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you are not there

We are taking the little one for a ride on her new sled. It is bright orange, with a fuzzy black and white seat cover to keep her extra warm. Her tiny hands in tiny gloves hold the sides as tight as she can. I pull her down a path, shouting "woohooo" and then she replies "woohoo". N's turn is next, pulling her more schoolgirl than mother for a few minutes. There are other parents with children on sleds passing us. Their eyes straight forward, faces completely blank they slip by in silence. I flash a smile to them, and they do not even look at me. I am not there, just another tree leaning towards the stream that runs below.

There are ducks still, flapping around the brackish water and we throw pieces of stale bread to them. I start to think, not about the complete absence of smiles in this culture. I stopped asking about that long ago, told over and again that smiles are reserved for home, behind closed doors. But I wonder, for the children -  these wiggling bu…

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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