Maya Peregrusova drops the lemon into the samovar; on the stove, the kettle puffs like an old locomotive. In one movement, she switches off the kettle and cracks another egg against a pan. Long gone are the days when she would get eggshells into the yolk, or the yellow eyes would burst and she’d be forced to make a sloppy omelet; or she’d forget her apron and smudge grease onto her halatik --the one and only sun-dress she owns. The eggs easily slick onto the plate now- their bulbous centers intact.
Fedor is the only man she knows of in Krivoe Ozero, or Crooked Creek, who has his breakfast for dinner. It’s been this way, always, with little variation. She envisions the ritual: her tired, hungry husband thumping--no, not thumping. He’s no longer so sprite. . sprite--. Tottering. Maya envisions him tottering home from the farm, wiping his filthy palms against the doorpost. All how she’ ll scold him; how he’ ll pretend to ignore her, reference his empty stomach, and begin about some trifle concerning the rate of tomato growth, the neighbor’s qualm, rust on the rake. And she, like a marionette, will nod, “da-da, Fedya, da-da " Sweeping the earth he’d tracked inside. That she knows just as well as the quick, light draft of tepid wind that wafts past her and through the kitchen, bearing the scent of thunder. Then the sound of Fedor’s boots on the porch.
Smoothing her apron, Maya promptly places the plates with the eggs onto the table, then walks over to the calendar hanging from a nail on an unpolished cabinet, her jaw jutting out inquisitively. A few pages had flopped off. She turns them forward to September, 1 971 . In October, she’ ll be married for forty-six years. If her mother were alive she’d reach under the wooden counter and knuckle it three times for the good fortune.
Behind his wife, Fedor steps inside--and immediately wipes his right hand against the doorpost in the same habitual motion it takes Maya to prepare their meals. Though he sensed her disapproval without looking at her directly, knowing that mouth slanting to the right. Always to the right. Coughing, he brushes his hands against his overalls.
“Those need washing," Maya states, wiping the base of a mug with her forefinger. She pours tea for herself, and sets a riumka aside for Fedor to pour his vodka in. In the early days of their marriage she often hid the bottles. Once, she’d filled one of them with water, hoping Fedor would find it funny enough. But he became so infuriated at the taste ofwarm tap, he launched into a tirade, swung at her that night--barely missed--and, instead, collided his hand with the bed post as she fled into the washroom. She slumbered on a cot for two days, until he calmed. And so, now, Maya herself hands her husband his riumka and his bottle. Watches him wash his food down with that bitter heat, until it slurs his speech and plops his body onto the armchair in the den. Where he’ ll switch on the radio, then slouch sideways, mouth agape and snoring, to the incantation of little voices singing praise to Dedushka Lenin.
“Those need washing, “she says. More, now, to herself than to her husband. Thumbing in the loose silver strand that had escaped the kasinka wrapped over her head, and swung defiantly with each movement in front of her left eye. Curling his heels back, Fedor slips off his boots and lowers himselfwith a sigh into his chair--back to the shutters--at the table. He pours a drink into his pint. With his fork, he punctures one yolk, then the other--their yellow river floods his plate. Breaking off a piece of bread, he dips it in the ravine and slings it down in one bite.
“I saw the sky," he says blithely, swallowing dryly a chunk of crisped white. “It’s a fierce one coming."
Maya observes his glossy scalp bent over his plate from the rim of her cup. When they’d first met, he had a straw-colored mane.“I smell it now," she says, inhaling, “can you smell that?" She shakes her head, though she likes the sodden air, and sips her tea slowly in even lapses; thinking she’ ll finish churning the milk tomorrow. Suddenly, remembering they still have a bottle of Iva jam from when they’d visited their daughter in Moldova, she rises and rushes over to the cabinets behind her.
“Kuda ti l’ezish?--where are you prying?" Mutters Fedor. He observes her dragging a stool across the floor, and notes the jiggle in her middle. When they’d first met, she could wear a dog leash for a belt around that waist.
“Ah," boasts Maya, spotting what she’d been looking for; she climbs down from the stool with two short heaves. "See?" Twisting the top off on her second attempt, she takes a whiff from the jar, slicks out a sugary peel and dunks it into her steaming chai, lapping the tips of her fingers.
“Just what this needs."
“M’hm," Fedor states, fishing out limp bread crumbs in his plate.
Outside, a menacing cloud from the east billows closer toward the cerulean sky still at this end. Maya observes the narrowing contrast in her peripheral vision, attuned to the tall grass whipping against the wind. Upstairs, she thinks. The windows. She must shut them before the rain starts. Not yet, not yet. How it pacifies her to imagine the wind and rain screaming and pelting against their panes, while she’s safe inside--warm and dry! She will finish her tea in the thickening air, watching the draft regressing months on the calendar. Then she will rise to the occasion. But not yet.
“M’hm," says Fedor. More, now, to himself than to his wife. Patting his belly, he yawns wide and stretches for a long time, clamping tight his eyelids.
He had not latched the door behind him when he’d come in. Now he waits for it to burst ajar with the force of a good, strong gust that would jolt them both- and catch his breath in the most ferociously pleasing way.