Strangers In Moscow

We had only been hanging out together in school for about a week after the party … before Lin pops the question I’ve been dreading:

“Why don’t I come over to your place?”

Yeah, why don’t you … girl-who’s-about-to-inherit-the-seventh-biggest-company-in-the-state?

“Sure thing, that’d be … fine.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, yeah – jus’ come by.”

“Today?”

“Uh … yeah, why not? Me mum’s prob’ly home, tho’ … “

“So?”

“Well, we … it’s a small apartment … “

Suddenly the noises from the yard seem crisp and intent, as if they are all zooming in on me. I glance around. Denise passes over by the shed, some new boy wrapped around her but I’m not sure if she looked in our direction.

“I’m sure I can fit in,” Lin says. “I’m not that voluptuous.” She flashes a grin, as she heaves up in her A-cup breasts and I try to find a stance that indicates to people who’re looking that we’re not having this conversation.

“Okay,” I manage to confirm. “Ye can come.”

“Okay!” Lin sparkles even more. “I can go with you after the last lesson?”

I nod, feeling as if somebody had strapped an anvil to my neck.

“Maybe I should call first? It’d be better if she’s out … “

“I wouldn’t mind meeting your mum, Carrie. I’m sure she’s nicer than mine.”

“Lin, it’s only two rooms.”

Her eyes widen, just for a sec, and then she quickly finds the ‘normal-mask’ again.

“So?” Lin shrugs.

“Lin, ye live in a friggin’… castle… ”

“So maybe I’m tired of that. Did I tell you my mum’s gonna sell everything and move back to England?”

“Really?”

“Yeah, everything – company’s going to some cousin or something. But she gets a lot of money. She won’t have to work for the rest of her life.”

“And you?”

Lin shrugs again. “I’ll tell you later. Let’s go back in? I think I saw Old Hacksaw heading our way. He probably thinks we’ve been smoking again.”

“Admit it, Lin – ye have the hots fer him.”

“Oh, I’m sure the old fart likes petite girls, but I’m not gonna be one of them. I’d rather be Willie the Groundkeeper’s wife!”

We both crack up for a few, joyful moments, but enough to notice – for the first time today – that the winter sun over Cleveland feels mild.

*

“Yeah – who is it?”

“Mum – I’m bringing a friend home.”

“Carrie? Are ye already off from school? Guess I lost track o’ time there … ”

“Mum, are ye … up?”

“Yes, yes – of course I’m up. Why are you calling, hon?”

“Ye sound … tired?”

“I just have a little headache. What is all this about? You never call from school.”

“Tha’s because I cannae afford a cell, mum. If we had money for one o’ them I might call a bit more often, don’ ye think?. The payphones in the school basement ne’er work, remember?”

“Apparently you found one that worked, sweetie. So what’s all this about?”

“I’m jus’ bringing a friend. We’re going to be there half an hour after the last lesson. So maybe two hours from now.”

“Do you want me to make tea? Does he drink herbal tea?”

“It’s jus’ a girl.”

“Okay, someone from class?”

“We have some classes together.”

“So … you think she’d prefer that a little cleaning lady comes around before she steps through our door, is that it?”

“Yes, that’s what I think.”

“I’d better call her up then.”

“Please, mum. Jus’ a little … ”

“Don’t worry. I might as well try to find those damn pills … ”

*

After school.

And I finally hear the blessed door to the stairway slam.

“Oh, goood – At last! She’s out!”

I fall back on my couch/bed as if I’m ready never to get up again. Then I notice where Lin is still sitting.

“ – Ye sure ye do nae want to be up here?”

“I’m fine down here,” Lin assures me with a tone of honesty that chills me just for a second, although it’ll take years from now until I find out why.

She pats the floor in my room, moves her pillow a bit around – unnecessarily, it seems. Then she sips more Diet Coke, slowly, attentively and then continues to memorize every CD I have in the stack on my little night table.

Mariah Carey sings about heaven in the radio and outside frail snowflakes silently fall over the neighborhood and dissolve immediately as they kiss the concrete roofs.

“Your mum’s not so bad, you know.”

“Yeah … right.”

“No, really.”

“She’s an ol’ hippie … who spends way too much time flirting with TM and too little time getting more hours.”

“She works as a sub, right?”

“Righ’ … she jus’ took over fer a three month run in a school downtown; sick-leave or something. But I do nae think there’s anything now, or anything coming up.”

Another careful sip:

“Must be hard. My mum’s never had to worry about money, although being an English professor isn’t a goldmine. But my dad always provided the gold.”

“So ye said he left ye some of … it?”

Lin nods, and looks out the window as if there was something she was missing that was waiting – just out there. But there are just the snowflakes, dying against the window.

“2 million … ”

“What?! Lin – that’s … ”

“I know. I know.”

“Jesus … “

“You’re thinking about Jesus again?”

We both welcome the laughter. It postpones the rest of the con a little.

“I’m not that much into Jesus, Lin.”

“Is your mum?”

“No, it’s more Eastern stuff … ”

“I saw that.”

“I wish we didnae have to go through the living room to get here.”

“Come on, Carrie – your apartment is not that bad.”

I get up on my elbows. Across the room Michael Jackson is sending me that look again from his poster, as if to challenge me:

‘Tell her! Show her!’

But I’m not going to repeat old mistakes. I want to be Lin’s friend, even if it already feels impossible.

And it’s crazy. I know. What am I to her?! – some kind of girly Oliver Twist that she has scooped up to care about?

“I feel shitty about living here, tha’s all … ”

“I can understand that.”

“Can ye?”

“Don’t give me that look. Just because I’ve been imprisoned in that cheap imitation of some French mansion for most of my childhood, doesn’t mean I liked it there!”

“No, but ye had a wee bi’ more space, had ye not?”

“I sure did. Do you want it? It’s for sale now.”

“Ha-ha … ”

“Look, I mean it, Carrie. I may not know what it’s like to live in a 2-roomer, I admit that. But… I can feel how much it bothers you. I can – ”

“Sure ye can.” I’m about to smack real hard with words and then I remember that it wasn’t so long ago that I did that – to Lin. And almost lost her before I ever got to know her.

“I’m sorry. It’s jus’ that … ”

“No,” Lin interrupts. “I’m sorry, I … ” She looks down. “You’re a good person, Carrie. One of the best I ever met.”

“Ye hardly know me.”

“Trust me, I feel like I’ve known you for a long time.”

“Why do ye want ta know me? I live in this dump and you … ”

“I suppose …”

“What?”

I send her the firmest ‘it’s-closing-time-for-this-subject’-look.

It’s not.

Lin finally gets up from the floor, up on the couch.

She takes a deep breath, pulls her legs up to tailor-position, lets her hands drop in between, fingers slightly folded, as if she’s readying for prayer.

“Carrie – what if I bought you a condo? Just for you?”

*

My jaw drops. Several meters.

“Are ye crazy?”

“No, I’m about to become a millionaire.”

“Lin – I can’t … I … ”

“Why not? You hate living with your mum. This place is way too small. I don’t have any use for the money – I don’t even want them. It’ll be a win-win. I’ll donate the rest to charity or something.”

“I jus’ can’t … It’ll be too m… ”

“Why not?” She sounds almost aggressive. “Do you often get an offer like this?”

“No, but … it’s jus’ too m-much … ”

“Too much to receive? Why?!”

I am at a total loss for words. Mariah Carey does her high note, and I kill the radio immediately. But it’s only a one-second respite.

“Lin, I cannae receive tha’ much money from a … ”

“ … a stranger? I thought we were friends!”

“We are. I mean we’ve known each other for a week but we’re –  we’re friends.”

“We are. And we’ve known each other longer.”

“Yes, we have. Yes, but we started being … friends for real … a week ag- Lin this is crazy! Ye cannae buy me a bloody condo!”

“What if I want to?”

Something’s shining in her eyes, but it’s something I dare not look at it. It’s that kind of shining that comes in the eyes before you take your last breath or something.

Then she sees just what she did to me and –

“Forget it – just forget it. It was a stupid suggestion anyway. And maybe you’ll hate me after Christmas anyway, and then you wouldn’t want to be indebted to me like that. Stupid. I say crazy, stupid things sometimes. Can you forgive me?”

I want to smile. Then, with just a little bit of will-power, I manage to make it. And it feels like a relief:

“I say crazy stupid things sometimes, too.”

“Good – ” Lin smiles, too, but quickly. “Then we’re made for each other.”

“Do ye … do ye want to hear something else?”

“What you got? More Mariah?”

“Goodness, no.”

“Yeah … how about Michael, then?” She nods towards the poster, where MJ is frozen in eternal moonwalking.

“Ye like his new album?”

“Love it. Put it on.”

“ … friggin’ CD-player’s making trouble again.”

“Try knocking on it.”

“I already did – oh, there.”

“I want to hear number three first. On disc 2!”

“Oh – okay. I’ll jus’ change it.”

“You don’t have too if it’s too much trouble.”

“No, no, not at all. There. Ah – Jesus is with us today. It works!”

Snickers – both of us – and they feel bloody good, too. (I’m sure Jesus won’t mind.)

And then there’s Michael, and more Diet Cokes, and more dying snowflakes, and more talking about… everything. And Deborah wisely stays out until late in the evening, but by that time Lin’s already caught a cab home, and I’m left alone in my room without really believing that she was there to begin with.

Something automatic kicks in, something that doesn’t want to accept this new reality. It’s too weird. Too far out.

It’s not happening.

Adeline Christakis did not just drop by for Diet Coke in my messy little room.

And we did not have a good time.

It just didn’t happen. It couldn’t.

Not… her and me?

I try to convince myself that the first real friend I’ve made here in Cleve is probably already gone when Christmas is over. It couldn’t possibly last. We’re too different.

I mean, didn’t she just offer to buy me my own place to live? Of all the crazy…

No, it can’t last. I think maybe it was the last time when I closed the front door after her. I should feel relieved.

I really should.

I keep rehashing it, over and over, in my mind before I go to sleep – as if to find some way to convince my brain that this was really both the first and last time.

But all I can think of is that, when I really admit to myself… what I want… then I know that it’s not to close the door on her like I did a few hours ago:

*

“So … have ye been to your father’s funeral, yet?”

She shakes her head, whilst at the same time having a minor struggle with her overcoat. It looks a bit ludicrous and I almost manage to forget that it isn’t.

Lin doesn’t mention her father’s funeral again and I don’t ask.

Just as I don’t ask about the condo again.

After all… we can’t just receive that kind of gift from someone we’ve barely known for a week.

But it would sure be good if we could.

*

Last edited 11 Aug 2019

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