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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…

the last time I fell


The dogs are sleeping on vents to keep warm, clouds of steam chugging from them as the morning unfolds. It is -21celsius. The sidewalks a labyrinth of ice, the ground itself is cracking beneath car tires in fierce snaps. I smell something burning. My mouth feels like it is full of copper pennies, heavy, a sour metallic taste on my tongue. E is crying softly, her tears shining on her red cheeks. Even taking the metro to school does not help. She does not want me to leave.

I dress her in silence, hang her coat carefully on its hook. We enter the tiled room with the line of tiny sinks, the row of towels hanging under numbers. She tucks her shirt in, her legs wobbling under her. Her hand stretches out as she stares into space. I guide E to her desk, where a bowl of porridge and a glass of compote wait for her, a mammoth, ancient spoon resting on the edge of the bowl.

She sits in the tiny chair like a balloon half-deflated. I promise to take her early today.

Outside the wind smacks my face. I forgot my gloves somehow, shove my hands deep into my jeans past the magic rocks and lucky pennies. An old woman falls in one short movement to the sidewalk like a bag of wet concrete. No impulse to catch herself. I cross the street, try to help her up. There are no more than four teeth in her mouth. She wears an ancient fur coat covered in bald patches. She thanks me quickly. She is not hurt, just startled.  I point at the street and then back at the icy sidewalk. She nods in agreement. No sand or rocks or salt, I try to say.

"It is a different country." She says in a kind of Russian slang.


Walking carefully, I realize I have not slipped all winter. I have not fallen in more than a year - since last December.


It all comes back to me. The olive branch being extended by E's mother when I moved out -  that we would all go to Ikea together so I could buy dishes, sheets, glasses, forks. I did not have any way to go there. Desperate, tired, foolish I agreed. She owed me money. I told her if she drove me I would deduct a bit from her debt. The traffic was bumper to bumper, the diesel stench of giant trucks sitting for hours on the three lane highway was unbearable. They stood motionless around us for minutes at a time, great stinking elephants. I sat in the back seat with E, trying to keep my eyes closed and just sleep to avoid conversation. It took more than three hours, and it was after 11 when we pulled into the dark, snow-drifted parking lot. They would close in an hour. She dropped me at the front door, and as I got out she asked for 1,000 rubles.

"For what?" I asked.
"For driving you." She said.
"But we agreed I would deduct it from what you owe me." I said.

She leaned over, slammed the door closed as E burst into tears. The tires spun hard as she pulled away. I stood there, watching my breath in the air in front of me, stomping my feet in the cold, furious - not at her, but myself for being suckered, for being such a believer. I assumed they would come back soon, to negotiate. I thought to go inside and get warm.

Fifteen minutes passed. She would not answer her phone. I wandered the parking lot trying to find them. I started to believe they were gone, that I was stuck somewhere close to the airport in the middle of the night. The wind was picking up, swirling snow around the streetlights. I stood there, my jeans turning crisp as I tried to understand if she could really just leave me here over 30 dollars.

I saw what I thought was them on the far side of the parking lot. I ran, and fell hard, snow in my face, burning on my forehead. I got up, adrenaline and fear surging in me. I ran until I could see the car better. It was not them.

The battery on my phone was low. I called Sergey, gasping for air, whining like a little boy as I tried to tell him what had happened. I stared at the phone, wondering how long the battery would last in the cold. I looked up at the dark sky, wondering what E was feeling. I realized she must be hungry.

Snow started falling in giant clumps. Time was passing and I did not want to look at my watch. It seemed like thirty minutes had passed.

He called me back. She was coming back now, but I would have to give her 2,000 rubles immediately or she would drive away again. I thought to stay warm inside but then had some idea that I would miss them.

They returned. E was screaming, her face behind the window as they approached. I threw a fistful of rubles onto the dashboard when she opened the door. I pulled E from the front seat and stormed inside. There was maybe 15 minutes left before they closed. I sat her in a shopping cart and wheeled into the kitchen section. My leg was throbbing. I grabbed randomly at glasses and dishes. E was suddenly laughing at me. I laughed back at her. I spun the cart in circles, started singing some Motown songs at the top of my lungs. E sang with me, her mittened hands conducting me. I stopped the cart, went back for things like a cutting board, a colander. I grabbed at pillows, at a giant purple blanket. E was laughing and laughing. I spun us towards the cashier, filled giant bags, slapped my only working card on the counter to pay for everything. We bought hotdogs and ate them in giant bites, mine with mustard, her's plain.

The car sits in the pickup area. Her window is open. She is smoking cigarettes, hands shaking. I crack the back open, nest the bags inside. I get in, saying nothing. E's hands are wrapped around my neck. The way back is faster. I say nothing. The radio is off. E is sleeping in my arms as she has most of her life. I close my eyes, waiting for the sense of the turn onto Kutuzovsky when I will open them again.

I have to leave her there in the back seat. Go upstairs with these giant bags. Throw the purple blanket across the fold-out and sleep under something more than my jacket for the first time there. My leg was a mess. When I woke up, I could hardly move. All of the doctors were at home then, during the January holidays. E ended up with me for two weeks as I limped to the pharmacy, tried to tell them what was wrong with me as I bought tiny glass capsules and needles, as they broke in my hands as I gave myself injections in the ass, looking in the bathroom mirror. My fingers bleeding, I would twist around on the floor, trying to find a position that would lift the pain a bit. E was patient. I taught her how to play Go-Fish then. We watched a lot of cartoons. I cooked a lot of eggs.

That was the last time I fell.



I walk inside the new place. That purple blanket is for E now. The glasses sit on the windowsill of my bedroom, where I wake up next to N so many mornings. Most of those glasses broke, there and here and during the move. I find myself singing Motown songs today, as the sun pushes through the cold sky, as smoke and steam draw the city in sharp lines.



Later, I take E from school a bit early as I promised.
She asks me if I am sad. I shake my head no.

"I just miss summer." I say, after a moment.
"Pop." She said. "You just have to think of the sun."
"Ok." I say.
"And don't miss Summer. "She added. "Just think Spring is coming."

Comments

Annie said…
All I can say is "Wow!"

I experienced it all with you - I think my leg is throbbing and my face frozen, my heart hurting, too.
brendaandthefword.blog.com said…
Stop believing and you're dead, M. Stop believing and there is no more poetry. (for all of us who read you) Stop believing and you become the very thing you despise most. I LOVE this blog.
Omgrrrl said…
A year later and you can articulate about the last time you fell.

And you haven't fallen since.

That is progress.
Mely said…
Love the pictures, but most of all the one of your little girl.

You are doing a good job with her.

Keep going.

Have a blessed week, can't wait until Monday again!
So symbolic, love it. And the photos. Especially the first one - captures the beauty in the ugly so well.
Anonymous said…
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tc said…
That hurts on so many levels.

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