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the first

The yarmarka (farmer's market) is about to close. Some of the people are already packing up, offering their last bruised tomatoes at half-price to anyone walking past them.  I am wandering, staring at bunches of herbs, at the same old options - cabbage, pepper, potato, garlic, apple, cucumber. But then I see a pile of peas. The season must have come early this year. I buy a kilo, and some mint. I know what is for dinner. We have not had it in eleven months.

At home, I rip the bag open, showing them to V. She stands by the kitchen table, eyes wide. I crack one open, showing her the little rounds inside. She plucks one out, her pinky pointing to the ceiling.
"Try it." I tell her.
She does, but she does not like it.

I pull out a bowl for them. She jumps up and down a few times. V always wants to help in the kitchen. I pull her to my lap, and we begin pulling them out from the shells. She learns quickly, tossing them with a flourish into the bowl, a few cascading to the flo…

(we are all) Coney Island Babies

Leaving for the airport, we watched a few Tajiks ripping all of the lilacs down. They bundled them quickly in the late morning light with stoic faces, then shuffled down the street to sell them. 

This single act - one among millions, remains with me days later. The lack of respect or compassion or sense of space - all eclipsed by desperation, by greed, by absolute simplicity. I remember their faces. If you ask me, they have no souls. 

We try to enter the cathedral on 93rd street just off of Central Park. No one answers the door bell. I look up at the vaulted ceilings through the windows, seeing the angels behind the reflections of the city. I remember the crisp white hallways, the string of rooms connected by great staircases all too well.

I brought E here in a sling when she was little. I stood in services with incense swirling around me, crying. This was the place her mother told me she was taking her from me. Here, I burst into tears and a sweet man next to me took it for a religious epiphany. I found myself running outside to the sidewalk, my child grabbing at my fingers from inside the swath of fabric I carried her in. My imagination ran wild then. I was lost.

The second Russian cathedral a few blocks away is dark, foreboding. They answer the doorbell. N goes first, as we pass narrow hallways and then up a few stairs. The door opens onto the side of the great room. Only a handful of candles are burning, suggesting the ceiling, the walls, the balcony. You must imagine them in the dim light. We pay for some candles. She stands for some time. One for her grandmother who died on this day last year.

I stare at a strip of carpet running along the center of the room, a small dais. E was baptized here, screaming the whole time. She took a shit in her white dress after being dunked in the basin before there was time to get a diaper on her. She was angry that day.

A few months later, I was baptized by the same priest. I had to bring two white shirts, the first I would never wear again, the second still hangs in my closet. I saw a red bird flying through Central Park that day. A profound omen, I am told.

I became a cook in the kitchen in the basement for some time. While Sunday services went on, we paused occasionally to recognize a small icon in the corner of the room, then went back to peeling garlic, roasting peppers, chopping onions.

The D train rumbles along, shooting up from the darkness of the tunnel at one point. Here, graffiti creeps past the windows. Lush green vines hang low in the late morning light.

We are going to Coney Island to press our toes into the sand. N wears a little beach skirt and looks at Brooklyn for the first time, swishing past the windows in its early summer glory. There is no place in the world where peeling paint and crumbling bricks hold more emotion for me. Ancient signs, the smell of slow-cooked onions, the ramshackle rooftops littered with lawn chairs and hibachis. There is a magic disorder here, where balconies are piled on top of garages, where the makeshift has become permanent, where generations grew up playing in the street, where a pink Spalding was a real prize.

A string pulls inside me. I am sorry E only saw this place once, when she was one. She has no memory of it. I took her here for myself I guess, stood in front of Nathan's and promised to buy her a hotdog here someday, trotted along the boardwalk and told her "It's beautiful here in the wintertime, you know."

We are asleep within minutes, the sounds of the water lapping the shore, children laughing, and the boardwalk games all compressed into a tiny symphony. Maybe a lullaby. The sun is going behind the clouds, it is cold. N has goosebumps all of a sudden. Two different people might roll up their beach towels and go home. But we stay, shivering a bit, our hands touching, our heels digging into the warm sand.

I dream of Coney Island, the survivor of fires. Coney Island that never surrenders. Yes, some things have changed. In truth - a lot has changed. I pray it is here for E someday, to show her where she came from.


Mely said…
This was beautiful.
I was missing your post today. It was worth the wait.

Annie said…
I did imagine.

You brought back Coney Island. That is where I first saw the ocean - as a grown up, in the winter. Yes; it is beautiful, and it was barren, only my friend and me, a few flurries of snow, and mysteriously every so often along the beach a barrel with a fire in it, and two or three men hunkered over it, warming themselves. I wondered what they were doing, who they were, but they put the finishing touches on that gray and awe-inspiring vista.

The Tajiks; it is sad, but maybe they have nothing else to sell.

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