Red Scarf

Angels, by Alexandra David  (750 words) 

Abruptly, she stopped singing, and peered at the red  notification sign on her phone. It was a WhatsApp message.

‘Oh Edward! Finally, you are back! I knew you would not forget today. I knew something happened. I just … knew it.’ But as soon as these thoughts had formed, others came along the way. ‘It could still be him, couldn’t it?’ The latter thoughts came en force, marching on in her head like a victorious invading army. ‘Was it Edward? Was it really the end of his ghosting? The end of the punishment? An acknowledgment she was still alive? Was it a love message? Or was it another unbearably harsh break-up message he had the knack for?’ By now she was afraid to open it as she kept staring at her screen. ‘What if it wasn’t Edward? Or worse: what if it was but her husband? Asking her what’s for dinner. Or asking her not to forget to pass by the pharmacy on her way home to get him some pills for his gasses.’ The more intently she looked at the red notification circle, the more it started to blur and look like a drop of blood. The stain was getting bigger and would have drowned her entire phone first then herself had her singing teacher not interrupted her train of thoughts and brought her back to reality.

‘Angelllaaaa!’ Which she said with a hard ‘g’ as the German Chancellor, and a very high pitched ‘la’, loud enough to wake up a dead corpse. Her accent was thick enough to discourage small chat after classes. Angel had merely joined the classes to have an alibi to meet her lover. She had never intended to actually learn to sing anything. It had started quite by accident. 

One evening Edward failed to show up. It was pouring. Her first reaction was sadness and hurt, but she soon convinced herself that he had had an accident, for that was far better than him not wanting to see her, right? Whatever the reason, she realized she was in no state to go back home to her husband who would have too many questions she did not want to answer and decided to spend time elsewhere until it was safe to go back home. She decided to go wait for his message in the closest driest spot, which happened to be the evening amateur music school with the singing class about to start. After that first time, it became a habit. His ghosting, and her singing. But today he had beaten every record. It was their anniversary. He had been so excited about celebrating it with her. He had made her promise to keep the evening free. It had happened three weeks ago. She had agreed to all his requests, even though it was her twins’ 18th birthday, even she had promised them to take them out to their favourite spot. She had reasoned they would probably be happier with their friends anyway. It had been 2 months since she last saw Edward. By now, she could think of nothing else, could not concentrate on anything or anyone, cared about no one and had found a way to excuse herself and vanish to her singing class. There she was. Singing, when she saw the notification. She was mortified. The class was almost over. They were supposed to meet an hour and a half ago. Her head was in such a mess. She was staring at her teacher who was talking to her but she could not hear a word being said. Without taking leave, she ran out of the class. She was a running question mark, she ran out but did not know where to go. She had to open the message but was too scared to do so. She ran in the rain in the direction of the bridge. She thought she would take cover underneath it and check her message calmly there. But by the time she got to the bridge she was out of control, her phone still in her hands, her legs took her on the upper side of the bridge instead of underneath it and before she knew it she was facing the waters and drenched from the rain. Her hands were gripping the rails, her head was far ahead by the waterfall, her heart far behind. All of sudden she felt her hand grip her phone and before she knew it or could do anything to prevent it, she threw it with strength she never knew she had as far away as possible in the agitated waters. 

A longtime resident of Tel Aviv, Israel, Alexandra David now lives and writes from Brussels where she works as a political consultant and learns coding. She is a prolific author and has written and published a novel, children stories, and a collection of Flash Fiction stories, written between 2011 and 2014 in Tel Aviv. Some of the stories have been published individually on different outlets. The entire collection appears on Ephemerides.

She is now working on her second novel.

The Trout by Miriam Drori  (532 words) 

Abruptly, she stopped singing, and peered at the red  carnation in the blue vase on the piano. Had it been there when they began? Why hadn’t she noticed it? How did it get there?

The tinkles from the piano faded away, and he turned to face her.

“I love the way you sing Schubert. You make the music so melodious, the words so full of meaning. The way you change mood, playing with light and dark, is delightful. Why did you stop?”

She raised her arm, pointing it towards the vase.

“The carn…”

Unable to continue, she felt herself falling. He rushed over to catch her and carry her to a chair. Considerate, attentive.

“Can I bring you anything?”

He began to move to the door, but she raised a hand, signaling to him to stop.

“Then tell me what’s wrong.”

Reunited with her voice, she put it to use. “You tell me. How did that flower appear?”

“I brought it this morning. I keep seeing that poor vase and I know it’s yearning for a flower to caress its lips. Don’t you like it? I filled the vase with water.”

She shook her head with slow deliberation; that wasn’t the reason. Behind closed eyes, she conjured up a similar image. The same vase on the same piano. The same book of lieder opened at the same page. An identical red carnation. A different pianist.

Her ears filled with the sound of her own voice singing Schubert’s Die Forelle. And the sweet tones from the piano that blended so well with her voice. Surely such harmony would apply equally to their joint lives. His face radiated emotion every time he set eyes on her. He won her over. Her voice became his prize, her body his possession.

It didn’t take long for his loving words to turn caustic, and not much longer for him to start using his elegant, long-fingered hands for violent purposes. And still, she stayed, thinking she must try harder; if she could behave as he wished, he would come back to her and harmony would reign again.

She screwed up her face as she remembered those years of agony before the final dawning that she wasn’t to blame, the weeks before she built up the courage to put the escape plan into practice, and the months of fear that he would find her and torture her again.

She opened her eyes to see the compassion etched on his face – the frown, the sad eyes and slightly parted lips. She watched him hold both hands out to her, his eyebrows questioning whether she would accept an embrace.

In her mind, she saw the trout she’d just been singing about. It was squirming in the water, having been caught on the hook by the fisherman, who had betrayed the fish by muddying the water. She couldn’t let herself be betrayed again.

But not all men turn violent, she told herself. This one will be different. We might find harmony together. I need to take this chance. Then she noticed his long fingers edging ever closer and her mind was made up.

Once more, she shook her head. “I’m so sorry.”

Miriam Drori, a writer based in Jerusalem, Israel, has written in various genres, including romance and crime fiction. Her short stories have appeared in several anthologies, the last being Dark London. Her most recent novel is Style and the Solitary, published by Darkstroke Books. Miriam has also presented public talks, often around the theme of social anxiety, a topic that crops up in some of her writing.

Escape by Marlene Goldberg  (604 words) 

Abruptly, she stopped singing, and peered at the red , green, and white flag that barged through the main entrance. Her face flushed at the sudden intrusion, and through the blaring spotlight, Fatima could just about make out her teenage son, Hussein, accompanied by a posse of fellow activists, all wearing masks, barging into the auditorium with yelps of “From the river to the sea, Palestine must be free”. She had intuited that Hussein’s frequent nightly visits with friends were not to complete Zoomed school assignments, as had been alleged. They were far too meager to demand so many consultations with friends but were merely a cover for something else. For what - it only now became clear. 

She had joined the Muslim/Jewish organization for peace while Mahmud was away in Iraq. At first, she followed them on Facebook. But then they planned a convention with speakers from both sides. She would even get permission to travel to Israel to take part. 

Of course, she wouldn’t dream of asking Mahmud permission to attend. There was no way he would oblige. And her sons would also oppose her leaving as a woman unaccompanied by a man. 

But Mahmud was away. Her sons were staying with friends in another town. She would take this opportunity that may never come again. She wanted to sing the song her mother had taught her as a little girl: “Libi ba-Mizrach” my heart is in the East. Written in Hebrew. She sang the words but understood very little besides the title: my heart is in the East. 

She sang the first stanza. The audience was transfixed, watching this Muslim girl singing this ancient Hebrew song of the Zionist longing for Israel of the Diaspora Jew. Tears glistened her rouged cheek as she recalled her mother’s singing, her mascara smudging her lower lids. 

And then it was utter pandemonium. The security guard was overwhelmed by the unwelcome visitors.  Panic seized the crowd as they rushed for the only other available security exit. Fatima was pulled off stage by the manager. Police were summoned. 

Arrests were made. However, since the protestors were all minors, the boys were given a mere warning and sent home. 

Fatima realized that she was in mortal danger. She had disobeyed her husband by traveling to the convention unaccompanied by a male escort and without his permission. She knew she needed to escape. Her sons were just as capable as her husband to exact punishment for an unruly woman. The honor of the family was at stake. She must escape. Once word reaches Mahmud, she will be finished. 

“But maybe there’s time to pick up the girls and take them with me. And the baby. I have to go see them and at least say goodbye.” 

Fatima rushed out. Not bothering to thank her hosts nor explain her predicament, she got a cab that took her to the southern border town of Sderot. From there it was a short ride to the Gazan border. But at night, there was no way to get across. She would have to wait until morning. She still had the contact number of the kindly Jewish woman who had invited her to the convention. She called her. The woman gave her an address of a Jewish family willing to put her up for the night. 

But Fatima sobbed on the phone – “if I don’t go home now I will never see my children again! Any way I can cross the border tonight? 

Sadly, the woman replied, “la, afwan”.

So Fatima was determined to cross on her own. Inshallah she will succeed, pack up their things, grab the baby, find a taxi and escape to a new life. 

She called a cab which took her as far as the border kibbutz. She got out, thanking the driver in one of the few Hebrew words she knew “todah”. 

Then, in her heels, she entered the sands of the desert. The winds began to blow stronger as she wrapped her hijab tighter around her face, only partially covering her eyes. It was cold and windy. She had with her a small almost empty water bottle. The sand was deep. Ahead she saw smoke billowing in the sky and heard music. She trudged ahead. Her eyes blinked away the sand thrust in her face. She could hardly breathe, choking as the wind-blown sand seemed unwilling to let up. She could see the tent village before her. Then she blacked out. 

Based in Israel, Marlene Goldberg has published 100-word stories on Word Press through LinkedIn Friday flash fiction. A former high school/college English teacher, Marlene is a certified translator and librarian with a BA (major in English literature/ minor in political science) and MA in English Literature. 

Diva Lament, by Robert Loewen  (717 words) 

Abruptly, she stopped singing, and peered at the red  dress in the front row. The woman wearing it was crying. They always cry, Julia thought to herself.  This was her sixth performance of Madame Butterfly, and even the men blubbered like three-year-olds when her character, Cio Cio San, sang her final aria to her son before committing suicide. 

At the age of thirty-three, Julia was considered a rising young star. She had just debuted at the Met after receiving accolades for her performance as Mimi in La Boheme at the Houston Grand Opera. Always, the critics remarked on her talent for eliciting emotion from her audience. At first, this had thrilled her. But lately, it was her own loneliness that occupied her thoughts. 

The audience began to fidget at the unexpected silence. None had ever attended an opera where the lead soprano just stopped singing before the aria was over. Worse, she had no idea why she had done it. She cleared her throat. There was nothing wrong with her voice. She looked right and left at the audience. Some showed concern; most seemed bewildered. Julia rushed from the stage, fighting the urge to cry, then stopped in the wings. The artist playing her son tracked her departure, his mouth agape. Then, seemingly as an afterthought, he followed her off stage. 

Julia had devoted her life to learning her craft. Some days were special, like learning her first aria in Italian at the age of ten. Or the day she sang her first high-C in front of an audience, even though the audience consisted mostly of her parents and their friends. “A soprano gets paid for her high-C,” her teacher advised. “You must be able to hit it ten times out of ten if you want to perform professionally.” She was excited to meet that standard and go two notes higher for good measure. 

But her opera life was mostly a grind—and she had no other. She won her share of competitions, but too often, Judges differed widely on what made one performance better than another. Julia was particularly bothered by male judges who seemed to favor a certain body type over excellent vocal technique.

When she was young, Julia thought that the grind would end when she fulfilled her dream of becoming a star. Now she wasn’t so sure. She peeked out at the audience, which had become decidedly uneasy at her absence. Julia usually enjoyed their adulation, but she had learned that when the applause ended, she was left alone in a hotel, living from a suitcase.   

Lately, she’d been thinking: why does the audience cry when I sing? She knew that it had little to do with her. Any audience who could not empathize with a dying young woman would be heartless, and the classical operas commonly feature a female character who sings her final aria in the throes of death. 

Julia pushed the curtain aside just far enough to gaze at the woman in the red dress, whose weeping had been replaced by an eager hope for her return. The woman had clearly paid for her front-row seat. Julia’s loneliness was no concern of hers.

Straightening her back, Julia moved elegantly onto the stage, as if it were her first entrance, flashed her brightest smile and bowed. Then she started over. Later, the critics said it was her best performance yet—not a dry eye in the house.

Bob Loewen is a retired lawyer and freelance writer who lives in Laguna Beach, California. Co-founder of the nonprofit public policy think tank, California Policy Center, his writing is often found on the Op Ed pages of traditional media and on the internet. He is currently writing his first novel, about the experiences of his mother-in-law in the Dutch Resistance during World War II.

Abandonment, by Cyn Lubow  (717 words) 

Abruptly, she stopped singing, and peered at the red-haired girl clinging to a man’s leg among the crowd clustered on the sidewalk. The girl had surely stepped out of Abbie’s only remaining picture of herself around age five, with the same curly red hair, blue eyes, freckled face, and mushroom-cap nose. Frozen by a swirling cocktail of feelings and confusion, Abbie forgot to continue singing, and the crowd dispersed, many tossing coins and bills into her cowboy hat before returning to their shopping.

As Abbie’s mind raced through possible explanations for meeting her 15-year-younger doppelganger, she left the girl’s face and followed the man’s leg up to meet his eyes. This face was also unmistakable. The father she hadn’t seen or heard from since he left one night after another episode with her mother, of bruises and broken glass.

Only the width of a sidewalk between them, no one stepped closer. Abbie finally clenched her face and whispered, “Wha--?”

Her slightly less paralyzed, but cautious father managed, “Abbie--.”

The girl turned her face into the leg she clutched, displaying a forest of cascading red curls to Abbie. Something welled up suddenly in Abbie as if she’d eaten oysters that turned on her. Words erupted from deep within her core, a place her gorgeous, melancholy singing voice also originated. “What the ACTUAL FUCK!?”

The man looked stricken, never a courageous man, just being here stretched his outer limits. He pulled out his wallet, extracted a $5 bill and awkwardly stepped forward, nudging the girl on his leg, to place the bill in the hat. Abbie stared and then, as he stepped back, she lunged and scooped up the hat, turned and took off down the sidewalk.

The man hefted the girl who grabbed his neck with her freckled arms and held on as he jogged after Abbie. “Abbie, please. Stop. Please.” He called as he struggled to keep up with her rage-fueled, long legs. After several blocks and sweat visibly flooding down the sides of the man’s face, Abbie turned into a park and sat down on a bench. She didn’t look at them and he didn’t dare sit. He stood silently, reading her, strategizing his next move. He put the girl down on her feet and kneeled on the grass, facing Abbie, who stared at her boots.

“I’m sorry, Abbie. I’m so, so sorry.”

“You’re sorry? ‘Sorry?’ Too late, Motherfucker!” Tears flooded her face and she turned away, looking at nothing over the back of the bench.

The man seemed to crumble from kneeling to defeat. Seizing the opportunity, the girl tried to jump on his back. He reached back to boost her, and when she landed, arms around his neck, she whispered, “Daddy? Can we go get ice cream now?” When he didn’t respond, the girl cupped his ear with one hand and loud-whispered into it, “Can. We. Go. Get. Ice. Cream. Now?”

Tears dropped onto the grass from the man’s bowed head, and words tumbled from his despair. “I know I did a terrible, terrible thing. I know I was utterly selfish and you have every reason never to forgive me. All I can say is that I’m here now, and I will spend the rest of my life trying to make it up to you. Whatever that means. Whatever it takes. Even if you never forgive me. I‘m here.

Abbie turned toward him, taking in his face, the girl’s face, and back to him. “You have some questions to answer. A lot of questions.”

“I know. Of course. Ask me anything. I’ll tell you everything. Please just give me a chance?” Abbie felt sick and scared and overwhelmed. She started humming without even realizing it. Singing comforted her, saved her life. After her mother bled out on their bathroom floor, after Grams died before she could send Abbie to college, after everyone was gone, she still had her voice. After several minutes of listening to Abbie’s mesmerizing song, the man whispered into the little girl’s ear. She hopped off her father’s back and shyly stepped over to Abbie.

“Wanna get ice cream?”

Abbie looked into the girl’s eyes and felt a warmth spread through her, curling her lips involuntarily into a smile, softening her face, and her voice. “Maybe next time, ok?”

Cyn Lubow is a psychotherapist, filmmaker, and writer. She has won awards for her poetry and films, published a chapter in an anthology called Goddess Shift, written content for various websites and for Google, and most recently wrote her first novel, Dying of Curiosity.

Sunset Arose, by Emily Mesch  (515 words) 

Abruptly, she stopped singing, and peered at the red sky.  The sun was low on the horizon, and it illuminated everything in the town in a deep, grapefruit pink. 

 

It was astonishing.  Louise hadn’t seen a sunset like this in so long.  She hadn’t seen the sun in so long!  The sky had been full of clouds for over a month, with not even a hint of sunlight.  Not even a square inch of blue in the sky.

 

After so long, the weather had taken such a toll on everyone’s mental state, Louise’s included.  Some in town were even starting to die of melancholy. All that Louise could think to do to help was to sing.  To hope that her voice could, in some small way, replace the sunlight and bring life, if not totally back to normal, at least enough so that everyone could limp on just one more day, or one more week.

Louise would sing of sorrow, and of joy, and of pain.  And of happiness.  And she hoped that her songs could serve to soothe the people around her.  Remind them that even if the sky is dark, that there are still things to appreciate in this world.

But the moment she started singing, the moment she started singing, the clouds began to give way for the first time in over a month.  For the first time in over a month, the clouds parted and revealed the sun, at the end of its journey for the day.

Not that anyone quite remembered what that meant.  People had almost forgotten how to tell time entirely because the day was almost as dark as the night.  And then the clouds parted, and the sun showed its face, it turned the sky red and the walls pink.  And after just one verse, Louise couldn’t sing anymore in the face of this new beauty.

Slowly, the people of the village began to wake up.  And they began to look up to see the sun.  This marvelous red orb that they could almost remember from a time long-past.

 

One by one, somebody would lift their head and blink and wonder, for a moment, what they were looking at.  Then they would stand up, and they would nudge the shoulder of the person next to them, and that person would lift their head in turn, and soon enough the whole town was standing in rapt attention, looking to the west as the great red sun set behind the horizon.


But everyone knew that their time with the sun was short.  Their hearts may have forgotten how the sun worked, but their brains knew that it was setting.  They knew that night would be upon them once again, in only a few short minutes.  But they could appreciate this moment, these ten minutes of time when they could see light.  Natural, glowing, radiating light.

And then the sun set.  And they were in darkness once again.  And Louise began to sing once more.  But this time, the entire town joined her.  They would make it through the night.

Emily Mesch is a writer based in Juneau, Alaska.  Her writing can be found on Medium.com 

Interrupted by Lisa Newill-Smith  (638 words) 

Abruptly, she stopped singing, and peered at the red  carpet. Just seconds ago, her puppy had been calmly chewing her toy of the day, a fuzzy elephant whose trunk had long since vanished. But unfortunately for Anna and her plush crimson carpet, Nelly had answered the irresistible call of nature. Indoors. 

Anna let out an irritated groan, barely managing to suppress a scolding. With a longing glance at Violetta’s famous Sempre Libera, her newest aria, she clicked off the iPad and scooped up Nelly. As she rushed out the door, she swore and spun around. “Collar. Leash. C’mon, Anna.” 

With the lilac color snapped on, the leash safely attached, and a canister of puppy poop bags hooked to her Levis, Anna sprinted out the door, puppy in hand. 

Not that Nelly was happy about the situation. During the two-flight journey, she nipped, licked, and barked constantly. Anna barely noticed. After one month of nibbles from those razor-sharp needles the vet called milk teeth, she had become immune. Or at least resigned. 

Finally, the building door. Anna fumbled with the handle, trying to contain a squirming puppy while pulling the heavy front door towards her. 

Daylight at last. The alleyway outside her apartment building wasn’t ideal for potty training, but needs must. Ancient cobblestones constantly tripped Anna up while cars and bikes distracted Nelly mid-pee. 

At least she won’t refuse to pee on concrete in the future. 

“Ok, Nelly. Go Pee!” Her forced cheery voice turned to a mumble. “Outside, please. I really like that carpet.”

Nelly, of course, said nothing. Instead, the tiny black ball of fuzz ran circles around Anna, nose pressed to the ground. After spinning around three times, Anna decided enough was enough. 

“Ok. If you’re done, we’re going back inside.” As soon as Anna spoke, Nelly stopped mid-run, leaping up and smattering Anna’s bright yellow shorts with dirt. 

“Right, that’s it!” Anna scooped Nelly up, spitting as her wagging tail whacked her in the face. 

Digging in her pocket, she pulled her keys out. At the jangling sound, Nelly contorted her body like a gymnast, nearly falling out of Anna’s arms. 

“Don’t do that!” With a quick readjustment, Anna pushed the door open and ran back up the stairs. Once they got into the apartment, Anna grabbed the smelliest treat she could find and lured Nelly into her crate. She let out a sigh of relief as the tiny puppy trotted in and curled up in a ball on her teal fuzzy bed. 

She quietly closed the crate door, locking it. 

“Where the hell are the paper towels?” After what felt like an eternity of searching every room in the house, she finally found them under the couch. Holding her breath, she cleaned up the puddle that had now soaked into her beloved rug. With the wet towels at arm's length, she hurried into the kitchen to toss them and grab the most essential puppy tool: Simple Solution. 

After liberally spraying the soiled area, Anna set a timer for 10 minutes and turned on her iPad. It opened to the page she’d be stuck on for days. This finicky coloratura required focused attention, and every distraction set her back. 

She played the whole passage on the piano to get the sound in her ear. Taking a deep nose breath, Anna prepared to start the phrase. The instant she started singing, Nelly let out a whine. 

Anna sighed and looked at her watch. 5:05pm. With a longing look at the cadenza, she clicked off her iPad once again and wandered to the kitchen. Returning with an ice-cold beer, she opened the crate, and Nelly sprinted out, following her to the couch.

Anna smiled. Maybe Violetta will have to wait, but in the meantime, she could enjoy some puppy cuddles, a cold beer, and some Netflix. 

Lisa Newill-Smith is an American writer based in Germany. You can find her writing on her blog, www.womenwhocomposed.com. She is currently working on The Cayana, a space fantasy novel. 

Rain or Snow by Paula Wagner  (604 words) 

Abruptly, she stopped singing, and peered at the red  velvet curtain that had just dropped between her and the audience with the sudden inevitability of an avalanche set off by the exact frequency of her grand finale’s high A. 

 

The year was 1918 and the Russian Revolution was in full swing. The few musicians who hadn’t been conscripted into the Red Army were quick to pack up their instruments. Most of the Czars’ family had been executed but the Bolshevik officers still enjoyed an occasional soirée in the opulent opera house where Princess Katarina was their favorite singer. Lucky, her chandelier-shattering vibrato had saved her neck from the noose and her head from the chopping block. Still, she lived a double life, rarely venturing out during the day, her head swathed in a dirty babushka like an old peasant woman.

 

Wishing to avoid the fawning officers after the show, Katarina ducked backstage and quickly wound her way through the dank labyrinth of passageways leading to her dressing room. There she exchanged the revealing décolleté of her costume for a humble brown gown and cape, then hurried out through a secret side door and into the dripping Moscow night. Instantly her teeth chattered, her nose froze and her eyelashes crusted over like soggy cobwebs. Two ebony horses neighed and stamped their feet in a  pool of slush, splattering mud onto her skirts as she mounted the steps of a waiting carriage. While she’d been singing, the wind had risen and the icy precipitation now alternated between sleet and rain. Or was it rain and snow?

 

“Good grief, Katrina,” barked her husband impatiently, “It’s nearly midnight. I thought you’d never appear. We’re invited for après-opera drinks with our old friend Rudolf.” 

Despite the privations of the revolution, vodka still flowed and a cache of caviar was assured. 

“But I’m exhausted,” complained Katarina. “Besides it’s snowing.”

“Raining. You mean raining,” countered Orloff.

“No, snowing!”

“No, I tell you, raining!”

“No, snowing!” 

Raining…snowing…raining…snowing. Their bickering continued as the horses slogged over the slippery cobblestones of the Red Square, headed for Rudolf’s hideaway deep in the bowels of the Kremlin.

“I’ll tell you what. Let’s ask Rudolf to settle this foolish argument. As Top Comrade, I’m sure he’ll know.”

Begrudgingly, Katarina nodded.

 

Known as Rudolf the Red, their ginger-haired friend had survived numerous putsches and purges by washing his dogma down other officers’ throats with a seemingly endless supply of vodka, no doubt purloined on the black market. And although all religious vestiges of Russian Orthodox Christmas had been banned, the Russian winter tradition of drinking had not.

 

Once inside Rudolf’s rustic redoubt, they warmed themselves beside the roaring inferno in the vast stone fireplace. But despite his renowned political purity, the kitschy strains of American Christmas carols could be heard emanating from a clandestine radio tuned to, of all stations, the Voice of America. How daring, thought Katarina, as Rudolf’s namesake – Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer – crackled over the speakers. The tinny tune and silly lyrics made her smile as the vodka warmed her veins. By now, Officer Rudolf’s own nose was fairly glowing.

 

“Eh, Comrade,” said Orloff, “can you help us resolve a little difference Katarina and I are having over the weather tonight? I say it’s raining but she insists it’s snowing. Since we can’t agree, we thought we’d defer to you. 

 

“Happy to oblige,” replied Rudolf, draining his glass and heightening the dramatic effect with a big sniff of his ruby proboscis. “It’s RAINING, definitely raining!”

With a smug shrug, Orloff turned to his wife. “You see my darling Katarina? Rudolf the Red knows rain, dear!”

Paula Wagner lives in Albany, California, and is the author of Newcomers in an Ancient Land.