Stierlitz opened a door. The lights went on. Stierlitz closed the door. The lights went out. Stierlitz opened the door again. The light went back on. Stierlitz closed the door. The light went out again.
“I’m a refrigerator,” concluded Stierlitz.
— traditional Russian joke
Colonel Stierlitz eyes the microphone.
This will be the last time I do this, he thinks.
“Is the Soviet propaganda machine on?” he asks the microphone.
“Yes, I’m on,” the microphone says.
“This is Colonel Stierlitz here,” says Colonel Stierlitz.
“Go on,” says the microphone.
“Please be quiet microphone,” says Colonel Stierlitz.
“All right,” says the microphone.
“I have something to say. I’ve been asleep for a long time,” says Colonel Stierlitz.
“We know, Stierlitz,” says the microphone.
“Please be quiet,” says Stierlitz. “I know I should have woken up sooner. But anyway, now I’m awake. And I have something to say. I believe I understand what’s happened. In my dream, I was a horse. And I was riding on the steppes. In my dream as a horse, I encountered Genghis Khan, and I greeted him, neighing dramatically. Genghis smiled at me, and I ran, over the fields, into the marsh, where I nearly drowned. But I escaped, with the help of a small gnome.”
“A gnome, Stierlitz?” says the microphone.
“Yes, a gnome. He helped me to escape.”
“Stierltiz,” says the microphone, “Why are you telling this story?”
“In my dream,’ says Stierlitz, “Genghis loved me. He rode me over the long fields, holding tight to my mane. I loved him. When I awoke, I found myself here in this cell, and I wept.”
“We saw you weeping,” says the microphone.
“That is another matter,” says Stierlitz. “Tell me. Have you been a microphone for long?”
“Not very long,” says the microphone.
“You’re good at what you do,” says Stierlitz.
“Thank you,” says the microphone.
“Tell me,” says Stierlitz. “Do you have any vodka?”
“No,” says the microphone.
“None at all?”
“Well, I was saving it.”
“I understand,” says Stierlitz. “How about we share it?”
“All right,” says the microphone. “It’s a secret compartment under your bed.”
Stierltiz opened the secret compartment and took out the bottle of vodka. He poured some of it over the microphone.
“Mmm,” says the microphone.
Stierlitz put the vodka next to the microphone.
“I knew your mother,” says Stierlitz. He poured more vodka over the microphone.
The microphone made a small sound.
“She was a good woman. Tell me, microphone, where is the key to my door?”
“Inside me,” says the microphone.
Stierlitz opens the microphone and takes out the small key.
“You’re a good microphone,” says Stierlitz.
“I’m bad. Terrible,” says the microphone.
Stierlitz opened the door and let himself out.
Stierlitz inhaled the air of the fields. It was Moscow, and he was in Red Square, but it was the fields.
He went to his favorite bar and ordered vodka.
“Stierlitz. Fighting for the country?” asked the barman.
“Yes,” sais Stierlitz. “I am.”
“How is your family?” asked the barman.
“They are asleep,” said Stierlitz.
“Vodka,” said the barman, and he poured.
“More please,” said Stierlitz.
“Last night there was rain,” said the barman.
“I heard a horse.”
“What kind of horse?” asked Stierlitz.
“A hussar’s horse,” said the barman.
“He was big, was he?” asked Stierlitz.
“Yes, obviously,” said the barman.
“How big was he?” asked Stierlitz.
The barman looked at Colonel Stierlitz.
Stierlitz looked away. He looked out the door, at the Russian dusk.
“Colonel, are you all right?” asked the barman.
“I’ve been dreaming,” said the colonel.
“More vodka?” asked the barman.
“No thank you,” said Stierlitz. He thanked the bartender and walked outside.
In the light, he felt at peace. He walked home, and went to sleep, next to his wife.
– – – – –
Stierlitz slept for a very long time. All day, and all night. When he awoke, it was dark outside, and he went outside, to smoke a cigarette. The lights from the Kremlin were low, and red.
He lit the cigarette and inhaled, watching the dawn approach his house.
In his dream, he had been a horse again, but with no rider. He had been alone, in the steppes. He had felt very quiet.
Slowly the sun rose, and Stierlitz poured himself some vodka, which he drank quickly, then putting on his boots and his coat.
In the street, the ice-salesman saluted him, and he clapped the man on the shoulder, heading down to the cafe.
– – – – –
He ate his favorite lunch, veal, and eel. With a light German beer.
The men came over and he told jokes with them. Outside, a young woman was sitting, texting into her cellphone.
Stierlitz went outside to speak with her.
“Good morning, lovely,” he said.
“Hmm,” she said, texting into her phone.
“What is your name?” asked Colonel Stierlitz.
She did not answer, but continued to text into her phone.
“Am I disturbing you?” asked the Colonel.
“One moment,” the young woman said.
The Colonel watched the young woman type into her phone. She had delicate fingers which she poised over its shining screen.
“What is it you want?” asked the young woman.
“Only to know your name,” said Stierlitz.
“Ekaterina,” she said.
“A beautiful name,” said the colonel. “I had a grandmother named Ekaterina.”
“No one cares who she was now,” said the young woman.
“What do you mean? What are you trying to say?” asked Stierlitz.
The young woman put away her phone and stood up.
“You are with the intelligence services?” she asked.
“I am,” said Stierlitz.
“You claim to serve the Motherland?” she said.
“I do,” said Stierlitz.
“Always politics with you!” the woman said. She sounded emotional.
“Not only that,” said Stierlitz. “It is love.”
“No!” said the young woman, and she ran from the cafe.
Colonel Stierlitz raised his hand to his nose, and watched the young woman run from him. He walked from the cafe then, putting his hands in his pockets.
Above them, the sun had peeked from behind the clouds.
“What are your hands doing in your pockets?” said a policeman.
“Fuck off,” said Stierlitz.
Robin Wyatt Dunn writes and teaches in Los Angeles. You can find him at his website.