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Monday, September 19, 2005

Unlikely Pen Pals: Penny Dobson, Seventh-Grader from Suburban New Jersey circa 1985, and Vladimir Tarkovsky, Inmate of a Siberian Gulag circa 1952

Aaron Starmer

Dear Vladimir,

Hi. How are ya? This is so awesome. I’ve never had a pen pal before. Now I’ve got an honest-to-God Russian guy to write to. I guess I should tell you a bit about myself. My name is Penny. I’m in the seventh grade. I like singing, watching TV (Eight Is Enough!), and writing in my journal. Sometimes I write in my journal and pretend like I’m writing to a pen pal. Now I don’t have to. I can just write you. Yay! Write back real soon and tell me about your crazy life “Back in the U.S.S.R.” (Corny, I know, but my parents loooove the Beatles.)

Your pal,

P.S. Do you prefer to be called a Russkie? I’m never sure about those sorts of things.

* * *

My Dearest Penelope,

Apologies must come first. My English is poor and for writing there is this nub of coal and this soiled rag only. Forgive therefore the state of my correspondence. It may be of help to explain I am joyful of your letter. The gulag is without most comforts. There is no television (I have agreement, eight televisions should be plenty), no heated water, no opportunity to express thoughts of freedom. Your letter is how my imagination dreams a slice of America’s apple pie. It is warm with much comfort, and brings out in me memories of my own daughter. When secret police took me away from her, I thought I would never know again the tender songs of an angel. Blessings for you. I would give away my life if only for hearing you sing.

With sincerity,

P.S. I prefer to be called Vladimir. Some comrades will say Vlad.

* * *


Okay, that letter you sent me was pretty gross. All you had was a rag? I guess I understand, though. I heard that in Russia you have to wait in line for like three days to get bread and you don’t even have blue jeans (I would die without Jordache!). Awesome stationary like mine (that isn’t a unicorn, it’s a Pegasus) is probably tough to find. That gulag sounds like a pretty sucky place. Almost as bad as health class with Ms. Schmidt. She is such a Nazi! Do you still have Nazis everywhere in Russia? Nazis are so grody. Could you believe it when their faces melted off in Raiders of the Lost Ark? Ewwww! Anyway, you said you wanted to hear me sing, but I can’t really do that in a letter. I’ll write down the words to one of my favorite songs, though. Then you can imagine me singing it. Okay? Here goes: “We are young. Heartache to heartache, we stand. No promises, no demands. Love is a battlefield. We are strong. No one can tell us we’re wrong. Searching our hearts for so long. Both of us knowing … love is a battlefield.” Cool, right?

Love ya,

P.S. Does a gulag have anything to do with goulash? Eck, I hope not. Gag me.

* * *

Sweet Penelope,

Your song is of great beauty. I am on my slab of concrete with shut eyes and I listen for your voice. I may dream it tonight if I am allowed more than one hour of sleep. Yes, sweet girl, love is similar to battlefield. If we possessed such song to command us, maybe there would have been something different to happen at Leningrad. One shall not sit long, perhaps, on history. The Nazis are now gone, and are replaced by more powerful menace. When I was boy, my father told happy tales of the revolution. It makes me glad to know he does not live to see what revolution truly means. I do not wish to dig another hole in frozen ground for country. I do not wish to bite off comrade’s ear for extra spoonful of gruel. There is so little of hope in this cold land. We are even without the Pandora Box. Hope I get only from your letters. My heart will struggle on until your next letter is found by me.

At your debt,

P.S. Oh most wonderful goulash! If you are having more, I ask that you wipe some on your next letter. One lick will live for weeks.

* * *


No one calls you that, do they? Then I’ll be the first. I could call you Vladdy Warbucks! You seem to be a little down lately. But “the sun will come out tomorrow,” right? I once tried out to be Annie for the local theater and I came sooooo close to getting the part. Then stupid Tammy Skiles got it. She is such a gross slut. I know that sounds mean, but she’s kissed like five guys in our class and even done third base with Chad Bahl. It’s just cause she’s got giant boobs that anyone pays attention to her. I might sound jealous to you, but I’m totally not. I just think it’s a stupid way to act. Which makes me want to ask you a question. I know you’ve had a tough few days, but I’ve been having it real rough too. I don’t know what to do, I could just scream! Anyway, do you think thirteen is too young to start dating? I’ve had my “womanhood” for two years now and I think it’s time. It’s not like I’m going to date Willie Aames or anything. I just know the winter carnival is coming up and it would be so awesome to go with a GUY (Yikes!). Let me know what you think.

Best wishes (and kisses!),

P.S. I saw this movie the other night about nuclear war and all that stuff. Could you write your congressman there and tell him how much it would suck if there were bombs dropped? Thanks.

* * *

My Penelope,

It is winter in Siberia. There will be no sun tomorrow. This shall be also the last of my letters to you. The contents of previous correspondences have been cause of anger for some that have read them. I am granted the chance to say the goodbyes I wish. It is with tears I tell you I will no longer be your “pencil pal.” Yet it is with great joy I tell you I have committed your words onto my memory. As I am locked in the cell that is too small to let a man sit, or lie upon the ground, or stand without a hunch in his back, your voice will be my one companion. I fear no death, Penelope, if you are to give a chorus to it.

Yours in eternity,
(“Vladdy Warbucks”)

P.S. Who is this Willie Aames?

Aaron Starmer has already killed and, God help us, if you don't do something about it soon, most certainly will kill again.