M is pacing around the kitchen, phone in one hand, Russian-English dictionary in the other. He is yelling. I sit, trying to figure out what he is saying.
“I’ll kill you” he says, or maybe, “I’m dying” or maybe, “fish tastes great on Tuesdays.” I should really study more.
Belly, M’s dog begins barking which can mean one of two things: someone is at the door, or his PTSD is acting up. I check the door.
L walks in.
“Hello,” he says. His accent is thick. He takes off his shoes. I step aside as he goes to the bathroom to wash his hands. I go back into the kitchen and light a cigarette. M is yelling now, about hot-sauce this time, maybe. L calls from the bathroom.
“What?” I call back. He pops his head out.
“May I wash my feet?” he says.
“Sure?” I tell him. He nods and soon I hear the water running in the bath.
He comes in a minute later with his pant legs rolled to below his knees. Before he can sit down M hands him the phone.
“Can you talk to these people?” he says. L nods. He takes the phone, listens, then speaks. After a moment he asks M.
“What is it you need?”
“Medicine” M says. L nods, listens, talks, turns back to M.
“Death,” M replies. L nods, listens, talks, says goodbye.
“Two days,” he says to M.
M thanks him. We all take our seats around a bottle of wine. I pour out three glasses and place the bottle on the floor. L looks down at my feet.
“So, it is true?” he says.
“Americans don’t take off their shoes inside.”
I nod, embarrassed. My boots are new, and tight, I do not like taking them off.
“Why are Russians always taking their shoes off and washing their hands anyways,” I ask, innocently defensive.
“It is where bad luck lives. You bring it into your house on your hands and the bottoms of your feet.”
I stare down at my hands and realize I’ve spent my entire life never washing my hands nor taking off my shoes after walking into my house. L places a hand gently on my shoulder.
“That is why you end up in this place,” he looks out the window at the heavy afternoon sky, “this savage country, in the dark.”