At first it’s like a regular evening. Not that that’s a good thing, but at least you’re used to it. You sit on the chair next to your mom. Your granny’s called four times already: to ask if your mom had locked the door in the summer house when she last visited a month ago, if the gas there was off, if the garage door was closed and if your dad was home already. Your mom is in one of her usual tired mood. You pretend you’re watching whatever Mexican soap is on, but you’re really waiting patiently until it interrupts and the Mycko trucks come.
The bright lights that slowly sparkle all over the trees and across the vast fields of snow and darkness. The pleasantly bumpy feeling in your belly. Your own restlessly flapping feet. The unfamiliar idea that everything is good in the world. The flying magic all around. Safety. Promise.
Duru ruru ru…la la la la…always Coca Cola!
It’s the nineties. Most apartment buildings have flushable indoor bathrooms. There’s no Cartoon Network yet, but Coca Cola commercials have reached Latvia and as far as you’re concerned, you’re going away with one of those trucks. As soon as you can make that leap.
Yes, they’re really Coca Cola trucks. But your mom recently re-named them Mycko trucks. What she actually said was that they were Maigums trucks, which is a locally popular white candy-cookie thingy that your granny used to give you back when you lived with her. Your favorite. Your mom said Mycko while smiling at you. Which she never does, so you remember.
The promise. The safety. Everything is good where those brightly lit trucks go, accompanied with that addictive jingle that makes you feel somehow warm in an entirely new way, like you believe people on the streets are smiling at you and that boy who’s sitting next to his dad in that truck on TV – you can actually believe that boy is not a boy but a girl and that girl is maybe you. Like that time in the summer house when you went to the beach with your dad early in the morning, before he got drunk, and you had to wait while the passing trucks were gone. The country is free now, the export-import trucks are everywhere. Trucks come and go right past your summer house that’s on the Estonian border. And then it ends. All is silent again.
The doorbell comes.
Your mom gets hesitantly up.
It’s not good anymore. You can feel it even before she opens the door and you smell the familiar stench.
You take one of your long brown pills and hide out on the snowy balcony. You slouch down on the icy floor even though it’s so cold that your hands go pink instantly. You’re small, you don’t know any better.
You’ve no idea. You don’t know nothing for sure yet. Both of your feet can still fit into one of your mom’s shoes. And when you’re home alone – which is a lot now that you don’t live with your granny anymore – you wear your mom’s T-shirts as evening gowns. That’s how small.
It’s the nineties. The times are strange, even though you can’t grasp how strange exactly. You remember overhearing something about a big wall in Berlin that’s now gone. They said it’s going to be a new era. Things will be different. Then there were the tanks and shootings and the independence from the Soviet Union. Then they said it’s the end of an era, shit is over now. And then your parents cried when some guy named Freddie Mercury died. Now it really is different. All the letters and titles on the shops are in Latvian and not Russian, so you can’t read nothing no more. You don’t understand what’s going on. While all they do is quietly drink in the kitchen. Beginning or end of an era.
The only thing you can think about daily is leaping.
You exhale, letting out a big frosty cloud that spreads out in front of you, and that’s when you start hearing it again…duru ruru ru…la la la la…that beat, the jingle, the lights…something magic in the night…la la la la la la la…the Mycko trucks are coming all the way to your ninth floor balcony. You squint and hold your breath. The trucks are almost here, right beside you. It’s time to leap. Time to get on top of your mom’s cupboard and jump over the icy railing.
Make the leap. And finally go away in one of those brightly lit Mycko trucks.
You blink away the tears that fill your eyes and crawl all the way up on the cupboard and look down. Nine floors down. Very white and soft all the way down there. The big bare tree looks like a tiny spider web from here. You wonder how far it is if you miss the trucks and fall down. Would they miss you? Would they cry like after that Freddie Mercury guy? They say there was a drunk who fell out of his kitchen window in your building. They say he leapt so well and landed so limp that when they took him to the hospital, he only had a few bruises. Could’ve been your dad, for all you know. He’s always drunk and he knows how to leap very well.
All you see him do is leaping.
Every night that doorbell comes, mom pulls out her slippers from under the chair, peeks through the tiny hole in the front door, the door opens, a long cold breath comes in and then you smell something else. All is quiet. Nobody yells or talks. She just sighs, takes his coat. And then he leaps. Usually right there on the grey hallway linoleum, or a few steps forward into the kitchen. Once he leapt right into the bathroom and fell asleep hugging the toilet seat. That made your mom ever more tired.
You live in a nine floor Khrushchyovka. The walls in your apartment are covered in sand colored wallpaper with a pattern that if you turn your head diagonally right remind you of tiny Christmas trees. All the patterns in all the Khrushchyovka apartments you’ve ever been in remind you in some way, or bent of head, of Christmas trees. Also all the walls in all the Khrushchyovka apartments are so thin that you can hear the neighbors watching the Coca Cola trucks, sneezing, yelling at each other. Nobody yells in your apartment, though. It’s always silent. It’s a one room apartment with a separate kitchen where your parents have a fold out couch – though you think it’s a real bed, it’s never looked like a couch since you moved in.
You haven’t lived here long. Only a few months, you think. Although, you’re so small and confused and know nothing for sure, it could be more than a year as well.
Before that, you lived with your granny. Nobody yelled there either. Nobody talked to nobody, in fact. Granny smiled and made you food, gave you those delicious egg-white Maigums, and she was always home when you came from your kindergarten. But that’s all you remember. Nobody else was ever there, or talked to your granny for that matter.
Also, nobody drank.
Now they drink.
Your dad’s the best at leaping but your mom drinks some, too. There are no nightstands in your apartment – it’s the nineties in Latvia, they’re not invented or manufactured or created or whatever yet – so your parents have two tall bookshelves on each side of their pulled out couch that you believe is actually a real bed. There is a smelly bottle and a sticky glass behind a book on every single bookshelf. You know because you sneak in on weekend mornings – you really come in to wake them up but it has never worked – so you look around, you see everything that’s left from the night before. And from the night before. And the night before that. There’s a thin blanket that’s being used as a curtain but it’s not that dark in there. It used to be your blanket when you were even smaller. It has a pale brown bear in one corner. But now it’s bottle-smelly and hanging on the window.
It was better in the summer when you took the train to the summer house. You spent days at the beach, sinking your feet and hands in the hot sand, watching the waves and also waiting for the export-import trucks to pass right outside the living room windows. But then there were times when granny came and mom went tired. Did you add salt to the soup? Why? Best to do it last. Did you clean the chimney? Yes, we do it every night. Did you wash the windows? Well, better to do that before the rain season starts. Why is the doormat not straight? What’s this sponge doing in the shower, it’s for dishes only? Whose sweater is hanging on the red currant bush, that’s no place to hand laundry?
You spotted the first smelly bottle with a sticky glass behind a book at the end of the first week in the summer house.
Now it’s about everything. The country is free. The government is the same. People have little salaries. Politicians steal. The boss doesn’t speak Latvian. Your feet are growing too fast, every month they need to buy you new boots and the imports are expensive. The prices for Russian cheese and vodka have gone through the roof. Poor demand for work. Nobody needs a sculptor or an architect. Your dad is still pretending to be working; only now he sculpts nude women, which initiated your mother’s tired moods. Your mom no longer draws house plans either, she’s taken a job in a bookstore, selling Latvian dictionaries to Russians who want to stay and learn. But the government is corrupt, there is no clear law, people are too lazy to change.
The big nation will always feed the small nation, that’s what they say.
Always remember that, kid.
Important to know important things before you make that leap in life.
Your parents drink casually, the smelly bottles always hidden behind the books, so nobody will come for you. Not even your granny. Everyone smiles and eats boiled potatoes with breaded pork cutlets and white flower sauce for Christmas and Easter. Everyone chews quietly. Nobody yells, and for the most part nobody talks either. Then you grow tired and go to bed. Then they’ll pull the books aside and drink. Casually. Quietly.
Important to know how to do important things in life.
That’s how you need to leap, too. Casually, quietly.
It’s so cold you can’t feel your feet anymore. The long brown pill has worked finally and you’re experiencing a sensation that maybe you’ve already leapt and are driving away, on thin air, in the Mycko trucks. Far away, where the horizon of Latvia ends and the promise of happiness and smiles begins.
There was a time when they said they’d take your dad’s job away if he didn’t stop. So he went to the doctor for help. It’s the nineties in Latvia, there are no psychologists – they’re not invented or created or whatever yet – so he went to your regular family doctor, Mrs Goloshina. You know. You were there. There was quarantine in your kindergarten. Your tonsils were the size of two ripe tomatoes, so you had to stay quiet and stay home, or go wherever your dad would go. Keep your mouth shut, and we won’t get into trouble! Mrs Goloshina asked why he drinks. Your dad said it was the stress, no money, no work, big gas and heat bills, no food to eat etc. So she nodded and gave him a bottle of long brown pills, tranquilizers – somehow, despite the fact that it’s the nineties and they have no idea what they are, the tranquilizers have been invented and imported. Your dad asked if the pills would change all that. Mrs Goloshina smiled wisely and answered in Russian, she wasn’t completely fluent in Latvian yet – Citizen, take the pills and there will still be no money, no work, big gas and heat bills, no food to eat, but also there will be no stress. No reason to drink. She patted his hand. Next!
Your dad took you home and tucked you in, let those tomato tonsils rest for the day.
He took a long brown pill then.
He took a pill the next day as well. It made him smile. A familiar Mrs Goloshina facial expression, which on the third day made him so giddy that he decided to celebrate it with a bottle of Riga Champagne. That bottle wasn’t hidden behind any books. It was emptied that same day.
A week later, the long brown tranquilizer pills were lying on the ground under the fridge, your dad had leapt across the couch (or bed) and passed out and you saw the Mycko trucks for the first time on TV. That was also the first day you got interested in that smile. The oblivious expression of no stress that one of those nondescript simple brown pills gives.
You poke one of the nails on your bare feet and realize that you can’t feel either the nail or your toe. Maybe you should have taken more than just one of those pills. You jump off the cupboard, you need to get more for courage, and try to open the balcony door, but it’s stuck. Thankfully, your mom isn’t that drunk yet and she hears you knocking, knuckles nearly gone numb. When she pulls the door open and sees your purple skin, the messed up snow on the cupboard – probably acknowledging your initial intentions – she bursts into tears. She wraps you in her sweater, she draws you a hot bath, she swallows her own tears mumbling about how bad she’s been as a mother to you. She calls you her bear, her doll (ironically a brown bear and a dress-less doll are also your only toys). She kisses you on both cheeks, a sensation that either you’ve forgotten or your cheeks are still numb from the cold. She puts you to sleep, caressing your forehead like she used to a long time ago.
She promises to make things better for you.
Which in her limited small nation head means giving you an equally confused and small and not knowing nothing baby sister.
Important to know how to not do important things in life.
Years later, you grow bigger. So big that your mom’s shoes are still too big but now you can use her T-shirts as night gowns instead of evening gowns. Then you’re so adult that you learn about proper air transport and earn enough money to buy yourself a one-way ticket to somewhere far away, somewhere where the real Mycko trucks come from. Somewhere where drinking casually is an equally big problem as in your small one room Khrushchyovka apartment. But by then you no longer wait for that jingle, those faraway shining lights, leading to better horizons. Your magic now has her own two big shining eyes that look so deeply into yours that you cry, grateful you never made that leap.
Important to notice the important things when they’re right in front of you in life.
Born in Latvia, Julie Parks has lived all over the place – the US, Italy, England, Germany and currently Switzerland. Coming from a background of acting for film and theater she started writing scenes and plays back in school. She has contributed articles on business and culture to The Baltic Times, and her short stories have been published in Veto, The Quill Magazine, daCunha, New Pop Lit and also forthcoming in The Fear of Monkeys. “Cotton Candy on Alto Sax” won Jerry Jazz Musician short fiction contest last year.