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a peaceful protest

I was 16, and the thought of being forced to mention God as part of the pledge of allegiance was too hypocritical an act for me to play along with. Each day of high school began with this mundane recitation, as most people just stood with their hand jutting from a hip, the other dangling across their chest as they counted out the seconds until they could sit back down. They leaned against desks, and talked through it about what party and where it would be, if there would be a keg or a bonfire in the woods. I recited the words, omitting the "under God" part as a sort of half-baked protest. I was raised to flaunt my family's ramshackle atheism, as a choice of smug pride. We knew better, was the prevailing logic.

But one day, I could not stand and say any of it. It felt so rote, so hollow, so devoid of choice. There was no law that said I was required to say it. I knew this was my right, a form of free speech. My homeroom teacher was a legendary drinker, a trash-talking re…

blood and roses (this is how the world was built)

The mornings are dark now, our two pairs of footsteps clicking on wet asphalt, car headlights splashing across gates raking shadows across our path. People are smoking, coughing little clouds we walk through. E pinches her nose closed until we pass them.

She tells me about a girl in her mother's building that runs down to play with her on Saturday afternoons when she is there, when the girl's mother is drinking. She hides from her, playing with E as they make lists of party decorations they might create, or snip old shirts into dresses for dolls. I navigate us through the dark path behind the McDonalds, where the streetlights go out sometimes. We pass men in black coats, hands shoved into pockets, shoulders hunched forwards. We pass women bundled in puffy jackets in miniskirts flashing legs and tall boots, tiptoeing around the puddles leftover from yesterday's rain.

I kiss her once on the top of her head when we arrive, me swinging her book bag from my shoulder to hers as she disappears behind a door. There is a sudden vacuum, an absence of sound when I leave her at school each morning.

I pass the old place we once lived in. She said it was a castle, as we danced in the two rooms that first night when I moved out, when I went back to being a bachelor but now with a four year old kid to take care of. I took a picture of her rolling back and forth on the floor, giddy, tired, relieved.

That was where I started to find myself again, staring out the ninth floor windows at operatic sunsets until the sky went dark. I got back to writing, on that wobbly kitchen table, with a cat rubbing against one of my ankles and a cold cup of coffee next to me. That was where I met N one January night, at that same table her hair falling across her face then turning it behind one ear, then her hands dancing in the air and laughing and it was falling again.

I have an early appointment, and do not have time to go all the way home for breakfast. It is time to wander for a few minutes, to cross a street for no good reason and then cross back looking at the faces as they pass.

The row of flower kiosks is here, all bright lights and the smell of carnations and roses washing out the doors like broken bottles of bad perfume all mixed together. There is a mess of red roses on the ground outside one of them, and blood spattered against a wall. I feel a quick vertigo, as people eye me taking a quick picture of them. The traffic light will change soon, and I run a few steps to catch it.

The same old woman is in the underpass below Kutuzovsky, her translucent hand held out, head bowed as her chin wobbles up and down. She is mumbling something I never catch. Her face is like a forgotten potato lost in a drawer, turned until it becomes something recognizable, covered in large brown spots.

There is a cafe close to the meeting and I am early enough to duck inside for a second coffee. The place is huge. People sit alone at four-tops, newspapers spread out in luxurious swaths across them. The waitress approaches with a menu and I save her the trouble, ordering before she gets to me. She nods, turns, disappears behind the counter. Music is trickling out of speakers - a Beatles cover.

The people in here are like cocoons, insulated by the silence. My notebook is pulled from a coat pocket, pen wet and ready. The coffee is strong, twisting on my stomach. I scratch the title of the book that is waiting to be finished, and stare at it for a few full minutes.

This is How the World was Built


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