Dad yelled at the same boxy TV he’d been yelling at since 1976. Traktor Chelyabinsk didn’t score in the first two periods. Kuzyetznov hadn’t played well. I had moved on from beers to local vodka after St. Petersburg scored their second goal. I started yelling with Dad about our team’s missed opportunities.
Mom came back from clearing the dining room. “At least take your filthy boots off the table,” she said to Dad.
He waited for SKA’s break out to dissipate before he toe-to-heel stripped off his boots and grunted. They plopped onto the rug I had worn holes into with my nails as a boy.
“Your socks could stand without you,” Mom said. She wanted to open the one window in the living room but it was late January.
“Goddamnit, why pull the goalie?” Dad said.
I told him the extra striker could work. Their defense wasn’t succeeding as much as our offense was a failing.
“My cock, it could work.”
“Vas is a man, you know?” Mom asked him.
“You think I’m holding my tongue?”
Mom called me Vas since birth, and Dad had been cursing since the day after.
The St. Petersburg Soldiers netted the puck for a third time.
“You see, Vassily?” Dad said. “The manager’s a bitch. We could’ve won this.”
Over the last twelve years Traktor Chelyabinsk made the playoffs twice; we didn’t have a real shot at getting past the semifinals either time. Dad never bothered with tickets.
I told Dad we had two guaranteed games coming up next week.
“Your fucking arrogance. The manager’s an arrogant cunt too.”
“If Vas curses his boy the way you do, our family won’t last the century.” Mom said. Always won’t last the century. That’s a long fucking time to last.
“You’ll be dead by then,” said Dad.
“Stop picking at her,” I told him.
The referee caught SKA’s striker offside, and we capitalized on a dump and chase. Popov scored for Chelyabinsk. The replays looked like shit on Dad’s bloated glass screen.
I held my vodka up to him to rub it in, and he made a fig with his thumb. Mom almost spat. After a gulp, I flipped off my dad, Chelyabinsk was now back in the game.
“You’re no Hollywood hotshot,” he said.
Dad was a Chelyabinsk fan through and through – if only because of his father’s dislike of them – but he’d as soon pray for SKA to slaughter us just to complain about the mismanagement, a martyred prophet preaching displeasure from some afterlife of defeat.
Mom told us to keep our yelling down, and I shouted I was just happy. Dad said he’d drink to that. He said Mom was only pissed because she cancelled the neighborhood wives’ weekly book-club meeting. I teased her that none of them had finished enough school to read a whole book. She brought me little cuts of salted sturgeon and cabbage, then slapped the back of my head.
A late penalty culminated with SKA scoring again on a vacant goal.
“You goddamned shits. I swear to God I hate being right so often.”
“Don’t be a jackass,” Mom said to Dad.
“Keep down your noise,” Dad said.
“You expect your son to regard you with any decency when you’ve got socks stiff as bricks and shirts so dirty they stain our couch?”
“It’s stained already.”
“Sure,” she said. “Just stain it all one color over time, while your boy’s taking after you. Probably stained his couch the same goddamned color.”
“Maybe I’ll change my work then, a mechanic or something, and stick my cock in my ass all day so your Vas can be his own man.”
“You don’t know a pile of shit from a pile of pistons,” I said.
SKA struck once more in the final minute of the match, and Dad became a fire around a crucible. Mom restrained from shouting, from stoking his rage, and I drank my last vodka, watching him slap the TV screen with the underside of his boot. “I hate being always right.”
* * *
I heard Arman howling before I made it through my door. He was upset with his mother, and I asked Elif why the hell she wasn’t doing anything about it.
“He gets it from all the whining you do,” she said.
“Not tonight,” I said. “Mom’s fish wasn’t right with my stomach.”
“It was so nice of her to invite all three of us,” Elif said instead of letting me kiss her forehead.
“They hate Kazakhs, not Turks.”
“Grandpa says Kazakhs smell like shit,” Arman said between demands for cola.
Elif wasn’t impressed, or appreciative of my laughter. She looked at me: do something. So I put on my best mask of ignorance and lay across the couch.
“Bravo,” she said. Elif picked up Arman and told him the medical complications preventing humans from drinking cola after nine. She bounced and oscillated with the boy, taking up the small kitchen.
Arman looked like her; he looked dark and disapproving of the climate. Elif carried him the three steps off to his room, Arman saying, “Papa, Papa,” until the whir of the refrigerator drowned him out.
I closed my eyes, waiting for Elif to come back but she must’ve been telling him a story, one of the Arabian Nights instead of a good little Russian fable. I didn’t know if I resented her or enjoyed that Arman was never assumed to be my boy.
“Yes, all young boys should be saying ‘shit’ past their bedtimes.”
“Why didn’t you get him to bed earlier?” I asked.
“Your boots,” she said.
I flung them off, across the room.
“Have you been conferring with my mother?”
“We’re such good friends, gossiping and lounging like gypsies all day.”
“I love it when you talk dirty,” I said.
“Salak.” She fluttered her hand at me.
I slammed my fist into the coffee table. “More,” I said.
“Would you shut up?” she told me.
I called her my canim and woke up Arman. Elif ushered him back to bed, answering his questions – why’s soda wrong, why are you awake, why is Dad a son of a bitch – with because, because, because.
“Just one more drink,” I told her after she had changed into an overshirt and tube socks. “One more to help me sleep through the cold.”
“I should’ve stayed in Samsun,” said Elif.
I watched her nipples while I drank my beer, and I was glad for the cold of Chelyabinsk that gave me an image to jerk off to in the shower.
* * *
The air inside the refinery smelled hot, only to tease us with short reprieves from the winter. I walked just behind Dad, through the rows of electrolytic cells all taller than us and each its own space heater. Bolat checked the gauges at a collection of cells. Dad stopped and asked him how much longer until the cathodes were full.
“By noon,” he said. “Did you catch the game?”
Bolat knew how much Dad loved Traktor Chelyabinsk. Bolat knew how much Dad hated him for supporting SKA just like my grandfather.
“Don’t make me dunk you in a vat,” Dad said.
Inside the vats, fourteen gigajoules – the same amount of chemical energy released by two barrels of oil combusting – ran through 8,500 liters of zinc sulfate; almost 20 percent strictly sulfuric acid at that point.
“It’d warm me up enough I could bend my fingers again,” said Bolat.
“Don’t break them off in your gloves,” I said.
Dad started checking another cluster of cells, and I said I’d see them at lunch. I walked through the open buildings of the plant, passing hundreds of cells, casting machines, autoclaves, agitation tanks, and foreman offices that Dad and I had been watching since the last guy quit, hoping to get the promotion. Dad used to work the long pressure vessels in the leaching process, until the acidic residue had bothered him enough.
In the deepest part of the factory, I worked the induction furnaces. I strapped on my soldering apron. I pulled on my heat resistant gloves. I slid on my flame retardant mask. I clipped my Plexiglas shield onto my hard hat. I put on my ventilation mask. I weighed fifteen kilos more, and was no longer human.
I grabbed my fire iron and opened the furnace cover. We used three-meter irons so we could scrape up the deeper corners and still stay far enough away from the opening to keep from catching fire – a spectacle of ‘how should I know what to do?’ tinder-men. The zinc had mostly liquefied in the crucible – 425 degrees Celsius, the surface temperature of Venus.
The zinc burned brighter than the sun. Smooth, fluid, it looked weightier than the chunks of cathodes until prodded, poked, irritated by my stirring iron, and only after a minute did the blemishes of the surface, the bits of cathodes defying the blaze, rise up from the undersides of molten zinc. During the bottomless winters, stirring was unbearable. In summer, the older workers suffered heat strokes under industrial cooling fans.
I forgot the iron in the furnace too long and pulled it out flimsy, malleable, before switching to the next one. Another thirty minutes and the zinc would’ve been ready. Working the furnace too long, bits of me would have melted off and corroded into the flooring, congealing with the bits of Dad that had done the same, with the bits of Grandpa that had done the same.
* * *
Elif didn’t respond to any of my comments in the cab, but it was difficult to add much to, “It’ll still be cold tomorrow.” I gave her the wine so she could hand it to Mom.
“How many hairs did you have to pull for her to allow me to tag along?”
“Not many,” I said. “She’s covetous. She doesn’t have much hair left.”
I buzzed the apartment, and we went up the two flights. Dad opened the door. Elif made him take the wine.
“It’s rather dark for vodka.”
Elif told him which foods it paired with well.
He looked at the bottle. He looked at me. “Are you two trying to be healthy?”
“Sergei, let them in,” Mom said from the stove.
“They’ve just returned from France,” Dad said, giving Mom the bottle. She fetched five glasses and poured the wine.
“Is Bolat coming?” I asked.
“Your grandmother’s in the bedroom, laying down,” Mom said.
“Wine will help her headache,” Dad said.
I helped him gather Grandma and shuffle her into the TV room before turning on the pre-match analysis. Elif stayed in the open space between the dining table, the kitchen, and the TV room. I told her to drink up, and she said she didn’t like the stuff much.
“Is it Kazakh shit?” Grandma asked me.
“Kazakhs don’t make wine,” I said.
Mom sat down at the table while she waited for her stew to finish. Elif joined her. The two of them talked at least, but they were loud about it, and I couldn’t hear the sportscasters.
“Cut it out,” Dad said. He turned up the volume.
“They’re so full of vital information to further mankind,” I said of the sportscasters. “It’s not even a tough match.”
Dad grunted. Traktor Chelyabinsk took the ice and readied for the match against Dinamo Minsk. By the time Mom’s stew boiled, Dad’s man Kuzyetznov had scored twice.
“Turn that damned thing off for dinner,” Mom said.
Dad hit mute. I followed him to the table. Elif sat across from Grandma, and I sat next to her. Dad and Mom sat at the heads. We passed Mom our bowls, and she filled them with beef stew. The ref called one of our strikers offside.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if the second period saw us lose the lead,” Dad said.
I laughed with malice. My dad said my arrogance was an issue again. He said this kind of arrogance makes it easy to lose a match, and I told him what did he know.
“Goddamn the manager.”
“Don’t get so riled,” I told him. It wasn’t even like he gambled on these games.
“Since when do you have patience?” he asked me.
“Yes, and your patience has helped you with your car, and the heater, and the goddamned factory,” I said. I regretted mentioning his car.
“The stew tastes nice and salty, Mother,” said Elif.
“Can’t you just shut up about the game?” Mom asked.
“I can’t help it that your boy keeps walking with his cock out, thinking its some big deal.” Dad said.
“I’d better sew your mouth shut, talking like that in front of your mother.”
“She’s deaf anyway. Or maybe she’s dead, I can’t remember.” Dad put his hand on Grandma’s shoulder. “Right mama, right?”
“Don’t worry Sergei, I’ll wash your clothes tonight. Don’t worry Sergei,” Grandma said.
Dad laughed. “You see? Poor, old witch dumped whiskey in the salad yesterday instead of vinegar.”
“What do you have whiskey for?” I asked Dad.
“I sent them whiskey for Old New Year’s,” Elif said.
“Ah, look, look. See?” Dad stood out of his seat. He took his stew with him to the couch. Minsk’s striker had a nice dish out to the winger, catching our defense off guard. It was a good goal, and Dad played up his predictions once more, but Chelyabinsk still held a two-point lead.
“Is Moskva winning?” Grandma asked.
I said yes. Dad told her they weren’t even around anymore. She sounded disappointed but she said it was only because she’d gone with Grandpa to a few games.
“You’ve never been anywhere,” Dad said.
“So help me, one day I will set the shears on your tongue,” Mom said.
The stew wasn’t all that bad, and I told Mom so. She thanked me and helped Grandma with hers. Everyone drank the wine but only because Dad had forgotten to go out for beer.
Dad slurped away the game so that no one could hear the TV announcers over him. Grandma asked me about Arman.
“He’s growing up,” Elif said. “That’s the worst of it. He doesn’t like when I rinse him in the tub with the little, blue-whale container. I have to use a cup now.”
“I used a cup on Vas,” Mom said. She repeated herself for Grandma.
“I washed Sergei with cups. But we didn’t have a basin until he was four.”
Dad yelled at the ref’s call.
“He always gets so excited when Khrushchev’s on the radio,” Grandma said. “I wonder if Khrushchev has kids of his own.”
“Christ, Grandma, he’s been dead since 1971.”
Elif squeezed my knee so I stopped and joined my Dad by the TV.
Chelyabinsk scored another two goals. Dad stopped his slurping in an attempt to dissolve into the couch.
“I told you this one would be easy,” I said, more of a whisper to linger in the room with TV static and bark-cloth dust.
Dad tucked his chin into his chest and folded his arms.
“We might as well murder a drunkard.”
“And the next one will be easy, and the one after that. Easy matches.”
Dad said, “There’s no such thing as easy.”
“Ah fuck,” I said. “Five goals to one is goddamned easy.”
“Vas,” Elif said.
“What?” I asked. “Dad knows easy plenty.”
“Oh, and professor Vassily here knows everything,” Dad said into this chest.
“Don’t you get tired of being always right?” I asked.
“Canim,” Elif said. “Canim, I think we should go. Arman’s sitter is waiting.”
She kept talking. That’s all Elif will ever do: keep talking. If Pompeii exploded all around her, incinerating boulevards and temples, she would say, ‘My, haven’t you noticed the sky so red as it is?’ to anyone sprinting around her. Elif must have been a rock or stone stuck in a stream in some previous life. Stones stuck in streams must be awfully chatty.
“Anyone working in the factory knows easy, and this game was goddamned easy.” I said. “Promotion to foreman is goddamned easy.”
“I don’t see you walking with clipboards and neckties between rows of workers instead of furnaces.”
“You’ve been saying you’re foreman material for ten years now.”
“There’s only so many ways to tell you to fuck off, Vassily,” Dad said. “Don’t make me use them all up.”
“You’re so colorful, how could you?” I asked.
Dad laughed. I didn’t laugh.
The final horn sounded like shit through the speakers.
Mom had taken Grandma back to the bedroom. Elif stood at the edge of my peripheral vision to signal that we ought to leave without getting in the way.
“Chelyabinsk games don’t follow your dictates and premonitions,” I said. I looked back at the couch I had been sitting in to check for a knife in my soup bowl, if only for the flair of an exaggerated point, but I resorted to pointing fingers instead, and I pointed them all over the room – at Dad, at his boots with thin seams, at his TV older than me, at his crummy, rough couches, at Dad again.
He grabbed a boot, no knife available in his soup bowl either, and slapped the coffee table enough times to start a rhythm, bits of dried mud or corrosion flicking across the tabletop, and I called him a metronome and told him it was the only occupation suited to him.
“I told you how much you’d hate the factory. I hate being always right.”
“I don’t hate the factory. I don’t give a damn about it,” I said.
Elif had disappeared now. I felt my knees stiffen in my casting-frame jeans. I felt the rigidity of my entire body as I watched Dad slam his boot through the coffee table, pushing glass along the rug and broken pieces into the fibers. He threw his body around, contorting like the frames of sedans in a twelve-car pileup. I wanted to join him in opening a window, just so that we might hurl the TV into the street.
* * *
A Serebro song played through the functioning half of Dad’s car speakers, and it bothered him. He rolled down the window to drown out the music. The weather guy said it’d be about negative fifteen Celsius.
“Want me to change the station?”
“Nah,” he said. We were close to the factory anyway.
During the war my grandfather helped crank T-34s out of Leningrad. In the pressure-wake of the Whermacht, he and his comrades moved the factory – rods, crucibles, stamps, belts, wheels, cogs – deeper into Russia. Grandpa promised if it weren’t for that we’d never be in this shit hole, but Chelyabinsk now stands as one of the few examples of the beneficial side effects of the Purge. “Grandfather’s bones are part of the machinery,” Dad always told me. Our flesh would be part of it as well. All of the Baklanov men would be soldered into the industrial mechanisms.
We pulled off the main highway and into the parking lot by the furnace, the smell of old coins seeped into our shirts, our souls, even the pavement. Dad rolled up his window and turned off the radio. He took my hard hat and slapped it onto my head. He wasn’t laughing. He’d started eating breakfast bars on his way to pick me up. But I hadn’t asked about it.
His hard hat glinted in his lap. Outside, a fuse started burning a line across the sky. The engine struggled. We watched a contrail stretch longer with every second, denser than any tails behind jets. The point glared and arched shallow and steady so it could’ve been a molten fire iron – ends drooping into a bend over the atmosphere.
“I’ve never seen one,” Dad said.
I felt stupid like a kid. I wanted to ask what it was but the cogs of my brain weren’t turning, and I couldn’t think how to describe such astonishment.
The meteor saturated the sky with light, swelling at the source. It wasn’t flashing, just steadily brightening above so that we could not look directly. For a moment there was no such thing as shadows, and we were warm in the winter day. I closed my eyes and might still have gone blind behind gossamer lids. Dad said something. The dazzling culminated in a radiance of white, and the earth and cars and factory and people dissolved in the cleansing brilliance.
The meteor broke up and the world was still nonexistent in the darkness of flash-adjusted eyes.
I followed Dad out of the car and toward the factory, his hands smelled more than ever like the zinc we smelt.
“Maybe that has done our work for us today.”
I laughed at Dad and noticed then his face was sunburnt, and I was sweating in my coat despite the grip of freezing air. We were maybe ten meters from the front gate when a crash heard in our boots and bones and not in our ears rumbled everything. In front of us, the windows of the factory were blasted in, the small office at the gate burst open like an over-pressurized airbag – clipboards, files, paper, and china flew in plumes out the shattered windows, and I thought I too would shatter. Only then did I realize the silence of the city had been brutally destroyed by car alarms and screams and crashing and the croaks of metal. Dad hunched and looked around. Bolat ran from the factory to us. I waved at him to mean we were OK, and he slowed. Dad straightened out.
“You think mom’s okay?” I asked.
Dad brushed glass out of his hair, behind his ears. We breathed out stratus-cloud condensation. He put his hard hat on again. We were all watching the factory ceiling collapse due to structural damage – slow like an opera performance.
* * *
Russia Today claimed that astronomists’ accounts first registered the meteor as a super bolide. The ticker hurtled a light-speed number line across the screen, sparsely broken by long cosmic terminology. The Sun has an apparent magnitude of -26.74; a full moon is -12.74. Reports estimated the meteor held an apparent magnitude of around -30 but using a negative scale just felt counterintuitive to me.
Dad refused to see a doctor about the sunburn on his hands and the side of his face.
“Then don’t bitch about cancer,” I said.
“If I want cancer, I’ll damn well get it, and I’m not letting you pick one way or the other.”
I hadn’t noticed some of the cuts on my legs until Elif yelled at me for having dry blood on my thigh.
The meteor’s first of three explosions happened 29.7 kilometers off the ground with more power than 500,000 tons of TNT – roughly 30 atom bombs. The shockwave took almost two minutes to reach Chelyabinsk. Very few fragile things were left unbroken. In the moments after there was stillness in the mess. The worst imaginable moment humanity could witness had occurred. Armageddon, or brimstone, or cats and dogs on fire had fallen from the sky, and nothing remained but a lax deterioration of existence. Our expectation of the Rapture had been rudely interrupted by the second airburst that reminded us all we were not dead. Disappointed, no end yet in sight, the middle shockwave startled everyone, resuscitating the world. The third shockwave had been plainly uninvited and disregarded – a bad joke at the execution of a will for a man found still alive.
* * *
The factory manager shut down all parts of the plant while building inspectors checked the structural integrity. After a week, the inspectors deemed it a miracle the roof had never caved in on us before. Of course, the only thing the manager and the investors seemed to hear were calls for expensive repairs coinciding with productivity losses.
“Honestly, I’m surprised you still have your job,” Mom said in the background. She said it to Dad but I’m sure she knew I heard it through the phone.
“She won’t shut up now that I’m here all day. I tell you, marriage only works if you never see each other,” Dad said.
Elif came into the kitchen with Arman dangling on her arm. The two were arguing again, I didn’t know about what. But it was almost six in the evening, and Arman always whined around six.
“Listen, Dad, I’m pretty busy over here.” I hadn’t done a thing for a week, not since the factory closed.
“Elif busting your balls? Anyway, I thought we might go buy a few tickets for a hockey game. I mean as long as we’re loafing around.”
In the background, Mom again spoke loud enough so I could hear her. She harped on Dad for kicking over the TV and spilling its wires and circuitry in a dilapidated pool all over the rug.
“Yeah, because we’re just loafing around,” I said.
“Don’t start now. You want to come or no?”
I told him I would, and he said he’d pick me up in about a half hour.
“What village are you two going to burn today?” Elif asked.
“Papa burns villages?” Arman asked his mother.
“No,” I said. “Just dachas.”
“Where is our dacha?” Arman asked.
“It sank,” I said. Arman didn’t understand me, and Elif cursed me.
“I didn’t do anything,” I said.
Elif told Arman it was terrible of him to skip his nap.
“I don’t need naps anymore,” he said.
“Hush up,” I said. I stood up and tried to growl like a bear. I chased Arman around the squat table, through the kitchen, over the couch. Elif grabbed him up off the couch’s arm and lifted him in the air.
“I’ll save you,” she told him.
“His father is so terrible isn’t he?”
I stopped playing. I spanked him, and he yelped, happy, shoving his nose into Elif’s collar.
Elif said, “Let it alone. We’re just playing.”
“Take him to the balcony to watch the pedestrians.”
Dad honked downstairs. Elif told me a list of things to grab from the market on the way back. I didn’t write them down.
Dad took the highway, and I gave him shit, but it was late enough in the day our drive wasn’t inconvenienced much. I played with the radio and today he didn’t mind. Today he used the heater to its full, and we were warm. “Let’s get season tickets,” he said.
“Just get a new TV,” I told him.
“There’s too much to know about them.”
Chelyabinsk boasted about its stadium, but only to people from the eastern part of Russia. Moscow’s many stadiums were all larger, contemporary, sleek. We went to the ticket gate. There was no line, not even an attendant, just a sign that read: Closed. Structural Damage.
“Damn,” Dad said. “There’s got to be someone working.”
We circled around the stadium’s outside, checking ticket offices, each the same as all the others.
Dad kicked the door.
“They changed the games,” I told him, reading the announcement email on my phone.
I told him they rescheduled some of their games to play away, and the rest were cancelled. Our final place guaranteed, Chelyabinsk would play in the tournament but not a single home game for the series.
“This is bullshit.” Dad backtracked, and we went for the car. On the way he stopped to grab one of the sidewalk signs. I forgot to tell him not to. Dad swung it into the ground a few times, making a large, white blur arch over his back before throwing it like a discus into the parking lot. It split in two. We went home. The radio was off. The heater was off.
* * *
I hadn’t heard from my dad in two months. He drove without me to work. The workers had largely repaired the factory but still hadn’t finished the furnace houses or the casting center. We shipped the cathodes to another plant that had been rented. Chelyabinsk made it to the Gagarin Cup for the first time since the cup’s inception. They were set to play Moskva.
“At least you could put your clothes in the hamper. Do you really think the rug is best for it?” Elif asked me.
“I really haven’t a clue. Truth.”
“You really think we ought to stack dishes on the coffee table?”
“I couldn’t tell you.”
I called Dad. Mom answered and said he was out watching the finals at a bar he liked.
“He still hasn’t bought a TV?”
“He still hasn’t bought a muffler,” Mom said.
I told Elif I was going out.
“In just your jacket?”
“So I don’t get cold,” I said.
“Salak. Benim horoz var ve benim topları, ben başka ne gerekiyor?”
“One day I’ll learn Turkish,” I threatened, and I went to the bar.
Dad was in the middle of the bar. A friend of his from work sat by him. Both watched the game. I missed the first period. I sat down and ordered a beer and wanted to ask him if he forgot about me.
“How’s the factory?”
“The same shit,” Dad said. “Buy your dad a vodka?”
I bought him one.
“Mom’s tired of you working there.”
“I hate Eremenko. He’s not even that good of a goalie.”
“She doesn’t like it,” I said.
“Is she the one working there?” Dad asked.
Dad’s friend at the end of the bar didn’t talk, and I wondered if he was a mute.
“It’s not respectable,” I said.
“It’s Moskva for you,” Dad agreed.
“The factory’s not respectable.”
“You ought to have told Grandpa that.”
“Like hell if he made it any better.”
“It was just the same as a prison then, especially with him and his brother working there. Delinquents, both of them,” Dad said.
“The fucker practically died there.”
“You work where your father does.”
“Thanks to you,” I said.
“Bitch about it some more. No one’s asking you to stay.”
Moskva’s defense was strong and unwavering against our enforcer, especially with Eremenko in goal.
I drank some beer. “I’m not wrong,” I said. “It’s a real shit job. It’s nothing to be proud of. Mom will end up hating you for it.”
“If you’re so bothered then just quit,” Dad said. He drank some vodka. “What’s your mother got to do with all the bustle?”
“I’m just trying to help you out of –“
“I’m not asking for help,” Dad said. “Christ, I’m fine with the fucking factory. It pleases me. The work pleases me, the smell, the stains, the hours, the zinc. You ought to find your own career.”
“Foreman is at least a career,” I said.
I drank some more beer. Dad drank some more vodka. The friend at the end of the bar stayed silent some more. Moskva subbed in their enforcer.
“You’ll want me there,” I said.
“A goddamned technical school could’ve helped me look good for management,” I said.
“You want to suck my tit your whole life?”
Moskva’s bully broke our left winger’s nose after a strong check. Dad’s friend still offered no evidence he was even fucking breathing. I drank more. The beer was nice and cold there. The beer was nice and cold everywhere in Chelyabinsk. I was nice and cold and immutable, away from the furnaces.
“Can you turn it up?” Dad asked the bartender.
“There’s nothing to hear but the skates,” I said.
“Quiet, I can’t hear the announcers.”
Moskva controlled the pace.
“I bet on this game,” I said.
“If only we can beat them,” Dad said, ignoring me. “We can leave a Chelyabinsk scarf on Grandpa’s gravestone.”
“I’m sure he will get a kick out of it.”
“Is it bad luck?”
“Since when do you worry about bad luck?”
“I’d want to leave bad luck for Grandpa,” Dad said.
I said, “I don’t think it works that way.”
* * *
The factory had called to tell me it’d be another month at the earliest before they had the right amount of furnaces available, and they didn’t know what I should do with myself until then. I told them my father worked there, and his father had built it up from the cold dust of the eastern Urals. They said they had too many people to get everyone a shift somewhere else, but I shouldn’t worry.
“You’ve got to get a job at something,” Elif said.
“Why don’t you take up teaching again?”
“What will happen with Arman?”
“Teach at his school until the factory’s completed,” I said. I put the phone back on the wall receiver. I thought if I held it for long enough, it would melt into my wrist, and I’d be good for phone calls, like a foreman. I thought I had spent enough time in the furnace houses – boils on my fingers, muscles drooping from my bones, melting into the crucibles – that I had become a part of it.
“And what if his school isn’t hiring?” she asked.
“He’s your baby.” I went to the fridge. I’d forgot to buy more beer, only two left. I joined Arman on the couch and changed the channel to the final game of the series against Moskva. Chelyabinsk managed three wins and three losses. One more victory meant the cup.
“He’s our baby,” Elif said.
“You wanted him so bad.”
“You think I wanted a baby with a man who can’t even make a car payment?”
I shook Arman’s hair, wavy, thick, Turkish. “Come on, boy. Go and play,” I said.
“I want to watch hockey,” he said.
I said, “You don’t like hockey.” And I slapped his backside as he went to Elif. She took him to his room, and he closed the door.
“Now that he’s gone, why don’t you bitch some more about his shit father?”
“Your spine must be made of rubber. Shall I call the neighbors? We can have an audience for your pity.”
“Fine,” I said. “Call them. Let’s just please not worry today.”
Elif took it well. God knows what she thought I meant, but she joined me on the couch, and we watched the game for a time, neither of us concerned with the factory, with the match, with Arman. Moskva scored. It was a good goal. Morale was high with them.
“What does that mean? The thing you Turks say.”
Elif scoffed. “It’s what Baklanov men say.”
I went for the last beer. Her smile fell apart. All Baklanov men suffer hemochromatosis.
“I’ve got my cock and my balls,” Elif said. “What else do I need?”
She went from the living room. She joined Arman behind his closed door, more stories of sultans on her lips. Perhaps they were making a rope of sheets tied end to end. Perhaps they lied on his bed, Arman in the concave of his mother’s body, napping.
I bet on Moskva. They scored again. I finished my beer. I would die soldered to the furnace coils. I smashed my empty bottle against the coffee table. I stood up and pulled my foot down through the tabletop, the wood collapsing in large chunks the way the furnace house imploded. Blood like rust stained the jigsaw tips, and I went looking for my boot to put through the TV. The room, hot, made me malleable and irritated, and I stoked the heat and pressure with my propeller arms. I wanted to dig up the floorboards and dig up the earth and seep into the casting mold we had buried in our envy, and in the night I would cool – a perfect casting of my father, a perfect casting of my grandfather – while Arman choked on tears that irrigated the ridges of his mother’s collarbone.
Kenan Orhan is a Turkish-American writer and MFA candidate at Emerson College. His stories appear or are forthcoming in, McNeese Review, The Puritan, Newfound Journal, and others. Between naps, he makes coffee, plays tennis, and watches James Bond movies.