German Democratic Republic – Gilbert hated the name. It was too long and pompous-sounding, and he was equally vehement against the acronym. He simply refused to answer to it, which was how he came to be known by another name – East Germany.
Only Ivan called him East. Only Ivan ever visited him in his new residence, a derelict apartment room in the heart of East Berlin with its naked orange light bulbs and grey, peeling plaster walls. It was cramped full of old-fashioned furniture, the tiled floors dusty and scattered with empty beer bottles. His cracked refrigerator stored nothing but beer, his larder perennially empty and his kitchen sink stacked with dirty crockery. Most of his possessions were second-hand in some state of disrepair; the television with its fiddly dials he inherited from a charitable woman next door.
Ivan would visit him once a fortnight, smartly dressed and laden with groceries. Russian groceries. He would unpack them in the kitchen and put them away, Gilbert staring mutely, never offering to help. Sometimes he simply wandered back into the living room to watch television. He ignored Ivan for the most part and Ivan was patient with him.
Once on a visit Ivan found the apartment empty. He was informed that Gilbert had been among those arrested the night before at a protest march. Ivan gave the order for his release. He greeted Gilbert at the police station with his usual smile, and Gilbert returned it with a glower.
"Let me tend to your wounds when we get home," Ivan said, eyeing the cut lip and purpling bruises.
"Don't bother," Gilbert growled irritably, hands dug deep in his pockets, taking long striding steps and detesting Ivan for keeping pace.
It was Gilbert's fortieth birthday as the GDR. Ivan gazed mildly at the red banners hung down the front of the apartment block, bathing the interior in red light. Gilbert sat in a drunken stupor by the window, peering through the blinds at the quiet roads, closed for the day, as the television broadcasted the advancing military parade in blaring volumes.
"Look at the smug bastards celebrating themselves," Gilbert sneered in derision, contemptuous, as on-screen the camera panned over fat, balding government officials. Ivan merely looked as Gilbert glanced dazedly at the bottle in his hand.
"I see you have been drinking. Have you eaten anything?" Ivan inquired. Gilbert ignored him and raised his bottle in a little toast.
"To the glory of our fatherland," he said mockingly. Grinning, he tossed back the drink.
Ivan set the grocery bags onto the kitchen counter as Gilbert heaved himself off the window ledge, swaying to his feet, taking the first clumsy stumbling steps in the direction of the kitchen. En route he tripped over the coffee table, sending old faded periodicals flying and other assorted rubbish, and stubbed his toe against the table leg.
"Goddammit!" he swore. He staggered, almost losing balance. Ivan caught his arm and pulled him to his feet.
"East –" he begin. He never finished because Gilbert had grabbed and kissed him mid-sentence.
Ivan jerked back reflexively, but Gilbert had his arms wrapped around Ivan's neck and now he pulled him forwards, pressing their foreheads together.
"You're drunk," Ivan said. Gilbert let out a laugh.
"So what, you won't take advantage of a poor drunken comrade?" he taunted. Ivan could smell the alcohol on his breath. Leaning closer, Gilbert whispered conspiratorially, "Bet I'm a good fuck, better even than your precious Lithuania."
Ivan's eyes narrowed at the mention of his favourite, and Gilbert's smile grew and grew. He pressed, "Didn't he live with America for a while? He must have done it with him, done it with that capitalist pig you hate so much."
Those poisonous words had the desired effect; it sank and twisted like a vicious knife into flesh; he could see it in Ivan's darkening eyes, in his clenching jaw and the way anger rippled across his mask-like face. Without warning Ivan slammed him face down into the kitchen counter, twisting one of his arms into an agonising lock behind his back.
"Never speak of Toris in that way to me again."
Gilbert struggled, gasping, turning his head to the side, and Ivan cruelly tightened the armlock, pushing his head further into the hard counter top. In spite of the heightened degree of pain, Gilbert spat, "Your 'Toris' is nothing but a capitalist whore!"
In a flash of fury Ivan raised a gloved hand to strike him, but stopped himself. Breathing hard, he stared into Gilbert's bloodshot eyes and forcibly relaxed his hand, lowering it to stroke Gilbert's matted hair. His fingers threaded into his locks, curling so each digit wrapped around individual strands, then he gave it a violent wrench and all but purred, "If you want a fuck that badly, comrade, I am only happy to oblige."
"Do it!" Gilbert goaded with a maniacal grin. He hardly protested when Ivan smacked his face back onto the counter and with a sweep of his foot spread his legs apart, an all too familiar course of action with his record string of arrests.
The sex was rough and brutal, conducted to the score of a perfectly co-ordinated march, of hundreds of polished heels stomping on tarmac in a uniform 'clack, clack, clack' rhythm. The streaming drone of patriotism and an accompanying brass band drowned out Gilbert's low grunts and Ivan's whimpering breaths, rising to a crescendo as they reached their respective climaxes and screamed, their voices hoarse, tightening then releasing, spent.
It was dark when Gilbert came to groggy consciousness. His head pounded from a crippling hangover and his body ached all over. When he moved it felt as if he was moving underwater, so slow and strenuous.
Something tightened around his waist, pulling him back to bed; Ivan holding him possessively, murmuring, "Go back to sleep."
Gilbert lay down obediently, listening to his thudding heartbeat as Ivan took his hand and laced their fingers together. His palm was hard, calloused from so much hardship. Gilbert brought their hands to his chest and nestled back into sleep. He never saw the tender smile spreading Ivan's lips.