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A History of the Russian Revolution by Stephen Baily

“To think of the red flag actually flying over the Winter Palace. . . .”

My grandfather rested his right hand, which held the scissors and the comb, on his left bicep. He folded his left hand over his right forearm and eased the fingers into his right armpit. With a wondering expression he looked over the back of Trotsky's head, into the mirror on the wall opposite.

Trotsky's face was reflected in it. Frowning at himself above bottles of hair tonic and witch hazel, he moved his head a quarter turn to the right. Then he moved it back a half turn to the left.

“Good. Excellent,” he pronounced at last.

“You don't want me to take a little more off the top?” “No. Leave it.”

“All the same, I never thought it'd happen in my lifetime,” my grandfather murmured. Like a magician yanking a tablecloth out from under a load of dishes, with a flourish he snatched off the sheet of mattress ticking tucked in at the back of Trotsky's collar. Tufts of hair, shaken loose, floated to the floor, like wisps of fog.

Trotsky sat forward, lowering his shoes from the cast-iron footrest to the floor and his palms from his thighs to his kneecaps. Unbending his knees and regaining his feet, by means of a belt loop at each hip he tugged his pants up with his forefingers. “It only shows what kind of prophet you are, eh?”

His left thumb, prying the waistband away from his belly, opened a gap into which his right hand plunged, taking a wayward shirttail with it. The hand, withdrawn, then entered his right front pants' pocket. When it reappeared, a silver coin was nipped between the forefinger and the thumb.

“But you say this Guchkov has formed a ministry?”

Trotsky dropped the coin in my grandfather's outstretched palm, then reached for his coat, which hung on the wall, from a hook. Grasping it by the collar and twisting it around like a culprit, he worked his fingers into the opening of the right sleeve. The fingers shimmied up the cylinder of the sleeve; on emerging at the other end, they fluttered briefly, as if their sudden return to the light had confused them.

“Guchkov and Milyukov.”

While his crooked right arm sustained the coat, with his left hand Trotsky grabbed hold of the collar, pulling it up onto his right shoulder. The greater part of the coat now depended from his shoulder nearly down to the floor. Bending his left arm up behind his back, he fumbled for the opening of the left sleeve. When his fingers found it, he stuffed his arm down into the sleeve till his hand burst free. A heave of the arm—and the coat settled properly on his shoulders.

Not the collar though—it was up above his ears. He turned it down over his thumbs with the index and middle fingers of both hands, then lowered his hands along his lapels, the left to a buttonhole, the right to a button, the one corresponding to the other at the level of his chest.

The first three fingers of his left hand flexed the buttonhole, through which the thumb was poked as far as the base of the nail. Against the pad of the protruding thumb, the first three fingers of the right hand braced the button, while the forefinger and the middle finger of the left hand pushed the buttonhole over it.

He raised his eyes momentarily when cold air burst in from the street. My grandfather, with his right hand on the knob, was opening the shop door. Pulled inward, the door opened in a widening arc that compelled him to slide his right foot out of its way, over against his left foot. Then, like a man with his arm around a woman, he stood motionless with his hand behind the door on the knob, watching Trotsky's fingers push the lowermost buttonhole over the lowermost button on his coat.

“But what does it mean?”

Trotsky dropped his hands to his sides. He shifted his weight onto his right foot. His left foot left the floor. It advanced a short distance ahead of his right foot. It returned to the floor.

“That tomorrow there'll be a ministry of Milyukov and Kerensky.”

He shifted his weight onto his left foot. His right foot left the floor. It advanced a short distance ahead of his left foot. With a nod at my grandfather, he set it down across the threshold of the shop, on the sidewalk of East 164th Street, drawing his left foot, and consequently his entire person, after it.

A snowflake drifted down. It hit the sidewalk. A second snowflake drifted down. It hit the sidewalk. A third snowflake drifted down. It hit the sidewalk. The first snowflake melted. The second snowflake melted. The third snowflake melted. My grandfather said in perplexity:

“And after Kerensky? What next?”

“Next?” Trotsky turned his head back over his shoulder. The green eyes behind the lenses of the pince-nez were unnaturally large. “People laugh when I say it, but I assure you I'm not joking. We'll be next.”


Stephen Baily is the author of seven plays. His poems have appeared in Contemporary Rhyme and Barefoot Muse. Another story of his will be out in January in Northwind Magazine.