YERGA
From The Third Coast, 2003
© 2003 George Bishop, Jr.

 

Then I got this job tutoring a Lithuanian basketball player. The university had brought her here from Moscow, as a power center. We met in the women’s locker room. She had to duck to come through the doorway.

“Hello, I am Yerga,” she said.

“Yes, hello, nice to meet you,” I said to her chest.

Even from there I could see she had a pretty face—freckles, light skin, a straight nose, straight lips. Her blond-brown hair hung in a straight line around the back of her neck, just brushing the tops of her shoulders. When she spoke, one corner of her mouth raised up in a sort of mocking way.

I asked about her country. She told me all about it. She said she missed it very much—her relatives, her good friends there. “There’s no place like Lithuania,” she said. I said she was probably right. I noticed she prounounced the name of the country in an odd way. Or perhaps this is the way it’s really pronounced, by the Lith people. She’d been in America for a year already, and wasn’t allowed to go home until she finished out her contract. “Three more years,” she told me, with a sigh. “Then I can go home.” I wondered if she got out much, being so tall. She was wearing black stockings under faded bell-bottom blue jeans and cheap-looking black slippers. I was reminded of how those East Germans looked when they first crossed over, their funny-looking clothes, and how eager and happy they all seemed then, and I couldn’t help but feel a certain affection for her.

Driving home to my apartment from our meeting, I thought about Yerga and all the things we had talked about. I thought about asking her out. I could take her to a bar downtown, I thought. Nothing fancy—just a working-class kind of bar. She seemed lonely. But then, what a circus that would be, me and Yerga stepping up to the counter to order drinks. And who knows, maybe the coach didn’t allow her to drink alcohol. But surely they drank beer in Lithuania. I guessed the Liths must be great beer drinkers; some of the best, probably.

I thought of bringing her to New York for Christmas. We could ride the train up together. She’d probably never been to New York, except when she had to pass through customs at JFK on her way here from Lithuania, and that wouldn’t have been a pleasant experience. We could go see the tree in Rockefeller Center and go ice skating there. Only, Yerga would be too shy to skate in New York, even though she skated often in Lithuania, where it is usually frozen. She would be too shy because of all the happy, healthy, rich and average-height Christmas shoppers there. I would try to persuade her. Come on Yerga, come on, I’d say. Look, I’m skating and I don’t even know how! Finally she would agree to it. But then there’s a problem with the skates—they don’t have her size. The attendant’s looking around, his breath is puffing in white clouds from his mouth. He’s never in his life seen feet this big. “I gotta tell ya’, lady . . .” he says. Yerga’s about to give up the whole affair—it suddenly seems like an awfully stupid idea to both of us—when, ah!, the guy finds some shoes. An ancient pair of men’s giant-sized cracked leather skates, stuck back behind a blue wooden box. Even these are a little tight on her—they pinch her black stockings at the heel. But we strap them on and I lead Yerga out onto the rink. She smiles, lets go my fingers and glides away across the ice. Her brown-blond hair lifts as she turns. She’s skating like an angel. She’s not even touching the ice. She’s not too tall, not now. All of Rockefeller Center turns to watch her float and twirl above the ice, and just then, just like it’s supposed to—just like in Lithuania—the snow begins to fall.