I remember being small and thinking I was big. That one long summer when the dragonflies chased us away from the river and into the gazebo, which we painted sky blue every weekend. My mother’s skin. The fat on her arms and her belly. The space between her arms and her belly where I fit. Her kisses buzzing in my hair and brushing our teeth on the porch. Drawing the tin bucket up from the well, holding on to Mama so I wouldn’t fall in. Pouring the water over my hands and neck and eyebrows, feeling it slither softly over my skin. The sun drying us and chipping the paint on the door. Baba Taya cooking soup, spilling it all over the kitchen tiles. My brother, Kolya, coming home with cartons of fresh Kefir to drink. His hands and feet were muddy as he held me in his arms, our hair blonde and our features the same.
Baba Taya fainted in my mother’s arms. She crumbled and melted and cooled into plastic, no longer breathing. Russian summer, cool and sweet, sat on our window fanning herself. The men came in. I cried because there were no men in this house, there had only ever been mothers and children. But now they were here: giants with muscles under their sweat stains and leather-covered flesh. The monsters picked her up by her plastic arms and legs. My mother was not plastic: she drew a deep breath. Her bones rattled within her. The men carried the stretcher through the kitchen where the soup was burning. They lifted it through the doorframe and onto the creaky porch, half-painted. The Russian summer jumped off her perch on the windowsill and ran to the plastic woman. She brought her dragonflies, flowers, and well water in a tin bucket. Baba Taya smelled nothing. She did not feel the water trickling over her wrinkles, melting her again. The men carried her away. Russian summer sat down on the windowsill to fan herself.
I remember coming back one winter, after Kolya had put in running water and a new stove that did not have the soup stains of three generations. The dragonflies were crystalized in the ice. They hung from beech trees along the edges of the highway. We took a gypsy cab from Moscow. Stray dogs followed the scent of our warmth. The gazebo and the garden were covered in snow, as if an angel had descended to grace them. The oak tree that she prayed to every day for strength. The bed she slept in with her fifth husband. The river with the giant mosquitoes where she had taught her children and grandchildren how to swim. They were iced over, preserved. Everything was silent. My mother asked me if my feet were cold, was I wearing thick socks?
Age 14, Grade 10,
Fiorello H Laguardia High School of Music
Gold Key Gold Medal