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a peaceful protest

I was 16, and the thought of being forced to mention God as part of the pledge of allegiance was too hypocritical an act for me to play along with. Each day of high school began with this mundane recitation, as most people just stood with their hand jutting from a hip, the other dangling across their chest as they counted out the seconds until they could sit back down. They leaned against desks, and talked through it about what party and where it would be, if there would be a keg or a bonfire in the woods. I recited the words, omitting the "under God" part as a sort of half-baked protest. I was raised to flaunt my family's ramshackle atheism, as a choice of smug pride. We knew better, was the prevailing logic.

But one day, I could not stand and say any of it. It felt so rote, so hollow, so devoid of choice. There was no law that said I was required to say it. I knew this was my right, a form of free speech. My homeroom teacher was a legendary drinker, a trash-talking re…

ask the rocks

The woman is screaming, her elephant body squeezed into a cheap yellow dress with giant black dots on it. It hangs awkwardly against her lumpy figure the way children's clothes fit a child that has grown out of them. I see the torn collar, her muddy legs forced into tiny shoes that twist her feet sideways. She is grabbing handfuls of rocks and throwing them at him. He has no shirt on, squatting on the backs of his heels, acid-washed jeans and pointy cheap loafers. His hands cover his face, but he does not retreat.

She screams in something I take for Uzbek, or Kazak - not Russian, or maybe Russian with a very thick accent. The rocks and pebbles are hurled with incredible force from her fat fingered hands, the words one long rope of throaty anger. I see a suitcase on its side in the space between them, upside down like a helpless turtle. The zipper is broken. It is wrapped in swaths of tattered cellophane.

The air is electric. The man grimaces. He is completely silent.

I stand there, my canvas bag unrolling in the afternoon sun as it loosens from my hand. The shopping list I wrote flutters to the ground, and I pick it up.

I start to piece an explanation together. They both arrived on the train from somewhere far in the south, traveling in a hot cramped car for maybe two days. Nothing to eat but dried fish wrapped in newspapers, maybe some cervelat, some bread, then nothing at all. He was supposed to arrange a room for them, a car to take them, but he didn't. He just wanted to come to Moscow and somehow she payed for the tickets, and now he will leave her. He will go off with a group of other men, suntanned, with the same shock of black hair, with cigarettes and a bottle to share, with day work and a place to sleep. As they say in Russian, he threw her.

And now she is throwing something back at him.

The glass covered bridge that arcs across the river is only for people, not cars. The day is over and hordes of workers are churning towards home, past these two and their soap opera. No one even looks at them. It is as if they do not exist, or they are invisible. I wonder if I am the only person who can see them.

One of her stray pebbles ricochets off a pole and lands close to me.

He hunches there, not moving. I catch a good look at his face, pockmarked, pimpled. Somehow he is not provoked. His teeth are clenched, but he does not fight back. He does not say a word in his defense, or a word to calm her. Maybe he knows it is impossible.

I understand there could be another story behind this. Maybe he brought her here, this poisonous madwoman, ferried her from far away to a great gleaming city that could absorb her, told her what he needed to, coaxed her with daydreams and half-promises. He packed her bag and got her all the way here, but only to leave her, to lift a rock from his shoulders, to free himself of her in some profound, thoughtful way. Abandoning her like some dog that he hopes will never make it all the way home.

I want to pass them already, to go buy some blueberries from a massive pile in a makeshift market that springs up sometimes here. I want to erase the bleating, dying animal sound of her threats from my ears. I want him to get up, or run off instead of just squatting there and seeing how many rocks hit their mark, drawing blood from his bare flat chest.

I want to forget how I stood in hallways, in doorways, in kitchens with drinking glasses hurled at me, shattering against the walls. I want to forget that I wore the same expression as this man, this sad acceptance, this refusal to surrender, this wish to take a hurricane and douse its fury between nothing but my bare hands.


Annie said…
Well, I'm glad you have a sweet Russian woman in your life.

I am hugely impressed at the skill with which you narrated this story...once again - I was there.
matthewjoy said…
You have a way of painting an interesting picture and away with words. However, I know people and understand what you are not saying. This blog was only written because you were screwed. You did not have a fun and good time and then connect with us. You connected with us after the fact. I was mislead, my mistake. We may be able to help each other, I don't know. You will find 1000s of folks who feel sorry for you and leave sweet comments. I'm not one of those. I won't leave any more comments after this.

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