I stand in line for the Hermitage. It is frigid. My feet feel like pancakes, oppressed by the cold.
A girl hops out of line. She dashes to a pile of snow, mounded beside a tree. She climbs it and jumps up and down, laughing.
That’s the most fun she’ll have all day, I think.
A woman, I hope is her mother, storms up, snatches her by the arm, hobbles her with a few words, and brings her back into formation, limping.
I turn to L, “that was the most fun she’ll have all day,” I say, confidently.
L nods, less confidently, and laughs, politely. We’d met a few weeks prior and started seeing each other. She agreed to come to The Hermitage with me on the condition that she doesn’t judge my utter lack of artistic spirit.
The line moves slower than I’d like but faster than I expected. Tickets are bought, jackets are stowed; steps, softened.
As we reach the top of the staircase toward the yawn of a door into the main exhibits, I stop.
“What are they doing here?”
“Who?” L asks.
I lean closer to her, averting my eyes.
“The Babushkas,” I whisper.
L looks to the doors. On either side there sits a babushka. Their faces passive, their stone frames braced for conflict. I shudder.
“They are security. There is one in every room.”
My eyes go wide. “Every room?” I gasp.
L nods, frowning at me, “they are fine. They won’t hurt you as long as you don’t try to touch the art or make too much noise,” L pauses, thinking. “Or, run, yeah, don’t run, they don’t like that. And they will catch you.”
I nod. “I know,” I mutter.
“Will you be okay?” L asks. I straighten myself up and deepen my voice, the way you do whenever a pretty girl challenges your manhood.
“Yes,” I say, “of course,” I add. Then, internally, shit myself.
L smiles, “let’s go then.”
She walks ahead through the Babushka guards, fearless. I follow, demanding my legs to stop shaking. The babushkas remain as solid as the statues they guard. I pass them, I take a deep breathe. I choke on it.
In each corner of a vast hall of gold, is another babushka. I swallow hard. I cough. One of the Babushkas gives me a warning look. I cover my mouth. L turns back to me.
I trot up beside her. “Where first?” I ask, looking at her and only her.
She shrugs. She motions to one exit, “through there are the emperors,” she waves to the next, “the main exhibits,” she turns around to face the smallest of the exits. “Through there are temporary exhibits.”
I shrug, “let’s do that one.”
L leads the way, I follow.
In through the door I stop. I can feel the blood draining from my face. It fills my stomach making me feel as though a need a bathroom. In the center of the room is a hut. It is battered and stuck together from a thousand pieces.
I look along the walls. A hand with a hole through it hangs to the left. A great hen leg is pinned to the wall above and beyond the hut. The hut itself is encased in glass, one hen leg splayed out to the right.
L turns, her face grows concerned. She touches my arm.
“Wha—what is this? Some sort of joke?” I manage.
L frowns, “No, it’s the Baba Yaga exhibit.”
TO BE CONTINUED…
If you liked this and want to read the prequel, the links can be found here