March started with a big shipment of blue. We received eight hundred packages at once, filling the entire warehouse. Spring came, but not the warmth. The temperature was below zero all month. Because of the cold, the blue sold slowly. Hopes for an early spring were not fulfilled, and I was as black as thunder, like a bear with a sore head. The puddle at the warehouse gate added to my anger; the sun was already burning through the cold air, and melted snow flowed down to the gate during the day and froze at night. The lower edges of the gate would stick to the ice, and my father and I would take a crowbar and hollow it out. And so it was every morning for the second half of March. In April, the temperature rose to ten degrees and stayed above freezing at night. The puddle that had stopped freezing swelled and flowed over the threshold. For a week we waded through the mud in the warehouse until the sun dried the ground completely. The inner tensions of the long winter and the poor sales were gone, and my father and I breathed a sigh of relief, and immediately, on April 13, we argued until the sparks flew. Everything that had been bottled up came out. It didn’t solve any of the old problems, but it added new ones and made the rift even worse.
“Still sitting around playing?” my father said as he walked into my room.
Sitting in the shabby armchair by the computer, I caught a note of irritation and frustration in his voice, I tensed up and said: “Playing, yeah, what else am I supposed to do?”
“I wish you’d do something useful instead of playing these stupid games!” my father added, without softening his tone of displeasure. “You sit there like a child, playing all day!”
“What useful thing am I supposed to do!?” I looked away from the monitor and half turned to my father, who was standing by the balcony door, grasping the handle. He was going out on the balcony to smoke as usual, twirling a cigarette nervously in his other hand.
“You’d better think about your work!” said my father, turning the handle, opening the balcony door, and putting the cigarette in his mouth.
“What’s there to think about!? Everything seems to be all right, doesn’t it?” I supported the tone.
“All right!? Well, if you think that opening and closing two retail stores is all right, then yes, everything is all right!” my father froze in the doorway, took the cigarette out of his mouth and began to crumple it up again.
“What’s that got to do with it?” I winced at the unpleasant turn of the dialog.
“We put so much effort and time into it, we ordered the equipment, and now what!? Now it sits in the warehouse collecting dust! Wasted money!”
“As far as I know, we made the decision to open outlets together, or what!?” I threw up my hands. “If you had said you were against it, there would have been no outlets! Is it my fault that they did not work well!? And what does that have to do with me sitting here playing games, I don’t get it! Who am I bothering? I’m not saying that you go out on the balcony to smoke again and hang around with a cigarette all the time! Or are you thinking about work there!?”
“Thinking about work, yes!” my father said, coming back into the room and sitting on the edge of the couch.
“And what did you have in mind, tell me, I’m interested!?”
“Don’t be smart here, got it!? I am your father, so bite your tongue!”
“Here we go again, when we think about work, we’re partners, and you have accusations against me, and when I ask the same thing, you’re the father! You’re good at that!”
“Yes, I am!” my father gritted his teeth in anger.
“What’s the big deal, I don’t get it!?” I got angry too. “Is there something you don’t like!?”
“I don’t like you always being on the Internet and playing games!”
“What do you care what I do in my free time!?”
For a few seconds in the resulting pause, we looked at each other with hostility.
“Or would it be better if I went to a club? Then say it! Winter is over, it’s getting warmer, okay, I’ll go clubbing. But you’re always unhappy when I ask you for money to go clubbing, you always say I’m wasting money! What am I supposed to do, sit at home like you and spend all day on the balcony smoking a cigarette and, God forbid, not spend an extra ruble? Is that it!? I stay at home anyway, I play games on the computer, so what? I don’t get it, going to clubs is bad, staying at home is bad, so what’s good!?”
My father glared at me, his jaw clenched.
“Why don’t you say something? Speak!” I threw up my hands.
“I got nothing to say to you!” my father brushed me off, stood up and took a step toward the balcony.
“As always! If you have nothing to say against me, then there is nothing to talk about…”
My father lingered in the doorway, glaring at me, but restrained himself, stepping out onto the balcony. I turned to the monitor, but the mood for the game was already gone, the adrenaline coursing through my blood, preventing me from relaxing and feeding the resentment boiling inside me. As I absentmindedly clicked my mouse in tension, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that my father had finished his cigarette. I tensed up. I didn’t want to continue the argument, but I didn’t want to give up my position. On the contrary, with each new conflict, I answered my father harsher and harsher. He sat back down on the couch and snapped. I braced myself for the continuation.
“So?” said my father.
“So what!?” I said, not taking my eyes off the monitor and clicking hard with the mouse.
“How are we going to work now, Director!?” my father said with a grin that I caught in my side eye.
“What does the director have to do with it!?” I turned to him. “We work together, we don’t have a director.”
“What do you mean, we don’t? You’re always saying you make everything up, and I’m like this: fetch, serve, bugger off, don’t interfere. Something like that!?”
“No, it’s not like that. Who told you that? We work together and we make decisions together, that’s all. It’s simple.”
“But you say you learned and figured it all out on your own,” my father was clearly provoking.
“What exactly? All right, let’s talk about it, I don’t mind. You, on the other hand, always tell me that you taught me everything. What did you teach me? How to fill out a waybill and how to calculate taxes!? I don’t deny it, you did! Go on, what else did you teach me!?”
My father was silent and looked at me.
“Here’s the computer!” I pointed to the monitor. “Did you teach me how to use it? No. I learned how to use it on my own. You don’t even know how to use it!”
“How am I supposed to work on it if you’re on it 24 hours a day?”
“Did you ever want to learn how to use a computer?” I was surprised.
“Of course I did! I told you it would be good for me to learn the computer and this accounting program of yours!”
“What a statement! I don’t remember you saying that!”
“You don’t remember a lot of things!” my father went on the offensive. “I have noticed that your memory is very selective!”
“Is that so!?”
“Yes, that’s so. What did you expect? You thought I’d jump around you!?”
“Why would you jump around me!?” I was surprised by the strange logic. “Okay, you want to learn the computer, and I’m such a usurper, sitting here and not letting you! Please! You can sit down right now and learn it, I will help you as much as I can, I will explain it to you!”
“Don’t give me that shit!”
“What shit!? I suggest you start learning the computer like you asked.”
“This shit! You’ll be sitting in that chair again tomorrow and you won’t get kicked out!”
“What kind of nonsense is that!?” still surprised, I began to realize that my father was simply changing the subject. “I don’t understand you! Do you want to learn the computer, or are you looking for reasons not to? Like I won’t let you? Here! I’m offering! Learn!”
There was a rustling behind me and I turned to see my mother standing in the doorway. Angry, I reached out and pushed the door shut. My mother barely had time to react before the door slammed shut in front of her surprised face. My mother’s habit of eavesdropping all the time drove me mad. Her footsteps were hastily muffled in the hallway.
“I see you’ve settled in well! Your father is driving, carrying boxes, and now he’s going to do the accounting! Splendid! And Roma will only get his half and do nothing!” my father wiggled out awkwardly.
I realized that he didn’t want to learn anything. But why blame me?
“Why, do nothing!? Let’s swap places! I’ll drive, and you keep the books, call the customers, schedule the work, and run with the waybills. Deal!?”
“You can’t drive!”
“Why can’t I drive!? I don’t have much experience, I’ve only driven our ‘second’. But if I have to, I’ll learn to drive normally.”
“Come ooon!” my father brushed me off. “You, drive! I know you!”
“What’s wrong with that?” I didn’t catch the gist of the sentence. My father would change the subject of his own complaint as soon as the solution was in sight.
“You’re going to hit something! No, no!” he brushed me off firmly, crossing his legs and leaning back on the sofa.
“So you’re going to keep driving yourself?”
“Looks like it!” my father slapped his thighs as he prepared to get up and added. “All right, there’s no point in talking to you!”
“Then why did you come here like a wheeler-dealer and start dividing!?” I added fuel to the fire.
“You better watch your language, you!” my father clenched his teeth, his face sharpened, his eyes narrowed and glittered with pure rage. “Hold your tongue, you brat!”
“Oh! I’m a brat now! I see,” I turned away from the glare and stared at the monitor, clicking my mouse aimlessly, shaking my head and drawing disappointing conclusions to myself. “Then we have nothing more to talk about.”
“So sit there and play your games like a little fool!” my father slurred at my back as he left the room. The door slammed again.
“I will,” I muttered calmly, but my insides were boiling.
“What’s wrong!? Why is he deliberately and obviously getting into a fight!? Why is he pushing!? And this name-calling, not for the first time! What is he trying to achieve?”
A jumble of thoughts whirled around in my head like a centrifuge.
“Old bastard,” I muttered, picked up the phone and called Vovka.
For the next two days, our only communication was about work. My father drove and smoked as we rode along the beaten paths, while I turned away and stared sourly out the window. At the end of Friday, we had another fight. A big one again!
Everything went on as usual. We arrived at “Peresvet” at half past six, the last stop, unloading and then home. I jumped out of the car, registered the waybill at the office, took it to the warehouse, and came downstairs. My father was already sitting on the bench with his legs crossed, smoking. The “GAZelle” was parked near the ramp. I jumped in the back and unloaded the goods in a few minutes. Galya came out of the warehouse, sat down on the bench next to my father, lit a cigarette and started to check the waybill.
“It’s correct,” she said, signing the waybill and handing it to me. “Are you done?”
“Yes! We are!” my father slapped his thighs briskly, got up from the bench and smiled. “Now go home and rest! The work week is over!”
“Lucky people!” said Galya, taking a drag on her cigarette. “And we still have two days…”
“Listen, Galya, have they started delivering the dichlorvos for you yet?” I said, remembering the business.
“Yes, they already showed up. But only ‘Arbalest’ delivered theirs, there are no more.”
“That’s good,” I muttered, bit my lip, looked at my father and added, “All right! I’ll just check the window and then we’ll go, wait for me here, okay?”
“If the director says so, it will be so!” my father said with dramatic diligence, looking at the storekeeper. “Me and Galya will sit here and talk about life…”
“Who is that?” she smiled, astonished. “Is he the director!?”
“Yeaah!” my father kicked his leg and looked at me with a mocking look. “My director is very strict, you know! Oooh!”
Galya laughed out loud: “Romka, are you the strict director!?”
“Aah!” I brushed her off. “He will tell you things, listen more! Okay, I’ll be right back…”
On my way to the depot’s sales floor, I pondered the strangely frequent use of the word “director” in my father’s speech to me. While seemingly innocuous, it had a double meaning, the mocking, teasing, and smirking way in which it was uttered. The storefronts that I had studied to the smallest detail over the years, I looked through in a minute. Nothing new. “We have to go to ‘Sasha’ and get some dichlorvos, otherwise someone will put them in here before us!” thoughts of work were already running through my head. I memorized the prices and went back.
“That’s it!? Let’s go!?” exclaimed my father, who was still sitting on the bench with Galya.
“Yes, that’s it, let’s go!” I hurried to the car. “Bye, Galya!”
“Home!?” my father said happily in the cabin as I sat down next to him.
“Yes, home,” I said distantly, thinking about business.
“What’s wrong now?” the worried look returned to my father’s face.
“Nothing’s wrong, let’s go,” I said in the same tone, hurriedly.
“There’s no pleasing you,” my father said petulantly, with a squeamish look on his face.
The car started and drove slowly away from the depot.
“There’s no need to please me!” I escalated. I was a little too upset for my sense of justice, so I stuck my fingers in the fire to sort things out, and we both lit up like matches.
“Then what do you want!?” my father’s tone rose, his face hardening.
The car passed the gate and stopped in front of the exit onto the road. I glanced to both sides of the wide street; it was almost empty on a Friday night.
“I don’t want anything! I want you to either stop calling me director, or stop telling me at home that I don’t do anything, and that you invented the whole business and brought me out into the world, as you put it!”
“How sensitive you are!”
“Yes, I am! And you sit there and tell Galya that there’s a director, like, let him run around, and you’re just a humble driver, like, you don’t decide anything, so you sit quietly on the bench!”
There was a gap in the traffic. My father shifted gears and we pulled out to the left.
“Well, that’s good for you! You’re in charge here, you think so too!”
“I don’t think so and I never have, don’t lie!!! Why are you lying here!?”
“What the fuck do you want from me!?!?” my father shouted, jabbing at the transmission.
“I want you to think too and offer some solutions, not just stupidly chewing mine!!! Suggest, come on, how do we develop our business!?!? In what direction?!? Because you have a smart attitude! When I ask you to suggest something new, you don’t give a damn! And when I suggest something, you go along with it, and then if it doesn’t work out, it’s all my fault! Why did I suggest it? What a waste of money! Then suggest it! Suggest it if you’re so smart! Why don’t you say something!!? Everybody’s a big critic! You always said it was your time. Then do it if it’s your time. Why are you holding on to the steering wheel?”
My father gnashed his teeth and looked between me and the road.
“For fuck’s sake!!! I am so fucking sick of you!!!” he said through gritted teeth, turned red, pulled to the side of the road, turned off the engine and jumped out of the car. “Asshole!!! Motherfucker!!!”
My father slammed the door with all his might and walked away along the side of the road, shaking, lighting a cigarette and swearing. Confused, I was left in the ringing silence. Shame came over me. I blushed and my face burned with heat.
“What did I say?” I mumbled, looking at my father and around me, as if everyone passing by had seen and heard our scolding, and now they walked on, judging me and shaking their heads in disappointment. “Yeah…”
I sat there for ten minutes. I was consumed by remorse from all sides, devouring the faint sprouts of inner objection that what I had told my father was essentially true and that I had given him nothing new, perhaps too straightforward, but all the better, and better to say what one thinks at once than to brood over an insult for years and come to such a quarrel.
“Yeah,” I repeated, exhaling heavily and somewhat relieved by the task at hand; I had to get home. I moved to the left seat and started the “GAZelle”. I drove quite well on the half-empty streets. I parked the car in the yard and walked home.
“Where’s your father?” my mother asked, surprised to see me alone on the doorstep.
“He probably hasn’t arrived yet,” I said in a casual tone. “He’ll be here soon.”
I had already showered, eaten, and was sitting on the balcony smoking when the front door slammed. I got nervous. I didn’t want to continue the fight, and I knew that we had both just passed another point in the chain of destruction. Destruction of what? The father-son relationship? Or the relationship between business partners? Or all of the above? I didn’t want to look into that future. Did I want to divide the business? No, of course not! I’m not an idiot! We’re a family, what do we have to divide? I always couldn’t understand close relatives fighting among themselves and creating all kinds of divisions. So stupid! The bad thing was that our mutual dislike was exposed. And my father and I couldn’t hide it anymore.
“You know what, buddy?” my father’s voice came from behind me, and his heavy hand rested roughly on my shoulder. I froze, and inside I shrank into a lump, and the wild thought of a possible fight flashed through my head. Outwardly, I continued to smoke calmly, and when the hand was no longer on my shoulder, I turned cautiously. My father looked at me sternly and said:
“You and I probably won’t work well together!”
It took my breath away. The darkest images flashed through my mind: the division of the business, the division of the money, and the destruction of everything that had been painstakingly pieced together over the years. I gathered all my composure in my voice and, thinking carefully about the phrasing, said:
“Well, if we don’t, we don’t, whatever you say…”
My father hesitated. On the one hand, I made it clear that I had no intention of giving in. On the other hand, I put all the responsibility for the next steps on my father. My father was confused and melted. It worked. I was counting on it.
“Don’t let me hear you talk like that again!” he said after a pause, drumming his index finger hard and unpleasantly on my shoulder. “I won’t let you talk to me like that! I am your father! Do you hear me!?”
“I do,” I muttered, and immediately felt myself calming down. My father stomped behind me for a few seconds and left, and I continued to smoke, thinking about calling Vovka. The weather was great, spring was in full swing, crushing the remnants of winter everywhere. I closed my eyes and put my head on the window sill. The sun immediately began to warm my face generously. I couldn’t believe that winter was over. The last few months had been more stressful than any previous winter. Three months of constant and emergency snow shoveling, and the raw March with ice chiseling under the warehouse gates – brrr, horrible. I instinctively shivered with my whole body and even felt the winter chill for a second, as if I were freezing. “I hate winter!” I mentally barked, and then the cell phone rang behind me in the room.
At nine o’clock in the evening, Vovka and I were walking through the center of town. My stomach began to hurt, so I poured an alcoholic cocktail laced with nicotine into it. My stomach became quiet. Inner tension pushed the words out, I had to speak. And I began to whine almost continuously, pouring out all the accumulated grievances on my friend’s head. Vovka listened, nodded, objected, sometimes scratched his head in confusion and mumbled incomprehensibly.
“Yeah, Anatoly Vasilievich is very serious. It must be hard for you to work with him.”
I told him that it was very hard, that my father was boring and too straightforward, and that I understood my mother: living with a man whose strongest positive emotion was a strained smile was a painful experience. When we got to the club, I continued to pour my heart out to Vovka, who nodded his head and licked all the girls who passed by with his eyes.
“Well, you see!” Vovka said. “He wants to teach you something, wants you not to violate his authority, and you’re so, so naughty, he can’t handle you!”
We stood with our “screwdrivers” in the archway of the grotto. The alcohol dampened my agitation. I was grateful to Vovka; he had listened to me whine all evening, pretending to be interested. I, on the other hand, felt as if I was stuck. I tried to find logic and justice in my father’s words and actions.
“They said we’d work till the end of April, and that’s it!” Nadezhda Petrovna’s shiftwoman looked at me, clapping her bulging eyes. It was 7:10 p.m., Monday, April 18.
“Well,” I sighed, taking the money, “if that’s what they said, then we’ll work till the end of April…”
“And what will we do then? What will it be!? We won’t work in May!?” I was inundated with questions from the saleswoman.
After listening to the woman’s lamentations, I withdrew the proceeds from the second kiosk, and in half an hour I was at home, where I broke the news to my father, who was dozing on the couch. The management of the market had decided to start building in the place of the rows of stalls and to move the kiosks and pavilions. The new place didn’t seem as lively. I said that the income of the kiosks there would probably be lower, which meant that their profitability would be the same or even lower than that of the wholesale.
We were already sitting on the balcony, basking in the evening sun. After listening to me, my father was silent for half a minute, puffed on his cigarette and finally spoke: “And what do you suggest?”
“I don’t know, I’m not suggesting anything yet, let’s see what the market owners decide about the kiosks. But if our retail stops, I won’t be upset.”
On the one hand, the loss of an established, profitable place was devastating. On the other hand, all this time we lived and worked as if we were tied to the kiosks. Come rain or shine, we would pick up orders and take them to market. The stability we needed at first began to weigh us down, and the kiosks became shackles. They began to hinder movement and development. Besides, we were actually too late with retail. The kiosks were already an anachronism of the 90s. By the time we bought them, retail had already moved on in terms of format and organization. The big stores were overtaking the small ones. We couldn’t handle the new format. I understood that once the kiosks stopped making money, we would just have to let them go. I wasn’t hoping to sell them. Who in their right mind would want halves of separate containers? The stalemate with the kiosks so overwhelmed my brain that after a while I gave up on the problem, leaving it to life itself to solve.
“If we close the kiosks, we free up about a hundred and twenty thousand. And there’s also retail inventory in the warehouse. That’s about two hundred. That’s three hundred free. We’re stuck with the small stuff. We need a big supplier. Three hundred thousand, even at ten percent, is thirty, more than retail and the same money. Yes, we have to get rid of retail and boost wholesale. Otherwise, neither here nor there.” So I thought the next morning as I lay half asleep in bed. We needed a radical step forward, a breakthrough. I tried to find the right solution, the way out, but my intuitive horizon was empty.
“Oh shit, dichlorvos!” I yelled, and the sleep vanished in a flash. I grabbed my cell phone and dialed ‘Sasha’ number. “Hello, Sergey!? Hi, Seryozha!”
The voice of the manager of “Sasha” sounded pleasantly soft but slightly alarming in my ear.
“We have dichlorvos, yes, but we are closing up,” he said in a sad tone. “Out of the blue, Davidych decided to close ‘Sasha’. Now I’ll call the suppliers and tell them to come and pick up the goods and pay. It’s good that you called. You’ll have to come and pick up your stuff, too. When can you come?”
“Well…” I paused. The news was startling. It sounded unexpected and strange. I saw no reason to close. Normal business, working steadily. Although, who knows?
“I can do it next week,” I said. “Are you working as usual?”
“Yes, till the end of the month as usual.”
“Well, then next week, Thursday or Friday, we’ll come and settle up.”
“Okay, I’ll wait.”
“How about Saturday?”
“You can come on Saturday too, but only until three o’clock, no later.”
“Great, then maybe even on Saturday. Listen, one more thing, I’ve got your ‘Stove Cleaner’ stuck, so I’ll put it through again and bring it back to you, okay?”
“All right, bring it back, hee-hee-hee!” Sergey suddenly cheered up and laughed into the phone.
“Well, see you next week!”
I got up and took a shower. A second, indirect problem was added to the kiosks.
“‘Sasha’ is closing! We have a problem with dichlorvos!” I broke the news to my father as soon as I got out of the shower and into the kitchen.
He, who had been chewing in a dignified manner, stopped working his jaws and froze, his eyes batting.
“By the end of the month we have to pick up our goods, see what we have of their garbage, put it through again and bring the balance up!” I added.
“Yes,” my father nodded, taking a sip first. “We have to, of course.”
“We need to look for dichlorvos!” I sat down at the table in front of him. “Summer is ahead of us!”
“Yes,” my father nodded again. “We need to look for dichlorvos.”
“All right,” I brushed off the growing irritation, “We’ll figure something out.”
The last two weeks of April went by in the market with a sense of foreboding. Rumors varied: all the kiosks would be closed; some would be closed; all would be closed, but some would be moved to the other side of the market. The speculation made my head spin. Sellers and owners of kiosks and pavilions were nervous. Some even stopped delivering their goods. Others had decided to sell until the last moment, just like us. By Friday night, everything was settled.
“Roma, hi, it’s Nadezhda Petrovna!” the old woman’s voice came into my cell phone as we were loading up at the warehouse. “Now I was told that after lunch, in the evening, there will be a crane here, and the kiosks will be moved to the other side of the market! Well, those who want to! Are we going to move the kiosks? What should we do!?”
The old woman’s voice was shaking. We decided that we would collect the goods from the kiosks in the “GAZelle” and then we would see. At three o’clock we arrived at the market, which already resembled a beehive.
Half of the neighboring row of pavilions was gone – the crane had moved them to another part of the market in the morning. Nadezhda Petrovna and Polina were busy packing up the goods. The old woman did it skillfully and quickly. Polina clumsily shoved the goods into boxes.
“Anatoly Vasilievich, what about our kiosks? Are they going to move them there or what!?” Nadezhda Petrovna almost shouted when she saw us.
“We don’t know yet,” my father froze, scratching his little finger at the back of his head in confusion. “We should find out what’s going on.”
“And what do they say, Nadezhda Petrovna?” I said.
The old woman said again what she had said during the call.
“We should probably go to the administration and find out everything, because all these rumors are confusing me. All right!” I turned to my father. “I’ll carry the boxes to the car and you go to the administration and find out what’s going on?”
“Yes, I think we should go,” my father said and started scratching behind the collar of his shirt.
I picked up the biggest box and carried it to the car, almost catching my father on the way.
“Well, get out of the way a little,” I muttered, seeing my father still at a loss, and quickly carried the box to the ‘GAZelle’ and went back for the next one.
My father hesitated and took the box from Polina’s hands. I was immediately angry with him, because I understood the meaning of the move. Our conflicts with the claim to leadership were fresh, and now, in a simple situation, he did not take over, but stayed in the background and took the box.
“What did you take it for!?” I couldn’t bear it. “Come on, go! Find out what’s there! I can carry the boxes myself, there aren’t many of them here!”
“Really?” my father hesitated and put the box back.
“Really! Go!” I added with pressure.
The saleswomen, as if they could read in my eyes an internal decision about the kiosks, began to collect the goods, but without any hope of further work.
“Aren’t you going to sell the kiosks?” the old lady asked suddenly.
“Sell!?” I stiffened with a box in my hand.
“There were buyers here this morning,” Polina grumbled. “Or rather, one buyer, a woman, asked if anyone would sell the kiosk here. Well, we don’t know if you’re selling or not. She said she would come back in the evening.”
“Oh! Wow!” I was surprised, a thought occurred to me, and I looked at our neighbor who was emptying his kiosk. He and I did not get along very well, but it was worth a try. I turned around – my father was waddling away toward the market building. As I approached the neighbor, I immediately offered to exchange his half for Polina’s kiosk, so that we would have a single container. He hesitated. I was ready for his refusal, I knew for sure that if I didn’t get anything from the kiosks, I would just leave them behind. Perhaps the neighbor sensed my mood, because instead of the usual bickering, he said a simple “Okay, let’s do it.”
When I was done with the boxes, I settled up with the saleswomen.
“Well, Roma, that’s it, isn’t it?” the old lady said with a bit of bitterness in her voice, separating each word with a pause and hiding the money in the pocket of her light jacket.
“Nadezhda Petrovna!” I began, sighing from time to time, worried. “I don’t know what will happen next, honestly! Maybe we’ll move our big kiosk to the other side and keep selling. Although I don’t really feel like it anymore, I have to admit. Maybe we’ll sell it if there are willing buyers…” I looked around, my father walking back, clinging to the flying and lying debris with his feet now and then. The market was like part of a city, its people fleeing in a hurry from the advancing enemy, taking with them what they could carry. Everyone was scurrying about. A woman rushed between the thinning rows of stalls.
“That woman over there,” Polina muttered. “The one who asked about the kiosks.”
I took the keys from the saleswoman, glanced in the direction of the approaching woman and my father, thanked Polina for her work, said goodbye, and she staggered away.
“Is everything loaded?” my father came up and said, feigning inappropriate complacency.
“Are you selling the kiosk?” came from behind me.
Everyone turned around. The rushing woman was standing nearby.
“What can I tell you, we can sell it if you give a good price!” my father said in the same playful mood that I didn’t understand. I began to get angry. Obviously the buyer came, why play games with her? Negotiate and sell!
“How much do you want!?” the brisk woman twitched her shoulder and adjusted the straps of the bag.
My father hesitated. Nadezhda Petrovna and I looked at him questioningly.
“And what kiosk do you need?” my father threw up his hands. “A whole or a half?”
“Why would I need a half?” the woman stared at him. “A whole, of course! And what is yours!?”
“We don’t have a whole…” my father began.
“We have a whole one!” I shouted, slamming my hand on the kiosk. “This one is ours!”
My father blinked in confusion.
“This is yours!?” the woman looked at the kiosk and immediately found herself next to me. “Great! It’s perfect! How much do you want for it!?”
The woman looked at me, then at my father.
“He’s in charge here!” I suddenly cheered at his confusion. “All questions to him.”
“So how much do you want for the kiosk!?” the woman pressed my father.
“Well…” he scratched a finger at the back of his head, put his other hand to his side, and put his leg forward, assuming his favorite pose that promised a long and thorough conversation. “Something to think about. The two halves together would be worth seventy thousand.”
“What!?” the woman wailed.
My father put his leg back.
“Seventy thousand,” he repeated. “That’s how much we paid for the two halves. Thirty thousand for one, forty thousand for the other.”
“No, I can only give thirty, that’s all I can give!” she snapped.
“Well,” said my father. “Ours is worth seventy, no less.”
“All right!” said the woman. “I’ll go to the other kiosks and ask around. When you decide, find me.”
“Why do you need a kiosk? Where are you going to put it? Are you going to take it somewhere else?” I asked.
“No, I want to move it to the other side, I agreed with the administration, one place is left for me, the crane will arrive at 7 p.m.,” the woman said.
I looked at my watch – 5:08 pm.
“Okay, we’ll find you, if anything, we’ll think about it,” I said, and the woman ran away.
“Anatoly Vasilievich, well, I should probably go?” said Nadezhda Petrovna.
A minute of awkward farewells and parting words, and the old lady, with the bag in her hand, walked in the opposite direction of Polina.
“What did they say at the office, at the market administration?” I looked at my father.
“I didn’t see anyone there, I walked around, looked around, people were making a fuss, like that woman, running around. And no one can say anything properly,” he said with a wave of his hand.
“People like this woman have already found out everything and secured a place on the other side of the market, and you have been walking there for half an hour and still haven’t found out anything, we have a kiosk but no place,” I thought irritated and immediately stopped myself with another thought, “It can’t be helped. Everyone has the character they have. And everyone has to live with it. That’s how we put up with each other.”
“I see,” I said and went to the ‘GAZelle’ and started to close the back to occupy myself.
“Maybe you could lower the price to thirty!?” the woman appeared as soon as I had finished. “The crane is coming in an hour, I would buy the kiosk and move it to a new place!”
I looked around, my father wasn’t there. In a second I saw the future of the kiosk: it was in its new place, Nadezhda Petrovna was behind the counter, there were few customers, the turnover was low, money was invested in goods, my father and I were arguing, a for-sale sign was hung on the kiosk, but no buyers, and so on for a few years. I shuddered. No, thank you.
“Yes! I’ll give it to you for thirty!” I said.
“Really!?” the woman almost screamed. “Oh!!! That’s it, I’ll take it!!! Oh! It’s just that I have money at home, but I live here, nearby, I need ten minutes, I’ll be back soon, okay!?”
“Go ahead, I’ll wait for you here,” I said with feigned indifference, and as well as if I’d been dealing with rusty kiosks all my life. “Just don’t be too long.”
The last words had a stronger effect. With a cry of “I’ll be right back!” the woman ran off into the blinding sunset. I beamed with premature joy. “Why would he want seventy thousand for this shitty kiosk if it’s not worth that much?” I thought of my father’s innate inability to trade. “We’ve already recouped our investment and made a profit anyway. Sell it and forget it! Thirty thousand is a good price.”
My father seemed to have vanished into thin air.
The woman came running in, handed me the money, and we scribbled a contract on a piece of notebook paper. The woman ran off into the sunset out of sheer happiness. As soon as I put the money in the pocket of my jeans, I let myself go – I smiled happily – weight off my shoulders!
“What are you so happy about?” my father came over.
“I sold the kiosk,” I smiled to myself.
“Who bought it, that woman!?” my father looked surprised.
“Yeap!” I squeezed one eye shut.
“For how much?”
“Right,” my father hesitated. “Why so cheap?”
I pulled out a wad of money and shoved it into my father’s hand: “Here! Don’t be greedy! We wouldn’t have gotten this either! This rusty can is worth nothing; I wouldn’t give a ruble for it!”
My father stared at me as if I had committed an unforgivable act of willfulness by making my own decision.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” I grinned.
“No reason,” my father’s sharp face flashed with displeasure. “Fast one!”
“Well, what’s the point of stalling? There was a buyer, I sold. That’s all!”
“And the goods for retail, where are we supposed to put them now?”
“We’re going to sell them! What do you mean, where!? We’ll distribute them to the customers, and they’ll be sold in a couple of months or less. And we’ll free up the money and put it into sales turnover.”
“Any! It’s the start of the dichlorvos season! That’s where we put the money! And dichlorvos is a monetary commodity, it needs money! And we’ll have it now.”
“Oh, you’ve already made up your mind, haven’t you!?”
“Listen, what’s your problem!? Do you want to spend the rest of your life carrying boxes to these kiosks? I don’t. I don’t want to do retail anymore. I’m sick of it.”
My father, glaring at me, paused, muttered, “sure,” and lit a cigarette.
I looked at the phone screen – 7:32 p.m.
“Let’s go home, there’s nothing to do here. We’ll unload the return from the ‘GAzelle’ tomorrow, we’ll go to ‘Sasha’ anyway…” I said and went to the car, my father followed me.
At home, as usual – shower, dinner, computer. I sank into my armchair and clicked the mouse. “Gotta call Vovka,” it flashed in my head. I grabbed the phone. And it rang.
“Ramseeees!!!” my cell screamed. “Ramseees!!! Fuck!! Whassuuup, maaan!!”
“Fuck, Vova! Your yelling is making my ear fall off! Hiya, you blockhead!”
“Fuck, sorry, Ramses! Yooo, Ramses… I mean, are we going to the ‘Skies’ tonight, or what?!”
“But of course, what kind of question is that, Vladimir? Ten o’clock at the hotel, as usual.”
“Deeal! Greeat! All riiight! Seee yaa!”
I stared at my desk, wondering what else had been left undone. In front of me were two notebook pages, scribbled on both sides by the saleswomen. Our retail was already gone, the business could wait.
“Fuck it all!” I blurted out loud, waved it off, and jumped out of my armchair.
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