The doorbell woke me up, and I deactivated the TV. Ha, “deactivate.” I’d fallen asleep to old videos of the 1984 Sarajevo Games, which I have recorded on tape. I never thought I’d be a family-room sleeper like my grandfather, the type of man who can’t muster the strength to even go to bed. But at this ripe old age of 79, sleep just falls over you without your noticing, and you’re in a slumber before you know it. Ha, “ripe old age.” American idioms will never cease to amuse me.

Ding dong!

The doorbell rang again. American impatience. I looked through the front door’s peephole before turning the handle. Ha, “handle.” Force of habit. I didn’t need to see to know who was on the other side.

“Paul,” I said, swinging it open. Beneath his new wrinkles and the pinch of salt in his hair, I still saw the bright-eyed, handsome 22-year-old I plucked from Annapolis. Ha, “SALT.”

“Howdy, old friend. I didn’t wake you up, did I?” Paul cheerfully replied.

“No, I was just having breakfast.”

“Gosh, I hope it’s not that ‘Homestyle Very American Stew’ you used to make. Remember when we used to eat that stuff three times a day?”

He was thinking of my beetroot borscht, which I would call deliciously austere. I’m surprised when the man remembers anything from those years we spent together.

Paul was recruited after I advertised a typical American capitalist reading group, and interestingly, he was the only one to show up. I was surprised he didn’t catch on to the ruse, as we didn’t do any reading. I also didn’t speak English at the time and required that he learn Russian so that we could converse, but it must have been my praise of the bourgeoisie that kept him from suspecting anything. Soon enough, Paul was a highly trained agent under complete psychophysiological control of the KGB. Though victory was in my grasp, I lost contact with the Kremlin at around the same time and was thus compelled to use Paul for other things, like fetching my groceries from the disgusting displays of excess Americans call “supermarkets” and watching episodes of Hogan’s Heroes with me. Boy, did that Colonel Klink make us laugh!

Then, Paul’s family started poking around, wondering where he’d gone, so I had to force the man to covertly execute his own parents. I wanted to keep Nippers alive, his family cat, but we couldn’t take any chances if we wished to remain together. I was eventually so wracked with guilt that I ended it, waking him up to a state of selective amnesia and vowing to never activate him again.

“What are you doing here, Paul?” I asked.

“Well, I wanted to tell you I’m moving. Diane and I are going to Maine.” Diane is a divorced barmaid Paul married who apparently doesn’t mind that her husband can’t remember the majority of the events of his life. 

“I hear it’s nice. I’m excited to see it for the first time.” Paul didn’t know that he and I had been there once before, and shared a beautiful weekend antiquing. I couldn’t bear to hear him talk this way. Before I could even think, I spoke:

“The Cossacks will ride.” 

Paul’s eyes widened, and his face calmed. He replied: “Что делать?”

—J. Gustaferro