TUBE, DRAFT 1, CHAPTER 40 (EXCERPT)
Gripping the toy, Olesya rolled over to face whatever it was that moved in her direction. She could tell something advanced from the depths of the engine, something or someone. The clatter of the pumping pistons sent a frisson up her spine. Blackness pressed on her eyes. When she stretched out both hands in a gesture of truce, she couldn’t see them. Cold breath stole over her feet, and she jerked them out of the way. Blood pulsed in her head, masking the rhythm of footfalls.
“Papa?” She didn’t say it, she squeaked it, her voice catching at the end. The way it sounded was wrong. It hushed, falling flat, swallowed by stuffiness. The air changed from chilly to warm and musty.
Then she saw it. A faint glow. A dot, nothing more.
What is it? What...how can it be this far away...where am I? Oh God. Where did you put me now?
Olesya sucked in air, everything in her quivering. She badly wanted to relieve herself and only habit from holding it while practicing—Alla Borisovna permitted breaks only every couple hours—prevented her from doing it.
“Papa?” She repeated in the faltering voice. “Papa, is that you?” Her words hushed in the softness.
The glow ahead shimmered, bouncing lightly in tempo with the steps. And then she heard singing, feeble at first, growing louder, stronger.
She pricked up her ears, not believing at first what she heard, and yet there was no mistaking it. It collided with a memory, and Olesya heard the words, crystal clear.
“Happy birthday to you,
“Happy birthday to you...”
Over the dancing luminescence hung a face, her father’s face, smiling, the creases running from the corners of his eyes to his temples, so loveable, so excruciatingly familiar.
She was back to being ten, watching with wide excited eyes ten candles flicker over the cake, sharlotka, her favorite, the Russian apple cake decorated with glazed apple slices and sprinkled with sugar powder. Homemade by her grandmother for the occasion. Ten. She was turning ten. She was a big girl now.
“Happy birthday, dear Olesya...
“Happy birthday to you.”
The cake stopped in front of her. It was exactly as she remembered it, moist, spongy, made just right. The fragrant sweetness of this freshly baked wonder tickled her nostrils, and she forgot herself, her eyes on the cake, counting the candles, counting to make sure there were ten of them. Exactly. It had to be exactly ten. And she had to blow them out, all of them, at once, for her wish to come true.
“Can I do it now, papa?” She asked.
“Of course you can. Don’t forget to make a wish. Blow hard, to make them all go out at once, or your wish won’t come true.”
She puffed out her cheeks.
Her father smiled, his face so close to hers, she could see the individual hairs of his always neat coiffure, the shadow of his one-day stubble.