My Russian is a fragmented work in progress. I read my first book in my mother tongue since childhood last year. I seek out Russian movies with no subtitles. But I miss whole chunks of dialogue and reference. I can’t spell. It’s not quite a vestigial tail but close.

My father often sends me links to Russian poetry. Poems are easier for me than stories or books. He can recite many from memory. I can’t recite anything in any language. Rote learning was on its way out by the time I got to school. I envy my father this sometimes.

Boris Ryzhy’s life looked like it was coming up aces but he killed himself at twenty-six. Ryzhy means red in Russian. Like redhead rather than traffic light or Communist or Republican. Tumblr is a pretty outmoded site but I keep my account for a couple Brutalist architecture blogs and a few devoted to Russian memes and Soviet ephemera. It had to be one of the latter which posted one of his poems. I went into the rabbithole pretty hard. For a week or two this summer it was all Boris Ryzhy all the time around here.

I took a book of his poems to read on the patio of a restaurant down the street. It’s a place I know well. Back when I was a bartender the staff came in to see me after closing their place every Sunday. But now I didn’t know every server and bartender. Half didn’t return after lockdown so they had to hire new ones.

I didn’t even know what Lizzy’s face looked like since she was always masked. She asked what I was reading. I told her about Ryzhy. We’d talk books every time I came in. She was working on a play but was stuck. I offered to give it a read.

We met at a coffeeshop a few days later and I got to see her face. She liked what I had to say and the conversation was easy. I asked her over to sit for a portrait.

She’d never sat for a drawing before and said she enjoyed it. We made plans for her to come back. She’d been couch-surfing after a recent breakup so pinning her down to a day and time was a problem. Everything in her life sounded up in the air.

I didn’t hear from her a few weeks. Then she wrote to say she was in the Bay Area. Maybe she’ll pick up a little Russian out there and we can talk about Ryzhy when she returns to Chicago.