Her tiny guitar thumps around in the oversize case as we make our way back down Kutuzovsky. The cars are thundering across the wet pavement, and I cannot hear a word she says. Passing the cat circus, and the wedding chapels we come to a side street. Two cars are standing in the middle of the intersection, doors open. A handful of broken plastic is spread across the asphalt. They must wait for the police to come, which can take hours. There is no mandatory insurance here, no exchanging of information and driving away after even the most minor accident. This is the system - wait, and pay.
The side view mirror from one of the cars dangles like a loose tooth about to give way from the last bit of nerve holding it in place. The owners stand in the wet air, shouting. I squeeze E's hand and cross more quickly.
All at once, one driver goes to the side view mirror and kicks it from the car, directly at us just a few feet away from them. The mirror and plastic shatter and I feel the pieces hitting my arms, my legs. E is hugging my side as we pass. I feel the wind go out of me from sheer surprise. The man was looking right at us when he did this. A part of me wants to turn around and give him the finger and ask why he puts a child in danger. A part of me knows he will ignore anything I say. He may have a gun on him, I remind myself.
"Why did he do that?" E asks me, a few yards later as we step around a giant puddle that fills the sidewalk.
I sigh, trying to form a responsible answer, the kind of answer a good parent gives, not a resentful angry one. My thoughts run to the traffic in New York, and how it is chaotic, fast, and how accidents happen all of the time there. A part of me jumps to find the differences and exploit them, to say one place is good and one a sort of hell hole. I feel guilty, knowing things are not that simple. They never are, no matter how disgusted and shocked I am. But my daughter is looking up at me, trying to understand why a stranger kicked broken glass into her face a minute earlier and I am at a loss. I know that in New York, people express themselves constantly - opinions flying from all directions like a fire hose of emotion. People may get angry, but then they cough it up right then and there. They scream, shout, spit flying from their lips, eyes insane in their heads. They gesture with wild flapping arms, birdlike in the gutter. Passers-by may watch, laugh, take sides, snap pictures on their phones. And then, quite often they drive off, relieved. Everything has been said. They may stop and do the same dance an hour later. In Moscow, everything seems repressed. People do not talk about what is right and wrong very much. The drivers pass wildly on the right, on the left, yanking their cars in front of another halfway into an intersection to gain a few inches, to gain a half second as everyone sits in an eternal traffic so thick, so pointless that cars pull on to the trolley tracks sometimes, wheeling off as the trolley car rumbles behind them, a car that would not stop. This is a culture that represses until things boil over. I wonder where these cars are going with such urgency, in a city where waiting in pointless lines for pointless documents is quite close to breathing. Running to go nowhere, I always say to myself.
E squeezes my hand.
She needs an explanation.
"Sometimes people get so mad." I start to tell her. "And then they are in their car, and they are not thinking and do something silly."
She nods, with me so far.
"And then they bump somebody's car, or maybe somebody bumps their car." I continue. "And then they are not thinking, they are just angry - like a cat when it is hungry. It just jumps."
"Like Julia." E says. "She goes crazy until I feed her."
"Right. So, suddenly he jumps and then he can't even see anything." I say.
"So he didn't see us." She says, relieved.
I nod, lying to her.
A corridor of old women are in front of us, handfuls of their dirty vegetables displayed on cardboard boxes going soft in the rain. There are tiny beets, jars of preserves, loose carrots and celery roots, papery garlic bulbs, sorrel, parsley. And there, we see a pumpkin. Small but round and lopsided, the autumn rain is washing it clean. It smiles up at us and I buy it right there, sliding it into the bag with her solfeggio workbook.
We will carve it later, maybe after lunch.
That night, I struggle with a familiar anxiety after E falls asleep, her stomach full of black beans and rice. I drink a glass of wine that tastes more of grape juice and grain alcohol than anything else. If I was a smoker, I would be sucking hard on something unfiltered as I look out the kitchen windows at the glass and steel buildings in the distance. Seven more years of this madness, I remind myself.
It is easy to see every fat old woman in the street with a cigarette dangling from her lips as disgusting. The same woman in New York would be charming somehow. I know this way of thinking is poisonous. But having glass kicked into my daughter's face a half mile from the White House with no recourse but to skulk down a side street and lie to my child is a lot to absorb. Every sponge has its limit.
I have nightmares. Something about being underwater. E wakes me. She is having them too, but will not give me any details. I carry her back to bed, turn on the first film I can find on her computer, Tinkerbell.
E squeezes her eyes shut.
"Pop. I'm going to watch with my eyes closed." She tells me.
I stroke the hair from her forehead, hold her hand in mine.
I check my watch. It is after three.
"Pop." She says, quietly. "Do you know how a fairy is born?"
I am too tired to come up with anything smart.
"I know." She says.
"How? " I ask.
"Every time a baby laughs for the first time." She whispers.