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that smell (Moscow)

The old elevator rattles and the doors lurch open. Inside our apartment I somehow feel taller. There is a smell of formaldehyde, like cutting those frogs open in tenth grade Biology class. The rooms feel dead, not like a tender museum of our things but empty, as if the only life in these rooms is born from us and in our absence they simply did not exist. I yank the door to the balcony open, thinking that smell will go away but it lingers deep in the pillows on the couch and the drapes. Sour, sad and chemical.

I think of random conversations I had in Ureki, mostly with taxi drivers who asked where I was from. I spoke to them in broken Russian, and they all said the same thing - Moscow, a cold place with cold people. Nothing seems to happen here, or change here. Sure, there may be a new sidewalk, a new supermarket, a fresh coat of paint on a crooked fence but the sense that this entire place is dead as well, a sort of sprawling, residential graveyard is hard to shake off. There is a sl…

miniatures (a storm)


A wind comes up from nowhere, flipping the drapes all the way outside the windows. The sky flashes, dead silent. No thunder, no delayed crash and crackle. Just fingers of electricity drawing briefly, shooting up into the clouds, drawing down to the trees. The clouds pulse, backlit, as if bombs are going off in the distance. It feels like a silent war has begun.

We stand at the windows. E is wide awake, her face turning up to mine, her eyes wide. N tiptoes in, and tells us to stand back from the balcony, that it is not safe.

The baby is still sleeping somehow.

Trees are bending hard. The smell of ozone and smoke is drifting up to us.

The rain does come, with little patters and then cupfuls. I close all of the windows tight, my feet wet from what has come in already. Thunder finally cracks, the first sound in half an hour to come from that bright sky. There will be a flash flood, a night of drops smacking against the windows like little bells.

I fall asleep to this sound, knowing E is warm under her red blanket, seeing V twist in her sleep, her legs caught in some briefly imagined infant ballet for a moment, then folding back to her side. N is curled next to her, an arm bent to keep the baby close, so that she senses that little touch of skin on skin, just brushing elbows, that miniature connection that lets us feel that everything will be ok.

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