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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…

of cakes and trains

E splashes in the bathtub behind a closed door. I remind her to scrub her neck and behind her ears.
"Okaaaaay." She calls to me in her loud singsong voice.
The cake is almost done, the middle still a bit soft to the touch. The kitchen smells of lemon and polenta and almonds. The windows are open. 
A crossdraft smacks the balcony doors closed. 
"What was that?" E asks.
"Nothing." I tell her. "The wind."
"Oh." She says to herself.
"Finish soon, ok?" I tell her.
"Ok, I am getting oouuuuut." She sings.
"Don't forget to pull the plug so the water goes down." I tell her.
She does not answer.

She brushes her hair in the hallway in front of the mirror, her head cocked to one side. She stares at herself. 
I pack the cake in a bag, gathering pens and pencils and blank paper for her to play with.
"Where is the party?" She asks me.
"N knows." I tell her, pulling on shoes.
I call N to tell her we are on our way and she tells me to wait. 
She will come upstairs and have a coffee first. 


We navigate the streets, turning and staring at signs then driving a bit then stopping to unfold a map. E is quiet in the back seat. I keep hoping she will take a nap. 
The sun is going down, but pushes through the windshield for as long as it can. One hand across my eyes I try to balance the map for N to check when we get to the next red light. 

We find the place and are the first to arrive. 
The apartment is old, a Stalin one as they say with big rooms and tall ceilings. 
E sits on a sofa in the kitchen and amuses herself. I wash my hands and roll up my sleeves, asking what I can do to help.
I dry lettuce leaves.
I organize the wine bottles and open the one we brought, splashing some into a juice cup. Rioja swirls in my mouth, pulling my tongue back, my cheeks in. It needs to breathe.
I chop carrots and celery into sticks, balancing them in piles on a bowl pulled from the cabinets. 
It is a relief to ask what I can do and be told, not be be in charge. 
E is getting bored, asking if any kids are coming. I sit with her and play as guests slowly arrive. The wine tastes better now and for some reason I am not hungry, just ready to sip from the yellow cup and have E slumped against me, with N on my right with her hands dancing in the air as she talks to people. She is crunching on those carrots with tiny bites. 

The conversations struggle in English, half me nodding my head and interrupting in Russian. The party is small, and all in the big kitchen. E is getting bored. At one point the hosts disappear into another room for some time and return with a giant long object wrapped in brown paper. 
"It is for you." One says, giggling and smiling. "Because you are so sweet."
N is embarrassed. E jumps up, all curiosity.
We thrash at the brown paper until a long photograph is exposed. A landscape of rock and ocean and sky. We thank them. There are toasts. 
I refill my glass.


On the way home a train is chugging in the dark, its cars full of sand. I jump in my seat. There is something about trains, something simple that never fails to captivate me.
"Look!" I tell E who is already sleeping and does not wake up.
I watch the cars rattling into the city and plunging into a tunnel, then it is just steel and glass and concrete swishing past us. Nothing new.
I rest my hand on the back of N's head. The photograph is jumping around, balanced across the back seats like a tent over E's head.
"It's fine." I whisper.
N smiles, looking at me for a moment then back to the road.





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