Andrei sat by the flickering light of the candle and took down the story that Maxim whispered through his cracked and bleeding lips.
When I was a child we were taught to never talk. My mother and my grandmother would tell me over and over that anyone could be an informer. When we saw a policeman we crossed to the other side of the street. My father was just quiet. Carefully making his way through his days as if walking through fields planted with bombs. I kept to these lessons throughout my life. My wife was raised the same as me. We worked hard, we are scientists, we wanted only to do the research the State thought important and have a simple life. We had no money. We didn’t care. Then I was assigned to work on breaking codes of the Americans. I didn’t want this work. I knew that anything that had to do with State secrets was dangerous. But I had no choice. I was given the formulas and told to run them on the intercepted messages and report the results no matter what they said, whether they made sense or not. One day last fall a message I translated read, “Beria is plotting against Stalin. The change will come next spring.” I began to tremble. I knew that if I passed this to my supervisor there would be consequences. Beria was the head of the service I was working in after all. He would know everything that went on. My stomach cramped and my head ached. I translated more messages than ever before on that day. I worked as hard and fast as I could hoping that I could bury the message in a tall stack that that my supervisor might miss it in the pile of minutia. At the end of the day I handed him my stack of messages. He asked if there was anything interesting. I told him it was all routine.
That night the door of our apartment was broken in at three in the morning. They grabbed my wife and I and brought us to the Lubyanka. I was put into a room with a one way mirror looking into the room where they held my wife. They showed me the message and asked if I remembered it. I told them no, that I had been translating so quickly that day that I hadn’t really read any of the messages. First they beat me. Then they made me watch as they beat my wife. I told them I had translated the message, that it meant nothing to me. They told me I had translated it incorrectly. That I must have been trying to create anti-Soviet propoganda. They showed me what they thought the true translation should be, “Beria is in full support of Stalin. No anti-Soviet activities are contemplated.” Then they made me watch while several men raped my wife.
I am not afraid to die. I am only unhappy that it has taken so long.
The last sentence seemed to be all that Maxim had the energy to say. He lapsed into silence and his breathing became rapid. Andrei was beginning the end stages of his data point in the experiment. Andrei’s hand was tired. He pulled the sheets up to Maxim’s neck in the only gesture of comfort he could offer. Then he picked up the clipboard and headed towards the office to add the story to the others he kept in the tin in the space he had hollowed out beneath the floorboards.