I tell her not to stand too close to windows. Trying to protect her from the soldiers of the night. From the rats pretending to be rabbits. Tell me again she says with that accent drifting from Eastern European train wreckages, the lips of women waiting for a body to fall. I tell her there are so many causalities under Avenues A, B, C, and D.
There’s this recurrent dream she has of a man from the old country entering her between rest stops and strategic points. When he’s inside, she says, (while sitting erect on the small cot I prepared for her,) he feels like a snake slithering this way and that. Until he coils around my spine and I can’t move or breathe.
How does he get back out? I ask.
She gives me a threatening look, the scowl of a gangster.
He sheds. He sheds himself. He becomes part of my waste and removal.
She sits on an old cushioned chair auctioned off after the 2nd Nameless Revolution. Its cover is decorated with yellow and red flowers. She’s smoking a cigarette that she’s rolled with great delicacy and precision. She repeats with greater detail the story of how a thick-lipped man with grossly small ears sold her to the skin market in Belgrade. The name she was credited with on screen spelled lunch ticket and left over sarma with potato dumplings. After she was fired for puking in a sex scene, she ran across the border. She wanted Switzerland but was afraid of heights. She wanted Morocco but was afraid of drowning in crowds. And the sun would not be good for her skin.
Whenever I make love to Anastasia, I feel as if I’m entering and leaving a country of doe-eyed snipers. Ones who become very small when cornered, who give up everything when pressed. I try to imagine myself behind the scope of a high-powered rifle, how I could zoom in on a small piece of the world. After we both fail a climax, Anastasia pushes me off, says she couldn’t love me for long. She could break me so easily. As if I am her prisoner.
It’s true. As a child, I never felt wanted except for telling stories, for smuggling tall tales. I kept Icelandic princesses in the attic. One died from inhaling too much asbestos. At night, I could hear the others crying through insulated walls.
Anastasia spies on the faces passing under our no-frills second story apartment. What are their lives like? she asks. The blatt of a taxi in the distance. She says as if trying to compose a song–the mommies and the daddies–why so many mummies in bed? How do they turn so cold? Why so many zombies walking around during the day? And the vampires, I say, don’t forget the vampires. She becomes very quiet and sullen. She says she’s been raped by both men and women vampires. Their histories still infecting her under her skirt. Stop thinking, I say, it’s not good. Why don’t you go take a shit? she says. She apologizes and laughs. In the bathroom the size of a broom closet, I listen to her make child-like noises behind the door, hisses and indistinct whispers, as if I am being watched and ridiculed, smothered by her silliness, by her morbid playfullness. I can’t shit. Everything’s stuck inside me.
One day I return from the bakery with some fresh raisin bagels and coffee, although she prefers croissants and a small café mocha with whipped cream. But today, I’m broke and stingy. I find a girl hanging from the ceiling, slowly turning. I drop the coffees. My legs are soaked and burnt. But it is not a girl. It is one of my sister’s ragamuffin dolls that she never took with her after she married and moved away. Anastasia sits on the leather sofa, shaking her head. I’m so tired of walls, she says. My only company is walls. I rush over and lift her chin in my hand. Anastasia, I say, did you take your meds? All of them? From now on, I will sneak pills into her breakfast, her pancakes and eggs. Or perhaps she would be better off as a ragamuffin doll, slowly turning in the air, no strings attached.
Anastasia and I stand looking through each other at the train station. A man is waiting in the crowd and I will hand her off to him. She takes two steps closer; my breaths could coat her words. But for now, she has none. I tell her that she will be in good hands, that he will give her the kind of shelter I could never offer. You will have the best doctors, I tell her. But there are other neutral countries where the sunset doesn’t sink you, she says. Couldn’t we go there? You and me? I’ve gotten used to you.
You get used to so many people or things that are not good for you, I say. You will adjust.
We embrace but do not touch. The man with the briefcase takes Anastasia by the hand. The ticket collectors yell out to please board the train. Anastasia turns around and yells out through a crowd of crunched bodies–Did you ever love me? I smile at her. My throat tightens. I won’t give her the satisfaction of an answer because that word, love, always causes me to self-destruct. To become phobic to light and go underground. The train pulls away. There are so many faces in the passing windows. They could all be Anastasia.
Kyle Hemmings lives and works in New Jersey. He has been published in Elimae, This Zine Will Change Your Life, Blaze Vox, Matchbook, and elsewhere. His latest chapbook is Future Wars from Another New Calligraphy. He loves 50s Sci-Fi movies, manga comics, and pre-punk garage bands of the 60s.