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FictionWinter2019

A Lullaby for My Father – Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry

I dreamed of my father’s lungs.  They flew into my room, sat on my bed, and started singing in Armenian. I, of course, couldn’t understand a word; the language of my ancestors, so beautiful and so sad, buried with them. My father’s lungs were massive bean-shaped organs, clear of tumors or perforations.  The right lung had three lobes, and the left only two; each lobe was lined with tiny air sacs, where the exchange of gases took place. I could see it happening right there, in front of me, as my father’s lungs sang and sang. I reached out and touched them, then drew them to my chest.  I hugged my father’s lungs and felt them hug me back. It was the loveliest and the scariest of feelings. I woke up panting, drenched in sweat.

A dull hammering sound echoed in my ears, so I got up and padded to the window. Outside, my father had a few boards stretched across a workbench. He pounded nails into the wood, his tool belt sagging below his gut.  He was a short heavy man with dark skin and massive hands and a snowdrift of curly hair. He ran his fingers along the sanded boards the way I imagined he’d once run them along my mother’s body, with love and grace.

Before he came to live with me in Virginia, my father lived in Brooklyn, and before that in Yerevan, where he built caskets.  He’d been God among the undertakers. The Funeral Jesus. He could coax a soul out of dead wood, the way he touched it, sanding it off to the texture of skin. He carved in ornaments too—rosettes and vines and birds, crosses and cherubs. And inside the caskets, he burned in the names of the deceased, words from favorite songs, or a line of poetry.  He built caskets for his grandparents, his parents, his friends and lovers, and one for my mother, although she was still alive at the time. But he wanted her to admire her last wooden garment and critique his skill, while she still could.

Now, in my backyard, surrounded by dead birches my Russian mother had insisted I plant and my American ex-wife insisted I killed with the pine fertilizer, my father worked with the frenzy of a man who knew about death and didn’t wish to be caught unprepared. He stopped every few minutes, interrupted by a chaffing grainy cough, but as soon as it would subside, he’d return to tending the wood with his indefatigable hands. I was amazed how much power those hands still held, even after he’d been sick for almost a year.  

“What are you building this early in the morning and with such zeal?” I asked, raising the window all the way so that only a screen and few tufts of grass separated us.  

“Noah’s Ark,” my father said. He still spoke Russian with a slur of an accent.

“I’m sure the neighbors are loving it, on this glorious Sunday morning.”

“They’re all at church, unless they’re Turks, and we don’t give a shit about those.”

“Turks are people too,” I said.

“Not in my book.”

“That’s discriminating.”

“Tell it to the dead, Boris.  All the thousands they butchered with daggers and hatchets.”

I knew that when it came to the Armenian Golgotha, as my father described the slaughter of his people by the Ottoman Turks in 1915, there was little to be discussed. Opinions were irrelevant, just like his doctor’s death warrants regarding smoking.  My father never listened and never gave up the habit. Over the years, he had to give up so much and so frequently—my mother, me, his job, his land, his country, his Brooklyn apartment, his freedom—he refused to part with a single cigarette, not even a charred stump.  He chewed on it until it shriveled, soggy.

“Such a nasty habit,” I said.

“I’m a nasty man,” he answered. “But I was thinking, you know how they say a cobbler is always without shoes, well, I don’t want to be like that.  I’ll build me the smoothest, roomiest, most comfortable coffin, so I can rest in peace.” He grinned and began sorting through a tin jar of nails I’d collected while being married to Nancy.

My sons and I, we’d always tried to build things: a treehouse, a sandbox, a dog’s shack. But I was artless with hammers and saws. So artless that at one point I’d questioned my paternity, but then I walked to the mirror, where, after a moment of breathless lingering, I contemplated my tan, hairy, grim reflection. Even if I were to shave my eyebrows, I couldn’t have denied the obvious—my father’s blood, and that of all the massacred Armenians, as my mother had once pointed out.

I wished I could have called her, could have held the phone to my father’s ear so she could’ve yelled at him to stop being ridiculous, to quit smoking, to do chemo and radiation, surgery. To fight the cancer.

“I’ll come and help you,” I finally said.
“Good. Maybe I can still teach you a few things.”

*

We worked for hours, measuring, sawing, sanding, nailing. My father told me that dead bodies shrunk, but you still had to allow extra space.  He told me that even though my Russian grandfather had lost both legs in WWII, my father still had to build him a full-size coffin, to honor in death what the man missed in life. And then I remembered my mother’s funeral and how long it took my father to pick out the interior upholstery for her casket. He wanted pure silk, and he wanted it eggshell-white, and he wanted it not-glossy. “Death gives meaning to everything,” he’d said. “It gives each living moment its beauty and its horror.” Before they nailed the lid, he held my mother’s face between his hands as though he were about to kiss it. She looked so beautiful, her features unharmed by the failures of her heart.

I pressed together two immeasurably-long boards while my father hammered nails into their sides. My hand jerked, and my father missed, cussing.

“Goddamn it,” he said. “Remind me again why you stopped playing piano?” He bent to pick up a crooked nail then tossed it on the trash pile.

“Do you remember what I was doing when I graduated from the conservatory?” I asked and passed him another shiny nail.

“Of course not. It was twenty years ago. You lived in Moscow, with your mother.”

“Mishka and I—we couldn’t find any jobs. We played in restaurants. Mid-90s. The collapse of the Soviet Union. No one gave a fuck about music. We ate hotdogs a year around.”

“When I die,” my father said with an impervious face. “I want you to play that piece you played when you were fifteen or sixteen. I loved it.  My heart sobbed each time.”

“The Chopin Nocturne?”

“Yes. So start practicing again, will you?”

Even as a child I rarely laughed at my father’s jokes. They were too grim, too absolute.  There was only one way to understand them—his way. But now, I actually thought he was funny, and I laughed so hard my ribs hurt. I loved my father to the point of pain.

 At night, my father choked with cough. I got up and made him chamomile tea, as my mother used to do, with a touch of honey and mint. He drank it obediently, letting me hold the cup to his trembling sweaty face. It was strange to see him like that, humble and weak, with a patch of grey hairs on his wrinkled chest. My mother had said that she would leave him once his pubic hair turned to snow.  She said she hated winter; she’d had enough of it in Russia.

I touched a tissue to his face and his chest, wiping the perspiration. And another one to his mouth; I noticed a smear of blood as he pushed me away. “Just don’t wipe my ass,” he said.

When my father went back to sleep, I groped in the dark until I found his cigarettes, then stepped outside.  In late May, the air smelled of grass and dirt. The night was breathless, a graveyard of stars above my head. My mother had compared them to dead souls. Now she was one of them. I lit a cigarette and stared hard at the sky, trying to guess which shiny cold thing was my mother.  I wondered: When my father died, would he too have to share the sky, the universe, with my mother? Would I have to share it with Nancy?

I blew smoke into the darkness. It’d been two years since my wife remarried. Our teenaged sons lived with her and her new husband in Brooklyn. Bob made promises he never broke. It was a beautiful thing. He insisted that most of his American friends were just like him—they kept their words. I was exactly the opposite.  I broke every promise I’d ever made—to my parents by promising to love them equally, to Nancy by assuring her that I would love her forever, to my children when I left their mother because I could no longer make love to her. I hadn’t seen my sons since Christmas, when I stayed alone with them in Nancy and Bob’s new beach home in Riverhead.  We ended up watching the water the entire week. They had adjusted. They enjoyed their stepfather’s predictability and their mother’s smile, which never left Nancy’s face when she was with Bob. My sons felt safe and nurtured, and I felt happy and heartbroken, which was like unrequited love—a confluence of pain and desire.

*

I had rescheduled all of my students’ piano lessons and taken a few days off at Brewin’ Around, a local coffee shop, where I worked when I didn’t teach. We had agreed to drive to Johns Hopkins hospital in Baltimore the next day because my father had an appointment with a pulmonologist at their cancer center. In the morning, he looked pale and listless. His habitual boisterousness replaced by a silent stare.  He hardly ate anything, but kept drinking coffee as though it was a magic potion that would dissolve his tumors.

When we finished eating, I loaded the dishwasher, packed our bags, and scoured the house for his hidden stashes of cigarettes. I checked all the closets, and under the beds, and inside the kitchen cabinets and the pantry, pulling out cans of soup and jars of pickles.  I emptied trash baskets and dipped my hand inside crockpots and vases. I ransacked all the shoeboxes and coat pockets and gloves, where he sometimes slipped the last cigarettes from a pack. I wanted a clean house, a fresh start for him. I was convinced that when we got back from the pulmonologist, my father would be scared into quitting.  I believed that a world-renowned specialist would have more authority in the matter, and his words, as well as his voice that I imagined low and firm, with a comforting softness, would impact my father in a way that neither I nor his family doctor could.

My father had never driven in America; he didn’t speak enough English to pass a DMV test.  In the past year, he’d depended on me to take him to the grocery store or the bank for the lack of public transportation in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

“It’s a dump, this town,” he said.

“I like it here.  It’s safe.”

“Of course it is. There are no people.”

“There are people.  And there’s JMU. It’s a good school.”

“It’s a dump.”

“O.K. I got your point. You don’t have to stay here. You can live in Brooklyn.”

“Also a dump.”

As we drove past the university, the impressive sprawling campus, my father was silent. With a cigarette stuck behind his ear, he reminded me of Mishka and our old conservatory days, when we used to bum smokes on the streets. We were that poor.  But also full of vigor and laughter. Mishka used to joke about our instruments, my piano and his violin, that they had tiny cameras built into them. They watched us all the time. He distrusted everyone, especially doctors, surgeons and anesthesiologists, because he’d been convinced that someone would implant a camera into his eye or ear and record all that he saw or heard.

I said, “Mishka died because he didn’t want to be put under.  His appendix ruptured. He was paranoid about doctors committing crimes.”

“Don’t blame him. Who knows what they do to you on that table. They could shove a finger up your ass—or worse—and you wouldn’t know.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“It’s true.  Your mother met Peter at the hospital.”

“Peter was on call that day. She had a miscarriage, and you weren’t there.”

“You weren’t there either.”

“I had to stay at home.  I was twelve. They wouldn’t let me come. But I was the one who called the ambulance.  I was the one who washed her feet and clipped her toenails that night because she couldn’t go to a hospital with such feet.”

“Your mother—a perfectionist.”

“You should’ve stayed when she asked you to.”

“I had to deliver a casket.”

“The dead can wait, but a baby—”

“What do you want from me now? An apology?”

“I want you to admit it.”

“Admit what? That she couldn’t have any more children because of me?”

“No.  That you allowed her to grieve so much, her heart gave out.”

“She was happy when she died.  She was married to Peter.”

“She never forgave you.”

“Maybe I haven’t forgiven myself. But you can’t know that, can you?”

The sun finally broke through the rags of clouds. My father pulled the cigarette from behind his ear and cracked open the window.  I gazed at the mountain ridges, a broken line weaving in the distance.

*

Last Christmas, when Nancy and Bob had left for their anniversary cruise to Bahamas and I stayed at their beach house, I grew restless. One night, while my sons were asleep, I crept into the master bedroom and rummaged in the closet and the chest of drawers.  I had no idea what I was looking for. I discovered that Bob wore briefs and argyle socks and that Nancy’s bras and panties had deeper sexier cuts, lace and pearly beads. I stuck my hands under a pile of her T-shirts, where she’d always kept her “pleasure” toys—a tiny rabbit with long vibrating ears or a rubber bear that shook its raised paws—and found nothing. I lay on their bed and buried my face in their pillows. I inhaled.  I imagined Bob making love to my ex-wife, caressing her body the way I used to. I imagined her holding his angry penis close to her cheek the way she’d done mine. I imagined my sons walking in on them, horrified by the smell and proximity of two naked bodies, all that heaving sweating flesh. I almost cried. I missed my wife, with whom I could no longer sleep, and I missed my children, with whom I could no longer wake up. For a moment, I even missed Bob, who’d made a promise to love my family and never let go.     

My chest swelled with longing. I wanted Bob and Nancy to be my foster parents and surround me with love and promises and the smell of just-baked turkey.  I wanted to try on Bob’s briefs and see if they fit, if my dick was bigger than his. I wanted to crawl under their bed and listen to them fuck, all honey-skinned and wild-eyed, with beach sand in their hair.  I wanted to know why Bob desired Nancy and I didn’t, the kind of things she did to him that she didn’t do to me. Half of me wanted to punch him in the face. The other—to get punched.

I left the next morning, a few hours before they were supposed to return. I’d made breakfast for my children—fried eggs and sausage and the left-over asparagus that would make their pee stink for days.  They tried to hug me in their teenage awkwardness, holding their pimpled virgin faces away from my sullen, scraggy one. They said: “We love you,” with the same lazy nonchalance they ate vegetables or played games or watched TV.  And I told them that I loved them too, more than they could ever imagine, my heart folding in my chest for the thousandth time since I’d left their mother. I thought how privileged they really were, born in this country, raised by three devoted parents, speaking English without an accent, never stumbling for words, not having to prove their worth to anyone.  I thought how they would never have or want to be Russian or Armenian, or anyone other than American, and that they would only have one life as opposed to my three.

*

My father and I had decided to spend the night in D.C. because my father wanted to visit the Spy museum and the Holocaust museum. When I asked why, he said that those were the two closest things to Russian and Armenian cultures: spies and genocide.  He refused to look at the monuments. In his opinion, there was no greater monument than a man’s life lived in honor and tradition.

The city traffic was merciless, and my father wondered when people worked. He also marveled how many people walked or rode bicycles.  In Armenia bicycles had replaced donkeys.

“We used to deliver everything that way—fruit, cheeses, even wine in small wooden barrels. Once I had to transport a casket tied to a donkey’s back,” he said.

“That’s ridiculous,” I said.

“Life is ridiculous.  Only death is perfect.”

We rode in silence a few more miles, patches of clouds and sun in the windows, when my father asked, “Remind me again why we’re seeing this doctor?”

“For a second opinion.”

“So he can postpone the inevitable?”

“So he can advise us on how to proceed.”

“How can one proceed if one only has a few months? Let’s get some Viagra and call prostitutes.”

“My mother was right, even on your deathbed that’s all you think about—sex.”

“I’m horny, I can’t help it.  My Armenian blood boils when I think of pussy. Yours should too.”

“Mine has been diluted by revolutions and snow. It never reaches the boiling temperature.”

“Funny. Is that why you left Nancy? You couldn’t get it up?”

“It’s complicated.  But yes, that too. I couldn’t get aroused,” I said.

“You could’ve found someone else to screw.”

“No, I couldn’t. I didn’t want to cheat.  I didn’t want to hurt her like that. I didn’t want my sons to find out and hate me forever.”

“Right. Like they don’t hate you now,” he said and began to cough. His ashen face tightened, and he gripped his chest, reaching for tissues.

“Are you in pain?” I asked.

“No,” he wheezed.  “Not compared to when your mother had left me.”  

As we were about to cross the Potomac, the traffic stopped, all six lanes.  My father lit another cigarette, and I pulled down the window and leaned out.  The Memorial Bridge appeared congested. The police cars on both sides flashed blue lights.  I couldn’t see anything else because of other people who’d stepped out of their vehicles, gazing into the clouds. A few people walked up the bridge, so I got out too.

Several feet ahead, I saw a tall man standing on the railing, towering over the mossy-green water.  Or maybe he just seemed tall because he’d dared to do such a thing—climb a fucking bridge and stop traffic. He wore a blue suit over a white shirt and had long black hair but no shoes. His feet loomed large and brown against the pale stone of the railing. The man shouted something, but I was too far away to understand it.

“Some crazy Indian,” a woman said. “He wants his land back. His tribe and his salmon.”

“How long has he been standing there?” I asked.

“I don’t know. For hours. Cops can’t do a damn thing, afraid he’ll jump.” She regurgitated a smile, and I felt sick to my stomach.

Walking back to the car, I kept turning my head, kept watching the guy’s hair mussed by the wind, kept noting the onlookers recording his act of defiance on their phones. I felt like a coward next to him.  I couldn’t have done such a thing. I couldn’t have argued. I couldn’t even tell my father that other than my last name and my eyebrows, I resembled him very little—in character or behavior. I couldn’t even tell him that I’d known about his many affairs or that my mother never stopped loving him, even after she’d married Peter. I could never bring myself to do that.  I could never admit to Nancy that what we really had was the Cold War: we observed appearances and exchanged courtesies, but the animosity, the misunderstanding seemed eternal. I couldn’t tell my children that Bob was a good man, a man who could keep a promise and they should honor that. I couldn’t tell them that I couldn’t visit more often because seeing them made me want to stay.

My father grew restless in the car, clouded in smoke. I climbed back in but kept the door open. I sprinkled water on the windshield, the wipers viciously smearing the dust.

“What’s the matter?” he asked. “You look like you’ve spotted a ghost.”

“Maybe I have.”

“Of the past?”

“Of the future.”

“No worries then.  I won’t live to see it.” He grimaced, his parted lips revealing his crooked nicotine-stained teeth.

*

He flew. The Indian.  A flash of his hair like a black feather against the milky sky.  Neither my father nor I could see it clearly, but the crowd and the police, all rushed to that side of the bridge.  They watched him fall.

I vomited on the pavement, and my father yanked a tissue out of the box and handed it to me.  

It took another hour for the traffic to start moving, but we had no desire to proceed with our plan and visit the museums. When we finally arrived at our hotel room, in saturnine silence, we didn’t want to leave it, not even for food.  We took showers and ordered in—roast beef sandwiches and tomato soup, which my father couldn’t finish. He said it looked, smelled, and tasted like blood. He stepped outside a few times to smoke while I watched the news, where no one mentioned the dead Indian.  But then I thought that perhaps he didn’t die but turned into a fish and swam away. I was convinced they could do that, Indians. There was no death in their culture. I laughed because my father would’ve been out of business had he lived among them. But he would’ve still made caskets because work gave him pleasure while mine brought me sadness, a nugget of dissatisfaction, a realization that I could’ve been so many things but remained what I was.

When my father returned, he said: “Goddamn that Indian. As though one death could prove anything.”

“One life can’t prove anything either.”

“The hell it can’t.  Your Armenian great-grandfather.  He was a pastor. He led his people through the desert.  He gave them hope against all hope.”

“It was his duty,” I said. “To resurrect Jesus in every prayer. Otherwise, what’s the point?”

“The point is that you believe that you’ll survive, and you will.”

“Then believe that you’ll survive.  Let’s start the treatments.”

“Let’s go to bed,” he said and turned off the bed lamp.          

That night, I dreamed about the Indian, who walked into the room and sat on my bed and touched my forehead with his enormous thumb. In the darkness, all I could see was his smile, two rows of healthy bone-white teeth. He leaned over, his face so close, his teeth rubbed against mine.  He had fish in his hair and a drum in his hand. He pressed the drum into my naked chest, and I felt my heart beating wildly against the scuffed hide. The moon walked out of the cloud, allowing me to glimpse his face, which was so much like my father’s—dark, proud, with impressive brows.  I touched his cheekbones and felt stories folded into his thick lined skin.

When I woke up, my father wasn’t in the room. His shoes weren’t by the door, his clothes missing from the hangers. In the bathroom, I discovered bloody tissues wadded into the basket. It was almost nine, and my father’s appointment in Baltimore was at three.  At first, I thought that he went out to smoke, but when he didn’t return in twenty minutes, I called his phone. It rang in the room, stowed in his bag, which sat next to mine. I felt helpless. I had no idea what to do. I couldn’t call anyone, and I couldn’t file a missing person report, not until tomorrow.  It seemed ridiculous to wait that long. It also seemed out of his character to just disappear. I told myself that perhaps he’d gone to get coffee and was lost, had no phone, and could’ve forgotten the name of the hotel. He spoke poor English and knew no one in the city.

I rode the elevator to the lobby and asked the receptionist, who shook her head in response.  I talked to a few doormen, one of whom remembered an older coughing man dressed in all grey catching a taxi, but he had no idea where the driver took him. On the streets, I walked empty-minded and heavy-hearted. I replayed our conversations in hopes to determine my father’s trail of thoughts, which could lead me to his whereabouts.  He’d talked about the massacred Armenians, and I’d talked about the available cancer treatments. And he said: “What for? Why do you want to prolong my misery?” And I said: “Because you’re my father. Because there’s no one else.” And he replied: “Is that why you chose to live with your mother when you were a teenager? Is that why you left me?”

Finally, I stepped inside a restaurant and sat at the bar. The TV was on, and at first I didn’t pay any attention. I ordered coffee and sourdough toast.  And then—a shot of vodka. I heard my mother saying in her mournful voice: “Way to go, dear. How Russian of you.”

“I’m Russian,” I said out loud, and the bartender said, “Oh, yeah?”

“I’m Armenian too. My family survived the genocide.” I dumped the vodka into my throat, frowned, and smelled the bread.

He nodded. “I’ve heard about it. You need another vodka?”

“Cognac. For my father.  He left me.”

“Sorry, man. How long ago?”

“This morning.”

The bartender laughed. “You’re funny.  Didn’t know Russians could be funny. Your people are kind of grim. Don’t blame them. The hell you had to crawl through. Putin—he’s worse than what’s his name?  The guy with huge mustache?”

“Stalin.”

“Yeah,” he said and poured the cognac. “Shit, man.  Would you look at this.” He pointed at the TV. “Some crazy-ass dude is on a hunger strike in front of the Turkish Embassy.  He demands the Turks acknowledge the genocide. Isn’t that odd—you were just talking about it?”

I swallowed the cognac, left a fifty on the counter, and ran out of the restaurant.

By the time I arrived at the Turkish Embassy, a crowd had gathered. Reporters, cameramen, police, ambulance, sympathizers.  The traffic slowed, and the cab driver let me out on the opposite corner of the street. I gently maneuvered my way through a beehive of people until I was confronted by two policemen, who asked me to show my I.D. when I told them that the protestor was my father.

“Did you know about this?” they asked.  “Is that why you came here all the way from Virginia?”

“No. Of course not. I drove him to see a doctor.  He has lung cancer.”

“So he tricked you? He planned this and didn’t tell you?”

“I guess.”

“He’s been saying something for almost an hour.  Can you tell us what it is?”

“Not sure, but I’ll try.”

They let me pass, and just steps away I discovered my father sitting cross-legged on the pavement, right under the Turkish flag. It snapped in the breeze like a bloody tongue.  For some reason, my father had taken off his shoes, exposing his shriveled vein-streaked feet. Also on the pavement, right in front of him, someone chalked ARMENIAN GENOCIDE 1915 in large bold letters I didn’t dare to cross. They resembled bones against the dusty grey asphalt.

My father stopped chanting for a moment and waved at me. He looked thin and stern, haggard, darkness in his eyes.  

“What are you doing?” I asked as I approached.

He raised his head. “I couldn’t sleep, but I figured out why we came to this country—to protest.”

“To protest?” I almost screamed.

“Yes.  When we protest in Armenia, no one hears. We can’t protest in Turkey because we’ll be thrown in jail or clubbed to death. But here—people care about horrors and torture and racism.”

“It’s only news. Tomorrow it’ll be replaced by the next great thing, a new horror.”

“Maybe.  But today and every day until I die and begin to rot on this pavement, the world will listen.  More people will listen.”

“Do you know how crazy this sounds?” I asked.

“And do you know that when Armenians were forced to leave their homes, they weren’t allowed to take anything with them—no food, no clothes, no water? So they swallowed their jewelry to sell later, when they’d cross the desert. After the massacres, the Turkish villagers roamed for days among those thousands of stinking corpses, slitting their guts, digging for gold and diamonds.”  

He retrieved a folded paper from his jacket.

“Here,” he said. “Read it out loud. I went into a lot of trouble translating it from Armenian.”

He coughed and coughed and coughed. I saw blood in the corners of his mouth.

I held the paper in the palm of my hand.  I hesitated. More people gathered around us, more police cars, more cameras. Several boys snapped our pictures; a few raised their phones overhead. I wondered if they could hear and record our conversation, if someone could understand our choppy broken speech. Half of me wanted to call my children and say: “Don’t believe everything you read or hear. I haven’t left you.  I could never leave you.” The other half wanted to let them go, to let them be Bob and Nancy’s kids, to let them never eat borsch or read Russian novels or talk about the Armenian Genocide.

I finally sat down next to my father, cross-legged, unfolding the paper.  It was a poem by Grigoris Balakian, “Lullaby on the Way to Zor.”

Oh, lullaby, lullaby, my baby, lullaby,
Expelled they’re taking us toward Zor,
You don’t have a cradle for me to rock you,
To give your little body a rest there.
My helpless orphan, we’re left in fate’s
Cruel hands, ridiculed by all,
I found a dirty rag as swaddling clothes for you,
Black grief gnaws at my heart, the fire of my life.

The poem had three more stanzas, which we read together, in rattling accents, each stanza louder than the one before. When I paused to look at my father, he seemed to have frozen on the pavement. His skin ashen-white, his hair too, his enormous hands as though carved out of ice, everything except for his eyebrows, like an extended bridge, connecting one’s past to one’s future, joys to sorrows.

Half of me wanted to climb the railing, the other—to walk away.    


Author Bio: A Russian-Armenian émigré, Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Hollins University. She has published over thirty stories, some essays, and poetry.  Her work appeared (or is forthcoming) in Gulf Coast, TriQuarterly, Flyway, Slice, Prairie Schooner, The Bellingham Review, The Southern Review, Bayou, Rosebud, Nimrod, Arts & Letters, Confrontation, and elsewhere. Her short fiction was selected as a finalist for multiple awards, including six Pushcart nominations. Kristina is the winner of the 2013 Katherine Anne Porter Prize for Fiction and the 2015  Tennessee Williams scholarship from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Her debut novel, Not to Be Reproduced, was shortlisted for the 2016 Dundee International Book Prize.  

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