Clods of frozen earth littered Vasily’s fields, he expected the weather would break them apart by spring. All the sugar beets had been yanked from the ground and piled into two grey-wood sheds. The Ural winds would continue to dry them, concentrating the sugars.
“Zima won’t marry you without land.” Vasily stood above the mouth of the grinder, dropping in head-sized sugar beets. The machine groaned with the effort.
Luka grabbed a handful of shredded beet. He squeezed the liquid into his hand and tasted it. “Mmm. Will be a good batch, this time.”
“I can sell you a small plot for your share of what we make.” He dropped in another five-kilo root. “You won’t get a deal like that from anyone else.”
“I don’t need land. I’m happy living as a worker.”
“Zima needs a proper home.”
“Zima loves me. We only need each other.” Luka swapped in another fermenting tank. “With the money we’ve saved, we’re going to Georgia, on the sea.”
“Until you run out of money.”
“She knows English and Arabic. We’ll live off of her teaching.”
Vasily pointed at the prior vat. “Water and yeast.”
“Besides, I know how to make vodka. I’ll find work at a distillery.” Luka poured in a cup-full of mother they’d nurtured for years. He capped the metal container and sloshed it about. It made a sound like a commode. He filled it to the top with water and added the bubbler.
“So, goodbye to the motherland?”
“We’ll come back to visit.”
Vasily’s youngest daughter rapped at the door of the barn. “Papa, men in dark hats and black boots are pounding at the door.” She shrieked and they heard her run to the beet shacks.
“Vasily Yakanov? Open up. It’s cold out here and we must talk.”
Vasily lifted his chin at the door and Luka unlocked the inside latch. Two men strutted in and stationed themselves protecting the exit. “A new batch, yes? Better than the last one?” The first man, squat, made rounder by the heavy woolen coat, let his question hang from his lips.
Luka went to the cupboard over the tool bench and returned with an unmarked bottle and a pair of short glasses. He filled each with two fingers and handed them out.
“Yes, let’s hope it’s better than this batch.” Dark and round downed his glass. “What is your estimate for this run? And don’t play shy.”
“Fifty cases. If we’re lucky. And the wild hogs stay away.”
After the two men left, Vasily grumbled and fed the machine more beets. He overloaded it and had to unclog it with a crowbar. Freed, it started back up. “How can anyone get ahead?” he said. He hefted a cleaver and halved a beet the size of a pumpkin. He cautiously dropped in each half.
Luka rinsed the glasses thoroughly. He spit in them and rinsed again. He poured them both fresh vodka. “Zima will marry me, and we will leave this place.”
“Perhaps she will. Perhaps she will. Nostrovia.”