I am alone in the house after I bring her downstairs on a Thursday with that sudden missing tooth feeling, as your tongue searches in the space for what was always there.
I spend something like ten hours alone each week at the most. This is unexpected. I decide to go to the market, the red Eataly bag slung across my shoulder. My hand reaches out by instinct so she can grab onto my pinky. I buy arugula, and good olive oil. Suddenly my accent sounds ok, calm, effortless. Can I be without her? I ask myself, as I pass the ice cream lady. I see a man in an old grey suit, recognizing him from a picture I took with the Leica some weeks ago. He had flowers in his hand, upside-down as they carry them here.
There is a snap in my stride, like when I used to walk down First Avenue after ducking into Ferrucci's for good olives and fresh semolina bread. I would break off the heel and shove it in my mouth as I passed Stromboli on 8th and then the Indian spice place, a few steps down from the street, the combination of coriander and ginger, anise and cumin wafting out to find me on the cracked sidewalk.
I buy some tomatoes from a cart behind Kievskaya, jumping in front of an old lady who does not believe the green grapes are seedless.
"Hello." I say to the man with the giant, sunburned, box-shaped face.
I want a hello from him. I buy a lot of plums and peaches here.
He nods, smiles
The air is cooler by the river. The bag bounces on my shoulder as I turn into our courtyard. A young woman in perfectly ripped jeans looks up at me in slow motion. A pink baby t-shirt, that telltale cascade of blond curls, the heels like circus-stilts, the sparkle of jewelry, the over-glossed lips. She could be going out early, or she is one of the prostitutes that lives in our building, drifting back and forth discreetly to the monolithic hotel next door.
The tall, sheepish neighbor holds the door to the elevator for me. Even he cannot believe I am not with E in the afternoon. We ride in a brief silence. I wonder if he is going to smoke a cigarette in the hallway or go right inside. His collie scratches at the door as we reach our floor.
On Sunday we take the metro to Arbat. There are still things to buy for school next week - more white shirts, black Mary Janes, a backpack of some kind, bookmarks, gym clothes. E wants black things decorated with skeletons, but then decides on some Hello Kitty instead, and a few well-placed ghosts. I breathe out. The last part has kept me nervous, and now it has been solved. Her feet are the only part of her that seems to grow.
We buy her favorite frozen yogurt, and look for free chairs to sit in. The tables are a cramped, jumbled mess. A man in a jeans jacket sits alone at one, and with a quick jut of his chin I see we can share the table with him. E spoons into her pomegranate masterpiece, and I notice he has nothing but a half-empty bottle of beer. His face is red, one of his eyes circled in plum colored skin. E rolls her eyes at me. I shrug my shoulders, and we turn to each other, telling stories about new Lego girls, and a building E is designing. She wants to put the toys on the sixth floor. The man interrupts us, stammering in a mix of Russian and stabs at English.
"I see you and your daughter, and I realize I am a fool, not to have children." He says.
I nod, say thanks.
He keeps trying to talk with us, about politics, about life.
E makes a face at me.
"Pop, he is a drunk guy!" She whispers.
"We'll go in a second." I answer. "He just wants to talk. I think nobody listens to him."
Another man comes to the table, asks the man in the jeans jacket for 100 rubles. They argue for a moment about what beer to buy, and then he hands him the money.
E's yogurt has turned to a sort of soup.
The man asks me to watch his seat, as he runs inside to use the bathroom. We sit for a moment. I want to go, but something makes me want to show him that he counts, that someone respects him.
Music from the teenagers on the corner makes its way to us, strumming on guitars that are out of tune, their voices hoarse and crude. I adjust our bags. E puts her hands on her knees and looks up at me.
"Ready for school next Saturday?" I ask her.
"Yes." She says, without hesitation.