Every night brings nightmares. Better they are mine, not E's is my first thought. Better they are not N's, my second. A headache surfaces each dim morning. Coffee is sipped that turns cold from the wind slipping past the window cracks. The images, the situations of these dreams are like a poison.
They tell stories that are so black, so ugly, grotesque and thankless I cannot repeat them to anyone.
The city is empty.
Anyplace else would feel sleepy and intimate. I could feel a freedom on the empty sidewalks and parking lots. But no, this is Moscow. Its facade is so shallow, so paper-thin that it grows transparent in these quiet days. There is nothing here but money and the absence of money. Centuries of history mean nothing.
The people mean nothing.
There is no future, no past. Just potatoes and mud. Desperate sellers of withering flowers. The old growing older. Fake news. Fake companies. Fake reviews of restaurants that are already closed. Fake cheese. Fake wine. Fake shoes.
An expression turns in my mind. "It's not a lie if you believe it." Told as a bitter, funny anecdote it used to make me grin.
We are in the supermarket to buy bread and milk. A handful of young men stand in silence waving their hands. They whip the air with gestures. Quiet grunts punctuate the stale Christmas songs playing on the PA system.
They are deaf.
They are arguing about how many bottles of vodka to buy with an operatic level of sign language. I smell that intense body odor produced by so many people here. Like raw onions and rotting liver, it coats the roof of your mouth if you try to breathe with it open.
She stays there.
All at once she is next to me, arms stretched long and upwards. I hug her. Her arms are tight around my neck. She cries quietly. I run through a list of reasons. She says it is none of them.
"I just don't want to be here." She whispers at one point.
"Me too, kiddo." I whisper back. "Me too."