1. The Hurtozytok, Ruska Street
Chesterfield knocked with two eczematous knuckles, only a courtesy warning to let her know he was coming on in. This time he walked into a locked door. He rubbed his forehead. Skin flaked onto the thin carpeting. He often visited the foreigner’s room late to make requests for hot water, sugar, milk, salt, or to ask her to join him for a glass of Ukrainian cognac, the gold syrup of celebration.
That night, Mary would not be interrupted. Chesterfield held his cigarette in the air. She glared at him because she did not know this in Ukrainian: are you serious? He didn’t leave. She retrieved the box of matches she normally used to light the pletka.
On her television, he recognized Roxolana: The Magnificent Century only because his wife back home in the village watched it every evening. Mary lit his cigarette. Gray smoke curled and clouded in the hall.
“That show is for women,” Chesterfield said, smoking his Chesterfield.
He came back before dawn, scratching at Mary’s door and calling her name in an inebriated chortle.
In brighter circumstances—not 4 o’clock in the morning—he could’ve been mistaken for a jolly cartoon bear. She taught herself Russian watching Masha and Medved. Listening to Chesterfield now, it should’ve frightened her more than it did.
She opened the door wide enough to toss out the lit match. The cartoon bear went up in flame from his dry skin and synthetic stuffing, Lvivska cognac. His perfectly pitched Slavic howl followed him down the staircase and out into the dark, where he melted the snow drifts frozen against the north side of the building. His ashes dusted the icy street so the neighbors would not slip in the morning.
The landlord replaced the deteriorating front door with a new European model, varnished and moulded dark wood with a peephole. The rancor of construction invaded the building for a day. He left the inside wall unfinished, an open wound in the plaster wall and asbestos fiber beneath. The white dust settled, filling the spaces between Mary’s keyboard. She was forced to interact with the disruption, it contributing to her creation. After that, she no longer had to lock herself in the apartment, leaving the key dangling from the inside lock after entering. She soon missed this. She imagined accidentally losing the key in the open walls, it falling into the cracks of the building and the history of mandatory village migration, uneven supply, rapid demand construction, communal factory labor, layer upon layer.
Her father, a retired USAF carpenter, visited that summer and asked the obvious question.
Only the landlord could’ve answered it. Mary, so often lonely behind that door, had learned little so far but the most obvious answer: Who’s going to see it?