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  You could have a big dipper   

Contraband by Vera Zakharov

I found it in your rubbish heap of mementos, rags and forgotten papers. By this point my fingers were sooted with old ink and cigarette smell. It was not in a jewelry box, as one might expect, but in a dog-eared decades-decayed chocolate box. It almost made me wonder if you yourself were hiding it from the authorities, or perhaps from the mourning neighbours that you knew would one day arrive on the heels of your death, snuffling for truffles like a pack of pigs.

Here it was! Among the raw metals your father pinched from the military factory - nickel, tin, palladium, bismuth, copper – that infamous glowing band your mother snuck out of the mines. All were carefully indexed with their elemental abbreviations and laid out in separate compartments of the plastic tray. This roughly shaped ring loomed large in the box, as it had in our family narrative, smuggled out of Siberia as an act of courage matching that of your father’s wartime service, matching that of your own near-starved wartime childhood survival. This precious commodity the reason for the institutionalized grinding down of your mother and her sisters, and thousands of other citizens, nearly or completely into the ground. This reason none of us ever dared to wear gold. This glittering testament to what she and others have been through, and what we can never forget.

At Sheremetyevo Airport, awaiting my flight back to Los Angeles, I steeled myself to the inevitable. As expected, the metals showed up on the baggage scanner display. I imagined them like jewels, in a show of technicolour blips. Pulled aside by a gang of customs officials doing their best to retain the glory days of militia rule, I watched as they took apart my luggage, starting with the bags of no concern and working their way down to the items in question, slowly and meticulously, as though this was a kind of daily gateside ritual. The lead official opened the chocolate box and inspected the metal nuggets, landing on the compartment empty but for a scrap of paper with the letters ‘Au’ in your handwriting. He pointed with an iron finger asked to see the missing piece. I shrugged, saying it must have gone missing a long time ago, or else more recently after the neighbours had gone through my grandmother’s flat after her passing. I could see the hungry disappointment on their faces.

As the plane took off, I ran my fingers down my chest to where the sweat collected around the ring hanging from a chain, buried deep in my cleavage, breathing a long sigh. Once more we had succeeded.


Vera is a Russian-American-Brit living in Brighton with a toddler, a partner and a cat. She campaigns on food issues, runs foraging sessions, and is fairly new to sharing poetry publicly. Her work has been published in fabric-ation eco-poetry anthology, and the Poetrygram Annual 2020.

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