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no invitation

We are at a 3 year old's birthday party in the back room of a cafe. Music is pumping from a tiny speaker. Balloon animals are popping, and waving in the air. A man in a yellow dinosaur costume dances wildly. Parents snap pictures with satisfied smiles on their faces.

A little girl approaches gingerly and stands in the doorway, straying from her parents somewhere inside the restaurant. She cannot be more than three. It must be hard to ignore all of the noise coming from this room packed with celebration. There is a perfect little pony tail at the back of her head. She hesitates, as one foot poises in the air and then rests back down. How to understand that she was not invited. How to understand the laughter, the loose jumping bodies, the presents piled high on the window. None of this connects to her. There is a little plate of food waiting for her back there, in the quiet restaurant. Maybe a warm bowl of soup, thick with noodles. I watch her for some time.

That night, her empty e…

Postcards from the edge of night

I am wandering on a childless weeknight. N is out of town on family business. I am putting long avenues in front of me as I cannot sleep in this heat. Cold vanilla ice cream in limp waffle cones. The smell of gasoline and dead grass all around me.

Down the stairs to a produkte* still open, with old familiar faces from when I lived here. Blue plastic sandals, blue smocks, always sharing a microwaved bowl of pelmeni. Licking from plastic spoons their eyes roll to me like blonde deer on an empty country road.

A troup of transvestites stomp in, buying mineral water and loose candies by the gram. They are tall, in tiny hot pink dresses and crooked fishnets. They need a shave, their makeup thick and creamy on their cheeks. Eyelashes bigger than the ladies in blue sandals that ask about E and put a few free chocolates in my bag for her.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A tiny man approaches me in the street, more a wrinkled up piece of paper in an ill-fitting suit. His sunburned face is flat like a frying pan. A few teeth poke around his smile. He points at me, one small laugh of recognition, a tiny nod and then he moves on towards the fountains and the giant arch. Towards a tiny church and half-eaten chebureki still wrapped in their oily paper.

I bought N a handful of pink peonies. In Russia you must buy an odd number of flowers, unless they are for a funeral. The saleswoman watched me leaving, flowers held upright the clear plastic rustling noisily around them. In Russia, everyone carries flowers hanging down – upside down, for some reason. Sometimes I want them to know I am a stubborn foreigner.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

E she has a magic rock that protects her when she is in her mother’s apartment.
Her eyes wide, she grabbed my forearm across the kitchen table.
“Pop, you need a magic rock too.” She said fiercely.
She spent the next night at her mother’s.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

N returned, tired and hungry. She returned romantic as ever, with gifts wrapped carefully in plastic bags, with a kitchen spoon all the way from Tibilisi which I promptly put in a drawer.
“When you are away, I will use this spoon and know you are alright.” I said.
She smiled her Audrey Hepburn smile, brushed the hair from her face.

It began to rain for the first time in weeks. The sun was still shining.
A few lazy fat drops splashed outside the kitchen windows.
“It is called blind rain.” She said. “When the sun is still shining.”
I closed my eyes, imagining a cool wave of air crossing my face. It did not come.
I saw giant tufts floating upwards, as the raindrops danced around them.
“They are called topol.” N said. “If you catch one, you must make a wish.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

When I went to take E the next morning, her mother shoved her quickly into the hallway.

“Is she wearing underwear this time?” I asked, sliding my foot into the door. The last few Sundays E was handed off without socks or underwear for some reason.
E looked up at me, her face deep and sad. She shook her head no.
They disappeared inside, after a furious turning of keys in the locks.
I waited thirty minutes, listening to the shouting, calling on the phone, ringing the doorbell for a long time. Eventually E came back out from the dark entry that smelled of cat pee.
“I have something for you.” She said.
The door slammed behind her, the keys turning furiously again.
Skipping down the stairs, her hand tight in mine E was starting to sing.

In N’s little green car, I buckled E into the back seat.
“Pop.” She said. “I have a surprise for you.”
She pressed a toy cel phone holder towards me. Inside was a red plastic ornament from Ikea.
“It’s your magic rock!” She shouted.
N looked at us, her quiet smile spreading across her face.
I breathed in deeply, and let out a long sigh.
“You’re the best, kiddo.” I said.
“Pop, you have to know.” E continued. “It’s not simple. There are only three magic rocks in the whole world and yours is a wolf rock. So, if there are wolves you have to hide it.”
“Where does your rock come from?” I asked her, after a minute.
“Mine is from New York.” She said. “Nobody is going to take mine. Mine is simple.”

* produkte – think, bodega….


Annie said…
Thank you for that little trip into your life. The spoon in the drawer, the ladies in their blue smocks, the heat, blind rain. (Wonderful phrase.) I see and hear it all.
Evie G said…
"..more a wrinkled up piece of paper in an ill-fitting suit." That line is classic. Your writing makes me want to know more, see broke off a little piece of my heart already....
Anonymous said…
Genial post and this enter helped me alot in my college assignement. Say thank you you for your information.
Rabbit blogger said…
college assignment? sounds intriguing - - please share!
Annie said…
I've gotten that "college assignment" comment a few times; when it came on a post that in no way, shape or form could help anyone with a college assignment, I came to the conclusion it is a form of spam.

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