Why Following Babushkas Around the Streets of Saint Petersburg is like Watching a Bag of Popcorn in the Microwave

photo_2018-12-09_17-58-22

It is common knowledge amongst young residents of Russian cities that Babushkas [older Russian women] do not like to be followed. If you tread, especially at night, too close behind a babushka, she will turn, check to see if you are a murderer or a thief, then pause and let you pass.

This is normal.

The trouble began afterward. I stopped in a store for a pack of cigarettes. I came back out, lit one, and continued my journey home only to find myself, again, treading a little too closely behind that exact same Babushka. She stopped quicker this time, turned faster, she scowled and hugged her purse a little closer and so I nodded as if to say, “I’m sorry,” to which she read, “I’ll get to you in a minute.”

The first few kernels had popped. I walked on.

A little further down the road, I bumped into my friend, Ivan. I stopped to chat. I couldn’t help but notice the babushka passed yet again. I tried to smile in the least creepy, I-am-going-to-find-you-and-steal-your-bread, possible way. She was puffier, redder, expanding.

But it is no use. I vowed to take a good long while with Ivan, who turned out to be in a rush. He left. But, for good measure, I stood and finished my cigarette. I looked up and found the babushka was nowhere to be seen, so I trekked home.

I came up to the end of the alley into my courtyard and–oh dear god. There she was, she had stopped to feed the homeless ginger cat that lives behind the dumpster. She saw me. There was a panic in her face and she was popping at full speed now, backing away. I could almost see the fluffy pops of panic flying out of her brain, accumulating beneath her bonnet. It was tense.

I held up my hands, “I am sorry! I live just there.”

Then something happened. She frowned. Her whole demeanor changed, and I could almost hear her thoughts as she shrugged and went back to feeding the ginger cat: 

Oh, he’s American. I could take him.

Why Russia: Cats and Cockroaches

I drink a glass of water before bed. I stand and watch my cats try to eat the cockroaches sprawling over my cutting board. Those damn cockroaches. The first time I saw them, I went numb behind the ears and almost puked. Six cans of Raid, a dozen roach-traps, a kitchen full of containers full dried goods and one month later, I just watch them. There are hundreds more now, many of them are babies. Someone has been getting their freak on.

Good for them.

In the morning, reality knows only two things; the roaches have fled into the cutlery drawer, or the dish-rack, the microwave, the cabinet beneath the sink, a crack in the walls, above the shelves, beneath the floorboards, behind the toilet, under the bath, or in some other dark nook cranny or crevice inside this apartment of seemingly endless dark nooks, crannies, and crevices, also the cats are hungry.

I am truly grateful that they are so fat and sweet, those cats, and they cuddle.

But hell, what good are they.

IMG_3082

Well–That was new.

The security guard in my building is old. He doesn’t smoke. He used to smoke, but not anymore; he tells me every day. His English is not very good. Now that winter is dead, he spends more time outside. He finds me there and he says, “I used to smoke, but I don’t, now.”

Then, yesterday he came to me. He said, “I remember a story. There was a smoker, a soldier. And, he was smoking. The colonel. Colonel, you know?”

I nodded, took a drag.

“Yes. A colonel, he saw a soldier smoke. And the soldier saw the colonel and he threw the cigarette away. So, the colonel comes to the soldier and he picks up the lit cigarette and he, asks ‘is this yours?’ And the soldier says, no. And the colonel says, ‘no, it is yours, I saw you.’ And the soldier denies it and tells the colonel maybe it was his but before anything a sniper shoots the colonel right in the head.”

He made a pfft sound and poked himself in the head.

“Oh,” I said. I held my cigarette at my side. The security guard pointed at it and nodded.

“So,” he said, knowingly.

I nodded. “So.” I walked and put the cigarette in the ash tray. He nodded.

“To your health,” he told me and held the door for me to go back inside.

My Favorite Stories from the Flash 365 Project

Hi everyone, I received some emails about the site being a bit hard to navigate and people asking for a more concise list. We created 365 stories and 365 pieces of art from October 2016-October 2017. It is a lot to sift through. So, I’ve put together a “best of” list below. Each of the […]

via Best of Flash-365 — Flash-365

Turtles All the Way Down

turtle

**Artwork by Marvel** (This fairy tale was prompted by the artwork shown above)

The Turtle was born with the world on his back.

Well–not exactly. The Turtle was born with his mother on his back, his father atop her, atop them were a series of grandfathers, grandmothers, aunts, uncles, great aunts, great uncles then great-greats of all breeds and colors and even way up at the top just below the world there was rumored to be a great-great-great. But The Turtle  felt the world on his back through it all as he pressed down upon his brothers and sisters and little cousins all below him all holding up the world all smaller–bigger–fatter. There were talkers, and snorers, and wigglers and whiners; it was turtles, all the way down.

The Turtle  was born around the time the spoon was invented. In fact the first words he ever heard trickle down from the world above were ‘you just dip it into the soup and pull it back out.’

The Turtle  had never seen a spoon. Once, before he was born, someone dropped something called a goblet, which his father always described in great detail.

‘It hit me right on the head!’ his father would call down, ‘sat there for a hundred years, couldn’t see a thing!’

It was a magical story. The Turtle  hadn’t heard it’s like, but he planned to. He waited. The world grew louder and louder and all the greats and great-greats and those above began to grow agitated and cranky. Eventually even The Turtle ‘s father would no longer tell the story of the infamous goblet.

One day while the turtles above and the turtles below whined and griped about things they’d all started referring to as ‘booms’ The Turtle  slipped away and swam up to the world’s edge. He climbed up and rolled out into the sun. Then he began to walk. He was the size of an elephant and it wasn’t long before the world took notice of him. It was a man–one at first, and then a village. They asked the turtle if it wouldn’t mind carrying their village to a nearby valley. The turtle, knowing the villagers to be much lighter than just his mother alone, accepted on one condition, they show him a spoon.

So, they did. They showed him an elegantly carved wooden spoon, a hundred years old, never used. The Turtle eyed it suspiciously and decided, “no, that is not a spoon.”

But, the villagers had already loaded themselves and their things into a great big suitcase on his back so he agreed to take them as long as they promised to show him a real spoon once they arrive in their new home. They agreed and the turtle carried them. It was not a long journey and they soon arrived in the next valley and found a town full of people. They were starving and they told the turtle that the land was no longer fit to live. They asked the turtle if he would carry them too over the next mountain. The turtled, realizing that they certainly couldn’t weigh more than a few aunts and uncles, agreed on one condition; that they show him a spoon. The townsfolk, with no food and an excess of spoons, agreed. They brought hundreds of spoons to the turtle and laid them out.

The Turtle eyed them suspiciously and decided, “no, those are not a spoons.”

But, the townsfolk had already loaded themselves and their things into the great big suitcase on his back so he agreed to take them as long as they promised to show him a real spoon once they arrive in their new home.

On the other side of the mountain they found a city, war-torn and dying. The turtle once again agreed to take them too on his back as they were no heavier than a dozen or so turtles. And again, they brought him spoons and again he did not believe them to be spoons. So, the turtle walked with the suitcase on his back until it was full of everything in the world but spoons. At the very end of the earth he found an old man with a stick who was sitting on a block of ice. By this point the turtle was very tired and he could feel that the “booms” had begun inside the suitcase on his back.

The old man on the block of ice was very cold and asked the Turtle if he might come inside the suitcase so that the turtle could take him somewhere nice and new. The turtle, who’d grown cynical and suspicious told the man that he could only come into the suitcase if he showed the Turtle a spoon. The old man, looked out at the trail of spoons behind the turtle and frowned. But he was a very wise man and so he took his stick and held it up to the turtle.

“This is a spoon,” he told the turtle and then dipped the stick into the water and pulled it back out, as you might a spoon.

At this, the turtle was so over-joyed that he fell, rolling onto his back and never could quite manage to get back up.