Marina Osipova was born in East Germany into a military family and grew up in Russia, where she graduated from the Moscow State Institute of History and Archives. She also has a diploma as a German language translator from the Moscow State Institute of Foreign Languages. In Russia, she worked first in a scientific-technical institute as a translator, then in a Government Ministry in the office of international relations, later for some Austrian firms. For seventeen years, she lived in the United States, where she worked in a law firm, later in Austria for several years. Recently, before returning to the USA, she spent several months in Russia. She is an award-winning author and a member of the Historical Novel Society.
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March of 1948. Three years have passed since the Great Patriotic War ended in victory, disposing into the streets of the destroyed and hungry cities and villages brave decorated soldiers: thousands of them having been burned, maimed, or disfigured beyond recognition.
On a crowded commuter train, Maria hears an invalid singing, which painfully connects her to her time at the front and to the love that failed to happen to her. Why, then, since that day, does the voice from the past echo so insistently in her present life? The torture of uncertainty—was it really Armen?—intensifies after the next encounter and leaves her with an unsettling compulsion to do . . . what? Help him? Or, rather, rescue herself from her lonely and unassuming existence her heart subtly rejects? She must decide whether she is willing to let go of the life she knows for feelings she had never thought she could experience.
But, first, she has to find him.
As the genocide of 1915 within the Ottoman Empire destroyed the lives of Armen’s parents and about one-and-a-half-million ethnic Armenians, his future is shattered by this other war and betrayal. Incapacitated and totally alone, it seems the most merciful thing for him would be to end his miserable existence by leaping off a cliff. Otherwise, he must find the courage to continue living in the condition the war left him and find his place in the bitter every-day reality full of difficulties prone to men like him.
Maria and Armen. Each carries private wounds. In the face of despair, will fate offer them a chance to heal their souls and hearts?
Push Me off the Cliff
Will fate offer them a chance to heal their souls and hearts?
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Armen’s company of the dog tank-destroyers was assigned to the 174 Rifle Division of the 30th Army on the Kalinin Front. Their 2nd squad held defense some kilometers from Polunino. At the time other dogs went on accomplishing their missions and wrecked four enemy T-4s, Dragon was engaged in delivering explosives to the distant units.
The day came when, of the dogs trained to destroy tanks, only Norka—a middle-size husky—and Dragon were left.
“Junior Lieutenant Karapetian. Sergeant Nesterenko,” their superior addressed Armen and Norka’s instructor at the morning roll call. “According to our scouts’ reports, most likely the Germans are going to undertake a tank attack on the line of our defense. Be ready with your dogs.”
“Yes, we’ll be ready, Comrade Captain.” Armen saluted, and watching the superior walk away, felt ice spreading through his stomach. As though sensing his despair, Dragon brought his head up and looked at him with special awareness.
It took Armen time to compose himself before he could give Dragon’s head a few rubs then run his hand down his shoulder and along his ribcage. The dog relaxed noticeably and leaned into him as though signaling his trust. Armen knelt and draped his arms around him.
Dawn broke. Peaceful, clear, the air seemed to ring in the cold. Dragon, his fur black and shiny after the morning cleaning, lifted his head and kept looking in Armen’s eyes as though asking, “What troubles you, my master?” Then, his ears up, he seemed to discern sounds, and minutes later, Armen too heard German tanks’ caterpillar tracks clanking and saw them crawl farther and farther from the distant ravine, now only about three-hundred meters from the trench.
“They are coming,” came a raspy whisper, supported by a barrage of furious swearing from several mouths.
Armen rose his head over the breastworks. Camouflaged white, the Panthers moved at low speed, brazenly, as though on a walk.
Three . . .
Till it hurt, Armen clutched the dog’s collar. Dragon pressed himself to the frozen ground, and listening closely to its vibration, almost imperceptibly trembled to its beat.
The tanks kept moving. The leftmost seemed to target Armen and Dragon’s position. It crept closer, closer. Fear like a thin, gooey stream slithered along Armen’s spine, evoking a rush of thoughts that interrupted each other in his mind. Throw yourself on Dragon. Shelter him from this merciless giant with a black-and-white cross. No, turn Dragon around and command him to run away, to hide in the maze of the trenches. As if shaming himself, the commissar’s words just days ago echoed in his ears: “Every destroyed tank means saving dozens of our fighters’ lives.”
Yes, he mentally reacted to the order, and when in the right position to let Dragon loose, he unleashed his four-legged friend and commanded, “Forwards.” Like a tightly pulled bow and arrow, at last, being released, Dragon sprang out of the trench, kicking up snow dust. Armen clamped his eyes shut, and several moments later, triumphant outcries from several throats made his heart squeeze. “There it is! On fire! The fifth one destroyed in the sector of our division!”
Maybe it wasn’t Dragon. Maybe it was—In a fleeting moment of hope, he forgot the name of the other dog. He opened his eyes and saw Norka turning around and running back. A shot went off. From their trench. According to Instruction. Another unleashed dog, a newly arrived one was gunned down from a German tank before she could reach it.
Dragon. He gasped and clutched at his throat.
To nobody’s surprise, two Junkers appeared in the sky. The death-bringing iron birds circled lower and lower as they approached. Within minutes, there was a whistling of released bombs, the roar as they exploded. The ground heaved; chunks of frozen soil rained on the soldiers’ heads. Armen pressed himself to the snow-and-dirt mush. Another blast.
The dead silence like a dark cloud descended on him.
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