Eleven:Demonstrable

I wore my mother's needlework to school.

Ever day. Every year in school.

She'd fix tears, sew seams in wherever there needed to be more seams. Sitting in one of the severe wooden chairs, back against the fading side of the house beneath the porch. Even in winter. The color blue played over and over again on the radio. Her wispy black hair fluttered around her face, torn loose from its bindings by the wind.

I wore my mother's needlework to school.

Just before I left for university, she'd taken me aside and shown me how to darn socks.

"Figure the rest out." She slapped the back of my head and waved as I stumbled down the drive from our house. I'd looked back only once before getting into the boxy blue taxi— my mother leaning against the metal column of the awning.

She was the picturesque model of displaced soviet wife.

At the university, I darned my own socks.

And in the army, too.

When I woke up in the hospital with a bullet in my belly, they gave me new socks —clean ones, starchy white ones— and sent me home.

By then, my mother's eyes were blanker, blinder, her smile empty like the pots outside the window. Her teeth were crooked. Her eyelids rode low on her eyes, interrupting them. Sly. Tired. Only halfway through the veil.

I think about the way she touched my hair when I pull a shirt out of the washing machine at the laundromat and it catches on something and the fabric tears.

Wrapping my fingers in the warm cotton fabric, I drop it into my laundry basket. I can mend this.

I wore my mother's needlework to school.

--

Twelve:Exquisite

After everyone goes home and it's almost the morning, Sasha is the only person left. He tips back in his chair, twirling the end of his ponytail around one spindly finger.

The timer on his computer is ticking down, closer and closer towards zero. No doubt he'll leave in the eighteen minutes left, and then I'll leave when Ivan gets here. Even in the dim light of the internet cafe, even in the earliest hours of the morning when everything is dull and hazy and tiredness has settled into my skin, I think that Sasha looks really nice. I like looking at nice things; I don't want him to leave.

I interrupt myself three or four times, repeat my mantra of don't look don't look don't look just in case he can read minds.

Ivan sets down his bag somewhere to my left and wriggles his fingers in front of my face. "You're staring," he says. "That's...I mean, he does totally look like a girl, but it's still kind of weird."

"I know."

"Don't do it."

"Okay."

With another fourteen minutes left on the clock, Sasha logs out of his computer and pads up to where I'm standing. His eyes are red from staring at a screen all night.

"Are you off now?"

"Yeah."

"You want to get breakfast?"

For a minute, I don't say anything.

Across the room, Ivan is scrubbing at the desk beside one of the computers. "Just go," he shouts, waving at the door. "You've been here all night, dude."

He scowls at Sasha and Sasha grins and makes a rude gesture.

"Breakfast?"

We get McDonalds and sit on the cement wall outside. Sasha dangles his feet over the edge, at the head-height of little children. They all move to avoid him; their mothers glower at Sasha and Sasha grins anyway. I keep my legs safely tucked out of the way.

"Do you spend every Saturday night there?"

Sasha nods, swallowing. "I don't have anywhere else to go. No point." He fishes a cigarette out of his pocket and jams it into his mouth. He chews the end of it as he lights it. "What about you?"

"I don't go out much."

Instead of asking anything else, we turn east and watch the sun creep over the horizon.

--

Thirteen:Deliberation

For a long time, I stand in front of the clinic where Dali works.

I've passed the sparse clusters of protesters and now the only thing that stands between me and the warmth of the bleach-white clinic is a blue tin door. Autumn wind snakes between me and my coat, separating me from the heat of my clothes. Shivering, I shuffle inside.

"Imeda!" Dali waves from behind the circular desk. Shuffling across the white tile floor, I move to lean against the white, enamel-smooth pillars. It feels like the inside of a cartoon spaceship— compact, smooth, comically clean. The product of Soviet advancement; the consequence of post-Soviet decay.

--

Fourteen:Nightgown

I remember being eleven years old and dangling my feet in the rusty creek water. I wiggled my toes and picked off the occasional leech. It was the fourth summer —maybe the fifth summer?— that we lived in Karachayevsk, and I'd grown spider legs that stretched beneath me to accommodate the new world.

Our house, boxy and square and white, opened into the mountains.

"Imeda!"

I turned to see my mother standing at the sharp division of concrete and dirt. She wore a pink gingham nightgown that swallowed her rail-thin body whole, trailing in the mud of the afternoon. Her makeup smeared down her dark, angular face and her lower lip trembled violently.

"Get away from that water."

I had complied immediately, stood and backed over the shrubbery. "Sorry," I had said.

She took a halting step forward and grabbed me roughly by the arm. "You don't have to speak Russian," she rasped in her moist, unsettling voice. Her face was so close to mine, moon-like and pale, straining —eyes wide open— from her loosening skin. "There's no one here but us, Meda." Her talons dug harder into the tender skin of my arm.

"Let go."

Her nails, scraggly and bitten, left gouges in my skin. The spittle dribbled from the corner of her haphazardly-painted lips. "There's no one here but us, Meda," she echoed. Her hands twirled into the sheer, pink fabric of her clothes. "You don't have to speak that fucking devil language. Georgian is so much more beautiful. It's so beautiful." Her bones rattled against one another threateningly and, for a split second, her grip loosened.

Ripping away from her, I had stared at her.

At eleven years old, I stood face-to-face with insanity.

--

Fifteen:orangutan

The orangutan at the Moscow zoo peers at me from the other side of the plexi-glass.

"It likes you," says Dali. She slaps my shoulder playfully and I slap her back and a woman standing nearby gives us a dirty look because she thinks I'm beating my wife— it isn't concern, it's because she thinks everyone from Georgia looks alike and she thinks she should be concerned.

The orange animal in the clear tank blinks and reaches out to press her palm against the glass.

I press my hand back.

A little girl with blonde hair and pigtails says something snappish in English. Her mother looks mortified and shuffles her away, and I grin and wave —which makes them both nervous— but really, I don't speak English, so it doesn't bother me.

"Are you scaring the Americans?"

"Were they Americans?"

"Did you see that little girl?" Dali laughs in the back up her throat and twirls a whorl of black hair around her finger. "I thought she was going to have a heart attack just standing there. You missed the part where she shoved an entire churro into her mouth."

"That's disgusting."

"I know."

I wave goodbye to the orangutan and Dali and I find some benches on which to sit. She has a churro, and the sugar sticks to her mouth. After she licks her fingers clean, she tucks strands of flyaway hair back behind her ears, tightening her ponytail absently. "I didn't know you liked monkeys."

"Neither did I."


Reviews, пожалуйстa?

Much love to Katy, my sister in intoxication ._.
You're being so fucking quiet right now. Stop it.
Lovelove.

Lovelove to everyone.
Also, I'm totally an American, so I can make fun of pug-nosed little brats who get to go to Eastern Europe while the proletariat labors on. Well. The American version of the proletariat. Community college totally counts.