Vowels, Vodka and Voices

Hannah Twenty-eight

Thursday, 11:20 PM Kyiv, Ukraine

Hannah roused slightly. She had fallen asleep almost instantly. How long ago? The lighted clock indicated it was nearing midnight, but Hannah had not noticed the time before closing her eyes for sleep. She had performed her nighttime duties and sunk into restfulness, helped by the lullaby of her mother’s voice.

Out of habit, she reached to the nightstand, felt for her MP3 player.

Then she waited, assuming she would feel the sensitive spot, the one that made her reach for something to help her achieve a hum of distraction. But she felt no sensitivity. No pain. No need for anything but glorious, soft, soothing sleep.

She pulled her hand back under the cover, closed her eyes, and let the unfamiliar feeling of painless relaxation sweep over her.

Cleo Twenty-eight

Thursday, 11:25 PM Kyiv, Ukraine

What else was there to this place? Perhaps she had the passing thought of finding Anton’s room, perhaps she had an opportunity now, but Cleo decided that task was far beyond her skill set. She smiled at herself, and padded back to the staircase. What exactly did she think she would do? Open doors along this corridor when many people were settling down inside and Anton stood guard on the balcony?

Down the staircase, there was a full first floor, and she had only a basic idea of what the rooming house had to offer. Perhaps a room with some English-language magazines. Or at least, a Ukrainian magazine with fashion photos. Maybe more. She could follow her curiosity in that direction.

The first floor had been a well-lit area when Cleo had left the dining room, but now, most of the lights had been turned off. Still, there were some lit passageways. Cleo found a room that might have been a second smaller dining room, and then a full bathroom. Off the entrance was a sitting room, but no magazines.

Opposite the sitting room was a locked door.

A locked door? She had reached out and tried to open the door without pausing to think. In searching for a public room, there had been no reason not to investigate, even when a door was closed. Not that she had paused to think, it had been that spontaneous. Other doors had been closed, but not locked. She shrugged her shoulders. Why shouldn’t she open doors in a public area?

One door down, Cleo opened the unlocked door of might be a guest room. Guest rooms on the first floor? Unlocked? Why would the other have been locked?

Cleo looked toward the staircase, heard no approaching footsteps, not that she needed to hide her actions, this being an innocent exploration of a place to which she was permitted.

She returned to the locked door, knocked lightly, heard no response from the interior. She pulled her wallet from her pocket, slipped out a credit card, placed it against the latch, pushed and wiggled. The latch disengaged and Cleo opened the door. The immediate smell of Anton’s cigarettes wafted out. She hadn’t realized his had a particular odor until she smelled it out of context. Definitely Anton’s brand.

Cleo leaned into the door frame, saw a large room, an open wardrobe filled with a variety of clothes hanging, worn slippers near the head of a double-sized bed, several unmatched folded blankets at the foot. On the far side of the room was a table with a laptop computer, several paper notepads, a filled pencil holder and a modern land-line phone set. A row of thick binders with labels Cleo could not read lay along the head of the table. An electric kettle stood at the far end.

More than just Anton’s guest room. His home.

Without sound, Cleo stepped back and pulled the door closed.

Had she really just searched the room of a person of interest? Well, searched was perhaps not the correct term, since she hadn’t quite stepped into the room, but she had certainly pulled off her sneakiest prowl yet. Her first prowl, in fact. Person of interest? Where did that come from?

Her heart thudded. A slight panic settled-in now that she was walking away from the site of her break from reason. She had not even taken a moment before opening the door to think how ridiculous it would be if that worn-out credit card stunt really worked. It had worked on this older interior rooming house door, and that was all that mattered.

No. What really mattered was that Cleo was walking away from that escapade, safe. She needed some food.

The long empty corridor led her back toward the dining room, where she hoped the kitchen would be. As her pounding heart began to calm, Cleo felt a sense of satisfaction. She had found one piece of this puzzle. Certainly, there were many, many more, but this was enough for tonight. The long day began to assert itself and the edge of fatigue began to settle her mind.

One last piece of the cherry pastry would perfectly set off this wonderful day of discovery. The crisp crust with the sugary flakes covered tart cherry goo that screamed homemade. Cleo was sure there was one last piece somewhere nearby waiting for her. She headed down the corridor, retracing her steps, continuing past the staircase.

Out from the dining room walked one of the guests who had been sitting at the other table during the evening meal. He held a plate covered with a napkin and made an exaggerated sneaking motion. Cleo remembered he had spoken a language she could not distinguish. He spoke a word in that language now, held a finger over his lips in a shushing plea. He disappeared up the staircase.

Cleo was fairly certain there had been pastries on the plate he carried. She turned and entered the dining room.

Just a service light remained on, enough to see several clean small dishes next to a larger serving plate in the center of the table. Cleo noticed crumbs and a drizzle of cherry preserve on the platter, nothing else. The sneaking guest had taken all the pastries.

She paused outside the glass door to the dining room to get her bearings. Down the corridor, the darkness challenged her eyesight, but under a heavy wood paneled swinging door, there was the tiniest thread of light. Not from a well-lit kitchen, but possibly a street light showing through a window in a kitchen that had been closed for the night. Glad for the swinging door – it would make no sound and would not be locked – she hoped this room would contain just one more snack before sleep.

Cleo walked down the short passageway, quietly pushed the door open. She had found the kitchen.

The small bit of illumination came from the light of a clock on the opposite counter. On the work table in front of the door lay a plate with four cherry pastries. Cleo smelled cigarette smoke, heard the quiet crackle of new ash forming on the end of a cigarette. She stopped in the half-open door, and peered around.

On the far end of the table in a chair facing away from Cleo, sat Olga. Her right hand lay on the table with a lit cigarette between her first two fingers. Her feet were crossed at the ankles, her sling-backed high heels giving the smallest shine against the modest light.

But Cleo’s attention was drawn away from the shoes. Olga’s left hand was placed over the bone behind her left ear. In a slow-moving circle, Olga tenderly massaged. It was a motion Cleo recognized. Before now, though, it had always been from Hannah.

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