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every other man

The light outside the main entrance to our building has gone out again. The heavy metal door swings wide as I pull a hat down over my ears. In the darkness there are maybe twenty teenagers standing still. My boot scrapes across the ground, slowing down. Their hands in pockets, shoulders hunched, I look for a space to pass between them. A voice appears, saying hello in English, with an obvious accent. I am all instinct, sayingpivyet as I pass, not looking back, wondering who said this. There was a boy that was an extra in Blackbetty that lives in our building, but he is too young, too short for it to have been him.

I look back, navigating the puddles in the street. It does not make any sense.

N is with V, making their way home. I meet them, pulling V into my arms as she chatters about her day, about dry leaves and princesses, about her grandmother's apartment and what she ate there. We are going back home, and I try to explain the odd collection that stands outside. As we pass th…

One


One in five people in Moscow has tuberculosis. We wash our hands constantly, even after just touching an elevator button. At the first cough, we kept E home from school. N retreated to her mother's apartment with V. The all-familiar quarantine, even for a common cold. From the outside it probably sounds excessive, paranoid. From the inside, it is the only way to find peace. Do every single thing you can, meaning, control all you can control which often feels like a few molecules of prevention, like trying not to breathe the air around your head.

E lounged on the couch as I worked, sipping bowls of soup, watching full seasons of American tv shows and chattering about time travel and alternate universes with me as we sat together in the kitchen. Having our little family separated weighs on me. I find chances to meet N in the street when V is in the carriage, peeking at her face sleeping under that pink hat tucked so carefully around her cheeks. I fill the time, trying to be productive while the house stands quiet.

And then on Friday, I get that brackish taste in my throat, the ache, the dry cough. On Saturday, E goes to her mother's house and I spend the night by myself in the house that feels bigger than usual. Walking the empty rooms, collapsing on the couch to take naps, the time stretches into some cross-country highway that I am creeping across. E calls me, asks me how I feel, then a final goodnight. N calls. I hear the baby shouting funny sounds. I hate being sick, or more truthfully - to be alone. Me, the mayor of East First Street,  Mr. Table for One, the guy walking home in the rain at 4am from Hell's Kitchen all the way down Fifth Avenue without a twinge of regret. I didn't even need furniture in those days - just a mattress on the floor and a kitchen table to fill with unopened mail. I ate soup from the pot, standing over the sink.

The long night eventually wraps itself around me and I lean back against it.

In the morning, I buy eggs, flour, bitter chocolate, sugar. The cough is leaving, bones aching like I am an old man but I find myself standing in the kitchen separating eggs. I melt the chocolate. I measure, splash extra things in like some espresso, a glug of aged rum. The phone rings. Time to wander out and get E, somehow feeling better in the street with the sun on my face. Sometimes resting and being sick makes you feel more sick. Better to ignore it and keep living. We bake a chocolate cake, using a new recipe with no baking soda or powder just seven eggs with the whites whipped separately for extra lift. And then by afternoon I am feeling fine and soon N will call me to help her get the carriage into the elevator and V will wake up maybe then or maybe later. The house will be full of warm smells and chirps and shouts and laughs. The cake looks good. I hold it out to V when she wakes and she presses her tiny palm against it.

"This is your first birthday cake." I tell her and she stares at me, serious as I am.
She makes a little sound, a quiet monster grumble.
"Next year, you get to lick the spoon" I tell her.









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