A Single Point in the Universe

two_weirdoes

When I arrived in St. Petersburg, the square outside my apartment was littered with busted heaps of junk shops, shawarma joints and fat stalls filled with cigarettes and pie. A week later they tore it all down. A flat stale expanse of nothing replaced it.

I walk along it now, perfectly sober, phone in my pocket. The sun is out. It’s been kinder of late.

I am walking toward home, nothing particularly interesting on my mind, nothing distracting my gaze. Up Ahead, a man walks toward me; not old, not young, he doesn’t have a beard–one-hundred away feet, at most. Realizing we will most likely bump into each other, I start to alter my gait, slightly.

He notices me, he too alters his gait; as you do in a world full of strangers with shoulders.

On either side of us, an eternity of space exists, yet we don’t move much, relying on math and our instinctual aversion to strangers to keep us un-bumped.

As we get closer, I realize, we are, again, headed for the same point in the universe. The only point in all of existence where the two of us might slightly jostle the other. He notices it too. He smiles politely, me too.

Yet, somehow, wherever I turn, whatever small alteration I make, he makes the same, in complete, awkward, sync. We both notice this, unable to contain our grins, certain that, eventually, one of us will move in a unique way.

But then, despite all odds, moments later, our shoulders knock into each other.

We both stop.

He’s no longer smiling. Neither am I. We look into each other’s eyes. Everything that is wrong with the human condition passes between us.

I feel shame, a deep ineffable shame; the shame of God in an orphanage.

He opens his mouth, he looks like he might cry.

“Uh,” he says.

I purse my lips. I nod.

He does the same.

He turns and walks on.

Free Beer

babushkas

In Moscow it is January. It is cold.

V looks up at me from the grocery cart. Her tail is flopped over the side. She’s started using a heavy-duty trash bag so the water won’t leak out. She is staring at the bags of frozen fish.

“Do you know matryoshka dolls?” she asks me.

I nod.

“Do you ever feel like the smallest matryoshka doll?”

I nod again, “insignificant?”

She shakes her head.

“No. Empty.”

I push us faster, past the seafood section.

“Do we need anything else?” I ask.

She looks down at her lap full of beer.

“No.”

We head for the check-out. I can feel something wrong before we get close. A change in the wind, but not. V feels it, too. She is looking toward the check out. We approach, cautious. There is a crunching sound. People are fleeing. My heart stops. Two babushkas stand, head-to-head. Their grocery carts banging into each other.

The cashier is stricken, backed into the liquor shelf. The Babushkas are screeching at one another.

One, in a floral bonnet, lifts her cart and smashes it over the head of the other. Boxes of table wine explode. The cart turns to a heap of metal twigs. Then, they are on each other. Their faces close, noses kissing. They are hollering. It is so loud, my ears hurt. Bags of chips and candy bars rain to the floor around them, blown to bits.

They circle each other. The cashier sees her moment. She tries to run. One of the babushkas turns. Her screech hits the cashier. The cashier explodes, becoming indecipherable from the blanket of red wine. A finger lands in the cart next to V.

The Babushka’s continue their manic dance of death.

“We need to go,” V says. I pick her up. We go back through the entry-way. It beeps, V is still holding the beer. We get outside just in time. The roof of the grocery store caves in. I run. We make it back to V’s apartment. I’m out of breath.

“What the shit was that about!”

V rolls her eyes.

“The one in the floral bonnet was trying to pay her whole bill with one ruble coins.”

She opens a beer. Hands me one. “But,” she smiles, “free beer.”

I take it, open it.

“Okay, then.”

The Mother of The Sun

sun's_mother

Part V of V.

“Huh?” I say, staring at The Sun’s mother, my pride diminishing.

She is looking down at the girl.

“I didn’t even recognize her,” she sighs. “she’s gotten so old.”

She turns and looks at me, sad-eyed. “You must understand. My son is a very temperamental man. He goes out, he comes home, he stays out all night then spends seven months cooped up in here, moping. But, when his daughter was here, he spent all his days inside. You’ve condemned Russia to eternal darkness.”

I put it together, slowly. “So you? The Leshy?”

The Sun’s mother sighs. “Yes, yes, he took her on my request. And now he is dead.”

I bite my lip. “Not exactly.”

She turns to me and raises an eyebrow.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I kinda wished him back to life.”

“Then–”

The Sun skips back into the room carrying a tray.

“Is she awake?” he asks.

“Not yet dear,” his mother tells him. “Why don’t you go lay down and I’ll wake you when she comes around. You know you need your rest.”

The Sun shakes his head.

“I’m not leaving her side.”

He places down the tray of teas. His mother sighs. “Very well.”

She walks behind her son. Then, motions for me to follow. The Sun sits, staring at his daughter. As soon as I find myself behind him, The Sun’s Mother pulls a Taser from her pocket and shoves it into her sons neck. He falls face first into his daughter’s lap.

“What the hell!” I cry. The old woman turns the taser to me.

“Give me your damn phone,” she growls. I hand it over. She says something soft and sweet into it, without dialing. Then, places it to her ear.

She begins speaking very fast Russian. All I catch of it is “idiot,” and “peanuts?”

She hangs up and tosses the phone at me.

“You better go, when he wakes and she is gone, you’ll be the first to die.”

I back toward the door.

“You’re giving her back to the Leshy?”

“I’m doing what has to be done,” she says, advancing on me, taser first.

“Okay, okay.”

I open the door and step out.

“And don’t go outside for a few months, when he wakes, I will blame all of this on you. Can’t have a boy blaming his mother for such nonsense, I hope you understand,” she says, slamming the door.

Out in the stairwell I pull a cigarette from my pack. Half way down, a man with long dirty green hair is making his way up. As we pass one another, not a glimmer of recognition flashes in his eyes. He grabs my arm.

“Food?” he mumbles.

I pull my arm away.

“Not a chance,” I snap, nearly falling as I dash down the stairs, out into the darkness.

THE END.

Daughter of the Sun

sun's_daughter

Part IV of V.

I back up. The sun stands.

“What are you doing here?” he demands.

“Uhhh,” I inform him. I back up until I hit the wall.

“You–” he stops. he is staring into the closet. He walks closer, frowning.

“Who is that there?”

I look into the closet.

“Uh, that’s kind of why I am here. She was in the park. Someone kidnapped her, I think. She–”

“It can’t be,” The Sun mutters, bending over the girl. He brushes hair from the girl’s face. He steps back. He looks at me.

“You brought her back to me.”

He lunges at me and I scream before finding myself embraced in his warm arms.

“She was taken, so long ago.” he begins to cry. His tears burn through my shirt. I don’t dare move.

Finally, he lets me go. He walks over to the girl.

“Uh, how? How do you know her?” I ask.

The Sun laughs. “She is my daughter.”

He lifts her into his arms. He carries her over to the couch and places her gently down.

“So, you’ve been looking for her?”

The Sun nods, “every summer, without rest.”

“So, what now?”

“Now, she must sleep, then, the wedding.”

I frown. “Uh, what?”

“You saved her, so now you are to be married and you will have half of the sky as your kingdom.”

“Uh-huh, yeah, no thanks.”

The sun turns and stands up.

“What do you mean no thanks?”

I shrink back. “Hm, like I Just wanted to make sure she was okay, and well, this was just a happy coincidence. But really, I’m good. Don’t need half the sky and all that. Not really ready for marriage, plus you know, I think it’s her choice. Two-thousand-seventeen, and all that.”

The Sun crosses his arms.

“Well, you must be rewarded for this service. What is it you desire?”

I think about all the different things I want in the world. Then, I remember.

“I kind of accidentally killed a guy in woods.”

The Sun gives me a curious look.

“It was an accident, seriously. I don’t know what the whole story is. He might have been involved with something with your daughter. I honestly don’t speak enough Russian to understand what was going on there, he might be the spirit of the forest or some shit. But, I suppose I don’t really want to be responsible for a dead guy so, yeah. That. Can you bring him back?”

The Sun smiles, closes his eyes a moment, then opens them. “Done.”

At that, the door opens.

“Mother!”

The Sun’s mother walks through. She smiles. Then, looks down at the girl sleeping on the couch. She frowns.

“Our baby girl has returned.”

His mother breaks into an awkward smile.

“How lovely.”

“Isn’t it magnificent?”

His mother takes off her coat and hangs it up.

“Truly,” she says. “Why don’t you go make your mother a cup of tea.”

The Sun nods and skips off into the kitchen. His mother turns to me.

“You idiot,” she growls.

TO BE CONTINUED…

House of the Rising Sun

 

Part III of V.

The house of The Sun turns out to be a dilapidated apartment building. I drag my passed out companion off the horse and take a breath.

“This is ridiculous,” I tell her limp body. I pull her up over my shoulder and trudge toward the building. I ring the buzzer. It rings, then stops. There is breathing.

“Hi, I, uh, your sister said you could help me.”

There is more breathing, then, a click as the door unlocks.

“Fourth floor, hurry.”

“Son of a bitch,” I mutter, dragging the girl up four flights of stairs. The door to an apartment is already open. A crusty old woman peers out at me.

“Hurry,” she is looking outside the window. I hand her the jar of white stuff. She smiles. Then looks fearfully out of the window.

“Quick, the closet. I must hide you from my son. If he catches you here he will surely eat you.”

“The hell?”

The woman bustles towards a closet and opens it.

“In,” she demands.

So, I head for it, heaving the unconscious girl up over one shoulder.

Just as we are sealed in, the door bursts open. The Sun walks in. I peak through a small hole.

“Good afternoon dear, what are you doing home so early?” His mother asks.

The Sun flops down in a chair. “These people are so depressing. I needed a break. Soon they will be expecting me to stay out all day and night. I need to conserve my energy.”

“Of course dear,” his mother consoles him.

The Sun closes his eyes, then, they snap open.

“I smell a human,” he growls.

“Tut-tut, you are just tired. Why would there be a human here?” his mother cooed.

The Sun narrowed his eyes around the room, sniffing harder.

“No, I’m sure of it, a human, and…American?”

His mother sighs. “Oh there you go, an American? you must be tired. Why would an American come to Russia?”

The Sun sits back, thinking.

“Perhaps you are right,” he decides.

“Of course,” his mother says, ” now take a nap and then go back out.”

“Mhm,” the sun responds, already nodding off. When he begins to snore, his mother sneaks over to the closet. She whispers into the hole.

“As he sleeps you must steal from him one golden strand of his hair. Then, when he wakes, you must present him with this hair and he will grant you one wish.”

Then, she leaves the apartment.

So, taking a breath, I open the closet and creep toward the sleeping sun. I stand over him.

“What the fuck,” I whisper to myself, reaching down.

Inches from his head, his eyes snap open. He frowns.

“What the fuck indeed,” he says.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Baba-Shawarma

shwarma_baba

Part II of V.

We walk out of the park meeting no one.

“You need food,” I tell her. She nods. There is a shawarma stand near-by. An elderly middle-eastern woman sits playing bejeweled on her iphone.

“Hello, do you speak English?” I ask.

“A little,” the woman tells me, in Russian. She looks to me, then the woman beside me. She scowls at the jacket wrapped around the otherwise naked woman.

“My sister?” I say, hopefully, awkwardly. The old woman shakes her head.

“Kebab?” I ask. The woman puts her phone down and walks into her booth. I turn back in time to watch my companion fall to the ground.

“Shit,” I bend down over her. “Help!” I call to the elderly woman. She shuffles out of her stand and comes to crouch down beside me.

“Police?” I say.

The elderly woman shakes her head, seriously. She bends closer over my unconscious companion. She peels open one of her eyes, spits in it, then, presses her hand down on the closed lid. I straighten up and light a cigarette, pacing.

“Is she okay?” I ask. The elderly woman shakes her head slowly.

“No, you must bring her to the house of the sun.”

I stop pacing. “The what?”

“The house of the sun, my nephew. But, you must go when he is out and tell his mother that her elder sister has sent you. She may be able to help you. But remember, you must go while the sun is in the sky. Give me your phone.”

I hand the elderly woman my phone. I finish my cigarette. She hands my phone back.

“I’ve ordered you an UBER,” she tells me. She goes back into her booth and comes out with a jar of shawarma sauce.

“Give this to my sister, so she knows I have sent you.”

I take the jar. I bend down and drag the unconscious girl onto a bench to wait. The old lady is staring at her, thinking.

“I promise, it’s not what it looks like,” I say.

The shawarma lady shrugs, “life rarely is.”

A few minutes later, a man on a horse; a great shaggy bay, three ells in length, his tail three fathoms, and his hair three colors. Atop the horse, a broad shouldered man called out, “I am Ilya of Murom and this is my steed, Cloudfall.”

I look at the old lady, then back at Ilya.

“Brilliant,” I sigh, tossing the unconscious girl up on the horse’s rear and climb on. The old lady tosses me up the jar of shawarma sauce.

“When you say house of the sun, you mean?” I call down to her.

She points up at the sky.

“Right,” I sigh, slipping my arms around the large man’s mid-section.

TO BE CONTINUED…

The Leshy

leshy

Part I of V.

The city is wet and the sun is out. It is spring (as much as Russia can figure out what spring is).

I decide to go for a walk in the park. It isn’t a big park. The ground is mostly slush and dog shit. I take a seat on a bench and light a cigarette. It is warm enough that my thumb doesn’t hurt when I strike the lighter. I smile.

The air jumps aside as a man plops himself onto the bench beside me. I look at him, then around at the multitude of empty benches on the other side of the path. I sigh. He looks at me.

“Can I have a cigarette?” he asks, in Russian. I nod and pull out my pack. He places one in his mouth and I light it for him. His beard goes to his belly-button, his hair is a messy length of knots. It is green. He takes a drag. I shift a bit away. The arm of the bench digs into my side. He says something else. I turn. He repeats it.

“I don’t understand Russian,” I tell him, in Russian. He points at his mouth. I feel around in my pockets. There is a bag of peanuts I was saving for later. I shrug and hand it over. He rips it open in a hurry and pours the whole bag down his throat.

He coughs, he gags, he dies. It all happens in the time it takes my cigarette to get low enough that it burns my fingers. I toss it away. I shake the man. He slumps onto my lap, colder than he already was. I shove him off and stand up. He slides off the bench onto the ground. I look at my phone, realize I don’t want to attempt explaining me and a dead guy in the park in Russian, and put it away.

I look around. In the trees behind the bench I see something. It looks like a large cardboard box, with a chimney. I head toward it. As I get closer, it grows bigger. It is a soggy hut made entirely of cardboard and soda cans. There is even a door; strips of plastic taped together draped over a poorly fixed stick.

I push it aside and walk in. A bed made of newspaper stacks occupies a corner. On it, a girl of about twenty, completely naked, staring at me, wide eyed.

“Run!” she says. I step back.

“He is coming!” she says. Then, she starts speaking too fast for me to understand. She says one word over and over.

“Leshy, Leshy, Leshy.”

She gets up at runs at me. I back away but she is faster, she shoves me out of the hut. I fall back in the mud. I look up. She is standing over me. She has stopped hollering. She is looking at something behind me. I turn. The dead man is still on the ground, not far.

“Ah, uh, yeah, death?” I manage to say, in Russian. She looks down at me, then back at the man.

“Death?” she repeats.

I nod.

Then, she smiles. She begins crying. The tears fill the corner of her mouth and she falls on me, holding me tight, covering us both in mud. She continues crying, gurgling the word “thank you, thank you, thank you,” over and over. I wait for her to calm down. Then, gently, I push her off. My back is wet with mud. I point to the man. Then at my phone.

“Police?”

She looks at my phone, takes it, and puts half of it in her mouth. She spits it out into the mud.

“What the hell!” I reach down and pick it up. I clean it with my shirt.

“Look,” I say, taking off my jacket, “I don’t speak Russian well.”

“But,” I add, in English, “you can’t go running around like that.”

I put the jacket around her shoulders and zip it up. It’s good enough. I walk over to where the dead man is laying. The woman follows.

“Leshy,” she says, pointing at the dead man.

“I don’t understand what that means,” I tell her.

“You die him?” she manages, in broken English.

I nod, “well, no, accident. It was an accident.”

She smiles. and says a word at me I don’t understand. She walks closer and grabs my hand. I frown at it. She repeats the word. I pull my hand away.

“Just, hold on,” I tell her.

I take out my phone and call N.

“Yes?” N answers.

“Hey, so, awkward. Some dude kinda died in the park–”

“Are you there?” he cuts me off.

“Yeah, but–”

“Yeah, don’t be there.”

“Yeah, I know. It’s just there is a girl here,” I pause, “naked. I think this guy had kidnapped her.”

N sighs on the other end of the phone. “Yeah, don’t be there.”

“Helpful.”

“My pleasure.”

“One more thing, what is a Leshy?”

“The spirit of the forest. Why?”

I look at the dead man on the ground. “Of course he is,” I mutter.

TO BE CONTINUED…

Springtime in Russia

spring_in_russia

A Babushka stands on the bridge blowing fat juicy bubbles from a label-less container. A drunk man stumbles along the street, shirtless, belting some Russian tune. I carry my thawing body along the canal in a pair of sneakers.

Spring is here.

The ice has melted and the dog shit is rife. I weave my way over to the bricks and take a breath. I light a cigarette. A woman walks toward me. Her left hand is lilted up as though it just finished asking a question. In her right, she holds a cigarette. I try to look stoic. The sun is burning down.

I yawn.

She looks up then, straight into my open mouth. She frowns and looks away. I sigh and go back to watching trash float down the canal.

It begins to snow.

I groan. My phone buzzes.

N: Want to go somewhere?

I shrug at my phone.

“Where?” I ask.

He sends an address. I take an UBER.

It’s a grungy little place; built for dirt and death. There is a cat.

A man with stubby fingers wrapped halfway around a beer sits with N. He is a dentist. His eyes are big. He offers tea.

“No thanks,” I say, taking a beer from N. I sit.

“So,” the dentists asks, rubbing a stubby thumb into his fat palm, “why did you come to Russia?”

I sigh, drink, sigh.

“I like it here.”

“Uh-huh, for the Spring, yes?” he motions to the snow out the window. It is snowing hard. It feels like being reminded of a dead parent just moments after you begin feeling normal again. He laughs. I drink.

“So, what do you do?”

I shrug. “different things.”

He nods. “Do you want to stay in Russia forever?”

I frown. “Not sure.”

The Dentist smiles knowingly, “I bet you get asked these questions a lot.”

I nod into my beer.

“I am sorry. You are just, like, hm–” he points at his refrigerator. I look at it, then back at him.

“I’m a refrigerator?”

He shakes his head. “No, well, yes,” he turns to N and says something in Russian.

“Appliance.”

The Dentist nods. “Yes, you are like appliance. A new appliance. Like a refrigerator. You are new and in my house. So, when you get a new refrigerator, you always open and close, open and close.” He mimes this action, spilling a bit of beer on the cat. “It is cool. But soon you realize, it is just a refrigerator. Still, when it is new. Like you. You are new and now I want to open and close you. Understand?”

I look at N. He is on his computer. I look back at The Dentist.

“Uh-huh.”

He laughs. His tooth, third in, on the top, is missing.

 

 

 

 

 

Mermaid in an Irish Pub

mermaid

N and I decide to head to Moscow for a few days.

We see the red square. It is square. It is red. It is cold. We go to a bar.

V is there, sitting, smoking, trash bag full of water around her tail. It is an Irish pub.

“There are no Irish mermaids,” she explains, when asked why she likes it so much.

“How’s your husband?” I ask.

She shrugs, “dying somewhere.”

“Right, of course.”

N orders a beer.

V looks at the menu.

“What is an Irish car bomb?” she asks.

“Socially accepted racism,” N tells her.

We get three.

I excuse myself to the bathroom. There are stalls and a trough. I, developing pee-shyness at twenty-seven, take a stall. I stand in front of the toilet, about to pee when a voice calls something from beside me. I turn, losing concentration.

“Hey big man!”

It is a picture of a busty Thai woman, topless in a G-string. I frown, startled, unable to pee. She smiles.

“Oh, look at that!” she says, looking down at my crotch. I zip up and back into the other side of the stall. She giggles. Inside the frame, she can’t be more than a few inches long.

“Why don’t you call this number big man, I’ll show you a good time.”

She waves her hand beneath her at a large yellow series of numbers. She winks.

“Uh, no, thank you.”

She makes a pouty face. “I won’t tell the mermaid.”

I frown.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

The Thai woman shrugs, “nothing,” she mutters, admiring the back of her own lacquered nails.

“I really have to pee,” I tell the picture.

She sighs, “fine,” she groans, covering her eyes with one hand. I eye her a moment before going back to my attempt at peeing.

“You know,” she starts again, I grit my teeth. “You know, you can’t love a mermaid, they don’t love humans. It’s not in their nature. But me, I’ll love you. I’ll love you all night.”

“Oh shut up,” I growl at the picture. I take my sweatshirt off and place it over the frame. Her muffled laugh mocks me as I finally manage to pee.

I take my sweatshirt back.

While I put it on, the Thai woman admires one of her own nipples.

“Do you think I’m beautiful?” she says, once my hand is on the door.

I scratch the bridge of my nose. She nods.

“At least I’m easy to love,” she tells herself.

I open the door.

“Wait!” she cries.

I turn.

“Will you tear me into little bits and send me down that toilet you forgot to flush?”

I turn. I reach for the picture.

“No wait!” she cries. I pause.

“What?”

“Misery is better than boredom. Death seems boring.”

I roll my eyes and let the door fall shut behind me. I take a breath.

I go back out to the table. N is ordering another beer. V is looking across the room at a young couple the way an oceanographer might look at plankton.

N stands up.

“My turn,” he announces, headed towards the bathroom.

“Use the trough,” I call after him.

When he is gone, I watch the young couple with V. They kiss, the girl giggles.

“His ears are uneven,” V says.