘No. Only you.’

‘So what’s my code name?’

‘A Russian phrase. But I can’t repeat it.’

‘Why not?’

‘There’s no English translation.’

‘It must mean something.’

‘It’s very insulting.’

‘Tell me.’

‘Well, I don’t think I should.’

‘Is it so bad?’

‘Yes. It’s the worst insult in the world.’

‘What is it?’

‘Don’t ask me. Please.’

‘Come on. Out with it. What do they call me?’

‘A penis on wheels, being towed backwards through a wood by a donkey.’

Blyth looks mortified. She sniggers:

‘I told you not to ask.’

‘I’ve never heard the like. What a lurid picture. A cock on wheels. How very surreal – like something from a Bosch painting.’

‘You may not like the Russians, but you can’t deny, they’ve got a great sense of humour.’

‘You think it funny?’

‘No darling. Anyway, I think you’ve got a lovely cock.’

He remains cold, detached:

‘Admit it. You’ve no intention of defecting.’

‘Why don’t you believe me?’

‘Because I know what you really want, Yelena.’

‘Tell me. What do I want?’

‘To expand the Eastern Block. To keep East Germany under Soviet control. To destroy the West.’

‘You’re right. It’s a silly sordid game. Don’t play it. Not with me. Can’t you feel it? We’re soul mates, you and me.’ She beats in earnest upon her chest: ‘Dwie bratnie dusze rozdzielone polityką swoich czasów!

Blyth pulls on his cigarette:

Two soul mates, torn apart by the politics of their time. How very touching. So you’ve fallen in love? And now you’re willing to rip up the entire communist manifesto, just like that? You don’t love me. You’ve probably got six other men on the go, and all half my age.’

‘No. There’s only you. I live only for you.’

‘You shouldn’t live your life for other people. It’s a fatal mistake.’

‘Did they teach you to be cruel as well as cunning?’

‘I didn’t mean to be cruel. But your ways are not my ways. Two trains, remember?’

‘My grandmother says our earthly life is the yield of a previous existence.’

Karma? I thought all Marxists were atheists.’

‘You seem to think Poland is full of Marxists. But most of the Marxists in the Eastern Block were killed off by the Nazis. She’s not a Marxist. And she’s not an atheist either. She’s an Orthodox Christian. And very superstitious. She grew up in Romania. The hills around her village were full of vampires.’

Peasants.’

‘Do you always insult your women after making love?’

‘And what are you, if not a Marxist?’

‘If you must know, I’m a Christian Socialist.’

Christian Socialist? What’s that? Orwellian Newspeak for Pagan Atheist? Good Wrongdoer?’

‘What’s that supposed to mean?’

Semiotics: the primary tool of far-left radicals. Semantic expositions always turn into games of intellect. That’s how totalitarian regimes work: by deconstruction; they strip words of orthodox meaning and make thought impossible. How can Christians be socialists? It’s a complete contradiction in terms. What is there in common, between belief in god, and the abject materialism of besotted communism? As if Christianity was a nihilist religion! Your god is just an instrument of power for heathen non-believers. You think you’re marching for Christ, but you’re slaves to tyrants, marching in glory to annihilation.’

‘We’re marching for social justice.’

Social justice. Yet more Newspeak. What you mean to say is: “we wish to violently dispossess those who own more than ourselves.” Self entitlement, all in the name of charity and fraternity. Christian socialism is absolutely worthless.’

She broods in antagonistic silence, then asks:

‘Do you think I’m worthless too?’

‘Of course not. But don’t you see? The Christian socialists are just pawns of the Marxian socialists. Christian socialism is parasitic; it relies on the supernatural order of orthodox Christianity. Until the reformation, Christianity was dominated by monks – parasites who lived by begging alms, preaching lies, and exploiting the poor.’

‘ – And now by Capitalist parasites, who live by robbing, lying and warring. All the wealth of the world is controlled by degenerate oligarchs who exploit the poor. Your precious democracy is just a plutocracy, seething with corruption, bribery and depravity. The overthrow of capitalism will be the greatest event in the history of the world.’

‘You think you can make the world safer by turning it upside down? With workers above and owners below? The whole problem of distributive justice is created by social cooperation. There would be no problem of justice, if there was no social cooperation at all – if each person got his share solely by his own efforts. That’s the beauty of the capitalist state: it’s a minimalist state, with limited infringements on personal liberty; but socialist state is an extensive, over-reaching state, that always violates people’s rights. When your heroic tzars have purged capitalism from the state, they will purge orthodoxy from the church. The whole basis of socialist philosophy is utterly incompatible with religious ideas.’

‘You obviously haven’t read the gospels.’

‘Of course I’ve read them. Christianism is a spiritual gospel for the old age of class inequality and economic slavery; Marxism is a material gospel for the new age of social equality and economic freedom. But scientific socialism proceeds directly from Darwinism. Survival of the fittest. Your Christian socialists will get eaten alive.’

She steals the cigarette from his lips, takes a drag and asks:

‘What did Christ teach, if not socialism? If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven.’

‘You think Christ wants you be dirt-poor? To starve on scanty food, dress in rags, and live in rat-infested hovels?’

‘That’s not what I meant, and you know it.’

He snatches back his cigarette and scorns:

Religion. Anyway, I don’t believe in the historical Jesus.’

‘What about the Bible?’

‘Both Old and New Testaments are utterly worthless as history. The twelve patriarchs of the Jewish God are nothing but myths, as are the twelve apostles of the Christian God.’

‘I think you despise Christians as much as you despise atheists.’

‘I’ve got nothing against atheists. Or Christians for that matter.’

‘Just communists?’

‘Yes.’

‘Watch out. You might come back a devout Marxist.’

‘In the next life?’ He scoffs. ‘One life is enough for me, thank you very much. Death is final. I’m sure of that.’

‘Are you so wise and knowing?’

‘Wise enough to know that I won’t be crawling out my grave. Or coming back a Bolshevik. Once you’re dead, you’re dead. And that’s it. Kaput.’

‘One lifetime isn’t long enough to complete our spiritual growth.’

‘You sound more like a Buddhist than a Christian.’

‘What do you believe in? Apart from the god of unregulated industrial capitalism?’

‘I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I’m not a man of theological merits.’

‘You must have prayed for something in your life – when you were a child.’

‘Only when I got bullied at a school. But it didn’t stop me getting two black eyes. If there is god, he favours the strong, not the weak. Prayers are just vain repetitions. Incantations. Hymns and canticles. They have no saving power.’

‘Is it all just a philosophical game to you?’

‘I am simply drawing rational conclusions from the evidence. If the gods are not provoked by evil men, neither are they delighted with the good. Contrary objects must either excite contrary affections, or no affections at all. He who loves good men must at the same time hate the bad; and he who loves bad men cannot love the good; because to love good men arises from an aversion to evil, and to hate evil men from a propensity to good.’

‘You count yourself as a good man?’

‘I defend the good. But that does not make me a good man. Expediency often demands evil action.’

‘Is that how you justify yourself? You’ve got it all worked out, haven’t you?’

‘Me and my conscience get along just fine, thank you very much.’

‘How many people have you killed? How many girls like me?’

‘Truth be told, I can’t remember.’

‘I will haunt you, if you kill me.’

‘You needn’t worry. I couldn’t harm a hair on your head.’

‘I think you’re frightened of me.’

‘Frightened of you? Why?’

‘You’re frightened of falling in love with me.’

‘Perhaps I should be frightened of you. How many spies have you killed?’

‘I’ve never killed anyone. I wouldn’t know how. I don’t even own a gun.’

‘That wouldn’t stop you clawing my throat out.’

‘I’m not a monster.’

‘Yet the code you passed between Berlin and Moscow was responsible for the death of six British agents.’

Remorseful, she slinks out of bed and goes to the window. She stands like Botticelli’s Venus, fingering the dirty curtain, peering at the alley below.

‘Six?’ she asks.

‘Six.’

The setting sun gleams on the wet rooftops and whole city seems dipped in fire.

‘I didn’t know,’ she whispers. ‘You must believe me. The messages. I didn’t open them. I didn’t read them. I don’t even know what they were about.’

‘I believe you. They were encrypted. There’s no way you could have known. Unless you have the key?’

‘Key?’

‘To the cypher.’

‘I was given places and times. That’s all.’

‘Who was your handler?’

‘Handler?’

‘Who told you where and when?’

The Polish United Workers’ Party. They left instructions in my pigeon hole at the cheese factory. And a package.’

‘Package? What package?’

‘I don’t know. I was just a mule. A stupid mule.’

‘But you can understand why London wants you out of the picture.’

She watches in silence as two dogs scamper up the alley and start fighting over a bone; their bark rings off the red brick walls and echoes round the decaying tenements. Then she mutters:

‘We all reap our sins, in this life or the next. There’s no escape from this fallen world. Except by the blood of Jesus Christ.’

‘How does the crucifixion of an innocent man blot out the evil deeds of mankind?’

‘Must you destroy all my hopes?’

‘Karma, Heaven, Nirvana – whatever you want to call it – it’s all a lie, to mitigate the slaughter of the innocents. Live for the next life if you want to. But just remember, when you’ve taken up your cross, the Marxists will nail you to it.’

He stubs out his cigarette and adds:

Spiritual growth. What a load of clap-trap.’

She glowers, insulted, almost childlike:

‘It’s true, I tell you: a single lifetime does not suffice for us to become as good and wise as we would wish.’

‘You should know, playing Stalin’s mule. Stalin – the most ruthless, cruel, violent and paranoid sociopath since Adolf Hitler. How does his League of Militant Atheists fit in with your Christian sensibilities? Do you know he’s building an atomic bomb to blow us all to kingdom come?’

She looks like a wounded bird, vulnerable in her nakedness, weighed down with a burden of shame. Was she playing him? Or was she was just a young idealist, too naive to know the consequences of her actions? He’d met plenty of Marxists at Cambridge, and she seemed far less dangerous than those rabid champagne socialists, who spent their days marching for the proletariat revolution. No, if she had done any wrong, she had only done wrong in doing her Christian duty. Why argue and spoil the day? Their time together was too precious. He smiles and pats the mattress:

‘Forget it. Come back to bed. It’s cold by the window.’

She moves adeptly between the sheets and squats upon his groin, sliding her hand between his legs. He reaches up and fondles her hair, drawing the crimson curls over her face and breasts:

‘You’re very beautiful Yelena – for a communist, that is.’

‘Is that what the English call a back-handed compliment?’

‘I think my Nirvana is here, with you.’

‘Then stay. Help me defect.’

‘I’ll look into it.’

She starts smothering him in kisses:

‘Do you promise?’

‘Yes, yes, yes…’

‘Say: I promise Yelena.’

‘I promise Yelena… But it’s complicated.’

She nibbles at his ear:

‘Why darling? Why is it complicated?’

‘I’ll have to convince London. We’ll need something to trade. Or they’ll appoint another assassin and murder us both.’

Radiant, she pins him to the bed and bids:

Make love to me again.’

Her beauty flashes on his mind like a diamond; and the sweetness of her voice warbles in his ear like a nightingale. A dream, he tells himself. She’s dead beneath the sods. He’d walked around her grave three times. For dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return. The spectre of her corpse was ever before his eyes. Yet here she is, vivid, corporeal and full of ardent desire. He cannot draw away. For hers is a wild Eleusinian ecstasy that parts the veil between Life and Death. She breaks him into a brisk trot which soon becomes a raucous gallop. They become as one indissoluble unit: the Alpha and Omega, undiminished, undestroyed and undissolved. But at the climax of consummation, his beautiful maiden transmutes into a harpy with rapine claws.

This is the part where he awakes in a cold sweat, yelling and thrashing his arms. But not this time… Instead, Blyth finds himself uttering fervent prayers: an Ave for Styx, the communist who would not die, and a Pater Noster for the capitalist who had no meaning, save in the mad mind of the state.

The blizzard roars and all is barren desolation.

Copyright © Nicholas Shea 1992-2022. All rights reserved.