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small change (exceptions)

There are two buildings that rise up in the distance, when I go towards the hardware store. I imagine a modern-day Rapunzel might live in one of them. The sky is packed with clouds, but a strange one hovers above one of the towers, a lonely mushroom, a cloud fedora, a sore thumb.

There is a store here, Pyaterochka. The name brings to mind a little bird, maybe a sparrow. I used to go to a Pyaterochka that had little birds that flew around inside it, but it actually means "5", taken from the Russian word "pyat". In "little five" people wander the aisles, counting out rubles, with bags of potatoes, maybe a box of wine. I find myself scouring the neighborhood from time to time, looking for a special type of milk for V. It comes in tiny purple boxes, and appears as randomly and sparingly as butterflies. Today, I am in Pyaterochka and there are a few boxes. I check the expiration dates on them. Stores here will sell expired milk and meat without batting an eye…

cold nostalgia


There is a note, stuck to the front entrance of our building. The hot water will be turned off for ten days. This is something that happens every summer, although it snowed a week ago and children wander the playgrounds in ski hats these days. At night it can be 40 degrees fahrenheit.  The hot water is always turned off like this, at some point during June or July. It is a long-standing Soviet tradition, and people begrudgingly accept it here. But the baby, V does not. She wants to stand in a hot bath before she goes to sleep, to splash and pour water all around her, and N. She wants to stand and wiggle her tiny hands under the spout, as she grows pink and clean, as she howls and shouts for us to see what new trick she has improvised. There is no explanation for her, why the hot water is off today, and will be tomorrow. She is angry, furious even.

I used to buy the story that this offered a chance for the water department to fix pipes, to take care of routine maintenance. Hot water comes from local plants, not from inside the buildings here. That is why you see those giant tubes running along the highway, snaking around parking lots and though the forest. But then I heard better explanations, that water bills are easily calculated by dividing them into 50 weeks, not 52 weeks. As always, there is no true way of knowing anything here, but the absence of pipe repair crews began to add up. Another explanation began to present itself. This tradition of deprivation. It brings back some Soviet nostalgia. It reminds people of what life used to be like, and it may just be some calculated propaganda, some enforced reminder meant to put people in a state of mind about the past and the present.

The ten days pass, washing dishes in ice cold water, filling plastic tubs with water boiled in tea kettles, taking standing baths lathering up in silence, dumping the bucket over your head. It is humiliating. I agree with the baby, every summer.

And then the hot water does come, gargling through the pipes, spitting and dancing from the faucets and there is that long hot shower. I hear the neighbors upstairs, moaning through the ceiling.

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