Victor Lapin stood in front of flat no. 65, staring at the door bleeding with red paint. The hallway stank of misery and poverty and it made him feel uncomfortable. He had long forgotten what this kind of life was like. Through the thin walls he could hear the distant voice of the radio, children crying and the frying pan sizzling. Far away, the pendulum of an old clock moved in a nauseating rhythm. For the first time in years, he experienced the feeling of uncertainty. He was a handsome man with the cruel and calculated movements of a cat, elegant fingers and a severe look that made him appear slightly older than he was. Whenever anyone walked into his office it was them who hesitated.
Victor straightened his uniform, which he cleaned meticulously every night, and rapped his knuckles on the door. Within seconds, it flew open, smashing the wall behind it. In the dim light, she stood before him, and for a moment he did not recognize her face. Her eyes were glassy and exhausted, bulging out. She wore a torn nightgown which hung loosely off her skeletal shoulders.
"Good morning, Katyusha." She did not reply, pulling her lips into a sharp line. He tried to step into the sad apartment, but her bony hand shot out and blocked the doorway and there was a vicious glare in her eyes.
"To what do I owe this pleasure?" Every word that came out was poisonous and pronounced carefully. "Should I get my suitcase? It’s just behind the door. I have my warm clothes and my shoes in there. It’s all ready. You won’t even have to waste your time! Just tell me officer, can I say goodbye to my children? Because he didn’t."
"Katya, please stop this. I did not come here to arrest you. You know very well that I would never do you any harm." Victor’s eyes looked at her forehead. He couldn’t bear looking her in the face, because he felt ashamed. He tried to find some justification for his actions, convincing himself that it was all for the better. But when he saw her face, he knew that it was only deceiving himself.
"Vitya, my dear, you shouldn’t be so thoughtful. I might start thinking that you really are a friend."
"It was my duty. I arrested a traitor, an enemy -"
"You son-of-a-bitch!" And a vicious slap echoed off the walls. Her chest heaved mightily, shaking her whole body. "He was no traitor and you know it! He had only come back from the front, fighting the enemy and you call him a traitor? You are the enemy, all of you! Your uniform, no matter how clean, will always be stained with the dirt you do. That shit you crawl through to save your skin? I hope you choke on it!" And she spat into his face, shaking as if she had a seizure.
Victor watched her, yelling her throat hoarse, and he knew that he lost her. He felt such pity when he looked into her eyes. What he saw in them made him realize that she was not the little girl with golden pig tails and white socks anymore. Her eyes used to be full of the color of spring, innocence and laughter. Now, not even a shadow of that remained. She was dead and he was the reason why.
"I’m so sorry, Katya -"
"I know why you did it," her voice was barely audible. "I will never be yours, Victor." And for the first time she smiled. Her smile was not angry or forced, but it was as if she was in a daze or going mad. She pulled the door until it clicked shut and he listened to her violent sobs mingled with the crying of a baby. His hand lingered on the door and after a few minutes, he dropped it, giving up. He had never felt this miserable before. It was as if summer slipped into autumn and it would stay like this forever. He opened his left hand, the imprint of the ring leaving a red mark on his palm. Slipping it into his pocket, he walked away as if he was never there, the haunting echo of her voice banging off the walls.