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Not me, her

In 1987, I found myself trying to write about a high school girlfriend that had been molested by her father when she was a child. I was 19 years old, struggling to find my way through a screenwriting assignment about delivering character. The idea was to describe messy young love between two Sid and Nancy want-to-be's. But that failed, as I could not stomach oversimplifying her complicated past, events that shaped her life as a 16 year old with a mohawk, a smart mouth, a lingering stare. I understood that I had to start at the very beginning.

No one wanted to hear the story. When it was my turn to read in class, it even came to be that some of the other students asked to stand in the hallway before they heard another description of what happened in that lonely little house in the middle of nowhere. I was trying, and failing, and trying again to get things right, to explain how this happened, how it could happen to this girl, how this man found his way to acts of selfishness and d…

what the black birds know

The chimes from the train station are drifting towards us, but not the announcements. People must be arriving, with great boxes wrapped in twine. Others depart, with long faces and gifts wrapped in newspapers. The snow is falling, flakes as big as my hands it seems, floating upwards and circling the rooftops before they finally land. You can hardly see past the parking lot. There is just the sound of what is out there and the smell of detergent on the clean floors, cigarettes the neighbors half-smoke in the hallway.

I coax E into taking a bath, then squeeze a chair into the tiny space, playing guitar for her as she sings to her dolls. Splashing, acting out great dramas and a collage of fairy tales, she creates a tiny world.

It is Sunday night, and there is a sense of great calm. Some soup is bubbling away on the stove. The washing machine sings a little melody when it finishes its cycle.

In the morning, the snow is falling again. I do not find it beautiful or magical. It is ugly, filthy, oppressive. I fight it, and imagine it wants to suffocate me. There are black birds winging around the dark sky, shuttling from somewhere to the rooftops next door, back and forth with great purpose.

I hold E's hand, as we creep across the ice towards school. It is a sort of skipping record, this winter life here. Countless repetitions of the same journey, the same white sky, the soot and grime that stains everything.

I find myself looking towards the twin smokestacks next to us, wherever we go. Like two dirty candy canes, their faded red stripes stand out against any sky. This is the heating plant that pipes hot water to all of the buildings in the district. It is a living monument that produces a pair of steam clouds without the slightest interruption. It must be the New Yorker in me, looking for a surrogate Empire State Building, some sort of architecture that pierces the sky, that looks down on us when we are buying milk, or bread or turning a corner. Ah, there it is again - so I know where I am now. I know where home is now, and I know the heat is still working.

And now the week lurches into motion. The sun is finally up, somewhere beyond the cottonball sky that hovers above us. Truck drivers will wake themselves with strong cups of black tea they drink from clear plastic cups. They will splash through puddles, turn hard on tight corners. The black birds are working away, reversing their paths to enter those little windows. I have no idea what they are doing in there, and why they leave.

The snow swirls once more, flying sideways in opposite directions.

I can't see anything.


Annie said… get that same exquisitely thoughtful expression from both your favorite models.

I love the snow, your Moscow snow. It is our Lansing snow that is dirty and depressing. Your Moscow snow is wonderful because it helps you write so well.
S Sommer said…
This portrait of E reminds me so much of a portrait in the an old master, but not sure which one...
If I had to guess, I'd say Rembrandt, portraits of women.. draped fabric..

Just know I have seen that pose, even something about the towel and her clothing seems familiar, and then her luminous skin and eyes with the gaze of eternity... absolutely wonderful.

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