It’s cold. Last autumn, September was milder, but the government countered that by refusing to turn on the heat until we were well past the point of no return as far as the approaching winter was concerned. As usual, the heat in this particular building was only turned on after enough people called the mayor’s office and screamed. I was already spiking a 39 degree fever by then.
This weather reminds me of the joke I read earlier in the year on bash.org.ru: “In preparation for spring, I installed a water heater. The government refuses to give up and has turned off the cold water.” (Springtime is when the hot water usually gets ceremonially shut off, for two weeks, at least).
The cold makes me miss the States. We didn’t get nearly enough snow in North Carolina, but there was beauty in coming home in the twilight hours, to a quiet house, firing up the central heating (when most people could still afford it) and watching the hard-bitten slate clouds disgorge a few stray flakes from the safety of a bedroom guarded on all sides by pop culture talismans and by the carpet on the bottom.
In Kiev I swear I can hear the wolves howling if I listen hard enough on these solemn nights, these metro rides with that one guy with the mad left eye staring at your throat in a bad way.
Oh, the romance! Intrigue! Danger!
I look for the warmth that I once knew and find it in crowded bakeries at the end of the work-day, where I take the small opportunity to spoil my brother as two college professors discuss the legendary sex-life of a third over white wine at the table next to ours. I find it in the creeping steps of our cat as he advances upon the vanilla-scented candle that I picked up downtown in a fit of yearning for fire.
I put my collar up and walk quickly through the old courtyard at my aunt’s place. When I was little I imagined that this concavity was the bottom of the world, a great repository of everything seduced by gravity (autumn leaves, stray angels popping by to listen in to someone’s television on the iron bars of the balconies). I am afraid of this place and this sky wedged in by stalinkas. I love too much here. I also have many memories of many grabbing hands. These hands are always manifested to be ice-cold like corpses, except that couldn’t really have been the case. It’s a film of a dream on the hard-edged crystal of memory.
When the clouds are spitting, and the tea takes too long to get ready, and the light in my aunt’s kitchen turns the colour of sickly marmelade, I think about the lonely grave of another aunt. I think about the roads leading there, where the dirt is frozen in splashes like waves upon an ocean as time is switched off. I think about matter bending. The days when she was alive are as real to me rain drumming on tin. Who thought up these awful tin roofs anyway? I remember slightly burnt pasta, I remember her saying her son’s name in that voice of hers, a voice which is here and not here, but as loud as the rain in my ears.
“She must be so cold,” my father thought when they buried her. I want to tell him she wasn’t there, it wasn’t her they buried. But there is something cold in the words themselves, it is an icy, slicing wind that comes and rushes your mouth so you feel as if you’re not breathing but literally swallowing air.
At home, my cat climbs up on top of my chair, and I lean back into him until he’s like a scarf around my neck. I listen to the house breathing in its sleep all around us. I warm my toes by sticking them under one of my grandmother’s many rugs. A meat pie is dreaming under a napkin in the kitchen. The comings and goings next to the college dorm grow silent, and even the rats are asleep behind the cold radiators.
That’s when the rain clouds begin to break a little, a great shelf of sky moves away, and Bulgakov’s stars cast their steady eyes down from there, and the starlight gets tangled in the branches of poplars along with the wind, and what the stars and the wind speak about outside my window, I don’t know. But I wonder.
When I was in a fever last autumn, I covered my tender throat against the lashings of the air, tucked the blanket under my chin, and drank tea with whiskey. When I dropped off to sleep that night, I dreamed about my great-grandfather, in the partisan woods, and for some reason, he had my aunt with him. They were making stew over a fire in the dead of winter. My great-grandfather pointed with his rifle toward the first ghost of the sun rising between the pines.
“It’s a long way, but you’ll get there, eventually.”
I thought about the war beyond the trees, and how much I wanted to stay at this fire, and then I kissed his unshaven cheek and bowed to my sylph-aunt on the wind, and started walking.