Chapter 1:




“Do you see her,” my mother asked.

I nodded. Who wouldn’t see her? Her long snow-white hair alone was enough. It waved in the mild spring breeze, as if it was beckoning me. It danced under the blazing sun, as if it tried to entrance me.

Here I am, it screamed. Look at me, it demanded. And I obeyed.

“Go and play with her,” mother ordered. A pat on the back. And I obeyed.

I was 12. And the distance between us, not much more than a few minutes’ walk for an adult, felt endless beneath my short legs. I breathed heavily while climbing the steep hill outside the village. Torrid air seared my throat. And warm sweat drenched my clothes.

I hated the heat.

But the girl in front of me was untouched, neither sweat nor discomfort on her face. A slender statue, made of marble, returned my gaze with a smile. But the moment I was close enough to see her blue eyes, she opened her lips.

A brief laughter rang out. A pure sound. Like bells. And she was gone. Vanished into the forest behind the hill.

I sighed.

Should I go back home?

I could tell mother she ran away, that she didn’t want to play. And hide myself from the sun. With an icy drink against the heat. Perfect.

But her white hair entered my view once more. Not too far away, between the leaves, it beckoned once more.

I sighed.

At least there were shadows beneath the trees, cooling the stagnant air. More pleasant than the hill. Still worse than my room.

But I kept following her hair. Always out of reach, always teasing me from a distance, but also visible and inviting.

Until I stumbled onto a small clearing. And there she was, in the shadows beneath a massive tree, lying on a bed of moss.

“You found me,” she said. Still that same smile on her lips. “Now you get a price.”

“I don’t want a price,” I grumbled. Nothing was worth the exertion.

“Don’t say that. It’ll make me sad,” she responded with an exaggerated grimace. “I’m Luba.”


“That’s a beautiful name,” Luba exclaimed in honesty. “I’m jealous.”

“My mother gave it to me,” I responded with pride. I had won against her. “It stands for peace. Because I was born during the war.”

“Peace? Obedience fits better.” She laughed. “You followed me all the way here. So here is your price.”

The next moment her face filled my entire view. Deep blue eyes like a cold forest stream. Her marble-like skin. White and cold, with no blemish. A handful of freckles on her small nose. And then her long eyelashes moved and covered her eyes.

And for a single moment something touched my lips.

“My name is Luba. For love.” She repeated her introduction, withdrawing to the edge of the clearing. “I like you. Come and catch me.”

She was like a snow storm. Overwhelming, nonsensical, but fascinating. And while I don’t remember the clothes she wore or the date her family moved into our village, I still remember my first kiss.

It wasn’t love. How could two twelve-years-old understand love? It was a joke, a childish prank, a whim.

But that chilly feeling on my lips still lingered as I chased her beneath the blazing sun.


“Do you like him,” my mother asked.

I froze. Who would like him with his curried looks and his sunny disposition? But I couldn’t say that. Therefore I stayed still, pretending to miss her question.

“You should go out with him,” she suggested, although it felt more like an order. “He has excellent looks and his father told me he’ll continue their family’s shop. We would sleep better if your future is secured.”

I nodded. It was her daily lecture. The same topic, the same arguments, with switching adolescent men. An unchanging routine since my sixteenth birthday. Go and find someone who warms your bed. It was a simple command.

“I have to go,” I interrupted today’s speech. “Luba is waiting for me.”

“Her again.” Mother sighed. “I know you two are wonderful friends, but you should keep your distance. The neighbors are talking already. Filthy rumors.”

“I’ll be careful,” I assured her. “But I have to go now.”

“Wait,” my mother began anew. But I didn’t obey. I had to go now.

Outside, the air above the hillside glimmered.

The sun was doing her best to turn our tiny village into an endless desert. But I ignored the sweat on my back and sped up my steps. Luba’s hair sparkled in the sunshine. The same slender statue on top of the hill.

“You are late,” she complained the moment I was within earshot. “I waited forever.”

“Sorry.” I gave her a quick hug. “Let’s go.”

Our goal was a small park on the other side of the village. A neglected project, more a waste dump than a leisure area. But both the forest and the clearing were long gone, replaced by new apartment buildings. And the quiet park was one of the few places without annoying eyes and ears.

Today was the same. We were alone.

Luba laughed, the same bell-like sound as ever, and danced through the small square. A beautiful display with her long, white hair flowing behind her. Overwhelming, willful, and free. Like a snow storm.

“I missed you”, I muttered to myself.

“Of course you did,” Luba laughed and embraced me. “I would do the same.”

I smiled and rested my head against her chest. My growth had slowed down, but she continued to stretch herself. But I liked this position. I could hear her heartbeat while her slow breaths tickled my neck. How could this be wrong?

“You have something on your mind,” Luba said. More a statement than a question. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” I brushed her off, hoping for a new topic. But she just stood there and waited. “My mother talked to me again. She is serious. I don’t know how long she’ll relent. And then…”

“Let’s run away!” Luba interrupted me, grabbing my shoulder and holding me at arm’s length. Her cold blue eyes filled with determination. “Let’s just run away. Away from this village. Our parents, our classmates, our teachers. We don’t need them.”


“There is no but. We can board the train to Moscow and jump off whenever we want. Somewhere where nobody knows us. Where we can be ourselves.”


“Don’t worry.” Luba laughed and pressed a forceful kiss on my lips. “I’ll protect you.”

I smiled. Once more I was defenseless against this side of her.

And so I grabbed her hand, cold and beautiful like marble, and boarded a train towards an unknown future.


“Anything else,” the woman in front of me asked.

I nodded. Today had to be special. So I picked a cheap bottle of wine and a pack of candles and added both to my purchases. This should be enough.

“That’s all?” The woman made sure before telling me the total amount.

I sighed and counted a row of dirty coins into her hand. It lightened my small purse considerably, but it was a sacrifice that had to be made. I smiled in anticipation, collected my purchases, and left the tiny store.

The cold fall air greeted me outside. Soon it would snow.

A young boy sold newspapers on the street. The boycott of the Olympics in Berlin. Strains between other nations. An appeal for fresh recruits. The world was going to hell. But it had nothing to do with us.

Our apartment wasn’t far from here. Just a few minutes’ walk. But I encountered our neighbor in front of our house. Useless chatter birthed by a conniving mouth. A waste of both time and sympathy.

I knew he talked behind our backs. A husband who couldn’t seal the deal after two years. Barren was his friendliest description. But it was better than rumors. So I smiled, nodded, and assured him of our successful marriage.

Back inside, I began with my work. I cooked soup for dinner, decorated our dining table with the candles, and cooled the wine. Afterwards I sat on our small couch and waited for my husband.

Heavy steps announced the arrival, so I stood up and welcomed her at the door.

“Welcome back,” I said with a smile, helping her out of the heavy coat. “Everything fine at work?”

“Nobody noticed anything,” Luba answered, completing our ritual. Two years in the same factory, two years of the same ritual. An acknowledgement of our love in its own way.

“Go and wash your face, you’re dirty.” I laughed. “I’ll warm the soup in the meantime.”

Dinner was silent. We both had nothing to say. But that was a wonderful thing. No news meant no unpleasant news. No problems. No rumors. An enjoyable silence full of hope.

“So I gifted myself a bottle of wine,” Luba asked with a chuckle after we had finished. It was a joke but it still hurt. She had took on the role of the husband and earned our money. And there was nothing I could do.

Laundry, washing up, cleaning. How could that offset a day in the factory? I wanted to kneel, to apologize, to ask for her forgiveness. But I couldn’t. It was her decision. Any excuse would shame her dedication.

So I kept quiet and enjoyed the icy wine.

“Actually I want something else as a present.” Luba interrupted my thoughts. Had she seen through me? She stood up, bowed in front of me, and offered her arm. “How about a dance?”

I laughed. And answered her with a curtsy. “It would be my pleasure.”

I grabbed her marble-like hands. Still white and cold, but with rough calluses from her work. And embraced her slender, now even meager, body. Her snow-white hair now short, not flowing anymore. The once unblemished statue, now laced with chips and cracks. But my head still found his place right above her heart.

A slow song filled the room. Not from the radio but Luba’s mouth. An enchanting hum that fascinated me every time anew, filling me with happiness. Nobody would see her as a man after they witnessed this voice. But only I could hear it.

“I love you.” I uttered my feelings in a trance.

“I know,” Luba responded. “And I won’t let you go.”

I tried to retort, but she closed my lips with her own. First with reserve, but soon more and more greedy, pushing me into a different trance.

“You want another present? You are too greedy.” I smiled. And followed her lead towards our bedroom. I didn't resist.

She was overwhelming, aggressive, and irresistible. Like a snow storm in our own small world.


“Are you awake,” Luba asked me.

I nodded. Who would fall asleep after her morning attack? I just wanted to watch her in silence for a while longer. Enjoy the cold of her skin against my own.

“We need to talk,” Luba said. “Wait in the living room.”

I nodded, put my pajamas on, and left our bedroom.

I knew something was wrong. Had noticed it this morning. She was more forceful than usual. More driven. As if she was cornered. Did someone blow our cover? Our neighbor? Or her coworkers?

A thousand thoughts collided inside my head. But they were shattered when Luba entered the room.

She didn’t wear her normal clothes. Not even her heavy coat. But black leather boots over green pants, a green quilted jacket on top, held in place with a brown belt.

“No,” I stammered. “No. You can’t!”

I knew the uniform. Everyone knew the uniform. Once a sign of pride, it had become the proof that the war had gone south. Old uniforms, re-used, because new uniforms cost too much. And now she wore one in front of me.

“The order came in yesterday,” Luba said, a wry smile on her face. “All men have to go to the front. So, the husband has to leave his home.”

“No. No!” This was wrong. This couldn’t happen. “I… you… you can’t. We… we have to run away. Let’s take the train. To somewhere were nobody knows us. We can start anew.”

“We can’t. The trains don’t run for civilians. They all transport soldiers now.”

“Then… we just walk. Or we use our savings and take a horse carriage. As long as we get out of here…”

“We can’t.” Luba repeated. “They’ll hunt and kill deserters. We have no choice.”

“But you aren’t a deserter. You aren’t even a man. You are just mine.” My brain hurt, desperately trying to find a way out. “It’ll be disgusting, but they can check. We are both women. We can go to another village and say we are widows. There we can support each other. And then…”

A chilly hand on my forehead stopped my fever dream.

“We can’t.” The same answer again. “The rumors will start again. And… I don’t want to do that.”

She kneeled in front of me, framing my face with her hands, looking right into my eyes. The same dark blue eyes. Cold and full of determination.

“I don’t want to do that,” Luba repeated. “I don’t want to say this family was a lie. You… I can’t say that my feelings for you were a lie. And I don’t want them to dictate our lives. I don’t want to run again and again and again. Whenever there is a rumor. Whenever there is an obstacle. I can’t. If the only way we can be together is a lie… then I want to take this lie and live it to my fullest.”

“But! I…”

“I know.” Luba acknowledged and covered my lips with her own. Not forceful or greedy, but slow and gentle. A refreshing cold towel on a torrid day. Packed with all her feelings and believes, overpowering everything I wanted to say. No words left.

Our lips parted after an eternity that had rushed by during the blink of an eye.

There she stood before me. With her hair the color of freshly fallen snow. A perfect marble-like statue, all her cracks covered by the uniform.

“My dear Arina,” she recited with a salute. “Please watch over me and bring peace to this family.”

I nodded.

She smiled. A smile so beautiful nobody would mistake her for a man. The last treasure she could give to me. And I smiled back at her. A horrible grimace. But filled with all the words I couldn’t say.

Her figure, now blurred, turned around and left. Not once looking over her shoulder. And I couldn’t stop her. I couldn’t reason with her when she was like this.

Overwhelming, willful, and unseizable. Like a snow storm.


“Any news,” my neighbor asked.

I shook my head. Nothing to share. Not with her. I knew she wasn’t here for sympathy but for rumors. Not with me.

“That’s odd,” she wondered. “Let’s hope he’ll return soon.”

I nodded. Let’s hope. What else was there to do? I couldn’t travel to the frontline. I couldn’t talk with the commander. So of course I would hope. I did so for the last years.

“I have to go.” I interrupted her and fled like a warm spring breeze. Below the blazing sun, past unknown faces and victory posters, until I reached the comforting cold of the hallway.

Silence greeted me inside my apartment. A small one, more like one combined room, paid by a small job in the factory. They accepted women now. Of course, they did. The men were all gone. But it was enough for me. Enough to survive. Enough to wait for her.

Dinner was yesterday’s soup. Cold.

Afterwards I wrote another letter to my parents. I had written to them after the war had ended. Assured them I lived in a loving marriage. No need to worry. They were shocked to hear from me after so many years.

I have a little brother now. And they invited me to visit them. But I wrote we were busy for now.

I didn’t want to go back. I didn’t want to see that hill again. It would be too painful. I knew something would break when I stood atop that hill. And for now I wanted to hold on to my hope.

“I’m tired,” I said towards the other side of the table. Not towards the chair but the table itself. On it a worn letter and an old photograph. Luba in uniform, striking a weird pose. I chuckled, as I always did. She was still the same.

That marble-like statue, with short snow-white hair, recorded for eternity. Unmovable but still full of life. Like a storm that blew through the world and ignored all rules. Overwhelming, bothersome, but full of love.

Delivered together with her only letter from the frontline. A short I’m fine written over a full page. A small I love you in the bottom corner. Just like her.

“Goodnight.” I said to her, pressing my lips against the photograph. A cold sensation against my lips. “I love you, too.”

I stood up, glancing at the other letter. An official seal on the front. Ministry of Defense. Standard format, following all the rules. Nothing that fit into our lives.

Not today, I decided for myself and went to bed.

The air outside the window was still sultry. Too hot for the season. But I needed fresh air.

The city’s noise echoed through the air. A pair of lovers performed their ritual. A lonely dog whined in the distance.

I closed my eyes.

The air’s smell tickled my nose. Like flowers and warm earth.

It was spring-time.

The season for snow was over.