The Swallow

Take this man, Stepan. He survived the winter of 1992 without heat or running water in his grandfather’s apartment in downtown Yerevan. What a feat of entrepreneurship and ingenuity! He bought a wood-burning stove at a time when others still counted on having electricity to get them through the winter, and the things he fed into it, and the way he tells it! There he sits now, in a fully Chekhovian setting on the terrace of my parents’ house on the outskirts of Moscow, his eagle brow and crooked nose looming over a flowery teacup. Outside, a powder of snow is settling on the graveled paths, and yellow leaves are stuck frozen to the frostbitten grass of the overgrown lawn. A neurotic dog, invisible behind the tall fence of our neighbor’s yard, is barking at the slightest gusting of wind. Inside, we’re gathered around an oval table, remnants of pasta cooked in rancid truffle oil squirming on our plates.

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