Gary D. Wilson

Dressing Lenin

Personal Aesthetic Statement:

For some time I've been fascinated with the ritual that surrounded the dressing of Lenin and how that fit historically into the iconography of the Russian Orthodox Church. During the same period, I was experimenting with flash fiction and challenged myself to write a story in 500 words not only about the dressing of Lenin but also the final day of his lying in state. Words are a writer's primary tool. When carefully used, their music, rhythm and emotional palette give the writer the means necessary to engage a reader's imagination and thus complete the loop that I think creates the finest fiction. I hope I achieved that in "Dressing Lenin."

Lenin is always alive,
Lenin is always with you.
In sorrow, hope and joy
Lenin is with you in your spring.
In every happy day
Lenin is within you and within me.
              —Russian schoolchildren's song

Lights dimmed, motors whirred and The Great One, The Old Man, Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, known to the world simply as Lenin, rose for the last time from his biochemical bath and lay resplendent before his attendants, who at the sight of him took a reflexive step back before circling, gloved, goggled, gowned to gently dry, inspect and retouch if need be his venerable flesh. Especially this day, when after years of debate, the Duma had decided that Lenin should be removed from lying in state as he had since 1924 and be buried near Stalin beside the Kremlin walls.

With great care, they lifted Lenin from pallet to gurney where they slipped stiffened arms into a starched white dress shirt, buttoned it, smoothed it, tucked it into trousers pulled over unbending legs, threaded a belt through visible loops, buckled it, put socks and black shoes on puffy feet, double Windsor knotted his favorite blue and white polka dot tie, split his suit coat up the back, drawing each half over an arm, re-sewed it, buttoned up the front, coat cuffs, shirt cuffs, tie adjusted, eyebrows, beard and hair in place, hands at his sides, face at peace with the world.

They wheeled him into the tomb proper, with its prescribed heat, humidity, light, its perfect silence, dusted the satin lining of his casket, puffed the pillow for his head and laid him inside, stepping away then, hands folded, heads bowed, task complete.

Taking one last look at their handiwork—they were, after all, scientists, not politicians, and had no say in decisions of this nature—Dimitri Ivanovich Yakolev, the eldest and highest ranking of the group, eyes moist despite his intentions, nodded at the lone guard standing in the darkened entranceway. Within seconds, the doors swung open and a column of soldiers, boots slap-slapping the marble floor, marched to a halt at the foot of the casket. Their officer, Captain Mayorsky, introduced himself, handed authorization papers to Dr. Yakolev and deployed his troops. They sealed the casket, lifted it and carried it to a waiting truck, mausoleum doors closing with a whump, and gone was the commander of the revolution, protector of the masses, father of the Russian State. Gone the one millions had come to revere as their hope and salvation.

How short the memory of the people, thought Dimitri Ivanovich after the others had gone, how fickle their faith. But as he stood in the emptiness and the skies did not bleed, as he'd expected, wolves did not howl, the earth did not rend, he left as well, turning off the perfect light, heat and air and closing the door behind him.

Long ago, someone asked Gary Wilson what he did and he said openly for the first time that he was a writer. He's been one publicly and privately ever since. It keeps him sane and sober. He has published lots of stories in periodicals over the years and has one novel out—Sing, Ronnie Blue, Rager Media, 2007. He has just finished a second novel, Getting Right. He teaches fiction writing at the University of Chicago. If the rain finally stops, he plans to go listen to the best damn music ever at the Chicago Blues Festival.