On the Brighton Beach Boardwalk

On the Brighton Beach boardwalk men sit in the rain shelters smelling of piss, shouting drunk genius into the afternoon sun. Men play chess on small portable sets, holding beach umbrellas for cover. Men take care of other men, raising them from wheelchairs and guiding them to benches and it looks just like slow dancing. So gentle. Someone has rolled blue carpets from the boards, over the beach, to the pale-blue water.

There are so many young mothers but my mother has hope for me too. She says a beautiful girl like me, men must make advances all the time. A beautiful girl like me has to think of her future. A beautiful girl like me, well, cousin Lena turned forty and she quit that Los Angeles life and that Los Angeles girlfriend. Got herself a rich husband, an adopted baby. And, don’t you know they love that baby? They love her despite how, in the wrong light, she’s a little too brown.

I’m furiously stuffing my mouth with black bread because this talk makes me angry and because I’m crying, staring down into my plate, thinking on last night—how you called me difficult when you could have called me beautiful. And here it is, beautiful tumbling out my mother’s mouth like bad oil. More and more I imagine my dead body slumped beside me. It feels peaceful. We’re just having a heart-to-heart, my mother says, you shouldn’t get so upset.

from Without Protection. Copyright © 2019 by Gala Mukomolova. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Coffee House Press.