fiction, Uncategorized

There were Four Russians Outside of my Door This Morning

photo_2018-12-10_16-42-40My mother grew up in the 70s. This means that all of her favorite spy movies had eerily similar bad guys with names like Boris, Ivan, Ivan, and Boris. When my mother visited me in Russia, she stepped out of the arrival gates and said,

“Holy-fucking-shit, I’m here.

Since American media had already moved on to Arabs by the time I crawled into the world, I never thought of Russia as an enemy. But today there were four Russians outside of my apartment building this morning. They rang up, and I thought,

“oh, they are here to murder me–I am going to be taken to some dark room and tortured until I admit anything, they want me to admit. it won’t take long, I am so squishy and pink! Then I will be hung in the Red Square and I don’t even know any Morse code, so I won’t be able to send any secret messages to anyone and I get stage fright so even if they let me speak, I’ll probably just sweat and mutter until my neck snaps–“

My girlfriend–woken from the ringing–stormed passed, spoke through the receiver, buzzed the men into the building. On her way back to bed she looked into the kitchen. I was still half-hidden behind the cabinets, peering out.

She sighed and went back to bed.

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fiction, Uncategorized

Never Forget the Whore

I wanted to learn more about a Russian’s perspective on World War II, The Great Patriotic War, or according to some, simply THE WAR. Since paper turned out to be even more revisionist than memory, I asked around for those who may have lived through it. My friend Ivan’s grandmother spoke a bit of English and he arranged for me to meet her at her house on Tuesday. Her face was a mashing of slate and limestone, she had a button for one eye. She might have had hair, but it was hidden under a musty-green bonnet.

Her apartment was an antique apocalypse, strewn about were books, kettles, chair legs, mummified jars of pickled mysteries, numerous floral patterns creating an eclectic field of colorful dust-bunnies. Great booming closets and mirrored shelves lined every wall, housing dead photographs of even deader relatives. She navigated it well. In the kitchen she sat me in a chair with a flat piece of plywood nailed to two of the broken legs. I gingerly sat and took out my notebook.

“Tea?” she asked.

“With milk and sugar, please.”

She bustled about the dusty sink, taking tea from a tin and setting on an old kettle.

“So, how old were you during the war?” I said.

She didn’t turn. “Wait,” she said.

I waited, looking out the window through a mess of dead plants at the people walking past. It was summer in Saint Petersburg, finally. Outside people wore T-shirts and shorts with a desperateness that only comes in a place where summer is born a dead-leaf. The old woman came and sat across from me, placing a mug of plain black tea on my notebook.

“So, I am collecting stories from the war, from people who were alive and—”

“Bread?”

“Uh—no thank you,” I said, nervously. “So, I thought maybe we could start with the Siege of Leningrad, Ivan said you were a child when it happened?”

She looked out the window, then down at my notebook and untouched tea.

“You want to talk about the siege, but you don’t want bread?” she asked. She stood up and took a half-load of bread from a squirrely spot in a dirty cabinet. She cut a chunk and put it on a plate with some butter and a slice of cheese. I waited.

“Thank you,” I told her after she placed it beside my tea.

I took a bite.

“I remember going with my mother to bring bread to her sister,” she waved in a direction out of the window. “She lived not far from here. My mother would bring me with bread–we were more fortunate. She lived on the top floor of her building and people used to sleep in her stairwell, sleep until they died and there was no one to take them away, so they moved them into the windows. They put them there one on top of the other until there was no light in her building. Her children had died. I didn’t know them very well, but they died. My aunt too, one day. In her building she died because she wouldn’t eat, and they put her in one of the windows, too. I remember the darkness in the stairwell and I remember my mother didn’t cry.”

I didn’t write anything down as she spoke. She looked out of her window through the plants and sunshine. Her face suddenly went dark and she scowled at a woman passing.

“Her,” she said.

I looked. It was a young woman, she was wearing a light summer dress and she looked happy.

“She is a whore,” the she said. “She has been sleeping with the Jew who lives just there.” She pointed at a window, two floors up and across.

“He’s married,” she said ominously.

“Oh,” I managed, and with nothing else to say, I took a bite of my bread.

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art, fiction

Snip-Snip

Getting a haircut in a foreign country is like going to the dentist anywhere in the world; it sucks. Yet, I’d live in a dentist’s office before resorting to a man-bun, so I do what I have to do. I can tell that they can tell I am American before I open my mouth.

“Wash?”

I nod. They lead me over to the sinks. They place a large black plastic robe around me and sit me down. As always, there is no position that is pleasant for my neck and my head is so far back that I can’t comfortably breathe. They wash it twice, three times.

I sit in front of the mirror, wet. I sigh.

“Style?” The woman asks. Embarrassed, as always, I find the screen shot on my phone of some much better looking man with much better hair than me and show it to her. She looks at it, then to my hair, then back. She frowns.

“Your hair, not like this.”

I shrug, taking my phone back. “Something like this then,” I tell her. She starts cutting, I close my eyes. Then, the worst part of a haircut arrives; talk.

“Where are you from?” she asks.

I open my eyes.

“America,” I say to her reflection.

She makes a face. “Why do you come to Russia?”

I try to blow off a piece of hair that’s fallen on my lip. It’s wet.

“I like it here,” I tell her.

She makes another face. I close my eyes, again. Only a moment.

“My friend go to America before. She went and came home with girlfriend.”

I wait for more, it comes.

“It is so strange, people in America do this a lot?”

“Do what?”

“Girls making girlfriends.”

I can’t nod so I tell her, “yes, it is quite common.”

She makes a disapproving tsk. “She had a boyfriend when she left Russia, but came back with a girlfriend. She wants to marry her.”

“Yeah,” I say, instead of saying something. She continues snipping around my ears, obviously deep in thought.

“Can she do that?”

“Yeah.”

“America is strange.”

I shrug. “It’s not that unusual there. Depending on where you are from,” I say, then close my eyes.

“Do you have a Russian girlfriend?”

“Mhm.”

“Will you take her back to America?” she asks, moving around to my other side.

“We will probably visit someday. But maybe I shouldn’t, she might come back with a girlfriend,” I smirk.

The hairdresser is silent. She keeps snipping with a concerned face.

“No,” she decides, “that would not be good.”

It seems to be the last of her ideas on the matter. I sigh and close my eyes, finally.

I suffer the rest of my haircut in peace.

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art, fiction

00:45 – 00:54 Mokhovaya Ulitsa St. Petersburg, Russia

Outside my Window: 00:45 – 00:54 Mokhovaya Ulitsa St. Petersburg, Russia

it is dark. A man in a gray suit stands in the door of the bistro. He is talking to a girl in a black leather jacket. It must be cold outside. It certainly looks wet

a man walks by on his phone. He is wearing a suit coat. White shirt underneath, loose collar no tie. come to think of it, yes, the guy in the bistro. He has the same shirt. The collar is a bit wider.

The man in the black suit coat has stopped, texting. He turns around and walks back, into the bistro, past the man with the matching shirt. All this, as a couple, both wearing gray, walk by.

The man in the gray jacket, white shirt. He comes out. He has a guitar on his back, I think. It is in a gray case.

Two older men walk by. I think. One of them may be a woman. His pants are tight. He is wearing flip flops. But that tells you very little these days. He has a puffy black jacket (it must be cold) and I can’t see his face. It could be a woman. But his hair is short. But that tells you very little these days.

It is quiet.

It is empty.

A car. Gray. Not speeding.

A man walks out of the mart. Younger. Tan. Tanned by ancestry, not the sun. It looks like he bought a drink. Non-alcoholic, maybe. He texts between a white and gray car. He gets in the gray car. Drives off. It must not have been alcoholic, surely.

Two men and a woman walk by. Man, they are moving. Not running, moving. They, too, are all wearing gray, odd. They pass a man with an unlit cigarette in his mouth. He is wearing black.

Two men and a woman again. Different ones this time. Both men wear black hoodies, up. Maybe it is raining. They aren’t moving so fast.

A man walks, stops, paces. Smoking. Between the mart and bistro. He has glasses. He is not wearing gray. Oh, shit, wait. He turns. Down the front of his jacket. A fat gray stripe. It is an ugly jacket. He is an ugly man. Maybe, it is dark. He is wearing glasses. A woman passes by him in a long black coat. She looks to be floating, not aiming anywhere. He watches her approach. As she passes, he looks away briefly only to return, smirking, watching her backside as she makes her way further down the street, out of sight. A car drives by, lights on.

It turns out he is an ugly man after all.

 

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