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cold nostalgia

There is a note, stuck to the front entrance of our building. The hot water will be turned off for ten days. This is something that happens every summer, although it snowed a week ago and children wander the playgrounds in ski hats these days. At night it can be 40 degrees fahrenheit.  The hot water is always turned off like this, at some point during June or July. It is a long-standing Soviet tradition, and people begrudgingly accept it here. But the baby, V does not. She wants to stand in a hot bath before she goes to sleep, to splash and pour water all around her, and N. She wants to stand and wiggle her tiny hands under the spout, as she grows pink and clean, as she howls and shouts for us to see what new trick she has improvised. There is no explanation for her, why the hot water is off today, and will be tomorrow. She is angry, furious even.

I used to buy the story that this offered a chance for the water department to fix pipes, to take care of routine maintenance. Hot water c…

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.




Comments

Annie said…
Hm....you 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 Louvre..by 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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