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no invitation

We are at a 3 year old's birthday party in the back room of a cafe. Music is pumping from a tiny speaker. Balloon animals are popping, and waving in the air. A man in a yellow dinosaur costume dances wildly. Parents snap pictures with satisfied smiles on their faces.

A little girl approaches gingerly and stands in the doorway, straying from her parents somewhere inside the restaurant. She cannot be more than three. It must be hard to ignore all of the noise coming from this room packed with celebration. There is a perfect little pony tail at the back of her head. She hesitates, as one foot poises in the air and then rests back down. How to understand that she was not invited. How to understand the laughter, the loose jumping bodies, the presents piled high on the window. None of this connects to her. There is a little plate of food waiting for her back there, in the quiet restaurant. Maybe a warm bowl of soup, thick with noodles. I watch her for some time.

That night, her empty e…

the fishbowl (white nights)


They say the smoke is building up in the suburbs. More fires - not accidents, not forests or dead grass but people burning trash. If the smoke will stay in the city, no one knows. If it will choke the air so you can hardly see a few feet in front of you, no one knows. There is only a blind hope for wind and rain.

This is the seventh summer in the fishbowl of Moscow. We swim in long circles, bellies scraping against familiar rocks, sometimes resting in dark corners, making our way back and forth across the exact same streets, the same stones, the same traffic lights clicking red then green.

It feels like I spend the winter complaining about darkness and the summer complaining about too much light. At dinner I yank the curtain in the kitchen to keep the low evening sun out of our eyes. At four in the morning I wrap a t-shirt around my head to find sleep.

After a short walk with N on a Saturday night, we pass one of our neighbors in the street. He is a curious man, always dressed like he is going on safari. His giant hat, long sleeves and even the small scarf around his neck are easy to recognize as he approaches. I say hello to him, and he breezes past us, like he does not even know us.

Work goes on. Pages fill with words. Meetings are held in air-conditioned cafes. E is growing by the minute. I used to think of life in Moscow as a form of treading water, a marathon effort to stay with our chins above the water as we prepared for the next wave to sweep over us. At one point, I imagined a ladder we climbed, and how it was unnerving to look down.

In the flat sun of August, it feels like nothing is going to happen. We are at a standstill. The city will empty. The streets will empty. It feels like we will be the only ones that did not go to the ocean, or a leafy dacha with apple trees and hammocks to nap in.



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