Matter of time

First illustration from “Olga & Trotsky,” a short story by Katja Hofmann.

(1) It had been a mistake to order cold Borscht for breakfast, on such a day as this, when the sea of ice seemed even more windswept and glassy than usual. Olga Zherenkova gazed jealously at the plate of steaming fried eggs the waitress was serving the poet at the next table. Jeffrey Shulman had always had a better instinct for food. He knew ways to combat the sea of ice.

Olga began to shiver at the thought that, in an hour at the latest, she would have to leave the café again and go home. For one more hour at the most, the rotund Mamushka would allow her to stay at the walnut table, warming herself at the gas stove. For now Mamushka stood motionless at the entrance, staring out at the Arctic. Her red woollen scarf was wrapped tight around her moon-face, her meaty arms hung as if clamped to the seams of her yellow velvet dress, and from time to time she pursed her cherry lips into a tiny kiss, directed at the expanse of cold nothingness. But Olga Zherenkova didn’t let Mamushka’s outer composure deceive her. She knew that the innocent shine in those bulbous eyes concealed a steely clockwork mechanism, which second for second tallied up orders Olga could not afford.

— Translation by Steph Morris.

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