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Compassion: Prologue

Compassion COVER

Leningrad, 1938.   The night is still.  The linden trees in the courtyard have fallen silent. In the apartment, nothing moves. The only light comes from the desk lamp at her elbow.  She hunches over the paper, pen in hand.  The matches are where she always puts them, next to the saucer.  If the knock comes, the page can be burned within seconds. All the time she is working, she is listening, straining her ears.  It is midnight, but no one is sleeping.  The whole of Leningrad is awake, cowering behind closed doors.  If she sits very still, she can hear the city breathing.

Cover it with darkness.  

She stares at the poem, reciting it in her head, gauging the sound, the rhythm, the choice of words, moving, adding, deleting-

The sound of a car engine slashes the silence.  At once she tenses. Her hand creeps across the table towards the matches. She sits immobile in the darkness. The car drives on, the engine fades away.  No, they haven’t come for her, not tonight, not yet.  She lets out her breath.

Closing her eyes, she begins to recite the poem to herself, over and over, until she is sure she knows every word.  Her work is finished.  She has one thing left to do.   Crumpling the paper into the saucer, she strikes a match.  The flame shoots up, bright in the darkness.  She puts the match to the paper.  Within seconds, it shrinks to ashes in the saucer.  The flame dies.  The blackness closes in again.

Take away the lanterns.

Night.

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