Gennady was on his hands and knees in his living room (such that it was) digging through a pile of yellowing newspapers, magazines, and pamphlets from all over the world, as well as a backlog of Sears and Radio Shack catalogs. Latin, Greek and Cyrillic letters flew through the air but not the letter he so desperately wanted.
Forty-five minutes ago Gennady had been flying through the air, too, and not in any figurative sense. He had been showing off for the kids at a bar on the outskirts of Albuquerque, teaching them how much a real Russian could drink. A few of the kids, some Zia Indian, some well-established Mexican, some newly arrived Mexican, openly professed their amazement as the old man put back a full pint glass of generic vodka. One Indian kid claimed not to be impressed, but Gennady knew he was.
Despite all the show, Gennady did not feel drunk as he was driving back to his shack in the desert. In fact, if anything, he felt more sober than usual, more aware of the stark beauty of the New Mexico desert, more appreciative of how the desert smelled of slowly smoldering sage. So, he was sure it was just peculiar and awful coincidence that he hadn't noticed that he had wandered slightly off the dirt road and right towards a mother and daughter who had been walking alone in the great expanse of desert.
He saw them just in time to glimpse their terrified, frozen eyes—round and dark like skipping stones—as his light blue Dodge Dart barreled towards them. He swung the wheel so far down he was scared for an instant the car would spin out into them. Instead he rocketed off the road, off a rise in the terrain and into the air. He felt the drop in his stomach as the ground ceased pushing up at him. When his car passed through the branches of a tree, he muttered to himself in Russian, “I'm dead.”
But with a jolt no greater than that of a plane making a clumsy touchdown his wheels reconnected with the desert and he kept rolling ahead into the dust. It was a few moments before he was able to make himself hit the brakes. He unbuckled his seat belt—which he used only a third of the time—got out, and looked for the mother and daughter. They were now far away, running from the scene, getting smaller by the instant. Perhaps they were illegals more afraid of unwanted attention than reckless drivers. Most importantly, they were clearly unhurt—at least physically.
He inspected the Dodge Dart and, though he had to clear some branches from the windshield, the car was undamaged. He looked up at the sky while the blankness of shock gave way to incredulousness. The sunset turned a string of clouds a particularly bright shade of violet. He wondered how a mostly dead God could still make the most unlikely things happen.
And that was why he was burrowing through the piles of paper that littered his house. He found five dozen credit card offers, discarded letters from a woman he dated in Austin, a two-year-old and unopened letter from a Russian in Nyack, New York, but not the letter.
He pushed through the plastic sheeting that he hung in his house in lieu of a door and into his bedroom. He descended again on achy knees to the floor to disassemble the mounds of words that all but hid his filthy carpet. Pravda, The New Art Examiner, Bild, Life Magazine, the Providence Journal, Omni, Penthouse, Zeitungsgruppe Koln, Native Sculpture Today, Moskovskiy Komsomolets, The Economist, but no letter from his son.
He hurried into his workshop, where once he had hoped to make either new sculptures or million dollar inventions, but had only produced tiny scale models of massive four-dimension-bending art installations he dreamed of building that now looked to him like cheap imitations of Alexander Calder. He lifted up the newspapers he had layered there over the years to prevent the melting plastic and solder from sticking forever to his work bench. It was an odd history of the last five years: articles from Munich about Waco, articles from Los Angeles about Helmut Kohl, advertisements from Kiev for 12 Monkeys and from New York City for Victoria's Secret, but still no letter.
He checked the kitchen and the deck where he kept his microwave to prevent the house from smelling like microwaved fish, he checked his closets, his junk storage room, and even his trashcans. Nothing. It was gone.
In the explosion that hurled the divine flesh of God throughout the universe, he now knew he was the excrement.
He sat on the wooden stair on the back of his house and felt vile. He looked up to the sky; the violet varicose veins of God were fading to a nighttime of black and points of white light. He thought of the tales he had told his son Alexander Gennadyevitch Gromov; creation myths, his attempt to understand how the communists could say God was dead when you could see him all around you. Perhaps he was both dead and everywhere? Alexander—Sashingka, Shura, Sasha—understood. Alexander understood every story Gennady told…or at least he did when he was a little boy.
But the guilt about leaving his family could never last for long without him viscerally reexperiencing how feeling like a miserable failure. He had returned to Providence in the late 80s to see if he could be a dad even if he was not married to their mother. He tried to give them advice, all of the time he tried, but at some point Stacy and Alex just stopped listening. And after the failure of his third attempt to wake up with Patty again and start repairing the damage he had done to his life, he knew it was all a humiliating, pointless mess. He felt he had to go.
He had been born in motion on a train riding tracks built in haste over the frozen Lake Ladoga. The tracks were a desperate attempt to relieve the besieged city of St. Petersburg where millions were and would die. Later, when his father died, like millions more Russians, as they were winning the war, he was sent to Kostroma. When he was a teenager and his mother died of typhus he talked his way to university in Prague; when he fled Prague, he found himself in Bonn and then, through a series on seeming accidents, he stumbled into the odd and depressed city of Providence where he met a pretty nurse named Patricia. Gennady had always been dust, the wind was blowing him away from Providence, and there was no point in trying to fight it.
But Alex was out there somewhere and a real man now. Gennady wanted to know him when he got the letter over a year ago, but he just didn't feel ready to open it. And then months skidded by…until tonight. That letter was the key. He did not know where Patty or any of his children were, anymore, and he knew no one who would know. The letter was his chance to start tracing back, to hunt down his family and see if he could be someone relevant again, someone who could inspire in them the wide eyes and amazement of the world available to anyone who properly understood it.
At that moment, though, he did not feel worthy of a cosmos of matter and magic. Was he keeping himself warm with delusions, he wondered? And at that thought his heart leapt.
He stood and peered into the holes in the walls where he had stuffed his excess paper for insulation. His neighbors had said he was making his shack into a tinder box, but he was not about to buy those expensive reams of ridiculous pink fiber glass. That was highway robbery.
But now, insulation be dammed. He pulled the old newspapers, and magazines and junk mail out from behind his mails and it fell in a soggy torn mess, until one comparatively unscathed letter in a plain white envelope fell to his feet. He grabbed it with both hands.
The return address was “122 Ripley Street, San Francisco” and it was addressed to “Dad Gromov.” He tore it open, creaking with joy, but his joy was short-lived.
Moments later he pulled the vodka out of the freezer and poured a small glass full. The sides of the glass steamed in the heat. Alex had been writing to tell Dad Patty had cancer and that if he loved any of them he should contact her. This was from over a year ago. It gave her contact information, but, he realized—his head spinning—Patricia could be dead by now.
He was excrement indeed, and not the divine sort.
He sat quietly on his back steps thinking about what to do. By the end of the third glass ,the despair was lifting. He was not the weak and muddled man he was five years ago, or ten or twenty—or at least he hoped he wasn't. He had his time in the wilderness and now that was over. He would reclaim his family, even if only his children were left (but he felt in his heart Patty could not be dead). He would find them all and fix things before it was too late.
He put on his reading glasses, pulled his phone out from under the rubbish, pulled the letter up close to his nose, and dialed Philadelphia.
All rights reserved.
The novel opened with a story told by Alex's father, now you get to meet the man himself in this short vignette.
For the next chapter (back to Alex) go to: http://fictionaut.com/stories/benjamin-matvey/x-chapter-13-speak