Sunday, August 9, 2009

Kiril Takes a Dip

Shae Sveniker, August 2009

"It's another gangster movie," Kiril said to his wife. "I've always loved that about the Americans, the outlaw saint."

"Everytime, you say this, everytime," Anastasia said, "I really didn't like that movie."

"You never like the things that I like! Time's like these I wonder why we got married!" Kiril laughed, so as to make a joke of it. He was always laughing, and truthfully, that's why Anastasia agreed to marry him. Kiril and Anastasia walked down the street slowly. They were not too old, maybe fifty, though they acted like they were much older. Life had been rough in Russia. Kiril leaned heavily on his cane with one hand and held Anastasia's hand in the other.

"You'll never know how close I was to living that life my dear," Kiril said, "But I'm glad I didn't, you know." Kiril kissed her small hand.

"You're insufferable," Anasatasia said, "I won't forgive you!" She smiled when Kiril acted taken aback. "You're always making jokes of things that are really important, you know, someday I might leave you!"

Kiril laughed at that too. They continued walking down the street towards their old home in Pasedena. It was warm, in the high nineties. That was compounded by the smog and dust and concrete in the city. It felt much hotter.

"It's very hot here, why did we move to California?" Anastasia asked.

Kiril thought to himself a moment and said, "Well it might be because it was very cold in Moscow," Kiril laughed again.

"Do you remember in '87?" Anastasia said, "When we jumped in the Epiphany?"

"Yes," Kiril said. "That's when I proposed to you, in the freezing water, I told everyone I wasn't cold, but I almost died!" Kiril laughed loud enough for both of them.

"It's days like this I miss Russia," Anastasia said.

"Don't say such crazy things!" Kiril said.

That night, there were power-outages all over the city. The temperature rose with the panic the next day. Anastasia had a heat-stroke at three-thirty in the afternoon. She was dead by six.
Kiri sat in the funeral home and stared at the urn. Aquaintences came by and offered their condolences. Kiril waited for what seemed like forever until an old friend sat beside him.

"Kiril, come with me, don't go back to that empty house, you know you have family in Moscow."

"Alexander, I was just thinking about you," Kiril said, "I can't go back with you. I'm too old for that life."

"So you say! You're fit as a fiddle, Kiril, don't say no!" Alexander took out a cigarette. "You ought to come back, everyone could use your advice. You know Dimitri couldn't come because he has that heart condition, but he told me to give his regards and to pay his respects."

"Oh really," Kiril said.

"Yes, really, they all respect you still my friend, despite your decision to leave. You come back anytime you feel, OK?"

"OK," Kiril said.

Alexander patted him on the shoulder as he left. "You have my number."

Kiril limped home from the funeral parlor with part of Anastasia's ashes in the small, porceline urn, and the rest of them in a paper bag. He emptied her ashes in her garden, mixed the dirt with his hands, and went inside to drink vodka in the parlor. The next morning, hung-over, alone, and bored, he checked his mail. In it was a ticket to Moscow, one-way, first class. Several weeks later, Kiril was on a plane to Moscow.

Alexander met him at the airport and they went straight to Dimitri's place, a small pirouski shop just outside Istra. When he got there, it was dark. Alexander carried Kiril's single bag. Two tall Russians in dark grey suits stood just inside the door, it was not much brighter inside the place. There were no customers and the only light came from a room in the back, behind the bakery's ovens.

"Is that Kiril I hear coming this way?" Dimitri's voice was loud and deep, he spoke in Russian with a rural accent.

"Yes, it's me," Kiril replied in the same rustic Russian as he enter the back room. There was Dimitri counting money on the table and putting it in a safe-bag. He hid the bag under the table and got up heavily. "Ha Ha it's been too long my friend! Come over here and we'll play some cards and drink some vodka! Do you still smoke cigars?"

"No, I gave that up recently," Kiril limped into the room and sat down at the small table. Alexander was in the front of the store, talking with the tall guys standing in the dark. "You know I never thought I'd come back here."

"No one expected you too, I guess I was just worried about you my friend, all alone in that horrible country."

"I wasn't alone," Kiril lied, "There are plenty of people in Los Angeles."

"Sure, sure, well what should it be my American friend, poker?"

"How about Durak?"

"Well it's comforting to know you haven't forgotten where you come from, I'll deal, first we drink, then we can talk business."


Dimitri poured two small glasses and pushed one over to Kiril. "Here's to old friends and new beginnings huh?"

"Na Zdarovye."

"The truth is, Dimitri, I could not come back to work with you," Kiril said. "The money is fine, better than fine, but i have a clean conscience now and it took so many years of scrubbing to get there..."

Dimitri scowled dealt the cards. "You're full of shit Kiril, you got shot and then you got scared and you ran away with your tails between your legs. you were scared for your little Anastasi and you ran away." Dimitri lit his cigar. It was Cuban. Kiril felt his mouth water. "You took the plane ticket, you must have other reasons for coming back."

Kiril thought for a moment. "You know, I can't work for you, but I missed our old times I guess... do you remember that trip to Cuba in '89?"

Dimitri laughed heartily "I can't believe that we didn't get caught!" In those days of economic upheaval, the only way they could get out of the country was to stowaway in traincars that crossed the southern border, eventually they were able to get to Cuba by stowing away on a cargo ship. They came back in with a few kilos of cocaine as their new start.

They retold old stories and laughed until the dawn. Kiril left to stay in a hotel as the shop opened for the morning business.

Kiril had said he wouldn't work for Dimitri, but they both knew there was no other way he could live. Kiril was experienced in accounting and began to take over a couple of Dimitri's front-shops. His creative work earned him much more than the salary one would expect of a deli manager and laudomat operator.

He stayed at the hotel and lived hand-to-mouth, and as the days got shorter, he felt Anastasia's presence begin to sour in his soul. They had been together since the early eighties, had immigrated together, lived together, more than twenty years. He knew she wouldn't approve of his lifestyle, but there was nothing but that empty house to come back home to in Pasedena, and besides, Dimitri was a good friend to have for a drinking partner, or which he was doing more and more of. Still as the weather turned colder, Kiril seemed to grow warmer.

In December he was often seen walking around in the snow without an overcoat. The other patrons at the hotel would stare in wonderment as he walked by. The very air arround him began to feel warm to strangers. Then again, he was drinking pretty heavily, and the MaĆ®tre d’ suspected he had more alcohol than blood.

At night, Anastasia would come to him in dreams. She would say "it's so hot here, why did we move here again?"

and he would reply

"because it's so cold in Moscow..."

One day in January, Kiril left the hotel dressed in bermuda shorts and a t-shirt. The doormen tried to stop him, because it was negative thirty-five outside, an extreme cold even for this part of Russia. When they tried to hold him back however, his body heat penetrated their snow-gloves, and so they let him go.

"He's crazy, he must be ill," one of the doormen said.

"Good riddence," the other doorman said, "Every night he keeps up the other guests, drinking all by himself and laughin all night long. I'll be glad to see him go!"

He walked passed the Pirouski shop were Dimitri and Alexander saw him. They tried to get him to come inside but he kept walking. They followed him, yelled at him, tried to get him to come inside, still nothing worked. As he got closer to the river, he seemed to grow hotter and hotter. Steam from the ice in the air arround him began to evaporate in big grey clouds. His skin was bright red by this point, he looked like a walking fire-brand. Kiril began laughing, a hot, gutteral laugh. A laugh like only Russians can laugh, from the bottom of his belly, like someone had just told the best joke in the world.

"It smells like his flesh is burning, Dimitri, what's going on here?" Alexander tried to grab onto Kiril but to no avail, his body heat burned through Alexander's mittens. "Ouch! He's on fire I tell you!"

"Kiril what are you doing? I will have to call the police if you don't come back to the shop with us! You must be ill with fever! we'll take you to the hosital!" Dimitri struggled to catch up with him. "Where's your cane, Kiril? How can you move so fast?"

"It's so cold in Moscow! HAHAHA!" was the only thing Kiril said as he kept walking. He said it over and over as he laughed and laughed. At the bank of the river, Dimitri and Alexander watched as he took off his clothing and lept into the water and his body dissapeared as the river exploded in a cloud of steam.

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