Limelight

Kalistia Elpisova lived on the last street on the edge of the world - Malaya Karpatskaya. Beyond the windows of her matchbox apartment lay forests of tank ditches, rusted barb wire, the howls of the mad, and oceans of snow. They sparkled lime green in the otherworldly afterglow of the Yuzhny Thermal Power Plant. The irradiated trees black, twisted, leafless, tilted like tired headstones on a lake of graves.

Malaya Karpatskaya was the perimeter of Soviet ineptitude, of the vile deformity that oozed from the archon planners in the once palatial surrogate of St. Petersburg. The idiocy had crawled wearily to these plains of no vantage, lifted its frail quivering hand to the sullen skies one last time, and awkwardly expired.

Now, the fettered sarcophagus rows of proletarian rat blocks waited only for the avengers of time to ravish their matchbook mortality, to pulverize and admonish their moronic construct, to plunge the aborted experiment deep into the subconscious of the earth’s elements.

However, on the death bed of the world, time and her merry cohorts stood uncooperatively still. Agony and purgatory lasted eternities, like stalwart sieges laid unrelenting by rueful gods. Any change in living condition, any change in life, occurred only briefly, and did so without notice.

The shift in paradigm occurred when a child born into the mosquito netherworld grew to the age when it was no longer constituted of the wild, eager inquisitiveness and daydreaming, celestial mind. This wasn’t to say that children were “good” by any means. Simply, they were deep in the dream. Soon, however, they would come to know the choice between good and evil, and they would begin to suffer the consequences and burdens of their choices.

When the striped prison uniform of societal personality was sewn into this natural phenomenon, the prison numbers tattooed into its mind, the wet, oily rags of conformity smothered over its essences – then change occurred for truly the last time in a person’s life. From then on, from the age of indoctrination until the moment of harvest, the person remained the same; a walking zombie, a thoughtless automaton, a mumbling corpse.

They thought they had opinions, individuality, but anytime they moved their mouths, someone else’s words came out. They dressed themselves in securities like emperor’s clothes. I’m Russian, my country is a super power. I’m American, we’re the best. I’m Japanese, the most cultivated sonuvabitch in the world. Watch me as I eat seaweed with two sticks.

They adorned themselves in costumes and props found in the dressing rooms of the great theaters. They wore them with pride and esteem, delving with terrific enthusiasm into the characters they portrayed like herds of lemmings jettisoning themselves from cliffs.

These roles required varying degrees of ad-libbing. The ad-libbing gave people the impression that they had certain creative influences over the script. It stirred up much excitement, having this myriad onslaught of choices to make on the fly. Excitement, and much soothing pride, they mixed together into wondrous hemlock as the subject sat and stewed in the fogs.

Should I sit in an office my whole life and regard myself as doing X or Y as a career? What program should I watch on the jj-box tonight? Program X? Program Y? Program Z? What should I shove into my mouth today? Substance X? Perhaps substance Z? What sports club shall I support as I swill various mind numbing beverages? What sweatshop clothes do I rely on to make myself look beautiful? Designer X? Collection Y? Style Z?

These were the important issues, the true dilemmas and challenges that constructed the croix of being a mumbling corpse. Focusing what meager energies remained from creation onto recalibrating the hierarchal paradigm of empty consumption, that was useless. Finding a way to break out of the blow up doll stage play and venture from the theater of whores into the vast uncharted streets beyond, that was idiotic. Trying to critically and absolutely discover who you were and what you were doing, that was suicide.

Kalistia spent her days sitting in the office of a Russian square wheel company not far from her matchbox tomb on Malaya Karpatskaya. When she sat in the office she regarded herself as a secretary. From time to time she answered a black cast iron phone, using her squeaky, high-pitched voice to say “Allowoa?” “Allowoa?” She fielded such biting questions as “Where the fuck is Sergei?!?” and “Where the fuck’s my money?!”

Most of the time she spent filing and painting her nails, an aspect of her being that she regarded as overtly essential to being attractive. Another aspect she regarded as essential to being attractive was maintaining a slim figure. That was next to impossible because A. Kalistia had enormous breasts and a naturally curvy body and B. Kalistia’s daily physical activity consisted of sitting in a chair and pouting.

To make ends meet, to squeeze into her fake leather pants and astringent miniskirts, Kalistia developed the glamorous habit of tortuously denying herself food. She lived off clouded cups of murky tea, sandy cookie crumbs, bits of parsley, and slim menthol cigarettes named Kiss. Smoking cigarettes with a western name made her character look cool.

Because her blood sugar levels were perpetually on critical, she spent the days a lethargic mass of pissy headaches and irritable bitchiness. Only come evening, when her day pretending to work was done, and Trevor arrived on the last street in the world to pour Georgian wine down her throat, did life finally become livable.

“Trevu!” she cried as she collapsed weary and exhausted through the front door.

The front door was a warped sheet of urine-soaked plywood stapled like a vile, back alley dominatrix in locks and chains.

“Pancake, my feet are making suicide.” Kalistia squeaked.

Cheap Chinese plastic bags sullied in brown sludge dropped from Kalistia’s mittened hands, their contents spilling across the mud strewn floor.

“Kurva!” Kalistia cried.

Trevor bent over to collect the spoils of market democracy. An American candy bar, Kiss cigarettes, a bag of American potato chips, a roll of gray abrasive toilet paper, a plastic sack of cold, wet, grated carrots and plastic asparagus Kalistiated in cat vomit.

“What the hell is this?” Trevor asked.

“Sparzha.” Kalistia sighed. “Is salad, is new Korea salad. I make for dinner.”

“You’re going to make this? What’s to make?”

Listlessly, Kalistia scraped off her crimson tasseled scarf embroidered with flowering peasant design and flung it to the burgeoning mass of foul polyesters clinging to the hall tree. Without delay, she began wrestling with her lead vest of heavy furs. She looked like a circus contortionist drugged and sown inside a bear skin.

“Oh gods.” she cried, her arms stuck behind her back. “My shuba kill me.”

The “shuba” was her bear skin. Grabbing the hide thickly upon the collar, Trevor manhandled the heavy shag from Kalistia’s shoulders. The neanderthal attire was pungent and heavy like wet sheepdogs.

“No wonder your feet hurt. You’re walking around on ice in high heels with twenty pounds of moose on your back.” Trevor said.

Kalistia huffed and moped to a rickety, wooden stool, where she peeled off her high leather boots. In an instant, a sullen, musky, coppery odor filled the air.

“Bronshtein.” Trevor sighed.

Kalistia held up her foot for examination. She was wearing two pairs of pantyhose and one thin, stinking, synthetic sock. She removed the sock. In one gruesome fell swoop, out stuck a mangled, gangrenous limb of lambasted band-aids, discolored gauze soaked in iodine and ooze, twisted toes disfigured and traumatized, blisters raw and festering.

“My footsy.” Kalistia sobbed. “My booties killing me.”

“Cover that thing up.” Trevor grimaced. “We need to get you new boots.”

“But these boots is liking me very much. I am sexy with them, no?”

“But you just said they’re killing you. And look, now the doctor is going to have to cut off your foot.”

“Just today lady my office tell me, ‘Oh such bootinkis! Kalistia, you are supermodel!’ I am Russian woman. I must to looking good. Russian woman is most beautiful in world.”

“Go get cleaned up.” he said. “I’ll make dinner.”

“You cooking?”

“Yeah, now go disinfect yourself.”

Trevor shooed Kalistia into the phone booth-sized bathroom. Then, collecting the placebo groceries off the floor, he carried the slow suicide into the coffin-sized kitchen. Dumping the contents onto wobbly card table, he opened the bag of chips, the cat vomit salad, packed Kalistia’s cigarettes, and poured two measures of wine.

“Dinner’s ready!” he yelled.

Trevor lit a smoke and sat listening to the warm, rusty, rat semen water moan through the pipes, abrasively trickling over Kalistia’s body. Her base compounds were Russian, Byelorussian, and Polish, but her blood ran hot, her skin carrying the delicately hued lavishness of crème brulée, even in the dead of winter. Someone, somewhere, sometime, had drunk from a chalice of dark Caucasian brood, mesmerized and wooed under forbidden southern stars. The distant union produced much fret and consternation for Kalistia. The last thing she wanted anybody to think was that she was partly “black”. Polish was cuckoo enough for her. Anytime someone asked, she said her family was Byelorussian, closed her brown eyes of rich Turkish coffee, and prayed to her gods that the inquisition was over.

“You wait me?” Kalistia chimed as she whisked into the kitchen.

“Of course, dear.” Trevor said, handing her a chipped highball glass of Georgian vine.

Kalistia was fresh and rosy in faded ivory kimono, beige robe, plaid pajama pants, and worn apricot slippers. A forest green towel twisted on her head like conical turbine. Her sparkling garnet lip gloss, charcoal eyeliner, and oily midnight mascara had been scoured off, leaving her face looking fallow, pasty, and confused.

“Where is your slipperies!?!” Kalistia gasped as she noticed Trevor’s stockinged feet sticking out from under the card table.

“What slipperies?” Trevor asked. “You know I don’t wear those things.”

“You must to wear! You crazy? You catch cold!”

Trevor was wearing wool hunting socks from Yankeeland. He was warm and toasty like a marshmallow on a bed of coals.

“Something tells me I’ll cheat death this time. Drink your wine.”

“Doctor will cut off your foot, not mine. You need slipperies.”

“Do I look like a mental patient to you? Am I an Alzheimer’s victim shuffling around a retirement home in a pair of soiled diapers? I’m not wearing any goddamn slippers.”

“Ach! Crazy man!”

Kalistia and Trevor decided to shelve the disagreement for the moment and instead focus upon alcohol, as many merry couples did. The two of them toasted their chipped glasses and worked down the well-bodied Khvanchkara, smacking their lips at the revelry of paralyzer after a long, tortuous day in the badlands of deep, northern winter.

“Okay.” Trevor said. “Eat.”

Kalistia’s eyes spun wild like kaleidoscopes at the prospects of consuming food. The 24-hour semi-fast of misery had ended. Sensibility and her restraints flew off the hinges.

Cattywampus against the card table was a Gorbachev 370 miracle fridge. Before engorging herself, Kalistia quickly got up and plowed inside its ravaged clutches of epilepsy to retrieve a half consumed jar of skushonka – condensed sweetened milk. It was the empirical cornerstone of many a Russian girl’s diet, Kalistia’s especially. Skushonka in hand, she flew back to her wobbly foot stool and commenced the feast of synthetic imaginations.

The first victim - the American candy bar. Savagely, it was manhandled and stripped of its clothing. Dunked maliciously head first into the skushonka, Kalistia hoisted out a thickly soaked shovel load and cramped it maniacally into her quivering mouth.

“Fucks!” she moaned, the sensors in her brain spinning like mirror balls at a cocaine discothèque, her eyes twirling around in their sockets like the wild batons of a fire juggler, her nervous system short-circuiting in an orgasmic foam of dopamine.

The next victim - the “salad.” Repeatedly, her crazed hands stabbed at the cat vomit nonsense, rifling plastic projectiles of fake asparagus at her gnashing jaws.

“Is good one.” she mumbled through a mouth full of multi-colored strands of artificiality.

Unable to escape the slaughter, the “chips americain” became Kalistia’s next victim. Her manicured claws clutched greedily at a fist full of sour cream and onion imagination-flavored grease and drew the nonsense to her face like a giant earth mover. She crunched wildly on the ad hoc horse feed of industrially processed chemicals and meaninglessness.

“Ummahhogggghh!” Kalistia garbled in animal tongues, urgently waving her glass of Khvanchkara before Trevor like drunken sailor on high seas.

“More wine?” Trevor asked.

Kalistia answered in the affirmative by continuing to wave her glass in Trevor’s face like a deranged, tempestuous bumblebee, a barnyard animal straining its nose through a wire fence in order to get at a barely-out-of-reach apple or carrot. Trevor poured the wine, Kalistia swilled it down. Thirst momentarily satiated, she quickly resumed scooping more skushonka into her face, her disfigured candy bar forced into collusion as the makeshift delivery device. Her cheeks grew flush like freshly cut roses, her lips engorged crimson in ecstasy, white, pearly skushonka dripping from her mouth lustily.

“Spoon!” she soon cried, whisking to the counter to rifle through the silverware.

Rummaging through the twisted shrapnel of Soviet dinnerware, Kalistia flew back to her stool with a rusty number and began clawing and scraping desperately at the inside of the skushonka can. As she did, her right eye became detached, the tethers of sanity cut. It wandered about unrestrained in her eye socket like macabre puppeteering on a broken porcelain doll. Needing stronger drink, Trevor's hands moved to the Gorbachev 370, retrieving a chilled, smooth shouldered bottle of Stolnaya vodka.

“Vot you do?” Kalistia raised her eyebrows at Trevor in accusatory suspicion, her spoon ravenously gutting the last remnants of skushonka like a sadistic dentist scraping at plaque, her right eye staring off disobediently south-southeast like a possessed button on a mangled sock puppet.

“Having my supper.” Trevor said.

“Crazy man, how you can drink?” she gasped.

Quickly, Kalistia again leapt up, fluttering around like a humming bird. She flew to the Gorbachev 370, returning sprightly with a cold plastic sack of mushy pickles floundering like grunion among cloves of garlic.

“Oh yes yes yes!” Kalistia excitedly cried. “We drink vodka!”

Trevor lined up two chipped thimbles, filling them to the brim with ethereal elixir. Not only did Stolnaya come in a stylishly antique bottle, possess a decent asking price - $3.00, but it ferried one through the tollbooths of reality and into the black waters with marvelous expediency.

“To us.” Kalistia toasted.

“Sure.” Trevor said.

We clinked glasses, fired back the twister, and hammered the empty shots to the table. Trevor chased mine with a fervent gulp of Georgian red and a cigarette, Kalistia with a rabid chomp of pickled cucumber and a savoring coo of euphoria. After a brief moment’s communion, she lit up a Kiss cigarette herself and slumped in a daze against the prison cell walls.

This was it. The reward for surviving another day had come and gone, over in a flash like the fleeting, empty mayhem of Christmas morning. The 23 hours and 30 minutes of tortuously minute sugar intake was now re-instated, deserved self-imposed punishment for the orgy of gastronomic indulgences that had just taken place.

“Trevu.” Kalistia whined meekly, her head resting against the wilted Byelorussian wallpaper of pea green kitsch. “My friend Natasha she go Rim, on Italy, she go dares and makes shoppings.”

“You mean Rome?”

“She buy shoe, boot, she buy all. Please can we going? They have tour, cheap tour, we can do all, make visa, hotel, excursions, all.”

“I’m not going to Italy on some Russian tour. They keep you corralled up like sheep. You have a Russian tour guide. You go around on a little, special bus. You’re in a protective bubble of idiocy the whole time.”

“Vot?”

“You think American tourists are bad. Russian tourists are horrific idiots. They can’t even order a bottle of water in a restaurant. Shit, they don’t even know what toilet to use. They can’t read the fucking signs. I’m not traveling in a group like that.”

“Vot you saying me?”

“We’re not going on some package tour. If you want to go to Rome, we’ll get you a visa somehow, we’ll get our own tickets, and we’ll travel on our own.”

“We travel, you me?”

“Yeah, like normal people.”

“I think is dangerous. I think something happen.”

“Like what?”

“There’s bandits! There’s people wants kill us! There’s crazy mans!”

“You’re from St. Petersburg. That should make you feel at home.”

“If we go alone, my mother kill me. She think you make me prostitute. You sell me to Bosnia.”

“Look, the only thing to worry about is getting a visa. Single Russian woman, always tricky.”

“You need visa?”

“I don’t need a visa for anywhere except North Korea and this fucking country.”

“You can go Europe, no visa?”

“Of course.”

“My gods. How can I? I want Rim. I want see this fountain. I see in photo. Have fountain, and throw kopekies into water. Oh, so beautiful. Please, Trevu. The fountain is name same you, Trevu. Show me your fountain, Trevu. And shopping me, please.”

“You have any money to go shopping in Europe?”

“Yes. I working all year. Here I must to buy nothing. So, we can go Italy, no?”

“You work all year long and then you get 10 days for package tours. That’s it, right? That’s the agreement?”

“Yes, is normal. Before Russia cannot travel. Can travel only on Krim, on Black Sea. Now Russia can travel alls.”

“And after 10 days in Italy you come back here and go back to work?”

“Yes, of course. Why not. I will have boots. I will have shoes. I will show everyone my shoes. Everyone will be dying me. I will have picture of fountain Trevu. I will show alls. Everyone will die because they so jealous me.”

“Why only 10 days? Let’s go live in Europe. Why should we stick around this shithole?”

“How I can live Europe? I’m Russian.”

“You’re a woman, a human being. The rest is meaningless.”

“Russia my home.”

“No, you’re a human being and the earth is your home, not Russia. What’s Russia anyways? A big forest surrounded by barbed wire? Who the fuck wants to live there? You’re not tied to this part of the earth in anyway physically, so why not go someplace where it’s better. Only mentally have you been duped into believing this backwoods swamp is your ‘home’ and you can’t leave.”

Trevor was surprised by his words. He wasn’t even sure what he was advocating.

“You talk crazy talk. I can’t go where I wants.”

“Of course you can. Fill out a few worthless papers with Svetlana at the travel agency, pay her an extra $100 for the visa, then sit on a plane for an hour and a half. Between that and rotting in Russia the rest of your life, I would say it’s not a hard decision.”

“Only Yankee can talk this way. You have no culture in America, no home.”

“What in the ridiculous fuck are you talking about?”

“I must to stay Russia. Russia my home. I love St. Petersburg. It’s most beautiful city in the world.”

“Ten minutes ago you hated this place.”

“Trevu, please you do crazy on my minds.”

Trevor poured a Stolnaya and took it down.

“Trevu, take me bed, please. Make baby on me.”

“You want a baby?”

“Yes. No. I don’t know. I am woman, I want baby. But, no, not now. I want Rim. Oh, please Trevu, take me bed, please. I have sweet dreams the future. I dream I go Rim. I dream I travel Europe.”

Trevor poured himself another Stolnaya. Nation-state detention centers, identifications, bar codes, scanners, debt, servitude, Kalistia yapping - everything was making his mind boil. Enough is a enough, he decided. Take action, or waste away the days with mediocrity.

“It’s not fair, is it?” Trevor began.

“Vot fair? Nothing fair Russia.”

“I’m talking about how you spend all day sitting in a box for a company that couldn’t care less about you, you have no stake in this company, no future, yet you’re all dolled up for them. You got your high-heel boots, your miniskirt, your tits sticking out of your sweater, you’re staring into a pocket mirror all day fixing your make up, and then what? You come home to me, and I get this. Look at yourself. You’re dressed up like a senile, old lady in a sanitarium. What makes you think I want to go to bed with this?”

“Vot?!?” Kalistia shot awake. “You complain me?”

“Your company pays you what, 100 bucks a month, and they get a super model. I take you all over town, I wine and dine you, I take you to the cinema, to the theater, I take you to Rome, and this what I get? A train wreck wrapped in a bathrobe with food smeared all over her face?”

“You are bastard!” Kalistia stood up and wailed. “Vot you saying me!?! I not pretty?!? I not beautiful!?!”

“Not at the moment.” Trevor said, lighting a cigarette. “I’m getting a bad shake on this deal.”

“Oh, it’s so bad for you!” Kalistia shouted. “Then get out! Fuck off yourself!”

She picked up a chipped thimble shot glass and with her lazy, detached eye, took aim. Trevor didn’t flinch. Although she was point blank, he knew Kalistia was too uncoordinated and unbalanced mentally to hit him.

“Bastard!” Kalistia shrieked as her arm swung around awkward and flailing, bent and disjointed in all the wrong places.

Exhaling a cool, easy drag, Trevor watched with mild interest to see where the wild pitch would land. Kalistia released the salvo, letting out a frustrated, desperate cry. The shot glass flew. Sonuvabitch, he said to himself. The projectile fired straight against Trevor's left temporal area, waylaying him just above the eye, firing ice picks of pain into his mind, temporarily blinding him.

“Lev Bronshtein!” Trevor yelled.

Kalistia let out a yelp of surprise. Madly she scampered to the hallway for protection. Reeling against the Gorbachev 370, Trevor quickly felt up the left side of his face. Before his hand even got there, he could feel the slick coppery rust scurrying down his face. Sonuvabitch, Kalistia had laid him open. His fingers dabbed at ground zero. A nice, numb, razor thin slice was spouting blood uncooperatively from his eyebrow. In dumbstruck disbelief, Trevor stared at his fingers stained in raspberry saltwater.

“You fucking whore!” Trevor spat.

“Get out!” Kalistia yelled from the hallway. “Go home Yankee!”

Trevor looked around for his smokes, pocketed them, and then brought the Khvanchkara to his grasp. Blood was now dripping onto his shirt and across the sour linoleum of the kitchen floor.

“Nightmare!” Kalistia cried. “Get out!”

“Give me a band-aid.” Trevor said. “A plastir for my head.”

“No! I don’t give!”

Hastily, Kalistia ratcheted the Houdini locks on her piss-soaked door of warped plywood and flung it open.

“Get out, bastard!”

Trevor moved towards the door, wrestling his black overcoat free from under Kalistia’s bear hide. Face flaming in pink war paint, Kalistia retreated down the short hallway to take refuge in her room.

“Relax.” Trevor said, getting his coat on. “I’m not going to do anything.”

Kalistia stared at Trevor in vexed consternation. What? A Russian domestic dispute and she wasn’t going to get hit? What was the world coming to? Trevor slung his scarf around his neck, pulled his black, wool ski cap down over his brow, the blood warm forming lugubrious bond.

“Especially not when you’re dressed like that.” Trevor continued. “Like a mumbling babushka at a bus stop. What sort of perverted monster would hit a mumbling babushka at a bus stop?”

“Motherfucker!” Kalistia wailed.

Boots unlaced, Trevor sundered down the corridor to the piss reeking stairs, the dim passage littered in empty beer bottles, cigarette butts, and empty syringes. Taking a nice pull on the Georgian red, a second shot glass Tunguska sailed wildly over Trevor's head and shattered down the hallway.

“Die motherfucker!” Kalistia offered up in swan song before slamming the door to her pine box in bombastic crescendo.

Descending the stairs, pulling at the healing blood of the vine, Trevor retreated into the morbid lunar seas. His boots trudged wearily in the azure snow like a forgotten wander in arctic Sahara. It would be a long hike back into town, back to the gated palatial confines of his blue palace dream on Ligovsky Prospekt. But what did he care. He had time. He had a bottle. His feet could go anywhere they wanted on this planet, just so long as his brain stayed in prison.

The arctic darkness knifed into him like a thousand invisible demon assassins swooping across an icy senate floor. The quagmire cemetery streets of Kupchino stretched onward forever in dreary tedium, death temple grids of sludge-filled potholes under marmalade fallout, bellied by morosely towering morgues of dower gray apartment blocks groaning in the buzz of zombie incubation.

The death temple grids were named after capitals that had been seized by the Bolshevik horde following World War II. Bucharest, Budapest, Sofia, so on and so forth. But now these pretty ladies all belonged to the coven of Brussels. It was perplexing, and useless - why have EU and NATO capitals for the names of derelict streets in the Russian necropolis? It had been ten years since the wife had left for a better man, a wealthier enticer who promised greater things, more fashionable boots, more elegant shoes, euro-standard toilets, bananas, and such rarefied delights. But still Russia had yet to take the wedding band off.

The mental asylum instead shuffled on in denial and illusion, while Brussels and Uncle Sam enjoyed the honey of former Soviet brides, from Revel to Sofia, from Vilnius to Tashkent, from Berlin to Belgrade. Under darkness of night, their scraggly paws even climbed salaciously up the thighs of Kiev and Tbilisi. They wooed their delicate blossoms, tied them in velvet ropes, and whored them out as they pleased to international banks. What more, he didn’t have to feed 26 million peasants into Nazi machine guns in exchange for tenuous grasp upon these beauties. No, he hadn’t even fired a shot, not until Warsaw was before them, in the bedroom chamber, eager to please, the romantic ambiance interrupted only by Berlin and Prague beating down the door.

After expunging a long, metallic drain against a dismal apartment building riddled in spay-painted swastika, Trevor zipped up and continued lumbering onward. Kupchino was indeed bitter hemlock. At least in the northern lunar zones there were metros, buses, gypsy cabs, the odd streetcar limping about like a broken prisoner lathered in chains. But in Kupchino there was nothing. Nothing but the incessantly bitter mermaid song of cruel, frigid night whispering her mantra into your blue, aching ear – “You’re all alone, you’re going to die alone, and, no, the universe doesn’t care.”

The last eucharist of icy tannins came to Trevor’s lips as he worked down his final pull of Khvanchkara. Eying a hammer and sickle graffiti tag of the new nationalist socialist order, he took aim and hurled the empty bottle at the sides of another nameless apartment block. If Kalistia was throwing strikes tonight, he should be too, he thought. Through the icy air the bottle spun magnificent, initially on track, then veering hard left and hammering against a sullen doorway, splintering into a thousand shards of uselessness. Trevor shook his head and marched on, beginning to feel that somehow, someway, something was out to get him.

Further north upon the endless walk of the dead, Trevor came to a shantytown shack, roof half-collapsed in aching snow, its fogged portals glowing marmalade mysterious, a jack-o-lantern that had suffered a massive stroke. Now good fortune was upon him. With frozen, crippled hand, Trevor rasped tersely at the plastic doggy door. A brief moment was needed for the walrus brains inside to process what had happened. Then crossword puzzle was laconically set aside, the doggy door unhooked. Eager to please, the Russian marketplace salaciously opened her silk kimono, lasciviously presenting her tantalizing wares.

“Hell mother.” the warted babushka griped, her cataracts analyzing the rusty crimson stains upon Trevor's face.

Quickly seeing that his injuries were mere commonplace in Russia, her clouded marbles slumped back disappointedly.

“So? What to you?” she grumbled acerbically from inside her dung hut of Russian enterprise.

Trevor's eyes ran across the sagging offerings of beer, vodka, chips, and Moldovian wine bunched together like refugees in the boutique window.

“Bottle of Nevskoe.” Trevor said, already spitting up worthless rubles into the babushka’s money dish, knowing full well he’d better land on exact change or the warhorse would call off the deal.

“Nevskoe – which type?”

“Light.” Trevor said.

The babushka picked up a bottle of Nevskoe Classic, eyed it through her murky consternation, and sat it down on the trading table.

“Hey darling, I said ‘light’, not classic.”

“Ach!” the babushka muttered in disgust. “Young people.”

Disgruntled, she looked around the flats of bottles claustrophobically stacked up around her.

“Ah.” she mumbled, paws landing on a yellow labeled beauty.

Gruffly, she set it forth upon the trading block.

“13.50.” she huffed.

14 rubles already lay before her in the money dish.

“I said, 13.50.” the babushka re-iterated. “Why don’t you make yourself useful and give me the correct change?”

“I like your style.” Trevor said. “Keep the change. Buy yourself a sports car.”

In terse animosity, the babushka fired the tin foil rubles one by one into her paws. Well, the transaction was consecrated. Trevor reached in for his brew, slid it out through the narrow birthing canal, and fired the cap off with the company bottle opener that hung from the kiosk window on a piece of twine. Customer service was getting better every day.

Taking long pull from the warm, acrid hops, Trevor again waded into deep odyssey. The death camp communal apartment blocks soon gave way to mortuary fields of twisted somnolence. The fields resonated a morbid azure, buzzing between barbed wire spinal cords of vicious power line, and the crude alchemy of obsolete, heavy industry. Chimneys red and white pierced the ashen sky, devil’s candy canes adorned in macabre Christmas lights of pulsating amber, their introduction of gaseous euthanasia into the world’s lungs slowed now to only meager trickle.

From these skies of carcinogenic ether, bitter chariots of patrolling misfortune circled like vultures. One such chariot, on wings sardonic, coldly descended. With bald tires it groaned to a halt up against the sidewalk. Trevor's stomach tightened in sour unease, his insides turned upside in dejection. It was a blue and white tuna can – the flagship of the St. Petersburg police. Any number of vulgarities passed through Trevor's mind. None of them helped. The tin foil doors belched open and two pork chops in stained auto-mechanic uniforms lethargically emerged like a pair of rancid bowel movements. Smelling rape in the air, they smugly adjusted the caps above their slovenly unshaven faces of pugnacious disrepair and licked their lips.

“What the hell mother?” one of the pigs slurred in guttural foreplay. “You lost, fuckhead? Or just retarded?”

Frankenstein boots lazily assailing the snow, the two took up sodomy positions. Their fervent guts and greasy double-chins blocked Trevor's south and east, idling tuna can his west. Only the snow driven gauntlet of industrial underworld to his north was open for the chicken run. But a mad dash was no simple option. St. Petersburg cops were in full legal justification to open fire if their prey fled. Ill-trained, uncoordinated, drunk – the chances of them hitting you were entirely up to the gods. But the gods in Russia, as one quickly learned, were of strange disposition.

“Looks to me like he’s fuckin’ retarded.” his beefcake sidekick offered.

Smugly the two appraised Trevor, raw, watery eyes of alcohol driven idiocy crawling over his person.

“Hey fuck-o, you’re already bleeding. What the fuck did you do to yourself?”

“Yeah, and what the fuck are you doing out here?”

Like guillotine to neck, now came the crucial moment of no return.

“Walking.” Trevor said.

Instantaneously, the two pigs looked at each other, eyes bedazzled in wild, heady excitement, two lovers enjoying themselves in bed as they received a phone call announcing they had just won the lottery. Indeed, hit the jackpot they had. Their capricious net of imprudence had drudged up the most coveted of prizes. They had themselves a foreigner. A western foreigner.

In aroused fixation, the lead cop greedily smelled the air with his spaded tongue like a precocious snake. As rationalization set in, the two began chuckling together. Where to begin, they anxiously said to each other without words. For delicacies like this had to be handled with care, savored, romanced, nuanced like ten course meals of exquisite rarity, plundered, slowly, like a penthouse jacuzzi filled with champagne and Japanese school girls.

“Passport!” the lead cop bellowed in opening salvo.

“Hey! You German?!?” his girlfriend angrily barked at Trevor, drawing insipidly close, sweet breath of a freshly exhumed grave scouring Trevor's nostrils.

The fantasy of his own private World War II retribution danced like sex show in his fiery eyes.

“Nyet.” Trevor said. No.

“Huh? You sure?!?” the pig barreled his chest into Trevor, hammering the beer out of his hands with a turgid whack.

“I’m not German.” Trevor reiterated.

“Oh yeah? Where in the demented fuck are from then?”

Trevor took a dry gulp before the execution squad.

“America.” he said.

Briefly, the two cops paused, their embattled brains running the tape back a few times to be sure they had understood Trevor correctly. American? Wildly, the pigs erupted in gregarious laughter. Not quite as sweet as an ass beating on a German kid, but good nonetheless.

Without saying a word, the lead cop drew near, and, still chuckling, clocked Trevor with a backhand.

“You got any fuckin’ brains in there?” he shouted. “I said ‘Passport!’”

Like standing up from a table of heavy drinking, uncooperatively Trevor's legs reeled backwards.

“Ohh!” they laughed. “What’s the matter Yankee?”

Heart pounding, head ablaze, Trevor struggled for bearings, the spinning earth, the distant sun, the oceans of dark matter coming finally to hold his feet and thoughts in place.

“Passport.” the lead cop said, tapping his fat paw on an opaque truncheon slung from his belt. “Or I’m really going to give you a cunt.”

Numb fingers fumbling inside his overcoat, awkwardly Trevor produced the document. In griping panic, his mind flipped through mental pages of murky recollection. Where was he registered? It was the first thing the cops would ask him. Upon arriving in the motherland, a KGB secretary with swollen ankles and a dress from the 1974 Minsk spring collection had taken Trevor's passport and disappeared for two weeks. When she returned, Trevor had a belligerent wine glass stain lathered in crudely handwritten calligraphy seared into the pages of blue imperium. This was his registration. Among other things, it stated where Trevor lived. In prison yard life, he lived on Ligovsky Prospekt, in his blue aristocratic palace, in an apartment hacked out by Bolsheviks, beer bottles romancing the sticky parquet floor, cockroaches tap dancing in the sink. In lock-down life, according to the scribbled drawl in Trevor's passport, he lived in plebeian rat confines with some mothball pensioners in the far north of town. They were one way or another connected to the KGB secretary; aunts, uncles, grandparents, neighbors of grandparents, etc. Anyone old, worthless, on a $10 a month Russian pension, and eager to double that sum by occasionally going down to the local bureaucratic rendition center to renew the registration of their imaginary foreign house guest.

Trevor’s mind dug deeply, straining to pull focus on the dim pages of illegibly inked cuneiform. Where did I live? If he couldn’t remember this one, he was definitely in for a long night. Like the headlights of a train barreling through a tunnel, the burning idiocy of the convention soon flooded Trevor’s mind. Where did I live? Born onto the inhabitable plain at random, as was everyone else, stamped, corralled, taxed, injected, cut, programmed - why the incessant need to know “where I lived?” Earth, end of story. Frustratingly, however, Trevor knew he couldn’t philosophically wax and blow smoky wisdoms down this track. He had to play by convention. Don’t rock the boat. Submit, he told himself.

“US of A.” the pig crudely verbalized, peeling open the pages of American Jus Migrationis.

Adamantly, the two cops studied Trevor's passport, their mouths agape, their brains drooling. The admiration and jealously were easy betrayed on their greasy faces of bulbous chins, eyes gawking like two youths with their first copy of soft focus, airbrushed nipple.

“Look at that.” one said to the other as he moved the passport around in the ambient marmalade. “See the hologram? That’s class!”

“Not bad.” the other douche bag belched.

Clearing his throat, suddenly remembering himself, the head pig got back to business.

“So, American, what are you doing out here?”

“I’m just walking.” Trevor said.

“Are all Americans so stupid? You think Kupchino is a good place for a foreigner to walk?”

“Everyone’s a foreigner.” Trevor said. “Who cares where you walk?”

Trevor couldn’t believe what he was saying. Submit, his mind screamed.

“What in the fuck?” the two cops looked at each other in bemusement. “Do I look like a fucking foreigner to you?”

“Everyone’s a foreigner. You’re here for a few moments, then you’re gone. The earth is not your home.”

Trevor’s mind stood back aghast. You want trouble, is that it?

“Listen, shitbag, Russia is my home! It’s the best country in the world. A super power. And I want to know what a fucking Yankee is doing prowling around my home like he owns the place.”

“I’m going to my apartment.”

“Oh yeah? And where the sweet fuck is that?”

Here Trevor was, face to face with the gallows. Tersely flipping pages, the pig landed on Trevor's registration. Between rusty bear trap and heavy mallet, Trevor's life dangled.

“On Nevsky.” Trevor said, beginning construction on his tactical house of cards.

“Ha!” the pig barked in serendipitous satisfaction. “Says here you live on Prospekt Khudozhnikov!”

Bronshtein, that was it - the Street of Artists. What was so hard about remembering that, Trevor sourly wondered to himself.

“I used to live there. Now I live on Nevsky. I have 1 month to change my registration.”

“Oh yeah?” the pig quipped. “Where you live on Nevsky?”

Nevsky ran from 1-180. Pick a number.

“House 142.” Trevor said.

“And where the fuck is that?”

“On the sunnyside, near a prostitute bus stop.”

“Fuck.” the pig chuckled. “That could be anywhere.”

He then turned to his sidekick.

“Check this idiot for narcotics.”

“I don’t have any narcotics.” Trevor said.

“Oh yeah. You’re a respectful citizen just out on a midnight junkie walk.”

“I’m the director of an English school.”

“Director? It says here you’re a fucking student!”

“Come on.” Trevor said. “My registration says many things. We all know this.”

“Lies lies lies. Fake registration, tax evasion, and drug dealing in my beautiful neighborhood of Kupchino. Foreigner, you’re in deep ass with me now.”

His gorilla mattress mate approached Trevor, alcohol-starved eyes rubbed red by sandpaper, breath like dog food and raw tongue lapping at Trevor's face.

“Put your arms up!” he viciously spat.

Bronshtein, Trevor thought, my money. Feverishly, he dug a hand into his pocket.

“Opa!” the pig bellowed.

Barreling into Trevor, the sloppy warthog tackled him into the snow.

“Hold him!” the pig with Trevor's passport shouted. “Fuck him up!”

“Whatchu got foreigner?!?” the gorilla growled as he thrust Trevor's face into the icy cotton. “Heroin? Huh? You a fuckin’ junkie?”

The gorilla on Trevor's back shoved a knee into Trevor's kidneys and wrenched his arm backwards up his spine. Sonuvabitch, Trevor spat, this asshole somewhat knew what he was doing. Diving immediately into Trevor's pockets like cold thrashing eels, the gorilla’s paws quickly sniffed out the money.

“Well, look at that.” the gorilla proudly announced. “Drug money.”

Not much was there, perhaps 600 rubles. At the time that was around $20. Still, $20 was a Petersburg cop’s monthly salary. These sons of bitches had just struck gold. Trevor coughed bitterly, hacking up snow and gravel, struggling for breath with the gorilla using his kneecap to split his ribs.

“What else does he have?” the lead cop demanded.

The cold eels nosed their way throughout Trevor's clothes, slithering through every nook and cranny.

“Fuck.” the gorilla moaned dejectedly. “Cigarettes. And a fucking key.”

“Cunt.” the lead cop spat in annoyance into the frigid midnight air. “Stand him up.”

Grabbing hold of Trevor's collar, the gorilla yanked him up to his knees. Immediately, Trevor buckled over, each breath bringing a sharp, agonizing pain to his side, as if an arrowhead had pierced his lungs.

“You pussy, get up.”

Choked by his collar, Trevor staggered to his feet, his clothes doused acridly in snow. Relishing the moment, the lead cop fired Trevor's passport at his face. It smacked against him like a bird into window pane before sputtering lifeless and limp onto the powdered killing floor. Drawing near, the cop procured truncheon from his worn belt of idiocy, drew his steely eyes of self-loathing up to Trevor’s, and in twisted tedium, began tapping its cold presence against his skull in death metronome.

“Give me the rest of your money and your narcotics.” he growled. “Or I’ll bust you open like donkey cock on gypsy ass.”

Rotted onions, meatloaf, formaldehyde - abrasively they purred at Trevor's eyes.

“That’s all I have.” Trevor said.

“You check the cigarettes?” he asked the gorilla.

“Clean.” he reported.

“Check his socks.”

As the cold eels slithered down Trevor's legs, the pig brought the opaque truncheon of metaphysical phallus to rest upon his chin, poised for irrumatio.

“If he finds anything in your socks, I’m going to smash your fucking eggs until they look like a bludgeoned octopus.”

Substitute the word eggs with testicles. The eels finished their business.

“That’s it.” the gorilla disappointedly announced.

With wide, gleaming smirk, the pig casually laughed.

“I guess there’s only one place left to check.” he beamed.

Before Trevor's eyes could process the sign of the times, the truncheon leapt from his face, coiled back like striking cobra, and punched itself through his stomach like harpoon through jellyfish.

“Fuck!” Trevor wheezed mutely in asphyxiated shock.

In crippled reflex, Trevor bent over. In his gut was a time bomb. One thousand one. One thousand two. A massive expulsion of Georgian wine, Stolnaya vodka, and piss factory beer roared through Trevor's mouth and nostrils in foamy geyser. The cops merrily laughed in perverse delight at the spectacle.

“Classic!” they chuckled.

“Smells like vodka-klukva. Isn’t that a lady’s drink?”

“This faggot comes to Russia, drinks two vodka-crans, and starts staggering around Kupchino looking for dick to suck like a junkie whore on Old Nevsky Street.”

“Sorry, Yankee. This is Russia, not Jew York. We don’t have any nigger drug dealers around here for you to fornicate with.”

“Give me his key.”

The gorilla handed Trevor's room key to the pig.

“Yankee.” the pig waved the key before Trevor. “Pay attention.”

Gagging battery acid and astringent bile, stomach a block of paralyzed cement, balls burning in dull agony, Trevor gazed up through watery eyes to see the pig rear back and roar as he launched Trevor's key into the expansive darkness of velvety wasteland.

“Don’t forget his passport.” the gorilla burped.

“Right.” the pig concurred.

Picking up the pages of diplomacy, the pig’s chest heaved and growled as it scraped the walls of black lungs, drawing together a motley assemblage of deeply infected yellows, bubonic greens, and chimney soot charcoal. With a massive splat he fired the wad of phlegm into the pages, squished the passport sandwich together in his pudgy fist, and, smiling coolly, cast it to the snows.

“You have 15 minutes to clean this place up. Find your fucking key, and get the fuck out of my beautiful Kupchino. If not, we’re going to joyride your ass out into the woods until we find a nice comfortable zindan for you to spend the night in.”

A zindan was a pit in the forest. It was a technique used commonly in Chechnya. Throw someone in a pit, let exposure and dehydration do the rest. Outside St. Petersburg there were plenty, mostly filled with gypsies in various states of courtship with death.

“Understand me, fuck brains?”

Still half-keeled over, Trevor shook his head.

“Good. Get out of Kupchino, and never fucking come back. If I see you again, I’ll give you a cunt and fuck you so hard, come morning you’ll be pregnant with triplets.”

Jovially, they lollygagged back to their blue and white tuna can, excitedly discussing what booze to buy with Trevor's money. They laughed and chuckled through the grimy windows of their shitbox, rehashing the encounter in warm afterglow, watching in delight as Trevor began stumbling about, searching inanely for his passport and key in the frosted dunes of white frosting. Once the applause of the packed house had plateaued, the two cops withdrew with gracious bows, slipping behind the curtains of heavy velvet, gasping in exhilaration as they looked at one another in aplomb, faces of mortician’s greasepaint glistening wild in the sweat of the stage.

People were born into the limelight, shoved onto the stage, lathered in cosmetics and costume by tireless currents of invisible undertakers. They never came clean of it. They retreated, like these cops, backstage only to numb themselves in drink while they basked in midnight reviews. They never bathed, never thoroughly, never became naked of costume, and never dropped character. That’s why, as they became veterans of the stage, they began to smell so. These cops, rancid in spoiled cadaver dog food, vomited onions, and aftershave caliber vodka. They were experts. They were buried alive in their roles, true master thespians, reading diligently from the great ledgers of the ever processing script.

Line by line, their eyes obediently absorbed the resonance of the celestial teleprompter. They played their roles flush, right up to the precipice of their character’s ultimate demise. Then, and only then, were they striped clean of costume, scrubbed and scoured of greasepaint, evicted from stage and dressing room alike, and thrown naked and penniless from the tattered playhouse into lone streets of a vast empire they had never before seen or known existed.

Still, final performances were a long way off, and no thespian bothered himself with anything other than the performance at hand. Finished admonishing the roses of gratitude they had collected from the stage floor, they two cops finally fired up their lawn mower engine. On bald, unbalanced tires, they wobbled away smugly into the raven angora of night.

Trevor's theater pass came to him first. Lucklessly, Trevor peeled apart the pages, trying haplessly to scrape the phlegm off into the snow. Hell mother, he griped. Returning the battered blue pages to his inside pocket, he grimaced as he now stood and properly surveyed the oceans of morbid uniformity around him. Anytime you began thinking strange thoughts, Trevor superstitiously believed at the moment, the moon sent down her agents of sprightly coercion charged with recalibrating your orientation within the great fabric of the universe. Silhouetted trees howled like sharpening knives in the distance, the factories grumbling like celestial mills grinding thoughts into ash, the snowfields derelict in barren expanse told a man he had no business treading upon this ground. Shuffling wearily through the powder, fighting against time, eyes staining in the darkness, Trevor combed the blue sands in search of his key. Cursed in wanton desire of the impossible, shackled and whipped daily with the inconsequential, he moved about blindly and stupidly towards his final curtain call. His mind buzzed, a Texas electric chair lowering the crown of thorns onto another lover.

Meanwhile, back in the painted caves of Malaya Karpatskaya, Kalistia sat cross-legged upon her bed. She was bathed in a gentle choir of candlelight, the ebb and flicker washing warmly over her dark features. Italy, man, baby, boots, her desires plumed inside her head like glimmering dreams birthed by billowing, placenta clouds. The envy of all. On a sliver of rice paper, with quill and ink, she inked a simple statement:

The time will come,
I, Kalistia.

Delicately, she folded the sliver of paper and placed the script proposal into a golden candle snuffer. She next conducted a sewing needle through waltzing flame, evenly, gentle in cadence, her terracotta eyes lulling back and forth in attentive administration. Taking slightly deep breath, Kalistia then worked the needle calmly past the waxy, skin glove of her finger. A tumultuous orb of raspberry mercury soon appeared. Steadily, she danced seven ruby teardrops of hot cracked earth into the snuffer. Now she lit a match. Quickly, the snuffer transformed into a burning peace pipe, a petite chalice of fire. With steady hand, Kalistia breathed intonations as she clasped the cradle of fire, before coolly extinguishing the flame. Using her bloodied finger, she worked the charcoaled remains around her eyes, a peculiar brew of mortician’s eyeliner. Retrieving two silver kopeks from under her pillow, she kissed them with crimson lips, lay down solemnly upon her bed, and set the shiny coins afloat upon the blackened mirrors of her skull. Show me the futures, she prayed. Show me, for what I must to suffer through this hell.

The next day, Kalistia awoke and went back to sitting at the square wheel company, filing her nails, grinding her feet into sickly, mutilated stubs, starving her body so that her crème brulée skin sagged and dripped from her bones, answering the phone with lipstick mouth and wandering eye, saying “Allowoa?” “Allowoa?” before gruff voices laden in nicotine and tar growled obscenities from the other end like oily cello strings fed into industrial saws.

In the spring, Kalistia purchased a package tour to Rome. She ran around St. Petersburg madly, informing everyone of her plans, grabbing their heads by the back of the hair and fervently apple-bobbing them into the black waters of useless information. She packed and repacked her suitcase 100 times, stuffing it full of Kiss cigarettes, skushonka cans, snickers bars, miniskirts, taking frequent breaks to call anyone who would listen so she could rant about how stressed she was at taking such an “insane” and “crazy” trip. The future, her mind screamed. My watchers, the futures are actually coming.

The package tour lasted for ten days. Those ten days Kalistia would spend cooped up on a bus with other dumbstruck Russian fodder, gawking at knocked over pillars of remnant Babylon, shuttled to a fro like catatonic chattel to a series of preordained photo and emptying-of-pocket opportunities.

Kalistia thought Rome was crowded, noisy, and disgusting. Everyone on the bus thought Rome was dirty and disgusting. But no one could wait to get home to St. Petersburg so they could squawk endlessly about how amazing Rome was, how cultured and sophisticated were its graces, how wondrous its joys, its people, its exotic beauties, and to showcase how they themselves now possessed these enigmatically foreign qualities.

Kalistia spent $524 on two pairs of shoes – nearly half a year’s salary. Back in St. Petersburg, she hammered those shoes and her collection of photographs down the throat and into the ears of anyone she encountered. Each photo was a shot of Kalistia posing in various conceited flamboyances before an ever changing backdrop of out-of-focus, ill-positioned, and unremembered architectures.

Yes, she had made it to the Fontana di Trevi, and yes, she had the moment documented on celluloid. The photo was a long shot of her in miniskirt, kicking up one of her legs like a chorus line peacock, expertly sucking in stomach and pushing out breasts, carelessly flinging loose change behind her into the unseen waters. Kalistia was overtly illuminated by bouncing flash, bleaching her cinnamon skin porcelain white. Behind her, cast in shadows of purple Mediterranean evening, the fuzzy suggestion of Corinthian columns waned, strange curtains of nondescript, sullied apricot housing the ghostly apparition of Oceanus.

It was impossible to tell from the photograph, but Kalistia must have thrown three coins, because by summertime she was in love. He was a flathead with crude brains and square shoes. His name was Fyodor. He was involved in construction, one way or another, building country houses of gilded opulence for the city’s new elite. His firm even constructed papier-mâché neighborhoods based on the American suburban model – cookie cutter houses, two-inch lawns, and vinyl siding hacked into wasteland forests millions of miles from the center of town.

Unlike their gated, coma community counterparts in the states, these dream houses came with a battalion of shock troops prowling the neighborhood streets day and night in dutiful vigilance, taking turns oiling and slow loving the machine gun nests stalwartly placed around the community’s perimeter, laying hungrily in wait for the opportunity to mow down intruders, drunk ice fishermen, and wandering deer.

Fyodor got Kalistia a job sitting in their company office where she could gab endlessly about Rome and say “Allowoa?” “Allowoa?” on the phones without getting cursed. She moved out of Kupchino and into Fyodor’s “euro-standard” apartment sequestered subtly on the 9th Line of Vasilievsky Island. The building itself looked no different from the surrounding dregs, but closer inspection betrayed its true character. The trick was in the windows. If the window frames were splintered, cracked, warped, and flayed – you had yourself a commoner inside, rotting like a mummy swaddled in alcohol and soviet cheese cloth. If the windows were imperial white, space-aged plastics with hermetic seals and crystalline reflections – then you were in the presence of new Russians, and convention required that you remove your cap and reverently prostrate yourself before your new lords.

“Euro-standard” meant Kalistia now had faux-hardwood floors to wear her slippers on, running hot water that was clear, not brown, and a toilet with reasonable elbow room and deep harbor, meaning that feces would now drop out of sight and out of mind below the cool waters of her own private lagoon, as opposed to piling on up like wobbly towers of Babel on the dry launching pads of Soviet engineered humiliation.

Kalistia went on three more Russian chicken coop tours; one to Turkey, one to Bulgaria, and the obligatory lost weekend to Egypt where she sat near a hotel pool for 10 days speaking Russian and swilling alcohol, leaving only once in order to get a picture of herself with blurry conical shapes in a hazy background of desert mauve.

Soon after “being” in Egypt, Kalistia became pregnant. She switched to smoking ultra-lights, got used to puking every morning, and spent most of the days laying about her sofa scraping the insides of skushonka cans. Oddly enough, Kalistia survived labor, and the baby was born - a boy. They stapled the name Nikita onto it, and Kalistia embarked on a massive starvation diet. No sooner were the pounds dully eviscerating themselves, when Fyodor informed her that for the past nine months he had been in heated congress with someone else, a woman named Penelopia, a woman much younger, attractive, and willing to please, someone who was now not only going to move into his apartment and live with him, but was also going to take Kalistia’s job in the office answering the telephone and saying “Allowoa?” “Allowoa?”

Fyodor had grown and bored and fed up. He was working himself senseless, in his mind, dealing with stress and anxiety that he felt Kalistia never comprehended. People were tailing his car, people were bugging his office, hacking into his computer, there were rival turf skirmishes and petty nonsense happening all the time at his company. He was paying off half the town to keep things running “smoothly,” although truth be told things were running anything but smoothly. People’s lives were at stake. And then there was Kalistia, sitting around in her bathrobe, make-up stripped off, nibbling dejectedly at her mayonnaise salads and sulking because her feet hurt. The only times she got dolled up was when they went out. This drove Fyodor crazy. He wanted her dolled up and ready to please every time he walked through the double bank vault door.

Penelopia listened to Fyodor’s complaints one evening in a cafe on Pea Street and saw her opening, her golden opportunity. She leapt right in and never looked back. She was cleaver, cunning, and opportunistic. Every time Fyodor visited her, she was in thigh-high stockings and negligee. She allowed him everything. After that, she brought him food and drink; pork cutlets, ravioli, pickle soup - all of his favorites. She assured him, you will have this every day, always, the proper treatment a man deserves.

Kalistia emptied half the kitchen cupboard launching projectiles at her former dream man once he delivered her the news, got herself beaten into a pulp when she keyed his BMW, and, since Russian courts and Russia law were not on her side in the matter, had little choice in the end but to put on a pair of large sunglasses to cover her bruises, bundle Nikita up in cheese cloth, and ride the metro out to Kupchino like a prisoner exiled to the Siberian netherworld.

Malaya Karpatskaya, the last street on the edge of the world. Its prison gates rattled open their bitter arms, Kalistia signed her name upon the ledger, and surrendered therein. She returned to squatting in phone booths over Soviet launching pads, the excreta piling high like in an outhouse, bathing in rusty, rat semen water the hue of corpse broth, her body falling apart, her knee-high Italian boots disintegrating from their daily dirge through de-icing chemicals and sludge.

Every evening, Kalistia sat in the kitchen, cradled in robe, slippers upon her bandaged feet, towel wrapped turgidly around her head, face sallow, ashen, and rubbed raw by time, poor diet, and astringent, rat semen water, spoon listlessly scraping the ribs of a can of skushonka, her wanton eyes of cold Turkish coffee staring at the photo of a girl blocking out the Fontana di Trevi with bouncing breasts and smiling Gucci’s in mirror polish mazurka.

I had been so happy then, she thought. I could have done anything. I didn’t have a baby. I was young. I was beautiful. Everything could have been different. Kalistia lit a Kiss cigarette. Can I change the futures? Kalistia wondered. And if I could, what futures could I wish for now? Is anything even possible anymore? Is there any reason for hope, or shall hope simply be put in an empty mayonnaise and buried in the cold ground? What am I movings toward now, besides only the cold ground?

In the other room, swaddled in musty yarns and blankets, Nikita began crying. Kalistia stared listlessly out the window, the battered, lunar environs of snow-swept internment camp languishing under gently howling winds of ice, the spectral Yuzhny Thermal Power Plant glowing otherworldly in the distance, the night stretching out before like a deep, endless lagoon of nothingness.

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