All the Inside

I never wanted to write in a journal; they're a girly thing that I'd never want to be equated with, even if the book-cover didn't have hearts and flowers and all that crap on it. I know what I feel, I know what I think, and I don't need to chickenscratch the shit down and have the risk of it falling into the wrong hands.

Emotions are power. Having them, experiencing them, living through them. In the wrong hands though, if someone knew, knew the depth of my emotions for Al...

...if they knew...and did something to him...

He's my only weak spot, and I made a shitload of enemies in my day (it comes with the job, I think). It isn't out of the question that hed be the sword to skewer me up all nice and pretty if someone wanted to hash out some vendetta.

So, I'm careful with this. It's my only religious tome because it's about him, about my brother, about... my soul.

I've grown soft since Al and I made our way to Russia, especially after Noa left us in Turkey. We had grown close, all of us, having only our shoulders to lean on during the dusky days of war, and the thought of one us not being there seemed way inside the realm of impossible. When we came across the gypsies in the northern part of the country, and when she looked at us with longing, missing the dancing and the stories, I couldn't tell her no. Not to my surprise, neither could Al.

Our trinity was broken. Al was all I had left.

He found, after that, I would never deny him anything, be it an extra apple (that we couldn't afford), an extra kitten (that we couldn't afford), or this journal (that we couldn't afford). Maybe he's being a brat and exploiting me a little, knowing that I'm afraid of losing him, too; I don't know. I guess it doesn't matter, since he's not hurting anyone in the process and I know that for what I've put him through, he owes me a lifetime of guilt trips.

We reached Russia last week and took up a place in Leningrad. War is on everyone's tongues; it's all we hear when we go to look for jobs, go to the market, go anywhere. It reminds me of home when I started to hear about the civil war in Lior, back when it was too late to stop it.

Most of the shops are closing around here, people running in flocks off to the country as if it'll keep them safe. Don't these idiots realize there are no havens in wartime, though? History is simply selective in what it wants to remember; the countryside is just so minor that those deaths don't ever see the light of day and aren't worth the ink in a book.

We rented out a flat over some dying restaurant, and at the end of every night they gave us the leftovers at only a quarter of the cost (I tried to get it for free, but they're stubborn and we're hungry). As much as I hated it, I started working in a recently converted weapons factory during the day and Al is in the kitchen of the shithole below us; it pays crap, but we do what we can to get by, something we learned after nearly starving to death on two occasions, and three almost-bouts of scurvy. I hate my job, fucking loathe the fact that I know I'm mass producing death, but...

...well, Al... he gets sick a lot...

Anyway, I took a couple extra rubles I had from working long, long, long damn days and found a little store on my way home. It was small and in the corner, totally nondescript; I couldn't tell it apart from a brothel or a bookstore, really. The only thing that caught my eye was the white cat sunning away in the window and the small, round dolls laid out, large to small, right down a row. The colors were painted on with patience beyond me, every stroke exact, and even the flaws were blended in to make them human, to separate them, make them unique and irreplaceable.

I stepped into the store, a little bell ringing over my forehead as I opened the door. An old man with the worst glass eye I've ever seen (was that a fucking marble?!) looked up at me as his cat stretched with a yawn; I was a foreigner, he knew it, smelled it, saw it, and I was long used to it by now.

My good finger, my human finger, pointed at the doll in the window, the tall one. "How much?"

He mulled it over, knobby fingers stroking a knobby chin. "Seven rubles."

Bargaining was like breathing here, an unconscious survival tactic. "Four," I challenged.

"Six and forty kopecks."

"Four and seventy kopecks."

"Five and fifty kopecks."


There was a moment of reluctant hmming and hawing, before he nodded like the shrewd businessman he was. Stubborn old bat reminded me of the Colonel in fifty years. Stepping down from his tall seat behind the counter, he hobbled towards the window and began opening the dolls up, one by one, sticking their round little bodies inside the next taller, up and up and up until there was only this one final doll that rattled a little when shook.

"...All those?" I asked; Hell, I just figured the first one, the tall one that attracted me in the first place.

The old man stopped, stared, before laughing at my stupidity (I would have kicked his ass right there if it had been a fair fight). "Haven't you ever seen a Matryoshka doll before, kid?"

Strike two, but I let it pass. Kid. What the hell? "Um, of course!" As if he had to know just how much of a foreigner I really was.

There was a slow smirk on his lips, sly and acknowledging as he handed over my purchase to me. "Enjoy your dolls."

I fought the urge to knock him upside the head and went home instead. My temper was shot, and with tensions running high from the invasion rumors, I tried not to hang around the streets too much. Al and I still sparred, but it's not like how we used to, especially when we're so worried about the slim chance of being pulled into the army whether we wanted it or not.

When he got home, covered in grease, oil, animal fat, and some milk that was curdling in the heat of the fiery kitchen, I handed him the box I had slipped the doll in along with a note wishing him a happy birthday, even if it was two weeks ago. He had told me then that I was his best present, and I snorted and called him a sap and felt guilty all the same.

Al gave me another Look, before unfolding the hastily thrown together box, the hints of a smile playing over his lips. It was cute, might have been cuter if a piece of potato wasn't hanging onto his cheek like its life depended on it. When he pulled out the doll, I held my breath.

When he smiled, I let it out.

"Open it," I ordered.

"What?" He looked so confused when he spoke, and I was ready to show him, to be the big brother as usual. I pried apart the pieces before handing them over, smaller dolls, smaller gifts, but every one just as special as the top one, the hollow one, the one with the pretty face and the imperfect paint job.

We were quiet, him sitting there staring at them, the realization a flower in his eyes.

Understanding...understanding the things he remembered only through hearsay. Understanding that all those people, all those little wooden people with the little black eyes were him, nestled warmly and safely in the metal he was once a product of. Understanding that they were all beautiful, all stunning, all unique, and nothing was lost no matter how much smaller they get.

Understanding that I thought the top layer was just as nice as the rest, that it's the inside, you see. Inside.

Al's all the inside, if that makes sense.

He smiled. Hugged me. Kissed me. We shared cake, a lukewarm bath, sheets that tied us down to the bed.

We shared each other.

...Reading back, remembering this, maybe a journal isn't such a bad thing after all.