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Atlas & Alice | Issue 3, Spring 2015

Book Excerpt – Tender Eight years before I have sex with my voluptuous, sophisticated high school teacher, my mother gives me a Valuable Life Lesson. “A Russian girl will betray you to the fascists,” she says, having just extracted from me that I fancy my classmate Nadia with her blue eyes and blond hair. At age eight, I have difficulty believing that Nadia and her French braid are going to turn me in to the fascists when they invade. Even the idea of fascists invading seems preposterous and makes me question my mother’s credibility. The fascists were defeated long ago in WWII and are beaten soundly every night on television. “She will never understand what it is like to be Jewish!” says my mother. “She will always be a Russian national and will have a green light wherever she goes. She will marry a burly Russian national hoodlum, and their children will have green lights too. You will always have the red light. If given a choice between a Russian and a Jew, people will always hire a Russian. That’s what the green light means. You are a Jew, and you should marry a Jewish girl so your children will be Jewish and you will all have the red light!” This startling goal makes no sense. “Would it not be better to marry a Russian national so our children would have a green light?” I ask my mother. She gives me a sly, conspiratorial look, moving a little closer to me. I shift back a little, afraid to be smothered. “Half-Russian and half-Jewish girls are the ones you should date,” she whispers triumphantly. “This way after you get married, she will not betray you to the fascists, and your children will have the green light!” To control our class bully Vlad, Mrs. Zhukh has him sit at the same desk as me. Vlad lives on the second floor of the red building not far from the schoolyard, so close to school that I can see his apartment from my desk. All I need to do is stretch my neck a little and look out the window. When I do, sometimes I can spot a short, shapeless woman in a housedress moving around the kitchen: his mom. He has a mom. This is one of the few things I know about his life outside school. In the beginning of the third grade, after disappearing for a week, Vlad unexpectedly hops into the classroom on two crutches. His right ankle is in a heavy gypsum cast. Rumor has it he jumped out of his apartment window to escape some domestic trouble. His crutches are not slowing him down a bit. During recess he moves around stealthily, with dizzying speed, swallowing the length of the hall in two or three seconds. You think you just saw him at the far end of the hall, but before you know it, he is standing menacingly right next to you, propped up on his left leg and two crutches, his right ankle in a cast, his right knee bent, his leg dangling. “Do you have a quarter?” he asks. Vlad never takes off his school uniform pants, which are much too short with ballooning knees. Fall, winter, or spring, his bare, unclean, and sockless ankles are visible. It dawns on me that these are his only pants. In September, all 36

Profile for Atlas and Alice Literary Magazine

Atlas and Alice Literary Magazine  

Issue 3 | Spring 2015

Atlas and Alice Literary Magazine  

Issue 3 | Spring 2015

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