Sales in the new department were poor. For the entire month of May, its daily profit hovered just above break-even. “It’s okay, it’s a new store, it takes two or three months to get up to speed, we have to be patient,” I reassured myself. Two departments away, in an area of forty meters, there was another outlet for household chemicals. I feared in vain that it belonged to one of the big companies – the owner of the department was a small seller. “We’ll have to crush him, in a few months he’ll run away on his own,” I said to myself. It seemed to me that the most difficult stage of our ordeal in business was over, and that from now on it would be easier: to set up departments in shopping malls and individual stores, and that would be it. In the midst of these thoughts, I suggested that my father and I set up another department.
“We can do it, we just have to find a good place, not just open it anywhere,” he said. “And it shouldn’t be as expensive to rent as this one.”
“It’s not that expensive, either. The average price is a thousand and a half a meter everywhere, but here it’s only a thousand,” I objected, thinking and sighing. “Although, even that’s expensive, we can barely handle it so far. All right, let’s look for other retail space.”
“You just have to look right, or you’ll start again… I know you!” my father said.
“Start what!?” I stared at him.
“You’ll start grabbing everything, indiscriminately, the first department you come across!”
“I don’t get it!” I looked at my father in surprise. “What’s stopping you from looking for a normal department and not the first one you come across!? Look for it too!”
My father froze, changed his expression, and stared at me with a hard, studying gaze.
“I’ll be looking, too!” he raised his tone.
“Then do it!” I added, not about to back down.
“I will!” my father raised his voice more.
“Well, do it!” I laughed, realizing that my father had nothing to say except helpless stubbornness. “If you find it, fine! I’ll thank you for it! All the better for us.”
My father gave me a long, unfriendly look, turned away, said something obscene in a low voice, and lit a cigarette.
At the end of May, we stopped at “Homeland”. I wanted to see for myself that “Luxchem” was shipping its goods directly. I did. I went alone, my father had a cigarette and stayed in the car. I found the entire assortment of “Luxchem” in the windows of the sales room and went out with a renewed sense of betrayal.
I pressed the bell. There was a stomping and sniffing sound behind the door, the lock turned and the door swung open with a jerk.
“Ramses!” Vovka shouted so the whole stairwell could hear. “Come on in!!!”
Catching my hand in a handshake, Vovka dragged me inside and slammed the door.
“Take off your fucking shoes! See my bachelor cave!” he barked as he walked into the depths of the dwelling. Depths was a strong word. The apartment was tiny: four square meters for the kitchen, fifteen for the living room, a cramped combined bathroom the size of the kitchen, and a miserable hallway. All in all, no more than thirty meters.
“This is my room!” Vovka entered it with his arms stretched out at his sides. “This is where I sleep!”
To the right of the entrance, a double bed occupied one-third of the room. Opposite it, on a glass table, was a television, with a stereo on a shelf underneath, and speakers on the floor on either side of the table. Behind the bed was a balcony, visible through the door, which was wide open because of the heat. To the left of the entrance was a closet leaning against the wall, and next to it was a similarly old sofa, covered in coarse red fabric with holes in several places. When I saw the couch, I shuddered.
“Yeah, that’s what you’ll be sleeping on if you fucking decide to stay with me after ‘Clear Skies’!” Vovka bared his teeth at my gaze. “The fucking couch sucks! The springs stick the fuck out under the fabric and get right up your ass!”
“Thanks, Vova,” I said with a reproachful look in my eyes. “You’re a true friend!”
“Hee-hee-hee!” he grunted, wearing only jeans, scratching his hairy belly hanging over his waist belt and turning his equally hairy back to me. “Let’s go fucking eat in the kitchen and get ready for the ‘Skies’!”
I followed Vovka into the kitchen.
“This is the owner’s couch! It was already here, along with the closet!” Vovka brushed me off and opened the fridge. “The only things I own are the bed, the TV and the stereo! And a vacuum cleaner too! Would you like some tea with sausage?”
I nodded and sat down on a chair by the table by the kitchen door. “This place is so small,” I thought, looking around while Vovka rattled in the fridge. A small table with two chairs, the refrigerator, the ready made kitchen, the corner sink, the washing machine and the gas stove – there was so little space that two adults could hardly fit in it.
“So, what’s new with you, anyway?” said Vovka, putting the kettle on and cutting the sausage. “How’s business?”
“It’s fine,” I yawned.
“Well, did you open the department?” Vovka turned to me and froze.
“Yes, we did,” I nodded, scratching my ankle. “It’s been working since the beginning of May.”
“Woow!! Bigwigs!!” roared Vovka, furiously shredding the sausage and bread. “Growing!”
“Growing little by little. I’m thinking of opening another shop,” I said, straightening up in a flimsy chair. “I have the goods in stock, and the money will allow me to put another hundred grand to use.”
“Oh! You guys are dangerous!” Vovka shoved a piece of sausage into his mouth, chewed it a few times, and laughed with his mouth full. “You’ll make everyone else go to hell!”
“Stop it, will you?” I waved him off. “Retail is for us. The more retail we have, the more stable the company is.”
“Well, yeah!” Vovka champed, wiped his fingers on his belly, and turned off the kettle.
In a minute we were eating sandwiches of brown bread and cooked sausage.
“How’s your old man?” said Vovka.
“I’m sure he’s fine,” I said sluggishly, chewing. “He gets on my nerves sometimes with his lectures. Do this wrong, put that wrong. Teaching me how to live.”
“Well, yeah,” Vovka took a sip of tea from a large mug. “Your father is so strict and serious.”
“Strict and serious, you say?” I brushed him off. “He just likes to take the moral high ground, that’s all. Sometimes he gets so boring, it’s terrible. He’s difficult, he’s hard to work with.”
“Well…” Vovka shrugged and tried to chew quickly. “Difficult or not, he’s still your father. Family business, that’s good. He stops the business, you get everything. That’s good too!”
“What’s there to get!?” I took the cup from my mouth. “You’d think he created everything and I’d get everything! I’ve been involved from the very beginning!”
“Well, yeah!” Vovka scratched the back of his head. “But he’s still older, more experienced, he’s the brains and the leader, so to speak!”
“Damn it! What makes you think he’s in charge!?” I stared at Vovka. “You don’t know what’s going on in there. Do you know that of all the suppliers we’ve been working with, my father hasn’t found a single one? Do you know that!?”
“That’s right! You don’t!” I set the cup aside and put the sandwich back on the plate. “I found all the manufacturers and suppliers! Every single one of them! He wasn’t even looking for them! I was constantly going through all the magazines and newspapers and bringing him information! And he, yes, he called them and negotiated! I don’t deny it – you have to know how to negotiate, all right! But I would have done it myself if it wasn’t for my age! Nobody would negotiate with a twenty-five year old kid! That’s all! And when we started the beer business, I was twenty-two or twenty-three! Would you negotiate with a kid like that if you were, you know, forty?”
“Well, no, I wouldn’t,” Vovka said.
“That’s what I’m talking about!” I summarized and sipped my tea.
“Well, Anatoly Vasilievich certainly gives the impression of being a serious businessman,” Vovka added.
“He does, he does,” I said thoughtfully. “I don’t mind that he makes such an impression, as long as it corresponds to reality!”
“Come on, Ramses, your father is a good man,” Vovka finished his tea and got up from the table. “I just don’t know your situation.”
“Never mind, let’s skip the subject,” I brushed it off and took a second sandwich.
Soon we went outside and walked to the bus stop. The evening was just getting started.
The kiosks worked steadily, increasing sales one and a half times over the summer. Sales in the department in the new mall were at zero profit. It was hindered by the competitor who kept the prices low for the goods that crossed our way and high for other goods. Since we were in wholesale all day, we could not be as scrupulous with prices in a separate retail store. I had absolutely no time for it. My father was not interested in such nuances at all. The competitive battle in the mall was clearly lost on us. “It’s okay, when the next department works properly, we’ll close this one,” I thought, flipping through newspapers and magazines. By mid-June, I had found what we needed – a large, one-story store a five-minute walk from our kiosks.
“Well, the place is not bad, let’s take a ride and find out,” my father said.
The next day, while the immensely fat shopkeeper was telling us about the joys of the rentable retail space, I was mentally calculating the cost. “Ten thousand in rent, plus the salesmen’s salaries. Still, ten is not seventeen, even with the same sales as in the mall, this department will make a profit,” I estimated.
“I have some shop equipment in excellent condition in the basement,” the shopkeeper added, seeing our hesitation. “If you don’t have your own, I can lend it to you free of charge.”
We didn’t have our own. After a few days of thinking, we agreed. Two girls in their twenties answered the ad for sellers. I didn’t like the eyes of one of them – stupid, cold and thieving. I never remembered the other. We spent the rest of the month working in the store, and on Thursday, July 1, we opened our fourth retail outlet.
In the evening of the same day, having collected four hundred rubles, I was sitting on the garden fence in front of the store, in a state of absolute happiness. “Four stores already, we’re growing,” I thought, taking a slow drag and practicing my cigarette smoke rings. I didn’t even feel the accumulated fatigue of my daily physical work, which had almost doubled in the last two months.
July went by working hard. We drove around the city all day, taking goods to retail stores in the morning and wholesale orders to depots in the afternoon. We didn’t get home until eight, usually nine. My father would go to the stove and I would sit at the computer and do the accounting. We’d have dinner at ten or eleven, and then I’d go back to the computer and prepare the next day’s waybills. I’d go to bed at one and get up at eight. Time flew by at breakneck speed. Days flashed one by one. The relationship with my mother was getting worse and worse; she withdrew into herself and looked at us with hostility. Once or twice a week there were fights and arguments. I got used to it and no longer remembered that there had been a different life in our family.
By mid-July, it was clear that the department in the store was doing even worse than the department in the mall. The daily sales were paltry, less than a thousand. “What a joke,” I thought nervously each time I collected the proceeds. It felt like the salesgirls were working half-heartedly. “Maybe they’re even stealing money,” bad thoughts went through my head. “What are we going to do? Stand around them all day? What about the rest of the work? Not an option. Change sellers?” A normal and natural solution. But my desire to do something urgent was crushed by my father’s phlegmatism. At that moment I thought about this trait of his again. No, my father was not against saving the department. He just agreed with my suggestions, but he did not offer his own, did not take the initiative. The opening of the department in the store turned out to be the moment in our business when my physical and mental strength reached its limit and my father’s business passivity was clearly exposed. Once I was at my limit, I had no time to think, to decide, to do. I was in desperate need of a business partner who could offer solutions and push them forward. My father was not like that. He worked with high quality, meticulously discussed new initiatives, made sensible corrections and improvements. My father was great at understanding “how to do things better,” but not at all proactive about “what to do better” or “where we should go”. Once again, in my mind, his position as a leader was shaken. My perception of my father as a man who knew everything and could do everything was cracked again at the very moment when my irrepressible young activity urgently needed a mature mentor who could see far into the future of our business, who could plan its development and set goals, and he was not there. Suddenly, instead of reliable support, I felt an emptiness. “My father is really not a leader. Yes, he’s a good worker, a doer, but he’s not a leader in our team. In fact, in all the time we worked, he never suggested a reasonable case. He only thought and discussed what I suggested, and I was always the one who suggested where to go, who to work with, who to call, where to buy what and where and how to sell it,” the seditious thoughts returned to my head.
“Dad, we’ve got to do something about the store department,” I said as we came home from another hot day at work. I was in the kitchen eating chicken and spaghetti. My father had just gotten out of the shower and sat down in the chair next to me, huffing happily.
“What is there to do about it?” he looked at me and leaned back.
“It’s been half a month of five to eight hundred rubles, what good is that?”
“Well, yeah, it’s not enough,” my father exhaled loudly and scratched his nose.
“Then what’s the point of such a sale?” I stared at him.
“There is no point! What point can there be?” my father said.
“Then what are we going to do?” I looked at him perplexed.
“What is there to do?” my father said.
“What do you mean, what!?” I was confused and shrugged. “We have to solve this problem somehow. I don’t know – change sellers, lower prices, decide if we want to continue renting this department or not! Something like that…”
“When the time comes, we’ll solve the problem,” my father closed his eyes, leaned back in his chair and relaxed.
“And when will that time come?” I said. “How do we solve it? Do we close the department?”
“If we have to, we will,” my father said, without changing his posture or his condition.
For a while I sat in a stupor, staring at my father, trying to comprehend the dialog. “What was it about? What did we decide?” Like a conversation of the mute with the deaf. “Either he doesn’t care, or he’s in such a state right now that he doesn’t want to think about problems.” I was tangled in my father’s vague phrases like a viscous swamp.
“Well, okay,” I mumbled confusedly, finishing my meal and leaving the table.
I overcame the fatigue of the day and sat down at the computer, sorting out the current waybills and prepared new ones for tomorrow in an hour, then lay down and fell asleep immediately. The phone call at nine in the morning woke me up – Alexey Semyonovich said he would be at our warehouse at eleven. He always called before each of his visits. After waking up, I felt my body humming with the fatigue of the previous day, without having rested.
At half past ten, I removed the lock, opened the warehouse gate, and went inside. I smelled a chill, as if I’d gone from the heat of July to the middle of autumn. I looked around the tightly packed warehouse, shivered, and went back outside. The lingering heat enveloped my body, and I warmed up in no time. My father stood in the shade of the warehouse, smoking a cigarette with his head cocked dreamily. I took the waybills from the cabin and began to gather the goods for retail. I managed to turn this tedious task into some kind of a game. Knowing where each package, each bottle was, I would prepare the next waybill, trying to mark and remember several items at once from those that were nearby. In this way, I optimized my actions, took the drabness out of my workdays, created excitement in myself, and tried to keep preparation time to a minimum. This tactic paid off. I prepared waybills of forty items in about twenty minutes. Faster was not possible. As soon as I started speeding up, I started skipping lines, didn’t get the goods to my father at the packing place, and as a result, the outlets didn’t get them. My father would grumble and scold me for my mistakes.
I marked five positions with a pen, walked along the shelves, and began piling up the goods: ten pieces, five, ten, ten more, and twenty. When I had my hands full of goods, I put them all in one place and went back to the shelves. My father came by, looked at the pile of goods I had made, and said: “So, what’s to pack here? Shall I stack this?”
“Yes,” I nodded. “Pack up what I brought.”
My father took an empty box and began filling it, taking his time. I kept scurrying along the shelves, pulling the right things from the racks.
“Don’t rush, gather it properly so you don’t miss anything,” my father said.
“I’m trying not to miss anything, I think I’m marking and collecting everything,” I replied as I brought him another armful of goods and heard the familiar clatter of the approaching “Gazon”.
Alexey Semyonovich appeared in the doorway, saw us, and raised his hand: “Anatoly Vasilievich, Roma, greetings!” Hearing a greeting in return, the expediter nodded, glanced at the shelves and pallets, and added in a matter-of-fact tone: “The warehouse is full! That’s good! Business is going well?”
“It is, little by little,” my father said, going outside and lighting a cigarette.
“How are things at ‘WholeSale’, Alexey Semenych?” I asked, anticipating the answer.
“Oh! What can there be?” he brushed it off, irritated. “Sitting there, hookers! Just fucking about! We should give them a good scolding, whip them all!”
“Shall I drive up?” the expediter said, adjusting his cap on the back of his head.
“Yes, drive up!” I waved.
Grinding with the gears, the jalopy jerked and backed into the warehouse. Alexey Semyonovich got out of the cabin, jumped into the back and started to hand over the goods. We were done. I began to check the goods against the waybill. The driver jumped to the ground with the dexterity of a boy and began to walk around the warehouse, now and then fixing the dirty rag with which the fingers of his left hand were wrapped.
“Alexey Semenych, how old are you, anyway?” I could not hide my astonishment at this man’s toughness.
He stopped, scratched the back of his head under his cap, counted in his mind, squinted one eye, and said:
“Just like your old man! Fifty-two this year, eh, Vasilyich?”
My father, resting on the packages of goods, nodded.
“Wow!” I was surprised. “The whole office must be obsessed with you, Alexey Semenych! You deliver half their goods alone!”
“To hell with them!” he took the cap off his head, waved it off, and put it back on. “Sitting there… Hookers!”
I laughed softly, signed the waybill, and handed it back to the expediter.
“That’s it, Alexey Semenych. Everything fits, no short delivery. Here.”
“The warehouse is already small!” said the man, taking the paper and looking around with a squint. “It’s time for you to expand, to look for a bigger warehouse, Vasilyich!”
Groaning, my father got up, walked around the warehouse and said: “This is enough for now.”
“Don’t worry, Alexey Semenych!” I smiled. “We’ve got everything under control, we’ve already found a new warehouse.”
“Which one was it?” he perked up.
“There!” I waved at the street. “Come on, I’ll show you.”
All three of us walked out of the gate.
“That one!” I pointed to the warehouse across the street that we had originally planned to rent.
“Oh! That’s what I’m talking about! Bigger and higher!” the expediter spread his arms, froze for a moment, and then started running. “All right, gentlemen, time to move on! Bye!”
As soon as the “Gazon” crawled to the gate, my father and I lit up.
“We need to talk to the owners again about renting this warehouse,” I said.
“For what?” my father was surprised. “We already talked to them once, they turned us down.”
“What do you mean, for what?” I struck an attitude. “If we need a bigger warehouse, we’ll have to talk about it again. Or are you just going to sit here?”
“When we need a new warehouse, we’ll think about it, but right now we don’t need to worry our heads off!” my father exclaimed, taking a deep drag. “Let’s go pack up the goods.”
“Let’s go,” I muttered grudgingly, flicking the butt away from the object of the argument. After loading the retail, we picked up the wholesale.
“I’ll carry it and you stack it in the back,” I said.
“All right,” my father agreed, nodding and staying by the “GAZelle”.
Sometimes I felt guilty that my father was carrying boxes on an equal footing with me. I understood that we were not just father and son, but equal partners in business, and that it was normal for the work to fall equally on both of us. But my filial feelings still prevailed. Stacking boxes in the back was easier work than carrying them from the warehouse to the car, so I tried to make sure my father was in the back as soon as possible.
“There was a guy who served with me…” he started another story from there.
“And?” I was interested. Working in silence in the warehouse was totally boring. My father liked to tell stories about his military life. I enjoyed listening. But as time went on, he began to repeat himself, telling the same stories over and over again.
“Well, one time we put some cargo in the car together,” my father’s voice came through. “And he said he’d definitely do business with me.”
“Why is that?” I said, taking out two boxes and putting them in the back.
“He says I see Anatoly stacking the boxes, neatly, one by one,” my father said with a satisfied expression, squatting on his haunches. “That’s how he does all his work, he says, thoroughly and neatly.”
“Ah-ha…” I said, going back. “Yeah, that’s the way you are, you like order in everything.”
“Is that a bad thing?” he said from behind me.
“It’s a good thing, I didn’t say it was bad,” I added, picking up a few boxes again and carrying them to the car. “It’s just the way you are, good qualities for business.”
“Very good,” my father summarized smugly.
“Yeah,” I shrugged and put the boxes in the back. “Where is he now, this guy? Why didn’t you go into business together?”
“He went to his father’s already existing business,” my father was suddenly embarrassed.
“Oh…” I said. “It’s a shame, you could have done something serious together, but here we are, lugging around these stupid boxes.”
My father said nothing, and then we worked in silence.
An hour later we left, dropped off the goods at the kiosks, and forty minutes later we rolled into “Peresvet” like a beehive. People and cars were constantly moving around the depot grounds. Some were unloading, others loading. Noise, clamor, bustle, rumble of engines and heat.
I jumped out of the car and went to the office with the waybills. When I returned five minutes later, our “GAZelle” was parked at the side of the warehouse. My father was behind the wheel, wiping the sweat from his face.
“No room?” I said as I looked at the ramp that was filled with cars.
“No,” my father said. “I got in line; we’re second.”
I went to the warehouse. I climbed the ramp, maneuvered between the pallets of beer, and walked to the open door. The storekeeper, Galya, a good-looking, plump woman in her forties, was sitting tiredly on the bench, smoking.
“Hi, Roma!” she said. “Did you bring something?”
“Hi, Galya, yes, here,” I replied, holding out the waybill.
“There,” she waved her hand. “Take it upstairs and put it on the table.”
“All right,” I said and went up the stairs to the second floor.
The storekeeper slowly got up and followed me, tossing her cigarette butt into the trash can. Two flights of concrete stairs and I was in a warehouse full of shelves. I placed the waybills on the desk and turned around.
“Hi, Roma!” the second storekeeper’s voice came from behind me.
“Hi, Katya,” I called without looking back and ran down the stairs.
The only escape from the heat was the slate canopy over the ramp. I offered my father to have lunch, and we hid in its shade with sandwiches and a couple bottles of soda on a stack of pallets lined with a clean piece of cardboard. My stomach rumbled with anticipation. I shoved the sandwich down my throat and washed it down. A slight heartburn began to set in. After eating, I smoked a cigarette and sat down on the “table”. My father sat down on the empty bench with his cigarette, crossed his legs and took a drag. There was a haze in the air. Shorts and a T-shirt – I was soaked with sweat even in this minimal clothing. Everyone was suffering from the heat. Wiping away the sweat, the expediters unloaded the goods. The mover, panting, carried the goods to the second floor and the customer orders back.
Half an hour later there was room at the ramp. As soon as my father drove the “GAZelle” up to it, I jumped in the back. Scorcher!!! It was like a sauna under the cover! In ten minutes, I had the boxes out on the ramp and climbed out completely stupefied from the heat. We were now third in line. It was moving slowly. Tired of waiting, I ran twenty meters on the hot asphalt and found myself in the salvational coolness of the sales room. The thought that we should find one or two good manufacturers haunted me. But how could we find them when all the known manufacturers were already working with larger organizations? There were no new interesting products on the market. I scanned the windows and warehouses – all in vain, there was no solution. And this time, after carefully walking along the storefronts, I returned to the scorching street and staggered disappointedly back to the warehouse. The line shrank by one. I passed my father, who was sitting on the bench with another cigarette, and went to the second floor to see the storekeepers. In the silence of the warehouse, the heat seemed to die down – no new customers came in, the loader was still lazily carrying boxes downstairs. Katya was having lunch in the back room, and Galya was accepting the goods.
“What’s up, Roma, bored out there? Come to see us?” I heard a voice from behind me.
I turned around:
“Yes, Katya, it’s terribly hot out there, stuffy. It’s cooler here, I guess.”
“It only seems that way,” the big woman, my height and twice my width, came out of the back room and walked over to the desk with the papers. “Is this your waybill? Shall I take the goods?”
“Katya, there’s only one loader anyway, and the boss won’t give any more, they’re all busy in other warehouses,” I brushed off in despair. “So there’s no one to lift the goods anyway.”
“Well!” the storekeeper brushed the sweat from her forehead. “Then there’s nothing I can do! You’ll have to wait!”
Sometimes suppliers would bring their goods to the warehouse themselves when there was little of it or because they were in a hurry. We had a lot of it, and I had enough to do all the movers’ work for the day. Tired. No, thanks. And I continued to wander around the warehouse, pacing and staring at the shelves and pallets of goods. It was the same here, nothing new. Katya walked by again, shuffling her flip-flops on the worn linoleum.
“Bored?” she said.
“Katya, what else can I get you, huh?” I said suddenly.
“What do you mean!?” she stared at me in surprise and stopped.
“Well, what kind of goods should I bring you so that they cost more and sell well?” I clarified, circling the warehouse with my arms. “Which of these sell well? Not heavy and not expensive. What sells well now?”
“Well, I don’t know,” Katya shrugged, took a few steps, froze, thoughtful.
“Bring the dichlorvos, Roma!!!” Galya yelled from behind the racks.
“Dichlorvos!?” I was surprised. “Why dichlorvos?”
“Indeed!” Katya turned around. “Bring the dichlorvos! They’re selling out! There, yesterday the supplier brought in ten boxes of ‘Arbalest’ dichlorvos, they were all sold in one day!”
“Wow!” I estimated the cost of the box – it was a thousand rubles. On average, we got about twenty thousand a week from “Peresvet”. And that’s ten in one day!
“Is there that much demand for dichlorvos!?” I said, puzzled.
“It’s the season, Roma!” came Galya’s voice.
“It’s the season,” said Katya, coming closer.
“And why the season? When is the season for dichlorvos?” I kept asking questions.
“It’s the heat, the flies are everywhere,” Katya waved her hands in the air, pretending to fight the flies. “It’s the whole summer, isn’t it, Galya? From May to September.”
“Yes, all summer!” called Galya from the back of the warehouse. “More like April!”
“And sales like that the whole season!?” I wondered.
“No,” Katya said. “In spring the sales are so-so, little by little, and then more and more, and now there are very good sales.”
I thought about it.
“So, bring it in,” Katya nodded.
“Okay, that’s it, I’m done!” Galya came out from behind the shelves, wiped the sweat from her forehead and threw the waybill on the table. “Now we’ll take yours, just have a smoke first!”
“Oh, I’ll take it!” Katya perked up and held out her hand, “Where’s your waybill?”
“Here, Katya,” Galya handed the paper to her partner, “I’m going for a smoke.”
“Listen, Katya, how much dichlorvos should I bring and what kind?” I got enthusiastic.
“The ‘Arbalest’ ones are the best, bring them in!” she said. “Actually, bring any, they’ll all be gone, the shelves are being stripped bare right now!”
“How much should I bring?”
“Well, you can certainly bring twenty boxes of some varieties, or even more, thirty,” the storekeeper waved her hand confidently. “It will sell for sure.”
From the side of the stairs came measured footsteps: the loader was carrying our first boxes. Katya went to receive the goods. It was as if I had fallen out of reality – the idea of delivering dichlorvos to “Peresvet” occupied my mind. It looked urgent. I went down to the ramp, left my father with the goods, and returned to the sales room. There, on a shelf in one of the windows, were two aerosol cans. There were no other dichlorvos. My heart raced as I smelled the fat, empty niche of merchandise. After writing down the prices, I went back to my father. As soon as we left the depot, I told him about my conversation with the storekeepers.
“Ooh!” my father said thoughtfully. “That’s interesting!”
“The question is, where are we going to get so much dichlorvos?” I waved my hands excitedly. “Even twenty boxes is twenty thousand! Barter? We can get it once, but then they won’t give it to us, we’ll go into debt! Tomorrow morning I’ll call ‘Arbalest’ and ‘Sasha’, no one else sells dichlorvos! They’re the only ones we can get it from!”
“Do it!” my father perked up and immediately lit a cigarette.
At five-thirty, the cool jets of the shower at home relieved the heat of the day from my body, and my mind finally returned to clarity of thought. It was time to collect the proceeds. We split up – my father to the market and me to the mall. “Yeah, third month in business and still hanging around the profitability level,” I thought, after withdrawing a little less than two thousand in cash. I didn’t even want to think about the department in the store. The unpleasant thought that it would have to be closed kept replaying in my mind. Another depressing thing was that we had let both departments go on their own. “Hiring an employee? It doesn’t make sense. All the profits would go to pay for their work. And even then, if we get a smart person. Which is unlikely. Paying more attention to retail by hiring a delivery driver and thus freeing ourselves from the daily grind?” Hiring one and putting him on our “GAZelle” meant ruining it in a year. I’d seen cars like that – a rattling piece of broken iron. “Hiring a delivery driver with a car? Expensive. His salary would eat up half the profits. That’s half the problem.” The important thing was that I realized that if I stopped showing up at the depots, I would lose the “pulse” of sales. I was looking for a solution that would allow me to maintain and develop two departments, and I did not find it. Relying on retail to drive the business did not work. We were left with a hackneyed option: a sharp increase in wholesale. We desperately needed a strong manufacturing supplier. We were caught between two levels of business, and it made me angry. I walked home, and I was angry. I had spent the previous twenty minutes thinking about our systemic problem and the difficult decisions ahead of us. Everything seemed to be going so well, developing, and then the moment of retreat, of regression, was looming.
I came home at half past eight. My father was already sitting at the table in the kitchen, eating his dinner, munching on a cutlet with a disgruntled face.
“So what’s up?” I asked impatiently from the threshold. “How much did we get?”
My father finished chewing, looked at me intently, twitched his leg nervously a few times, and announced the amounts. The kiosks gave out more than the norm, even the department in the store sold for a thousand. Hearing this, I felt my spirits rise and began to pour tea, glancing at my father. He was still chewing and looking at me intently.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” I was surprised.
“Nothing,” my father muttered.
I sat across from him with a mug of tea, grabbed a slice of bread and a cutlet, and as I began to eat, called out the amount of the proceeds in the mall. There were footsteps in the hallway, my mother came in, looked at us with a withering stare, made herself some coffee, and left. My father finished his meal and took his tea.
“Nadezhda Petrovna has written to you again,” he said with restraint.
“Huh? What did I fail to deliver?” I was surprised and realized that I might have missed something.
“Nadezhda Petrovna has three items and Polina has one,” my father said. “The notes are on your desk by the computer.”
I jumped up, went to the back room and came back with the notes.
“Oh, that’s a shame. I missed it, I thought I put everything in, but I didn’t,” I scratched the back of my head, embarrassed to realize my mistake. “I’ll have to bring it tomorrow.”
“It’s all your haste!” said my father. “How many times have I told you not to hurry, to prepare orders carefully? All in vain!”
“I always do it well!” I was taken aback by the change in tone and stopped in the middle of the kitchen. “I can’t do it any other way!”
“And I’m telling you, you have to do it properly!” my father said, his voice rising. “And not so that there are always shortages!”
“I’m doing the best I can!” I got all worked up. “If you don’t like it, why don’t we switch places, you do the packing and I do the stacking! I already told you that!”
“The easiest thing to do is to dump your work on someone else!”
“I’m not dumping it! I tell you again, I pack the best I can! I can’t take an hour to prepare a waybill like you, we won’t be out of the warehouse by nightfall! You can do it yourself if you want! And I’ll stack it and carry it to the car!”
“No, you’re going to do it properly!” my father glared at me, poking himself in the chest with his finger. “I’m telling you! Got it!?”
I was stunned. I stood there looking at my father in confusion, realizing that I was seeing something new. I couldn’t remember such an obvious display of mentoring on his part. There had been arguments, but nothing like this. My father, stubborn as he was, compromised quite easily, often taking the other side. We never had to figure out who was in charge of our business. Besides, how would we find out? And why? It’s silly. We started together, from scratch. It was equal. But at that moment I was standing in front of my father in the kitchen, just as Tsarevich Alexey stood in front of his parent in the famous painting, and my growing anger was mixed with confusion. Something subtle flashed in my father’s words. “Clink,” like a fishing bell, rang out a signal in my mind. “Clink.” And then silence.
And then the anger inside of me rose up and I was about to explode. But I pushed my wounded pride to the back of my mind and just said, “Okay, let’s not do this.”
I brushed it off and left the kitchen. My mood was ruined. In the hallway I passed my surprised mother, who smelled a scandal and was already rushing into the kitchen.
“What happened?” she slurred.
I didn’t answer, but sat down on the balcony couch, lit a cigarette, and stared out at the street.
“That’s how you do it!” I heard my father’s voice behind me.
“How do I do it?” I turned around in surprise, boiling up again.
“You work sloppily, with your left hand, and then we have to fix it for you!” my father came out on the balcony and took a cigarette out of the pack. “Always shortages because of you!”
“Look! I don’t get it!” I couldn’t stop myself. “You don’t like something?! You don’t like what I’m doing?! I already told you, do it yourself! If you can’t or won’t, that’s your problem! Then don’t stop me from doing it, I’ll do it the way I can! You don’t like it? Why are you always telling me what to do!? You better watch yourself!”
My father was taken aback for a split second, and then he was filled with rage.
“I am your father!” he barked. “You! Snotter! And if I tell you how to do it, that’s how you have to do it!”
I was confused, I wasn’t quite sure, but I thought it was the first time my father had ever stooped to direct insult. My heart pounded in my chest.
“Tell you what… If you don’t like working together, we can split up!” I said as calmly as I could. “Sell the goods, sell the ‘GAZelle’, split the money and go our separate ways! Each to his own side! No problem!”
“We don’t split anything! The ‘GAZelle’ was bought with my savings book money, so it’s mine!” my father declared so categorically and so quickly, as if the ownership of the car had been decided by him long ago.
“Well,” I hesitated. “Why is it yours? Though…”
“Because I put my own money into it from my book!” my father continued to press me. “I withdrew eighty thousand first, brought it in last year, and when we bought it, I added my thirty, did you forget?”
“No, I didn’t!” I said without enthusiasm, realizing that I could not fight the truth, and having no such desire, and being convinced that any lasting relationship can only be based on honesty and decency. “I remember everything.”
I didn’t want to fight anymore. It wasn’t because my father had me pinned down. I didn’t care about that. It was the very subject of the argument that seemed disgusting. A petty, worthless splitting between a father and his son was disgusting. I felt dejected and retreated.
“Well, if you remember, then shut up and be quiet!” my father finished me off.
“All right, let’s leave it at that,” I muttered, finished my cigarette, stood up and left the balcony, bumping into my mother in the room, who was once again circling the scandal.
I felt repulsive. It was an unbearable urge to leave the house, to be alone, to speak out. I called Vovka. He said he had a headache and his legs were falling off from exhaustion, so he wouldn’t go to the club with me, but he would definitely go this weekend.
“Damn, too bad,” I exhaled. “Well, okay, see you this weekend then. Get some rest, you lazy bastard!”
I stared out the living room window for a few seconds before my father returned from the balcony, took some money, put on my shoes, and left the apartment.
I walked around downtown for an hour, had two alcoholic cocktails and went to “Clear Skies”. It was already rumbling in there. I stood at the bar for two hours, downing double “screwdrivers” in a row. The knot of bad thoughts in my head would not unravel. I irritably drowned them in alcohol, along with a colic in my stomach. By one o’clock in the morning I was drunk. My stomach felt queasy. I threw up outside the bar in a dark corner and staggered to the hotel, where I got into Edik’s car and he drove me home. I didn’t fall asleep right away; I tossed and turned on the bed, clinging desperately to its edges, threw up twice in the bathroom, and then fell asleep immediately, sinking into a familiar blackness.
Share a book