Part one: Itsy Bitsy Spider…
“Ah, why so formal, moy kotik? Aren’t you glad to see your mama?”
So it’s true then, what she had heard. The woman is actually in the country. She briefly chides herself for getting sloppy enough with the home security for her to be able to break in. There isn’t enough alcohol in her body to deal with this.
The tall woman stands up off the couch and the metal top of her cane glints in the near dark–feeding off of the slightest sliver of light in the room–the cane glints and suddenly she’s seven again, cross-legged on a plush carpet, shivering despite the warm fire just a few feet away, tear tracks cutting through the blood and the grime on her face begging–no. Irina takes a deep breath, tamping down the rising panic. She squares her shoulders and lifts her head, her gaze steady before asking coldly, “What are you doing here? I had made it very clear that I did not wish to be contacted. “
The woman tuts, “Now now, Nina, I’m sure I brought you up to be better than that. Is that any way to speak to your elders? Or has the crassness of the Amerikashki been imbibed by you during the past years? I must say, your accent is impeccable, it seems you’ve succeeded quite significantly in distancing yourself from your heritage”
“It isn’t my heritage I’ve distanced myself from.” She’s had enough of small talk. Whatever it is that her mother is here for, it can’t be good, but she’d rather they just get this over with. She turns to fill her glass and detects a slight movement from the corner of her eye and almost whirls around to land a well-placed kick, but realizes ‘mama’–the word stings like venom as it sloshes around in her mouth– is simply rearranging her coat. The slight twitch doesn’t go unnoticed and the older woman’s lips curve into a smirk, blood-red and all too smug. What kind of monster.
She doesn’t bother offering the other woman a drink.
“Your sister is unwell.” Irina looks up sharply, her eyes roving over the thin, defined features, trying to come to a conclusion, but like always, her face is as blank as the snowy expanse of their homeland, betraying nothing.
“The last time a family member was supposedly ‘sick’, I was the one who ended up being taken care of at a hospital.”, the accusation running clear and sharp as she spoke evenly.
“That”, her mother says tightly, “was an unfortunate complication. Things weren’t supposed to go that way. Besides it was the only way to ensure you would show up”
Irina laughs mirthlessly, “Complication”, she mutters sotto vocce. “And what, according to you, is wrong with dear Natalya?”
“She’s had an, ah, adverse reaction to the conditioning”, she speaks cautiously, hesitant in informing Irina about her sister being subjected to the…‘conditioning’ seeming too deceptively mild a word for it.
Conditioning. Natalya. Conditioning. Rage she hasn’t felt in a long, long time boils red and angry inside her, the bud she had so painstakingly closed off, unfurling into the fiery, cutting bloom she’d cultivated as a child. In a second she’s at her throat, the keys she’d snatched off the counter held dangerously close to the woman’s jugular, pressing strongly enough for the area to start to redden. Apartment keys were blunt and hardly her weapon of choice, but she was willing to risk the resulting mess. “You promised. You promised!”, she hisses slowly, barely registering the clatter of the cane falling to the ground as her mother tries to claw at her hands, trying–with little success–to loosen her grip on her throat and torso. The keys press deeper, a bruise forming already–her mother always was a delicate creature–“You promised. You gave me your word–there were witnesses–it had been my only condition! She’s just a child–your child, vy sooka!”, she curses. The woman has the nerve to widen her eyes in outrage at the term. “For all your faults, you were still a woman of your word”, her voice is steely now, “Natalya meant something to you. To Papulya. She trusted you. I’d never taken you for a predatel” , she spits, aware it’s getting harder and harder for the taller woman to breathe. She’s turning a light shade of purple, and Irina takes a breath and steps back. She isn’t done with her but for now she has to focus on Natalya’s illness. If mama is to be believed. For what it’s worth, it seems a dangerous thing to lie about.
The swift change in tactics brings back the blood-red– though now slightly smudged– smirk, as she picks up her cane, gaining back her composure just as quickly as Irina had lost hers, “Are you sure the doctor was right in not declaring you–ah, what is it they call it–bi-polar, moya lyubov?” She doesn’t rise to the bait, though her hands grasp the keys a little tighter but the other woman seems to not notice, apparently disappointed in the lack of a reaction.
“I’m bringing Nat here”, her voice is final but she knows it wouldn’t be that easy.
“I’m afraid things aren’t quite as simple as that, dearie. It isn’t in your hands”
“I’m. Bringing. Her. Here.”, and there is no space for argument. She’s surprised at the strength in her voice. When she had heard of her mother being in America, she’d expected something else–an assignment perhaps, like the last time, and had dreaded whatever she was going to be blackmailed with into carrying out her dirty work. Understandably, she hadn’t taken the news well, choosing to go out and annihilate her liver entirely at the closest bar and then consequently running into Steve. All of that seems eons ago, though the clock above her sink informs her it has only been about half an hour since he dropped her off. The lingering buzz had long since evaporated.
“I understand you’re worried, Nina, but the amerikosy do not have the means to treat her”
“And you do? If you did, you wouldn’t be here, Klara”
The woman raises her eyebrows at being addressed by her name and Irina is reminded of the last time she had done it–bruised knees and bloody arms. Screaming while her mother simply reclined in the velvet armchair, cool and composed as ever–slightly amused, even. And in the midst of her screaming she yelled out the name and her mother stood up in a flash, a glint of her cane, determined to remind her of her place–no. Not now.
But that had been different, she had been young and relatively helpless. Now, the two of them were in her home and she had seen things far worse than a cruel woman. Endured torture at the hands of people far worse.
“As you wish, then. But keep in mind that she will have no place in my household once you tire of your idiot sister and decide to send her home. No papushka to put up with her.” A slight tick itches at the back of her mind. This was too easy, Klara didn’t give up her assets just like that…but the suspicion is overwritten by anger as Irina sees red again at the mention of her father and she squeezes the keys still clutched in her hands tightly enough for her knuckles to go white.
Klara notices. Blood-red smirk. She knew what she was doing.
“Your sister is sleeping in your bedroom–you really should clean up there now and again, Nina–and I have to be back home by morning, so I’ll be leaving. It was good to see you again, moy kotik”
Irina watches as she leaves and then looks out the window as she hails a cab, presumably to the airport before letting out a sigh. She’s proud of not having conveyed her surprise at Nat being in the country–in her room.
She switches on the light in her bedroom to find Natalya curled up under the covers, except something is off about the way she’s lying down. The bed dips under Irina’s weight as she pulls the covers back, only to find herself face down in the carpet a second later, Nat’s knee digging into her back and something decidedly sharp held against her throat.
She sees now why it was easy to convince Klara to let Nat live with her. Ah hell.