Tag Archives: melancholy

When She Was Good

(Continued from April 29th, 2012.)

And the lavashes were indeed worth the wait!  Still warm and covered in flour, against Inna’s skin, they felt like those smooth boulders from the beaches of Odessa, upon which she, as a child-delegate to the biggest Soviet Pioneer Camp — the Artek — used to fall asleep.  After being pummeled by the waves of the Black Sea, she would crawl out and rest atop of them, out of breath and tired out by all that laughter and by the salty water that tickled, stung and got inside her nose, eyes and mouth.  The sun, permanently in high zenith, as it seemed, shone onto her like an anomaly unseen in the moody climates of Russia to which the family continued to relocate for her father’s job.  And only the fear of being left behind by her Artek teammates would keep Inna awake.

Eventually, she managed to talk her parents into signing her out for the whole afternoon at a time and taking her to the beach with them.  It was their month-long summer vacation, for which the family had been saving up for nearly half a year; and it appeared to be one the more exceptional times in her parents’ marriage, when mother was jolly at every visit.  She sported a brand new haircut a la Mireille Mathieu and a collection of summer dresses Inna had never seen her wear before.  On their downhill walk from the Artek campus to the beach, mother, who trotted ahead, let the wind take a hold of her skirt and reveal the back of her highs, all the way up to that part where during the winter, on their outings to banya, Inna would notice long and curly black hairs, coarser than anywhere else along mother’s body.  If ever the wind did scandalous tricks with mother’s dress, Inna looked up to notice her father’s grin, thrilled and shy; and if he appeared embarrassed at all, it was at being caught glancing at his wife with this much pleasure.  Inna felt delighted:  She knew she was witnessing something secret about her parents; something she could not yet understand, but knew it had to be a very good sign.

By the time Inna would wake up on the beach, however, suddenly chilly from the cold breeze of the sunset yet still finding some warmth on the boulder’s surface, she would find her father nearby, in his swimming shorts and asleep underneath a newspaper.  Only a trace of her mother’s body could be found in the flattened patch of beach sand next to him.  To console the 10-year old Inna about such a stealthy departure took more than her father’s patient explanation about mother’s obligations to visit friends in Odessa:  It took three cones of chocolate ice-cream.

The warm flatbreads that brought on the memories of that summer now stretched between Inna’s fingers and teeth.  Inside each bite, she tasted the chewy texture that, if combined with a warm glass of milk, could make a soul howl for the ways of her motherland!  The two women would take turns pinching the edges of the breads that stuck out of her mother’s sizable purse, while they made their way to the bus stop; then again while waiting for the bus.  Inna’s mother would eat only until a parent of one of her students — current or former — showed up on the platform.  She would become all business then, shaking the crumbs off her clothes and asking for Inna to remove any residue of the flour from her face or decolletage.  She then left Inna to her own devices, to harbor the hopes that perhaps once aboard the bus, mother would drop all this formality again and return to the repeated game of discussing just how good this batch of purchased lavashes turned out to be:

“Best ever!”

“Better than that one time, remember?”

“Yes, yes.  But remember that other time, when they were a little burnt along the edges?  So crunchy!”

This time would be no different.  While mother chatted up the father of her leading Math student, Inna stole pinches of the warm, stretchy dough from the purse.  Out of the dough, she began to sculpt geometric shapes whose names they’ve learned in the last academic quarter.  Turned out:  a cube was a more cooperative structure.  Each of its ribs could be measured by the tips of Inna’s index fingers and thumbs.  Interestingly, no matter the change of a tactic, the surfaces a pyramid defied precision and demanded more focus.

“Hypotenuse is a rat,” Inna recited a rhyme they’d learned in order to remember the function of this foreign name and concept.  “And it runs from an angle to an angle…”

In the midst of conforming a perfect sphere into an ovoid, Inna noticed a figure of a man nearing their platform.  He was coming from the furthest removed corner of the bus stop.  Dressed in military uniform, he carried a small travel bag of brown leather.  In all of his movements, the man possessed a certain manner of discipline and economy.  Everything about him said:  order, cleanliness, grace.

“Papka,” Inna uttered to herself — a habit for which she was lucky to not have yet earned the reputation of being strange.

At her school she was mostly thought of as quiet; and being the smallest child in her class, was also considered the weakling of the group.  However, she could never own up to the consequences of her character alone:  So vapid and wide-spread was the reputation of her mother, she felt she would walk in her mother’s shadow until she herself, once grown, would move to a big city and become a famous Soviet ballerina.  Or the first female astronaut to land on the moon.  Then, they would all realize just how special she was, all along!

“Mom,” she tugged the scratchy material of the pink-lavender skirt.  (How ever did this woman manage to survive in a wool skirt, in the balmy, mid-August air? Suffering certainly had to be a part of mother’s love of fashion.)

Mother, in the throws of laughter at something her Math student’s father had said, ignored Inna’s hand.  “Mama!” Inna tugged again, rougher.

With a single look darted over her shoulder, mother caught Inna’s wrist with feline precision, suddenly forgetting about protecting her fresh nail polish from an accidental scratch.  Her eyes shimmered with aroused temper:

“What.  Have I taught you.  About interrupting when adults are talking?” she slowly pushed the words through the tightly closed crowns of her front teeth.

Inna felt her stomach tighten, as it always did whenever she found herself in trouble.  The Math student’s father was witnessing it all.

Inna lowered her eyes then lifted them again with pleading courage, “But mama…  It’s papa.”  And before tears deformed her mouth and speech, she made a vague gesture in the direction of the Army officer, who by now — having noticed the two women himself — was making a determined, yet balletic stride across the platform.

(To Be Continued.)

Home, Bitter-Sweet Home

Today, I woke up to the sound of construction.  Having had the type of a day that nearly disparaged me with other people’s tests of my boundaries, being brought back to reality didn’t enthrall me much, as you can imagine.  I growled, tossed to the other side of my bed; yanked the alarm plug out of the wall (‘cause I don’t need that shit waking me up later); and on my feet that someone had to have pumped with lead while I was sleeping, I stumbled toward my bedroom window:

“Bloody F!” I shifted the blinds to examine the haps of my ‘hood.

A handful of short, brown men calling out to each other in a foreign language were repairing the roof of the little blue house next to mine.  Right underneath my top-story apartment, I could see them ripping that shit to pieces.  Unlike the men at one of those construction sites with heavy machinery and brutal metallic noises, these guys were tiny; and the sounds they emitted belonged to the old country:  a scraping of the shovel against the stripped wood, an arhythmic knocking of a hand-held hammer and the rainfall of nails hailing into a plastic bucket in the middle.  The shortest of the workers, wearing a safari hat, had been assigned the task of sweeping around with a giant broom with plastic bristles. That thing was thrice as tall!  And their leader — a gray-mustached man with an LAPD cap and a waterproof pouch with architectural drawings sticking out of it — looked out toward my building while smoking a pipe.

That fucking pipe rang a bell:  On my yesterday’s morning jog, while fumbling with the wires of my iPod, I nearly knocked him over.  He didn’t see me coming from behind, didn’t hear my mutters at the wires that would’ve annoyed me less had they belonged to a spider web into which I walked in, face first.

“Ooh…  Sorry…” I said, not really meaning it:  Who the fuck was he anyway and why wasn’t he paying attention?  I began to make my way around him.

“‘S okay, beauty,” the gray-mustached man calmly said after removing his smoking instrument from the thin lips that made him look like my father, “You can bump me anytime.”

Okay, may be NOT like my father, you naughty old player!  I laughed.  I do tend to forget that older folk still haven’t forgotten about sex, and that some of them may still be having it (yikes!).

So, it always tickles me to no end to watch these old guys flirt with me, with the swagger of their old days.  I bet they don’t sext the woman they like; and they know the etiquette of a phone call.  “Liking” a girl’s photograph on Facebook does not pass, for them, as an expression of desire.  And their stubborn commitment to getting doors and pulling out chairs; to taking over a woman’s grocery bags and never letting her whip out her money, no matter her protesting — all that throws me into a state of easy melancholy, readily available to my Russianness.

Yesterday, we left it at a laugh; but as I took off, I continued to smile and shake my head a few more times.  My jogging step suddenly got lighter.  I maneuvered my way around my neighborhood at the foot of a mountain; and considering LA-LA’s latest weather of the Bay-like blues — with its fogginess and unpredictable spurts of sunshine — it suddenly reminded me of my home:  A tiny village on a peninsula at the other end of the Pacific.  The old country.

A fresh cup of coffee would make the perfect finish to my start of the day, I decided, and detoured toward my neighborhood’s market.  Feeling the grogginess of the morning lift, giving room to the lightness of gratitude, I aimlessly walked through the fresh produce aisle.  A mount of magnificent red plums tempted me to pick-up a few and breathe them in.  I rubbed my fingers against a mint leaf and petted the shiny surfaces of eggplants; groped a few avocados.  Letting habit and the vague smell of coffee take me to my destination, I passed the fish counter.

“Hello, how are jew?” the manager said from behind his tempting, never frozen line-up of produce.

“Beauticious,” I answered and gave him my best American smile:  open and down with it.

Surprised by an alert response, the man’s brown face immediately stretched into an enthusiastic smile:  “Beauti-cious?”  I heard remnants of his Spanish accent.

“It’s like, ahem, beautiful and delicious at the same time,” I explained.  “Like those jumbo scallops of yours.”

“Oy!  Oy!” the man was already putting on his gloves.  “Would jew like to take a l’ook?”  (Definitely Spanish!)

Before I could switch from smiling to speaking (I’m still figuring out the dynamics of that whole American smiling, to tell you the truth), the old guy was already on my side of the counter, lifting its front cover.  (I didn’t even know it was built like that!)  A whiff of the sea hit my nose:  Ah, the old country.  HOME.  

The man began to gingerly pick-up the beauticious scallops and bounce them in his giant hands.

“Oy!  How ‘bout dis one?!”

“Gorgeous,” I said and rested my forearm on his shoulder.  “Beauticious!”

He chuckled:  My tender presence thrilled him. Perhaps, it reminded him of his own home:  Where men drink beer on outside patios and bluntly whistle at the lovely chicas strutting by; where time crawls and dictates the course of the day with its mood; where lunchtime can last until dinner and where every accidental drum beat can start an impromptu fiesta.

“What cha got there?”  The old guy said to me and starting staring at my breast.

I looked down:  A neon-orange sticker that used to belong to the mount of avocados, sat in the vicinity of my nipple and read:

“RIPE READY TO EAT”.

The man sized me up:  Was he about to get in trouble?  But when I thumped my forehead against his chest and lost my composure entirely, wiping away the tears that ready flooded my tired eyes, he too began to holler with his chesty laughter.

“Oy!  Oy!” he was still holding those scallops in this giant, brown hands and throwing his head back.  He would’ve touched me — it felt like he wanted to — but his American training had taught him about boundaries.

Still:  It was suddenly all so easy; so light.  Beauticious and grateful.

“Yep,” I thought:

It’s time to go home.  The old country.