Anya of the Swollen Ankles
speaks to me every day in Russian.
Wanting to be the type who receives
the blessings of the elderly
I hold open doors
and speak English in mime.
I get two words' reward:
"Good afternoon."

In my lonely room
I imitate her efforts.
The slow, cold syrup of her syllables
caulks the cracks in the walkway.
It smoothes the creases
of my peeling wallpaper
and darkens the light
between my miniblinds.

When I open the door
she will be there.
When I finally drift to sleep
she will be
leaning over a book.
When I wake
and turn the keys behind me
she will smile
swollen ankles at altitude
and invite me in
with the same halting phrase:
"Good afternoon."

I don't want her to see me shake.
I hide my hands and
she ducks her head.
In her native tongue
she is probing
for the right response to me.
I say in a whisper
I know I am weak
and sad and unspoken for.
I know...
Shhh, she responds.
No more. No more, girl. No more.


Kristen Havens lives in Los Angeles, where she works as a movie studio temp, private tutor, editorial assistant, and substitute teacher. She is currently at work on several screenplays and a novel.

"Benediction" is based on my experiences with an actual neighbor. Anya spoke to me all the time, and though it always brightened my day, it frustrated me that the only words we had in common were "good morning." Often I'd return home from work to see her sitting in the wicker chair outside her door, a book in her lap and her head at half mast. I wonder if she's been reading the same book for the past two years, and if she's reading the same book still.