Snowrise by Ania Vesenny
Hurry, hurry, light the candle, drop your gown on the floor, let your shoes slip off, slide under the blanket, watch the snow fall. What will happen when the spring comes, no one knows. In the depth of the Russian night their bodies are pressed together by the heavy blankets; clouds of their breaths rise.
* * *
In the dusk of the Toronto streets Liuba hauls herself forward by the ropes her memories have braided, one numb foot after another. Sifted flour that blinds and buries, fills in the cavities of her footprints.
In the coffee shop where her daughter works, the lamps hang low, dip into the armchairs; the colours flicker, twirl into each other. Liuba sits down, pulls her mittens off, breathes into her cupped hands, waits for the zigzagging light tails to quiet down. Waits for the familiar voice to draw closer.
My new favourite. To warm you up.”
Liuba leans over the cup, lets the flavour rush up her nose, hit her in her forehead, fiery, bitter. Ginger. Chocolate. Coffee beans. Cinnamon. Foreign smells in the foreign land. Liuba craves tea, black, robust, to remind her of the winter nights back home, of reading Doctor Zhivago out loud, warmed by each other’s heat, boiling water on a tiny stove, drinking tea, its loose leaves swirling in their unwashed glasses. Light the candle, drop your gown on the floor, let your shoes slip off, slide under the blanket, watch the snow fall.
“The music that they play here, must be hard for you to listen to all day,” she says.
“These are my CDs, mom. They let me play them.”
Liuba shivers, presses her palms into the heat of the mug. “How is school?”
“You look like you’re going to spew,” her daughter says. “You look like you’ll never get warm.”
The neighbours above her yell at each other every Friday night. Their name is Watson. Every Saturday Mr. Watson leaves at five in the morning, comes back just before midnight.
To Liuba’s right – an East Indian family. Eight people in a two-bedroom apartment. They smell strangely of curry and ginger. This is not the smell of India that Liuba dreams about – the India of orchids, bejeweled elephants and flowing saris.
To the left – Chinese. Elderly, miniature, wrinkled. They shop once a month, bring big bags of rice in a wire cart.
Liuba watches the lobby of the apartment building on her TV screen. During the day it is only the elderly and the sick. When she sees Mrs. White from 1103 she goes down, pretends she is checking her mail.
“You look like shit today, dear,” Mrs. White says. She leans on her walker, her arms straight, her head hanging on her long neck. Loose skin, hairy warts on her cheeks. Red lipstick.
“The doctor says I’ll lose my hair.”
“It won’t hurt you to use some make-up, then. Have you told your daughter yet?”
It is easier to open up to those who are old and sick. The line is blurred for them too, between the yesterday and tomorrow. They do not pity. They do not judge.
In the apartment the pipes are hissing. The sound brings the smell of bacon and eggs fried in oil. It is faint enough for Liuba to know with certainty that she is alone in her apartment; there is no one in the kitchen to bring her breakfast, no one to read out loud to. Yet the smell is real enough to overwhelm Liuba with its intensity. She throws up into the toilet bowl. She keeps her eyes shut, but the taste in her mouth she cannot ignore. Salty, permeating. Blood.
She sits by the window, under a pile of woollen blankets, watches clouds cover clouds, shades of grey blending, furry edges brushing against the bare branches.
As though a pillow ripped open, the snow starts falling, feathers twirl. Hurry, hurry, light the candle, drop your gown on the floor, let your shoes slide off, slip under the blanket, watch the snow fall. What will happen when the spring comes, no one knows. Snowfall. Yet when Liuba locks her eyes on any given snowflake, it does not fall. It rises.