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For Gentle Maii

Maii was a different one, she had lights in her eyes and masses of dreams she said she couldn’t explain. She didn’t talk too much but her eyes said a lot. She was a part of this world but also another creature entirely. I woke to her screaming one night, her eyes were wide awake, she was breathing a million miles an hour, but her hands were unclenched, smooth, relaxed, draped over the side of the bed like an angel, a sacramental dream, or something. I don’t remember what she said the dream was about.

I´d come to Georgia because I needed a change, I don´t really know what I expected to find, I just kind of ended up there. My life had been going nowhere, and I hadn´t been happy. It was an ancient world with ancient traditions, remains of castles and cobblestone streets, covered by grapevines, dry grass, and storms from the mountains that never reached the city. I imagined Turks speaking in the archways, but really there was just a lot of traffic and people doing their thing.

When I met her she was begging, asking for pennies on the street. She was just getting old enough that people didn’t feel sorry enough to give her money. She was at the stage of selling useless crap or pretending like she was decrepit in widow black. On the metro with about 5 million people she looked like she did not belong in the least. Her hair was done up fashionably, wrapped around the side of her head black and straight, and at the same time tangled as all hell. I kept looking at her but she didn’t meet my gaze, aloof, didn’t seem to really give a damn about any of us.

I got her attention finally as she was switching cars, telling her she had dropped her bag. Her eyes lit like fire and flashed across my face. It silenced me, brought me back. But her black dress swayed and I stepped forward, asked her name, told her a bad joke (she didn’t laugh at all), and I asked her to come eat with me. She saw a perfect opportunity and of course complied.

Later on I got drunk enough, she never left me, to offer to get a hotel. Into the room I tried to make small talk, told her she had beautiful hair, danced when she walked, all that kind of thing. She was completely untaken by it, slipped close to me, put her hand down my pants, my breath shot it, she was amazing, she smiled for the first time that night, mysterious and sincere, I was blown away by how beautiful she was in the half light.

Later on she danced for me, it was like nothing I’d ever seen. I danced with her awkward and clumsy, there was a group playing in the bar next door, it was the farthest thing from dancing music you could imagine. She smiled then too. I paid her while she lay dark and unfolded next to me in the bed, her arm draped over mine, her legs spread comfortably open, she’d done this before, there was none of the virginity queen matriarch crap that the Georgians held so dear. Maii laughed at my awkwardness. She took the money mischievously, kissed me on the lips full and long and with a hotbed of desire, laughed like a girl, jumped up and left.

I found my wallet missing the next day, knew exactly that it would happen, held nothing against her and laughed because I’d put my money card in my shoes. She had my library card, I went to the café, asked around, found out where they stayed. I really didn’t give a damn but a library card was the best excuse I could come up with to try to find her again.

When I came to the camp I was kind of thrown back. There was trash in the streets and the buildings were dilapidated and worn down. I don’t know if the buildings had actually been like that for years when they moved into them, or if the buildings were built new for them and they managed to let them go to pot so fast. They would have had to actually go at them with sledgehammers I think.

I just said fuck it and went for it, walked down the street before I looked like a housing developer, or desperate broke bloke, or something funny. There was no other way to go about it. Suddenly the whole camp was quiet. The kids just looked at me. I didn’t think I was dressed all that well, but apparently I stood out. I got about 20 meters into the place when I was surrounded by about 10 large, stone faced men wanting to know what the fuck I was doing. I had no idea what I was doing there. I just wanted to see her, I couldn’t get her off my mind.

When I tried to explain, they either didn’t understand me or else didn’t want to. When I saw what I’d got myself into, it was too late. They beat the shit out of me and took everything but my shoes. I was walking back broken and buzzed. I bought a pint of vodka and tried to forget a little, sat on a little hill overlooking the place and figured they wouldn’t care enough to bother me so I could rest a little.

I could hear them laughing down below, someone was playing an accordion. It was really pretty, rough, but pretty. Maii came out of nowhere, she was wearing green like the trees, out of place otherwise. She saw me all bloody, burst out laughing hard, aloof and as if she didn’t belong there as always, and walked on. My heart stopped, I tried to say something, gave up and got up to walk home, freezing in the rain. When I got around the corner she was there again, gave me an old coat, kissed me on the cheek, never really looked me in the eyes, not really even tender, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Maybe the day wasn’t so bad.

I saw her off on and on for the rest of that year. She was magic, she was fire, a dark angel, a dancer, not really a dreamer, just sure of herself, absolutely beautiful. We had nothing in common, what she told me was all bits and pieces. Her dad was a merchant one time, a soldier one time, a traveling circus man, whatever she thought I might believe. She showed me how to sing some songs, some words in her language, I taught her how to curse, it’s pretty easy in English, one or two words will suffice. The only time she ever lost it completely was when I made a joke about the mother she wouldn’t tell me about. She was like a child, and sometimes the strongest woman. She was my friend and I loved her fiercely. We got wasted on vodka, got kicked out of more than one place, I lived in the woods with her sometimes, my clothes got old, I sang a lot. I still never got to know who she was.

One day she just disappeared. I went to the camp and they were gone, not a trace. She hadn’t said a thing to me. I’d seen no lasting sadness in her eyes. No sorry goodbyes. Her eyes had been dark and impenetrable as always. Sometimes I like to pretend that she was a Martian, she fit in about as well. I miss her, she’d taught me to live. She was on my mind a long long time.

I moved to Russia, there was no revolution there, it was cold snow and ice. The nights left you too much time to think. I don’t know why I went, I hate the fucking cold. There was a little bar where you could get cheap vodka, and there was sometimes live music, I went there a lot. I met a girl there, my first and only internet hookup. She was older than me, had a husband, never told me, was tall and blond and pretty, but there was no love. She pretended like she was hard to win, but there was never any waiting and no mountains to cross. I tried to give her my heart, she never gave me hers. Maii had given herself so freely, but was never one I could catch, or name. I know that wherever she is she moves others like she moved me. You couldn’t look away, darkness drew you in.

In the streets of my own country again I felt utterly and completely alone. The dust drew me and the water didn’t wash it away, just turned into mud. I remembered the girl I’d left so long ago while I loved her, I remembered my friend I was too shy to meet her advances in high school, I remembered wasting my time building roofs and the chemicals of my mind turning the meth I was smoking into the taste of a woman’s lips. I bet all those roofs have been replaced by now, long past the 15 year warranty.

So I walk on, I move forward, my friends live in different worlds, I have no one anymore. I’m thinking of you, you go with me where I walk. The lights still sparkle in the cities, I bet you can see them from the sky. It amazes me when the whole city goes dark, loses its power, becomes what it always was, a part of the earth. For you, gentle Maii. For the rest too.


Joseph Carney grew up and spent most of his life in Springfield, MO. He hasn´t lived there for a while. He teaches and writes.  


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