On a bright January day, I stood over a fountain in a courtyard, digging in my pocket. Through the sparkling water, I could see coins; pesos, centavos, a euro. I took out a penny that had been in my pocket for thousands of miles, flipped it into the sunlight, and saw it splash into the shining water, teeter-tottering down to rest among the other coins. The bright copper winked up at me through the ripples and splashes and I noted with absurd pleasure that it was heads up.
I had entered the Trotsky House and wandered past the main desk and through the displays of photographs and articles. Framed pictures of Trotsky gesticulating behind a desk and squinting through round glasses, another of Lenin behind a podium mid-speech, and a snapshot of a man holding an ice pick. I knew this history. I continued walking.
The sunlit courtyard and the fountain danced beyond the dim interior display space, and so there I went, peeping in the coops to see if the chickens were real (they were just hens made of straw) and into the rabbit hutches (real and alive, pausing to stare side-eyed at me and then bustling in their straw). A centrally-placed concrete monolith stood in the dappled light, a hammer and sickle below Trotsky’s name and above it, a Soviet flag.
I turned and walked into the house through a small door that opened into a kitchen with a battered enamel sink, tin cups and ladles hanging from a wooden dish rack bolted to the wall, and large platters balanced in narrow niches. It felt humble and kind. I continued through the house, feeling strangely huge passing through the small yet incredibly heavy steel doors and hearing the wooden floor planks groan beneath my boots.
A bathroom. A dining room. An office with a telephone, typewriter, books, papers placed just so, looking like they had been left behind but a moment ago. A bedroom with a hat on the bed. Bullet holes in the walls.
Bullet holes in the walls. I blinked, turned, and considered the doors I was squeezing myself through. Heavy steel doors. I walked back out into the courtyard, and took another look around. On top of the green painted interior walls covered with climbing ivy, a raw and red brick turret with gun ports was tucked into a corner of the roof. The graceful stone walls of the courtyard had been hastily built up, casting unintended shadows on the cacti and trees in the courtyard. The windows, which should have been open to the interior of the house, had been sealed with iron bars. I went back to the office and pondered the papers on the desk again. Right where he left them.
Back to the courtyard, the monolith, the flag, the fountain. I considered the penny winking up at me, and realized I hadn’t made a wish. What would I wish for?
What did he wish for? Peace? If Trotsky wished for that, he didn’t get it. I can’t tell you what I wished for, because of course if I told you then it wouldn’t come true, but if I wished for peace, I hope it would be for all of us.