The year of the radioactive boars, drills replaced morning aerobics. Boys wound through the schoolyard, marching mock-blasé and awkward. As the gym teacher barked a countdown, the swashbuckling tails of his mustache fluttered. The boys put on gas masks. Only Ilya fumbled, the rubber stuck over his forehead. A row of round lenses apprehended him as he doubled over laughing.
He saw that the fish swimming in his family’s tub disturbed me, and so repeated all evening, “There’s a surprise for you in the bathroom.” To get a bigger reaction, he slung it by the tail, its length rivaling his own: “I said, surprise!” His mother slid the fish into a pail on the kitchen floor, where it flopped and sucked at the vanishing water. Later she’d take a job in Russia caring for other people’s children. It’s years since I’ve seen them or written in the alphabet that is leaving me.
Boars rooted on sickly mushrooms in the forests of Europe, but in that town, the forest was gone, where men used to pocket amber by the fistful. They rummaged for it in secret, in pools ringed by tree stumps and mud. Ilya must be one of them now, grown and wading into cloudy water. While I sleep, amber light spins out his shadow to legendary size. The stones turn from him, lodged like, in the mind’s murky and sullen trough, a remembered thought.