Moscow. May. 1945.
Stalin ordered the bent and broken body of Adolf Hitler to the Kremlin. A special train carries the plain wooden crate from the smoldering ruins of Berlin. A handwritten label identifies the contents and the recipient: Wooden Indian, J. Stalin. Everyone knows not to touch.
Stalin, surrounded by cigarette smoke and members of the Politburo, awaited the arrival of the package with a dour expression. On the night Berlin fell, Stalin’s mustache stood straight and firm in pure joy. This day it droops. The others saw Stalin’s mood and maintained a strict silence, but the silence annoyed Stalin and he ordered them to talk. Of course, they had nothing to talk about. The room filled with sighs of relief as a squad of soldiers wheeled the crate into the Kremlin infirmary.
They placed the crate upon an examination table and pried the cover off. Stalin smirked as he gazed in on the opened eyed corpse of Hitler. Half burned clothes clung to the half-burned corpse.
“Why is he like this,” Stalin inquired of one of the soldiers. “He looks like he’s cold.”
The soldier stood silent. He had never seen Stalin in person before, now he must talk to him. What an honor! His speech must be perfect, no word out of place, no syllable held for longer than necessary. But what to say? To be honest, he did not know why the Fuhrer looks the way he does. He did not discover the body; he only loaded it in the box and escorted it to the Kremlin. The Kremlin, the place where he stared at Stalin. The place where Stalin stared at him.
After a few moments of silence, a silence during which every eyeball in the room focused on him, he shrugged.
“Not a clue, eh?” Stalin took a long drag on his cigarette and leaned his head back to blow smoke. “I like the truth.”
Doctor Petrovich thought about deceased predecessor who told comrade Stalin that he should have a tooth pulled.
The group turned their heads at the sound of footsteps in the hallway outside. The door flew open and Field Marshall Zhukov, conqueror of Berlin, marched into the room covered head to toe in mud and dirt. He saluted.
“My car broke down outside of town. And while I was trying to flag down a truck, I fell into a ditch on the side of the road. It was dark.” The Marshall looked around the room and smiled.
Stalin smiles in return and pats the Marshall on the shoulder. “As long as you are all right. We should get you some glasses.”
Everyone laughs. The Doctor wished he were an optometrist.
Zhukov joined Stalin next to the examination table.
“Now, tell me why our honored guest in such a state.”
“Apparently, after he shot himself, he left an order for his body to be burned. Along with his whore.”
Stalin’s face reddened.
“Is there anything wrong Comrade Stalin?”
Everyone was worried.
Yes! Yes, there is something wrong. How dare you insult her? How dare you? Do not even pretend you don’t know. Do not even…
Stalin came back to reality and remembered that no one living knew of his secret; their secret. He shook off his anger and made a mental note to make Zhukov’s life a living hell soon.
“No Comrade Marshall. It is just a little hot in here.”
A junior member of the Politburo leaned his head out into the hallway and yelled for the heat to be turned down.
“Though it is not as hot as our good friend here wished it to be.”
Stalin laughed and dropped his cigarette on the floor. He ground it with his heel like a friend. Everyone laughed along with Stalin except the soon to be ex doctor who only thought of the lack of sanitary conditions.
“We should put him on display at the Hermitage. Let the whole world see him,” said someone who Stalin thought looked like everyone else.
“Allow children to throw things at him,” said the same man in a different suit on the other side of the room.
“Sell miniature look alike dolls. American tourists can buy them,” said the same man who seemed to have changed clothes and was now in another part of the room.
Disorientated, Stalin blinked his eyes and ordered silence.
“No, bury him in an unmarked grave.”
The soldiers nailed the lid shut and carried the box away. Stalin followed behind thinking of better days.
“More onion for our honored guest!”
Hitler waved his hand and with a smile shook his head. “Thank you, my dear Stalin, but I hate onion.”
“You hate onion? But it is one of the best things for you!”
“Well, I don’t like onion, regardless. Just a little salt with my meat. No onion. No thank you.”
“Well, to each his own.”
The celebration honoring the alliance between Prussia and Russia rumbled into the night. The dining hall of the former Polish castle roared with the delight of the conquerors. The alliance was the greatest achievement yet of Stalin’s reign. With his western border now secured, he could turn his sights on Scandinavia and Turkey. The thought of a warm water port (he hoped for Istanbul) delighted his mind as he watched a drunk soldier fondle a Polish lady’s exposed breasts.
Stalin shared the head table with his wife the Empress, King Adolph, and his young mistress Princess Eva. Stalin ripped into a load of bread and smiled in satisfaction at the bedlam before him. Soon though, the Empress, ill from the long journey, excused herself and retired for the night.
Stalin glanced over at Hitler and noticed that the great leader did not seem to be having a good time.
“What’s the matter my good friend? Are our brave and noble subjects too loud for your royal ear?”
Hitler did not answer at first and Stalin munched on a hefty chunk of bread waiting for a reply.
Hitler pursed his lips. “It’s not that they’re so loud, but so…”
“So friendly with the…”
“The what,” asked Stalin, his voice muffled by the large wad of bread still lodged in his cheek.
“No, it’s these Polish women, that’s all. I mean we don’t want any half breeds running around,” said Hitler in a hushed tone.
Stalin finally swallowed.
“What’s wrong with Polish women? They are no different from Russian women.”
Hitler snarled, though he might have meant it as a smile, and turned back to his now cold food. “I guess you are right dead, I mean dear Stalin. No difference. No difference whatsoever.”
Stalin ignored Hitler’s remark and tore into a large turkey leg. Hitler soon excused himself to go to the bathroom and Stalin soon felt eyes staring at him. He looked over and saw Eva’s smiling face.
“Hello,” said Stalin sliding over into Hitler’s vacant seat.
Eva did not answer but widened her smile.
Stalin leaned in closer and could feel the warmth of her body. The fragrance of the perfume adorning her neck beckoned him to move closer still. He resisted the temptation to plant a great big black hickey on the taut white skin of her neck.
“What do you think then?” His voice was almost inaudible in the mesh of laughter and song. “What do you think of good old Emperor Joe?”
Eva looked down at her plate. “I think he would be interesting to try and handle.”
Stalin leaned back crocked in his seat and stroked his mustache. “Are you coming on to me?” Crumbs of food fell from his top lip.
Eva, about to reply, shut her mouth as Hitler came back to the table.
“Ah keeping my good Eva company. Ah, thank you my dear Joseph.”
Stalin slid back into his seat after releasing a silent fart.
The celebration burned down the candles. Hitler failed to notice the silent flirting between Eva and Stalin. Stalin’s heart surged with the belief that he and Eva would be better acquainted at a later date. Hitler bemused himself with daydreams of killing Stalin and everyone in the room.
Berlin. October. 1939.
Disguised in lederhosen, Stalin drives into Germany in the dead of night. In the passenger seat are a bouquet of flowers and a box of candy.
When he sees Eva, he pushes her down on the floor and begins to rip off her clothes.
“Stalin. Stalin. Stalin!”
His style is rough, brusque, but he is good, and he has a long staying power. When they finish, they lie on the floor together.
“What if Adolf find out?”
“You can come live with me. It will be no problem.”
Eva plays with Stalin’s mustache. “But what about your wife?”
“I said it would be no problem. She does what I say. She will grow used to it. Who knows,” Stalin rolls onto his side and begins to play with Eva’s Teutonic breasts. “She always wanted to experiment a bit. Maybe all three of us.”
“Not four though?”
“Most definitely not four.”
Pleasanton, California. April 8, 2010.
The Pleasant Drive Neighborhood Action Committee met on Thursday night in Stalin’s living room. Only six couples showed out of the fifteen that were members. Stalin’s wife made a cheese tray and placed a box of donuts on the coffee table.
“Now,” Stalin said as he pointed with a television antenna at a large wall map that showed his and Hitler’s properties. “As you can see our fence has moved one foot closer to my house since he built that swimming pool.”
“With a diving board,” added his wife as she made her way back to the kitchen.
“Yes, with a diving board. Now doesn’t THAT open your eyes?” Stalin collapsed the antenna and waited for a response from this audience.
“And what do you want us to do about it,” queried one confused neighbor.
“I want you all to sign a petition that we will present to the city council. If they don’t do anything we’re going to march back there and move that damned fence ourselves!”
“Be he would lose the diving board,” said a woman who Stalin had failed to seduce at last year’s Christmas party.
“That’s the whole point! It’s on my property and he’s stolen my property!”
“But I like that diving board,” said an older man with no hair.
“He managed to build such a nice yard,” said the blonde, “it would be such a shame to see if all ruined.”
Angered, Stalin clasped his hands behind his back. “But he stole my property. Don’t any of you understand that?”
A smaller man who lived across the street spoke up. “And what of it? You do not seem to give a shit about any of us. Remember when you backed up into my rose bushes?”
Stalin did not remember.
“’Oh, don’t worry, I’ll pay to have some new ones put in’ you said. Well, it’s been two years and you look like you don’t even remember.”
Stalin blinked at the man and had no idea what he was talking about.
The blonde took her turn now. “Yeah, it seems that you don’t respect anybody else or their spouses around here, so why should we concern ourselves with your issues?”
“We all know that this isn’t about a measly foot,” the blond continued.
“It’s about Eva,” she finished.
Stalin remained calm and forced a smile.
“Are you kidding me?”
Stalin’s wife came back into the room.
“What’s she talking about dear?”
“Nothing honey. Nothing at all.”
“Yeah, that’s right. Nothing,” said the smaller man who lived across the street.
The smaller man turned to his wife.
“Come on baby we’re out of here.”
The rest of the neighborhood committee took their cue and filed out the door. Stalin, his face red with fury, yelled after them.
“You just wait! You might not like me, but just wait till he starts eating up your backyards! You just wait! You’ll see!”
Stalin slammed the door shut.
“I’m trying! I’m trying!”
“Oh hurry! Hurry!”
Stalin shoved his knife into the lock on Princess Eva’s chastity belt. He could not get it open. He cursed the failure of his men who failed to steal the key from Adolph and make a duplicate.
Stalin threw the knife to the floor. Eva lashed back and forth across the bed as he pulled and jerked at the locked belt.
“Stop it! You’re hurting me!”
Stalin pulled her to the floor. He placed his foot on the metal belt and tried to pull Eva out of it. An impossible task, but he refused to concede. He must have her, and her bare chest inspired him to try harder, but he only managed to hurt and bruise her.
The door to the bedchamber flew open and King Adolph stormed in.
“I knew it!”
Stalin jumped up while Eva reached for a sheet to pull across her bare chest. He pointed a finger at Adolph.
“And that’s for the damn fence!
Berlin/Moscow. April 27, 1945.
“What? Speak up!”
The line crackled. Eva sounded distant, too distant.
“I said I’ll be in Berlin soon. End of April latest. We’ll have dinner.”
“I don’t think I can get out. He watches me like a hawk. Things were so much easier when we lived next door to each other.”
“Tell him you want to go out for a walk. Out with some friends to get a drink.”
“Heil want to come along.”
“You just said ‘Heil want to come along.’”
“You most certainly did.”
“Whatever. Anyway, he wants to marry me.”
“Marry you? Now?”
“Yes. Why not?”
“If that little Austrian bastard marries you, I’ll take good care of him. I’ll make you’re a widow before the marriage is even consummated.”
“Consummated? With all those drugs he’s taking? We haven’t done it in ages. Says it drains him too much. Spends more time with the damn dog than he does with me.”
“Crap. I’ve got to go. The American ambassador is here.”
“I can’t leave him for you.”
“Why in the name of God not?”
“He’s done so much for me.”
“He takes care of me and tells me I’m beautiful.”
“Papa Joe can do all those things for you and a lot more and I won’t keep you locked up in a hole sixty feet underground.”
“Well, whose fault is that? Those aren’t his planes bombing the hell out of the place.”
“He started it!”
“Typical. You two are just a bunch of spoiled brats underneath all the medals and bodies. Listen, Joe, he says he wants to die with me. What girl can say no to that?”
“Listen, we’ll finish talking about this at another time. I’ve got to get off the phone.”
“Yeah, you had your chance chump. You’re not so hot.”
“All right. All right. We’ll talk later.”
Stalin never speaks to Eva again.
Outside Moscow. November. 1945.
The order came through to dig up Hitler’s body.
“Where did this order come from?”
“From the top. From Comrade Stalin.”
Minutes after unearthing the body, Stalin arrived in his bathrobe.
Clear as day to everyone, Hitler was dead. Stalin did not care. He ordered Hitler’s hands cuffed and a stake driven through his heart. Stalin repeated the order. Several times he repeated his order before it was carried out.
More than one member of the Politburo began to think of replacing Comrade Stalin. More than one, but they only served with Stalin because Stalin knew that they would never turn against him. They are the men who gave the orders to shoot the people who gave the orders to shoot the people that gave the orders to shoot the people and so on and so on.
Relieved Stalin wipes his brow and returns to his car. The men on duty rebury the body.
Two weeks passed.
Stalin returned. Unearthed once more, Stalin appeared confused at the sight of Hitler’s corpse. Hitler was still handcuffed. The stake still driven through his lifeless chest.
He is a crafty fellow. He plays dead, but he will not leave me alone. I will have a sandwich placed in the coffin with him this time. I’m sure he will get hungry and eat the sandwich. He takes my cigarettes you know. You’ll see diary, you’ll see.
Down went the sandwich. A week later a dead Hitler and the sandwich come back up. The sandwich, uneaten, had frozen solid.
Stalin refused to believe. He left the burial site inside the abandoned factory.
He ordered the body of Hitler burned and scattered in the Arctic Ocean. Stalin still found no relief.
“He’s here. She’s not. He’s here. I have nothing.”
This one originally goes way back to college. Its main inspiration is the Donald Barthelme short story Robert F. Kennedy Saved From Drowning. While Barthelme’s story is somber and almost wholly abstract with no continuous narrative thread running through its sections, Stalin doesn’t provide much in the way of somberness and it does have a bare narrative thread. It is a concrete abstract, or an abstract concrete?
Before I read the RFK, I had had an image of Stalin driving in a car in the middle of the night with flowers and a box of chocolate on the passenger seat stuck in my brain. I found a use for it once I read the story and that scene and the opening scene were the first things I wrote.
I originally called it Eva but decided to change it to Stalin because Eva could be anyone, but there’s only one Stalin…thank God.
Read Robert F. Kennedy Saved From Drowning by Donald Barthelme! Its short and its fantastic. Read more by him. He left very few long works, but I think he is one of the best writers America produced in the last half of the 20th century.