Another tooth has gone loose, dangling and twisting for days until E taps me on the shoulder and shows it to me in the center of her tiny palm. She writes a letter, and we fold the paper up with the tooth inside it. Sliding it under her pillow that night, she smiles to herself with a sort of satisfaction. She knows the fairy will come.
There are no tooth fairies here.
Just me, and a drawer full of dollar bills and dimes.
Sometimes I see too much. The mothers at the school meetings pretending to care, the fathers waiting to be told how much to pull from their wallets. I see children starved for attention, violent and careless. I see an endless string of faces with the same blank expression. There are no quiet smiles, no laughter just the occasional snicker. There are people going to work or coming from work with a smell of desperation on them, passing the old women sitting on boxes hawking dying roses, or four figs to the dollar. Every time I leave the house, I see people thinking about money, or showing off something expensive. I understand anyone with real money drives here, and only the poor people walk, take trolleys or buses or the foul smelling metro. This is not New York, a walker's paradise, where every block has a new store or an old favorite, where 28th street between 6th and 7th is doused in flowers, where you can see cats in the windows taking naps and sometimes waking up.
The tooth fairy does come, and E wakes up early to stare at her money and write a thank you note. I dress her for school and she shows it all to me, bubbling with thoughts and laughter that snorts from her tiny nose. She combs her hair in the mirror now, her face so serious. The school uniform makes her look like she will be a teenager by next week.
We walk in silence, and she runs inside the great white building. There is that sudden vacuum, and the realization that I am alone, walking back through the park, passing girls in heels and men smoking cigarettes, ears glued to phones, passing old women pushing strollers, babies crying, stray dogs sniffing at garbage cans.
Almost home, a young woman in something like an evening dress is dancing around the sidewalk. A truck is spraying water across the road and onto everyone's shoes. She has her arms loose around the neck of a middle aged man in a track suit. She is laughing and french kissing him, her tongue poking his cheeks from the insides. He stands, a giant peach in one hand extended into the morning air. It could be a date that never ended. She could be one of the prostitutes from our building. I don't know. Her forced laughter hovers in the air, as I go upstairs and make kasha, boil an egg and peel an avocado.
On Sunday, I take E to a book store for more school supplies. During the usual decompress from a chaotic Saturday with her mother, I sort through her fears and her questions, the reasons to stay awake at night. She has nightmares about that house.
The new list includes plastic sleeves for textbooks and counting sticks for math lessons.
We walk on old Arbat afterwards, a cobblestone street overwhelmed with two Starbucks, Nike stores, countless souvenir shops and street musicians. It starts to rain, and we run inside the first place we can. We get cheeseburgers and curly fries. I order E a tiny chocolate milkshake. The rain goes away as quickly as it came. The sun splashes through the low sky and E points to tables outside. We sit, and watch a crowd of teenagers in costumes parading past us. Some carry signs. They are all stopping and hugging each other. Girls are hugging girls. Girls are hugging boys, but no boys are hugging boys.
"What the -." E says, between mouthfuls.
"The signs say free hugs." I tell her.
"What?" She chirps. "People normally pay for those?"
I find myself laughing with her. It easy to laugh with a curly fry poised in one hand.
The girls are all taking careful pictures of each other, some more awkward than others. Next to them, dark-skinned men wear giant yellow placards that say "Visit the Museum of Torture", their faces stoic as they shuffle up and down the cobblestones. The girls do not hug them.
I suddenly realize why I come to this street, even go out of my way to walk these cobblestones. There are no cars here. This is a place for tourists to take a picture with a rabbit, or to buy a frozen yogurt. When I walk here, I feel like a tourist, like I am just a visitor and I don't really live here.