Lucky Red Stars by Evan Cenac

Updated: Mar 24

Bogdasha bore his flag with pride. It was no secret among his compatriots his fanaticism, earning ire from some and awe from others. Many believed stints in juvenile detention and judicial institutions broke him at a young age, fractionalizing his psyche, leaving him a husk with no purpose but cannon fodder. Others saw him as a poster child of the Soviet dream, reformed into a man with no drive but to serve his comrades. He never knew parents, and attributed his survival and growth to the state. Russia was his mother, and Marshal Zhukov his father. A tattoo of Lenin in black ink over his heart, he never chose to carry a rifle when he could opt for the flagpole, armed only with his old Nagent, a relic of the First World War, older than him and all the men in his battalion. He swung the tattering blood-red tapestry above his head with every ounce of maniacal drive he could muster, the war-cry belting spearhead of countless waves of boots and bullets all the way to Berlin.

It was April when he fell. Bogdasha had turned 20 the week before. A bullet found its stop in a concrete pillar he leaned against while smoking a cigarette, opening a small gash in his jugular. He clutched at the slice in his neck, trying as he could to stifle the fountain of red pouring down his tan, frayed uniform. He slunk down against the pillar and lost consciousness before he reached the ground.

He awoke some days later in a frantic popup hospital, cries and rattles from other cots, morphine withdrawals shaking the marrow in his bones and gauze wrapped around his neck. His confused anxiety became specific terror, and then boredom. A nurse arrived to tend to him, bringing new white bandages to replace the red-brown ones. He noticed she spoke broken Russian in a French accent.

“You are lucky man, half inch and you dead,” she told him, redressing his wound and then ejecting him from his cot and out of the hospital. He returned to Rostov a hero, adorned in honors and free drinks. Then the war ended.

The next five decades of Bogdasha’s life were drenched in vodka and songs, barroom arguments and yellow nicotine stains, but he softened in his old age. He was something of a character to the children of his tenant block, regaling stories of attacks and the mediocrity of wartime. He felt more alienated from the dream of which he once held for his people as the years went on, the world morphing into one he barely recognized. Every generation was increasingly ingrateful to their Mother, he thought, and Zhukov was dead.

The day the wall fell, Bogdasha felt deep in his bones that the dream was dead, the last nail swung into Lenin’s glass coffin. The West was coming, the Cold War would go hot, and then there’d be nothing and no one at all.

He lifted his yellow, dingy mattress and stared a moment at the rusted old Nagent that lay on the bed spring. He’d hid it from every seizure and shelled out bribes when it was found, never knowing why he’d need it but feeling he would. He picked it up and lifted it to his temple. He thought of the French nurse as he pulled the trigger. The hammer clicked and the only result was a dull flash, a pop-hiss and a small plume of grey smoke rising from the cylinder. You are lucky man, he recalled.