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Breathing the right air

Nothing brings more comfort than a bag of good things to cook, swinging under your arm as you make your way home. Somehow it blots out the rest of the world. In these moments, the entire universe consists of a late afternoon sun, a stray dog and a clump of flowers growing strange and wild in a yard. A hit of basil jumps from my elbows with each swing of the bag, a gift from one of the ladies I buy from the most. I visit markets without intention, just eyes open ready to discover fresh peas, or the first corn. Knowing that these products will disappear as quickly as they present themselves creates a certain form of excitement. Each season offers up this rhythm and without it I might become completely lost.

I think of when we were in Tuscany a month ago, feeling like such a tourist until I wandered out along the highway and found the local vegetable stand. I shoved squash blossoms and tiny tomatoes into a bag, rushing back to our room like I had robbed a bank. I made pasta with them th…

там, здесь (there, here)

The sky hangs heavy, just a strip of fierce sun in the distance. One more opera backdrop. The view is too magnificent from this place. It never fails to hold me, studying the patterns of light, the archaic hammers, sickles and five point stars. Built by German prisoners of war, now littered with satellite dishes, air conditioners and potted plants. N has been away for seven days on vacation with relatives. She is in Cyprus, getting sunburned, eating fresh fish, waking up late, drinking eternal cups of Turkish coffee.

I wake up sweaty and dry mouthed, the sun already baking the walls. Cold water on my face, two cups of coffee and I'm still fast asleep. I am not here, I am there with her. I am making jokes in the sand, sipping from a tall, cold glass of grapefruit juice. Spreading lotion across her back and shoulders, trying to decide if it's time to splash into that blue ocean yet. Savoring the taste of salt water on her lips.

No, I am here. And her phone is out of money and I can't even call her.

I have a client we call "The Millionaire". Before every meeting with him, I call N and she wishes me luck, as I stand in the shadow of a Lenin Statue on Oktoberskaya Square. Today, I called her anyways - the out of service message playing - I pretended to talk with her, a strange superstition I could not erase. I felt completely foolish walking past the fountain on the square, where teenagers splashed in the water taking pictures of each other. Jeans and shirts soaking wet, painted on their bodies. The smell of algae and stale cigarettes is there.

She'll be back late Saturday night. I will see her Sunday morning.

She will enter the house with that perfect sound of her keys turning in the lock. Maybe wearing a new shirt, a fresh touch of perfume on her neck. I will make us coffee in the kitchen, and she will wrap her hands around the red cup the way she always does. Even in this heat, she takes it's warmth, sipping slowly. Eyes holding on me, sharing anecdotes and bits of news. There is something completely perfect about her - her grace, the presents she brings for E and me. She is here now, and the cat is marching around on her knees saying hello, spreading a thousand hairs across her black shirt. She is here now, and I can only quote Neruda.

Quiero hacer contigo
lo que la primavera hace con los cerezos.

I want
to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.

And once again, I am that 19 year old boy sitting by the empty train tracks, with a slim pink book bought on a solo journey through Manhattan. I am flipping through the pages, surprised how familiar the Spanish feels on my tongue in the hot air. The September sun is burning into the pages, making them translucent. Once again, my thoughts swell with rapture and humble respect. 

Only now, I am not alone.


The Expatresse said…
Damn. Neruda. He always nails it, doesn't he.
Annie said…
Must comment on the photo first. Rather amazing; looks like a very realistic your "painting" of N there in your apartment, cat hair and all, is very realistic"...

I'd rather be in Moscow, but then, I've bloomed in Moscow...and want nothing so much as to experience that again.

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