Chapter 023

Tension remained in the air at home. Since my father’s withdrawal, my mother had become less aggressive. But the changes in her behavior were unstable. At completely unpredictable moments, my mother would erupt in hate, curse my father and me, retreat to her room, and lock herself in. There she would sleep with a blanket over her head, occasionally tossing and turning on the couch, which creaked so badly that I considered replacing it. My relationship with my father was not clear. To my surprise, one day he tried to blame me for my neutrality in his fight with Sergey. I could not tell my father that one of the reasons was that I was tired of his company. The other reason was no less important, and it was easy for me to say.

“Dad, we had an agreement, you know that very well!” I said once I was with him on the balcony. “I couldn’t interfere in your argument as a person of interest!”

“That’s a very comfortable position you’re in!” my father said, smoking a cigarette.

“What position!?” I was indignant. “This is what we agreed with him in front of you and Vera! By the way, when I solved the salary problem with Vera, he did not interfere. I don’t understand what you’re accusing me of?”

“Nothing, never mind,” my father nodded and continued to look out into the yard, sitting on the edge of the couch with his back to me. That was how we had originally sat – me sideways on one edge and him in front with his back to me. Neither of us wanted to make eye contact with the other. Even though I hadn’t acted against my father at that moment, there was a sense of guilt. And, unpleasantly, my father was fueling it.

“I just think that since we are a family, we should always support each other! In everything! That’s what family is,” he said, half turning around and holding up his index finger. “Mind you, I always support you! Even when you’re wrong! And you never support me!”

“When have you ever supported me when I was wrong!?” I was surprised by my father’s thought.

“Always!” he snapped and turned away again.

“Ah-ha! Well, always, I see!” I nodded, knowing that this conversation would not bring our positions any closer. “You left on your own, no one sent you away.”

“What do you mean, no one sent me away? Your Seryozha told me directly that fifteen thousand was too much for such a job!” My father turned around.

“And? So what!?” I looked at him almost directly. “So he said! And you could have said that it was just right! Who stopped you from defending your point of view!? You could have suggested, for example, to open the newspapers, to see the same jobs and how much they offer…”

My father was silent, and I could see the confusion in his eyes.

“All the more reason you were right!” I nailed him. “And he knew that fifteen thousand was just right for this job! We hired Petya for this money. Why did you say you didn’t want to work with us, slammed the door and left!? We stood there with our mouths open. Personally I was very surprised. We had to hire the first person we could find! Good thing it was Petya. And now you’re sitting here blaming me for everything. That’s not very nice.”

“Well, I see!” said my father harshly, with a flicker of anger in his eyes, took a last drag, threw the cigarette out, slapped his hand on the window sill, and stood up. “Everything’s always nice with you, I suppose! Well done, son, keep working!”

He patted me unkindly and heavily on the shoulder and walked from the balcony into the room.

The conversation left me at a loss. On the one hand, I knew for a fact that I had never tried to harm my father with my actions. On the other hand, I felt a guilt, an instinctive, relational guilt. It was based on the fact that my father had been hurt and I had not. And it was that difference in position that caused it. And third, without trying to understand my motives, my father blamed me for what had happened. And the more he pushed, the more I resisted.

This situation lasted until the end of the summer. By August my father had collected all the money from the customers for the goods delivered before the merger with Sergey. It was our joint money, his and mine – about half a million rubles.


“Wow,” I was surprised to see Sergey and Vera in the office in the morning, coming in with piles of sheets in their hands. “What are all these tons of paper!?”

“They were just lying around the house!” Sergey said, throwing the sheets on the table, adding that they had been brought “to the common fund” to print “leftovers and reports” on the back.

“What reports?” I said.

“Well, reports!” Sergey sat down in a chair by the door, moved to the table and began to sort through the papers he had brought with him. “Didn’t you and Anatoly Vasilievich make reports? You know, profits, turnover, how much money you made during the month? Reports!?”

I said we didn’t. What for? The program I used to work in would give me all this data at the push of a button. The program they had brought from “Sasha” did the same thing: it generated a summary table of sales and profits. Vera showed it to me and I immediately appreciated the simplicity and information value of the table.

“Oh! Great!” I said. “Vera, could you print me one at the end of the month?”

“Do you want me to do reports for you?” she squeaked.

“What kind of reports are you talking about!?” Again I was surprised, smiled and looked at Sergey.

“Vera, show him!” he said. “Otherwise we’ll be here for half an hour explaining it to Romka.”

The reports turned out to be an ordinary spreadsheet on several sheets with a summary. In fact, they were duplicates of the program table, only they were made manually.

“So you enter the data from the program and documents here and then summarize the results, right?” I figured it out.

“Yes, I enter the amounts of invoices and other things in the rows, and the total of the rows and columns in the spreadsheet is automatically summed up,” Vera said.

“Vera used to make such reports for Davidych in ‘Sasha’,” Sergey said, and I immediately agreed with Vera that she would make such reports to me at the end of each month.

“Oh, here!” Sergey took some sheets out of the papers he had brought and handed them to me.

“Yeah, I get it,” I nodded.

Sergey took a ruler from his office kit, put it to one of the lines on the sheet of an old report, grinned, and looking at me, said: “And Davidych, come to think of it, that’s how he checked the amounts in the lines and columns by hand on the calculator himself!”

“Why!?” I was surprised. “He didn’t trust you!?”

“Well… I don’t know…” Sergey smiled mischievously and shrugged his shoulders.

“Nonsense!” I grinned.

“Well…” Sergey looked me in the eyes and, still smiling, said, “So he did… He also closed ‘Sasha’ without saying a word to anyone… You see…”

“Well, that’s his problem!” I shrugged my shoulders in disgust at the very idea of such an existence, in constant distrust and suspicion of everyone and everything around me.

For the next ten minutes I helped Sergey with the sheets, picking out only those with scribbles on one side. The trash can waited for the rest. As soon as we were done, Sergey stood up and started tearing up the unwanted sheets.

“Why are you doing this?” I wondered as I watched him take several sheets, tear them in half, and put them together. Fold them in half again. Three or four times.

“That’s how my hands rest! You’ve never torn anything!?”

“No…” I shrugged. “Well, I have… But I never thought about my hands.”

“The fingers relax,” Sergey said, spreading his fingers. “I don’t know, but that’s how it is with me.”

I took a thicker pack. And listening to the sensations in my hands, I tore it in half. It was no big deal. I put the halves together and tore it with difficulty.

“Take less,” Sergey said, watching me, “so you can tear it easily.”

I took five sheets. The sensations changed. My fingers tore the sheets with hardly any effort, and in the moment of relaxation I really got a pleasant backward feeling.

“So?” Sergey said, grinning.

“Not bad… nice,” I said with a smirk.

We spent the next twenty minutes tearing up the sheets and talking occasionally.


“Stupid hole!” I said grudgingly, standing in the warehouse and looking at the floor. “I’ll be damned! In the most inappropriate place!”

Our stockpile was growing rapidly along with the sales, and two-thirds of the warehouse was already densely occupied by rows of pallets of goods. At the far end of the warehouse there was an empty corner, the way to which was blocked between the column and the narrow gauge by a hole one meter in radius and twenty centimeters deep. Senya blinked and stared at it guiltily. Sergey, heading for the exit, stopped in the middle of the warehouse and returned.

“Well, yes, it’s uncomfortable,” he said, standing next to it and putting his hands in his shorts pockets. “Senya, put something over it so the cart can pass…”

“Put?” The storekeeper scratched the back of his head in confusion. “What is there to put over it?”

“Senya, think of something,” Sergey muttered and wanted to go out again. “Throw in some bricks or something…”

“Seryoga, what bricks!?” I was surprised. “The cart with the pallet won’t go over them, it will stop here. The pit has to be filled with… cement or something like that… concrete…”

“Well, we’ll fill it if we have to!” he threw up his hands.

Feeling my partner’s indifference to the problem and being irritated by it, I said that we should buy a bag of cement, make some mortar and fill the hole with it. Sergey looked at it with such strong aversion that I left in silence, not wanting to increase the resulting negativity.

“To hell with this pit! Is it urgent or what?” Sergey caught up with me on the way out of the warehouse.

“Seryoga, what’s it got to do with whether it’s urgent or not? It’s in the way!” I was surprised. “It’s blocking the corner of the warehouse! We could put twenty pallets there. All we have to do is fill it up. It’s one bag of cement and an hour’s work. What’s the problem!?”

Sergey didn’t answer. After a few steps he started a dialog on another topic.


By the end of July, we had sold almost all the aerosols Sergey had brought. This surprised him and cheered him up. Outwardly, Sergey tried to act calm, but his excited eyes gave him away. Sergey called the factory and ordered a new batch. The conversation on the phone was almost exactly like the intercity call – the same uncertain tone and shaky voice, nervous twitching of the feet, chewing of the lips, and shaking hands touching various objects from the phone cord to paper clips. Hmm, strange, because the sales director of “Aerosib” was presented to me by Sergey almost as a crony.


“Fuck!” Sergey swore, pointing his finger at the fax buttons and getting confused while dialing the number. “We need to put the phone numbers of the people we call all the time into the fax memory! We did it in ‘Sasha’, very convenient! Just press the button and it dials itself!”

He looked at me and nodded at the fax machine.

“Yeah, that’s a good idea,” I said. “Because we push buttons all the time. Can you do it? Because I have no idea how it works.”

“There are instructions!” Sergey jerked his head toward the cabinet. “We can read them, see what’s what and how it’s done!”

“Yeah,” I nodded, took some sheets from the table, sat down in a chair next to the cabinet and studied them. Sergey fidgeted in his chair and then, after a while, started dialing again. I have no idea where the idea came from, I was amused and curious at the same time – would he make the settings himself or not? My gut told me no.

Sergey never touched the fax settings for the rest of the day. My intuition told me that he was waiting for me to do it.

We left the factory premises at ten to six o’clock. After passing the gatehouse, the “Mazda” turned left and drove along the dirt road toward the crossing. We were barely halfway across the road when the semaphore jingled and flashed its red lights, and the crossing gates came down on either side. As we approached, we stopped.

“Well, maybe she should start getting the kids ready?” Sergey looked to his right at his wife and turned off the engine.

“Isn’t it too early?” Vera thought about it and then said, “Actually, it’s all right! Until we get there, why waste time, right?”

“Well, yeah,” Sergey muttered. “Call her, then…”

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“To the dacha,” Sergey waved his hand and hit the gearshift.

“Hello, Dad, hi, how are the kids?” Vera said into the phone.

“We’re staying at the dacha all summer…” Sergey added, sitting half turned towards me.

“Okay? Not being naughty?” Vera laughed into the phone. “Lyonya is!? What a brat! Tell him Mom and Dad are coming… Yeah, get the kids ready, Dad…”

“Why do you live there?” I was surprised, remembering the distance between their dacha and their home address. “On second thought… Maybe you are closer to work to drive from the dacha!”

“Well, about forty minutes…” Vera said into the phone. “Well, bye, we’ll be there soon.”

“Yeah, it’s closer to drive here…” Sergey started to answer, but Vera, who had put the phone in her purse, turned to me and said with emotion: “Roma, it’s just too hot at home!

“Hot? What do you mean?” I didn’t understand.

An electric train of a dozen cars crawled across the crossing. The locomotive dragged them lazily, smoking soot into the sky to the muffled sound of “doo-doo-doo”. The “Mazda” started.

“We live on the ninth floor…” Vera explained, “just under the roof…and all three windows face the sunny side…”

“Ooh!” I realized.

“Yes! And we have unbearable heat in the summer, forty degrees in the apartment and nowhere to hide, everything burns out, the children suffer…”

“Vera, that’s enough! Let’s go!” Sergey grudgingly cut her off as soon as the semaphores stopped flashing red and the barriers went up. Vera shut up and sat up straight.

We shook it all the way to the paved road, finally got on it, and sped up.

“How many square meters of land do you have?” I asked, looking out the window.

“Twelve ares,” Sergey said, looking at me in the mirror.

“Roma, there are two plots there,” said Vera, “ours and my mother’s, they are the same, we just put them together and we got one.”

“Great idea!” I nodded. “It’s a big plot, you can build a good house and still have a lot of space…”

“Yes, we have a house there…” Sergey said.

“Yeah, my father told me,” I nodded, “he said that there’s a little house there…”

“Yeah… It’s so-so…” Vera started.

“It’s a normal house, Vera!” Sergey interrupted. “It has everything… A room and a kitchen… We don’t need a big one now… You know what my mother-in-law thinks… I would have started building a house a long time ago…”

“What do you mean?” I said. “What is it with you and your mother-in-law?”

“She’s a mean woman, that’s her character!” Sergey said irritably. “We fight with her all the time! Only Verok gets along with her. I practically don’t talk to her…”

“Roma, there are two plots…” Vera joined the conversation again. “One is my mother’s, registered in her name… And the other is ours…”

“And we tell her, let’s merge the plots!” Sergey continued, looking at me in the mirror and actively gesturing with his hand in the air. “Let’s register them as one, or not even as one! Let her register her own plot under Vera’s name if she doesn’t want it registered under mine! Or the children! And then I will start to build a normal big house, well, as it should be!”

Sergey looked at me and I said: “And? What does she say?”

“She doesn’t want to!” Sergey retorted.

“Why doesn’t she want to!?” I was surprised. “What does it matter to her? Well, she could register the land under your name and that’s it, it would be common!”

“Well, what do I know?” Sergey continued just as emotionally. “She’s afraid!”

“What is she afraid of?” I still didn’t understand.

“She and Seryozha just don’t like each other, that’s all!” Vera interjected.

“Why wouldn’t I like her!?” Sergey stared at his wife. “I said – register the land to Vera, so you can continue to live in the dacha when and as long as you want! We will continue to feed you!” Sergey turned to me. “She just lives there almost all year round, well, except in winter! And she thinks that as soon as we register the land to us, we’ll kick her out of the dacha and not let her in! Got it?!”

Sergey quickly looked at the road and stared at me again, but through the mirror.

“It’s just insane!” I raised my eyebrows in surprise. “She’s strange…”

I didn’t pursue the idea, realizing that the conversation was about Vera’s mother.

“Well, that’s how she is!” Sergey sighed. “Put a pin in our heads!”

“Pin, pin… interesting word…” the thought went through my head.


“I was going to get the money from ‘Fort’ in the morning and then come here,” Sergey said as he walked into the office. “But they, you know, they made the payments from twelve o’clock on. I have to go back in the evening!”

“Hi, Roma!” Vera came in next.

“Hi, Vera. Well, let’s go in the evening then,” I said understandingly.

“No, I’ll do it myself!” Sergey brushed me off. “No need for you to go! First to one end of town, then to the other! Verok and I will go home and we’ll stop by on the way!”

“Aren’t you going to the dacha later?” I hesitated.

Sergey froze for a few seconds and then said:

“We have to go home first anyway! So it doesn’t make any difference…”

He threw up his hands, demonstrating his lack of choice. And I agreed, saying:

“Well, okay… I just wanted to go to ‘Fort’. See what’s what…”

“Why would you waste your time?” Sergey said with concern in his voice.

“Okay!” I brushed him off and leaned back in my chair. “Some other time…”


The next morning, Friday, when Sergey arrived at the office, he took four bundles of money out of his briefcase, showed them to me happily, and said: “Here! I got it yesterday at ‘Fort’!” Then he flopped down in his wife’s chair, holding a couple of bundles in each hand, looked over his desk and added:

“Vera’s not coming in today, is that all right?”

“All right,” I said. “I don’t think there’s any work for her today, is there?”

“Well, no, there is no emergency, and Lyonka got sick… cold…” Sergey said and took a notebook from the desk. “I left Vera at home… with your permission, of course.”

He glanced at me, then flipped through the notebook and wrote down the amount he had received.

“How much did you get in ‘Fort’?” I said, watching as the pen reluctantly obeyed my partner’s stiff fingers.

“Forty-two thousand!” he said excitedly. “Dichlorvos is totally sold out!”

Putting the notebook in the desk, Sergey looked at the money lying on the desk and hesitated for a second.

“So… Forty-two, huh? Twenty-one each…” he said, taking the rubber band off the first bundle and starting to count the money the way I had shown him. Sergey tried, but his hands didn’t obey – the bills twisted between his fingers, and didn’t stay in the right position. With his thumb, Sergey slowly and with difficulty tried to bend back another note, but it didn’t work, it would pop back up capriciously, making him nervous. I watched. Sergey got angry and started to bend the bills in the usual way, which slowed down the counting.

“Let me count it!” I said, holding out my hand to pick up all the bundles.

My fingers habitually snapped the first bundle in half, and the bills flickered in my hands. Three minutes of rustling bills in complete silence, and I was done, putting the last bundle aside.

“That’s right! Forty!”

“Yeah,” Sergey exhaled sadly and showed me the rest. “And there’s… two more…”

“Did you write it down?”

“Yes, I did – twenty-one each…” Sergey showed me the notebook and I looked at it, knowing that Vera would come and check everything and do it right.

In the evening Vovka and I showed up at “Clear Skies”. Rita was working. I tried to pay attention to her, but the hustle and bustle made it difficult, and the girl was in a nervous mood. Mine, too, was creeping down, and Vovka and I were pigging out on “screwdriver”. When the club closed, I was so pissed off that I took Vovka under my arm and dragged him to the exit.

“What about Ritka!?” he stared at me. “Aren’t we going to wait for her?”

“No, we are not! I’ve already said goodbye to her,” I forced myself to say, remembering the girl’s dissatisfied look. Rita and I had a silent fight that night.

I spent the night at Vovka’s, and when I came home I found myself in a scandal. My mother cursed my father on all that was holy, he answered at first quietly, then loudly, then he got tired and wandered around the apartment looking for shelter, muttering to himself “full of a woman”. I arrived at the center two hours before Vovka, and at ten we ducked into the club. “Hi,” Rita said to me with an annoyed look on her face, and said a deliberately friendly hello to Vovka. I got angry and dragged him out for a drink. We were accompanied by a “club friend” I rarely saw. The guy was sloppy. His clothes were always wrinkled, as if he had slept in them. His intelligence was completely outweighed by his rude behavior. At first I was annoyed by his presence, later, after drinking, I forgot about the guy. Rita’s disgruntled grin, which had been meant for me all evening, caused aggression, and instead of appeasement, anger flowed through my veins along with the alcohol. I was thinking about my relationship with Rita. It didn’t work. We were different, like parallel universes. We were looking at each other through an intangible separating film, we liked each other, but we couldn’t connect. And the realization made me angry. Alcohol helped again – I drank too much and didn’t care anymore. The slovenly friend was glued to us all evening. He smoked and drank a lot and ended up getting drunker than me, which made him completely unbearable.

How it happened that Rita agreed to go to Vovka’s apartment after work, I don’t know. I must have persuaded her. I couldn’t get away from the guy, and after the club closed, the three of us waited for her outside. My patience was wearing thin. After unsuccessfully trying to get rid of the smoking and swinging drunk, I had a strong desire to pull this guy aside and punch him in the face. Rita came out and gave us an indifferent look. I began to call the taxi driver. And while I was on the phone, my acquaintance managed to bring a smile to Rita’s face with his incoherent ramblings. She listened to him with her eyes wide open and laughed. I hinted several times that we were leaving without him – no reaction. And as soon as the taxi pulled up, the guy boldly climbed into the back seat. “Fuck, what an idiot!” I thought, but Vovka didn’t resist his presence, and I didn’t make a scandal.

Once in Vovka’s apartment, I wanted to sleep. But it wasn’t to be – after he had settled down in the kitchen, my acquaintance demanded to continue the evening. To my surprise, Rita was for it. Vovka didn’t mind either. To calm my irritation, I decided to have a drink. Vovka turned on the boombox on the fridge. The guy immediately started dancing, pulling everyone’s hands to join in. Noise, commotion. Rita took a sip of whisky and started to dance. Vovka began to tell me something, trying to overpower the music. My head began to swell. Convincing him to go to bed had no effect. After an hour the guy calmed down, I poured myself a third glass of whiskey and coke and began to sip it sluggishly. Slow music began to play. The guy pulled the giggling Rita over to him and started spinning her around in a sleepy dance in the middle of the kitchen. “Stupid girl,” I said in my drunken head. There was no way to break up the couple without causing a scandal.

“I’m going to bed,” Vovka muttered, stunned, and staggered into his room.

“Me too,” I muttered angrily and followed him.

Vovka gave me the double bed and lay down on the couch. Almost immediately the couple settled down as well. Rita lay down beside me. The guy, on Vovka’s advice, took apart the armchair bed and, without undressing, fell on his back and fell asleep immediately. It became quiet. Vovka was already asleep. I hugged Rita, she didn’t react. I tried to kiss her, Rita twitched her shoulder and mumbled irritably. I got angry, rolled onto my back and thought again about our relationship. It was dawn. I looked at my phone screen – six in the morning. From then on everything was a blur. I began to kiss Rita on the neck, on the lips. She resisted, but weakly. She responded to the kiss on the lips, but also weakly. This weakness infuriated me and I exploded inside. I fell on top of Rita and began to caress her with my hands. She didn’t resist, she remained unresponsive, responding only with her lips. I became quite aroused with anger and pulled down Rita’s panties. She sluggishly rested her hand against mine. I boldly threw her hand away and pulled her panties down. The girl didn’t resist, just tensed her legs a little. I pushed them apart confidently, but Rita only turned her head to the side. If she had protested, I would have stopped immediately. But Rita was idly silent. I ran my hand over her crotch, there was no excitement. I didn’t care. I wanted her after a period of inarticulate communication, and I wanted to bring the relationship to something, knowing that after this we would either break up or move on. Tired of the uncertainty, I forced my way into the girl. Rita remained unconcerned, still looking to the side. I began to move rhythmically. Suddenly, two tears rolled from the girl’s eyes onto the pillow. I was shocked. Without finishing what I had started, I lay down next to her and gently put her legs together.

“You’re some kind of freak,” Rita whispered, cutting me to the heart with these words.

I put my arms around her. Rita didn’t pull away, but she turned to the other side. I looked around the room. Vovka was asleep, or pretending to be. The guy was sniffling in his pillow. I hugged Rita as gently as I could and closed my eyes. I couldn’t sleep. I spent the next six hours in a half-dream, occasionally regaining consciousness, burned by Rita’s words. She was asleep too, or pretending to be. Hard hours. Time was as scarce as tears. Around noon, Vovka hissed and woke up. I got up as well, I didn’t have the strength to endure this torture of time. The guy kept sniffling. Rita started to get ready to go home. She refused the offer of tea or coffee, quickly washed her face and wanted to leave, but I managed to convince her to wait for a taxi. Doomed, Rita sat down on the bed. Vovka, as if he understood the awkwardness of the moment, ate breakfast and sniffed quietly in the kitchen. At one o’clock a taxi arrived. I started to wake up the guy, but he didn’t want to do anything, he mooed and shook me off. I vented my anger – I pulled him to the floor and pushed him out the door. By the time I got the guy out, Rita was already in the back seat of the cab. I pushed the guy into the front seat and slammed the door. Rita looked at me from the car. Not daring to kiss her, I just raised my hand awkwardly. Rita smirked and said quietly, “Bye.” I turned and stepped into the hallway with a sigh of relief and walked up the stairs, even though I wanted to run.

Shaking in the shared taxi, I tried to make sense of what had happened. Every time I found an acceptable explanation for my actions, the phrase “you’re some kind of freak” popped into my head, making me cringe and feel terribly ashamed. I stayed home all day, replaying over and over what had happened. And it wasn’t even about the rape or the attempted rape, it felt much more serious than that. What I realized was that my behavior that night had changed and taken on a kind of slippery slope. A warning sounded in my head. It was ringing for the first time, but I didn’t miss the sign, I paid attention to it.


“Let’s go get some cement!” I kicked the chair under Sergey.

“What cement?” he stared at me.

“To fill the hole in the warehouse!” I was surprised, looked at Vera and back. “Have you forgotten?”

“Oh… The hole…” Sergey scratched his neck and sighed heavily. “Yes, the hole needs to be filled.”

“Let’s go!” I kicked his chair again, smiled and stood up.

After we got into the “Mazda”, we drove out of the factory. Sergey’s right hand was on the steering wheel, and when I noticed that he was not wearing a wedding ring, I asked him about it. Sergey pulled out the chain under his shirt – he showed me the ring hanging near the icon. I asked about the chain – Sergey said it was gold and had been given to him for his birthday by some friends he had in his youth. Our dialog went back in time. I learned that as a kid Sergey hung out in the neighborhood where Vovka now lives. That’s where he met Vera.

“Why were you hanging out there?” I said. “Did you live there before?”

“No, it’s just that almost all my friends were from there, so I dwelled there. And Vera, she lived there with my mother-in-law… her mother and her brother. My mother-in-law still lives there with Vanyok.”

It turns out that Vera has a brother who is three years younger than her.

“What does her brother do?”

“Nothing, he drinks… I don’t mean drinks like hell, but… He goes to work, gets a job, works a few months, starts drinking, they kick him out… so, you know, nothing… So he spends the whole summer at the dacha, where his mother cooks and pours for him… She pours for him herself, got it?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, Vanyok wants a drink in the morning, and she pours him moonshine so he doesn’t have to go anywhere. Vanyok drinks and sleeps…”

“Why is she getting him drunk? He’s going to drink himself to death!” I was indignant.

“Well, that’s my point…” Sergey looked at me through his glasses. “My mother-in-law is like that, she is a very mean woman, she has a bad temper, it was about time I took Verok away from her, otherwise she would have become like her…”

The car hit the pavement and immediately responded to the accelerator.

“Vera has a great character!” I said. “She’s good! And beautiful, and she already has two children and works… So you’re lucky with your wife, Seryoga!” And remembering the not yet started and already crumbling relationship with Rita, I sighed and added: “Yes, well done you and Vera! Two children already! And I still… I guess I’ll end up old and won’t be able to have children, I’ll have to adopt one… There are people out there! Adopt children… I couldn’t… though… But I still have a lot of respect for them – they are strong people, real people!”

“Come on Roman, why are you worried?” Sergey brushed me off. “What’s your age? You have plenty of time! If it wasn’t for Verok, I wouldn’t have gotten married at all… So you’d better not get married… I even envy you. Free, with money…”

“What money is that?” I hummed. “Stop it!”

“Come on! You have your own business, part owner of a company…”

After passing the church, we turned left into a narrow alley of houses. In front of us was a platform and an open garage. We drove up to it.

“And Verok, yes, she’s a good girl,” Sergey said. “Gave birth to two children after all…”

“Two kids, and she’s not even thirty…” I supported him.

“She’ll be thirty-one this month,” Sergey corrected me and got out of the car.

I got out on my side. The bag of cement went into the open trunk, the salesman got the money and we were back in the “Mazda” and drove off. Continuing the conversation, I said that Vera was still young and if they wanted, they could have a third child. Sergey was sad and said that after the second birth Vera had something wrong with her back, so there was no way to have the third.

“Two is good anyway!” I said immediately, wanting to support my partner.

After thinking for a few seconds, he decided that if the business went well, he and Vera would raise the children and then adopt a third! I was surprised by what he said. Sergey’s personality immediately grew in my eyes, overshadowing the small unpleasant features of his character. The idea that I was really lucky to have such a partner grew in me to the point of mild euphoria. Sergey appeared before me in the form of a strong and noble man. I froze and stared at him in admiration.

“Yes, Roman, that’s the kind of business partner you have!” Sergey said contentedly, looking at me and catching my reaction. “I can do a lot of things, you just don’t know…”

We returned to the factory. Sergey backed the car up to the warehouse gate, got out, lifted the trunk lid and called: “Senya! Take it!”

The storekeeper ran frantically and began to pull the sack out. It wouldn’t budge, he couldn’t hold it in his hands, they slipped on the kraft paper, and the sack lay motionless.

“Take the other side,” I said, and we both carried the sack to the hole.

Sergey stood up beside me, playing with the car keys in his hand.

I was thinking aloud about what I needed to make the mortar. A container – a wheelbarrow that my father and I had was in the corner of the warehouse. A shovel – the storekeeper rushed over and brought it.

“I’m going to get some sand,” I said, putting the shovel in the wheelbarrow. “We need to get some water, too.”

“There’s a faucet at the gatehouse,” Sergey said.

“Senya, ask for a bucket and bring some water, will you?” I said, taking the wheelbarrow.

“Yes, all right!” he bustled around and left the warehouse with quick steps.

“Seryoga, prepare the pit, remove the excess from there,” I said.

“But how can I do that?” He threw up his hands. “You took the shovel…”

“Never mind!” I brushed him off and went to get some sand from the drift at the breach in the fence.

After putting a few shovels in the wheelbarrow, I started back. Senya came hurrying out of the gatehouse with a bucket of water. We went into the warehouse with him. Sergey was pacing around the hole, a sack of cement beside him. I stopped for a second, wanted to say something to Sergey, but I changed my mind, wheeled the cart to the pit and started working: I raked the excess out of the pit, cut a hole in the bag with a knife and began to throw the cement into the cart. The storekeeper ran out for water again, and in ten minutes we had a wheelbarrow full of mortar. All the time Sergey was standing next to me, contemplatively. I poured the rest of the water over the edges of the hole, wetting them.

“Pour some over here,” Sergey said, pointing with his finger.

Senya hung around, eager to help. But there was only one man for the job. I did everything myself – I poured cement into the hole and carefully leveled the surface with a board.

“Does this look okay?” I looked at them both.

“It’s great!” Senya splashed his hands.

“Yeah, it’s okay,” Sergey nodded and pouted.

“That’s it, Senya, let it dry!” I said and stood up. “Just wash the wheelbarrow out of the cement, or it will dry up. Anatoly Vasilievich will scold me, the wheelbarrow is his.”

“I’ll do it, Roma, don’t worry!” The storekeeper rushed to do the job.

“Shall we go?” I looked at Sergey and headed for the exit.

“Yes, let’s go, because we still have our own work to do in the office,” he said, and we left.

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