Inside, a stuffed lynx stood on its hind legs, holding the Russian flag. I followed the music somewhere from inside the house, the furry white carpet drowning the sound of my heels. A stuffed Labrador. A stuffed gazelle. Eva and Husband were in one of the living rooms on the first floor, arguing. I stayed in the hall, pretending to admire the minimalist art in ornate, gilded frames. A giant slab of marble leaned on the wall. Engraved on it, Husband was standing with his legs apart, wearing a suit and looking all business. He wore a heavy gold chain instead of a tie, and a massive watch. Both were worked in gold. Whoever made it even took the effort to engrave “Rolex” in tiny, tiny letters. In the background: the black gelding and Eva in a short, tight dress. The thing must’ve weighed half a ton.
Russian student works her way through college via the oldest profession. I was a little disoriented at first, took me a while to figure out Russia since all hooker stories are basically alike. The jokes serve the function of distancing: “I couldn’t really imagine how people coordinated 12 limbs and three genitals…..It’s basically like twister.” It’s hard to break through the “commoner wiser than noble fools” trope, let alone the “hooker you like more than the john” trope.There’s a flashback that I could’ve done without, because the imagery in the present of the story is pretty compelling. I wonder if this would be better as a flash, in fact. But it’s got humor and pathos and we understand the characters as much as anyone can understand people like these in a place like that.
Symbolism of death permeates the story, maybe a little too much. The ending reminds me a little of Karen Russell’s “The Prospectors” from BASS 2016, except those dead people were both innocent victims of an accident, and physically dead.
Those marble slabs started to appear at graveyards a couple of years ago. They were multiple times as tall as any tombstone before, engraved with life-size men, often armed. Long golden epitaphs, short lifespans.
Life isn’t easy in the Russian Mafia. You get rich, and often you get dead, so you have your tombstone ready to go. Live fast, leave a good-looking, and rich, corpse. And yes, these tombstones are real. These are living, breathing dead, more dead than the stuffed wildlife, patting themselves on the back. Maybe their options really are that limited, but there’s at least one hooker who isn’t having it. I can see why the current American administration, people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing, is in bed with them. Too bad they don’t have the sense of the hooker.