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the empty

The fat girl as they call her, came to school with a hypodermic needle in her backpack. It may have been to defend herself, it may have been to instigate something. She comes from a broken home and this is her second or third school. E steers clear of her, and the bullies she tangles with. It was never understood  - how things began, who threw the first insult, the first punch, the first grabbed book but the end is a chronic cycle of violence. At one point, the girl's mother got the police involved and this was seen as offensive, a step too far. The police did not resolve anything so it was all just a lot of saber rattling. That is the most common sound here. The empty threat.

Last week, there was a sobrani, sort of a cross between a parent-teacher conference and a school meeting. I was busy, so E went by herself and took notes. Five minutes in she messaged me, that I was wise not to be there. Nothing about this girl was going to be resolved.
"Boys will be boys" was all …

of fireworks and sheep


Someone shovels downstairs in the darkness. The low scrape of metal against asphalt finds its way to us as we roll the sheets around, as we twist and drape arms and wrap ourselves tight for the next hour until I am hungry for breakfast. I grasp at coffee cups in the black kitchen, reading messages from last night. Everything happens from a distance when you are an expat. It feels like we are the only people in the city, while everyone else is on a beach or a mountain or taking a picture of a bridge. 

There are a few of N's cookies left from New Year's Eve. I crave them, with their giant black raisins, the soft crunch of sugar and flour and ground walnuts. There is work to be done and dishes to wash, things I promised to place on shelves, papers to be put in safe places where they will not be forgotten. E sits on the couch, her feet tucked under her. She reads the copy of Maus I bought her in New York. She stops sometimes, makes notes, asks me if Aushwitz was a real place, always asking me if the story is a real one. She is not doubtful, just making sure. 

With the holidays over, distractions are swept back into drawers punctuated by the slow blink of the Christmas tree lights. Wet boots stand by the front door. The wind howls against the windows. I smell cigarette smoke from the neighbors when we open them, and the stale burnt remnants of fireworks. They pop and bloom long into the night, sometimes in the afternoon as if they are forgotten, or on some broken time-delay mechanism. I wonder if anyone sees them. Fireworks never feel like celebrations to me, more like a reminder of war, of violent thumps that rattle glass, the sky lurid, thrown naked for a moment, exposed. 



The week is absorbed by reheated leftovers, of walks in the afternoon when the air is warmer, of short trips to buy a bag of beets, visits to relatives with more drinking and toasting and sitting around tables talking about the year ahead of us. This is the year of the blue and green sheep (or ram, depending on what information you use). I believe that the sheep brings peace, but maybe that is just a messy result of some creative license. 

I did decide to be less motivated by fear, not exactly during New Year's Eve but sometime in December. So many actions, so many decisions about avoiding, about laying low, about existing secretly, under the radar. Conflict will always find us, no matter where we hide. The truth will always surface, so I have decided to stop placing it under rocks. I wear my ring everywhere now, and no one says anything. At least to my face. 












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