Doctors with Tiny Hands

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“Do you need an English-speaking doctor?” the nurse asks N, in Russian. N looks to me.

“Preferably,” I tell him.

He tells the nurse. She directs us to wait. The waiting room is the size of a church; high ceilings and a lot of glass.

“This is a nice hospital.”

“Mm,” N says.

We wait. In the ugly light of the hall I can see the red rash down my arm. It is an evil thing. It doesn’t itch. I hold my arm up to N. He nods, “you might be dying.”

“I might be dying!”

I sulk while N nods off. Eventually the nurse comes to lead us down the hall and into a small office, there we wait, again.

The door opens. A boy of about nine years old enters. He is wearing a doctor’s coat and a stern look. He shakes my hand. He sits at the desk. I look to N, N shrugs.

“What is wrong?” the boy asks, he lays his arms, one over the other, on the desk. I stare at his tiny hands.

“Well?”

I meet his eyes. “Uh—I am sick.”

He smiles, “of course.”

“I have a rash, and I had something like the flu on Tuesday—no, Monday. On Tuesday I woke up with this rash, and the flu symptoms went away, but the rash and my body hurts and…” I trail off. The boy looks at my arm, he nods.

“Is it on your head?” he asks.

I nod, “yes.”

“You’re shoulders?”

“Yes.”

“Knees?”

“Yes.”

“Toes?”

“Yes, everywhere, the rash is everywhere.”

I unzip my sweatshirt, I am not wearing a T-shirt and he can see how the rash is covering every inch of my body, fighting the hair for dominance.

He nods, doctor-like. He holds up a finger and pulls his cellphone from a big white pocket. We wait. Someone answers on the other end and the boy begins talking fast, in Russian. I don’t catch much. I hear the word “syphilis” and turn to N. N is listening closely and doesn’t acknowledge me. So, I try to translate for myself. As the conversation winds down. I hear the boy say “I don’t know. I haven’t seen anything like this in fifteen years.” After that the boy says “mhm, yes, mhm, super, okay,” before hanging up the phone. He spins his chair to me and places both of his tiny hands on each of his tiny knees and sighs.

“I am 95% sure, you are okay.”

He smiles.

I don’t.

“It is a flu. I am 98% sure, it is only flu. It comes from your nose, boop.” He taps his own nose.

I frown. “What?”

“Nose.” The boy touches his own nose, and then whispers, “boop.”

I frown.

“Did you—”

“You need to clear your nose, boop,” the boy says. He pokes his own nose. “Boop,” he whispers. “I will prescribe you some nasal spray and you need to go for walks and you should get better soon. But, just in case I am wrong. I am 97% sure—only flu. But I don’t want to miss something, so you wait for specialist?”

N says, “yes,” before I can respond. The boy stands up and nods. He walks out of the door. When it is shut, I zip up my sweatshirt.

“What the fuck was that?” I ask N.

He looks as confused as me. “We need to wait for the specialist, I guess.”

“Shit.”

“Mhm.”

Twenty minutes later, the door opens. The boy has returned, a girl is with him. She can’t be older than 8. Her hair is cut short, framing a set of narrow glasses.

“Up,” she tells me. She motions for me to unzip my sweatshirt. I do. She walks around me, poking, moving her glasses up, and then down her nose. She pokes my belly button, professionally. She giggles.

“Did he check your eyes?” she asks up at me.

I look down. “Yes.”

“You’re ears?”

“Yes.”

“Mouth?”

“Yes.”

“And nose?”

From behind me I catch a half-hearted “boop.”

“Yes.”

“Hm,” she ponders. “Okay.”

She mimes zipping my sweatshirt up. I do. I sit. She turns to the other doctor, the boy. They speak in Russian. I try to listen. Again, I hear the word, “syphilis.”

“Did she just say syphilis?”

“Yes,” N tells me.

I throw up my arms. “How the fuck would I get syphilis. I don’t even have the time or energy to get syphilis!”

N nods, “I know.”

“Excuse me, I am sorry I don’t have the time to go out getting syphilis, so unless my girlfriend has more time on her hands than me, it’s not that.”

Both doctors turn to N. N translates. They begin to look even more concerned. They speak to N now. They speak for a while. I wait.

Finally, he turns to me. “They think you might have measles.”

They let me have an oh-fuck moment before continuing.

“You shouldn’t leave the hospital until another specialist arrives.”

“Mhm.”

“Shouldn’t?”

“Ehh,” N says.

“Can’t?”

“Warmer.”

“Great.”

I look to the child doctors and give them a thumbs-up.

They mime it back, with their tiny little hands.

 

 

**my whole doctor’s visit was longer than this. If you like this story and want me to write a part two, let me know in the comments below**

How to Make Racist Friends and Alienate People

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Q sits in my kitchen drinking a canned gin and tonic from a dirty wine glass.

“I can’t make any friends in Russia,” he says.

I wait.

“Q.”

He turns.

“We’re friends.”

He shrugs.

“Kind of.”

“Kind of how?”

“We are just two people who don’t really listen to each other talk. That’s much better than friends.”

I frown. “How is that better than friends?”

“Less judgmental.” He takes a drink. “And I’ll be less sad if you die.”

“Right…”

“Right.”

I light up a cigarette and we drink. N comes in a bit later.

“What are you guys doing?” he asks.

I shrug, “not listening to each other, apparently.”

He looks to Q, Q nods. He takes a seat. “Well, today a pirate tried to take over my bus.”

“What?” Q asks.

“A pirate,” N repeats.

“Oh.”

N sighs and looks at me. I shrug. “He can’t make friends with Russians.”

He turns to Q. “Why can’t you make friends with Russians?”

Q mutters something that sounds like hamster.

“What?”

“I said, Black Panther.”

Both N and I give him a confused look.

He finishes his rosy gin and tonic. “They all keep trying to talk to me about black panther.”

“So?”

“So, they keep saying it is a racist movie. And one person,” he leans onto the table and puts his head to one hand, “one guy even told me he thought the movie wasn’t playing for the first five-minutes because everyone was black and it was dark.”

N looks a bit shameful. I continue to smoke.

“That’s not so bad, Russians just aren’t used to seeing black people, that doesn’t make them racist,” N says, a bit defensive.

Q holds a finger up at him and says, “when I tell them they are racist they always say the same thing.”

“What?” I ask.

Q looks to me, “they say they have a black friend.”

I laugh. N raises an eyebrow, “that’s not so racist.”

“No—they say their friend is Russian-black, tan people from the south. And that it is the same because Russians oppressed them, too.”

N nods, resigned. “Okay, that is racist. But, at least you’ve got us.”

Q looks long at him, then to me.

He sighs.

 

 

The Devil with Sawdust in his Hair

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I’ve been told numerous times never to go into a bar at the bottom of a set of stairs in Russia. I always remember this just after I find myself, inhaling dust, surrounded by cracked support beams and dirty looks.

To be fair, this time there are just two dirty looks; a young bartender and a man with hair so dark and skin so pale he might’ve been in black and white.

I eye the cooler of bottled beers, not confident enough in my Russian to risk asking for a beer selection. I must have looked too confused for too long and it gave me away.

“Where are you from?” the black and white man asks with almost no accent. I turn. One eye is black, blacker even than his hair; the other, green.

“Uh–Boston,” I tell him. He smiles, then laughs.

“AH! America!”

I nod.

“Come!” he leads me to the counter. “What do you like?” he asks.

I shrug, “Hm–I like traveling and–uh–romantic comedies?”

He frowns at me then looks to the beer taps. He taps the left side of his neck with the back of his right hand. I feel my face redden a bit.

“Ah–yeah, a stout.”

The black and white man orders two stouts. They’re poured and set down. The bartender looks at me. I look at the black and white man. He looks away. I sigh and pay. He follows me to a table.

There is no music playing.

“So, you’ve been to America?” I ask.

He smiles, “oh yes! Many times.”

“You like it?”

He shrugs, “the last time I was there it was during the war, hard times for everyone.”

He is still smiling.

I smirk a bit, he can’t be much older than me, late thirties, maybe.

“And what war was this?” I ask, playing along.

He frowns, “The war. The Great war. The one you Americans always seem to like telling everyone you won.”

I don’t rise to the goad, instead I play further, “you look good for your age.”

He smiles again, “I look good for every age. One of the perks,” he says, patting his own head.

“And how old are you then?” I ask.

He looks at his fingers, ticking away. “A couple hundred years, at least.”

I sip my beer and look around the bar. The bartender has moved from behind the bar and is sitting close by on his laptop with headphones in.

I look back at the black and white man and ask, “how come I paid for the beers then if you’re, immortal or whatever? Shouldn’t you be rich.”

He gets an annoyed look for a moment then shrugs, “I don’t know what makes people think being immortal somehow gives you insights into money management. Or that every time we come back to life we’ve got lotto numbers tattooed on our butt cheeks!”

“Well, that wouldn’t be very convenient,” I remark.

“What?”

I mockingly try to turn and look at my own butt, “If it’s on your butt cheeks you probably wouldn’t notice it. Seriously, how often do you look at your butt cheeks?”

He gives me a dark pitying look, “only someone without a butt would make a statement like that–but, that’s not the point.”

I laugh, “okay, what is the point.”

He smiles, but it’s less than confident. He looks around the bar. “Being immortal doesn’t get you much–less than much. You find yourself wallowing away in some bar at the bottom of a set of stairs.”

I give him an empathetic smile. He glares back at me.

“Don’t you go pitying me, I’ve had hundreds of years to hit rock bottom, what’s your excuse?”`

I gulp down the last of my beer and stand up.

“I’m a geologist,” I tell him.

He laughs and hands me his empty glass.

“One of us is a liar, then,” he says as I walk over to the bartender and order two more stouts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Paris Test

paris_test

We find a Vietnamese place between where I live and Q works. It’s fair since neither of us likes walking too far from where we need to be.

“Why are we getting Vietnamese?” he asks.

I shrug. “I wanted soup.”

“We’re in Russia. They practically invented soup.”

“Yeah,” I agree, “but,” I point to the bowl, “this is the only soup they won’t put mayonnaise or sour cream in.”

Q nods. “I am so tired.”

“Why?”

He sighs, “I went on a walk last night with some racist girl.”

“How do you know she was racist?” I ask.

He shrugs, “The Paris test.”

I choke on a bit of soup. “What the hell is the Paris test?”

“I ask them if they like Paris.”

“So?”

“So, if they say no, they are racist.”

I sit back and try to find some secret meaning in what he said. I don’t. Instead, I say, “what?”

“Well, you know how racist Russians are. If they don’t like Paris, it’s because of the immigrants.”

I cross my arms, “that’s–”

“And,” he cuts me off, “what do they say after that?”

I sigh, “that they are dirty and cause a lot of crime,” I mutter.

“That they are dirty and cause a lot of crime,” Q repeats, pointing at me. He raises an eyebrow.

I sigh. “Okay, yeah.”

“To be fair, it’s mildly racist for Russia,” he admits, “like the other day, I was playing never-have-I-ever with some Russians and one girl–out of nowhere just goes ‘Never have I ever run down the street with niggers.'”

“Uh–what does that even mean?”

Q throws up his arms. “Who knows.”

“So, walking girl was just mildly racist.”

He nods, “for Russia.”

“Right.”

“In England, she’s an outright bitch.”

We finish our soups in relative silence. When the table is cleared Q wipes his hands on a napkin. “She did say the n-word, though,” he admits.

“So, she’s full racist then.”

“Yeah, full racist.”

“So are you going to see her again?”

He sits and thinks a moment, “it was a really long walk. I don’t think I want to do that again.”

The Safest Summer Camp in the World 6

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*Part 6 of The Safest Summer Camp in the World. If you haven’t caught up, click HERE.

The night before the bus comes the kids are tasked with coming up with and presenting their own religions. They spend the whole day preparing so I take a long walk to the closest shop two kilometers down the road.

At night everyone is gathered in the main hall. I don’t understand much but I am no less impressed by the things the children have made. One group comes out all taped up with pillows.

“We are the church of Pillowism!” They declare.

They sing a song and then everyone smothers each other. It goes on for maybe an hour; Instagramism, David bowieism, Dancism. Finally, the last group is up. They are dressed in tribal gear. They sit in a circle and sway and chant. The room goes silent and somehow, darker.

“What is going on?” I whisper to C. But, C is transfixed a sick, unreadable, look on her face. No one in the hall is moving, even the pillow people who’ve already come back to life. I listen close, in and among the chanting I keep hearing the same words over and over.

“Baba Yaga…Baba Yaga…”

“STOP!” K cries, standing up and throwing himself into the middle of the circle. The kids fall back, dazed.

“Hmm,” C whispers beside me. K turns and looks at us.

“C, stay here. Don’t let anyone leave. You, come with me.” he dashes out of the hall. I run after him.

“Where are we going?” I ask, trying to keep up. He doesn’t answer.

“I knew it, I knew it–stupid!” He berates himself in Russian.

Soon we find ourselves outside the disco hall. It sits there, no longer black sticks and ash. I frown at it, something is wrong. Then, I realize. There is no door. It is just a blank slab of wall.

“Hut, Hut!” K calls. “Turn your back to the forest and your front to me!”

I watch as the disco hall starts to turn. K doesn’t wait for it to get all the way around. He runs, pale. I don’t even bother trying to keep up with him. When I get to the hall, I can feel the fear and tension. K is looking around the room, counting heads. He is just finishing as I enter.

“Did you see Ivan outside?” he asks.

I shrug, “which Ivan, there are like five.”

“Did you see anyone outside?”

I shake my head.

“Who hasn’t died five times?” he calls over the crowd, in Russian. Two of the campers raise their hands. he pulls out a gun and shoots them. He sighs.

“Does anyone remember, did Ivan die five times?” Is what I think he says.

None of the campers say a word. He turns on the group all dressed in tribal gear.

“Who taught you!” he demands. One of the girls, the youngest, begins to cry. They look scared. Another, a boy named Roman lifts his hand to point. I follow his finger.

C sits on the couch picking something out of her teeth. They look wrong for some reason. Everyone in the room is watching her.

“What?” she asks, innocent. Then she smiles, “oh, right” she stands, stretches and begins to grow. Her teeth, now full and iron, jut out from her mouth. Her two eyes pop like blowfish. She is laughing. She stands up and starts walking through the crowd of children. She reaches down and scratches the top of one of their heads. K stands on the other side of the crowd.

“You,” she points at him, “are going to bring me back to Russia. Or, you will never leave this place.” She raises an eyebrow, “You suspected too late my dear, I’ve spent years pushing myself into this girls mind,–” she shudders, “every time she died, I got a little more, and a little more–” she smiles her great ugly iron teeth, “me.”

K doesn’t look angry, he looks defeated.

“Where is Ivan?” he asks.

Baba Yaga shrugs, patting her belly.

“What do you want?”

Baba Yaga smiles, “it is simple, you will smuggle me back into Russia and I will give you your Ivan back. If not, well I think being trapped for eternity with a bunch of tasty kids doesn’t sound so bad to me.”

“How,” K growls.

“Hair, I will turn myself into a single strand of hair on a single child. You won’t know which one. There I will stay and when we get to Russia you will bring all of the children to the forest. Someone will come and retrieve me.”

There is silence in the room. K nods. With that, Baba Yaga takes a breath, she coughs twice, grunts once, and vomits Ivan out onto the floor.

“Pity,” she grumbles. Then, vanishes. Ivan, covered in slime, rolls onto his back.

K, scratching just under his beard, walks up and shoots Ivan between the eyes.

“Everyone go to bed,” he says.

As he walks out he turns, “no snacks tonight,” he tells everyone. A few students pout but no one dares to argue.

TO BE CONTINUED…

The Safest Summer Camp in the World 5

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*Part 5 of The Safest Summer Camp in the World. If you haven’t caught up, click HERE.

It’s been half a week now. We went to the Zoo in Helsinki yesterday, so no one died. After dinner every night, the kids all gather while K tallies the number of deaths each person has and gives out rewards for creativity. It seems everyone is at four deaths except two. Ivan, a boy who was in the bathroom while everyone was poisoned on the first night, and Dasha who, after seeing me get electrocuted by the fence, ran into it herself, making her the first to five deaths. K gives her a sticker.

K and I sit by the river while the kids get ready for the next event; a disco.

“Why don’t you just shoot them all five times on the first day?” I ask.

He looks out over the lake, scratching his neck. “We tried that, but kids didn’t want to come back. It’s no fun just to die. So, we started making games and events and, well–as you can see, the kids love it.”

I light a cigarette, not able to have many throughout the day.

“Tomorrow, you can decide how to kill them, American style!”

I laugh. “You’ve already shot them enough.”

He chuckles, “You’re a funny g–” he looks past me. I turn. There is something between the trees. K stands and starts walking, I follow. He gets to the edge of the woods and frowns.

I stand next to him. After a few seconds he smiles. “Just Russian superstition.”

“Uh, okay,” I say.

He waits for me to finish my cigarette and we walk up to the disco.

The disco hall is up the road a bit. The windows are dark. There are strobe lights inside, a few kids outside. It is small, cottage-like. K stops at the door, looking around.

“If you could describe this building in one word, what would it be?” he asks me.

I look up at it. The building is small, more of a cottage.

“Cottage?” I ask.

He looks at it too.

“You’re sure?”

I take a second look. “Sure,” I decide.

“Hm, it is new,” he says, and walks in,

C is outside, talking with some kids.

“How’s the disco,” I ask.

She shrugs, “We have to be inside in ten for when K blows it up.

One of the kids groans, whining about something in Russian.

C tells him to get inside.

“What was that about?” I ask.

She rolls her eyes. “He says he died in the fire the other day so he doesn’t want to get blown up.”

I nod, it seems fair to me, but I leave it at a nod.

K comes out and calls us all in. The bomb is in the middle of the dance floor. S is the DJ. He is playing English songs from my school days;

To the window! To the wall! Till sweat drips…

I can’t help laughing. The kids are dancing like wildfire. I join in.

The countdown starts at ten minutes. Everyone dances, then, the whole place blows to bits.

Being blown up is quite different from dying in a fire, as it turns out.

TO BE CONTINUED…

The Intelligent American

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Q asked me to a drink.

“You can meet my American friends,” he told me.

“Oh?”

“Yeah,” he said, excited, “they are from Portland.”

“Oh.”

Q is already there when I arrive, a place not far from my apartment that serves only alcoholic cider.

His American friends turn out to be one guy and his absent girlfriend.

“She got sick off some vegan shawarma,” he tells us from under a mustache.

The ciders come; two Russian, one from the south of France.

“So, what are you doing in Russia?” The American asks.

I shrug. “A few things here and there.”

He nods. “Yeah, I am a teacher too. It’s really great, you know–rewarding.”

“Mhm.”

“So, why’d you pick Russia?”

“Dunno,” I say.

“Rad. Yeah–I love it here man. The culture is fascinating and so beautiful. Rich–you know, like, rich-rich. It’s so old and just–” he takes a breath, “just amazing place. People are so friendly! I mean and the language is so interesting! I was reading this article on Dostoevsky the other day–you know, to practice my Russian. It was talking about how Russian is an asophiocratical language–you know?”

“I–”

“Well anyways–I was so fascinated. How is your Russian?”

“Bad,” I say in Russian.

The American laughs. “That’s a shame–reminds me, I’ve been reading this great book. It’s called The Satirist Sat on a Goose Egg, by Gordon Fenris. Ever hear of him?”

I shake my head.

“Oh–he’s fantastic. It’s a satire about a satirist living on some farm in North Dakota.”

I drink my cider, waiting. It doesn’t take long.

The American looks at the label on his cider, nodding. “I love French cider. I saw this one in this docudrama about this French hair-growth specialist. It’s fascinating. Really good stuff.”

“Hair growth specialist?” Q asks.

The American smiles knowingly, “she is in charge of consulting on movies and TV shows to tell directors and writers how long hair should have grown when they jump ahead in post-apocalyptic and survival films.”

“Huh,” Q says. I nod my agreement, chasing down the bottom of my glass. We sit there for another hour learning about the therapeutic value of gutting fish, a painter who paints with their own feces, a Swedish rock group that only plays music by hooking their brains up to CT-scan machines; and a Troll article about how playing fetch with dogs should now be called handicapped-pass.

Outside, I have a cigarette. Q stares across the street at a suspicious looking goat.

“He was nice.”

I laugh. “He was a douche.”

Q frowns, “You’re too judgmental. He was an intelligent guy at least.”

I nod. “I knew an intelligent guy who could recite Shakespeare’s Macbeth, all of it–word for word.”

“So?”

“So, when we said goodbye, he said ‘peace fag,'” I toss away my cigarette, “so, there’s that.”

“What, that?”

“That, that.”

“What?”

“Never-mind.”

We start walking home,”Do you ever actually have a point?” Q asks.

I shrug. It starts to rain.

 

 

 

No Smoking!

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N and I stand outside a bar called Bukowski. It is across from our apartment. A girl plods on past. She is crying; her whole body is crying. She is wearing rainbow socks. I pass N my cigarette. He takes a couple drags.

“Do you need a cigarette?” someone asks N. We turn. A man with two dark eyes is holding his pack out to N. N holds up his hand, politely.

“I’m trying to quit.”

The dark eyed man frowns.

“Why?”

N shrugs. “Death?” he wonders, taking a couple more drags off of my cigarette. The dark eyed man looks around the street. He laughs.

“What else is there to do in this city but die!” he says, suddenly. “All these people saying quit, quit, quit!”

He spits. “Why don’t they leave us alone. Everything here will kill you here; the roads, the cars, the water, the air, your neighbors. hell! Dennis killed all his neighbors with a base guitar.”

He motions to the man beside him. He has a patchy beard and glass eyes. He nods.

I smile, nervously. N takes another drag from my cigarette. The dark eyed man crosses both his arms, cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth.

“You know, people always saying; no smoking, no smoking, NO SMOKING! You know, the other day I was in the park and I saw a man smoking. And, you know you can’t smoke in the park.”

N nods. I shrug.

“Well, he was smoking. So, just to see what it feels like, I went right up to him and said ‘you know buddy–I even said buddy–I said, buddy, there is no smoking in the park,’ I told him. You know, just to see what it would feel like.”

He puffs away.

“And?” I ask.

“And what do you think! I felt awful, terrible! The man just looked at me; saw straight through to my asshole, which is what I was, an asshole. I threw up all over the poor man.”

N makes a face. The dark-eyed man is all worked up. His face is red. His glass-eyed friend pats him on the back, comforting.

“Asshole,” his friend says, softly, motherly. The dark eyed man looks about to cry.

N finishes my cigarette.

 

Paint Chips

paint_chips

I stand in line at the grocery store clutching three beers and a bag of popcorn. They are playing the Mission Impossible theme song over the loud speaker.

The man in front of me is short, hairy, from Azerbaijan, maybe. He smells like a man I met twenty-three years ago…

My Grandmother, used to go to AA. I don’t know if she still does, but, we were at AA; her, my brother, and I. There were donuts, I think. Coffee too, but I was too young to drink coffee. It was held in a church.

My brother and I were on these stairs, waiting. They were old and wooden; always leaving you with paint chips stuck to your trousers.

He looked a bit Anthony Hopkins, but fatter, with long hair, and a beard.

Maybe he didn’t look like Anthony Hopkins.

I don’t remember what my brother and I were doing; fighting, probably. This man, who didn’t look like Anthony Hopkins, approached us.

He walked right over, and pulled off his thumb. My eyes went wide, until I noticed the trick.

“It’s behind your hand!” my brother cried.

“Yeah!” I said, unsure.

He chuckled, “okay, okay,” he said. He held out his thumb to me. I grabbed it, confident. I pulled.

It came off in my hand.

The man, who didn’t look anything like Anthony Hopkins, roared with laughter. The little nub wiggled as he held it up to my brother’s horrified face. I dropped the rubber thumb onto the stairs. It rolled, gathering up paint chips.

The man snatched it up, fixed it to his hand, and walked off, laughing…

They are playing Shakira now, in the grocery store. The man, who might be from Azerbaijan, is trying to pay for cigarettes with a five-thousand ruble note. The cashier isn’t happy.

I lay my beers and popcorn down on the belt; stick my thumbs into my pockets, waiting.