Fuck, we were teens and it was tough.
I got my period before Jana despite being as flat and skinny as a birch tree, so yeah I bragged a little. Then Jana got hers soon enough, right on her birthday, and our country, the former Czechoslovakia, split. I told Jana her ovaries burst and cracked our nation in two, ha ha. That New Year, people danced a little harder as the snow dusted down the black sky. Janka and I were both sitting under the table, our heads touching the top when we sat up straight, so we hunched and chatted and snubbed at anyone who told us that we were too old to sit under the table on New Year’s Eve. All the adults were so involved with their own bodies, they danced with closed eyes, then Slavek’s papka plugged in the strobe light that Slavek had got him, and everyone swivelled around the thick rays of white and yellow and green and blue.
I climbed out from under the table and stood there, wanting to run around their legs like the Malá Narcis that I was. I could feel it swelling up in me, I could have even given my pee trick a go, but that stunt was old news. Janka climbed out and stood next to me. She pulled out her hand and I reached it and took it. We were anonymous pillars, standing the test of time.
I followed my mamka into the shared kitchen and stood behind her until she turned around. Her eyes flashed.
‘It’s not what you think,’ she said and began to feign rubbing a stain out of her dress, then stopped and looked up at me and said, ‘If you must know, your father is going to die.’ She took a breath and I kept looking at her, so she said, ‘He is ill and he’s going to die young and I will be left all alone.’ Her eyes began to heat up, then she grabbed her skirt again and began rubbing, like sparking the fabric against itself.
‘It’s awful, awful, the diseases that climb into your body and putrefy the organs. You think it can’t happen, or to someone else, or later, but it swells right up inside you, deep inside and makes room for itself until you’re wheezing for mercy—’ then she just stopped talking.
I knew what it was. My index finger was high and snug in my nostril, grabbing at something promising. She slapped my hand away from my face and screamed, ‘Don’t pick your nose when I’m explaining death to you! Bože na nebi, Zorka, you’re almost a woman!’
My nail scraped the inside of my nostril, and pulled out a ring of blood and some nose hairs.
My mamka looked at my finger, then at my face, then pulled me into herchest with a frantic grab, my forehead bumped into her collarbone.
Yeah, she was trying to hug me.
She began murmuring in her silky voice, ‘Please, please, please, my love … don’t be weird.’
She let go of me and walked back towards the party. At the doorway, she stopped, two men shouted her name at the same time. She bent her knees and shook her ass, holding the sides of the door, then propelled herself forwards and was dancing inside the strobe-light colours that were tearing holes into the room. Everyone danced like bodies being resurrected in gun fire. I licked the blood off my finger and told Janka to come dance with me.
Politics got full of wonder, miraculous even, not knowing what would happen. Other things, we did know. Like my papka who was sick. We bought a grave ahead of time. Still the world kept on folding and unfolding, creasing itself this way or that, borders, agreements, yeah I was showing off the scars on my body to Janka, like guarded checkpoints I snuck myself past.
Maybe I’m not telling it right. Or when I hear myself describing Jana, I get sorta pissed off about it, like that’s not right. I don’t know how to make it sound like how it was, for us.
She was solid, Janka. She was my best friend.
I don’t know what to do with History, the big one that belongs to all of us and my small one, like a keychain.
When I opened my eyes, we were already kissing. Maybe we were doing that the whole time. Janka’s tongue was strong, I remember. I thought, wow, so that’s where she keeps all her strength then. I remember it, strong, in my mouth.
By Yelena Moskovich
From VIRTUOSO (Serpent’s Tail, 2019)
Read The Queer Riveter in its entirety here.
Yelena Moskovich was born in the former USSR and emigrated to Wisconsin with her family as Jewish refugees in 1991. Her plays and performances have been produced in the US, Canada, France, and Sweden. Her first novel The Natashas was published by Serpent’s Tail in 2016. She has also written for the New Statesman, Paris Review and 3:AM Magazine, and in French for Mixt(e) Magazine.
Photo of Yelena Moskovich by Inés Manai