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you are not there

We are taking the little one for a ride on her new sled. It is bright orange, with a fuzzy black and white seat cover to keep her extra warm. Her tiny hands in tiny gloves hold the sides as tight as she can. I pull her down a path, shouting "woohooo" and then she replies "woohoo". N's turn is next, pulling her more schoolgirl than mother for a few minutes. There are other parents with children on sleds passing us. Their eyes straight forward, faces completely blank they slip by in silence. I flash a smile to them, and they do not even look at me. I am not there, just another tree leaning towards the stream that runs below.

There are ducks still, flapping around the brackish water and we throw pieces of stale bread to them. I start to think, not about the complete absence of smiles in this culture. I stopped asking about that long ago, told over and again that smiles are reserved for home, behind closed doors. But I wonder, for the children -  these wiggling bu…

hold on, clap hands

The fountain in the courtyard is turned off now.  The sun is not up yet, and a lone man in orange overalls is sweeping leaves. The heat is banging around the pipes, but not really working. E is snoring lightly, the cat curled around one of her elbows.

I make coffee in the darkness, thinking about two deaths from last week. One, a girl I have not seen in almost 30 years. The other, the wife of a dear friend. One killed by cancer after a long struggle. The other - suddenly, violently, randomly. I am never prepared for loss, even when it is expected. I believe everyone will live for millions of years. I cannot imagine being awakened in the middle of the night by the crash of furniture breaking, of heavy footsteps, of the loud smack of gunfire. I cannot imagine months of chemotherapy, of a loyal husband holding me until I fall asleep .

It is beyond me.

I am working from home now, in order to take E to music school two times a week. She sits in the tiny classroom, following the pudgy teacher's fingers as they conduct. The parents sit in a cluster in the back, furiously scribbling notes for what to practice at home. Some are busy sending text messages or playing games on their cel phones. I watch the children's faces, the ones that are desperate to get out and play. They could care less about do, mi and and fa. One at a time, they go to the chalkboard to be quizzed. E is right every time. There is a quiet perfection to this hour we spend in the music school. She glances back at me sometimes, not for approval - just comforted I am there.

After bringing her to regular school, I return home. Between the software chugging away, tiny white dots flying around a logo, I sip cold coffee, check emails. One is from my expat bandmates, a new pile of song fragments to listen to, if possible throw some harp on them. And suddenly I have pulled out the new harmonicas I bought myself for my birthday, and it's so easy to play on this one called hold on.  Chugging into the microphone taped to a soda bottle, playing the harmonica is like sad breathing. It's a lost, atmospheric blues that bursts into clicking flurries of melody, then back to a slow, measured backbone. And then there are a few thoughts I have about vocals, just some ideas to share and I am sitting alone in the bright apartment, howling like a wounded animal. I am clapping my hands like thunder. The words are tumbling out - my eyes squeezed closed.

hold on, brother
hold on

you got to hold, baby's gone
hold on, baby's gone

time is running down
time is running down

you've got to hold on to what you've got now
you've got to hold on to what you've got now

baby's gone
baby's gone
baby's gone
sweet baby's gone

My voice is gone after this, just a crude whisper. Things crept up on me, I tried to make something out of them. I have to go get E in a few minutes. 

I dream I can fly. I dream a tiny insect becomes a giant black dog. I go to a punk rock concert with N and we stand in the back of the great room, a cloud of smoke hanging in the rafters, kids bouncing off the walls, men drunk stepping on our shoes, women spinning in wild circles, their bra straps hanging around their elbows. We listen to the thump and moan and smile at each other. We hold each other and sway. The songs are amazing, the guitar is sublime. The beat is furious, ahead then behind then dead center. Sasha is singing with his hands in the air. They love him. They know all of the words. He is some kind of hero. 

And then when the crowd clears, the floor littered with broken bottles and two million cigarette butts, we drift off to find some french fries and tarragon soda. We go to sleep under warm blankets. 

And now the sun is shining. I walk E to school. Three women are sitting on a park bench smoking cigarettes, their coveralls hanging from their waists. I bring E inside and fold her clothes, and then back in silence. The three women are working now, digging the dark soil, turning the earth back upon itself. There are boxes of tulip bulbs they are planting. Winter is coming. The ground will soon grow hard. 

The apartment is cold and quiet. I call N to wake her up. I ask her if she has had any dreams like I always do. She has dreamt both she and her sister are pregnant. How many months? I ask. Four, she says. Ah, so you can still wear pants somehow, I say. Yes, she says, laughing as she stretches. And how does it feel? I ask her. Good, she says, Good.


Would you like to meet for a walk with the kids? email me at
Annie said…
I want to be in Moscow where I, too, could see things so clearly - like new. And that's why I love Russia.

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