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every other man

The light outside the main entrance to our building has gone out again. The heavy metal door swings wide as I pull a hat down over my ears. In the darkness there are maybe twenty teenagers standing still. My boot scrapes across the ground, slowing down. Their hands in pockets, shoulders hunched, I look for a space to pass between them. A voice appears, saying hello in English, with an obvious accent. I am all instinct, sayingpivyet as I pass, not looking back, wondering who said this. There was a boy that was an extra in Blackbetty that lives in our building, but he is too young, too short for it to have been him.

I look back, navigating the puddles in the street. It does not make any sense.

N is with V, making their way home. I meet them, pulling V into my arms as she chatters about her day, about dry leaves and princesses, about her grandmother's apartment and what she ate there. We are going back home, and I try to explain the odd collection that stands outside. As we pass th…

This is where we live

Pushing gingerly past the wall of boxes by the door I walk E to school. She doesn't want to go. She wants to be at home with me, or sitting next to me in meetings with her magic markers. Her mother has not brought her to school once this year, simply letting her sleep late and then stagnate within the unblinking eye of the TV. She tells her school is bad, and if Dad takes her to school is it because he doesn't love her, and that he is mean.

E knows better than to accept this, but her Soviet-style destkie sad (kindergarden) is often boring. They do a lot of math there. They do a lot of memorization of Pushkin, but the food is good.

Turning the corner onto Studencheskaya she screams all at once, her words gurgling in her throat. She struggles from my arms as I carefully haul her down the street, her snowpants and parka slipping through my fingers. I have to hold her over my hip, her arms flailing wildly. I am completely embarrassed, and suddenly there is no one here to judge me, no babushka to sniff in the air as I pass. Just muddy black SUV's blazing through the intersections.

I ring the front door, and here is her teacher Lubova to let us in. They are practicing for the next school play downstairs today. She takes E with warm firm hands. She knows the entire story. A kind, chubby woman who makes most metaphors with her fist. Walking away, I feel a rush of relief and a cascade of emotions - sadness that E feels this way, anger at the woman who teaches her to hate school, remorse that she does not live in NY and go to my old Montessori school, exhaustion as her crying made me want to burst into tears as well, and pause to thank the world for Lubova and the fierce attention she gives E.

15 minutes later I call and Lubova says she is fine, eating porridge and drinking compote. I am constantly learning that being firm is difficult, but a kind of delayed positive. Of course I could have kept E home from school today and we would have had a wonderful time. But something inside me knows it is much better to find her at the end of the day as a part of the kindergarden symphony, the cacophony of play, the jumbled courage of detskie sad games. Inside this little girl is a skipping record, raw emotions that somehow can be nudged, washed away by randomness. If I step in dog shit in the street, or a car honks we are suddenly OK.

Passing the rinock (market) on the way home, an old woman plunks a cardboard box on the ground where she will sell a handful of beets, potatoes, maybe horseradish from her garden. A wind skitters down the sidestreet and she cannot spread a piece of paper across the top. I stop, and return to her, holding one end without a word as she stares at me briefly, and spreads the mess of mudclotted vegetables across it. I brush my hands against my jeans thinking how I feel just like this woman, trying to spread my own display paper out.

The new apartment is finally ready to receive us. N shuttles me late at night with armfuls of pots and pans, cables, guitars, quickly packed clothes, towels, and all of E's toys. The new place smells OK now. We move from room to room, organizing, planning, imagining. We go back to the old place for a late dinner, and the deepest of sleeps.

On Saturday, E is still with me. She slurps her last bowl of cereal in the old place. Her legos are arranged in an intricate village around me, as I pack my desk up and add it to the cascade of boxes.

"Pop." She says, her mouth twisted sideways.
"Yes?" I say, from the other room.
"Pop, I know what happened between you and Mom." She says.
"Oh yeah?" I ask, resting my hands on my hips in the doorway.
"You had wires that were connecting you, like from your head to her head." She explained. "But now the wires are broken. The wires are gone now."
"That's about right." I say, after a moment.
E starts singing to herself, a quiet little melody.
She begins turning tiny foil candy wrappers into blankets for her dolls.

N is humming in the kitchen of the new apartment the next morning. She is emptying the closets of the bizarre and random collection of dishes that are here, dressed in one of my button-down shirts and a pair of slippers. I hold her. We stare out the kitchen window for a while. A train slithers away in the distance. A curl of smoke climbs lazily from the next building. I breath in, smelling her perfume, my morning coffee and the greasy dust on the shelves.

This is where we live now.


Annie said…
Oh, beautiful as usual. I think it is good that E. has that school, and perhaps the structure and firmness are just what she needs to counteract the chaos she experiences with her mom. And, all kids do that, you know - even happy, secure ones - they reject transitions, have little melt-downs, soon forgotten in the new environment.

My older kids went to Montessori, but my Anastasia with her more chaotic early years, does much better in an old-style, highly structured environment.

I like the use of photos; I see what you mean. I love the image you painted of the woman with her vegetables. I always bought something from women like that. Just HAD to, somehow.
The Expatresse said…
The Dom-O-Phone! I had forgotten about those. Ours looked JUST like that.
mevuelvoguajiro said…
a good old steampunk style domophone. one of the first ones in Moscow. i loved ours (it was similar one) and i miss it now.

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