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every other man

The light outside the main entrance to our building has gone out again. The heavy metal door swings wide as I pull a hat down over my ears. In the darkness there are maybe twenty teenagers standing still. My boot scrapes across the ground, slowing down. Their hands in pockets, shoulders hunched, I look for a space to pass between them. A voice appears, saying hello in English, with an obvious accent. I am all instinct, sayingpivyet as I pass, not looking back, wondering who said this. There was a boy that was an extra in Blackbetty that lives in our building, but he is too young, too short for it to have been him.

I look back, navigating the puddles in the street. It does not make any sense.

N is with V, making their way home. I meet them, pulling V into my arms as she chatters about her day, about dry leaves and princesses, about her grandmother's apartment and what she ate there. We are going back home, and I try to explain the odd collection that stands outside. As we pass th…

a visit

Jews mixed with Russian Orthodox, the cemetery is a rough jumble of graves. Each one has a tiny fence around it, a crooked leaning mess that reminds me of an empty bed frame. A series of them extend in all directions interrupted by tall birch trees, like a train that stopped abruptly and never moved again.

The air is sweet and still, interrupted by tiny white butterflies that seem to be going nowhere in a hurry. A chainsaw whirs in the distance, and I can imagine its work, the methodical cutting into pieces that thump to the warm, wet earth. The pause when I imagine its owner is going to have lunch now or a late morning tea. And then the chainsaw continues, throaty cut after throaty cut as the work goes on.

Faces are etched in the stones, with mustaches, in fine suits. Women gaze with wet eyes. The impression is that they are looking at me, following my footsteps as I avoid the stinging flowers of krapiva bushes.


Some graves are overgrown, with giant flat leaves thrusting past their fences. Others are kept perfectly, fresh flowers sitting in granite pockets, often a chair or a bench there, glistening under a fresh coat of black paint in the midday sun. At one grave for a little girl that died, a security officer sits. There is gold here, enough valuable objects that the risk of them being stolen is a real one. I understand he has sat here for more than fifteen years.


And now the grave we are here to visit is revealed. Clean, open, simple. The green marble that surrounds it has turned grey in the Russian winter. There are bright shocks of marigold as orange as fresh egg yolks. I smell the wildflowers around us, and a patch of tiny wild strawberries that are close by. Tufts of white puffy seeds float in the air, drifting upwards into a cloudless sky. Hands are pressed to the warm black granite. A handful of stories are told. The eventual silence approaches, when nothing can be said with words anymore, just being here, sitting, watching ants crawling across the dirt, a spider skittering along some plastic flowers over there. 

I see a statue of an angel in the distance. It is made of white stone, and is slumped over itself, weeping.

Yes, here even the angels cry I think to myself.


As we drive away, I feel we have gone too soon. We should have spent more time. 

But now we are on the highway already past the loose string of auto repair garages, past the strange turn with no traffic light. Now I am looking at the hulking shells of buildings half-built, the openings for windows like empty mouths waiting to be filled.

Comments

Omgrrrl said…
Angels spend 95% of their time weeping. It's just the way it goes.
invisible woman said…
I find the idea of the security guard sitting there for fifteen years totally - awesome: moving and sad and amazing. Thanks for another beautiful piece which shows a corner of the world I haven't seen, and inspires me as a writer. Sarah.

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