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the trains still run

They never taught us more than how to make things. They did not explain how to take pictures, or write stories, or record songs when the walls are falling down. What should you paint when the sky is falling? And yet, they taught us all we needed to know. As I have begun to understand over and over again, all art is political. All freedom is freedom. The trains still run. The cameras can still be loaded with fresh rolls of film that smell of plastic and possibility. If there is a pothole, at some point it gets filled. Sometimes it just takes a hell of a long time to happen.

The sun rises. Children trundle around in the snow, laughing, falling down and getting back up again. Yes, the news is unthinkable. Yes, the headlines are poisonous enough to make you throw things out the window. But there is still dinner to cook, and why not make it delicious? Why not crack an egg, or laugh wildly at nothing in particular?

There was a night, about eight years ago when I was told that the militia w…

small change (exceptions)


There are two buildings that rise up in the distance, when I go towards the hardware store. I imagine a modern-day Rapunzel might live in one of them. The sky is packed with clouds, but a strange one hovers above one of the towers, a lonely mushroom, a cloud fedora, a sore thumb.

There is a store here, Pyaterochka. The name brings to mind a little bird, maybe a sparrow. I used to go to a Pyaterochka that had little birds that flew around inside it, but it actually means "5", taken from the Russian word "pyat". In "little five" people wander the aisles, counting out rubles, with bags of potatoes, maybe a box of wine. I find myself scouring the neighborhood from time to time, looking for a special type of milk for V. It comes in tiny purple boxes, and appears as randomly and sparingly as butterflies. Today, I am in Pyaterochka and there are a few boxes. I check the expiration dates on them. Stores here will sell expired milk and meat without batting an eye.

The line to the register is a clumsy, lurching mess of road workers with tiny bottles of vodka and fat bags of sausages, a pregnant woman chattering on her phone, and old people. I inch forwards, with those purple boxes balanced on my hands. The cashier is fascinating. She has bleached blond hair, pulled up high and tight into a ponytail. There is a brutal red slick of lipstick painted across her face that goes way beyond where her lips end. Her eyes are small, darting at faces, her words sharp and quick. She plunks change down, opens plastic bags with an angry flourish. On her hands, are white leather gloves with the fingers cut off. There is something oddly trash and vaudeville about her. I could see her on the street in the East Village as easily as this backwards corner of the universe. The line slogs along. I wonder if I have small bills with me. Somehow I want to be on her good side. Slapping a thousand ruble bill on the counter when you are buying 150 rubles worth of milk is a major insult to the culture of cashiers here. They hoard small bills like the world will soon unravel into chaos without them. Or, there is a massive shortage of small change. Anything is possible here. Anything.

I arrive, and she stares at me saying nothing. The red lips move, as she says something to herself. The ponytail bounces around, as wisps of broken hair dance behind it. The fingers poking from those white leather gloves have giant nails on them, carefully painted in glittery swirls. I pay with a pair of hundred ruble bills.

Out in the street, I look up at the odd little cloud, the exception. It is still there.

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