Gosha snaps the belt onto the body of his dead mother. His family is not religious, but he’s researched Orthodox rituals for this moment. The belt will protect Mama from evil, allowing her soul to float to heaven. A tear trickles down his cheek as he looks at her chest. It is half full. He tried to convince her to get reconstructive surgery, but she’d refused it, saying it was too expensive for a poor Russian like herself. She said she didn’t want to waste money on a new breast because she was going to die anyway.
The belt is Gucci. Gosha had stolen it from his boss’s gift pile of luxury items from Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Hugo Boss and other high-end retailers. His boss wouldn’t miss it. Though it is a man’s belt, Gosha wants his mother to be dressed in the best protection when making her way to heaven. A Gucci belt fitted tightly against her white gown shows she is someone of importance. And she was.
He wipes away the tears and looks at his watch, realizing he has an hour left. His sister Tanya sits at the end of the bed, where their dead mother lies, and holds Mama’s hardening hand and rubs her knuckles. A desolate howl causes Gosha and Tanya to look up to find … nothing. It is the wind barreling against the old window pane.
“I’ll leave the room so you can say goodbye. I already said mine before you came,” says Tanya.
Gosha takes rubles out of his pocket. He places them in his mother’s palm and closes her stiff fingers around them. This will pay for her way to heaven. Close to her, he smells her most expensive, imported perfume. Gardenias. She loved those white flowers, a rare treat whenever she saw them. He leans in closer.
“Mama, I’m sorry I can’t take you to the morgue, but I have to get back to work. I chose a nice resting place for you, I hope you’ll like it. It’s the best I could find. As you know, I couldn’t ask my boss for the favor of burying you in the best cemetery in St. Petersburg, but this is a small step below. I know Russians don’t ever say this to each other, but Mama, I love you.”
Tanya enters the room and reaches out to hold his hand. They turn into children, sobbing and hugging, looking to each other for comfort. They are all they have left.
After several minutes, Gosha wipes his face and exits the apartment. He knocks on the neighbor’s door. A burly man holding a beer answers.
“Can you help me carry my mother to the taxi waiting downstairs?”
The man nods.
They enter the room and the neighbor’s eyes widen. He grips the neck of the beer bottle.
“You want me to carry a dead woman down the stairs?”
“I hope you’re taking her to the morgue first.”
“Of course. I’ll grab up top and you grab her feet. Please hurry, I have to get back to work.”
The man gives him a look of confusion, but places the bottle on the entry table …