Anna The Spy
A Russian agent with the allegiances of a 6th grader


Lying to sixth-graders is almost as easy as lying to adults. Almost all kids my age are as gullible as puppies, and the adults always think of kids just the same way, as puppies, incapable of lying. Marina, my Devushka, told me that I was born with a forked tongue and cold blood.

Today I'm at Jimmy's house, spying at a birthday party. Most of Jimmy's friends are outside, but I've not yet escaped everyone. Stupid Jimmy, even as the birthday boy he's trying to help me somehow. I tell him that I'm perfectly fine, just a scraped knee (I'd planned a slip in the yard, got a convincing hash of red). I say I'll join them soon, just collecting myself. If he would just get out of here. American manners were more ridiculous that Jimmy's cone-head with the glittering blue pom-pom on top.

A ginger, Lauren, presses her face against the back door, knocking against the glass. Her wet hair falls in dark ropes. Someone evidently busted out the water balloons, confirming that I got inside just in time. Her voice tinkles through the glass, "Jimmieee, we need backup!"

He's caught. "I gotta get back out there, but I hope you get to stay for the moonbounce, my Mom says they're gonna inflate it soon." I wait for the slam of the backdoor, give it 5 seconds, then take off my shoes, throw them near the frontdoor. I tiptoe up the carpet stairs. Mr. Skinner's office is on the left. I hear a toilet flush, and slouch into the stairs, trying to contort my body into the stair's right angles. If he sees me here, I will lose my only chance, at least, and I might even get cut from my cell. If he suspects, Marina and my "family" will vanish like a fox in snow.

My briefing with Marina flashes through my mind:

"Lt. James Skinner is a well-placed official in CIA for America, he will take an important call at 2:30pm with several top brass. The agenda was leaked, and our sources say that we must overhear the conversation. President Putin himself has put fingers on this."

"I am tired of getting dragged around for Putin," I told her. That was pretty near blasphemy, but it was also honesty. I was sick of this life, running around in secret.

Marina whirled on me, her anger always thickened her Russian accent. "Ungrateful little wretch. You should praise the sky that you get so lucky, but all you do is complain. Tschk. One day you not so young, not so lucky."

"Oh THANK you Sky for letting me move around every six months and have no friends. Wow, Devushka I feel much better!"

"I kill the day that you learn American sarcasm. Annalovka, you have your real family here." She pointed at her chest. "Your real friends, they are back in Russia."

I did feel wretched now, and I felt like biting. "Real family? You did not even choose me to foster. We were assigned to each other. Families aren't assigned, Devushka. And my friends in Russia, I have not seen in five years. One DAY trip does not count. I speak English better than Russian now, my "friends" are strangers." I felt tears start to well as my face heated.

"Oh cry, cry, cry, all your problems? Ok, okay, let me give your cry real purpose."

Marina scooped me up by the waist and carried me to the bedroom. She's strong as a wolf, there was no point in fighting her. She threw me to the bed and I heard the belt uncoil. Predictable. Marina had lost her touch somewhere between the last few jobs. Or maybe I've grown more calloused. The last few beltings she gave me, I just stared between her feet, my will fighting against her will to make me cry, holding it in even when the back of my thighs were strapped raw. She flayed me even harder this time, going all out to try and break me, dominate me, force me to do this with a smile. I refused, for the third time, and it helped to focus on what I'd get out of her for my part in the mission.

I told her of my demands, "Devushka, I want Carrot Cake this time."

Cake is really the most wonderful thing in the world. When I'm eating sweets, being alone doesn't feel bad at all, it feels wonderful to adventure by yourself into the blissful folds of creamy icing and the layers of soft sponge.

Marina looked at me, hopeful. She searched my face for something, anything that could let her claim victory. "If I give you the Carrot Cake, you will do this for our Putin?"

"No. I will do this because you give me Carrot Cake. If you want, you make up reason yourself, I don't care."

I don't like to remember that conversation. I seem to be having trouble just going along these days. It's just that I don't particularly care about what Americans say or what Russians think about it. I only want cake, and maybe Devushka's soft hand that used to stroke my hair at night.

My gaze refocuses as grey pleated pants and black polished shoes come into view. Mr. Skinner breezes by without moving his gaze.

My heart lies still even as he passes by the stairs and enters his office. I wait another 5 seconds–just silence–then I move to the door. I look underneath first, my eye pressed against the floor looking through the slit. Dusty wood was most of what I could see, plus his shoes, a desk, and his wheely chair. Sitting down then. I check Minnie Mouse on my wristwatch, her white balloon gloves point to 2:31.

Then I hear them. They're all unfamiliar voices, but just distinct enough through the door.

"Well, thank you all for coming. I know the last thing you want to be doing on the eve of Independence day is this."

"In the midst of the 21st century Russia is a superpower that has interfered with our elections. Their political leader is intransigent and stubbornly hostile to our interests. We have a few footholds where we plan to mount a–"

Another voice splits my focus towards down below. It was Mrs. Skinner, the tall Mom in the blue sundress that had been attending the kids.

"C'mon in everyone. Towels are by the door, dry off before you come in."

So quick! My time was up. I dug in my jeans, pulled out my Airpods. I layed down on the floor, and I could hear below much better, all the kids barging inside, laughing. I popped one out, layed it carefully on the floor. This was not my first choice, but all I could do is pray it wouldn't make too much noise. I cocked my pointer finger and waited for Mr. Skinner to start talking. As soon as he did, I carefully flicked the single airpod, and it skittered across the floor, coming to rest right below his desk. I bounced up, opened the iPhone app, Recorder, and tried it on. The sound waves started appearing on the screen. Good enough, no time to check everything. I shot downstairs, staying lightfooted as possible. I used the railings to skip over the last few stairs and landed low at the bottom. When I came up, Jimmy was there, the goofy blue pom declaring him still an American goof.

"Feeling better are we?" He said.


"You must know it's cake time!"

The word rang in my ears. "Oh! Like birthday cake! Yes. Right!"

"Yes! It looks rad! Bout to cut it so come on! We need all the singers."

This considerably changed my escape plans. I followed a bouncy blue pom to the cake, like I was in a dream. Plated on the table was a glorious dark chocolate cake with cream whipped around in a circle, with a height that made me wonder if there might be four or even five layers inside. It had fresh strawberries sliced all around rim, the way that lemon cut into a glass, with chopped nuts coating the sides. The candles were glowing above it, giving it a dancing skirt of shadows. My mouth was a river of want. The "carrot cake" reward was long forgotten. I didn't want that anymore; I wanted this cake that had consumed my vision and licked my mind clean.

Jimmy was set at the top of the table, and he stood almost over it. Unconsciously I followed him until I was the second closest, fingers just inches away.

People began to make noise. It was a tune I'd heard but not learned. I tried to mouth along, but I was making so much saliva that I ended up having to swallow on every syllable and looked like a wolf smacking its chops.

Jimmy leaned forwards, grinning big. As he leaned, his face was caught in the candles' underglow, reminding me of one of those perfect clay cherubs that always kneel behind glass cases. My heart fluttered, and I still haven't decided if it I was just under the influence of pre-cake jitters or if…never mind. Then he blew out the candles, and the smoke went up thick, and the circle clapped, and the face was back to just one big grin.

As the knife came out and the kids all leaned in on a collective inhale, I became very concerned about the fate of that cake. What if they ran out? What if Jimmy took it all? What if I wanted more but never got more, and that the taste haunted me for the rest of my life?

Mrs. Skinner in her blue dress played the judger and rewarder of little souls, first cutting and then parceling out slices of cake with an even hand. I got an early slice, grabbed my fork, and dashed off to the backyard. I picked a lone bench near the garden and dug in. Chocolate explosions rang in my head, echoing down my neck. I hardly noticed when Jimmy and Lauren waved, crossing the yard to me, each with their own plastic plates.

Jimmy called, "Hey, you got any room?"

My body felt warm then, and my chest fluttered again. I nodded carefully, afraid to break the moment. I suppose this too might've been the cake, but at the moment, I'd forgotten it, smiling at them. Forgotten too about my phone, which had lost connection to my planted AirPod when I left the house. Right then, all I was thinking was that perhaps, just perhaps I might find a way to stay here a while.

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