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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…

agrodolce

Lost in the fairy tale of familiar streets, we zigzagged across the city. Magnificent plates of pasta, secret views, the floral smell of dim sum steaming the windows, of sewer gas, of tiny cups of perfect coffee. We ate like Kings every night - rolling into bed, our stomachs swollen, the taste of almonds on our lips. I slept next to her in a strange yet delicious bed.

I took early morning walks, alone in the cool air, my hands shoved into my pockets like someone in a Cassavetes film. Coffees knocked from my hands by the wind, I buy a second round, carefully toting them back to her, naked, asleep. I crack the lids open, shrug my pants to the floor and crawl in with her.

This is a vacation.








And in the rain, we walked through Central Park. Me desperate to see those polar bears flop into the dirty water. She talked to the squirrels and gathered a handful of leaves.

We ate lunch in an Italian restaurant. She had the tortellini, I had the duck special - agrodolce. I ate the whole thing like I was going to fight in a war the next day, slugging down cold white wine, mopping things up with fresh focaccia. She stared at me with giant eyes.

I showed her my old block, where they called me Mayor.






It was a week that let me forget my troubles. I called E every morning, explaining how each day I was buying one more toy for her. She chirped into the phone like a little bird, asking me a series of odd questions. We counted the days out together.



I dreamt things I could remember when I woke up. Something about a cup of tea, with the bag left in it. Bitter, brewed for too long, a slick of oil on its surface. They call it "prison tea" in Russia. Even the wardens drink it that way, from what I am told.




And today we returned. Moscow stood before us, sparkling, frosty and clear. The air hung in giant clouds around our mouths as we waited for the taxi. E began calling me, asking what hour I would take her. The traffic consumed us, stinking of diesel and cigarettes. She called every ten minutes, asking me to make the traffic go faster. And then somehow home, dropping the bags and N makes a cup of tea for herself. I steal two gulps, burning my mouth and set off into the street. All too familiar, and I feel like I never left, that those perfect cups of coffee, those surprise fish tacos and sushi plates for two are evaporating into the dark sky above me. They are selling flowers, even at this hour in the frozen air. I will buy some tomorrow.

Now, I will cook pasta for E.

Comments

Omgrrrl said…
Most people leave a place and then come home. You came home twice.

Once to NY and once to E.

I'd call that a good week.
The first picture is so disturbingly real - I'm looking at it and it's like I'm right there, spying on someone else's life, and know that I shouldn't be... I'd say I like the feeling it provokes, interesting. And I adore this picture of E too - she looks totally precious.
Annie said…
Brilliant essay. You are right about the photos. I do see what you mean.

But, now this one breaks my heart.
Annie said…
BTW, somehow you aren't coming up in my "list"; I thought all this time you were not posting.

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