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Broken Whispers: Chapter 5


Denis opens the car door for me and rushes to get my bags from the back seat. I try to take them from him, but he hastily moves them out of my reach.

“No. Boss would kill me.” He shakes his head and starts walking toward the building’s entrance.

I look at the heavens and follow him inside. It’s just some cosmetic products and a few pieces of clothing, but he wouldn’t let me touch the bags the whole morning, insisting on carrying them for me. Denis is a nice guy, somewhere around twenty-five, and from what he said, he’s been working for Mikhail since he was eighteen. And he talks nonstop. He gave me the short version of his childhood story, which wasn’t a nice one, then a report on all the girls he’s dated for the past six months. There were at least twenty of them. After that, he gave me a quick lesson on how to change a flat tire. He clearly has no problem with me not being able to contribute to the conversation, because he hasn’t stopped babbling for two hours.

When we reach the top floor, Denis gives me the bags, at last, and leaves. I use the card to enter the apartment and stop dead at the threshold.

“I thought shopping trips lasted at least several hours,” Mikhail says while standing in front of the kitchen sink, pressing a bloody rag to his forearm.

I let the bags fall on the floor, rush toward him, and look over the stuff he has lined on the counter—antiseptic spray, antibiotic cream, bandages, and a needle with a thread. Is he planning on sewing himself?

“Go to your room. I’ll call you when I’m done.”

I ignore him, turn on the water, and start scrubbing my hands with the soap.

“Bianca, leave.”

There is something very dangerous in the tone of his voice, like he is angry at me for some reason, but underneath, there is something else. I can’t quite define it.

Very slowly, I turn toward him and, without breaking eye contact, place my hand over his, which is still holding the bloody rag to his arm. He’s looking down at me, his lips pressed together in a hard line, his blue eye watching me with such intensity that I get the impression he can see right into my soul.

Finally, his grip loosens and he removes the rag. Only then do I notice that he’s in a T-shirt, something that I’ve never seen him wear before. I look down at his forearm and it takes all my self-control not to show any reaction to what I see. The wound itself is not that bad, a few inches in length and not that deep. It looks like a knife wound. What’s really bad is . . . everything else.

The inside of his forearm was badly burned, a long swath of mottled skin running diagonally from his wrist to the inside of his elbow. It looks like a very old scar, just like the others. Long thin lines crisscross his arm in different directions, probably wounds inflicted by the tip of a knife. I allow only a second to collect myself, then I take a package of sterile gauze and the antiseptic and start cleaning the gash.

“I see you’ve done this before,” he says.

Without lifting my eyes from the gash, I hold up four fingers, throw the bloody compress into the sink, and take a new one. Angelo was an idiot when he was younger, always getting into fights, so I received a lot of experience dealing with the consequences of his moronic behavior.

After I repeat the cleaning process several times, I take the needle and start looking for the numbing spray among the stuff on the counter, but I can’t find it. I look up and find Mikhail watching me. Shit, how to explain. I mimic the spraying motion and point toward his wound.

“You can sew it without it. It won’t need more than two stitches.”

He can’t be serious.

“Just do it.” He nods. “I have a high pain tolerance.”

I look down at his arm, taking in the multitude of scars. Yes, he probably does. I take a deep breath, pinch the skin on each side of the cut, and start with the first stitch. Mikhail doesn’t even tense when the needle pierces his skin. It’s disturbing. After I’m done patching him up, I place a clean compress over the cut and bandage his forearm.

There is a light touch on my face, just above my cheekbone. It lasts just a moment and then he removes his finger.

“Thank you, solnyshko,” he says and leaves the kitchen.

* * *

I take the meat casserole from the oven, put it onto the counter, and look toward Mikhail’s bedroom. He went inside after I patched him up and hasn’t come out since. Probably sleeping. Where had he been the whole night? How did he get that knife wound? And what happened to his arm before to leave those scars? When it comes to my husband, I have a long list of questions and zero answers. Will it always be like that?

The front door opens, and Lena runs inside, giggling, with Sisi following. She’ll wake Mikhail. I grab my phone from the counter, rush to Lena who is sitting on the floor taking off her shoes, and crouch in front of her. I brush her hand with mine and she looks up smiling.

“Bianca, Bianca, I have a new drawing. Wanna see?”

I put a finger over my lips and point to Mikhail’s bedroom. When she looks over and back at me, I put my palms together on my cheek to show a sleeping pose.

“You sleepy, Bianca?”

I sigh. Communicating with a small child is going to be hard without being able to speak, and she’s too little to read. Taking my phone from the floor, I type a message and give it to Sisi, who’s standing next to me and watching my interaction with Lena. She looks up from the screen and nods, a surprise visible on her face.

“Daddy is sleeping, Lena. We need to be quiet.”

“Okay,” Lena whispers.

“Bianca prepared lunch. She says if you are quiet and eat your launch, she will teach you ballet.”

“Yes! Yes, Bianca. I will be quiet. Do you really know ballet?”

I smile and nod, then put my finger on my lips again.

“Come, Lena.” Sisi takes her hand. “Let’s go change so you don’t get food on your pretty dress.”

While Sisi helps Lena change, I set the table for the three of us and tidy up the mess I made in the kitchen while preparing lunch. Sisi brings Lena back a few minutes later and the three us sit down to eat. During the meal, we have to remind Lena at least five more times to be quiet. As I watch Sisi with Lena, they seem to get along exceptionally well. A question comes to mind, so I take my phone, type, then show Sisi the screen.

“I’ve been working for Mikhail since Lena was a baby,” she responds. “He hired me when Lena came to live with him. She was two weeks old.”

My eyes widen. How did Mikhail manage with a baby so small, all by himself? Sisi couldn’t be there twenty-four seven. I take the phone and type another question, then pass it to Sisi.

“Yes, it was hard. But Lena was a really good baby, she barely cried at all, and I came every day, but still . . .” She sighs. “I don’t know how he pulled it off. During the first couple of months, he barely slept, but after Lena started sleeping through the night, it got easier. I offered to start taking her to day care during the day and stay overnight, but he declined. It took me a week to convince him to finally let her go when she was two. He loves her very much.”

Yes. Anyone can see how much Mikhail adores his daughter. Especially someone like me, who was raised by parents like mine.

“Bianca, Bianca, can you show me ballet now?” Lena asks, swinging her legs forward and back.

I help her down from her chair, and taking her hand in mine, I lead the way into my room.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to stay?” Sisi asks, but I just shake my head and raise my thumb up. I’ll find a way to entertain Lena until Mikhail gets up.




I take my phone from the nightstand and look at the time. Almost six in the evening. Shit. Looks like I’m getting too old for pulling two all-nighters in a row. Sisi probably went home already, which means that Bianca is watching Lena. My daughter is a good kid, but she’s a handful.

After a quick shower, I walk out of my bedroom, expecting to find the girls watching TV or something, but there is no one in the living room or anywhere around. The door to Lena’s room is closed, a faint sound of a children’s song coming from inside. I open the door slightly to see what’s going on, and my hand stills on the handle. With her back to the door, Bianca is standing in the middle of the room, her arms raised over her head. She has one of those fluffy white skirts on over her jeans and her ballet slippers. Next to her, Lena is in a similar position, standing on her toes and wearing one of Bianca’s shorter stage skirts. It reaches almost to Lena’s feet.

Bianca lowers one of her hands, taps Lena on the back to straighten her spine, and starts rotating herself slowly until she sees me standing in the doorway. She smiles at me, and it feels like a ray of light on freezing cold skin.

“Daddy, Daddy, I’m a ballerina. See?”

I look down at Lena, who is twirling herself on the tips of her toes.

“I see, zayka.”

“I want ballerina shoes like Bianca’s. Please. Bianca, tell Daddy I need the shoes. I have the skirt, but I need the shoes.”

I bend to scoop Lena into my arms, set her on my hip, and place a kiss on her head.

“We’ll buy the shoes, Lenochka,” I say and look at Bianca, who is sitting on the bed, removing her slippers. “I’m sorry. I fell asleep.”

She cocks her head to the side, regarding me, then stands up and walks toward me. Leaving her slippers on Lena’s dresser, she takes the hem of my left sleeve and starts carefully pulling it up. When she has the sleeve pulled up to my elbow, she inspects the bandage around my forearm. There is no blood, but it’s wet from my shower. Bianca lets go of my arm, narrows her eyes at me, and heads into the kitchen.

“Daddy, can we watch Elsa on the big TV? Can we, Daddy?”

“Sure, zayka.”

I take Lena to the living room, put on the movie, and sit down on the couch next to her. It must be the hundredth time I’m watching the thing, but Lena loves it. There is a sound of bare feet on the floor, and Bianca comes over and sits on the coffee table in front of me, holding the box with compresses and bandages I keep under the sink. She places the box on the table next to her and looks pointedly at my forearm until I extend my left arm. She removes the wet bandage and dressing, then gently cleans the cut and wraps a fresh bandage. I expected her to leave when she’s done. Instead, she moves herself to sit on the couch next to me, curling her legs under her, and focuses on the movie.


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