Issue No. 5, Summer 2013

Potemkin
Rebecca Kuensting

Elizabeth’s village was getting a new post office today, and she was thrilled.  She walked to the table where the Mayor’s house stood, a white-brick structure powdered with glistening cellophane snow.

“Oh, Mister Mayor,” she whispered, “won’t your wife be pleased?  She can finally send letters to her sisters out on the frontier.”

Elizabeth spoke to the villagers, but only when all of the windows and curtains of her house were closed.  She knew that the immaculate buildings weren’t inhabited, that the rosy-faced plastic children that traced definite tracks on the Plexiglass ice rink didn’t have chests of drawers or summer clothes or mothers to go home to.  She knew, when she ordered 1/12 scale trees and newspapers and streetlamps from Miniatures.com, that she wasn’t a mother buying gifts for children, or a god springing new resources on an experimental populace, but a single woman, easing into her forties, babbling about tiny imaginary lives that were, even in their falseness, richer than hers.

The doorbell rang.

“Hello, Elizabeth.  Funny weather today.  Signature, please.”

“Is it funny? Thanks, I’ll use my own pen.”

“Sun and then snow and then a little bit of rain.  They’re saying be careful of icicles tomorrow.”

“I’ll do that.”

“You have a good day, now.”

Elizabeth watched the postman take the steps down from the porch two at a time.  He touched his cap and turned toward her neighbor’s house. It was the dark navy fur on the collar of his jacket, she decided, that made his blue eyes seem so bright.

Elizabeth settled in front of the television with her brown paper package, and flipped to the History Channel before ripping off the tape and placing parts of the plastic-wrapped post office one by one on the coffee table.  These things always required a bit of assembly – usually a little glue and paint.  She liked the noise of the television, the measured voices of men in cargo vests extending arms in front of battlefields.

“Crimea,” the announcer said.  The camera chased a swarm of sheep across a field. Cut to craggy sea coasts, stone castles perched on rocky pinnacles, a map flashing red and green and yellow, tracing battles and empires across a long-contested landscape.  Finally, a man in gumboots, stepping toward the camera from across a marshy field.

“In 1787, Empress Catherine II of Russia arrived in Crimea. Military leader Grigory Potemkin, hoping to impress the Empress with the value of the conquest, ordered false facades constructed over many of the small farming villages in the area, to make them appear, from a distance, like affluent cities.  By night, Potemkin ordered fires lit in entirely uninhabited places, to fool the empress. According to legend, the farce worked, and Potemkin became a great favorite of Catherine the Great. The word ‘Potemkin’ has since taken on a pejorative connotation, and refers to propaganda and delusion.”

A herd of sheep flooded around the speaker, who raised his arms to gesture at a small cluster of houses in the distant hills of the landscape.

At the coffee table, Elizabeth’s post office was coming together nicely.  It was a snap-together kit, no glue needed.  She would have to supply her own glitter, it seemed, as this post office, though perfect in scale, wasn’t crafted specifically for a winter scene.  She could fog up the windows, and use a cotton swab to touch the tiny shingles with frost.

She tried the unfinished post office next to the Mayor’s house for a moment, and smiled to herself.  The Mayor’s wife wouldn’t have to worry about icicles.


Rebecca Kuensting is a 24-year-old writer and teacher. She has just completed her MFA in fiction at Penn State university, and is planning to spend the next year revising her first novel and travelling.