Thank you, God, the old man said in his own language because he knew God speaks all languages.
For these many, many years.
He flicked Katya with the long wood switch. Katya was his horse, and she too was very old as was this wagon that had come down from his father who was born in the mountains during Tsarist days.
The wood box in the back was also old. For a box, that is. He had built it with iron nails and fresh planks 23 years ago when he was just 73.
The box had sat ready ever since.
He and Katya were on a mountain trail, heading down. They weren’t going very fast. Neither of them had ever gone fast. The old man’s name was Yefim.
He could see for so many miles, a green Spring valley, more mountains, a distant blue lake. It was beautiful, all of it, here where he lived with Oksana.
Yefim and Oksana had never not known one another. They were born one year apart as neighbors. They played as children. They kissed as adolescents. And later, but not much later, they married.
Because they were so distant from the tumultuous capital, they had always lived in peace. The commissars had never come.
As time passed, their friends and relatives died, even their three children, leaving just the two of them alone, as they had begun.
Katya had paused for a munch of grass, and Yefim flicked her brown back gently with the switch to get a move on. And she got a move on.
Finally, after a trip of 26 minutes, the destination arrived, and they halted by the hole the two young men had dug that morning.
The two men hoisted the box from the wagon bed to the green grass. Then they stepped back. Yefim lifted the lid and looked one last time at Oksana, beautiful as ever in his eyes. A black hand squeezed his heart.
From the wagon, he pulled a hammer and leather pouch, and he pounded the lid with 79 nails so the wolves could never touch her. It took a while.
An hour later, as he and Katya rolled back up the mountain trail, Yefim repeated, Thank you, God, in his own language.
For giving me Oksana for such a long time.
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(Wagon artwork by John Helms.)