First Kiss

     by John High

        Hempis, the work continues outside the dream and the dream continues if it is true and you are standing by the forest with your horse.
        You told me this the night you found me.
        The monks are playing the drums outside, too. Inside the candles are burning. Zo Shan is writing and honoring my deep request, for somehow I must leave these words for you to someday find. The drums are beating, Hempis-though the one-eyed boy is back in the schoolyard where he first kissed. The boy is smart enough to know that girls are trouble, but there is no time to study their intention this morning.
        All the girls begin to chase him because the other boys are secretly afraid of this one-eyed one and his machete now. The girls say he is pretty.

        These Russian girls' laughter is bigger than the dream, older than the hearing, stronger than the sleep.
        One day it will find him by the forest on a dead horse.
        On another day he will ride the horse into the dream.
        The one-eyed boy dodges the first of four or five girls as he darts around the Soviet built school building. He outmaneuvers another girl as he crosses the horseshoe pit, the poster of Stalin on the telegraph line, and scampers past two or three Beruit children-though one girl, Natasha is her name-catches the tuff of his sleeve as the boy makes the bend around to Lenin's statue in the square.
        The other boys his age and the older ones too are watching, hating the kid called Jo Jo. Jew-boy-Mongol, they say. Blind boy.
        The boy feels the tinges in his body-he is running hard now-his own hatred melting into the one named Natasha's big eyes. This is his first desire, to kiss her-and he is only 10 years old. Natasha, the school favorite. A Party girl, a Beirut girl with a future. She is two grades ahead of him in class. The one-eyed boy understands he isn't supposed to fall in love with one of them. The Soviet boys will mock, wait their time, and he understands they'll be jealous too-that there will be a price to be paid, but still, he is not afraid. Though he cannot remember how, he senses the travels in the dream world you taught him. No, he is not afraid, except for Dima and Boris. He will have to watch for them, his papa has warned him. Dima and Boris' father is the Colonel, Colonel Bokov. The big man. The real one to fear. And then there is Petro Andreevich too, the handsome and powerful son of the Commissar. But the boy will not worry about him, not now. Petro is older, a goloboi-one who likes the other boys, and he hasn't time for scum informants from China.
        With her long black hair and big black eyes, Natasha can do whatever she wants with them. She can even run soccer with the KGB cadets after school, flirt with Petro and even the Komsomol teacher, play hooky from school, talk to the soldiers.
        She is already desired enough to be one of them.
        But she is not one of them, Hempis-and one day they will know.
        The boy has seen her kissing the officers in the bushes near the old cottage off the main road near Lake Baikal.
        He has studied her in secret.
        She is a child.

        As he swings into a full-fledge dash across the schoolyard, the boy spots a swarm of kerchiefs running toward him. He circles Lenin's statue again and skids off to the right toward the fence. Turning the corner and circling back, he sees Boris and Dima laughing, waving him on-as if to encourage him, Natasha waiting across the fence in her tall, lanky skittish body.
        There she is, Hempis.
        Do you see her, as the boy sees her? I have seen you in the dream and I know you are not far off, Hempis. Can you see her as he will see her for the rest of his life.
        Panting, leaning over on his knees to catch his breath, the one-eyed boy glances up and her tallness is almost over him like a shadow of an albino crow, hovering just a few feet away, her bird-hands flickering on thighs as she calls out haughtily, "The others chase me, and here I am chasing you. But you will chase me in the end. Come, Jo Jo. I'll teach you how to kiss!"

        The boy rushes off one more time toward the lake. Still, he hears the school door opening and the other girls in their blue skirts and Soviet kerchiefs corner him before he can reach the main room, before Mr. Kuznetsov, who has finally caught sight of them, can make his way past the field. The boy looks up and in what seems like a split-second, he finds his back pinned against the red brick wall of the school house-his arms pushed back and his face being smothered with kisses.
        His Mongol-Jew face blushing and embarrassed, the schoolmates jeering and pointing and calling him names-and just as he is about to cry out, Natasha swoons in toward his ear maneuvering her hand between his legs, "Meet me on Leninskii' Road after school." She nudges the other girls away with no problem, slides her tongue in his ear, tosses back her black mane, laughs at the School Master who has made his way over, jealously clearing a path between the girls and boys alike.
        Mr. Kuznetsov grabs the boy by his arms.
        "You will be ashamed of yourself! You will suffer for this," the young school master shouts.
        He drags the boy back into the hall, shooing the rest away and back into class. Later, he leans the boy over the desk in front of all of them, and takes out his sticků.like the cadets will do when the boy is older and in secret training among them.

        Still, when the school bell rings and he has finished his Komsomolist pledge-writing one hundred times I Will Be A Good Communist And Respect All Women-and after he has trudged down the hall hearing the other boys' jeers under their breaths JEW JEW while he passes-the boy looks out across the red brick yard and sees Natasha leaning on the fence, whistling.
        He follows her.
        He follows her up the hill and along Leninskii Road until they're out of the village in the open spring fields full of spotted black & white birch trees covered with the last of thawing snow and ice.
        "Come here, malchik."
        He walks toward her open arms shyly.
        "Come here, malchik-boy she calls him. Haven't you ever kissed a girl?"
        He looks down at his feet.
        "But you have killed an ox and you have a pretty eye. And I know you cannot see out of it. Do you know how they kiss in Mongolia?"
        "I am not a Mongol."
        He feels her hand on his flush cheek.
        "I know where we can go." She cups his face into her hands and kisses him hard on the mouth.
        "There's an old cottage not far from here. It belonged to Rasputin before the Revolution, and the door is still boarded, but I know how to get in. Come on. No one uses it, I swear."
        "You know who Rasputin is, don't you, malchik?"
        "My name is Jo Jo."
        She takes his hand and leads him off the road and down a little path that follows a creek surrounded by crows and old graves from the Russian Civil War.
        After the two have crawled through the window of the cottage, Natasha wastes no time, stripping off his shirt and then his dirty pants. She orders the malchik to stand there for what seems like the longest time as she takes out her crayons and traces the shape of a horse around his chest and groin and thighs and touches the dream world you opened for her, Hempis.
        When he gets home, the boy sees there are no marks from the crayons' colors still remaining on his body. No horse. Then, as if awakening from a stupor, he remembers that the girl named Natasha, who he now loves, licked them off before sending him on his way.


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