N and I walk along the Fontanka canal. It is so cold the air stinks of it.
“Those buildings over there are dead.” He motions across the canal to the blank face of an old dark-stoned building redolent of everything James Bond told me Russia would be: Soviet.
“Dead?” I ask, lighting a cigarette.
“What happened to them?”
I take a moment to be jealous that he has something to call The War. Then another moment to remonstrate myself over the previous thought.
We stop at the top of a bridge. Thick sheets of ice float along beneath us toward nowhere.
“Do you call those sheets of ice?” he asks.
I shrug, “maybe, or no, maybe icebergs?” I think, “no, icebergs are bigger, I don’t know.”
The thin icebergs accentuate the yellow of the river, collecting dirt as they creep along.
“Do you think you could float to Finland on one of those?” N ponders.
I shrug. “Probably. It’d take a few hours. Ask her,” I say, motioning to a Babushka taking a nap on one of the ice sheets.
N hollers something in Russian. The Babushka rolls over and glares up at him from the mouth of her red bonnet, ice crusted under her eyes.
“What are you doing?” I ask, scared.
“Asking if she is going to Finland.”
“I was joking,” I whisper.
N shrugs and hollers some more. I watch the dead building, wondering what is inside.
The Babushka shrieks something back at him. It shakes the bridge. The ice beneath her cracks. She lays flat and holds it tight, floating on.
“Hm.” N says.
“She isn’t going to Finland, mystery not solved.”