Skip to main content


a peaceful protest

I was 16, and the thought of being forced to mention God as part of the pledge of allegiance was too hypocritical an act for me to play along with. Each day of high school began with this mundane recitation, as most people just stood with their hand jutting from a hip, the other dangling across their chest as they counted out the seconds until they could sit back down. They leaned against desks, and talked through it about what party and where it would be, if there would be a keg or a bonfire in the woods. I recited the words, omitting the "under God" part as a sort of half-baked protest. I was raised to flaunt my family's ramshackle atheism, as a choice of smug pride. We knew better, was the prevailing logic.

But one day, I could not stand and say any of it. It felt so rote, so hollow, so devoid of choice. There was no law that said I was required to say it. I knew this was my right, a form of free speech. My homeroom teacher was a legendary drinker, a trash-talking re…

this bitter earth

short film about the Moscow smoke conditions from marco North on Vimeo.
">short film about the Moscow smoke conditions from marco North on Vimeo.

We are still waking up with headaches, leaning from the bed and looking to see the sky. The same white cloud is there, the same smell of burnt rubber, the same sheets slick with sweat. We are hiding inside, watching marathons of our favorite tv shows. We are making little dishes of strawberry jello to eat late at night, cool and sweet on our throats. E is fine, marching around in her underwear, hair matted to her forehead, a thousand drawings around her feet.

There was a plan to go to a dacha for the weekend. They had no extra beds so I ran out and bought a little tent, sleeping bags, a lantern to turn on when it finally got dark. I would read from The Book of The Green Fairy until E fell asleep in the fresh air. The plans fell through, as plans will do. The lantern still got some use in the darkness and I still read her french fairy tales.

When she is with her mother, I make my way to work a little earlier. I buy nectarines from the same woman hunched over her box of fruit between parked cars on Smolenskaya. She holds a wet kerchief to her face, whispering the price to me. It's business as usual here. Two out of three people are smoking cigarettes, even cigars - walking through these clouds of smog they say are the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes every four hours. Men with no shirts on sit on stairs, smoking and staring off into the pale distance. Moscow girls in pushup bras and stilettos are tottering down the sidewalk, adjusting their miniskirts, sipping from bottles of imported water. Tourists wear glittery dresses and force smiles as they pose in front of a monument, asking strangers to take pictures of them in this soft white haze.

A giant billboard floats in the distance, promoting a new film that will premiere in September, called "Moscow, I Love You." I can't think that far ahead. I am thinking of buying more jugs of fresh water, vitamin E and no tears shampoo. I can't look at the teenage girls wearing ridiculous gold costumes standing in this deserted street, hawking gym memberships to me every time I pass them. I don't understand why they are not at home, or wearing masks. A throaty motorcycle pulls up, a sequence of lights glittering along its fat lines. The man wears a giant black helmet, and turns up his stereo. It is playing John Lennon - Imagine. The words are echoing around the pale sooty avenue, beyond ironic.

Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one.

The gym club girls in their costumes slump against each other, defeated. Some of their postcards flutter to the sidewalk and they hesitate, then go about picking them up.

I get angry. I feel sad. I feel tired, defeated. I have work to do.  I have a child to take care of, which makes things very simple.

Every night I call N, happy to hear about the minor mishaps of her Bulgarian retreat. There is nothing new to say, so we just listen to each other breathing for a little while.

I dream I am alone in a boiling hot swimming pool. The sky is black and motionless, the sun lost somewhere. The moon and stars are gone. People are coming, their faces burned - disfigured by flames and smoke, now white with scars. Naked, they slip into the water. They surround me, and I cannot move in the heavy water, pushing against the surface to go to the cool blue floor. No, I am treading water, and they are breathing the air from my lungs. They are closing their mouths on mine, sucking every clean molecule of air from me.


Omgrrrl said…
Very nice, m'dear. Bittersweet Moscow, indeed.

Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean. _ Maya Angelou
Babs said…
amazing read...
Rabbit blogger said…
Babs, thanks for sharing a comment. I was wondering who was reading from Mauritius!
Enjoyed reading your thoughts on Moscow in its hazy state... Even being from here, I like to distract from this fact and just look at it from a random visitor's point of view.

Popular Posts

best personal blogs
best personal blogs