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Feature: Back From the USSR
Marina Rubin


they studied mathematics in downtown university, my brother boris and his classmate michael, a red-haired boy who wore a yarmulke and read judaism for dummies. they became friends, michael invited boris to a shabbat celebration. on friday before sundown they took a train to borough park, lit candles at the synagogue, recited a kiddush over a cup of wine, broke challah with the rabbi who called them moses and baruch. after dinner the boys came back to michael's place only to find his living room illuminated like a concert hall. michael cried he can't turn off the lights on shabbat, quoted the talmud, read excerpts from his judaism for dummies. my brother tried to fall asleep, tossing, turning, suffocating in the carnival of lights, while michael lay in the darkness of his bedroom praying for an answer. in the middle of the night on shabbat, the time of rest and meditation, moses and baruch, like burlaks on the river volga were pulling the enormous couch from the living room into a tiny bedroom



i picked a people-watching seat at a café across from notre dame ordered a cappuccino and a spicy chicken tandoori salad, went downstairs to the bathroom. when i returned my cappuccino was already waiting, together with a tall glass tube of some kind of a luminous substance. how fabulous i thought, a little something to cheer me up, a midnight aperitif, or better yet “la fée verte” the green fairy, in a land of Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec could they be serving absinthe as if it was pasteurized milk? i poured the mystery tonic into my cappuccino, gulped it down, amazed at its sophisticated slightly bitter taste, everything looked pretty. the homely french couple slurping on fat oysters and even fatter mussels at the next table invited me to join them in a ménage a trois, i wondered if i was already hallucinating. i motioned for my waiter to come over, pointing at the glass tube i asked in my most intimate conspiratorial whisper what is in it, oh that’s the dressing mademoiselle, your salad will be here in just a moment



i grew up among children of military. their fathers lieutenants and colonels picked them up from school in green overcoats and government cars. every few years they were stationed at a different army base, in bulgaria, hungary, or east germany. my friends always returned with erasers that smelled of strawberries and tangerines, Adidas suits and Nike sneakers, Bazooka Joes with comic strips, a phenomenon that never reached the counters of soviet department stores. in the fourth grade we were asked to share with the class what we wanted to be when we grow up. i stood in front of the blackboard, otlichnitsa, overhearing excited screams astronaut, scientist, brain surgeon. how could i tell them, the children of military, that what i really wanted to be was the wife of some general, not because i cared for men in uniforms, but because of the things, the Adidas, the Nikes, the pencils with little erasers on top, the yugoslavian bubblegum i could chew night and day, blowing white bubbles until they popped all over my face

otlichnitsa (Russian) – student with excellent grades and exceptional public service



i called the cellular support desk, asked them to turn off the text-messaging feature on two of the three phones in my family plan. an agent with a southern twang said she’ll be happy to assist me, adding how wonderful it is to see responsible adults exercising their parental control options, teenagers today are out of control, they don't read don't listen don't learn don't respect don’t clean, all they care about is texting and sexting. i clarified that the two phones on this account belong to my parents, not my children and they are kind of old country, still in the voicemail-training stage and use their phones mostly in supermarkets to call each other from different aisles, did you get five cloves of garlic, no? i could hear the grave disappointment on the other end, so i said you are absolutely right - teenagers today are a horror, my kid doesn't have a cell phone, not even allowed within a mile of that thing. by the time i finished my performance and hung up the phone i was so worked-up that i wanted to kill my difficult child



leaving morocco behind
the land of jellabas and yellow slippers,
mediterranean and atlantic oceans,
boarding the ferry for algeciras -
the port in the first town of spain,
the customs patrol dragged a boy by his legs
from the engine compartment inside our bus,
boarding the ferry, we saw him at the gates,
12 or 13, slim, in a beige hat, watching us,
contemplating a different escape,
what do we really know about morocco
or the heart beating against our engine



Marina RubinMarina Rubin's first chapbook Ode to Hotels came out in 2002, followed by Once in 2004 and Logic in 2007, the third book in the trilogy completed before the age of 30. Her work has appeared in PDQ, Timber Creek, Ilya’s Honey, Pearl, The SkidrowPenthouse, Asheville Poetry Review, Chaffin Journal, The Amherst Review, Urban Spaghetti, 5AM and many more journals. She is an associate editor of Mudfish. She lives in New York City where she works as a headhunter on Wall Street while writing her fourth book, a collection of flash fiction stories. Here website is


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