Moscow but Dreaming

Chapter 2

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13. The Southern Sea (Mare Australe)

The Southern Sea is warm and shallow, and the beach is soft sand. Starfish wander through the lapping waves, and suck the mussels dry. Old people like this sea. They chase advancing and retreating waves and toss oversized striped beach balls, and then they sit on the sand and drink Pepsi from warm glass bottles. They listen to the radio and aggregate in small groups, talking and whispering, and casting sideways glances at each other. They laugh, throwing back their heads, their hands covering the grinning lips.

It is always the summer of your thirteenth year by the Southern Sea.

14. The Sea of Waves (Mare Undarum)

A weighty galleon would seem a toy atop these waves. The endless moonquakes shake its bottom, and gigantic waves, unconstrained by gravity, pound the shores.

Those who have perished in earthquakes and tsunamis make settlements here. Nobody forces them to, but many of the ghosts are unable to conceive of anything other than their own death. They stand and stare as the waves roll over the ground, swallowing their houses and oxen whole, poisoning their fields, ripping their life from them again and again.

Some move elsewhere, but there are always the new ones arriving.

15. The Sea of Nectar (Mare Nectaris)

The legends of this sea had long existed among the native folks, transmitted in fleeting whispers and shy glances from under lowered eyelashes. A few men, fed up with the stories, longed for sweetness on their lips—and sweetness was the concept only, for nothing on the Moon was ever sweet. Driven by the imaginary taste they could not fathom, they crossed vast empty plains and bristling mountain ranges. Many of them wandered into deep snow, a few more were crushed by falling boulders, one was sucked in by the mud, two released their grasp on their souls, three drowned, and one contracted diphtheria. All of them died, but continued on their way, unable to let go of what they could not even dream about. They reached the sea and cried, because the dead are unable to taste it.

16. The Sea of the Edge (Mare Marginis)

Here, the horizon is a razorblade, cutting the sky in two, and it bleeds at sundown and sunset. The cliffs are sharp, and the bottom of the sea is filled with jagged shards of broken mirrors.

Suicides come here, and wait in the piercing wind, looking at the precipitous drop in front of them. They imagine their slow fall and their flesh rent by the teeth of the universe all around them.

And then they jump. It takes a long time to fall on the Moon, and they see themselves reflected in the broken mirrors below.

17. The Sea of Cold (Mare Frigoris)

A long time ago, Emissary Togril sat by the shore of the sea and watched out of his slanted eyes as the sky lit up in streaks of blue and white, and the ribbons of color crackled and danced across the night. The light undulated and grew brighter, then faded and dispersed, like a drop of milk in a water bucket.

When only a faint glow remained of the former splendor, a weak phosphorescent shadow stretched downward. The air grew colder, and Togril smelled the spicy, sun-heated wormwood and tamarisk. The tentacles of light grew thicker, until white roads stretched between heaven and the lunar steppe.

Eleven columns of somber riders descended, their horses’ hooves clanking, just above the edge of hearing, on the solid milky surface. Their breath did not cloud the air, and their armor—intricately decorated over the breastplate—was made of green translucent ice.

The procession of the warriors showed no sign of stemming, and streamed onto the ground. A cheetah sat behind each warrior, their eyes glowing frozen gold, their pink tongues hanging out, as if they had just vaulted into their masters’ saddles after a chase. The leashes chaining the cats to the back bows of the saddles were spun out of thin links of the same green ice as the rest of the tack and armor.

The first rider approached Togril, and he flinched as a hoof caught him square in the chest. With a sharp stab of cold, the horse’s leg pierced his chest and exited through his back. His scream froze in his throat as one after another spirit passed through him. The passage of the spirits inflicted no bodily harm, except the cold that settled deeper into his bones, so deep that it never left. The Sea too had retained the cold of the passage of dead Persian warriors forever.

18. The Sea of Serpents (Mare Anguis)

It is well known that the serpents with female breasts are the deadliest of all. They raise their narrow poisonous heads above the water, and their breasts bob in the waves.

The travelers know to avoid these monsters when the snakes haul themselves onto the beach and sunbathe under the grey lunar sky. The blue sand of the beach bears the scars in the shape of the snakes.

When the snakes lay their eggs on the beach, they coil around them in a protective spiral, and wait for the sound of faint cracking. Free of their shells, the newborn snakes drink once of their mothers’ venomous milk, and swim into the sea. And woe is to the swimmer who comes across a mother snake who has just watched her brood disappear under the waves.

19. The Sea of Islands (Mare Insularum)

The islands that stud the calm surface of the sea, smooth as green glass, have long beckoned lovers and mariners. People looked at the round and oblong shapes rising from the sea, and dreamed of fragrant woods and glacial lakes, of buzzing of the bees suckling heavy roses, and metallic dragonflies perched atop nodding stems of lilies.

But the islands are really the humps of ancient monsters with leaden dead eyes and slow, rumbling thoughts. Occasionally, they whisper to each other in softest voices, but they never move or come up for a gulp of air or a taste of fish. They exhale cautiously, and the gentle waves raised by their breath lap at the shores of the islands. They die slowly, too shy to reveal themselves, their embarrassment the foundation of an exquisite illusion.

No matter how horrifying these monsters are, they know the value of appearing beautiful.

20. The Sea of Foam (Mare Spumans)

Everyone knows that when mermaids die they turn into foam, because they have no soul. On the Moon, however, every creature shares the fate of the mermaids.

The sea brims with multicolored bubbles, each of them reflecting all others for a short moment before bursting.

They do not visit graves on the Moon. Indeed, there are no graves at all. Those who tire of being dead blink out, and reappear in the Sea of Foam. Everything that has ever existed finds it way here, and the Sea of Foam contains, or will contain in a near future, all of the Moon.

CITIZEN KOMAROVA FINDS LOVE

The very little town of N. was largely bypassed by the revolution— the red cavalries thundered by, stopping only to appropriate the ill-gotten wealth of Countess Komarova, the lone survivor of N.’s only noble family. The wealth was somewhat less than the appropriators had anticipated—a ruined mansion and no funds to repair it. The Countess fled to the N.’s only inn, and the red cavalry moved on, but not before breaking all the windows of Komarov’s mansion and allocating it for the local youth club.

Everyone knows what N.’s youth is like, and by fall most of the Countess’ furniture was turned into firewood, and by mid-December the mansion stood abandoned and decrepit, and a turd frozen to its parquet floors served as its only furnishing and a testament of gloria mundi transiting hastily.

The countess herself, stripped of her title and now a simple Citizen Komarova, was used to poverty—before the revolution, she made her living as a piano teacher, but that winter, savage and bloody, pianos were turned into firewood, their strings now disembodied garrotes. In search of new means of genteel sustenance, she turned to seamstress shops, but no one was hiring. Nearing despair, she finally settled as a clerk in a consignment shop at the outskirts of N.

The owner of the shop, a man as old a he was ornery, let her rent the room above the shop, where the wind howled under the roof thatched with a ragtag team of tiles and shingles. There was a small and round metal stove, known colloquially as “bourgeoisie,” as indiscriminate and insatiable as its namesake: it burned books, pianos, furniture, twigs, and entire palmate fir branches, crackling birch logs. It gave back cherry-red heat that spread in waves through the room over the shop, and broke over the stained walls, much like the distant Mediterranean over its rocky shores.

Citizen Komarova thought of the Mediterranean often— these were the vague memories of early childhood and its naive surprise at the shiny, tough leaves of the olive trees, over the white wide-brimmed hats and mustachioed men on the beach, over the mingling of salt and sun; memories almost obscene in the frozen and landlocked N. It was the only frivolity she allowed herself, and only when the metal stove made the air shimmer with concentrated heat before it dissipated in the cold cold winter nights. Then, Citizen Komarova hugged her bony shoulders, wrapped in the spiderweb of pilling, black crocheted shawl over the spiderweb of wrinkles etched in her dry parchment skin, and rocked back and forth on her bed and cried. The rusted springs beneath her, wrapped in a thin layer of torn and colorless rags, cried in unison.

During the day, when she was done crying over her lost Mediterranean family vacation, she minded the shop downstairs. It was a single room, but much larger than her garret above it, and its contents ebbed and flowed depending on the fortunes of the citizens of N.

By the middle of January, the lone room, echoey just this past December, became stifled with all the things people brought in, hoping that Citizen Komarova would somehow manage to sell them to someone more fortunate, even though whose fortunes were good remained to be seen. There were leather-wrapped yokes the collectivized farmers managed to keep for themselves and now were forced to let go off by bitter cold and steadily declining expectations; there were books with pages forever gone to hand-rolled cigarettes and missing title plates. Chipped china, pockmarked kettles, knives, scissors, ribbons, baskets, and moth-ravaged furs. Whatever nobility survived in the environs had gravitated towards N., bringing with them heavy brocade and monogrammed silverware. Several fox skins, both platinum and regular, stared at Citizen Komarova with their ambercolored glass eyes from dusty corners. She moved between the shelves, adjusting this and that, and casually swatting at pottery with a feather duster.

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