A View from Pulkovo

Josip Novakovich

       David, an American Fulbright exchange scholar, was staying in an apartment on the Embankment of Canal Griboyedova. His third morning, almost noon, while he was recovering from a hangover, jetlag, and strange impressions of having seen a corpse nobody would touch for hours in the streets, his landlady stopped by and informed him that a potential buyer from Moscow wanted to visit the apartment. 
       Ah, what filth! she said as soon as she walked in. She took off her fur coat composed of a forestful worth of foxes, and panted as though she had climbed the stairs to the fifth floor, although David had heard her slamming the elevator door before coming to his apartment. I am so disappointed in you, she said. And you come from the civilized West? Before you, a Swiss ambassador, who had just retired, stayed here and he loved it, and when he left, the place was cleaner than before.
       Don’t worry, I will wash the floors. 
       You don’t have to do that, but hire a cleaning lady. You could have told me.
       How much are you selling it for?
       One hundred and fifty thousand euro. I would charge twice as much if the apartment was renovated. You want to buy it? One-hundred and fifty-one thousand just for you.
But that’s more than the other guy is paying.
That’s the point. I can already get that much. 
       Without the fur, the landlady was a classic babushka, with a scarf, short and chubby. 
       I see, you have bottled water here. No wonder you can’t afford to buy apartments; you throw away your money even on water. What next? You will be buying thin air?
       I read the warnings not to drink tap water here. And if I could buy clean air, I would. 
       There’s nothing wrong with our water. We have excellent filtering systems, she said, walked to the faucet, and drank a glassful. Refreshing!
       Giardia, lead, mercury, E. coli (why e-, is it an internet virus?)… that’s what I’ve heard.
       That was years ago. And that is foreign propaganda. Why does the world hate us? 
       The world loves Russia, perhaps a little too much. 
       Do you know why my fingers are so knotty?
       Lead poisoning? 
       During the Siege, only ten years old, I dug with my fingers into the iced snow—that’s how we got our drinking water. We put the snow in pots. I get a little pension as a survivor of the siege. Do you know who visited me in this apartment? Comrade Stalin. He came after the war to talk with a few survivors of the siege.