Not until after breakfast do I check my phone
and see that I’ve had a call from St. Petersburg,
Russia. There is no message, so I am left to imagine
who, half a world away, reached out to my number
at 3:43 a.m. Have I gotten on the wrong side
of the Russian mafia, who are calling now to collect
interest on that start-up money for the matryoshka
doll factory that I have dreamed of since grade
school? Or could it be the principal dancer
for the Mariinsky ballet, who has never recovered
from the night I left her at the Palace Bridge, her tears
adding imperceptibly to the dark and placid Neva?
Probably just a scam. Some so-called tsarevna,
descended from Nicholas II, who will pay me
in Fabergé eggs if I fund her return to the throne.
On my walk to the train I try to imagine her
reaching out to this stooped and greying school
teacher, descendant of a long line of unsuccessful
peasant farmers, believing he might actually sign over
his retirement, his 401(k), for a longshot invitation
to the imperial court. When I reverse the call,
I get a recording of a woman’s voice, heavily
accented, lilting and fricative, but after a dozen listens
can make out only “een-tear-net provider,” and later,translate a single word, repeated: luchshe (better), luchshe.