The Most Excellent Immigrant
Mark Budman
Coming October 2022!
Pre-Order Available! 
Binding

 

 

ISBN 978-1-60489-334-2, trade paper, $17.95

 

 

 
 


Excerpt from Book:

Pillow 1.3

 

The certified interpreter of dreams and afflictions draws a green stick figure with a sad stub of a crayon. “This is you,” he explains to his granddaughter. The interpreter draws a smaller stick figure next, with an equally diminutive purple crayon. “That’s your kukla. Kukla is a doll in Russian.”

The girl repeats kukla obediently. She points with her finger. “Green hair. Purple hair. Very pretty.” She claps.

The stick hair is not quite pretty, but the interpreter never refuses a compliment from any quarters. “Do you want me to draw your sister?”

“No, no, no. Only me.”

“How old are you?”

“Two.”

“How old is your sister?”
“One.”

“But aren’t you twins?”

“Yeap. Twins.”

The interpreter is patient. That’s a part of both of his jobs descriptions. He draws another green stick figure, identical to the first. They are identical twins, so he’s not cheating.  Then he draws a much bigger figure, in black. The figure is mostly bald but has a luxuriant mustache. “This is Deda. Grandfather.”

He draws a horizontal line attached to the figure. “That’s Deda’s gun. To protect you.”

The twin’s mother, the interpreter’s daughter, is nursing the other twin in the bedroom upstairs.  The interpreter and his wife are babysitters, maids, cooks, laundry attendants, and chauffeurs at his daughter’s household. They spend five days and nights a week here and go home to Boston for the weekends.

The interpreter’s daughter comes back into the room, and the interpreter goes upstairs to his office, to his paying job. While his wife spends 100% of her time helping with the grandkids, he spends only 50% of his. He negotiated that much.

His daughter and her husband are generous enough to give him an office in their house to use over the weekdays. A powerful nor’easter paints the outdoors surreal white. The interpreter’s happy he need not drive. He’s happy the house still has power though the trees keep losing their limbs to the wind and heavy snow, and the wires could be next. It’s hard to operate a computer with no juice.

He puts on his headset and smiles into the camera. They trained him how to smile. Sincere and business-like at the same time. His bosses are strict and check on him all the time. Remotely, of course.

“Hi. My ID number is 555-123456. I’m your Russian video interpreter.”

He wears a business shirt and sweatpants. Since he’s seated at his desk, they only see his top half.

A few hours after the workday, in bed, he has one of his usual nightmares. He’s a doctor talking to a patient in her hospital bed.

“Do you know that they found you unconscious on the floor?”

The patient glares at him. “Of course, they found me unconscious on the floor. That’s because I was unconscious on the floor… Wait a minute… I know you. You’re not really a doctor. You’re an imposter…. I saw you in my nightmares. You’re the interpreter of dreams….”

In the morning, after sitting with the kids for a couple of hours, the interpreter goes back to work. Some of his patients are recent immigrants and haven’t learned English yet. Some are old-timers who have been in this country for ten, twenty years or more. Almost as long as the interpreter himself. They will never learn English.

The doctor tells him the patients’ names and the interpreter greets them in Russian.

Now, an old female patient is clapping in delight. “The man on the TV knows my name!”  She’s thin as a Popsicle stick. Her eyes are as dull as an old butter knife. Her hair is disheveled. Not pretty.

The interpreter is super patient. That’s a part of one of his job descriptions, though the word ‘super’ is only implied. He doesn’t want to get fired. At his age, he won’t find another job. He interprets the woman’s words dutifully but only in English: “The man on the TV knows my name!”

 The doctor doesn’t laugh. Though young, she looks tired. She might have little kids at home. Her babysitter draws stick figures for them. Her babysitter’s thoughts are somewhere else. It’s only a paying job for her.

On Friday, on his way home to Boston, the interpreter stops at a single-story antique store on Route 9 East, identical to every other antique store along the road. His wife is already home now. She took a train.

He’s never visited an antique store before. The interpreter has recently paid over two thousand bucks for removing two broken air conditioners and isn’t in the mood for spending more. He’s never been interested not just in antique stores but in any antiques. Period. What’s the point in buying a previously owned thing and paying more than the new one cost?

But this store grabs his attention. The gridlocked traffic is slow, so he notices that there is a bust of Vladimir Lenin displayed on a stand next to the door. He drives in the right lane, so it’s easy to stop. The interpreter touches the bust with his middle finger. It doesn’t look or feel like marble. Something cheap. Most probably terracotta. He can’t find the price sticker, so he goes inside to inquire.

Lenin wasn’t as bad as Stalin, who sent his grandparents to Siberia. A Russian historian Roy Medvedev estimated the number of victims of Stalin’s regime at 40 million people. In the interpreter’s family, Stalin stands one step below Hitler on the hate scale. Lenin sits several steps below, but the interpreter is curious.

Once inside, the interpreter changes his mind about asking the bust price or otherwise bothering the saleswoman. What would he do with the bust? Break it? Spit on it? Threw stones at it? No. Let someone else have it.

In the corner of the room, there is an emperor-sized four-poster bed, piled high with quilts and pillows of all colors of the rainbow. They all look appealing, but one of them, square, pitch-black, with flaming-red needlepoint depicting the Russian Imperial two-headed eagle, speaks to his heart. It looks dreamy as all pillows should, but most don’t. He doesn’t need it. Neither his daughters nor his wife needs it. As for the twins, their interests are unpredictable at their age.

He won’t sleep on it, he decides, but use it as objet d’art; in the room inaccessible to his granddaughters, of course, or they would take it apart before he blinks.

The pillow is only $49.99 plus tax. A bargain in the world of antiques, as far as he knows. He pays cash.

“Why do we need it?” his wife asks when he shows her the pillow.

A few years ago, when they had come to Boston from the semi-rural area of Upstate New York, they traded their four-bedroom house in the best part of town for the two-bedroom condo less than half as expansive but twice as expensive. They wanted to be closer to their married daughters who were by now old Bostonians. 

The condo is situated in a converted turn-of-the-twentieth-century mansion, currently subdivided into seven properties, each with a tiny parking spot, a luxury in overcrowded Boston. Their condo takes up a section of two floors at the end of the building, with the neighbors behind the thin wall and above the ceiling. The floors are connected by a black ironwork spiral staircase that took some time to get used to but that looks vaguely castle-like.

The interpreter loves to stop inside the staircase after a few steps up, when he can see nothing but the white walls, and hear nothing but his own breath, and to imagine himself a baron or a count rushing toward the waiting countess on a bed covered by silk sheets, in a floor-length silk dress, a countess whose face is covered by a veil but whose eyes shine through like two LED candles.

Once he talked about the stairs to one of the patients he was interpreting for. They were waiting for the doctor who had told them he would be back in a minute.

About ten minutes into the small talk, the patient, a woman a few years older than the interpreter, said: “You speak Russian like a TV anchor.”

The interpreter was compelled to return the favor somehow. He said the first thing that came to mind. He learned a long time ago that this was the best way to be social.  “The spiral staircase makes my house look like a castle in the skies.”

The woman laughed. “And I live in section 8, a subsidized apartment. It’s like the eighth heaven. Too good to be true, but still nothing like the regular seven heavens.”

Back Upstate, the interpreter and his wife used to be surrounded by the owner-occupied houses and had lawyers and doctors for neighbors. Now, the neighbors are primarily renters, mostly students. Unlike lawyers and doctors, they still have the strength to party.

“Why do we need it?” his wife asks when he shows her the newly acquired pillow.

 “Why do we need anything besides the basics?” 

“Don’t you philosophize with me.” She looks tired. Too many hours, days, and nights without sleep watching the twins.

“I’m not philosophizing. I’m trying to answer your question. It’s not the question of needs but wants.”

“Why would you want something that has no value?”

“It does have value. $49.99 plus tax. A bargain in the world of antiques.”

She closes her eyes. “OK. It’s your money.”

“It’s our money.”

The interpreter takes a pic of the pillow and posts it on Facebook and Twitter. He realizes that bragging about his purchases is childish, but he can’t help it. The pic was badly lit and ill-composed, but he got two “likes” on each platform.

He decides that the shooting angle is wrong. Rearranging the pillow, he finds a lump inside. He palpates it carefully. It feels like a box. He takes a pocketknife, cuts the stitches, and pulls out a small wooden jewelry box. It’s locked, but he Googles how-to, and picks the lock with two paper clips. It’s a simple lock anyway.

Inside the box, he discovers seven of the largest pearls he has ever seen. Deep yellowish-orange pearls, reflect his open-mouthed face.  He takes a ruler and measures them. 13 millimeters each. Probably would cost a fortune if they are natural. But who would hide faux jewelry in a pillow? From the kids? From the spouse? From the IRS?

$49.99 plus tax, huh. A bargain in the world of antiques.

He tells no one about the pearls, not even his wife, not his daughters, not his grandkids.

His wife would probably ask him to find the rightful owner, his daughters would advise to sell them quietly and put the money in the trust, and the toddlers would fight among themselves how to divide the pearls between their dolls. The interpreter puts the jewels back, hides the box inside the pillow again, and sews the pillow back as carefully as he can.

A couple of weeks later, the doorbell rings at his condo. There is an older man and a younger woman on the threshold. The man, stooped and sour-faced, looks hardly taller than his companion. 

But the interpreter’s eyes are caught by the woman. Her skin is the color of fresh milk with a good measure of blood. A diamond stud pierces her left ear. Her gaze probes the inner layers of the interpreter’s brain.  She oozes the charisma of a Hollywood starlet, a Twitter-savvy politician, or a real estate saleswoman of the month. Some could call it charisma. Russians call it simpatichnaya. 

Behind the couple, in the next yard, half-fenced and wooded, a beautiful bluebird is making an indecent proposal to his mate on a limb.  A flock of wild turkeys, including a gangly teenager, is watching. As all real Bostonians know all too well, wild turkeys and geese are common in this part of Boston, to the detriment of traffic, and the detriment of the street cleaners dealing with the bloody remains.

Whether or not the human couple is surprised by the wildlife of a metropolis, the interpreter will never find out.

The woman, who stands in front of the man, flashes a wide smile, showing off her shiny, sharp, exceedingly white teeth, extends her hand, and says dobry den’. You don’t need to be a certified medical interpreter who works with Russian patients to know that it means “good day” in Russian.