Chapter 011

Dear Partners!

We would like to inform you that in connection with the Supplementary Agreement dated 01.12.2002 to the Sales Agreement dated 01.09.2002 for the realization of the sales volume, which you have undertaken in the amount of 1600000 rubles (one million six hundred thousand rubles 00 kopecks), you have until 31.12.2003 to pay to Luxchem LLC money in the amount of 256037 rubles 48 kopecks (two hundred fifty six thousand thirty seven rubles 48 kopecks).

Sincerely, Director of Luxchem LLC


I read the fax several times. “This is ridiculous! It can’t be true! No, they can’t do that!” the thoughts swirled around in my head, chased away by common sense. I understood it all at once. But I didn’t want to believe it.

“This is just stupid!” I stared at my father, who was sitting next to me on the couch. “Are they idiots!? Why would they send us something like that!?”

“Yeah,” my father said, staring through his glasses at the sheet of paper handed to him.

“I understand that they don’t want to pay us the five percent of the turnover!” I threw up my hands. “But I don’t understand this!”

My father tucked one leg under the other and began to scratch the tip of his nose with his hand.

The notice was clear – they didn’t want to pay us the bonus we deserved, so they sent us this. Of course, we couldn’t find the amount of money we were owed – we just didn’t have it. I got fired up, called the two owners of “Luxchem” sons of bitches and assholes, and went to the kitchen to get some tea. We had struggled all year to sell the right amount of product, had lost several items that had been taken out of production, and yet we were almost able to meet our obligations. And we got this.

In a few minutes I came back with a cup of tea and was almost calm. After holding the “Fili Conference” with my father, we decided that we needed to prepare a response document.

A day later it was ready. In the letter, we explained that we considered the withdrawal of several items from production after the signing of the Supplementary Agreement as a force majeure that prevented us from fulfilling our obligations, and we considered the payment of the bonus to be fair.

After faxing the paper, we went to work. As I dragged the boxes around the warehouse, I suddenly realized that both of us, my father and I, were determined to settle the matter in our favor. Even if it meant refusing to work with “Luxchem”. At that moment, my father surprised me by telling me that he intended to get the bonus any way he could – we had the “Luxchem” goods in the warehouse, and we could take them for the amount owed to us. My father said he intended to do so if necessary. And I felt firmness in his words.

We worked as usual until the end of the week. On Monday morning, December 8, the expected call came to the home number. My father answered the phone. I leaned against the wall a meter away from him and became all ears. The dialog with Aslanbek was to the point: my father said that we had not fulfilled our obligations for reasons beyond our control, and in response he heard that we would not get our bonus anyway. The voice on the phone – I could not make out the words – said something else at great length. I stared at the pattern of the carpet on the floor. As soon as the phone went silent, my father told him that since we weren’t going to see the bonus, it was probably best to stop cooperating. And he looked at me. I held up my thumb. I did not care that we could lose our most important supplier. We put a lot of time and effort into their product, but there’s a limit to everything. You can’t let someone walk all over you. I was ready to break up. “Screw them, we’ll find a new supplier, there are tons of them, we’ll make it, we’ll get what’s ours and find another product quickly,” I made up my mind.

And the mood on the other end of the phone changed – the owner of “Luxchem” asked how much we could transfer by the end of the year, heard the figure of one hundred and fifty thousand from my father, asked him to try to transfer as much as possible, and said goodbye. He didn’t directly promise to pay what was owed to us, but that’s what we understood.


By mid-December, it became clear that the mall would not open before the New Year. The conversation in the developer’s office was almost in a raised voice, and we were assured that the mall would definitely be open by April. We did not believe it. Although the delay was not a loss to us, I was not happy that we were involved in such a shady deal.

By the end of the third week of December, we had transferred one hundred and fifty thousand to “Luxchem”.


Dear Partners!

We would like to inform you that in connection with the Supplementary Agreement dated 01.12.2002 to the Sales Agreement dated 01.09.2002, in order to fulfill your sales obligations in the amount of 1600000 rubles (one million six hundred thousand rubles 00 kopecks), you have until 31.12.2003 to pay an additional amount of 106037 rubles 48 kopecks (one hundred six thousand thirty-seven rubles 48 kopecks) to Luxchem LLC.

Sincerely, Director of Luxchem LLC


“Are they out of their fucking minds!?” I stared at my father on Monday when I realized the contents of the fax. The document had been sent, as expected, by the secretary, who said that both directors were not present. I came over shivery. This attitude was out of line.

At 9:00 the next morning, I stood with the bells on near my father and the phone. The conversation was diplomatic, but tough. My father quickly reminded Aslanbek of his words that we would get our bonus after our maximum payment. He replied that he had not promised us anything and that we should fulfill the agreement in full. My father said that it is not good to change what he said, he must keep his word. In response, he was accused of being plain rude. I was surprised; my father had handled the conversation as delicately as I wouldn’t have been able to, and would have moved on to emotion long ago. Afterwards, my father parried the phrase about age, saying that he was at least as old as he was, and that respect had to be mutual. After listening to a new tirade, he finally said that obviously there would be no agreement, and therefore he had a business proposal – we take what we deserve in goods and end the cooperation, that they should look for other fools. The director of “Luxchem” replied that he would have to consult with his partner.


Two days later we got a fax:


Dear Partners!

According to the Supplementary Agreement dated 01.12.2002 to the Sales Agreement dated 01.09.2002 for the implementation of the volume of sales for 2003 of products of Luxchem LLC in selling prices in the amount of 1493962 rubles 52 kopecks (one million four hundred ninety-three thousand nine hundred sixty-two rubles fifty-two kopecks), Luxchem LLC undertakes to pay you an amount equal to 5% (five) percent of the above-mentioned amount, i.e. 74698 rubles 13 kopecks (seventy-four thousand six hundred ninety-eight rubles thirteen kopecks).

Sincerely, Director of Luxchem LLC


It was a victory! A small victory, but a very important one! It wasn’t about the money. We had defended the most important thing – ourselves! I almost jumped for joy. The New Year was three days away, and my emotions were mixed with the general holiday spirit. Our clients had postponed orders for next year, there was a break from work, and the days were suddenly free. I wanted to capture the holiday with a purchase, so I started shopping. Coincidentally, in our family, the tradition of giving gifts on New Year’s Eve has faded over time. Each year my parents became more and more estranged from each other, moving toward a formal separation. I was forced to witness the painful effects of my parents’ estrangement. Seeking support, each tried to win me over to their side. Sometimes my father would indirectly accuse me of indulging my mother. My mother, in her usual rude way, regularly threw hurtful remarks in my face, saying that “I took after my boring and all so goody-goody father” and that “I fawned and groveled before him because I was good for nothing and could not earn money myself. To put it simply, I was being spat at from both sides. I felt terrible, and as I tried to figure out where and what I was doing wrong, I tore myself apart more and more. My parents, estranged from each other, tore me in two. Half of me loved them. The other half hated them. Part of me loved my mother just for being there, and the other half hated her for saying and doing mean things. Part of me loved my father for continuing to be in the family despite the difficulties, and the other half hated him for his excessive self-love, his intolerance of the weaknesses of others, and his absolute desolate dryness of feeling. When these thoughts came, it was hard to breathe. I wanted a breath of fresh air, like the bonus we got by New Year’s Eve. A small but much-needed breath of fresh air in the stale, cramped space of small business. And our business itself seemed to have gained stability. It felt as if we had been walking up to our chests in a swamp for years, moving our legs with great difficulty in the thick mud, without feeling any solid substance underneath. And suddenly we felt a narrow solid strip under our feet. We stepped on it, took a deep breath and realized that we had to go on carefully, not to slip, not to miss the chance that life had given us as a reward for many years of ordeals.

I was standing in the center of the city looking up at the snowflakes slowly forming in the night sky. The weather was beautiful – quiet, five degrees below zero, soft snow falling – a perfect winter evening. People rushed past me in the festive bustle. I wandered over and joined the stream of people. Half an hour later, I noticed a cell phone in the window of the mall. I liked it immediately. I picked it up. It was heavy and compact, a flip phone. I opened and closed it, the screen flipped and stuck to the keypad. Silver color. Antenna. I pulled it out and pushed it in. The rotating eye of the camera sat on the deliberately thick central axis of the flip phone. A beautiful men’s phone, I looked at it with admiration. “Ten thousand, it’s a little pricey, but I really want it, I’ll ask my father for the money, I think he’ll give it to me,” festive thoughts went through my head. I returned home and my father gave me the money that same evening without further ado. The next day, December 30, I gave myself a present and celebrated my purchase at “Clear Skies”. The evening was a success. I spent the day before New Year’s Eve at home with a splitting headache and thirst. My mother cooked a holiday meal, and my father and I bought desserts and fruit. I stuffed myself with all this and fell asleep half an hour before New Year’s Eve 2004.


Vovka and I visited “Clear Skies” so actively over the holidays that he ran out of money by Christmas and I was embarrassed to take it out of our general cash register. I spent the remaining two weekends at home playing computer games and thinking about an interesting idea. It had been kicking around in my head since the summer, but only came to fruition in January. The barter system only involved goods from local wholesalers. There were also direct sellers from large international companies operating in the market. The policy of direct sales was the only criterion they professed. There was no barter for such goods. And they were also the most in demand on the market of household chemicals. They accounted for the majority of sales. But because of the pricing policies of the international companies, the wholesalers’ margins on their goods were minimal. Even if a smart wholesaler had decided to barter such goods, he would have made nothing – the discounts on the returned goods would have eaten up all the profit. That’s why no one would barter for direct-distribution goods. It seemed impossible to barter such highly liquid goods.

And then it hit me!

“Peresvet!” “Why didn’t I think of that before, what an idiot, it’s a good idea!” went around and around in my head. “Peresvet”, being essentially a grocery store, placed little emphasis on by-products. And the exclusivity of direct sales was missing. I decided to take advantage of this peculiarity. I mentioned the idea to my father. After thinking about it, he said, “Yeah, that’s an interesting idea,” and agreed.

We stopped at “Peresvet” just after the holidays. My father parked the “GAZelle” and reached for a cigarette.

“Are you staying here or coming with me?” I said, grabbing the doorknob.

“I’ll sit here, what am I supposed to do there?” the cigarette in my father’s hand stopped halfway to his mouth. “You can talk to your friend yourself…”

“Yeah,” I sighed and shook my head. “The director here is a bit… you know…”

 My father laughed silently. I left him in the cozy, heated cabin and went to the office. There were two main buildings on the depot grounds: a one-story warehouse complex with a salesroom inside, and a three-story office with an adjoining two-story warehouse. The second floor of the warehouse was for household chemicals, and the first floor was for beer. The director of “Peresvet”, a slender brunette of medium height, with a neat parting on the left side of his head, tenacious, angry eyes, predatory shoulders, combined with a slightly sunken chest and a walk with outstretched arms, had a character that matched his appearance. Seeing only profit, he did not respond to other contrivances and arguments, let alone sentiments. Therefore, it was almost impossible to communicate and negotiate with him.

I entered the corridor and stood in front of the open door of the director’s office. “Just don’t shit yourself, there is only one good moment,” I mentally prepared myself and knocked on the doorjamb. The director of “Peresvet”, like any natural predator, felt who was in front of him – the victim or the predator. He would morally devour the former. He respected the latter, but quickly determined the “caliber of the blood brother”. If it was bigger, he would tread carefully; if it was weaker, he could “bite” for the sake of it, but if he got a reaction, he would stay “in his territory”. I saw him as a jackal. I could feel his cowardice masked by reflexive insolence and aggression.

“Yuuup…” a voice came from the office.

I said hello as cheerfully and confidently as I could. The director sat at his desk, staring at the monitor, stopped moving his hand over the mouse, and reluctantly slurred a “hello” back.

“I have a business proposal for you!” I continued in the same tone.

“Proposal?” the director took his eyes off the screen, looked in my direction, and immediately stared back. “What kind of proposal? Spell it!”

“We supply you with goods for sale… We get money for it…”

“Yuuup…” the director replied without taking his eyes off the screen.

“I propose to take your goods instead of money for the sold ones!” I said.

When the director realized the significance of what he had heard, he forgot about the computer, sat up straight in his chair, and stared at me. I could literally see the brain’s algorithm examining the proposal for merit. One moment – and the director’s eyes lit up with interest.

“What kind of goods do you want to take?” he uttered.

I replied. The product that the wholesalers of household chemicals had dreamed of and tried to bypass the official distributors, I was now trying to get my hands on. The director’s brain was working again, looking for a catch and my profit. “He didn’t find one,” I realized and smiled at the director’s attentive look.

“No problem, take it,” he said.

“Yes!” I happily jumped into the cabin of the “GAZelle”. “He agreed to barter!”

“Oh, wow!” my father paused with his cigarette, looked at me, took another deep drag, exhaled a puff of gray smoke out the window, and threw his cigarette butt out there, too. “Yeah, that’s good!”

“Good!?” I was surprised, almost jumping up and down on the seat with joy. “What do you mean? This is freaking awesome! We’ll get it for free at a great price. We’re buying it for more money! And now we can shove even more stuff in ‘Peresvet’ and take back a great product! And most importantly, no reference to volume, take as much as you need and the price will always be the lowest! Super!”

“Did you get the leftovers?” my father said.

“Yes, here!” I handed him two sheets of paper and lit a cigarette.

My father put on his glasses and immersed himself in studying the papers. The euphoria I had been feeling burst out again, and I rambled on about how lucky we were that everything had worked out and that the calculations had been right. My father took his eyes off the papers for a second and looked at me with a puzzled expression. I went on – I was happy that they had given us a bigger discount than we had expected and that we had gotten a great product for no money at all!

When I was done talking and silent, I looked at my father, who had his full attention on the papers. My euphoria was gone. I felt down and mechanically finished my cigarette, absent-mindedly wandering through the winter landscape behind the glass.

“Shall we go?” my father’s voice sounded a few minutes later.

“Yes,” I said, throwing out the cigarette and closing the window. “Let’s go.”

“Where are we going now?” my father looked at me as he sat upright, holding the steering wheel with one hand and the shift lever with the other. There was a military bearing to his posture. In a split second, the image of a tin soldier, ready to go anywhere at any time, appeared in my mind.

“To ‘Arbalest’,” I said mechanically, turning to the window and adding. “We’ll pick up the soap there and take it to Senya to ‘Mercury’.”

“That’s all?”

I nodded without turning around.

“Say something! Why are you silent?” my father added irritably.

“That’s all!” I turned and looked at him. “I nodded, didn’t I?”

“I don’t know if you did!” my father looked at me, clenching his jaw. “Is it too much trouble to say yes? I don’t know what you have planned for today, do I?”

“What do you mean, I planned?” I also began to get angry. “Don’t you participate in the planning?! You don’t know where we’re going and why we’re going!?”

Pause. My father was silent, staring at me, his teeth clenched.

“Don’t get smart with me!” he grumbled, slamming his hands on the wheel. “I’m turning the wheel! And all this route planning, that’s your responsibility, I’m not going to memorize it now!”

“You’ve got yourself a good job spinning the steering wheel and that’s it!” I retorted, realizing that I smelled another quarrel. They had become more frequent lately. But I didn’t care. I wanted to fight. Everything was boiling inside me, and I added: “I’m the one who calls everybody and makes orders and prepares orders and tracks the goods and writes the waybills and gathers the goods in the warehouse, while you just turn the wheel!?”

“If necessary, I negotiate in the most important moments!” my father also raised the heat. “Or have you forgotten who made the arrangements with the breweries, who called all the companies in Krasnodar!”

“Who else would call them? Who among the directors would talk to me with a twenty-five year old kid! Nobody!” I threw up my hands. “There was no other way but for you to call, because you’re a grown man, they would have communicated with you and not with me! That’s all! If I was older, I would have called all those places myself! Who found them? Who found the ads!?”

My father was silent. There was a mutual dislike in the air. I could feel it in everything: in his look, in his tone, in the anger that had suddenly erupted.

“Did you find them!? No!” I wouldn’t let up. “How many suppliers did you find? Tell me! You don’t tell me!? That’s right! You didn’t find any, so you don’t say anything! You didn’t even try to look! I found them all!”

“Now what!?” my father said through clenched teeth. “You’ll find more if you have to! I am your father! I feed you! And as long as I do…”

“Who!? You feed me!?” I was surprised by what I heard. “You don’t feed me! I make my own money! I carry these boxes myself, and more than you do!”

“Shut up!” my father barked.

I fell silent. I thought I was dreaming and hearing this in my sleep. I stared at my father, my eyes blinking and my lips moving silently like a stranded fish, and I couldn’t understand why he was saying these things. My father’s words were at odds with the image I had seen in him since childhood of an honest, pedantic, and decent parent who was a source of unquestioned authority and respect. I listened and could not believe my ears. My father was blatantly distorting reality to suit himself. This had never happened before. Yes, we fought. Sometimes, rarely. Even then, it was only over small things. Now something else had happened. We marked our difference in our vision of working together. Moreover, my father was clearly distorting reality. An oddity and a precedent happened at the same time. I had not yet realized it, but something important in my mind had changed irrevocably, and a bitterness of resentment arose. A bitterness of resentment over an untruth. All the time before, I had worked selflessly, as hard as I could. I didn’t divide who had done more and who had done less. I just knew exactly what was done by me and what was done by my father. And when, in the heat of the moment, I expressed the extent of my involvement, my father cheekily turned it into nothing. I was vaguely aware that this was his way of increasing his involvement and thus his own importance. Not a fair move. My father had never allowed anything like this before. I wondered. Either my knowledge of my father was incomplete, or I had discovered something new in his character. “Competition? With whom? With me, with his own son!? That’s silly.” I pushed the unpleasant thought away. I tried it on myself. Had I ever thought that about my father? No. After all, we are a family and we do the same thing. We have to respect and appreciate each other’s work. That’s what my father taught me. “But why doesn’t he follow his own concepts?” I was confused. I had a nasty feeling.

“Look at him, smart guy!” my father continued. “Why don’t you sit down and turn the wheel? Sitting behind his father’s back! His father, like a fool, turns the wheel, drives him all day long, and he just sits next to him and criticizes! When you start earning your own money, you’ll open your mouth! Until then, keep your mouth shut and sit quietly while your parents feed you!”

There was dead silence in the cabin.

“We can swap places,” I said quietly.

My father glared at me.

“We can swap places,” I repeated in a calm tone. “I’ll drive and carry the boxes with you. And you would call everyone, collect the orders, run with the waybills, keep the records on the computer, receive and issue the waybills, arrange and assemble the goods in the warehouse. I’m in. We can swap places.”

For a few seconds I was scrutinized with a savage look.

“Don’t get smart! Sit and work! You’ll do what you’ve always done!” my father took the gear lever again. “Where are we going!?”

“You know exactly where we’re going,” I said calmly, watching my father with conscious interest, studying his reactions.

“I ask again, where are we going!? I’m not going to guess!” he gritted his teeth.

“To ‘Arbalest’,” I smiled slightly, wanting to laugh out loud but holding myself back.

“That’s more like it!” my father put in the first speed and the “GAZelle” started. “Playing smart here! You’ll be smart with your girlfriends.”

I didn’t answer and turned to the window. I had a lot to think about.

The rest of the day passed with tension and little communication. I mechanically did what I always do. At “Arbalest” I went to the office and dictated the order to the manager, who made out a waybill. I took it to the warehouse to the storekeeper, waved to my father – pull up. The “GAZelle” backed up to the warehouse ramp and stopped. I removed the cover and jumped into the back. The storekeeper brought up a pallet full of goods. My father started to feed the boxes, I took them to the back and stacked them. Then we drove to “Mercury” and in half an hour we were there. It took another half hour to write the waybill in the cabin. A tedious task. My father sat with his elbows on the steering wheel and smoked. I wrote the waybill by hand, put a folder under it on my lap, and counted all the prices on a calculator. When I was done with the waybill, I went to the office, upstairs to Senya, who gave me permission to unload the goods. With this paper I bypassed all the services of the depot and returned to the “GAZelle”. My father sat in the cabin and took a nap. After I woke him up, I went to the warehouse and got in line to unload. Half an hour later, the previous car unloaded and made way. My father brought the “GAZelle” to the conveyor belt and I removed the cover. The conveyor came to life, the belt crawled down into the basement storeroom for household chemicals. I started putting boxes on it, everything. In half an hour the goods were in the basement. Another ten minutes of checking the goods with the storekeeper, and the day’s work was done. I jumped into the warm cabin of the “GAZelle” and it took me home. We were silent the whole way. I don’t know what my father was thinking, or if he was thinking at all, maybe he never thought about anything while driving. I was thinking.


We had to wait out February before the spring revival of sales. The month was sunny and frosty, and the days dragged on monotonously. Eventually, the sun’s bright rays drove the cold out of the crystal blue sky, saturated the color with moisture, and barely began to warm. On the morning of February 24, I waddled fifty meters behind my father to the parking lot, remembering that the thermometer outside the window read fifteen degrees below zero and that we had another cold day of work ahead of us. That’s how it came out. I creaked toward the “GAZelle” as my father swept the snow off the cabin with his brush and smoked at the same time.

“Let me!” I shouted, taking the brush from my father. “Get in, start it!”

He looked at his cigarette, took a puff or two, put it away and went into the cabin. The “GAZelle” started on the second try, roaring loudly, grabbing cold air, but holding the revs and rumbling more quietly. There was a lot of work to do – three wholesale orders and two waybills for the kiosks. Forty minutes later we arrived at the warehouse. The oil in the padlock was frozen, and I had a hard time turning the key, opened the gate with a creak, and stepped inside. Frozen through at the end of winter, the warehouse still gave the elusive illusion of warmth and comfort. Driven by the cold, we set to work immediately, and without a moment’s pause, we packed and loaded the goods in an hour, filling the back of the truck to the brim. My father drove the car away, I closed the gate and ducked into the almost cold cabin. The heater was humming again, trying to melt the frost that had already taken hold of all the windows. I grabbed a squeegee and started to help it.

Forty minutes later, we were at the kiosks.

“Tell Nadezhda Petrovna and Polina that we are here, tell them to get ready there,” I slurred to my father, jumped out, removed the cover, opened the back side, grabbed the nearest box and carried it to the kiosks. It was fifteen meters to them; I caught up with my father at the nearest Nadezhda Petrovna kiosk, threw the box on an iron case that stood in front of the kiosk for just such a purpose, greeted the saleswoman, and said to my father: “I’ll carry the boxes, and you help them sort out the goods!” and went back.

The frost did not leave me standing for a second – I ran with the boxes from the “GAZelle” to the kiosks, my father took the goods out of the boxes and gave them to the saleswomen, who piled them up in the corners and on the shelves. We were done in half an hour, and then we went to the wholesale outlets.

At “WholeSale”, a ruddy, stout storekeeper I knew laughed when she saw us.

“Oh! It’s freezing and they’re working! Tolya!” she turned to my father. “It’s all right for us, bound servants! But you!? You should have stayed at home! A good owner wouldn’t let his dog out in this weather, and you came!”

“It’s okay!” I said. “We have to work, no need to keep our asses warm at home!”

“You’ll be a millionaire in no time!” she laughed.

“I don’t mind!” I said and opened the back of the car. “I’ll be a millionaire, I’ll leave everything and go to a warm country!”

“What are you going to do there?” the storekeeper waved her hands.

“I’m not going to do anything!” I smiled and jumped into the back of the car. “I’m going to spend the whole day in shorts and flip-flops, sitting on a chair on the porch of my house, looking at the ocean!”

“Come on!” she waved her hand. “Give it to me, dreamer!”

We unloaded. The storekeeper signed the waybills, I ran to the office with them and made the necessary markings. It took another forty minutes. We moved on. “Mongoose”. Same thing. I ran to the office, got an unloading permit on the waybill in the office, and went back to the “GAZelle”. We wandered between warehouses and outhouses to the far corner of the depot, stopped, I ran to look and found a storekeeper I knew.

“No loaders!” he said, waving to a nearby truck. “See? Soap, twenty tons! And there’s bleach over there, too!”

“And what do we do?” I asked a question to which I already knew the answer.

“If you want, you can unload it yourself,” the storekeeper shrugged.

So we did, and we were done in half an hour. As soon as we had closed the side, we took a breath, my father lit a cigarette, and I started to cover the back of the car. The canvas became quite stiff in the cold, hardened at once. In ten minutes the storekeeper came running in, handed me the signed waybill, and ran to the truck that was being unloaded. My father finished his cigarette. It was cold. I dived into the warm cabin.

“Where to now, ‘Arbalest’?” my father said.

“Yes, we’ll unload and load soap for Senya and then go home,” I nodded, shivering. The frost was starting to get under my clothes and take away my body heat.

Twenty minutes, three traffic lights, and we’re at “Arbalest”. My father pulled up in front of the office, and I jumped out of the car and ran up to the second floor, where I found myself almost in a winter botanical garden. In the spacious room, about a dozen managers sat at tables full of plants in pots and tubs. The atmosphere was that of a resort. Everyone was leisurely going about their business – one was talking on the phone, another was copying papers, and most of them were staring at their computer monitors. The phlegmatic manager I knew was playing, clicking his mouse with a rubbery expression on his face. Ilya sat next to him, watching the monitor with a glassy eye. My visit brought them both out of their stupor. Ilya signed the permit for unloading, and I ran out. The “GAZelle” was already parked in front of the right warehouse. I found the storekeeper, who was tipsy – it was possible to stay warm all day in the cold, occasionally going into the unheated warehouse only with the help of vodka.

“What did you bring?” the storekeeper looked at me with bleary eyes, heard the answer, nodded and left, returning with a pallet, throwing it flat on the ground and waving at me. “Come on, give it to me!”

I ducked under the cover and began throwing package after package outside, happy to feel the healing warmth building in my shoulders and flowing down my body. We were done in half an hour.

“Go to the other side, we’ll load the soap,” I told my father, jumping off the ramp and walking back to the office. The “GAZelle” crossed the yard to the warehouse across the street. After picking up the waybill from the bored manager next to the monitor, I went back outside, found the storekeeper of the right warehouse, and slipped him the document. “I’ll get it for you,” he muttered and left.

Ten minutes passed, and I was beginning to freeze, when the storekeeper finally rolled out a pallet of goods. “At least I can throw some boxes and get warm,” I was happy and jumped into the back of the truck.

It took about fifteen minutes. My father handed me the boxes outside and I stacked them. When we were done, I returned to the ramp and straightened up, my back aching.

“To ‘Mercury’?” my father clarified as I followed him into the cabin.

“To ‘Mercury’,” I nodded.

The windows on the inside had time to freeze. The squeegee thing started again. My father drove the car, and I cleaned the glass. Half an hour later we were there. The yard of the depot was full of cars, a line was forming to unload at the conveyor belt. My father found a free place and cautiously crawled into the “GAZelle”. I jumped out of the cabin.

“What’s up?” my father said when I came back.

“Three cars in front of us,” I said, pulling out the blank forms; the most tedious part of the job was writing the waybill by hand. Two forms, a copy sheet between them, a calculator, a pen – I placed the “Mongoose” waybill in front of me and began to write my own. My father saw me fidgeting and offered to help, calculating the prices on the calculator and telling me. He pressed the buttons a few times, the calculator screen showed a number, and my father froze.

“Damn,” he cursed softly, moving the calculator away from his eyes. My father had always had perfect eyesight. I, on the other hand, had been slightly nearsighted since school. It didn’t bother me, but sometimes I thought twenty-twenty vision was great. I read in some smart magazine that after forty-five, the eyeball starts to shrink and your vision changes. Normal vision becomes hyperopia and nearsightedness becomes normal. My father laughed at me when he heard the article, but a year later he felt the changes, and by the time he was fifty-two he could not read up close without his glasses.

I looked at my father. He pushed the calculator almost an arm’s length away from him.

“I don’t see anything,” he muttered, putting his glasses on his nose. “What’s the price again?”

I repeated it patiently. My father began to poke at the calculator again, very slowly and carefully. I waited. Finally, my father said the number, which I wrote down and immediately gave him the next one. Everything was repeated just as carefully and slowly. My father announced the total of the calculation. I wrote it down and looked at the waybill to be written – thirty-two items. We spent about four minutes on two of them. “Another hour to write the prices on the waybill and then count the amounts line by line and the total at the bottom? No, I don’t think so! We’re sure to miss our turn.” I took the calculator and started to do everything myself. My father rested his chin on his hand and gazed into space.

When I was done with the waybill in twenty minutes, I went to Senya. In the noisy salesroom, people were scurrying back and forth. The director, the accounting department, the certification service – I walked around them all, crossed the salesroom, and stomped up the stairs. The door to Senya’s office stood wide open. His deep voice echoed from there, telling the person on the other end of the phone, with a lot of expletives, that the price offered for sugar was high.

In about ten minutes I came back to the car with Senya’s permission to take the money, handed the paper to my father and said:

“Here! Would you go and get it? It’s obviously not our turn yet.”

I sat alone for twenty minutes. The first car left the warehouse and the next one was unloading. I looked at my watch: 5:20 p.m. “We won’t make it to six, but we should be unloaded by seven,” I thought, almost dozing off. Just then my father returned.

“Did you get it?” I muttered.

“Yes,” my father said, reaching for a cigarette, opening the window and smoking again. I looked in the direction of the warehouse. There were a suspicious number of people hanging around the conveyor belt.

“What happened there? I’ll go see,” I said, and soon I was back.

“What’s wrong?” my father said as soon as I got inside.

“The bolt sheared off,” I said angrily, annoyed that the repairman said it would take another half hour to fix the conveyor.

“What kind of bolt?” my father stared at me in surprise.

I told him.

My father listened and began to tell and prove in detail how the conveyor belt design was wrong and how it should have been done. It was long, detailed, and boring. At that moment I felt a terrible urge to get out of the cabin. But it was freezing outside.

“I’ll go and see how it’s going,” I couldn’t stand it after a minute.

“I’m just finishing up, it’ll work in about five minutes!” the same worker replied, diligently pounding on the problem spot with a sledgehammer. I didn’t want to go back to my father, so I staggered into the salesroom. I spent some time there, in the warmth and the crowd, and returned to the conveyor. It was already rattling, dragging boxes down to the basement. Feeling a bit cold, I went back to the “GAZelle”. My father was napping. I approached the conveyor belt twice more, hoping it would be our turn, but it wasn’t until 7 p.m. The sun had set and night was falling on the city. “I can’t wait to unload and go home! I’m freezing like a dog,” I thought to myself as the “GAZelle” pulled up to the conveyor belt. It moved, I opened the side and began to throw ten kilogram boxes of soap onto the crawling belt of the warehouse. It took half an hour to unload. It took me another ten minutes to check the goods, then I went to the accounting department and marked the waybill. As I left the depot office, I felt relieved that the long, cold day’s work was over and walked to the car.

“That’s it!” I yelled as I got into the cabin. “Home!”

My father started the engine before it had cooled down, and we drove out of the “Mercury” at 7:55 p.m., headlights on, into the darkness of night that had already fallen on the city. Forty minutes to the parking lot, ten more to walk home. We walked tired, almost silent, but happy. All the work was done, another winter and very frosty day was over. Fighting the cold that was getting under my skin, I walked down the path through the snowy field, imagining a bathtub full of hot water. Even with the glow of the city lights, the sky sparkled generously with bright stars. In the distance, the chimney of the boiler house spewed white smoke vertically upward. “Tomorrow it will be even colder, it’s good that everything was taken today and the retail goods were brought in, tomorrow we’ll be sitting at home and in a day it might get warmer,” I thought encouragingly and suddenly realized that I hadn’t eaten anything all day. Immediately my stomach hurt.

“I’m hungry,” I said to my father, who was walking in front of me.

“I’m hungry too,” he replied. “We ate all the food in the morning, but your mother must have gone to the store to buy food and cook something by now. I left her the money.”

“I’ll be home soon. It’s warm there.” We walked into the entranceway and it was already warm. We’re at the elevator. It didn’t seem like we walked very far from the parking lot, but my father’s face was red again. “My face probably looks the same.” The elevator came. We took it to the floor. My father pushed the bell button. There were footsteps behind the door. The door opened. We tiredly entered the apartment. My mother silently turned and walked down the corridor. I began to undress, trying to get out of my cold outer clothes as quickly as possible. I could feel my whole body shaking and I felt cold inside of my warm pants and sweater. My toes could barely bend. I was completely frozen. “I can’t wait to get in the tub.” I rubbed my shoulders through my sweater and the warmth slowly ran down my arms. My father took off his down jacket and went into the kitchen, and I followed. All I could think about was food.

“What have we got to eat?” I said cheerfully.

My father looked at the empty stove and then at the table. I did the same. The money for food was untouched. My father opened the fridge, closed it, and went into the back room. I followed him. My father opened the door of the room, froze and said in surprise:

“You didn’t go grocery shopping, did you?”

“No!” came the harsh reply.

I looked over my father’s shoulder into the room and my mother was sitting on the couch watching TV.

“Why!?” my father said, confused.

“I didn’t want to!!” my mother almost screamed.

I looked at her face, which immediately became angry.

“Mom, why didn’t you make something to eat?” I added.

“All you want me to do is cook, do the laundry, and clean up after you!!!” my mother snapped, jumping up and storming out of the room, pushing my father into the chest in the doorway, hissing, “Let me go,” and walking down the hall to the kitchen.

I froze in confusion. My father’s face fell as well. Something new had happened. We’d gotten used to my mother’s regular outbursts against us. After that, she would calm down and normal life would resume. But it never happened that my mother didn’t have dinner ready when we came home from work.

My father and I looked at each other. I walked into the kitchen with my father behind me.

“Mom, what are you saying?” I said. “We’re hungry, we worked all day. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong!!!” she shouted, rushing around the cramped kitchen. She grabbed a chair, lifted it off the floor, and set it down with a bang. “You’re happy with everything!!! The only thing you know how to do is eat!!! You’ve got yourself a cook!!! Go and do your own cooking, laundry, and cleaning!!! I’m not going to slave away for you anymore!!!”

I didn’t understand anything. I stood there and watched my mother have a fit of hysterics.

“What happened?” my father’s voice came from behind me.

“You shut the fuck up!!!” my mother was pissed. “Fucking bismissman!!! The others have bought themselves Mercedes and apartments, and he’s still trying to earn some money, but he can’t make any! He gives me pocket change just so your mother can buy food!!! And then she has to stand at the stove all day!!! And wash your dirty underwear! We haven’t been able to renovate our apartment for a year now! There’s still no money!!”

“Mom, what are you doing?” I said, confused by the surrealism of what was happening.

“And you shut up!!!” she yelled at me. “Just as sly-arsed as your father!!! You’re sitting pretty next to your daddy!!! You’ve got yourself a warm place! You don’t want to go to work, you just run after him, you don’t give a shit!!!”

It all boiled over inside me. Anger, resentment. It was all mixed up. I didn’t understand what was happening.

“That’s enough! Stop it now!” my father could not stand it and walked around me into the kitchen.

“Don’t you stop me here!” my mother yelled frantically. “Got it?! You!!! Asshole!!!”

My father tried to grab her elbow. My mother lashed out with a sharp movement, punched him in the chest with her fist, pushed him away, and yelled again, “Don’t touch me!!! Or else!!!”

My mother’s eyes flickered desperately around the kitchen, looking for something to grab. My father moved toward her.

“Get away from me!!!” my mother screamed.

“Has she gone crazy…?” it flashed through my mind. My mother threw a punch at my father, who recoiled. She rushed to the exit, pushed me out the door and ran to her room.

“What’s the matter with her?” I stared at my father.

“Heh,” he brushed me off, clenching his jaw.

There was an awkwardness in the air.

“Well, we’ll have to make our own dinner,” I said.

My father exhaled loudly, scratched the back of his head, and grunted confusedly.

“Yeah,” he said. “We’ll have to, for sure.”

The pause was oppressively quiet again.

“All right,” I said. “I’ll go to the store and you go to the bathroom and get warm. I’ll come back and get in the tub while you cook.”

My father agreed. I took the money, reluctantly put on my still cold down jacket and went out. Cold again. My thoughts froze. I walked into the darkness, my face pressed into my collar. My mind was torn between food and a hot bath. I was so hungry that my stomach hurt. I tried to analyze what had happened, but I could not. I immediately felt depressed. I tried to distract myself. I automatically did some shopping and went home. My father had already come out of the bathroom, steaming and satisfied. I sneaked into the bathroom. I undressed. My arms and legs were covered with goosebumps. My toes were blue-green and almost ice-cold. I used the bath plug, turned on the hot water, and jumped in without waiting for the tub to fill. Superior bliss! My back touched the bottom of the tub and was embraced by a thin layer of hot water. I tried to squeeze in as hard as I could. I couldn’t fit in the tub and my legs were sticking up with my bluish knees. The goosebumps grew. I closed my eyes and threw my head back. The stream of water thundered against the bottom of the tub, vibrating and spreading its power around me. The water rose and covered my ears and there was silence. The steady hum and the warmth of the water enveloping me lulled me to sleep. I dozed off. I saw summer. “Just a few days and it’s spring, just a few days and it’s spring, just a few…”

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