3 JUNE 1949
During the Great Patriotic War hed demolished
the bridge at Kalach in defense of Stalingrad, rigged factories
with dynamite, reducing them to rubble, and set indefensible
refi neries ablaze, dicing the skyline with columns of burning
oil. Anything that might have been requisitioned by the invading
Wehrmacht hed rushed to destroy. While his fellow countrymen wept
as hometowns crumbled around them, hed surveyed the devastation
with grim satisfaction. The enemy would conquer a wasteland, burnt
earth and a smoke-filled sky. Often improvising with whatever materials
were at handtank shells, glass bottles, siphoning gasoline from
abandoned, upturned military trucks hed gained a reputation for
being a man the State could rely on. He never lost his nerve, never
made a mistake even when operating in extreme conditions: freezing
winter nights, waist deep in fast-flowing rivers, his position coming
under enemy fi re. For a man of his experience and temperament, todays
job should be routine. There was no urgency, no bullets whistling
overhead. Yet his hands, renowned as the steadiest in the trade, were
trembling. Drops of sweat rolled into his eyes, forcing him to dab them
with the corner of his shirt. He felt sick, a novice again, as this was the
first time that fifty-year-old war hero Jekabs Duvakin had ever blown
up a church.
There was one more charge to be set, directly before him, positioned in the sanctuary where the altar had once stood. The bishops throne, icons, menalia everything had been removed. Even the gold leaf had been scraped from the walls. The church stood empty except for the dynamite dug into the foundations and strapped to the supporting columns. Pillaged and picked clean, it remained a vast and awesome space. The central dome, mounted with a crown of stained glass windows, was so tall and filled with so much daylight that it seemed as if it were part of the sky. Head arched back, mouth open, Jekabs admired the domes peak some fi fty meters above him. Rays of sunlight entered through the high windows, illuminating frescoes that were soon to be blasted apart, broken down into their constituent parts: a million specks of paint. The light spread across the smooth stone floor not far from where he sat as if trying to reach out to him, an outstretched golden palm.
There is no god.
He said it again, louder this time, the words echoing inside the dome:
There is no god!
It was a summers day; of course there was light. It wasnt a sign of anything. It wasnt divine. The light meant nothing. He was thinking too much, that was the problem. He didnt even believe in God. He tried to recall the States many antireligious phrases.
Religion belonged in an age where every man was for himself And God was for every man.
This building wasnt sacred or blessed. He should see it as nothing more than stone, glass, and timberdimensions one hundred meters long and sixty meters wide. Producing nothing, serving no quantifiable function, the church was an archaic structure, erected for archaic reasons by a society that no longer existed.
Jekabs sat back, running his hand along the cool stone floor smoothed by the feet of many hundreds and thousands of worshipers whod been attending services for many hundreds of years. Overwhelmed by the magnitude of what he was about to do, he began to choke as surely as if there was something stuck in his throat. The sensation passed. He was tired and overworked that was all. Normally on a demolition project of this scale hed be assisted by a team, the workload shared. In this instance hed decided his men could play a peripheral role. There was no need to divide the responsibility, no need to involve his colleagues unnecessarily. Not all of them were as clear-thinking as he was. Not all of them had purged themselves of religious sentiments. He didnt want men with confl icted motivation working alongside him.
Excerpted from The Secret Speech by Tom Robb Smith. Copyright © 2009 by Tom Robb Smith. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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