The woman behind the counter hands the bottle back to N. N closes it. We walk out. N opens it.
I take a swig of the cheap vodka and frown.
“Why did that woman just open the bottle then, you close it and take it away?”
N takes a pull off it himself. “It is illegal for stores to sell booze in Saint Petersburg after ten-o’clock,” he says.
N looks at me confused. “So, now they are a bar.”
I laugh. “That can’t be a thing?”
He nods with his chin up, genuinely, as he does.
The bottle is small. So, as with so many small things, we, as bigger things, erase it from existence.
The door we find ourselves at is on the fourth floor, in the fourth courtyard, off the fourth alley, on the fourth left, off of second street.
I have no idea where I am.
Inside, I take off my boots. They are new, and tight.
I go to the bathroom to wash my hands. When I feel enough time has passed that no one would doubt I used soap, I head toward the commotion.
Inside is a kitchen. The air is denser with gray poison than the smoking room of a Chinese airport. I cough, then, light a cigarette.
I hunt noise through the haze and find N chatting away with a simple framed portrait of our mutual friend. She looks out of the frame at me. Someone painted her nose a bit off center.
“Hey!” She cries. She tries to hug me but is stopped by the canvas.
“Oh yeah…” she mutters to herself.
She smiles instead. “How are you?” she says.
I reach out my hand toward her face.
“Don’t touch it!” she panics from inside the painting. “It is new. We only just finished.”
“Just finished what?” I ask.
“Painting each other.”
I peer through the room and notice all the walls are lined with paintings of many of the people I’d met in the past few weeks. Some smoke cigarettes, some dance to the music blaring out of the refrigerator. In the middle, there is a portrait of a man framed in golden plastic. He looks like a lion who, deciding one day to be human, stood up and lit a cigarette. He is gesturing wildly, making pronouncements I cannot understand.
I look at N, he rolls his eyes.
“Why would you do this?” I ask the painting of my friend.
She does a jig inside the painting and smiles. “This way we can be young forever!”
The other paintings in the room cheer.
“Now,” the painting of my friend says softly, “can you go mingle, I have to talk to N about something.”
I try to nod. My head does something well enough to justify moving on politely. I wander around the edge of the room. Many familiar faces peer out at me from their paintings. A man and woman sit together in one, not talking. One younger looking girl snaps a selfie, a bit of ash drying into the paint under her left eye.
I settle against a clean bit of wall next to a face I vaguely recognize from a more three-dimensional time. He seems to recognize me too. He instinctively lends his hand, hitting the canvass barrier. He shrugs.
“How are you?” he asks.
I shrug, lighting another cigarette. Somewhere, someone yells something in Russian I don’t gather.
I look back at the vaguely familiar face. It smiles.
“Why would you come to Russia?” he asks. I shrug again. My despondency seems to dishearten him. He picks at something along the inside of his frame. I take the opportunity to look longingly toward N. He is still engaged. I excuse myself and head for the hall. I put on my boots. They are new, and tight. I make my way into the hall and light a cigarette, alone.
There are dozens of books stacked in the sill of a hole that used to be a window. I pick up a top one and flip it open to an array of lewd sketches.
They turn and look out, “Pervert!” the one on top yells up at me.
Startled, I slam the book shut and throw onto the stacks. The whole lot of them tilt slightly then, plummet from the window shaped hole.
The screams echo through the courtyard.
I look over into the yard. A young girl walks in from a passage. Her hair is dark. She grabs a sheet of screaming paper out of the air.
“DON’T,” I cry down to her. Too late, she examines the paper.
“Pervert!” she cries up at me. I pull my head back in and turn to flea back into the party. DEATH is standing there leaning against the wall. A bit of old concrete crumbles against her shoulder.
“Of course,” she sighs. She folds the piece of paper in her hand and tucks it away in her pocket.
“What are you doing here?” she asks.
I edge away from the window. “Shit party.”
She motions to the window. “Icicle just fell and killed some babushka.”
I look out. “Icicles kill babushkas?”
“Icicles are one of the only things that kill babushkas.”
I look around the paper strewn courtyard but don’t find a body. I take out a cigarette. I try my lighter five or six times before my thumb is too cold and sore to bother. I toss it out the window and shrug. When I turn back DEATH is still against the wall watching me.
“What is the point of you?” she asks.
The wall continues to crumble inward against her shoulder. I glare at her.
“Well, what is the point of you?” I say back.
She shrugs, the crumbs hit her feet and mix with the snow.
The door behind her slams open. A man in a mustache stumbles out. He looks at DEATH then at me. He holds to fingers to his lips and I hand him a cigarette. He looks at DEATH again and asks for a lighter. I pass it over. He tries to strike it. After three tries he holds it up to me and starts yelling something I don’t understand. His mustache is twitching. He throws the lighter at my chest and walks off waving his arms.
DEATH walks over and leans over the window frame.
“What was his problem?”
I pick up my lighter and toss it out of the window. It falls the four stories and explodes as it smashes to the ground. One of the papers below catches fire, then another. They start screaming but they are far down, and they are small, so it doesn’t sound like much. The mustached man comes out of a door below into the courtyard. He walks up to the flame. He takes up a screaming sheet of burning paper and lights his cigarette. He looks up and cries, “thank you!” before heading off out the main entrance.
I brush some walls crumbs off of DEATH’s shoulder. She frowns at me.
“Maybe there is no point in anything,” I say.
She gags. “Fuck, you’re depressing.”
She holds up a finger.
“No—not good depressing like tortured genius. You’re depressing like someone posting about their abortion on facebook. Get over yourself.”
I step back from the window.
She shrugs, “it’s true.”
“No. It’s cold, I’m going inside.”
Smoke and music greet me.