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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 …

the night of the impossible

It was on an August night ten years ago that I saw the moon caught behind clouds, perfectly close to an ornate tower of red brick. Standing on a bridge with the silhouette of Red Square behind me, stuck in some sort of fairy tale, I tried to relight the cigar in my hand. I had no idea what I was doing, swept up in the moment and the prospect of a real Cuban to tell everyone about back in New York. It burned my throat, and I did not draw on it correctly.  

Pulling my coat around me, I went back to the Rossiya, where $50 a night got you a simple room draped in aging pink velvet. They say the radios set into the walls were actually intercoms that could be used to eavesdrop on guests. In the elevator two girls were pressing their hands inside the jacket of a drunken man, all laughing in slow motion, the grotesque light of the tiny space etching their bad skin and the frayed edges of their jackets. I exit on the third floor, the corridors dim and narrow, a labyrinth of old wood and worn carpets. The same old woman sits at her desk. I give her my passport as she hands me my room key. She says nothing. I turn back, pulling 50 rubles from my pocket to buy a beer from her tiny refrigerator. 

The halls are full of prostitutes. Tall, thin, wearing nothing but leopard spot lingerie and heels, with some kind of robe or coat draped across their shoulders. I stare at my feet and try to avoid their eyes, the corridor a gauntlet of perfume, naked thighs, whispers of broken English. It takes me some time to find my room this way, but I fumble inside, sipping at once from the beer, cracking the windows open. That moon is still there, bright and pale behind the storm clouds. I struggle with the cigar a bit more, enough to slump into the lumpy armchair by the window and gaze out at the rooftops, to sip some warm, soapy Soviet beer, to stare at the torn threads and warped poles around the window.

The phone rings, as it does every time I return to the room. I let it ring for a while.
"Do you want massage?" A woman asks in a flat voice.
"No thanks." I say.
She breathes for a moment, and does not hang up.
"Wish I could order another beer." I say.
She clears her throat, then hangs up.

The room feels very quiet now, as I place the receiver back in its cradle. 

I give up on the cigar that has gone out again. It feels fat and damp in my hand. 

There is a messy pile of pages on the bed that I will edit tonight long after the moon has passed out of sight. My precious first novel sits in fragments that cannot be sewn back together it seems. 

I sat on a boat landing on the edge of the river a few days ago, a line of yellow buildings stretching past me into the distance. In the roar of traffic, I had an epiphany, scribbling as pages flipped in the dust and wind. I don't know if the ending will work better now, after the solution has had some time to be absorbed. Something about an ant crawling across the carpet of a cheap motel room, something about a chance run-in with an old love. 

It all seems so impossible.


The snow kicks up, turning the air thick and white. You cannot see out the windows as it tumbles down, then drifts back up in cartwheels that make E jump and shout. It looks like night outside, a strange white night.


She asks if we can make a snowman. I dress her warmly, wrapping a giant scarf twice around her tiny neck. We go outside, our feet making perfect prints on the sidewalk.

I look out at the river, and a set of stairs that lead down to a landing.


Comments

liv said…
I'm beginning to feel that I live in Moscow. What a strange and complicated place it is. So ugly and beautiful at the same time.

I'm hoping a new dawn breaks through your impossible. You've done it before.

Congratulations for coming so far !
Marco North said…
Liv, thanks as always for taking the time to make a comment. You put your finger on something about my work (far beyond this blog). I have always been interested in exposing the way the beautiful and the grotesque are constantly intersecting in our lives. I think that this is a hallmark of "honest" work - a balance between the two.
liv said…
Yes, the world of "dualities". You are not afraid to shine the light on that Marco. It's what makes your writing so rich and interesting.

I have some hard earned awareness of who I am as an artist - and I'm ok with that. But to be a witness to your story and your ability as an artist to render it so exquisitely makes me feel stronger in my own work. Your approach to yours has helped me to be more courageous with mine.

At the risk of sounding like a fan, a concept I cannot identify with as I think we are ALL equal,
I feel as if I have stumbled on to something quite powerful and important here and it only seems right to speak up. And feeding the fire of another brings warmth to me as well. Keep going my friend, it's a cold world out here, we need as much fire as we can get.
julz said…
Ahh..The Rossiya. I stayed there on my way through Moscow with my eldest daughter A's adoption. Kremlin view. I think we must have gotten the western floor. Sanz hookers.
Funny how I can only remember the beautiful Russia..Adoption Colored Glasses I guess..
Gonna be in your city for Turkey Day..
Hah! The Rossiya and the old Nationale, M. Back in the late 70's. All alone, soaking in a porcelain tub the size of an Olympic pool. Moscow, the eternal mystery outside my window. A private tour of the Kremlin with a girl I met on the Trans Siberian. From one darkness to another over there. But like liv says, I, too, hope a new dawn breaks through your impossible.

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