Hospitality is supposed to be a Russian tradition, but finding food in stores is increasingly difficult. Any generosity is bound to erode from lack.
“Why don’t you meet at Kesha’s place?” Mom says.
“We did, last Tuesday.” Kesha’s family bologna supplies must also be limited, but they were generously offered.
“You spend more time here,” she grumbles.
“No, we don’t.”
I feel powerless. I can’t be mad at her; her concerns are valid. And yet, I can’t not be mad at her: Hadn’t she thought of this when she was deciding to start a family? Unfair, I know. The situation in the Soviet Union had never been as dire, except for the war and postwar period. But I do find myself thinking: Couldn’t my parents have found a way to escape this country, somehow?
Special collections of gourmet foods on display in some shops include an intricately shaped caviar jar, two types of crackers, a cheese or two, and several sorts of rare chocolate alongside a beautiful Champagne bottle. These are available only with a special card. Communist Party members distribute these cards among themselves. We can still buy potatoes and cottage cheese.
If I pass a store and see a line, I get in line. Once my place is secured, I ask, “What’s in stock today?”
Excellent. Bologna sandwiches are delicious, especially when made with our favorite sixteen-copeck baguettes that are still available, on most days. With a little more effort, fried bologna sizzles onto one’s plate. A sheer delight, especially with fried potatoes. My only worry is how long I might be in line. An hour? Two? Good thing I have no plans.
I wait an hour or two for my delicious award. On other days, I may walk away with two pounds of beef from an ancient cow or a package of pelmeni, the Russian dumplings with pork or beef filling made from who knows which body parts. Or it could be an all-around useful item like a pound of butter. There is a limit, per customer.
I may walk away with nothing if the supplies run out.
I bring a book whenever I leave the house, just in case there’s a moment or a couple of hours to read. This habit helps with lines. It’s a lucky day. I can get some bologna for the family and read a few chapters.
Years later, when I find myself in the United States, I will seek out a similar kind of bologna, made in Brooklyn. I’ll make bologna and fried potatoes for my mother during her visits. We’ll reminisce. I’ll think, again, how unbelievable it is, not being a Soviet citizen anymore. But at the moment, that future is less conceivable than dreams. It’s impossible.
A. Molotkov’s poetry collections are “The Catalog of Broken Things”, “Application of Shadows”, “Synonyms for Silence” and “Future Symptoms” (forthcoming from The Word Works). His memoir “A Broken Russia Inside Me” about growing up in the USSR and making a new life in America is due out in 2022 from Propertius. Molotkov’s collection of ten short stories, “Interventions in Blood”, is part of Hawaiʻi Review Issue 91. His prose is represented by Laura Strachan at Strachan Lit; he co-edits The Inflectionist Review. Please visit him at AMolotkov.com.