The Zombie Room by R.D. Ronald

1

Tatiana hated her life. She hated working endless hours in the miserably cold factory with the incessant whir and drone of heavy machinery and the never-ending trundle of conveyor belts. She hated fighting off the advances of her lecherous supervisor in a way that did not offend, as she couldn’t afford to be out of work. She hated the stack of chores to do every day when she got back home, and she hated never having time for a social life. Time was passing her by, and her vision of the future was anything other than the simple, pitiable lifestyle of her mother. Yet it was her mother’s path that Tatiana continued to tread.

She screwed up her face and struggled to hide her revulsion as Murkov’s arm slithered around her waist. He was attempting to educate her on how to operate machinery that she was more adept at using than him. It was as pointless as every other time he had tried to engage with her socially. She’d only been making mistakes because the factory was freezing and she kept losing the feeling in her hands. He kept talking, but Tatiana wasn’t listening. She mentally willed him to give up and retreat back to his heated office where he could push papers around his desk and let her and the others get on with doing the real work. Murkov reached for her hand to guide it towards one of the levers. Tatiana allowed this but purposely brushed against his sleeve, transferring a grease smear onto the pristine white cotton. He backed away from Tatiana as if she had a contagious disease, muttering about the cost of his imported shirt.

‘Get on with your work, Tatiana. Any more mistakes this week and you’ll find your pay packet lighter than you would like.’

Tatiana smiled as Murkov hurried back to his office, dabbing at his sleeve with a handkerchief.

Eventually the 7p.m. whistle sounded, announcing the end of the shift, and Tatiana walked briskly through the chattering procession of workers to find her mother. Murkov watched her through his office window but Tatiana deliberately avoided eye contact. She’d seen the naked hunger in his eyes before.

Through a cloud of steam that hissed up from wheezing pistons, Tatiana saw her mother across the crowded factory floor. Unwrapping a headscarf stained with grime and sweat, she laughed with a grey-haired woman from her section.

‘Did you manage to stay away from Murkov today?’ her mother asked as she linked arms with Tatiana and began their walk home.

‘For the most part, yes.’

Her mother’s eyes narrowed but she didn’t question her. ‘Your father is a good man, but you know how protective he is of you and your brother. Do what you can to put Murkov off and mention nothing of it at home. Now come on, if we don’t hurry your father will be home before us.’

‘Would it be so much to ask for him to start preparing the meal for once? He isn’t the only one who works long hours.’

Her mother’s traditional values frustrated Tatiana, but if she were to get permission to attend the party on Friday, Tatiana knew it was crucial she have her mother on side.

‘Tatty, you know my views on this,’ her mother said with a patient sigh. ‘Your generation may choose to go a different route, but I was brought up a certain way.’

Tatiana nodded, vowed to try and reel in her sarcasm and let the matter drop. She’d heard it all before and knew her mother’s opinion on gender roles would never change.

‘I was thinking,’ she began after a few moments had passed, allowing the air between them to clear, ‘after the National Day celebrations on Friday, that I would go out with Aina? She and some friends are getting together to hang out and play music. I would really like to go along.’

Her mother’s dismissive shaking of her head had begun long before Tatiana had finished speaking. ‘Your father wants you home. It is a day to spend as a family, not each of us going our own way.’

‘But at this rate I’ll never leave home. Aina has a boyfriend and already they have talked of marriage. I want my own family one day, a husband, and children, and a nice house, and … and … flowerbeds,’ Tatiana said, gesticulating with her hands. ‘I never have time for myself, to go out and have any fun. If you keep me locked away like this I’ll end up with a man like Murkov and waste my life at some hole-in-the-ground factory.’

Tatiana could see her words had wounded her mother. ‘And you think if you had your own family things would be so different?’ her mother deflected with a cynical smile.

‘I would do things differently,’ Tatiana said defiantly. ‘I will pick a man who will value me as a person, not treat me like a possession.’

‘You are only nineteen, Tatty,’ her mother said more softly now, sliding her hand into Tatiana’s. ‘You have so much to learn about the way things are in the world. Your father and I wish only to keep you safe for as long as we can.’