The details of the moment play out in front of me. A smear on the mirror in the elevator. The smell of stale garbage in the hallway. The sound of a small dog barking furiously. Everything else disappears. A week of beauty and warmth evaporates in less than a minute. The messy pinata we made together, the chocolate cakes, the quiet birthday party on Thursday, the noisy birthday party on Friday, oceans of balloons, torn wrapping paper covering the living room floor, the laughter, the door buzzer and more friends bursting in as they struggle out of jackets, that perfect sleep afterwards - they are gone now, a house of cards that finally tumbled to the floor.
Walking across the frozen sidewalk, my hands cold in this air calling on the phone over and over all morning letting it ring and ring and ring but there is no answer. Trying all of the numbers, all disconnected. I replay the tone in E's voice from last night when I called her from the concert. Did she want to tell me something and I did not notice?
The snow is falling hard, in angry flakes. A young woman passes, blows her nose with a finger pressed against one side of it. Her snot flies across my shoes.
N calls, to see if I am there already. I turn that familiar corner, then onto that familiar back street. I look up at the windows and they are dark. Then I see the blue Ford. I don't remember her license plate number, and it could be anyone's. It is filthy, covered in mud and bird shit.
I prepare myself for the worst, again. It is as familiar as the playground I stare at, taking a deep breath. This is the day she was taken, I prepare myself to remember. This is the day she was flown to Finland, or somewhere else. Yesterday was the last day we spent together. I made her chilaquiles for breakfast. We played checkers.
She made me a dessert from her new playdough set - strawberry rice with some pineapple on top.
I press the numbers on the outside door. It rings for some time.
There is a mumbled answer, then I am let in. My heart is beating in my throat. I cannot look at my reflection in the tiny mirror in the elevator. I know this moment. It does not mean I will get E back. It just means I have been allowed inside. I have made it this far before, and ended up in a police station an hour later.
I press the button next to the door. More mumbling.
I sit on the stairs and stare at the tiles. So many times I sat here. So many fights behind that brown panel, E half-naked in my arms, me running out of the house not coming back for hours but coming back because there was no place to go.
I walk up the stairs, stretching my legs. Someone is smoking there, foul-smelling smoke drifting down from them. No one smokes inside their apartments here, or cracks a window open on the balcony. They are all taped shut. No, they smoke in airless hallways instead. There is a glass jar on every ledge, black from ash and filters smashed inside them.
"Your phone has been off all day." I say fast and loud, before the door slams shut.
E looks up at me. She has been crying.
"You did not call." She whispers."And then Mom told me you were not coming."
I take her hand, and we move slowly down the stairs and then outside.
I buy clementines and avocados at the little stand downstairs. I ask E if she wants kiwis and she nods yes.
I call N, and tell her everything is ok now.
We pass a man playing a saxophone in the tunnel that runs under Kutuzovsky. Yesterday, is the song - slow and half out of tune. I stop, searching my left pocket and pull out some loose change - a dime, some kopeks, a new ten-ruble coin gold and heavy. I place them in E's hand.
"Put them in his case." I say. "Put this in his box."
She walks back to him like a stiff little mannequin. She waits for me.
We drop the coins there together. The man says nothing, does not even nod. He just keeps playing.
At the end of the cold, wet tunnel we stop. The light is banging into the darkness, the snow is still tumbling out of the white sky. I kneel down to her. Our faces are close.
"Pop, why did we do that?" She asks me.
"The whole morning I was really scared." I tell her. "And now I am holding your hand outside. And that man - he was playing a song and it made me feel something, so I wanted to say thank you to him. I want to say thank you to everybody."
She stares at me.
"When you want to change your luck you have to give something away." I say. "Now let's go home and make a movie with your clay rabbit and your clay fox."
She starts to cry, just for a second.
I put my finger to her chin.
I kiss her cheek.
"Ok, let's go." I say.
Later, she makes more playdough food.
Fortune cookies, with messages inside them.