The television gives off a low hum, like a bumblebee. Buzz. Buzz. I make the sound too, hoping she will turn away from the screen, but tonight my granddaughter is entranced by the grainy sight of hundreds, thousands of…
If you write any kind of historical fiction, no matter what you’re working on, by the time you’re done you end up with leftover bits and pieces of research. You’d love to shoehorn them into your work, if only you could find the right place, but there doesn’t seem to be one. So, grudgingly, you file it all away—or, you squeeze a whole new story out of one small detail you just can’t let go of.
From the moment I first read about it, I loved the idea of the broadcast in which a reporter went around asking people on the streets what country they lived in. I just didn’t know what to do about it; I had already finished a novel that partly takes place during the last summer of Soviet Russia and I’d written a short story set in early 1990s Moscow, too. Were there any angles left?
My maternal grandmother had passed away a few months earlier, and I had set a story in Taiwan as a way of remembering her. I decided she was going to inspire this story too. I now have an entire ‘grandmother’ series that I sincerely hope to turn into a collection one day.
Babushka herself quickly took over this story. She unexpectedly turned out to have a sense of humor, an off-key, slightly deadpan manner that’s maybe a defense mechanism. She makes her granddaughter smile and laugh throughout the piece, and I like to think she’s that way with her friends, neighbors, even supermarket cashiers. I also wanted, given the weight of the historical setting and the events in Babushka’s memory, for there to be some element of light.
There are several patterns throughout this piece: the television; the way the granddaughter speaks; the way Babushka answers. This repetition was done for an echo effect, to reflect Babushka’s own reality of regimes and rulers coming and going, of loved ones disappearing and reappearing. Babushka is right that the street names will change again; Dzerzhinsky Square (for example), named during the Soviet period after the notoriously ruthless head of the Bolshevik Cheka, Felix Dzerzhinsky, was renamed Lubyanskaya. Babushka is also right that she will lose her pension, in this “new” Russia. Her experiences have rendered her jaded and disillusioned, even numb, but also fiercely protective of the one thing that still matters: her granddaughter.
KRISTEN LOESCH is an Asian-American writer based in the Pacific Northwest. She placed runner-up in the 2019 Mslexia Short Story Competition and the Funny Pearls Short Story Competition 2020. Her short fiction can be found in SmokeLong Quarterly, Fractured Lit, FlashBack Fiction, and Barren Magazine, among others, and will appear in the upcoming Bath Short Story Award and Bath Flash Fiction Award anthologies. She is represented by Zeitgeist Agency. She lives with her husband and children.