Even after living for just a year and a half in a given city, certain places begin to accumulate memories. Good or bad, the memories are like barnacles – which is to say that they endure, remaining prominent in your mind until new ones calcify on top.
“Now, the Moskvoretsky Bridge…” I said to my brother-in-law on our downtown walk together.
“…Is also a place where you and Lyosha kissed,” he interrupted.
“No! Although, maybe – yes. You can draw an entire city map based on the places where we have made out. I think we’ve certainly covered all of the directions that the metro takes you. But that’s not it. Moskvoretsky involved this incident with a truck full of soldiers. It pulled up next to me on the bridge one evening. I was 17 years old and visiting Moscow. The soldiers started asking me to hop in. I was very scared. But in retrospect, I don’t think they meant any harm. It was summer. I think they were just trying to enjoy themselves – and wondering if they could enjoy me too.”
“Soldiers will do that.”
“That they will.”
We sat under a tree in Alexandrovsky Garden, watching the tourists watch the Changing of the Guard by the Kremlin wall. Back when I was working my first job, at that fine institution know as Regal Cinemas, located at Stonecrest, a nice strip mall (if strip malls can be nice) in south Charlotte, my managers used to try to piss me off by imitating soldiers at the Eternal Flame WWII memorial, carrying brooms for emphasis. It never worked. Or else it did work – and I just tried to not let on about it.
The real Eternal Flame soldiers made me think of my grandfather in his youth. There is that tiny grain of pain that sits in my chest and is stirred briefly when I remember him. I’ve been trying to get it to stop hurting ever since I moved to Moscow. Men whom my grandfather thought of as boys in his time are thinking of finishing their military careers. Time ought to heal – I ought to find a way to let it.
My brother-in-law and I ate bananas and talked about the Russian Landscapes photo exhibition we saw on Manezhnaya Square. As usual, I was impressed by Kamchatka – also, the Krasnoyarsk region, and a gloomy photo of a winter night in Norilsk.
“I mean, Norilsk!” I told my brother-in-law. “It exists! Out there, somewhere! I have only scratched the surface of Russia! I sit in Moscow and do nothing!”
“What are you talking about? You have a job. You write plays. You just had a baby, for God’s sake.”
“I know. I just like to complain.”
There are some things that are easier to do with my brother-in-law. Complaining is one of them. Taking pictures is another. My husband is a zealot when it comes to taking pictures. “Take that crap off your Facebook – you’re embarrassing me!” He roars whenever I snap a quick picture of Lyovka with my mobile phone. My brother-in-law isn’t like that. Which is why we ended up immortalizing our day out like this:
My husband is off being an actor in Poland, and couldn’t stop us.
After I got tired of complaining, we just sat under the tree for a while and stared up at the leaves. When we looked down again, we witnessed a scene: Three scary riot policemen trying not to act indimidated when approached by a crazy woman with plastic bags hanging off her arms, her neck, and her belt. The crazy woman gesticulated wildly. The plastic bags contained ominous dark shapes. The scary riot policemen drifted over to the Eternal Flame, clasping their hands behind their backs and pretending to be fascinated.
People who stage protests in Moscow do not get it. You don’t deal with riot police by being all, “I have rights! They’re in the constitution! Look it up!” You deal with riot police by acting batshit insane – or so I’ve realized.
“These are the last warm days of autumn,” My brother-in-law said, apropos of nothing.
I handed him over to his wife by Okhotny Ryad and walked all the way to Tretyakovskaya, past Lenin’s Tomb, the glowing GUM, St. Basil’s, the infamous Moskovertsky bridge on which soldiers like to pick up young girls, and so on. Looking at St. Basil’s, I was reminded of how some of the girls at The Moscow News call each other “creampuff.” “Creampuff” should be the church-museum’s new nickname too. After extensive renovations that were going on back when I was 17, St. Basil’s certainly looks good enough to eat.
On the Moskva River people partied in boats and released balloons up into the evening air. Zamoskvorechye, my once and future neighbourhood, greeted me with its moonlit bell towers and boarded-up windows. Around the bend of the river stood the house where Lyovka was conceived, in a flat that once belonged to yet another tragic Soviet general (I sometimes wonder if there is any other kind). I could see in my mind the eyes of the portraits there, staring into the darkness. All of those beautiful, dead people – who will tell the world about them? It seems this task may fall to me.
I detoured to Pyatnitskaya. Two teenagers walked behind me and discussed their misadventures with making shashlik in the forest. There was the cafe I’d written my third play in. The store I went into when I ripped a stocking – the saleslady insulted me by pointing out that their stockings were all “very expensive.” The basement club in which my husband – who was not then my husband – first kissed me was already gone, and two old men leaned on their canes and argued in the dark courtyard as I passed it by. There was an old U2 song, from the days when Bono didn’t wear stupid glasses, playing somewhere in the distance. I wondered why so many people were milling about and remembered that it was Saturday. People go out on Saturdays.
One time, during the summer, when I was very pregnant with Lyovka, my husband – who was already my husband – grabbed me and kissed me on the corner of Pyatnitskaya, and then asked me if I had remembered. “Remembered?” “I kissed you here a long time ago. It was 5 a.m. You were getting into a cab. Your friends cheered.” “This happened right here?” “Yes, exactly here.” “They did cheer! Those bastards! Then they reenacted that scene over and over again when we got home.”
It’s just a street corner, but a part of us may haunt it in some fashion.
I mused on how spontaneous that whole evening turned out to be. My husband told me he had planned ahead – he had needed to pick a place where we wouldn’t just sit and talk until morning, but a place where we would sit and talk until the middle of the night, and then he could lead me away to dance.
“Oh my God!” I said. “There was a plot!”
You want that sort of thing. You want a handsome man who plots and spins his own narrative. When you’re a writer, you don’t want it to just be you all of the time. You want someone to collaborate with – and that’s what we do.
“I didn’t think I would marry him, of course! He was so much trouble at first!” I had told my brother-in-law earlier. “It mush have been some form of providence! Imagine – if we hadn’t fallen in love – there would be no Lyovka!”
My brother-in-law smiled and rolled his eyes simultaneously, as only he can do.
The metro took me east to be with Lyovka. I read Hans Christian Andersen on the ride over to Novogireyevo.
“It is the time of falling leaves and stranded ships, and soon icy winter will come.”