“Here! Here! It’s for you!” my father rudely shoved the cell phone in my face the next morning as he stood at the head of the bed. “There’s a call for you from ‘WholeSale’!”
I opened my eyes and struggled to make sense of what was going on around me. One second I was asleep and the next I was holding the cell phone to my ear.
“Yes, hello,” I said, trying to get my brain to work.
The depot manager called and said she needed a ton of laundry detergent. And the product was needed urgently – tomorrow, which meant we had to deliver it today. My brain creaked, woke up and got to work. My father called the supplier – they said they had the product, I dialed “WholeSale” and said we would deliver the order today. It was time to get ready for the road. I got out of bed, groggy from last night’s drinking. I wandered into the shower.
At eleven we pulled out of the parking lot. I had a headache. I took a citramone tablet from the glove compartment, popped it in my mouth, swallowed it, and tried to relax. “Two hours of driving, a little sleep, and maybe my head will stop hurting,” I thought and closed my eyes.
I dozed all the way. At the manufacturer’s office we got the unpleasant news – the detergent was out of stock, it was supposed to be brought by our arrival from a remote production facility, but they didn’t make it in time. What are we going to do? It’s one o’clock already, and the factory is ninety kilometers away.
“Shall we go?” I squinted at my father, who was standing next to me.
“Of course! What else could we do?” he waved his hands irritably.
At half past one we left the office, drove around Lipetsk, left the city and headed north. The familiar landscape flickered out of the window, tree plantations stretched endlessly on both sides of the road. The headache was gone, and thoughts stirred in my brain. “Strange, we’ve been working for so long, and here we go. Why did he act like that? I don’t understand. Stupid. The ‘GAZelle’ is mine! Although it’s certainly his.” Then I remembered that my father was technically right, since he had invested about the same amount as the car in our business over the past two years. “Well, let him have the ‘GAZelle,’ I don’t mind. But he doesn’t have to be so aggressive. Strange. Just think how he immediately rushed to share. And with whom, with his son. That’s funny. I wonder if I could take a car from my son like that. I hummed aloud at the stupidity of the thought. “Silly indeed, why signify such a separation? I am a normal son – not an alcoholic, working hard, not lazy.” Then I remembered that the car was registered in my name. “Maybe he was afraid of that.” I hummed again and leaned closer to the window. I didn’t want to talk to my father. “Can’t he see that I’m doing three-quarters of the work and he’s just the driver and second mover?” What had caused these thoughts of mine? Yesterday’s fight? “Or maybe all my resentment was building up gradually, just like his resentment?” Last night, my father seemed really angry. I hadn’t seen him like that for a long time. Only when I was a child, when he rarely whipped or hit me. “He is cruel. Not tough, but cruel. Always calm and sometimes very cruel.”
After the last argument, I became even more critical of my father. The haze of the “father-son” bond was gone, and I began to impartially analyze his actions, past and present. The conclusions sobered me. I saw a different person. And the disappointment in my soul began to accumulate.
We arrived at the factory around three o’clock. It was an ordinary hangar among other shops and warehouses on the outskirts of the district center. After loading, we drove back at four. We crossed Lipetsk at twenty of six, and at half past seven we flew into “WholeSale”.
“That’s someone to watch out for!” the familiar stout storekeeper exclaimed as she looked at our car, which made a sharp turn, squeaked its brakes, and immediately rolled backward toward the warehouse gates. I jumped out of the car on the move.
“Roma, what is the meaning of this!?” the storekeeper theatrically put her hands to her sides.
“Just don’t start in on me!” I played along and said hello. “It’s half past seven! We came straight to you after picking up the detergent, an urgent order!”
“What do you mean, don’t start in on me!?” she went on. “You have a habit of coming at the end of the day!”
“First and the only time!” I assumed a pitiful pose. “I promise!”
“Bother it!” the woman brushed me off. “What did you bring? Fifty bags of laundry detergent?”
I nodded, the back of the “GAZelle” approaching the warehouse gate, the car stopped. I removed the cover, opened the side and jumped into the back. Two movers came out of the warehouse.
“All right, detergent, fifty bags, over there!” the storekeeper ordered.
“Hello to you,” my father said with a deliberately relaxed walk and a smile.
“Hello to you too,” replied the woman. “Tolya, what is this!? What time is it!?”
“Here!” my father pointed to me. “I have the director! All questions to him! I just turn the wheel!”
“Director, eh!” the storekeeper looked at me and rolled her eyes ironically.
“The director carries bags!” I dodged the father’s remark and handed over one bag after another. “It’s hard to be a director in our company! Merchandise is such a thing!”
“Oh, merchants!” the woman shook her head and went into the warehouse.
We finished at eight o’clock sharp. I jumped out of the back of the truck and there was silence. The day’s sales had died down, the customers were gone, and only the tired workers were wandering around the depot. “Nice lady,” I thought on my way home, having already realized one of the peculiarities or patterns of life – with whom relations started out difficult, awkward, even hostile, with them they later became the best; and vice versa, you see a wonderful person, soft and sensitive, trying to get round you, but later you realize they’re full of shit. The storekeeper turned out to be a nice lady deep inside. At first we fought with her all the time. She scornfully called the merchants “hucksters”. And at first she treated us the same way. But when she saw us doing the work ourselves and gaining a living with our own hands, then, I think, she replaced rage with mercy. We remained on friendly terms until the last day of her work at the depot. She quietly resigned in 2008, I think. I don’t remember exactly.
“We should take the dichlorvos to ‘Peresvet’!” I told my father as soon as I got out of the shower.
“We should,” he said, basking in the sunlight on the balcony with a cup of coffee in his hand.
“I think that Ilyukha in ‘Arbalest’ will not give us the goods now, we already owe twenty in barter, and we choose the goods in advance,” I expressed my doubts.
My father nodded and crossed his legs.
“Why are you nodding?” I wondered.
“I don’t think he will,” my father said without any intonation.
“We could still get dichlorvos in ‘Sasha’, but the amount is too big, our barter there is a penny, and we always keep a balance of about zero,” I continued to search for a solution aloud, wanting to hear my father’s thoughts as well. “And ‘Sasha’ won’t give it in advance either…”
My father nodded again and took a sip of coffee, savoring it. I realized that I was habitually irritated by my father’s indifference in his answers. No, I didn’t mistake indifference for calmness. I had noticed my father’s tendency to answer evasively, elliptically, without giving any of his own decisions. Again and again I tried to work out a common solution, to compose it from the thoughts of two people, but my father slipped out of such a dialogue in a practiced way.
“So!?” I said impatiently, spreading my hands. “What are we going to do!?”
“Nothing,” my father said in the same tone.
“What do you mean, nothing!?” I almost shouted.
“What can we do?” my father looked at me. “They’re not going to give us dichlorvos, are they?”
“So!?” my father said.
“So what!?” I stared at him.
“Then what do you want from me?” my father took a sip of coffee and kicked his leg.
“I came to consult with you!” I almost choked with indignation. “I came to hear a proposal from you, and you answer me with some neutral phrases, as if you don’t care whether we deliver dichlorvos to ‘Peresvet’ or not.”
“Why should I care?” my father asked in surprise. “They’re not going to give us dichlorvos, are they?”
“They’re not!” I repeated, feeling the growing emptiness inside me cool my enthusiasm.
“Well, here we are,” my father said, turning to the window and admiring the landscape of the courtyard. “What are we talking about? They won’t give us dichlorvos. That’s it.”
“Just like that!!!???” I wanted to scream, in a second a storm broke out in my head. I didn’t understand why my father was so indifferent, I stared at him confused. My father looked at me with a smirk.
“What are you looking at?” he said.
“Nothing. I’m just surprised at you!” I said. “There is an opportunity to make money and you dismiss it so easily!”
“Why am I dismissing it? They won’t give us dichlorvos. So there is no opportunity.”
“What do you mean there is no opportunity?” I started to get all worked up again. “And other opportunities to consider or think of!?”
“Go ahead, think,” my father shrugged, took another sip of coffee, kicked a few times, and continued to look at me with an unbearably viscous calm.
“Then we need to buy those dichlorvos!” I said. “Just buy them with the money!”
“If we need to, we will, what’s the problem?” my father said.
I sighed heavily and tried to calm my irritation. I didn’t want to fight. The mutual resentment that had grown between us was already hypertrophied. I pulled myself together, calmed down, and began to think only of business.
“How much cash do we have at home?” I squeezed out.
“I’ll have to count it,” my father said just as viscously, then added with a hint of reconciliation. “About forty thousand, I think.”
“All right!” I switched to action, forgetting the negativity and resentment. “I’ll call ‘Sasha’ now, and if they have it in stock, we’ll buy it and bring it to ‘Peresvet’ right away.”
My father nodded gently, but I had already jumped off the balcony. There were dichlorvos. An hour and a half later, we were in the neighborhood of drunks and junkies. We drove into “Sasha” territory. My father stayed in the car, I went up to the sales room. Sergey greeted me warmly.
“What are you doing stocking up on dichlorvos?” he asked in surprise.
“I have an order from a customer,” I replied.
“Well, yeah, dichlorvos is being swept off the shelves right now!” said Sergey. “A truck arrived three days ago, and all the dichlorvos were distributed within two days!”
“What do you mean, distributed?” I didn’t understand.
“It’s the season!” Sergey explained, striking a relaxed pose. “Customers are lining up for dichlorvos! It happens, when a car arrives, we distribute it on the way to whom and how much to give. And this one was almost all distributed immediately.”
“Wow!” I was surprised and thought about it. “Cool!”
“Yeah!” Sergey stretched lazily. “That’s how it is! We sell by truck…”
“I’ve put the waybill through, here,” said the girl, who came over and handed me the documents. “I’ll give the warehouse bill to the storekeeper. Let’s go to the cashier.”
“Well, I gave you the lowest price here, you buy it after all,” Sergey added. “The price is good, I sold it to you at five percent.”
“Give me the waybill, Katya, I’ll take it down myself,” Sergey said.
I counted out twenty-nine thousand at the cash register and went outside, waving to my father, and the “GAZelle” pulled up to the warehouse. I opened the side and started to take out the goods.
“Where are you taking it, anyway?” said Sergey, coming up beside me. “To the region, probably?”
“Yes, the order from the region,” I lied.
“Ah-ha,” he nodded understandingly.
I closed the side, shook the manager’s hand and jumped into the cabin.
“If you only knew, Seryozha, where I’m taking these dichlorvos, right under your nose, not to the region,” I thought, and I couldn’t help smiling and giggling with pleasure. Twenty minutes later we arrived at the depot. In the cabin I wrote out a waybill, added twenty percent to the cost of the goods, and went into the office. Then I looked in the window – there was no dichlorvos – and went to the warehouse.
“There is no dichlorvos for a long time!” Galya said sourly. “Just like the last time you came, they were sold out and no one brought any more! How many did you bring?”
“Thirty-eight boxes!” I said excitedly.
“Oh! That’s not enough! They’ll be sold in two days,” the storekeeper brushed me off.
“Come on!” I opened my mouth in surprise.
“You’ll see,” she said.
“Well, I’ll bring you more when you sell it!” I was glad, smelling the profit.
After handing over the goods, we left. It was Friday, July 23.
“On Monday we’ll take our goods to ‘Peresvet’,” I told my father on the way home. “We’ll also see sales of dichlorvos. I’m curious to see how it goes!”
“Oh! It’s all gone in two days!” Galya snorted on Monday as I walked up to the warehouse. “The last two packages were picked up this morning, so bring more!”
I was stunned.
“We’ll bring as many more tomorrow!” I told my father.
On Tuesday morning, we bought a second batch of dichlorvos from “Sasha” for forty thousand. The round eyes of Sergey, the manager, betrayed his surprise and interest.
“That’s quite a customer you’ve got in the region, growing up! I wonder who it is?” he said, chewing his fat lips thoughtfully.
I did not answer, I was gripped by commercial fever. We drove to “Peresvet”.
“No, except for your dichlorvos, there were none!” Galya brushed me off sadly and asked me cheerfully. “Did you bring more?”
“Some Klondike, not ‘Peresvet’!” I said to my father on the way home. “We’ll have to stop by on Thursday and see if they’re still in stock!”
“But we’ll come on Friday as usual,” my father said. “What difference does it make?”
“A big difference! Every day and every hour counts here! It’s the season! A few more weeks, and nobody needs dichlorvos anymore! We have to deliver it while it still sells. We’ll come by on Thursday!” I cut it short.
“Okay, we will,” my father agreed languidly, reaching for another cigarette.
Thursday. Noon. We’re at “Peresvet”. There were two boxes of fifty in the warehouse! I was commercially obsessed, my thoughts got loose.
“How much money do we have at home?” I glared at my father when I came back to the “GAZelle”.
He thought about it, counted and then said: “About fifteen thousand.”
“That’s all!?” I stared at him in surprise.
“What did you expect!? Payments are almost everywhere on Friday!” my father shrugged. “We’ll get some in ‘Peresvet’, in ‘Mercury’, from retail, then there will be more.”
“No, that won’t do!” I thought frantically. “How much do you have in your savings book?”
“No! I’m not taking it out!” my father cut me off sharply.
“What difference does it make?” I said, perplexed. “You take it out, then you put it back in! We make money on it!”
“I’m not taking it out!” my father grumbled separately, almost syllable by syllable. “That’s enough! I take it out all the time!”
“Dad!” I smiled. “What are you doing with all that money? Do you salt it away or what? It’s just sitting in the bank for nothing. It’s better to put it in requisition! Nobody’s taking your money. You take it back when we don’t need it, and that’s it! What’s the problem?”
“I said I won’t do it!” my father snapped.
“Well…” I was confused. “If so, I don’t know… We can try to talk to ‘Sasha’ about a partial payment and a deferment. We can also try to ask ‘Arbalest’ to give some without money, and we buy the rest in ‘Sasha’ for the money available. Exactly! Let’s do it that way!”
I immediately called “Arbalest” from the car. The manager, Ilya, babbled into the phone that the balance was twenty-five thousand in our favor, the debt was large, and it was the season for dichlorvos, they were being swept for money, and I wanted to get them in barter… and blah, blah, blah. Rejection, in short.
“What a jerk,” I muttered, already calling ‘Sasha’. “Hello, Sergey!”
But there were no more dichlorvos in the company.
“What a shame!” I muttered in annoyance. “As soon as they arrive, call me immediately, okay?”
“Okay, I will, of course,” the manager said.
I put the phone down on the seat.
“No dichlorvos, damn it! Bummer! At the height of the season!”
“We can buy them at ‘Arbalest’,” my father said calmly. “They have them.”
“No, we can’t buy it from Ilya!” I cut him off. “We barter with him. He’s used to it. We’ll buy once and he’ll start wringing his hands and offer everything for money. Not an option!”
“Well, that’s it then,” my father said, carefully wiping the steering wheel with a rag.
“That’s it,” I agreed sourly.
July is over. August began with the closing of the store. We took a step back for the first time in three years. It wasn’t nice. A second one was looming. My father grumbled unhappily.
“You see what your ‘let’s do it’ results in!” he lectured me on Monday. “This is the result of the ill-conceived opening of the retail store, taking the goods back!”
“Why are these ill-conceived decisions mine?” I was no longer surprised by the familiar scenario of the dialog. “We work together, we make decisions together. You were not against the opening of this department.”
“I was against it, but I know your character!” my father continued to defend himself. “When you think of something, it’s curtain, you can’t be talked out of it.”
“Why is that?” I objected, realizing the futility of the conversation and having another interest in it. “You didn’t try to talk me out of it, you agreed right away.”
“That’s why I didn’t try, because it’s useless to talk you out of anything,” my father spoke for buncombe. “You’re as obstinate as a ram!”
“No, you’re the ram here!” I smiled, satisfied with what I had said.
My father was astonished, stopped with a box in his hands and stared at me.
“Well, you’re an Aries, aren’t you?” I continued with a smile. “Aries is a ram.”
My father looked at me intently. I looked at him without taking my eyes off him. After a moment, without saying a word, with anger in his eyes, my father continued his work. “Having it? What did you expect, that you could just shit on me like that? No, Daddy, I have no desire to listen to your nonsense,” I thought and carried another box from the car to the warehouse, gloating. We spent the rest of the unloading in a thick, negative silence. Everyone is different: some people fight back immediately against anyone who interferes with their personality; some tolerate everything all their lives and lose a person in themselves; some retreat until they reach the limit of their patience. I envied the former, as I was rather mild by nature. The latter were physically repulsive to me. I retreated without responding to my father’s attacks until I understood the obvious – under the guise of “fatherhood,” he extended his position as head of the family to our business, suppressing my equality, taking my activity for granted, and scrupulously noticing my failures. And that was when the limit came. I was no longer willing to put up with this state of affairs.
“Vova, you’re fucking annoying!” I shouted at my friend after looking around to see if my father was there. “You’ll break the fucking door soon enough!”
We were in the parking lot of the “Pelican”, picking up the leftovers as usual. I called Vovka, and he came in and started to tell me another story from his everyday life, and out of habit he started to swing the door of the “GAZelle”.
“Fuck, Ramses, I’m sorry!” he laughed and let go of the door. “I don’t know why I keep turning the door around, when I come to you! How’s business? You’re all getting fat there, aren’t you!?”
“Vova, what’s with the fat?” I waved as I stepped out of the open cabin onto the gravel. “Did I tell you we were closing the store?”
“No, you didn’t!” Vovka shook his head, almost reaching for the door again.
“We closed it on the first of August, it worked for a month – minus ten thousand,” I put my hands in my pockets and crunched my measured steps on the gravel. “That’s the fat, Vovan!”
“Oh, wow!” he stared at me. “Did the sellers snatch the money?”
“Fucking assholes!!!” Vovka exploded. “We have the same kind of people working here! We have to keep an eye on them! They boost everything in sight! So now you have, what, three outlets left?”
“Well, yeah, three,” I nodded as I saw my father walking towards us with groceries in his hands. “That’s okay! It wasn’t a profit outlet, just a loss, so it’s even better.”
“I got you juice, buns and a chocolate bar,” my father said as he came over and put the groceries on the seat. “I didn’t know what kind of juice you liked, so I got you a multi-fruit.”
“Thanks, Dad,” I mumbled.
Vovka’s cell phone rattled on his belt.
“Yes!” he yelled, adding moodily. “Coming.”
“Where are you going?” I asked.
“They fucking call me in to work! Pissed me off! Oops!” Vovka hesitated, remembering that my father was already there, and his face turned crimson in an instant, and he could only say, “I better go, I have to, I’ll be right there, aren’t you leaving yet?”
“No, we’re not,” I said, struggling to hold back a smile as I squinted at my father, who was chewing a bun and smiling. “I’ll go with you.”
After passing through the gate, we crossed the main asphalt area of the depot to the end.
“I’ll wait for you here,” I said, staying outside under the awning at the office entrance.
“I’ll be quick!” Vovka shouted, shuffling his sandals and ducking into the building.
Outside, under the awning, were three armchairs. They were the kind that used to be in auditoriums and movie theaters, grouped together, with reclining seats covered in dark red imitation leather. I flopped down in one of them and looked around the depot, where people were reluctantly moving about in the hot sun. I sat contemplatively for about ten minutes, trying not to move so as not to sweat. A big blue “Peugeot” came around the corner from the entrance. “Oh, that woman has arrived!” I perked up. The car pulled up smoothly to the office across from the warehouses, and the door opened. “Gina Lollobrigida,” as I nicknamed her, got out of the car. A dark blue dress well above her knees, tight around her voluptuous figure, a stiletto, a mop of black hair highlighted with brown “feathers”…
“All right, Ramses, let’s go!” Vovka barked behind me.
I looked at my friend, who appeared beside me in three steps.
“What are you sitting there for!?” he barked again, grabbing the free chair at the end and shaking it, the whole trio of chairs jerked up with me. “Get up, you bigwig!”
I got up, looked in the direction of the “Peugeot”, the woman wasn’t there, she went into the building. We wandered back to the “GAZelle”. We passed the “Peugeot”, turned the corner, entered the narrow passage between the buildings. We were two steps away from the “GAZelle” when Vovka’s phone rang again.
“Yes!” he yelled into the phone.
“What is it?” I said.
“Fuck, it’s that fucking wine again, I’m so fucking sick of it,” Vovka swore quietly, squinting at my father standing a few meters away.
“Are they calling you back in?”
“Yeap!” Vovka ran his hand over his face, ruffled his hair, and shook his head.
“Don’t be sad, Vovan, this weekend we’ll go to the ‘Skies’ and get hammered!”
“No way, Ramses! My vacation starts next week. I’m going to my parents. Can you look after the apartment? Can I leave you the key?”
I agreed and we said goodbye. Vovka slapped my palm with his stiff hand, shook it and staggered back to the office.
On Friday, August 6, I received the key.
The weekend was approaching, and I was mentally excited at the prospect of taking a girl from the club to my friend’s empty apartment. But I found myself there on Monday, after another hard day at work and a minor quarrel with my father. I was in a bad mood. I crossed the threshold of the apartment and immediately realized what I was missing – privacy, the opportunity to be alone. I walked slowly through the apartment. It was quiet inside. I liked it. No one was around. I was alone. Complete freedom of action. I could hear the sounds of the street outside. I stepped out onto the balcony, leaned against the railing and lit a cigarette. Even the cigarette seemed special, as if it filled my lungs not with nicotine, but with the magic smoke of freedom. I finished my cigarette and dove into the coolness of the room. Then I took a shower, put on only my underwear, and flopped down on Vovka’s double bed, stretched out like a star in every corner, and froze, staring at the peeling ceiling. I immediately felt depressed. I realized that I wanted my own apartment. “Twenty-seven years old, living with my parents, a place of my own is nowhere near,” I thought, and I clearly realized that living with my parents was a terrible burden – the constant squabbles, the oppressive atmosphere that made it harder and harder for me to breathe. I was suffocating there. “How much longer would I last like this, a year, two, three?” longing thoughts crept into my soul. I decided to distract myself, so I turned on the TV. I felt better. After half an hour, the air from the street warmed the room, dried my skin, and I dozed off. I awoke to see the day fading outside the window. I went to the kitchen and made some tea and some sandwiches. I ate and drove home. It was a strange evening, but I loved it! It was like a breath of fresh air. I spent the whole week on trips like this – getting into a shared taxi after work, going to the empty apartment, staring up at the ceiling from the bed, and thinking. My thoughts wandered in the labyrinths of my brain, looking for a way out and for answers to my circumstances.
“It’s a strange situation, it’s getting harder and harder. My mother is becoming unbearable. I understand that she’s taking revenge on my father for their life together. Go figure, I always thought our family was exemplary – I had the best mom, the best dad, how lucky I was to have such parents. I thought so until… I don’t know until when. Until now? Maybe two years ago I started asking myself uncomfortable questions, and here are the answers. My mother hates my father, and she hates him so much that she wants him dead. Her emotional screaming that he should die as soon as possible and that she won’t let him live the rest of his life, sends me into a tailspin. I also get it in the neck. My mother thinks that I am my father’s sponger, clinging to “daddy” because of money and my inability to make my own decisions in life. In her eyes I look like a total shit. And my father thinks so, too. The human mind is amazingly constructed. You get insulted, you get mud thrown at you, and out of all the insults, you choose the one that applies to the other person. And you support it. This is probably how you try to keep your self-esteem normal. My father takes great pleasure in supporting my mother’s attacks on me, saying that I am a spineless amoeba, not trying to make money with my father as an equal, but hanging on to him out of helplessness and inability to fulfill myself. A vicious circle. My mother thinks I am a loser. My father thinks he is my benefactor and I am a cowardly slacker. Do I really look like this from the outside? If so, it’s creepy and strange. And where is the solution? I can’t buy an apartment, I have no money. Even if we continue to work at the same pace, I will not be able to afford a one-room apartment for at least five years. Unless a small miracle happens. Go to a rented apartment now? What’s the point? It’s a waste of money. Besides, my father wouldn’t approve, he’d say I’m wasting our money. I work every day and I don’t have any money of my own. It’s a paradox. My father always grudgingly gives me the crumbs that I spend at the club. And they really are crumbs. Vovka and I manage to get drunk for ridiculous amounts of money. My relationship with my father was clearly deteriorating, and worst of all, it seemed irreversible. Because of my father’s natural stubbornness, he does not back down even in situations where he is wrong. And my natural softness is rapidly disappearing, I am becoming harder.
I opened my eyes. The ceiling. Thoughts continued to swirl in my head, but they were already tired, pestering me lazily from somewhere in the depths. A half-asleep state. The inner protest that had been crawling in my chest for the past few days subsided a bit. I sucked in the air with my whole chest and exhaled noisily. It was Friday, late in the evening, and it was time to go home. I drank some tea and as I was putting my shoes on the trampled mats in the hallway, I heard my inner voice clearly again: “I will buy an apartment at exactly thirty, and a miracle will happen!”
Vovka came back on Sunday morning, woke me up with his screams, and forced me to go to him. We spent the rest of the day in his apartment, drinking tea, smoking, and chatting about everything. And in the evening we went to “Clear Skies”. Life went back to normal.
In mid-August, I thought about the approaching fall and felt sad. The days passed monotonously. The dichlorvos thing was gone for good. “Arbalest” didn’t give it in barter, and it never showed up at “Sasha’s”. I called the manager Sergey, who mumbled in an apologetic tone that he could not help – there was no product, everything was sold out. I was nervous for a while about the lost opportunity to make money, but by the end of August I had calmed down and decided to start dealing with dichlorvos in earnest next summer.
On August 23 I called “Arbalest” about another order. Ilya answered the phone. His voice seemed overly polite and even ingratiating. I was surprised but didn’t attach significance. Ilya hastily voiced his order and asked when we would bring the goods. I said in two or three hours. The manager was satisfied and hung up.
When Ilya saw me in the office of “Arbalest”, he hustled, jumped out of his chair, shook my hand vigorously and quickly processed the waybills. It was hard not to notice the manager’s excessive agility. I said goodbye and walked out into the hallway, where Ilya caught up with me, looked around anxiously, and said: “Roma, I have a situation here, can you help me?”
“What happened?” I stopped at the end of the hallway at the stairs.
“I’ll tell you, but not here,” Ilya ran his eyes even harder. “You go unload and then call me and I’ll go down to the smoking room and we’ll talk, okay?”
I agreed and left for the warehouse. Half an hour later, outside, Ilya, still looking around, told me that he and his partner had failed to make a profit in the store and had decided to close it. They had no place to put the unsold goods, and the time to pay for them was approaching, and a poor excuse for businessmen had no money.
“Could you buy the goods at the wholesale price for cash?” Ilya summarized. I agreed to help. My father also said that it would be good and right to help Ilya. At the end of that week we went to the store, which had already closed, to pick up the goods. Ilya, holding forty-six thousand in his hands, beamed with happiness, poured out his thanks, shook hands with my father and me for a long time, and almost shed a tear. His behavior made me smile and I felt good in my heart because we had helped someone we knew. Maybe one day he would help us too?
Summer flew by as if it had never happened. The first week of fall traditionally passed under the sign of City Day. On September 4, Vovka and I got drunk at “Clear Skies”. The place burst with people again. And we spent the rest of the September weekend at the club. And the weekend of October. And November. And all winter. And spring.
In October, I ran into Anya at the center, the one I had the best kiss with in my life. When she saw me, it was as if her eyes lit up. But the meeting didn’t make me happy; I was even angry for a moment, remembering all of Anya’s antics and affectation. “Plumping out,” I thought to myself as I noticed that she hadn’t kept her most attractive form, but had become fat and plain.
“Hi,” I mumbled as I walked past.
“Hi,” the girl squeaked in a slightly confused falsetto.
I passed by without lingering, without turning around, and never saw Anya again.
That day Vovka worked late at the depot, and in the evening I was alone in the “Clear Skies”. I was in the grip of autumn melancholy and didn’t feel like doing anything. Alcohol did not dispel my moping, it only made it worse. I wandered mechanically through the club, taking turns propping up both bars. After one o’clock in the morning, the guards weaseled out of their duties, and all kinds of human whatnot poured into the place. I felt like drinking again. I went to the small bar, where the bartender was already chatting with a customer. The rather short brunette wobbled, her head dangling from the counter, a disheveled mop of curly hair covering the visitor’s face. In front of her lay a bar of chocolate in an open wrapper. The customer’s head jerked up and she stared at me with a dazed expression. “Wow!” I thought, seeing a haggard face of uncertain age. She could have been thirty-five or ten years older. The woman’s face bore the marks of heavy and regular drinking. Her denim suit looked untidy and as greasy as her mop of clumped hair. I was looking at an alcoholic.
“Wanna some chocolate?” she said with difficulty, swaying on her thin legs.
“No, thanks,” I shook my head, grimacing and looking away into the darkness of the dance floor.
The woman stared at me for a few seconds, turned her head toward the bartender, hummed, rustled the foil with her messy hand and dirty, broken fingernails, ran her fingers over a slice of chocolate, and said: “I’ll have some,” and pulled it into her mouth.
There is something deeply disgusting about female drunkenness. It made me uncomfortable. I cringed again and headed for the dance floor.
After half an hour, I finally got bored, went outside, and wandered leisurely toward the hotel. The alcohol had completely worn off. I mechanically made my way to Edik’s car, swung open the back door, and piled into the cabin.
“Howdy!” I said, noticing a lady sitting in the passenger seat. Edik held out his hand, I shook it, looked to my right and was stunned – the same alcoholic from the club. Of course, she didn’t remember me. I looked at Edik in surprise.
“And we just… sit… chat…” he grinned greasily.
The broad chuckled stupidly.
The situation was clear. I asked Edik to drop me off, and in half an hour I was home. The next time we met, the student bragged to me about the outcome of his meeting with the broad.
“I drove you…” he smiled happily… And then we went back down the county road, and there were no lights… I pulled over to the side of the road by the woods… And… you know…”
“I see,” I nodded, stretching my face into a rubbery, formal smile.
The episode with Edik fed my brain for the day. I didn’t understand his behavior. Even if I put the sentiments aside and forgot that Edik had a girlfriend, it still came out shitty – the guy’s promiscuity to me was like rummaging through garbage cans for food. I imagined Edik and this down-at-heel woman having sex, and I felt physically sick. “It is strange,” I thought, “that people take such pleasure in finding dirt and wallowing in it. Why? And they’re proud of it, too.”
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