Evgenia Obastrova often mistook general kindness for love. This mistakenly common courtesy from perfect strangers turned her paperboy into husband, daydream into daughter, and rapt reverie into humdrum life. One day, Evgenia thought, one day, every sad soul in her sad life will wake up and be perfectly perfect, just as she imagined—but Evgenia was always imagining. To her credit, this peculiar imagination fostered a cushy childhood for her tiny, odd daughter. When Vlada was four and three quarters, her father disappeared for many, many months without sending word or funds for his small, peculiar family. Evgenia made believe that the abandoned girls were born of the Greek goddess, Diana. The two spent their days hunting imagined stags about town, while nights were sworn to speaking with trees, before returning to their resplendent kingdom, royal and rapturous. After several dreamy weeks, Evgenia’s postman-turned-husband reappeared just in time to make a payment on the family flat, where he stayed put for years on end.
Small and decadently imagined games were fun, Evgenia thought, and eased her little Vlada into ladyhood, enough so that she could function independently. Evgenia often worried for her pale, anxious daughter. Until Vlada was three and two-thirds, she spoke not a word and made hardly a sound. On more than one occasion, Evgenia found her little Vlada attempting to write out her demands on scraps of newspaper, dirty and stained and ridden with the sad events of a sad state. ‘If we could just get out of St. Petersburg,’ she thought, ‘if we could just start over, this little family would be normally normal.’ A feeling of unease often washed over Evgenia on the nights she spent next to her husband. These nights were riddled with sweat and uncertainty and the anxiety that inevitably comes with the awkward meeting of two bodies. Evgenia thought about the energy that lived between herself and her husband when their bodies were close, the vibrating tension between demand and desire, somewhere between uncertainty and lust. ‘If we could only get out,’ she thought.
Evgenia loathed her hands. Pulling weeds in her teens had made her hands old and disfigured. In her unwilted youth, Evgenia was told she had beautiful hands because one could read the stories between their cracks; stories which unfolded with each spreading wrinkle. It was not long after their marriage that her husband took a liking to her ugly hands. Some nights, he would steep her hands in hot, soapy water in an attempt to lighten her mood. She often mistook his touch for love, feeling drunk off of his hand near hers, making tiny moments into lifetimes.
Evgenia remembered the mocking sun on November 7th. Most days, she couldn’t stand the way the sun was so proud in Moldova when it knew perfectly well what horrors were unfolding in the other parts of the world it was responsible for bringing light to. She stood for a while on the hard steps of the flat’s entrance, letting the cold concrete seep from the soles of her feet through the crown of her head, imagining today would be more important than the last. Evgenia’s wrists felt heavy, which generally signaled that it was time for her to check the rusty, ticking watch that her grandmother had left her. She brought it up to her good eye, the watch wearing down with each rusty tick: 11:26. It smelled like old brass, or wet nickel, Evgenia could not decide. “Mrs. Obastrova, Mrs. Obastrova! Wait, wait, Mrs. Obastrova!” Stanislav was seventeen and yelling hurriedly after the long-faced wife. The frantic seventeen-year-old was a co-carrier with Evgenia’s husband while he delivered mail. “Mrs. Obastrova, I’m so, so sorry. I’m so sorry, I’m sorry. It’s your husband, Mr. Obastrova, he’s… he’s, oh god, god…” After this, Evgenia could not remember anything but the muddled voice of the teenager and the rusty, nickeled ticking of her grandmother’s watch.
To put a number on the years we spent together would be blasphemy. One can not measure the brutality of a love affair in numbers. The Mojave is sticky and littered with kisses, and i miss her. We let each other know we were suffering by phrases and incomplete thoughts.
I don’t think of you that often, but I don’t think of anyone else, either.
Vlada loathed her name. When she was up early, she felt like her name sounded like an elderly woman, seasoned and wrinkling in some forgotten corner of some forgotten institute, surrounded by strangers who’d forgotten her birthday and her history entirely. When she was up late, she felt like a dirty, boyish wanderer, discovering girls and figures and the unfortunate mishaps of doors without locks. Vlada supposed she was all of these things at once, though she imagined herself as some ethereal being: some inhuman, otherworldly being with no material ties.
Vlada was fifteen and friendless, except for Mabel. Mabel was her friend because the two of them both knew what it was like to be involuntarily plopped into a new situation every seven months. When Vlada was nine, her parents relocated from St. Petersburg to Moldova for “more promising opportunity”, as they told her. Mabel was twelve when she came to Moldova from Gothenburg. The two tinybelles gravitated towards each other because neither knew how to properly conjugate verbs in English. Every eight or eighteen days, Vlada felt the surging pressure to be more social towards her peers. Mondays were absolutely solitary and hushed, but on Tuesdays, Vlada felt shooting hunger pangs to dig into the histories of more than three people. By Wednesday, she had summoned up the fiery fancy to be surrounded by gaggles of delighted and charismatic classmates. After several hours of misinterpreted, open-mouthed staring, Vlada would abandon her fancies and resign to a life of singular-solidarity with Mabel before Tuesday’s desires began to writhe, and Wednesday’s howled.
November 7th was crisp and endearingly sunny. Vlada sat quietly in a hard chair at her school desk. The underbelly of the desk in front of her was covered in chewing gum and engravings of students before her, proclaiming mischievous hatred or hurried love, or some amorphous variation of the two. She could not remember being escorted to the headmaster’s office, but she found herself piled on a yellowing armchair, focused only on a palm-sized statuette positioned proudly on the headmaster’s desk. The statuette was a greenish bronze; the sort of color Vlada imagined hugged the bottom of a ship. Vlada imagined the figure being fingered reassuringly by the headmaster every nine or nineteen minutes, the figure smelling of pennies and stale copper. Pennies, Vlada would remember, would mark this three-minute spread. “Ms. Obastrova, I regret to inform you I have some quite terrible news that could not wait. Your father has passed away…” The headmaster’s words trailed off rather infinitely and all Vlada could see, and feel, and taste was copper.
”—I’m quite certain no one reads what I throw out here, but if you’re one of the tiny, tiny, lovely readers, please let me know so that I’m not writing stories for myself as per usual. I could stop sharing just as easily as I overindulge.