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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…

coming and going


The street is a single sheet of black ice. We move forwards in small, sliding steps her hand in mine as E almost falls then steadies herself every ten feet. It is dark still, the sun will not come up for at least two hours. Our breath hangs in small clouds in front of our faces. We make our way slowly, my hands waving wildly every once in a while as I start sliding too.

The masks are pulled from our pockets and I make sure hers is closed well across the bridge of her nose. There is an epidemic in Moscow - a form of swine flu that leads to pneumonia. Eight people have died from it, thousands sick. We wash our hands more than often, wear masks, and stand far from anyone sneezing or coughing. I bought these masks for a film I am making, props for scenes about bombings as people crawl under tables. I meant to show how pointless it is to wear them, except for the psychological benefit. You feel like you are doing something, instead of being completely helpless. That is the lesson here, taught over and again. There are huge problems looming over everyone - the ongoing fall of the ruble that is not too far from defaulting, not too far from a day when you cannot buy food because money is just useless paper. And then this ice, it trumps that, it is more immediate, more urgent. How will we get to school?

Somehow, we do. Slumped into seats on the bus, breathing hot moist air into our masks we close our eyes. E leans against me. The announcements interrupt our sleep. The little bus lurches and slides in the messy street. But we do get to school, across a little lake, not even lifting our feet just sliding with the smallest movement, arms out wide for balance. Inside, E yanks her books to her shoulder.
"Be careful going home, Pop." She tells me, climbing the stairs.

On the way home I stand at an intersection where the traffic light has stopped working. There are six lanes of cars whipping past us but no one steps into the street. There are giant screens on the shopping center across from us, all playing a loop of Victoria's Secret models. The smiles and thighs cascade across the dark sky, all color and sizzle and strut. Not just men are staring at them, but old women and children, the narcotic jiggle of bouncing breasts stopping them dead in their tracks.

I wait for an old man to venture into the cross walk, as the cars randomly begin to stop and let us cross. I did not want to be the first.





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