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the first

The yarmarka (farmer's market) is about to close. Some of the people are already packing up, offering their last bruised tomatoes at half-price to anyone walking past them.  I am wandering, staring at bunches of herbs, at the same old options - cabbage, pepper, potato, garlic, apple, cucumber. But then I see a pile of peas. The season must have come early this year. I buy a kilo, and some mint. I know what is for dinner. We have not had it in eleven months.

At home, I rip the bag open, showing them to V. She stands by the kitchen table, eyes wide. I crack one open, showing her the little rounds inside. She plucks one out, her pinky pointing to the ceiling.
"Try it." I tell her.
She does, but she does not like it.

I pull out a bowl for them. She jumps up and down a few times. V always wants to help in the kitchen. I pull her to my lap, and we begin pulling them out from the shells. She learns quickly, tossing them with a flourish into the bowl, a few cascading to the flo…

the wind and the tattoo

E has three dots on her stomach on Monday evening. We keep her home from school and call the clinic in the morning, busy signal after busy signal. Everyone calls in the morning then waits for the doctor to come. E looks up at me, more red dots growing across her and I know it is chicken pox. 
"Pop." She whispers. "Am I really sick?"
"You didn't do anything wrong." I answer. "It is good to get this now. You get chicken pox only once in your whole life."
She looks at me for a while.
"But I don't want to be sick again." She tells me, slumping onto her bed.
"You just don't want to take medicine." I say.
She nods once, and pulls the blankets over her head.

I cut her nails and take her temperature. 
I make her a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich for lunch. 

The doorbell rings. It is the same doctor, a young woman with rosy cheeks who speaks in a happy whisper. She pulls on a mask, wraps blue plastic booties over her muddy shoes and disinfects her hands. She was here a month ago. E likes her. She listens to E's heart and lungs. She looks at the back of her throat. She has E lift her shirt. E waits patiently on the edge of her bed.

The young doctor sits and writes on a half-sheet of paper. 
"Vetryanka?" I ask her.
She nods yes.
"Ok, kiddo." I tell E. "You have chicken pox."
I call N, and hand the phone to the doctor. There is a flurry of directions to follow, that N will translate for me when I call her back. This dance of phones and translation is all too common now. I imagine trying to follow the doctor's wishes without her.
It is not necessary, but I hand five hundred rubles to her as she is about to leave. She pockets it, head bowing forward, whispering something I cannot understand.

"So, how long will I be out of school?" E asks me.
"If I am correct, ten to fifteen days at home." I say, looking out at the snow that has started to fall.
She makes a face.
"We'll make the best of it." I tell her. "And as soon as you have no fever, we can call your teacher and do some schoolwork at home."
"Ok." She says, her voice trailing off as she slumps back to bed.

N comes home with a special green medicine pen that the Russians use. She places a dot on every red bump. E winces at each one. N blows on them lightly, making a quiet sound. There is antihistamine to take before E goes to bed too.
After E falls asleep we sit in the kitchen drinking tea.
"So, what is the green for?" I ask.
"It helps dry them up." She says. "And it tells us which ones are new and which ones are old."
"That's smart." I say.
"And vetryanka, that is from the word for wind?" I ask. "Veter?"
She nods.
"It lives in the wind." She says. "It jumps from person to person in the wind."
"That makes more sense than calling it chicken pox." I say. "But we need calamine."
"They did not have it." N tells me.
I frown.
"This is really important for her face, so she does not scratch it." I say.
"We will find it." N says.

The next day, E is anxious. The dots are appearing by the minute across her face, her back. She runs to the hallway mirror to check herself all morning. I explain to her that she cannot itch them for the hundredth time.
We build a lego house together.
I make lunch.
She is jumping around and crying, saying she cannot stop itching.
I make a bath, and pour baking soda into it.
"This will help a lot." I tell her. "But don't get your hair wet, you still have a little bit of a temperature."
She nods, with big eyes.

The pharmacy has no calamine. I go to another one on Kutuzovsky. Not there either. I go to a third one, explaining it is for vetryanka. The woman in the blue coat nods, she understands me. She looks in back. No, no calamine lotion. I ask if she knows where it can be found and she shrugs her shoulders.
Walking in the snow I am getting angry. I will not put green dots on her face. If she scratches this and ink gets into the red bump, this will be some kind of tattoo then. That is my thought, that the green will not go away, trapped under her skin.
At the next pharmacy the woman behind the counter looks more kind. I ask, she looks then says no. My face runs red as I tell her many children have chicken pox at the moment, that they should have medicine for it. She dismisses me.
I go to the last pharmacy in the neighborhood. The woman in the blue coat behind the counter says no, they do not have it. She does not even look in the back or the drawers of medicine behind her. She looks at me fiercely.
"And what am I supposed to do with a kid that has chicken pox?" I ask her.
She stares me, motionless.
"I don't know." She says.
"This is not right." I say to her.
She stares at the front door avoiding me, her lips curling over her teeth.
Somehow I do not knock over anything on my way out.

I feel helpless. I have not had this feeling for some time here. Maybe I can make a paste from baking soda, I tell myself.
I call N, venting and swearing about the women in blue coats.
"Give me an hour." She says. "I will find it."

Later, N comes home with a bottle of calamine. It is imported from Israel, and is more liquid than lotion. E is sleeping.
In the morning I will dip a q-tip in the bottle and paint E's face with dots of it. She will smile at me, her fever almost gone.


liv said…
What? Are they all insane there? This sort of thing always seems like some organized conspiracy to drive everyone crazy! Thank god for N. The baking soda would probably work too - but not as well.

Time for chicken soup, Pop. No one can do it like you!

Tell her I said speedy recovery! I think she should probably write a book while she is recovering :)
I love that the first thing you did was cut her nails. You are a great dad.

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