‘Hard Currency’ by Deborah Willis


From The Walrus:

The last time Alexei paid for sex, he was eighteen years old. How’s that for a beginning, a secret, the truth? It had been his eighteenth birthday, only weeks before he and his parents left for the United States. And now, twenty-eight years later, everything is different: the city is named Saint Petersburg and its crumbling facades are being rebuilt and repainted. But walking down the street at midnight, the northern sun turning the canals pink, it’s as if Alexei is a teenager again, as if he never left. He’s no longer in touch with the friends he grew up with, but it’s as if they are beside him, drunk and singing as they lead Alexei down Leningrad’s bright streets. On his birthday, they’d laughed, collapsing against each other, saying, “Good luck!” as they pushed him toward an apartment block. It overlooked the Neva, and though the apartments were communal, the building was grand. Alexei felt dizzy and warm as he rang the doorbell.

The woman who answered was older than him by at least twenty years and wore her greying hair tied back. This was not what he’d imagined. He figured it was a joke, and waited for his friends to reappear, doubled over and laughing at him. But they were gone, and he was left in front of this woman with broad hips and a tired face. She said her name was Oksana. “Please come in.” Her voice was softer than expected.

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