Instructions on Leaving the Communist Party
You must stand near the radio, startled as the urgent tones of the broadcaster bisect a soap commercial. We interrupt this program. Why? To announce —
“ — that February 13, 1946, will be remembered as an historic occasion. Yesterday the wartime alliance between the United States and Russia was made permanent, and it is my hope that the spirit of friendship and cooperation in which this pact was signed will continue. Together, the American and Soviet peoples will move toward their mutual goal of greater equality for all. The struggle we must endure may temporarily be painful, yet — ”
After seventy-four words, a rush of thoughts fills you; President Wallace’s voice swells against the microphone, triumphant, paternal, outstretched to the proletariat. And if this is everything you ever wanted, everything you hoped for when you first became a fellow traveler, then why are you suddenly uneasy?
You must listen to Max Landau tell about his visit to Moscow. But I saw too much, I know that it’s no paradise in Russia. All that we’ve done…. The end of the sentence seems to catch in his throat. You sit with your heartbeat tightening in your breast, wishing that you could keep yourself from believing him. He lifts his head.
I can’t go on working for a cause that doesn’t have any truth in it.
Your husband looks him in the eye.
Neither can we.
You must watch Morris light a cigarette, his thin hands trembling slightly. Max was gone, he continues. The door was open, and the place had been searched — drawers emptied, everything turned upside down.
And you think that they —
He exhales a wisp of smoke. Probably, yes, he says softly. They can’t afford to have anyone coming out of the Party now. Especially someone as involved in the apparatus as he was.
They could come to us, then.
You must sit at the desk in the study, engaged in reducing the five rolls of microfilm you kept hidden to incomprehensible fragments. Neither of you has any idea what you are destroying — diagrams of atomic bombs, payrolls for the Department of Defense, the incriminating grocery lists of some decadent bourgeois woman? You cut through uranium, fallout, a five-percent raise, milk, bread, merlot, caviar. Morris peers into the room.
What is it?
I’ve decided. We’ll leave the day after tomorrow, before morning. If we start at four o’clock, we should be across the border in four or five hours.
You sweep the pieces into the wastebasket. All right.
You can take the day off work and get things ready?
I can tell them that I’m ill, if I need to.
He nods. Come and let’s get some sleep, then, hartse. It’s late.
You must wake in the middle of the night to see that the illuminated face of the clock points to half past one. A dream sits at the edge of your mind, and, for a moment, fear seizes you, but you hear only branches creaking in the wind.
Morris gives a sigh in his sleep, and you turn toward him, comforted by his quiet breathing. A faint light glances from behind the window shade.
You must try to repeat the only prayer you can think of. And kindness andmercy upon us and upon all Israel Your people…. Two suitcases lie on the bedroom floor. Va’chesed v’rachamim aleinu; the words are awkward, as if you’re asking a favor of someone you hardly know. You hesitate for a moment, then take the little picture of Morris from the dresser and hide his serious young face between the folds of a blouse.
Ten years since you married, ten since you joined the Communist Party, at least thirteen since thinking of God has seemed either worthwhile or necessary. Now, tucking another pair of stockings between a dress and a crumpled skirt, you begin to wonder if this was wrong. You breathe in the long-disdained opium of the people, letting the sweet clouds fill your lungs, and find your way to the end of the prayer.
Barukh attah. The one who blesses His people Israel with peace.
You must pace through the kitchen while snow falls outside. It’s been nearly half an hour, and Morris still hasn’t come back from the office or given any indication that he’s staying late. You stare at the telephone, as if a look could force it to ring, yet the only sound is the dialogue of a badly written radio play, which you no longer even pretend to use as a distraction.
A burst of histrionic music segues to the next scene, and footsteps approach in the alley, making you pause. Relief loosens your heart as the key turns in the lock and the door begins slowly to open. You are about to snatch Morris’ battered fedora from his head, about to tell him how anxious you were, but instead you step backward, stifling a scream.
Standing on the threshold is a tall man with close-cropped fair hair. You are Dalia Fischer; a statement, not a question, spoken with a Russian accent.
Yes, you falter. He closes the door and slips a hand beneath his coat. Who… who are you?
I do not believe that is important.
The radio crackles; the signal is worsening. My husband, you say desperately, tell me where he is, what you’ve done, just tell me….
The man withdraws his hand, gripping a revolver. In the midst of the static, a voice murmurs: Goodbye, my darling. His finger pulls back the safety.
[This is the final step.]