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cold nostalgia

There is a note, stuck to the front entrance of our building. The hot water will be turned off for ten days. This is something that happens every summer, although it snowed a week ago and children wander the playgrounds in ski hats these days. At night it can be 40 degrees fahrenheit.  The hot water is always turned off like this, at some point during June or July. It is a long-standing Soviet tradition, and people begrudgingly accept it here. But the baby, V does not. She wants to stand in a hot bath before she goes to sleep, to splash and pour water all around her, and N. She wants to stand and wiggle her tiny hands under the spout, as she grows pink and clean, as she howls and shouts for us to see what new trick she has improvised. There is no explanation for her, why the hot water is off today, and will be tomorrow. She is angry, furious even.

I used to buy the story that this offered a chance for the water department to fix pipes, to take care of routine maintenance. Hot water c…

Cheeseburgers on a Sunday night






After a birthday party, we bundle into the car. N is going to drop us off at home, and then spend some time with her mother.
“Pop.” E says from the back seat. “I’m starving.”
I realize she probably ate just cake this afternoon, and it is past six.
“You didn’t eat the pizza?” I ask.
“No.” She says. “It tasted weird.”
“I’m not sure what we have at home.” I tell her, then look at N. I know she can’t have dinner somewhere with us.
“Ummmmmmmm. Wendy’s?” I ask.
“Yes!” E shouts from the back.
N takes a left. I rest my hand on her leg as we drive in silence.
All at once we are there, and I am whispering little jokes to N and she is kissing me. Her perfume sticks to my ears. E gets out by herself, standing on the sidewalk like a rag doll hanging from invisible strings.
Her face is still painted from the party.

The place is almost empty, only young women at the registers and teenagers in their parkas laughing wicked laughs at tables full of empty crumpled paper. E wants curly fries and a cheeseburger. I know it is laughable to call this a cheeseburger, but being away from home for almost seven years now has dulled certain arguments. It is better than McDonalds is what I keep telling myself, even if that is a half-baked lie.
We balance everything on a tray and make our way upstairs.
E wants to sit at a high table, where the chairs are tall as bar stools.
She tears into the food, cramming everything into her mouth at once. The red paint on her cheeks makes more sense to me now. She lets out a satisfied sigh.
“How is yours?” She asks.
“Fine.” I answer quickly. I don’t have it in me to tell her what a real cheeseburger is tonight.
“You know, this is the kind of stuff I am going to remember when I am old.” She tells me, between chews.
“Cheeseburgers on a Sunday night?” I ask.
“With you.” She says, waving a curly fry on the air.
“That sounds about right.” I say, grabbing it from her hand and munching on it.
“Papaaaaaaaa.” She says, playing at being angry.

I watch her eating, now in silence. The hamburger looks as big as her head, but she is working her way through it.
“You know, Pop.” She says, looking at her food not at me. “You are a warrior.”
I am immediately embarrassed.
“And you kind of teach me to be one, so I am one too.” She adds.
The hairs on my arm go up. I think of the fights she has witnessed, the screaming, the glasses and knives thrown, the doors slammed until they broke from their hinges, the betrayals and desperation she saw with her arms tight around my neck, her face buried in my shirt.
“How do you mean -.” I ask. “I mean, what is a warrior to you?”
“A person that is a fighter, a not-afraid-to-fight person. “ She says, her pinky in the air as she takes tiny bites. “They don’t give up.”
“So, not a quitter?” I ask.
She nods.
“No, kiddo – I am not a quitter.” I say.
She nods, making big eyes.
“But I don’t fight because I like to fight.” I say. “You know that, right? I don’t enjoy it. I only fight if I really have to.”
“I know, Pop.” She says. “But in this life sometimes you got to fight a lot of things.”
I stare at her, a little laugh coming out of my nose.
Embarrassment is still running along my arms and up the back of my neck. I shake my head at myself.
“So, how would you say your life is going?” I ask her, convinced I am going to get a real answer out of her tonight.
“Well, some parts are bad and scary.” She says. “But other parts are good.”
“Do you think everyone has a life like that? I mean, is that something most people could say?” I ask her.
“Maybe.” She adds. “But I don’t think so. Most people are just kind of bored.”

 

We walk down Arbat now, the cobblestones iced over and slippery. She holds my hand very tight. The city stretches out in front of us, cold columns of smoke curling from stacks in the distance. We turn left, past one of those giant buildings built by German prisoners during World War II, all points and jagged edges in the clear sky. I think it is the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Air conditioners poke randomly from windows, hanging precariously above the sidewalk. I never walk too close to them.


Comments

liv said…
A Bodhisattva and his little Siddhartha visit Wendy's ...

This makes me smile !

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