To Bring You My Love
Katherine, Katherine, Katherine. The perimeter of Independence Square in Kiev ignited into a loud fireball vacuum that ripped through crowds of protesters in the February frost. Rage screamed in Ukrainian. Katherine. Twisting metal smashed around me as I reached for her hand. She was not next to me anymore. I looked to my left. An Orthodox priest with a whirly hair beard raised a six-foot crucifix amidst the flames and riot. Katherine. The monks and priests stood still as the grenades and Molotov Cocktails exploded around them. She was not on my right either. The police took a medieval formation; iron shields in front and above their huddled bodies. Elderly women catapulted Molotov Cocktails. Protesters dove into the pavement to avoid flames and projectiles sprayed into the crowd. Flaming bottles streak across the smoke filled sky above us. Yellow, red, orange flames of burning gasoline ran like rivers through Independence Square spewing smoke onto the blackened angelic statue above us all. Katherine. Someone screamed. I scanned for her in the flame-illuminated chaos. Another explosion. Katherine. A French journalist screamed into a camera. Bodies dropped. I heard her voice scream my name before another explosion knocked me to the cobblestones. Unorganized screams as police sprayed hissing rubber bullets into the fire. I lost my sense of direction. Katherine. Ash covered warriors wearing trench coats, gas masks and army boots ran over me throwing flaming gasoline bottles. I screamed "Katherine!" People hurled pieces of rubble from the freshly exploded streets. From the pavement I saw her green raincoat, rained on by black ash. I stood up and ran to her. She looked over to me with a smile and extended hand beaconing me towards her. The frost wind of Kiev blew her black hair across her face. Petrol bombs catapulted over the fire at the riot police. Shotgun blast. Smoke in the sky. The southern portion of the square was set on fire. Burning flags waved in the air. The people screamed louder. Katherine. The fire rose; February 22, 2014.
I pulled her close to me. She put her green ash-covered hood up. I scanned the surrounding walls of fire. Through the flames heavily armed riot police were flanking two sides of the square. In the north east corner there was a break in the fire where we could escape. I made a straight line for Mala Zhytomyrska Street and yelled to Katherine, "Hold my hand!" Protesters controlled the roofs of this tight street; they had rifles. Our fingers interlocked and we moved. "I don't want to leave!" Katherine screamed back. I ignored her pulling her up the narrow street littered with flaming luxury cars and smashed windows. We ran faster and held hands tighter until we came to an intersection and saw the bottom-lit gold domes of Saint Sofia's Cathedral three blocks to the east. Katherine and I looked at each other and started dusting debris and ash off each other. We could not be recognized as protesters from Independence Square. The police controlled most of these streets. From this spot we could both see high flames coming off of buildings east of The Khreshchatyk. We could see that the federal police had made a stronghold out of Saint Sofia's Cathedral and Square. They were in force, ski masks, Kalashnikovs with snipers near the sacred crosses atop the buildings.
Katherine stopped cleaning black soot off her green raincoat. She smoothed her hair and watched the rising flames. "Their cabinet office is burning." I took a step closer to her. "Tobias, is there something you want?" I wrapped my arms around her waist. She moved her hair to one side and put her bare neck against my lips. This moment was long overdue. She turned around and kissed me. She dug her nails into my leather jacket. I smeared her lipstick as she wrapped her fingers around my belt loops. "Did you miss this when I left Brooklyn?" she asked.
She did not wait for an answer, and we continued to kiss each other.
"I'm ready for us to go back tonight," I replied.
"You go back to New York?" She moved her lips from mine and raised her eyebrows. "No way."
"We could die here." Explosions coming from Independence Square rattled under my words. Statues were being smashed and government buildings were in flames.
"How do you plan to survive this?" I challenged her.
"I've never planned anything in my life," she smiled. "So far it keeps working."
"I have a bug-out-bag." She looked confused again. "It's a bag that will get us out of the country as soon as possible. I have five thousand American, two days of clothing.”
“What else? Hats and sunglasses?"
"Actually yes. Also our passports."
"You stole my passport?" She slapped me across the face.
I ignored her. "I stored it under the bar in the rock club."
"On the other side of Saint Sofia's?" she said looking at the blue and white flashing police lights that amassed the cathedral grounds. "We can't just walk over and say 'excuse me.' How do you say that in Ukrainian?" I pointed to the other direction. "I can't believe you stole my passport."
"You left it lying around."
She rolled her eyes. "I'm going with you to get my passport back and then... you know... whatever... I'm going to rock without you."
She walked in front of me in the opposite direction of Sofia's square towards Saint Michael's Monastery. I followed her through a cobblestone parking lot. We were out of view of the police but still needed to be careful. The shattered glass crunched under our shoes. I grabbed her wrist, and she snapped around towards me. I leaned her against a trashed car and started kissing her. I put my hand on her right breast. Hot fires burned Kiev. I tried to kiss her; she remained stoic. "You're such a jerk... stealing my fucking passport." She took my hands off her body slowly, slipping away from me. "What... you're not going to grab me and wall me?" Katherine; being difficult for the sake of it.
"Back in Bushwick you were a hell of a base player," she teased. "Unnatural Catastrophes; where'd you come up with that name anyway? Not a bad band name."
"It's a story I read." I replied. "It felt right for us."
"She smiled. I looked to the sky above us ignoring her. "What's the problem, Tobias? Didn't you love our late night rock sets for the drunks who liked it loud."
I tried not to listen to her until I broke into a laugh. "We closed our shows by wildly making out on stage and then walked home holding hands watching the sun rise through the skyscrapers."
She laughed. "Those were the days."
"Then you packed a bag and went to Kiev." We both stopped smiling. "You didn't say a thing... not a warning. Just one day you were gone. My empty bed and canceled gigs."
"Yeah... I needed to get away." Katherine was unapologetic.
"Katherine, you just vanished."
"I went dark; not an email or message." A small smile, "like a spy."
"You must have loved it."
"Until you wanted me here."
"And you...faithfully packed your base, a Ukrainian phrase book and took the ten hour flight to meet me here."
We walked to a flaming police van blocking both lanes on Velyaka Zhytomyrska Street. Rioters were trying to cut off police entrance and exit points. We walked around the flames to find a group of ten men armed with bats and clubs. We stopped. Katherine leaned close to me. The protesters gave us hard looks. I put up my hands. One nodded, and we continued to walk by.
"You alright?" I asked Katherine when we cleared the armed men.
"When I arrived in Kiev unsurprisingly you did not pick me up at the airport," I said to Katherine.
"I sent you an address," she replied.
"It was written in Cyrillic... I think." She did not respond. "The hour cab ride from the airport was excruciating."
"To apologize for inconveniencing you I put on my tightest Minor Threat t-shirt to greet you. It looked cute. Topped with my signature devastating smile and torn punker jeans."
It was hard to stay angry at her.
We turned left onto another street making an elongated half circle to go down the far side of Sofia's Square. We were safer with the rioters than we were with the federal police. There was an unguarded second flaming van blocking the other street.
"Why'd you have me come to Kiev?"
"I needed a base player." I gave her the eye. "I needed someone R&B enough to do our rock version of Johnny Adams' 'Release Me.' Plus, you were good at the backing vocals. It lit those Ukrainian rock kids up!" She crossed one ankle over the other and smiled. "It was so hot." We turned right onto a thin side street that was unoccupied by the opposing forces but had a flaming dumpster pushed into the middle of the intersection.
"This city is so dangerous," I muttered.
"This city is so...so...so dangerous," she replied in ecstasy.
The rock club was two blocks away at the far intersection.
"Our first Ukrainian gig was a grimy mess."
"The Ukrainians loved our grimy mess."
"What'd we expect, we did it without rehearsing or really discussing a set list; we just played."
"I expected a grimy mess... what else could I possibly want?" she said.
"During the set you were different. You danced... danced freer than anything you did in New York." I grabbed her by a loop in her jeans. "Higher vocals, wilder music." She moved her lips in. "The drummer and guitarist you found were used to it but I wasn't." She grabbed me tight. "I remembered loud sound spillage nights. Sex before black coffee. Sweaty rock n roll, hard drinks, passionate kisses, fights and an unflinching desire to be alive."
She exhaled. "And then we packed up our instruments and got drunk until we passed out at the bar. Only to wake up to a political meeting happening over our lifeless bodies. Luckily I had some painkillers stuffed in my bra."
She kissed me. We were the only signs of life in the burning streets. "I was here for months before I found the rock club." Katherine said. "It's not like you can just Google things written in Cyrillic... or at least I can't," she laughed. "Then I met someone who liked rock n roll and spoke a smattering of English." She laughed. "He wanted an American girl... he asked me on a date. I wanted to go to a place in Kiev with real music. He said he had a place, I showed up with my guitar. Eventually I forced my way to the stage and started to play. My date left with another woman; I formed a band that night."
"Then what happened?"
"I missed you, the protesting began and I wanted to hear our music... the music we made."
"So you had me come running."
"I figured you would."
"Because you love me."
"Well... you do right... I mean... I always assumed we were in love."
I chose not to say anything.
Amidst the rebellion the rock club had become an organizing hotbed. Non-rock kids would show up with orange pamphlets to make speeches. Neither Katherine nor I could understand what they were saying, but we did our best to keep up with American media reports of Kiev's unrest. We continued to play our rock music. The rebellion moved out of the club as thousands of protesters descended on the city. We started to attend cold weather protests because people wanted our music played in solidarity. Our band name was changed to the "The American Friends." Fights started around The Rock Club between pro-Russian and pro-Western activists. Most movements slow down in the cold weather, in Ukraine it sped up. A tipping point was coming. Clashes between protesters and police escalated. Federal police attacked with swinging clubs and tear gas. Protesters reverted to homemade explosives. Katherine and I rocked through all of this until the protesters implemented their final plan; February 22, 2014; a barrier of fire around Independence Square.
At the end of the street we saw hot orange and red flames shooting out of the rock club. "Please no." Windows were blown out with hot flames. Katherine ran towards it as fast as she could. I ran after her towards the Molotov Cocktailed flames. Neighbors and residents were throwing buckets of water and sand onto the flames. I grabbed her in front of the flaming venue preventing her from running into the fire. Katherine kept repeating, "Please no, please no, please no."
She fought and kicked her way out of my grip. She pushed me and screamed, "This place was something real! There was never anything real back in New York... only you... only you... everything else was fake. The music, the drugs, everything was an attempt to feel. This place... Kiev... this club was it... it's me. Right here it's me. Real rebellion." She just started to scream into her hands. People who lived in the neighborhood were trying to throw water and sand on the fire to put it out before it spread to the rest of the tight street. "Help them!" she screamed. I grabbed a bucket and threw it onto the flames. She fell to the pavement. I went to pick her up, but she pushed me away. Katherine was on her knees screaming into her hands, "No, no no!" A man rushed by her with a burlap sack of sand and threw it onto a large flaming point. The sand snuffed out a lot of the burning kerosene. I then saw a path to the bar where the bug-out-bag was stored. I took off my coat and started hitting flames back as I pushed my way into the rock club. The main stage and bar were burning. I stood in the middle of the dance floor surrounded by orange red flames. Not a moment for memories. I kicked open the door opposite the stage and went into the offices of the club. There was thick smoke but small flames. I opened a closet and ripped open the floorboards where I had buried the bug-out-bag. The leather was stained from the smoke. I grabbed it and a stored bottle of vodka next to it.
I walked out of the fire. The neighbors were throwing sand and water on the rock club. The fire was being defeated. I put my blackened jacket over Katherine's body. She had stopped screaming. I dropped the bug-out-bag in front of her. She opened it and found her passport. "It's time," I gently said. I took out one hundred dollars American and looked at a man near me. "Borispol!" I yelled. He nodded and left to get a car that could drive us away. Everything I had brought to Ukraine and the life Katherine had built would be left behind. Our guitar and base would all end up in the hands of whoever was lucky enough to find them. Our memories would have to subside.
Silence, sudden silence. Katherine stopped crying. Nobody was yelling or speaking. A mute wind passed across Kiev. Fires stopped crackling. The screams stopped. An orange firework shot through the silence and reflection exploding above Kiev. Katherine looked up. Men removed their hats. More fireworks burst into the sky. Katherine, smeared makeup, stood up from the ground straightening her green raincoat. "Victory," Katherine said. "The protest kids have won the night." A response firework launched from an apartment complex to the east. Then another from the west. The silence shattered and cheers came from Independence Square, people began banging on pots and pans out the windows of Kiev's block apartments. Katherine took a step forward as the fireworks increased. Orange torrents of light ripped open the cold. I opened a bottle of vodka and drank to ease my nerves. Katherine took another step closer to the fireworks. "The police must be retreating back to Saint Sofia's." I gripped the bag tighter stepping closer to her. Katherine; elated by this moment, is already on borrowed time. This will all devolve into memory.
The car to the airport arrived, headlights illuminating and blinding. I closed my eyes and let her keep this moment as long as possible. She came so far to find more meaning. I'll never be enough for her. Katherine. The fireworks continued to explode overhead. Please Katherine, survive without this world. Be more than your memories, be as happy and free as you were on Kiev's rock club stage. I know enough about life to doubt it. Katherine; find meaning in loving me. Katherine... sensitive Katherine the one I traveled across the world for. The fireworks were unrelenting. Someday we will refer to these moments as our youth. The car sat idle, headlights on, engine running. "Please, Katherine." She turned to me, ghost white putting her green hood up. Katherine benignly touched my hand. We paused trying to figure out what to say. The disappointment of adulthood. Katherine. A lack of passion. Katherine looked up to the orange deluge of fireworks exploding. I want her to have this moment forever. Her eyes raised to the heavens. I know I will have to interrupt and take it all away. Her face illuminated by the inflated possibilities of youth. I loved her more than I loved me. She watched the fireworks. The independence. Katherine. Fireworks burst in the sky just for her until their trails faded into the atmosphere and never joined us here on the earth.
About the author:
André M. Zucker was born in The Bronx, NY. His works have appeared in Structo, Thrice Fiction, And/or, The Associative Press and many others. He was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2013. He works as a special education teacher in The Bronx. Learn morre here.