Note to the Reader:

Hello and welcome to Orange Heights. This blog has migrated a few times, so the entry dates might be a little confusing. Apologies...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Chapter 21: Boris, born for apartment living, owns a house

On the midtown direct train, which was stalled in the Meadowlands for a brush fire delay, Boris looked out the window at what passed for nature and looked like a set for "The Sopranos." Long, brownish-green grasses leaned sideways in the wind, the field bisected by marshes or swamps, Boris didn't know which.

Even now, having read, written and spoken English since seventh grade, there were expressions that puzzled Boris. What was the difference, he wondered, between a creek and a brook? He read the Harry Potter books on his iPod, and still puzzled over the difference between ogres, trolls, and fiends. Size? Ferocity? He made a note to find Harry Potter in Russian, to look up the words, or to ask his mother.

In other realms, Boris knew the words and concepts. He reveled in the language of finance, where precision was all. He could talk about Star Wars and Star Trek in three languages. Somewhere in the house, or in his mother's apartment in Jersey City, there was a Klingon-Russian dictionary that Boris and his brother Evan crafted in middle school.

Boris thought about the boxes and the big house, his big, old house on Orange Heights Avenue. There was no question that he and Naomi had bitten off more than they could chew, a favorite expression of Boris and his brother, suggesting as it did a glorious excess. Nothing had prepared him for owning a house. Born in Moscow, raised in a massive apartment complex, Boris had known no other life -- everyone he knew lived the same way -- until he was 13 years old.

Still, Boris sometimes woke at night imagining himself in the Moscow airport -- he could see the Cyrillic letters painted on the wall in grey -- sitting on a suitcase next to his brother. The two of them waited silently, among another 50 travelers to find out their destination, whether New York or Tel Aviv. The resettlement agents charged around the waiting area waving sheafs of papers at Soviet officials, calling names, calling again, then sending families to either one boarding gate or another. Boris remembered watching passengers disappear down one long hallway, sometimes turning around for a last look, others rushing towards the plane.

His mother and father hoped for New York, where two uncles and a dozen cousins already lived.

"Greenpoint," Boris and Evan said aloud, when his parents talked about the move. "We live in Greenpoint."

"Not yet," said his mother, eager to ward off the ill temper of fate. "Don't even think it."

But how could he not, wondered Boris. The doorway was framed with postcards from Manhattan, a nighttime view of a bridge, gaudy buildings, the iconic Statue of Liberty. Boris drew the same images in the corners of his school notebooks; his hopes, too, lived in Manhattan.

As the New Jersey Transit train lurched forward, Boris shook his head and returned to the present.

"Next stop, Penn Station," said a conductor over the loudspeaker. "The end of the trip, last stop, final destination."

If only that were so, thought Boris, thinking of Orange Heights. That's my final destination now.

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