I used to be a poet. I used to smoke and laugh and converse in the crowded cafes. We used to dream of revolution. We used to sigh wistfully at the thought of Bolshevik power. A world of equals. At peace with a full belly and a plot of land. But when the war does not end, when the stomach growls, when there is no soil to till and no hearth to drink by; these things can remain ideals no longer. Students, factory workers, soldiers – even the poets – must take action if there is to be any future for the people.
The only sounds that night were of the current jostling against the boat as I guided it through the canals of Petrograd. The skiff drifted low, dark water lapping at its overburdened sides, weighed down by my cargo. Weapons. Four dozen rifles and a half dozen machine guns, gifts from comrades in the military. The contraband was hidden from the moonlight beneath a taut piece of canvas and on either side of me walls of colored brick rose several stories high. Rows of dark windows, punctuated by the occasional glow of candle light, lined the waterway. I fought with my imagination as it conjured a set of prying eyes in each dark frame. I nervously ran my thumb across the handle of my boat knife as I made my way through the city and towards a factory controlled by the Petrograd Soviet. My breathing became a little steadier as I tilted back my flask, the liquor flooding warmth into my chest.
As I neared the city center I could make out a bridge in the moonlight, a solitary figure leaned against its railing, a rifle on his back. Even from this distance I saw his face as he lit his cigarette. A splash of orange in the deep blue of the night. The flame cast gaunt shadows across his angular features. He looked young. No older than twenty five. I could feel my grip on the rutter slipping as my hands began to sweat. There was no avoiding his notice, I could only hope to avoid his suspicion. I kept my gaze low as I approached the crossing.
“Stop, boatman. Pull over.” He called down into the canal.
I felt the blood rush to my toes, needles pricked against my skin as I resisted the urge to flee. With a deep breath I guided the skiff to the canal’s edge where a small stairway met the bridge. His badge glinted in the moonlight, affixed to the lapel of his coat.
“What’s your cargo?”
“Timber. For the war effort. Headed to the docks.” My voice sounded foreign to my own ears. I could taste my fear.
“Step from the boat.” he could smell it.
I clambered out of the skiff as my racing heart threatened to take my legs out from beneath me. He leaned forward and pulled back the canvas. I heard his exhale. I stepped towards him. My hand mechanically covered his mouth as I jammed my boat knife deep into his kidney. I stabbed again. A third time to be sure. I held him there for a time with my knife buried deep in his back. I could feel his rattling breaths subsiding. His pulse slowed against my clenched blade as tears escaped my tightly shut eyes. He slumped down onto the stones and the knife fell from my trembling hands, covered in his warm blood. I dropped to me knees as I vomited into the river. My hands kept shaking as I dipped them into the frigid water, washing away the slick crimson. I dried the tears from my face as the night closed in around me and a numbness took hold of my heart. I still had work to do.
My tired hands rummaged his pack of cigarettes from his jacket pocket and tossed his rifle into the boat. I lowered him into the black water and he slipped from my grip without a sound. I stepped back into the skiff and shoved off. I used to be a poet.