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the empty

The fat girl as they call her, came to school with a hypodermic needle in her backpack. It may have been to defend herself, it may have been to instigate something. She comes from a broken home and this is her second or third school. E steers clear of her, and the bullies she tangles with. It was never understood  - how things began, who threw the first insult, the first punch, the first grabbed book but the end is a chronic cycle of violence. At one point, the girl's mother got the police involved and this was seen as offensive, a step too far. The police did not resolve anything so it was all just a lot of saber rattling. That is the most common sound here. The empty threat.

Last week, there was a sobrani, sort of a cross between a parent-teacher conference and a school meeting. I was busy, so E went by herself and took notes. Five minutes in she messaged me, that I was wise not to be there. Nothing about this girl was going to be resolved.
"Boys will be boys" was all …

a wedding, some rain


I need to take my hat off, and N's hands are holding a bouquet of twenty nine roses. The ceremony is gaining inertia, as the string quartet has already finished the Mendelsohnn and has somehow started playing Memory from Cats. I wedge my straw panama behind the piano and try to take pictures. The wedding is over as quickly as it started. The room bristles with old ladies and young women's perfume and men thick with cologne. Some are in bermuda shorts, some in crinoline, squeezed somehow into satin and lace, in jeans, in floppy white suits. The groom wears a skinny tie littered with tiny lavender flowers. The bride walks quite effortlessly, pecking cheeks, holding her hands in midair like a ballerina.

I retrieve my hat from between the piano and the wall. The man playing it winks at me once, knowing all too well I was about to forget it. They are already back to the Mendelsohnn as the next group is herded into the windowless room.


We sit in traffic for hours, making our way to the dacha, the country house where the reception will be. My stomach is dead empty. The sun is blinding, and will give N a sunburn on her left shoulder as she weaves along the signless roads. We sing along to The Beatles and Johnny Cash.

The backyard is surrounded by apple trees that lead to a forest. A metal door stands a few hundred feet in, an odd gate that could simply be walked around. I open it all the same and step across the threshold, convinced something magic might happen. N sees a cloud of mosquitoes and shakes her head no. They are biting her naked shoulders already. We go back to the tent, and almost cold wine, to plates of sliced tongue and quartered apples.

The guests arrive in clumps of two and three, finding seats along the long white table. Faces beaming, nodding, toasting, flowers crammed into vases all lined up along the side of the house, bodies wiggling inside sweaty dresses and suits. And then the party bus arrives for everyone without a car, for everyone that plans to get too drunk to drive. The grills are smoking away, soon to be dressed with lamb, then fish then chicken. The fat drips and sizzles as little sparks drift up into the sky, still light now.

I have been trying to call E for hours, standing in the driveway in front of the house to do nothing but listen to the ringing of the phone for a very long time. I dial all of the numbers. I have not seen her for three days now, and only talked to her for a second early in the morning. I want to tell her about the wedding and a funny little bulldog that is tied to the stairs, about the magic door in the middle of the forest, about the pine cones we found on the ground that I will bring to her, about how everyone likes my hat. I want to know she is ok, not being dragged on fake picnics where she eats nothing. I want to know she is safe inside an apartment, not alone in the street like her mother wants her to be now.

I go back to the table, my chair, my girlfriend, her relatives. I go back and drink wine and try to find some peace inside myself. I look at the bride and groom, accepting beautiful and long toasts from friends, their eyes locked. I close my eyes, breathe in the fresh air, slip my feet out of my shoes and grab at the grass with my toes. I make explanations about why they do not answer the phone. It is a game for them, a way to make me crazy, a tactic, a cruelty I would never repeat given the chance.

The meat is served, great bowls of potatoes under a blanket of chopped dill, eggplant, peppers and more wine. Bottles of vodka and whiskey stand like little soldiers every few feet along the table. Some are already empty, and the sun has not gone down yet, just dipping behind the tallest trees.

I will go to the front of the house again, where the kitchen ladies are smoking cigarettes and try to call. The phone will never answer. I will not speak to E tonight. My stomach turns, a black faceless sense of danger creeping across my shoulders. I will imagine her being taken in a car, screaming, with nothing but a sweatshirt. I will see her mother taking her as she has been threatening to - in a plane, to someplace I will never find them. E's face against a window, surrendering the way any smart six year old would.


N rests her hand against my back, massages the back of my neck, plays with the soft fuzz of my freshly shaved head. She tells me everything will be ok, that the phones are off just to drive me crazy, that I will take E the next day, that she is sure of it. She gives me some black tea, tells me to stop drinking wine, to eat some of the meat she saved for me while I stood in the driveway.

I try to believe.

The party grows noisy, as the groom's band turns on their amps and they churn through various cover songs. A guy takes his shirt off and joins them on a second guitar, wildly out of tune but screaming and gesturing so worked up that everyone is jumping in the grass. I see the happy faces, the awkward magic of people dancing, their careless beauty, the slow-motion accidents when someone ends up on their ass, instead of twirling at the end of a fingertip.


In the dark, I hear a sort of cheer and understand the bride will throw her bouquet. The single girls are looking for strategic positions, some more seriously than others. N is part of the bunch, dead center, her heels sagging backwards into the soft earth. All at once the bouquet spins high in the dark sky and two girls cry out, wrestling over the stems and the now shredded flowers. Boyfriends act as diplomats, and agree the girl whose hand caught the stems will take the prize home that night.

And then blind hands are shoving me around the long end of the table, and I join the group of men that stand laughing and nervous. I have been so far outside of my body for hours this night, I hear nothing, just glimpsing faces and when the skinny white gauze is twirling in the air I do not see my left hand extend into a pocket in the crowd, I do not think for a second that my slightly drunk fingers will close at just the right moment and the garter will be mine to take home, to wear like a trophy on my forearm, to make everyone laugh and joke and nudge N.

She smiles at me, her quiet Mona Lisa smile.
She raises one eyebrow, and says "I guess you have something to write about on Monday now, eh?"

The ride home is fast, bumpy. Three in the morning and we are in bed.

A few hours later the sky is already bright. Thunder rumbles. Lightning strikes just across the river. I look at my watch. It is six. I listen to the rain as it approaches, feeling the sudden cool air across us.

In a few hours I call, E picks up, fumbling with the phone. I dress quickly, seeing the rain has stopped, pulling on sneakers and making my way through the empty streets. I buzz the door, E's voice crackles through the old speaker. She is ready, in sandals, jumping into my arms, her face buried in my neck and we go downstairs to buy some corn and some plums. We walk down the noisy sidewalk as she chirps stories in her cartoon voice. We throw kopeks in the first fountain we pass. It starts to rain again and she is laughing, and I hoist her to my shoulders so we can go faster but at one point it is just pouring so we take cover in a bus stop. The drivers are stopping for us and E is waving them on, shouting loud in English. "We're ok! We're ok!"

Comments

Annie said…
I want to walk through the gate.
brilliant, as usual, M.
Mely said…
This is the part of Monday that I like. Reading your post.

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