For All of Us

In Fiction on August 12, 2013 at 10:57 pm

For All of Us

The water splashes—cold, sharp fingers to wake me—and I roll.

“Vstat’, yevrey,” the guard bites: Get up, Jew. I squint at the past-white sun flaring through the bars. The smell—pelmeni, I think—brings me to my feet and I sway, hoping. But of course it is not for me: A man has opened his cart on the street, selling meat pies. My porridge sits cold in the corner of my cell.

“Ne peremeschayte vozdushnuyu,” the guard says. He opens his mouth, grabs his throat and rolls his eyes to the whites. Don’t choke.

They still do not let me sleep, but the beatings are coming less and less. Abakumov tells me this is because Stalin has fallen ill. The others say he may even be dead. Let it be true.

I stumble to the corner and lift the bowl. The porridge leaches what looks like rust from the spoon, but I am hungry, so I eat. The guard bares his teeth at me, a savage smile.

More than the beatings, the starvation, the humiliation, it is these guards that wound me. With their ignorance. With their stupid hatred. That they might come to know me does not occur to them. That they might question me, rather than torture me in silence, and at least attempt to ascertain my innocence or guilt, they cannot grasp. I am bezrodniv kosmopolit, a man without a place, and they hate me for it. I am the symbol of their struggle—and every hurt they have ever felt, every injustice done to them by life or God or country, they see in my face. And they hate me for it.

What is this ache I feel? It burns in my gut and blackens my heart. I would tear open my chest to get it out. It is a terrible sadness.

“Pochemu ty plachesh’?” the guard asks. Why are you crying? His question is earnest.

“Dlya vsekh nas,” I say. For all of us.

(Photo credit: fmfm166 from

This is my response for this week’s Trifecta Writing Challenge: Grasp. I welcome any and all constructive criticism, so by all means, lay it on me!

For more on the inspiration for this story, the Doctors’ Plot, check out this wikipedia article.

  1. Brian, I am so moved by this powerful, emotional story. You’ve portrayed the cold loneliness of the Jewish prisoner so strongly. But even more than that, in so few words, you struck the heart of all of these scenes when one has all the power over another.

    Brilliant writing.

    • Thank you Jo-Anne! I really felt a response to this one as I was writing it, which doesn’t always happen, so I’m glad it resonated with you too. Thanks for stopping by to read!

  2. So powerful in the suffering and the message. Brilliant work.

  3. Dear Brian,

    Your story drew me in kept me imprisoned. Great writing.

    Since you asked, I think the spelling of ‘leeches’ in this case should be ‘leaches’ and it would be the porridge leaching the rust from the spoon. Let me know what you think.



  4. This is really good. You have my vote. I loved the Russian. I loved reading the other language. I love languages. Really good story, I could picture everything. Really well done.

    • Thanks 🙂 Hopefully no one comes along and checks my russian too closely, because I’m not 100% on the grammar, or if the sense is even correct, but it’s fun when I get to sprinkle in a little dialogue in another language. Thanks for reading!

      • Are you bilingual in Russian? Or do you use something like Google Translate to get the sentences and stuff?

      • I usually start with google translate and then do some searches to see if the context fits / if the phrasing is natural etc – just a little harder with russian haha

  5. Love that end… a prisoners wisdom… feeling compassion for his tormentors. That’s great… and the russian in the story made it so much better…

  6. That in humanity’s darkest moments your prisoner understands the torment of his tormentors is your story’s crown jewel. Well written. Great job.
    Thanks for stopping by Forest Bird,

  7. Amazing, as always. You are fast becoming one of my favourite writers on WP. 😀 This reminded me a bit of the film “Hunger.”

  8. What a powerful, sad work. Thank you for sharing.
    -Alicia Audrey

  9. This was a well-written story from a dark time in history. Your details (the rusty spoon, the repulsive guard, etc.) made the story more touching. I really like the last line.

  10. Holy hell, Brian. You’ve got my vote. That was really powerful. Thanks so much for sharing this with us. Remember to come back and vote at the end.

  11. I felt the crushing weight of emotion in every word you scripted. Powerful.

  12. This is brilliant! The details–everything from the past-white sun to the sadness burning his gut–really put me in the story. I was captivated throughout. Excellent work!

  13. This was so powerful; beautifully done.

  14. This is great! I was completely absorbed by this story. Amazing work! Well done!

  15. The helplessness of being held prisoner by unflinching, unmoving captors is captured incredibly well in this story, Brian. As someone mentioned previously, the aspect of this story that elevates it is your characters humanity and his treatment of his own guards. Hope and Humanity ring out amid the despair of a gulag captivity. Bravo, my friend! Bravo!

  16. I have limited time this week and haven’t been able to read most of the entries, but Jo-Anne told me I wouldn’t want to miss yours. She was so right. Brian, this just slices through a reader’s defences and rips out their innards. Apart from being beautifully written, which it is, and powerful, which it also is, your story taps into the broader questions (that clearly not enough of humanity are asking) about the how and why of people’s ability to degrade, abuse and savage members of their own species.

  17. Oh, this is fantastic. Great job! You captured the despair so well. I was going to ask about the Russian (that’s my passion, well, one of them). The guard would probably say something more like “ne dushi” for “don’t choke,” but then, I’m a little rusty. 🙂

  18. Wow, this is so beautifully constructed and so intense. I love the second last paragraph in particular. Excellent work, as always!

  19. […] (A big thanks to everyone who voted for my story last week!) […]

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