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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…

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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