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secret windows (don't look back)

I found myself in a conversation with an old friend, about the crossroads of writing, nostalgia and memory. "Distance and perspective are the upside." I said. "The slippery slope is romanticizing and being nostalgic. Well, that's the memory trap no matter who you are."
"It's funny... I spent most of my life thinking that I had a rather dull adolescence, and it's only recently that I've discovered that these stories are a lot more interesting than I gave them credit." My friend replied. I admitted that I gravitate towards stories that are based on a mistake, a lie - thinking you had some great childhood, when actually it was a shitshow, and you fantasized about being adopted but sort of blocked that out.  


The question wobbled around inside my head for a few days. Was I too fast to judge nostalgia, to quick to brush aside its sweetness, stepping over it towards something invariably darker and sadder?  On Sunday, I was walking on Kutuzovsky,…

the sky is falling (frogs, rabbits and pigs)



I am about to turn the corner where that jewelry store is, with the plaque of Eduard Tisse on the wall outside. I wonder if anyone knows he was the cameraman on Battleship Potemkin without reading it. There is a sudden smack against the sidewalk a few feet in front of me. I hunch over, hands over the back of my head. There is a pickle jar shattered on the asphalt, surrounding by dirty water and cigarette butts. I look up quickly, seeing no one. A man is passing me. I tell him to be careful, pointing at the glass and then the collection of balconies above us. He shrugs his shoulders, shoving past me.

I think to turn back, to thread around the grass and fence to avoid another falling jar but then convince myself it is not going to happen again. I tell myself that there is a reason I was a half-second slow on my walk to take E from school today and that is why it did not hit me. I tell myself this could never fall on her, if I had taken her fifteen minutes early. She would not be asking me for an ice cream on the way home and have glass shards sticking out of her little skull. That could not happen I tell myself out of sheer force of will.

Raking my body against the warm bricks I stand at the corner far from the building. No one is looking out, guilty from a window above me. There was no child that knocked it off by mistake. It is impossible to know why this happened, and who left it there.

I promise myself to walk differently on the way home as some sort of pointless precaution, that this will somehow keep us safe.




When I meet E in the lobby, she sees I am shaken. I decide to tell her, not to candy coat anything. She listens, as I pull her backpack onto my shoulders. Her mouth twists around as she thinks.
"It is kind of like lightning." She explains. "It could not happen in the same place again."
I hug her once.
I want to explain to her that lightning is caused by nature, and that every smoker here has a jar of some kind on a windowsill. I want to explain that in Russia they would say it is my fault for walking under the window, or that God says I deserve to be hit by something falling from the sky before they say the person who left the jar on the windowsill did anything wrong.

In seven years here, I have never gotten an apology. No one has ever done anything wrong here. Bad things simply happen, all by themselves.



We pack toothbrushes and a change of clothes into a bag. E wants to make her own, adding a light scarf, and a little stuffed animal. N thinks we should bring E's new scooter. I figure out how to fold it up, cramming everything in the trunk of the car.

Traffic is thick and we keep the windows closed but the air still stinks of diesel and mud. E asks me how far it is.

An hour later, we have barely made our way to the third ring. The cosmonaut museum is here, with its strange curved needle that shoots into the sky and the two happy workers holding the hammer and the sickle. I stare up at them, the sun smacking off of the metal. They look smaller than I remember them.

And then the road opens up, and we are weaving through the countryside. The earth is covered in dead grass. There are piles of garbage burning in driveways, with no one watching them. There are old tires by the side of the road, forgotten bags of garbage, scraps of aluminum, slabs of concrete upended like seesaws. The wind is running along my arms, E is chewing gum, cracking jokes in the back seat I can only hear half of. N is scared we will get lost. I keep the map on my lap, the navigator on my knee for her to glance at, but I know we will find our way.




The sun is started to go down when we arrive. There are throngs of chirping birds. There is no traffic, no sound of gunning engines, no sound of trains or slamming doors. Just us, and the gravel of the parking lot crunching under our feet. I cannot think about the jar that fell now, it seems like a different life, a different world than this one. It must have happened years ago.

Our friends greet us, their daughter taking E's hand and running with her to see the animal farm where peacocks and chickens stalk behind a window. They run back, asking for their scooters and I unfold E's. She kicks into the distance and then swerves back to me.
"I think there are frogs here." She tells me, in one breath. "And maybe rabbits and a pig."





Comments

OMG! Is that your friend's house in the background?? The one the size of the white house?
liv said…
The last sentence, the last photograph - so sweet. All the photos are wonderful, but the last is magical.

So happy you all were able to get away for awhile. Hope there was much laughter and rabbits and frogs and pigs !

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