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the empty

The fat girl as they call her, came to school with a hypodermic needle in her backpack. It may have been to defend herself, it may have been to instigate something. She comes from a broken home and this is her second or third school. E steers clear of her, and the bullies she tangles with. It was never understood  - how things began, who threw the first insult, the first punch, the first grabbed book but the end is a chronic cycle of violence. At one point, the girl's mother got the police involved and this was seen as offensive, a step too far. The police did not resolve anything so it was all just a lot of saber rattling. That is the most common sound here. The empty threat.

Last week, there was a sobrani, sort of a cross between a parent-teacher conference and a school meeting. I was busy, so E went by herself and took notes. Five minutes in she messaged me, that I was wise not to be there. Nothing about this girl was going to be resolved.
"Boys will be boys" was all …

it's a big world (the thaw)


I imagine I can smell the ocean on my fingers, brushing them across my face in the middle of the night. The low rumble, the quick whip of air that pushes sand into my eyes. But no, it is Moscow with melting snow and traffic, with giant puddles and armies of men chipping ice and carting it away. It is Moscow, where the same wheels turn. Time to pay rent. Time to pay for E's next field trip. Time to wait in line at the bank to pay for music school staring at the long decorated nails of the cashier. 


Something happens with the thaw. Cars drive more recklessly than usual without the fear of black ice. Neighbors lurch into the elevator instead of waiting for the doors to open all the way. Sunday afternoon on the metro and people are shoving their way through the doors before we can get off the car. I push them back with one hand, the other tight around E's. I have given up speaking Russian at these moments and just speak English in a loud voice. It is just easier. 

The neighbor smokes in the hallway wearing the same shorts and slippers.
He does not open the windows yet. I see him in the late morning light staring at the trains that drift in and out of the station. I think he cut his hair but am not sure.

I wonder if he reads mysteries.



The pettiness of the people here runs wild on Sunday. An old woman stands in my way, and I step aside to let her pass but she will not. She mumbles and expects me to walk through a giant puddle first. I wave my hand, show her she can walk on the dry path. She is swearing at me and the words fly out of my mouth, some avocados jumping in the bag on my shoulder as I pass her, turning and waving my hands asking her what she wants.
"It's a big world." I shout in Russian and her face whips away, looking down.
I ring the doorbell and take E from the sole night at her mother's house. She mumbles through the intercom telling me she is almost dressed.
I sit in the stairwell, the smell of stale cigarettes and frying onions swirling up the stairs.

Later we go out for ice cream in a shopping center. There are no free tables except for one with a pair of gloves on it. I imagine someone forgot them, so I move them to a bench. We sit and E spoons into her masterpiece, fruit and syrup, cold and sticky. A man approaches us, shouting. He smacks the gloves back on the table, saying the table is his. I see he was in line and did not buy anything yet.
"It's not a restaurant." I tell him. "You can't reserve a table here."
He waves his gloves, smacking them against his hands.
I stare at him, force a giant smile onto my face and make not motion to leave.
He swears a string of disgusting phrases I hope E does not understand.
A minute later another table frees up and he stomps over to it with his girlfriend.
E licks her spoon and smiles at me.
"Does it bother you when I have to yell at people?" I ask her.
Her mouth twists around for a moment.
"Kind of." She tells me. "But sometimes you have to."



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