Monday, November 26, 2007


Petrovich wanted me to call him Peter. He wasn't Russian, he said, any more than he was American, so I might as well call him something I could fit in my teeth. That's the way he said it, "fit in my teeth," as if even his name was something that had to be gripped in the jaw and ripped off.



The sun hasn't come up in days. We live through this time of year on large fires and quiet stories. Time doesn't seem to pass, like you're in jet lag forever, or still on the plane, following the darkness and hiding from the sun. We wait to land, squirming in our seats, looking for joy in the salt at the bottom of our bag of peanuts. Or that's how I would explain it, if I could, to my people here. My life has cleaved since I met you, and you're the only one I could talk to about peanuts.

It's quiet too. I want to yell.

Some of us think about the light of the sun on the ocean, see it when we blink, or imagine fresh berries, feel ourselves picking them as fast as we can put them in our mouths, but I think about a parking garage in New York City, the curls of your hair in the wind and across your cheek, the sounds of the street below as if they were pumped through the speakers of your car, and the odd silence when we closed the windows and the squeak of my knees on the seats.

The windows are good and rolled up, the sounds of the street caught between the glass and its seal on the door. I pause the recording and place the laptop in the other seat. He was there just a few weeks ago, and now I've got nothing but the slowly trailing cursor of a media player, his voice, at once Russian and not Russian, but if I close my eyes, he's there. He lives in the folds of my shirt in my arms, the grip of my feet in my shoes, the seam of my underpants, under my skirt and over my clit. I breathe, holding my throat in its knot, and press the space bar again.

When I can't bear to think of you, I think about the parking garage itself. I think of the spiraling floors and dizzy views, that merge of street and building. My mind scales the concrete and circles up faster and faster, and the red cars blend in with the blue and I see only the buildings swirl past. I open my eyes and see only the orange of a fire reflected in the snow or the stars that move so slowly you have to crawl to see them shift. Nothing moves here like it does in New York. Nothing blurs like cars in a parking garage.

Peter was born to a Nivkh tribe on Sakhalin in the northwest Pacific. No one has ever been able to decide who owns the thing. It's been passed between the Japanese, the Manchurians, the Russians and even the Koreans for as long as anyone's memory. It's full of blood and treaties and dubious claims and petty grudges. For now, it seems that it's part of Russia, which is at least stability, if not quite justice. Peter, like every other child, was removed from the care of his tribe and his parents as an infant, raised Russified, and hadn't given his real home more than a few battered thoughts since. It was only when the last, least suspicious invaders came into the Nivkh settlement without knocking, that Peter, Petrovich, returned. These invaders were the NGOs, non-governmental-organizations, culprits like the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Fund.

Nothing smells like anything in the cold. That's what I miss the most out here. We can smell each other, and cooking, but other smells, grass and fruit and leaves rotting, dead animals and fresh flowers, all of that is frozen, and smells like nothing but the water that it's crusted within. Ice is sterile. It smells nothing like you.

You smelled like almonds and cinnamon and salt and lemon. I buried my face between your breasts and took it in like I could scar you into my nose, as if I could tattoo your scent within me. I'd never smelled a woman like you before. The Russian women and girls were taught that we were dirty. The women of the tribe smell of fish and wet animal. I hadn't gotten near them yet anyway. I was helpless there, in that parking garage. Maybe I would have had some wits about me if you smelled like ice, which is to say, nothing.

The Russian government is compensated by the NGOs for the amount of land that they cordon off from humanity. This was an all-around good idea to anyone with any sense until I met Peter. Humanity includes indigenous tribes, apparently, and people who have lived on nothing but the vast expanse of land around them are now being locked out of their homes, forced into cities without so much as a public park, and made to live on money and utilities instead. Peter came to New York, to the United Nations, to me, to put up a case in favor of thousands of people he'd never met, but who looked more than a little like him.

I was clumsy, but you were sure. I was rigid in fear and excitement for you. You found me inside. That I needed you, that I was scared, that my insides were calling for you, that my muscles wouldn't respond to the simplest commands was something that I tried to hide, but you knew of course. You kissed me, a touching of lips that I hadn't experienced before, nor am likely to have again. You opened my trousers, burned the skin of my chest in your fingers, took my hand to the inside of your thighs.

My voice is strained now. I know it. My English falls apart when I think of you, though my thoughts don't sit well in Russian either.

In the parking garage, 13b, fifth space from the door to the right and bent over my steering wheel, I'm there with Peter. His body is there, and it faces the brown bricks of the back of some old skyscraper again, locked into his seat. His hand is buried under his thigh, but I reach to it and slide my index finger into his palm.

They'd chosen me because my grandmother was Aleut, and I looked just a little bit like him.

I want to turn this recording off now, because my English is about to get worse and my words are about to fall away from each other. I leave it to you, Angelica, because I can't seem to do it, and won't be able to make myself edit this last part out before I find a way to email this to you. You may shut this off now. Do it now, if you want to.

Peter's eyes were pooled black shine in his face, his lips trembling, as I took him into the back seat of the my car, this car. He looked down on me the way that no man ever had before, or will again, with his guts up in his face, his whole life exposed, and even I wasn't too cynical to see it. I wrapped my body around him as if he were the still in the arctic, as if I'd seen him shivering on the ice, thrown out of his tribe without his clothes. I made love to him until I couldn't see the blue anymore on his lips.

Angelica, I'm going to say this and then I'm going to yell. I'm going to scream and howl and yell some more, and then I'm going to stop the recording and I won't send another.

Here it is. You were the only one. You still are the only one. You and that parking garage are all I think about. I love you. Now listen to the ice crack as I scream. That is your goodbye.

We yelled at once, me, windows rolled down, the echo and descent of my howl across the concrete, knocking into the brown brick building, the crushed and broken voice of Peter, Russian and not Russian in a little media player on my laptop, cracking the ice thousands of miles away. We yelled and screamed and crushed our throats in the vibration. Tears ran down my face and plopped down onto thighs in quiet splashes, but we yelled and yelled and stopped at last, listening to the last of it dissipate into our landscapes, these vast things that were never our homes. And then I sat and listened to him breathe, forty-five seconds of quiet in a media player, before the cursor stopped at the end.

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