Pure, white snow crunched under his foot as Ilyasha stepped out of his wooden house on the edge of the village. His breath cascaded out of his mouth as his eyes adjusted to the sun’s last rays on the edge of the woods bordering his home. He had risen too late to do anything of value—the previous night of drinking in the center of the village with the rest of his friends from the Black Hundreds had seen to that. He was up now because his wife kicked him awake with a curse and told him that if he didn’t leave the house to gather firewood, she would rip out his liver before they froze to death. The threat was enough (barely, the cold really was unbearable this time of year) to make Ilyasha Dubrovin stagger to his feet, put on his black-dyed wool coat and cap and walked through the front door.
He made a semi-circle in the snow with his foot and stamped on the ground a few times. The cold, relentless, came at him in a gust. Ilyasha rubbed his hands togehter. Maybe if he went back in and said he couldn’t find an axe, Anna would forgive him and the two could relive their earlier married days. But no, drinking last night left his chances of that happening slim to none. Anna had become religious and, since talking to the old, waxy-skinned, soft-voiced priest recently arrived from St. Petersburg, had looked down on Ilyasha’s companions. Whenever he returned from associating with anyone from the organization, in any context, he slept on the floor.
Ilyasha coughed and decided that it would be better if he got the job done fast. They only needed a little wood for the fire, just enough to keep it going for a few hours. He walked further out to the chopping stump and pulled out the axe. He rested it on his shoulder and trudged through the snow to the woods, squinting his eyes against the wind and flakes falling from the sky.