Monday, April 13, 2015


The world crumbled away as I followed it. Nightfall coated everything like dust. It was the only thing I could see in the darkness, but only by the light of its footsteps. Only once did it turn its massive head to lay its diamond eyes on me.

Somewhere in the corner of my vision, I thought I saw myself. I looked about 10 years old, standing at a glass counter, clutching the hand of a man. Vukašin, I think, Kristijan’s father.

My father used to joke that it didn’t matter how scary the gangster looked, as long as I held his hand, the jewelers smiled at him approvingly. They never questioned how I knew which items were the most precious. They’d come to work the next day to find everything of value was gone with no idea who took it. If we were in someplace that would be harder to break into later, like Mikimoto or Graff, their smiles would suddenly vanish as Vukašin pulled out the vintage .38 caliber Smith & Wesson engraved with tiny scrolls and demanded all their gems.

When we got loose gems, Vukašin liked to use them as eyes for the little forest creatures he’d carve for Kristijan and me to play with. We had the perfect childhood, but when Vukašin saw a grainy image of himself on the news, he went to Dunya and purchased a plain H&K semiautomatic. The Smith & Wesson was too beautiful for his purposes; he couldn’t ruin such a lovely thing for Kristijan. He took the H&K out into the garden a splattered the shed with bright red anemones. “Such a shame,” my father said, but Kristijan got the pretty Smith & Wesson and I cleaned up the mess.

The memory dissipated like cream poured into tea as it called to me to keep up, it’s golden antlers catching in a new light. The sky around us filled with stars so low they looked like streetlamps. I plucked one and tasted it, sweet nectar staining my dress in shimmers. It told me take more, as many as I could carry. “Why?” I asked it. Shadow, shadow. Change your skin and awake. It swished its long tail as it too began to fade.

I shut my eyes tight and peeled the skin off my face. When I opened them again, I was on the ground in the middle of the woods. Spiders still clung to the bouquet of chrysanthemums as Oleander gently tugged at my hair. I don’t know how he got out of his travel cage or where the cage is for that matter. My shoes were also missing and my feet looked horribly shredded from the trek, but they were clean. My skin gained a curious gossamer glimmer.

Suddenly ravenous, I scooped Oleander up and walked to that little diner beside Dreamwood and sat at the counter. The girl working there gave me an odd look as I walked in. Her nametag read “Lucia.”She looked about as old as me. “I have just changed my skin and would like a slice of blueberry pie and a coffee,” I told her. The other patrons were still groggily eating breakfast, but Lucia didn’t appear to be judging me for starting the day with dessert. “Do you know anything about the local black market?” I asked. The Syndicate may be dead, but that doesn’t mean I can’t start my own. First I must familiarize myself with the seedy underbelly.

“Uh… if you’re looking for, like, a fake ID...” Lucia said.

“Have you ever considered starting an underground crime organization?” I cut her off. Fake documentation is child’s play. The pie is wonderful, but the coffee is nothing like the thick Turkish kindI wanted.


“I guess ‘underground’ is sort of implied with ‘crime organization.’ That was silly of me. It would be wise to start small, wouldn’t it? But what is small? Is that, like, robbing a bank?”

Lucia seemed to be mulling something over. “I suppose that would help me come up with the up-front fee to help out that Nigerian Prince, but that is the wrong way to go about it… unethical or something.”

I laughed. “I have no respect for that kind of scam. There’s no thrill. Thanks for the pie,” I reached into my pocket for my wallet, but found it to be completely full of diamonds. I don’t remember putting those in there. I placed one on the counter, picked Oleander up again and left.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


I only knew it was there because of the dense, overwhelming silence that blanketed the earth.

Dreamwood seemed in the midst of a manic meltdown when I left. Bright blue flashing lights, screaming sirens, madness. I clenched the handle of Oleander's travel cage, knowing that if he got out in this kind of chaos, he would fly away from me and never come back.

I skirted the violence. My father always told me never to get involved with police conflicts; we always need to have them on our side, easy to manipulate...

I forgot I'm not listening to everything my father said.

I sought refuge in the cemetery. Armed with a pen,  the day's newspaper and the phone book someone left at my door a few weeks ago,  I propped myself up against a tombstone and set to work. Paper opened to the obituaries, I kept track of my place with my index finger, finding the names of the recently deceased, tracking them down in the phonebook and crossing them out. It's become a sort of hobby of mine.

There's something pleasing about watching the thin line of black ink spread across their names. Ethel Bloomberg. Gone. Nicholas Gatti. Erased. Marianna Noon. Vanished. Now I don't have to worry about trying to call them.

The silence swept across the landscape before I had time to process it. Sirens faded away, rustling of leaves dulled, even Oleander stopped singing.

It was impossible to focus on it. Every time I tried to look at it, I couldn't. I closed my eyes so I could see some more.

Each time one of its hooves came in contact with the ground, it looks more solid and a dim light sprouts for a moment. I get the feeling that if it jumps, loses contact with the earth, it would tumble from reality.

It spoke to me, but it's voice came from somewhere far away, a forceful wind carrying to my ears. The wind pulled on my hair, my skirt, blew off the petals off the hydrangeas. Spiders crept out of the flower centers, spinning silken strands from chrysanthemum head to chrysanthemum.

It told me to follow. I slipped off my shoes and stepped into the residual light beams of its footsteps before they faded away, my shadow kaleidoscoping out around me.

Monday, February 23, 2015


I want to fly like the blue man.

I saw him atop the Robert A. Crenshaw House and thought, “What a marvelous idea.” But when I tried to get closer, the way was blocked by a hoard of bystanders and policemen and flashing blue lights. They wouldn’t even let me near enough to scale the building to join him.

Frustrated, I wandered along the train tracks, wondering what my contemporaries were doing, wondering when things would be deemed “safe,” if they would be safe. I’d left the flat running earlier, when that horrible suction noise erupted from outside my door. I am slightly afraid of vacuum cleaners. Oleander squawked to show his minor irritation, but I’d thrown open the window and bolted away.

As soon as my feet touched the ground, I knew something was wrong. At first, I tried to ignore it; I’ve had far to many overreactions recently. It didn’t matter where I went, and when I thought I’d lost it, the blue subaru always rounded the corner ahead of me. When I slowed, it slowed, when a ran, it sped.

I knew it was one of Vladan’s gangsters tailing me, but wondered why they didn’t just stop, pull me in and blow my brains out. I raced away from it until I realized it wasn’t following me at all; it was following the shifty looking Asian man who keeps people in apartment 413. I suppose there might not be four people crammed in there. Perhaps he just brings four take out meals in there and eats them all himself. I never broke in to check it out; that guy looks a little too crazy. I calmed and could feel my heart rate returning to normal: no stalker, no vacuum cleaners, just a blue man on the roof.

I continued wandering, wishing I’d brought Oleander with me until I found my path was blocked by a massive pool of blue liquid. My footsteps shimmered indigo in the liquid momentarily before vanishing again. “Marvelous!” I said aloud. I walked further in, shocked to find that in some places it came up to my ankles. When one of my shoes slipped off and didn’t resurface, I didn’t mind and for a while I delighted myself by making temporary designs in the blue liquid and watching them disappear.

I had an idea almost as marvelous as flying. My floor paintings needed this blue liquid. Lots of it. I left blue tracks down Yellow Brick rd, searching for someplace that would have bottles or jars or some sort of container. I was forced to hobble awkwardly into O’Harley’s with only one shoe, but kept my chin up as I marched up to the counter and demanded that the tall, harassed looking man at the counter give me as many empty bottles as I could hold. He smiled vacantly at me, too resigned to even question my motives, and obliged.  

I tucked too many bottles under my arms and one slipped out of my grasp and shattered in the doorway. The Asian man who’s either a kidnapper or very hungry was screaming something about no one being able to help him as I scraped the glass pieces into my hands, trying to ignore the biting pain. Someone was grabbing my hands to keep me from injuring myself further.

“Doesn’t that hurt?” he asked, plucking out a few shards that had lodged themselves into my flesh.

“Yes, terribly,” I said, watching in fascination as blood droplets dripped onto the floor.

The man introduced himself as Charlie and asked him if he would help me fill the bottles with the mysterious blue liquid, lest I injure myself further. The expression on his face told me he really didn’t want to help me, but was going to anyway. He didn’t question why I needed the blue liquid, just where I was from and what in Belgrade was worth visiting. He told me about the trip he was planning to Turkey, and I told him I’d wanted to visit Turkey but my father wouldn’t let me.

My father because he was under the impression that Europe had the finest jewelers and we shouldn’t waste our time on anything less than the best.

“Aren’t you a little old to be letting your parents dictate your life?” Charlie asked me.

I watched the blue liquid swirl like Van Gogh’s Starry Night and asked Charlie if I could see his mother’s list.  

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Bengalische Tiger

The air hung stagnant over the cemetery. Oleander trilled in the silence while I graced lonely tombs with cosmos and begonias and forget-me-nots. Leonardo offered to pay me to create flower arrangements for the families who won’t visit their loved ones. A flock of ravens watched us soundlessly and I wondered if they were here to guide us away or if they were just murdered souls. I tossed them a white carnation of remembrance.

The low hanging clouds threatened to take us away, so I tucked the rest of the flowers into Oleander’s travel cage and went searching for normalcy. I found myself standing in the pawnshop with that tingling in my fingers that means I’m about to take something. It wasn’t the Graff, but there was bound to be something I wanted. Like the vivid, trilliant-cut padparadscha. The man behind the counter obviously didn't know its worth. I dropped Oleander’s cage, it unlatched and the dove flew immediately out of reach. After about ten seconds of trying to coax him down, the man went in search of a box we could use to capture him.

I slid open the glass case, tucked the pink gem into my sleeve, then held out my hands to Olander as if greeting the sun. He flew to me before the man could throw the box at him or whatever he was planning to with a damn box and a dove. I apologized, feigned embarrassment and rushed out into the streets.

I held the padparadscha up to the weak light of sunset, smiling widely. This is the most normal I’ve felt in days and a song began to play in my head. Lassen uns auf den Straßen nieder. I am back on the streets. Fires flickered all around, as if the falling stars from before finally landed. Holen uns unsere Straßen wieder. This is normal. I reached Dreamwood Terrace and bounded up six flights of stairs, careful not to jostle Oleander as he chirped happily. Petals fell from his cage and danced around my feet with each step I took. Tätowieren uns ein Tier, das zu uns passt - I unlocked the door and froze as still as the air outside.

A storm was brewing.
One of the floor paintings hadn’t dried and she’d smudged it. The woman from the apartment off the lobby stood paralyzed on a stepladder in the act of drilling cameras into my wall. The knife was in my hand before I had the chance to think. I pounced, tackled her off the stepladder, and pressed the cool blade against her throat, “Bengalische Tiger.

Oleander squawked as I interrogated her, “Who sent you? Vladan or Interpol? How long you have been watching me? How Vladan is plotting seek revenge for my poisoning him? What Interpol has on us? Who are you? Why you not answer me?” But I’m afraid my tongue slipped in and out of the English.

She looked scared, but mostly perplexed and maybe a little amused. I stopped raving and examined her  more closely. Not a gangster. Not government. Just an ordinary American.
How does one say, “Sorry for trying to kill you, I just overreacted?”

I didn’t have to apologize, for a bucket spontaneously combusted, giving me an excuse to fall back. Once I was up, staring into the magnificent flames, I realized I had no idea what to do. Fire is not one of the things my father had a protocol for.

“Oh honey, never crumple up your paint rags.” The woman said “oh honey” in that way that means “you dumb shit.” “And next to the space heater and everything,” she shook her head at me and I smiled sheepishly.

I still don’t trust her, but something about her screams, “I’m lonely!” even though she’s surrounded by people. Her cameras are an unrefined version of my careful observation. As she put out the fire, I asked what she used her intel for and if she would help me keep watch for any Slav who passed through. Before she left, I gifted her a sprig of lavender (distrust), rhododendron (beware), and a pink carnation (gratitude).

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Sunder Apt. 617

Deep voices, splintered wood, the stampede of heavy footed men storming my apartment. Oleander uttered a high, terrified shriek that ruptured reason. Don’t fuck with my dove.

I grabbed the knife from under my pillow and launched into the living room screaming, “Umreti! Umreti! Umreti!” I probably appeared feral, eyes wide, teeth bared, hair in a tangled mass about my shoulders. Anger crept up my throat, or was it fear that strangled me? Either way, I could feel it in my blood, the unhealthy mixture of being rudely awoken and the wrath directed at anyone who would dare cause Oleander distress.

“Ma’am,” a man barked at me, “put the weapon on the ground now. Hands above your head.”

English? Why would he speak the English? Blue uniforms speckled with snowflakes, guns aimed at my head. American policemen carry guns. I couldn't think what American law enforcement would want with me.

Maybe America teamed up with Interpol? No, I’m not even on Interpol’s radar. Unless someone sold me out. Last time I checked, Kristijan was the only one of us on the list, but maybe they’ve all been arrested by now.

Think, Senka, think. What did my father say to do in a raid?

Step 1: Remain calm.

Already failed.

Step 2: Comply.

What did they want me to do? Oh right, put the knife down. Knife on the ground, hands behind my head, but their guns were still trained on me and I was trembling like thin ice underfoot. Calm down calm down calm down.

Look at the snowfall, focus on the guns.

Guns are more calming. Heckler & Koch USP. Dunya said H&Ks were always good, so they must be good because Dunya was the ethnic Serb, ex-sniper I met in Sarajevo. My father told me I didn’t want to go around befriending arms dealers, but why not? A pocketful of diamonds and I could buy whatever pistol I wanted.

There were four of them and they were destroying my apartment. “What you are looking for?” I asked the officer who kept watch over me, H&K trained at my cranium. “Maybe I help you find?”

His expression read, “What kind of idiot are you,” but he said, “I can’t let you, ma’am. You might try to destroy the narcotics.”

Narcotics? Pft.

The officer asked the same questions as they did in customs, to which I respond with the same answers as I did in customs. He looked at my Visa (completely true), Oleander’s certificate (mostly true), my gun license (completely fraudulent but looks legit because Marko made it).

He eyed me suspiciously when I told him I was here on sabbatical. Who in their right mind would visit this dump? I sighed. “I am evading a dangerous crime lord.”

At least half true.

I’d always been under the impression that Vladan was involved in harvesting and trafficking human organs. His fridge was always full of carefully packaged kidneys, hearts, livers. He was the most terrifying man I’d ever met, but, honor among thieves, so I let him be.

The night we broke Kristijan out of prison, Vladan looked at me and then to my father. “How much?” he’d asked. My father cut off his ear and decided he’d had enough. The syndicate was dead. His trusted confidants would sell me on the black market. It was time for me to go.

Step 3: Act sweet. My father said my eyes were so wide and innocent and clear, people couldn’t help but believe whatever I said. So do whatever it takes to throw them off.

“My bird,” I whimpered and I think the officer pitied me. He ordered another to release Oleander. “Doves are not have connection with stranger,” I warned but he didn’t listen. Oleander turned into a flurry of feathers and beak and talons.

The man managed to escape with a hole in his lip and a few puncture wounds oozing blood below his eyes.  

They quickly pulled out, apologizing awkwardly, finding nothing relevant to their search. One secured my door and offered to fix the lock later, pitying the poor girl afraid for her life with nothing but a diamond dove for companionship.

I couldn’t go back sleep, so I took to prowling the halls, clutching my knife. Some girl had decided to take a nap in the stairwell, so I drew a heart on her forehead in lipstick and laughed. They didn’t find a single diamond.

Sunday, January 11, 2015


I knew he wasn’t home because as I sat in front of my window pretending to read about how to make friends, I saw him walking towards the subway. It was late and I wondered what he did at night. Was he a male prostitute? I don’t know what male prostitutes look like, but I didn’t think he looked like one. Maybe he's a thief or a dealer or a murderer.

So I broke into his apartment.

I knew which apartment on the seventh floor was his because that’s the sort of thing I’ve been trained to notice. He’d never know I was there. I thought I might wait for him to come back and talk to him.

I've talked to people these last few weeks. Several people. Just no one I want to talk to again. Earlier, I left Oleander to his own devices and went wandering again. I was out front of the bookstore when I turned to see a man in the window staring at me. I was suddenly gripped by fear. He knew.

I'd left the CZ at home, but I’m fairly capable with a knife. I pulled the blade out and lunged into the store to demand who he worked for, prepared to gut him like a fish if he tried anything. But when I burst in, the man smiled so joyfully, I faltered. He began blabbering about signing something before he noticed the knife in my hand. “What’s a pretty girl like you doing with a scary thing like that?” he asked without a hint of fear.

“I was planning to slaughter you,” I said. 

He laughed. When he asked for my name I gave it to him, watching as he wrote in big swooping letters,

“Dear Senka,
Thanks for reading! I know you’ll make great friends!
-Ignatius Bellmont”

I’d had enough of being out for the day, but I guess what little I understood from the book inspired me to talk to someone else. After going through the stranger’s medicine cabinet, receipts, and music selection, I decided he’s a perfectly decent fellow.

Something in my shoes had been irritating me for hours. I pulled them off and poured an impossible amount of silver glitter onto his floor. Something else shiny caught my attention. I dropped the flats and ran to the window. I opened it, pushed out the screen and carefully maneuvered until I was on the roof.

Stars rained from the sky. It was beautiful, but I wondered, were they afraid to be so out of control, heading for certain disaster, and how long can I keep wandering before I become one of them?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Sylvia Plath

The day started with two crucial realizations:
  1. The only person I’d talked to in the past three months was Oleander. He was good company and all, but all he ever said was “Coo,” and sometimes “Squawk.”
  2. This was not my apartment.
I remembered crawling in through the window around midnight, but I couldn’t recall why I thought that was a good idea. It was just past dawn and I could hear the tenant’s steady breathing in the next room. Whoever they were, they had a nicer apartment than I did. I thought since I was there, I might as well search their kitchen for anything worth eating. I slipped unseen into the hallway, toting a carton of eggs, a bag of bagels, a container of blackberries, and made my way up to apartment 617.

“Coo,” Oleander greeted me. I unlatched the dove's cage and allowed him to perch on my shoulder, where he would remain for most of the day. I wasn’t particularly artistic, but I’d been painting the unfinished floors to take up time. Here there was something that was supposed to be Oleander, over there was a flower that was supposed to be cat, and right by the lamp was an I don’t know. Before I leave, I’ll get a carpet put in over all this and leave it to some future tenant to wonder when they got it replaced.

Around sunset I put Oleander back in his cage and sat in front of the small space heater eating ice cream out of a teacup because it’s hard to cry while eating ice cream. That was my father’s philosophy. We’d eat it in good times and in bad, so you couldn’t burst out sobbing when he told you they’d scouted out a place for you to stay until everything was safe. He told you not to worry it would only be one month. He said they’d come back for you and take you home when everything was under control. Just one month.

Well it’d been three months. And I was running out of money. And I was running out of patience. I shut my eyes and was engulfed in darkness. The space heater died. The refrigerator stopped humming. “I shut my eyes and the world drops dead; I lift my lids and it is born again.” But when I opened my eyes, everything was still silent and dark and dead and I knew I was worse off than Sylvia Plath.

I felt oddly compelled to wander. Maybe they weren’t coming back for me. Maybe this was their way of tossing me out of the nest. But if so, why didn’t they let me pick a city I knew like Belgrade or Sarajevo or Montpellier or Turin or Prato?

I found myself barefoot, covered in paint, and standing in the middle of the fountain. Life is cruel. I watched the blue creep upon my flesh in the frigid waters. With determination, I looked into the statue's stone cold gaze and told it life could suck it, because I was about to learn some life skills. All I’d ever had to do in the past was look pretty, act dumb, occasionally wield a CZ 75 pistol, and remember precisely where everything was. Shut up, life; I'm not Sylvia Plath.