If she had not been the sort of princess who, as a child, liked to trip her servants, would she have come to this moment? In this blackened room crowded by fabric and limbs and hair and moans, her face half-buried in the dirt floor, asking her lungs for just one more breath? Would she know the taste of gun smoke, of plaster dust, of her mother’s blood?
She should not, after all, have climbed that tree and refused to budge. She’d tasted her own blood, then, her mouth kissing a scraped hand as she perched on a branch and pretended to be a sparrow. Her cold eye followed the figures on the ground; just there her mother (always her mother), by the cart of apples a sister, crouched along a low hedge two gardeners. She licked the blood and then spread her wings, steadied herself.
Birds do not come down from that tree like a good girl because birds do not care about girls or goodness. They sing, birds.
If she had not hidden rocks in the snowballs she flung at her cousins, if she had stepped lightly in satin slippers, if she had respected shadow…? No, she never feared the dark when she was a child. Why should she? Even as a small girl she understood that whatever happens by night can happen by day. Anyway, she liked to walk in shadow, to whisper. The better to catch and not be caught.
The better, when the moon is in its shroud, to slip through a door unseen, slide along the wall, disappear into a river-bottom night.
This night, no. Whites, Reds, civil war. This is not the stuff of girls, my Nastye, there is nothing in the etiquette books about where, in the presence of White or Red, you should place your feet. Do you imagine, broken bird, that you brought Mother Russia to her knees because once, in a princess temper, you put your foot out to catch a ratty shoe?
The branch was shaped like a bowl and she poured herself into it. Above, the weight of the ice-blue sky pressed. Something marched along the horizon. Was it coming this way? Down, now, her mother called. Down, Nastye, doll. Like a good girl come down.
Let it begin.
*Anastasia Romanov died in 1918 in a sub-basement, where the entire Romanov family of Tsar Nicholas II was murdered by the “Red” Bolsheviks as the “White” Army advanced. For decades rumors persisted that she had escaped, but DNA testing of remains in 2007 proved no family member survived.
Claire Guyton is a Maine writer and editor. Her fiction has appeared in numerous journals, including Crazyhorse, Mid-American Review, River Styx, Vestal Review, and Atticus Review. Claire has been a Maine Arts Commission Literary Fellow, and holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Find links to her work at claireguyton.com or say hi at Facebook or on Twitter @ClaireGuytonME.