Chapter 025

On Friday, August 19, I came to work wearing light blue jeans, black shoes, and a black sleeveless t-shirt. I was carrying a briefcase.

“Wow! Well, Roman, you’re a handsome man!” exclaimed Vera as I entered the office.

“Why are you all dressed up?” my partner stared at me.

“What do you mean, why?” I retorted, pushed the briefcase in the niche of the cabinet to Sergey’s briefcase, and sat down by the door. “You said yourself I should always look good, so I do!”

Sergey shook his head, smiled, put his elbow on the table and continued to study the paper in front of him, resting his forehead in the palm of his hand. After a moment he said:

“Anyway… I have a rough idea of what to order, what do you think?”

I took the sheet handed to me and ran my eyes over it.

“Well, okay,” I nodded. “Go ahead, order it! Let it be so.”

“This is the amount of dichlorvos we order?” Sergey clarified.

“Well, sure, we’ve already decided, haven’t we?” I threw up my hands.

“Well, I thought I’d clarify, just in case! What if you didn’t understand something in the order?”

“I understand everything, call your friend, otherwise we’ll be without goods in two weeks!”

After faxing the order, we received word from the south in the afternoon that the first batch of insecticide had been shipped, that the truck was on its way, and that it would be passing through our town that night.

“So how are we going to pick it up?” Sergey looked at me.

The goods were to be reloaded on the highway. I wondered.

“We just have to decide what to do!” Sergey added impatiently, wiggling his butt on the chair as if dancing.

“Yes, I hear you,” I nodded, “maybe we should ask Petya? Let’s pay him, that’s all.”

“I’ve already talked to him,” Sergey said hurriedly, as if waiting for that sentence. “He can’t, he’s going to his dacha somewhere for the weekend, I don’t know…”

“That’s too bad…” I said. “We could ask my father… for a fee, of course…”

“Would Anatoly Vasilievich agree?” Sergey was immediately interested.

“I don’t know, I can call and ask him…” I shrugged.

“Well, is he busy?” My partner looked at me carefully.

“I don’t know, unlikely… He’s probably at home…” I shrugged again.

“What is Anatoly Vasilievich doing these days?” said Sergey.

“You know,” I shrugged, “he collects debts for our goods. Maybe something else, I’m not really interested in asking him about it…”

“Well, maybe he works every day from morning till night, carries some goods, tired, lies down to rest, and here we are with our garbage?” Sergey said with care.

“No, I don’t think he does anything like that,” I said.

“Oh, well, if that’s the case, find out!” Sergey kindly threw up his hands. “If Anatoly Vasilievich agrees, that would be great! We will certainly pay him!”

I called my father. In a short, dry dialog, he agreed to help us.

We finished work at five. Sergey drove the car through the center, and half an hour later I found myself in the office of the Internet provider. After filling out the necessary paperwork and receiving assurances from the company employee that we would be connected to the network next week, I went outside. The end of the work week, the center of the city, the summer heat of about thirty degrees – it was a perfect evening. I could feel the relaxed Friday vibe in the people walking leisurely. I went to the kiosk and bought an ice cream. I didn’t want to go home. I lifted my head, squinted my eyes, and looked up at the sky. “You’re some kind of freak,” I heard in my head. I became somber and shook my head, trying to shake off the delusion, and walked across the street to the square. Thoughts of my failed relationship with Rita popped into my head. For the umpteenth time, I tried to figure out what I had done wrong, but I couldn’t find the answer. I knew it wasn’t all smooth sailing, but I didn’t understand what I had done wrong. I just wanted to turn a bad page in my life and start a new one. “Now I’m going to sit on the bench and look at the girls passing by, and I’m going to meet one I like,” I decided.

She showed up about fifteen minutes later. The girl approached from the same direction I’d come. A brunette, about one hundred and seventy centimeters tall, blue eyes, face and chest lightly freckled. A dress of many thin red threads, like a fisherman’s net, encircled her figure, accentuating her C-size breasts in every line. The girl in red walked past me with a polished walk, hips swaying like in a movie. I jumped up as if stung. She smirked subtly at my reaction. The black stiletto heels and the red pedicure and manicure completed the image of a Latin American samba dancer. The girl walked stately, carrying herself with obvious dignity. “Probably a dancer,” I summarized, trying to calm the galloping thought: “Now those are boobs!”

The girl crossed the street, looking both ways and scanning me again out of the corner of her eye. I slowly followed her and caught up with her around the corner of the next house.

“Miss, may I introduce myself?” I said the phrase, worn out by all generations of men, in a mundane way.

“You may…” the girl stammered, stopped and smiled again.

“I like you very much, my name is Roma, and you?”

“Lilya,” the girl said with a slight speech impediment on the “l”.

Making a tremendous effort to look into the girl’s eyes and not down the neckline of her dress, I suggested we meet that evening. The eyes! I was even afraid of them. The color of blue steel. In contrast to the raven black hair, they made an indelible impression.

“I can’t today, I’m going to a shaping class at the fitness club,” the brunette said.

I offered to write down my phone number. The girl agreed. Taking the phone out of her purse and raising it to chest level, she said: “Ready.”

I said my number. For some reason, I thought the girl was not going to write it down, just pretend. But she was, her finger movements matching the digits of my number.

“Where were you looking at just now?” the girl said suddenly as she finished and looked me straight in the eye with curiosity.

“At your hand… To see if you were writing down my number or pretending to…”

“Ah-ha…” she said nonchalantly. “And I thought you were looking at my breasts.”

Surprised, I shrugged and said: “No, I wasn’t.”

She didn’t believe me, I could tell. And she was even disappointed in my answer with a series of quick, barely perceptible facial movements. She put the phone back in her purse.

“Call me, see you, take care!” I smiled and walked back.

I didn’t turn around, but my heart rejoiced! I remembered the color of the girl’s eyes and shuddered again. But the big breasts, the snow-white smile, the red, puffy lips overshadowed everything, even the flecks. The image of Rita appeared in my mind. I grimaced, chased it away and started thinking about Lilya. Strangely, I wasn’t worried if she would call me or not. I didn’t even care. And when a guy doesn’t care, girls sense it and always call.

I breezed home, ignored another stream of profanity from my mother, took a shower, grabbed a quick bite to eat, discussed the details of the night trip with my father, and arrived at “Clear Skies” around ten. Rita was already back from vacation and working. I saw her and she saw me. We both understood everything just by looking at each other.

“Hey, Rita,” I said cheerfully, understanding the reason for my mood.

“Hi,” she grimaced, as if she’d seen something uninteresting, and put the maximum amount of disappointment in her eyes. She succeeded. It made me laugh, though.

“How was your vacation?” I said in a friendly way.

“Wonderful!” Rita said satisfied.

“That’s good,” I smiled and said the main thing. “So? Are we done?”

“Yes, we are,” Rita said as casually as possible. “Sorry, I have no time, I have to work.”

“All right, I won’t keep you any longer,” I nodded, “all the best, good luck.”

“Likewise,” she muttered and disappeared into the crowd with the tray.

And then I felt incredibly relieved. My feelings for Rita died, I didn’t care about her anymore, and I went to the bar in the grotto. Sergey called just before midnight – the car with the goods was coming to town. I called my father, and an hour later I dived into that so familiar cabin. My father and I arrived at the loading point on the country road when the truck and the “Mazda” were already there. It took about twenty minutes to get the goods into the “GAZelle” and everyone left in a hurry.


Lilya called me Saturday afternoon. We had a nice little chat and I suggested that we meet in the evening and go bowling. The girl agreed.

Being five minutes late for our first date and walking at a brisk pace, I turned the corner and almost hit Lilya from behind. The girl was walking with a friend and turned around at the sound of my footsteps. Her face showed displeasure.

“Hi, Lilya!” I said a little out of breath. “Sorry I’m a little late.”

Ignoring the apology and greeting, Lilya introduced her friend.

“Good evening!” I replied and added, “Well, shall we go bowling?”

“Yes, let’s go,” Lilya said and nodded.

The nearest club was booked up, so we went to another one. I sneaked a glance at my new acquaintance. With her hair pulled back in a ponytail and almost no makeup, she didn’t look so spectacular. A yellow t-shirt with long sleeves. A black flared skirt below her knees, embroidered with beads and sequins, reeked of something old-fashioned. The black shoes only reinforced my feeling – the heavy, low-heeled shoes seemed to have been brought back from the 1950s. “Tasteless,” I thought to myself.

After passing the park, we crossed the avenue and ended up in a small bowling alley with six lanes and one free lane.

“Are we staying?” I looked at Lilya.

“Yeah, this will do,” she waved her hand ceremoniously.

I liked the girl, so I was nervous and kept looking at her and smiling. When she changed her shoes, Lilya looked at me a few times and gave me a wry grin.

“Well? Let’s start!? Ready?!” I said, rubbing my hands.

“We’ve actually been ready for a long time,” Lilya said dramatically.

The evening began. During the game I kept looking at Lilya. She didn’t seem to be very interested in me. Sometimes our eyes met and then Lilya had the same smirk on her face. Lilya responded to my sentences, but mechanically and without interest, not letting the dialog stop her from throwing another ball. We played two games, had some cocktails and went outside. Lilya maintained a stately, slightly aloof demeanor. I even liked it, I wanted to overcome the distance between us and get closer in anticipation. The evening ended with a short walk. After that, the picker-upper I knew drove everyone home. Lilya lived in the old part of town, where the hillside was densely populated with private houses. The road took us down to the reservoir, getting worse, narrower and more winding. The asphalt ended, then gravel, and the last hundred meters of the descent turned out to be two dirt ruts. “What a shithole,” I thought.

“Stop here!” Lilya ordered from the back seat.

I got out first, like a doorman, opened the door and held out my hand. Her cold hand with thin fingers lay in it. The first touch of our hands. Always interesting. Whether you like it or not. My mind immediately formed an opinion, I was surprised, but I let the reaction pass me by. I led Lilya from the car along the rain-washed path to the end of the street, to a one-story wooden house. Five meters from the gate we stopped and exchanged a series of hackneyed phrases: “Thanks for the evening,” “I’ll call you tomorrow,” “Bye.” Lilya raised her hand and waved with her fingers. I turned and walked to the car.

Before I fell asleep I thought about Lilya. I liked her. Not that I fell in love with her. But the strong affection I felt was enough to develop a more serious feeling. I attributed the coolness of the first date to the presence of her friend and decided to spend the next meeting with her alone. I was thinking more and more about a serious relationship and a family. The misfire with Rita didn’t diminish my passion. So I decided to take this new chance with all the responsibility and seriousness I could muster.


Vovka returned from vacation. I didn’t want my friend to be forgotten because of my new girlfriend, so I took him on our next date. On the way, Vovka bombarded me with questions about the girl, but when he saw Lilya, he mumbled and fussed. The evening began with a walk along the avenue. I talked about myself, and the girl talked about herself. Vovka pushed us and added his dirty jokes and soldier humor. Lilya responded with a sensual smile and fluttering of her long eyelashes. My mentioning of my business, along with Vovka’s enthusiastic assent and the inevitable “bigwig”, brought an interested look of favor on Lilya’s face. She immediately mentioned her older brother, who, she said, was also in business and very successful. Lilya turned out to be a doctor. She worked in Moscow, and literally the day before we met, she came to visit her parents for a two-week vacation. I was upset: in a couple of weeks she would be back in Moscow and goodbye to our relationship! But remembering my serious attitude, I immediately pushed away defeatist thoughts. Lilya boasted – she graduated from the medical academy with honors, studied better than anyone else in graduate school, and through many connections got a place in a Moscow hospital. She grew in my eyes to be an intelligent and educated girl, pouring over the story in medical terms. At midnight, after a visit to a café, we were back on the avenue for a walk, and the picker-upper took us again along the familiar route. I walked Lilya to the gate, wanted to kiss her on the cheek, but didn’t dare. As if she had read my thoughts, Lilya smiled again. We said goodbye.

As soon as I got back into the taxi, Vovka jumped up in the back seat like a baboon and screamed in my ear: “Fuck, Ramses, fucking awesome broad!”


The next two weeks flashed through my mind in a merry-go-round I had never experienced before. Barely surviving the workday, I flew to meet Lilya. A walk, a café, another walk, another café or club. And so every night until two or three in the morning. Vovka hung out with us. In the morning I woke up at eight and half asleep I dragged myself to work. Other events receded into the background, and only fragments of them entered my consciousness. At first the money flowed out of my pocket unnoticed, but then it flowed as if through a sieve.

“Roman, have you been on the racket or something?” Sergey said, pushing his eyebrows together with a smile when I offered to take part of my salary early.

“Well…” I joked, “I have this new mistress, I have to keep her entertained!”

“Is she any beautiful!?” Sergey crossed his arms on his chest, chewed his lip in anticipation of an answer, and immediately said to his wife: “Vera, write off five thousand rubles from me and Roman’s payroll!”

“You already took it all in August!” she stared at her husband.

“Then write it off in September,” I said. “We’ll just take the money early…”

“All right, as you say!” Vera threw up her hands.

“Vera, write it off, will you?” Sergey waved his hand hastily. “Romka is in need. He has love there, you see. We can’t leave him without money.”

Sergey laughed and Vera smiled understandingly and took out her notebook.

“Make it seven thousand each,” I told her. “Seryoga, let’s take seven, or I won’t have enough.”

“What kind of woman is that?” He raised his eyebrows again, put his hand in his briefcase and began to count the money. “Are you taking it from your half?”

“Yes, from my half!” I nodded. “Great woman! A doctor! Works in Moscow!”

“Oh! Well, I see!” Sergey said, putting the amount in the other pocket of the briefcase.

The days flew by. Cafes, bowling alleys, billiards, clubs. Lilya smiled benevolently at me, kept up the conversation and expressed her firm and decisive opinion on every topic.

“Do you have a cell phone, Lilya?” I asked her on the third day of our acquaintance. “I always call you at home. But what if you’re not at home…”

“It’s okay, call me at home,” she brushed me off. “I don’t turn on my cell phone here, or they’ll call me from work and bother me…”

On the fifth day I called Lilya again. When I heard a man’s “hello” on the phone, I said hello and asked if I could speak to the girl.

“Lilechka?” The man said in a soft and calm voice. “Just a moment.”

“Hello, yes?” I heard a familiar voice on the phone.

“Hi, Lilya!” I said. “Is that your dad who just picked up the phone?”

“Hi, yes, my dad, why?” Lilya tensed.

“No, nothing, he sounds like a nice guy!” I exclaimed.

“Oh, well, yes, my dad is nice,” the girl said mechanically.

We quickly arranged to meet tonight, and I forgot about her father for a few days, until the phone call with Lilya’s mother.

“Hello? Yes?” I heard a metallic, rough woman’s voice on the phone.

I instinctively pulled my ear back and shrank inward – a cold rush came over me.

“Hello, may I speak to Lilya, please?” I said.

The receiver on the other end slammed against the table and the footsteps faded away.

“Yes?” said Lilya’s panting voice a minute later.

A couple of hours later, she and I met and strolled through the quiet streets of downtown. Vovka was on duty at the depot that day, and he didn’t get off until nine at night.

“Your mother is such a serious woman,” I delicately expressed my ambivalent impression of the day’s call. “She sounded like a commander.”

“What do you mean, serious?” Lilya looked at me intensely with her completely blue eyes that I still had to get used to, tossed a lock of hair back from her face, and quietly added: “Yes, my mother is a strict character.”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed that,” I said with a grin, “and your dad, on the other hand, seemed very gentle to me.”

“My dad is just very well-mannered and intelligent, he’s a very good doctor,” Lilya said. “Everybody loves him at the hospital, all the staff. My dad is very fond of my mom.”

As if from memory, a smile appeared on Lilya’s face, and suddenly the girl became emotional, as if coming to life, and continued: “Can you imagine, once at work a woman confessed her love to him, and he brought her and introduced her to my mother and said that he loved my mother very much and that they could not have anything. So funny! Can you believe that? That’s how much he loves her!”

“Well, yeah,” I reacted to the ambiguous story, “your dad is wonderful…”

At ten o’clock Vovka came running to us like a scalded cat. The three of us chose a cozy café and stayed there until midnight. A call to the picker-upper, and me and Lilya were back at the gate of her house. I reached out to touch her cheek. Lilya turned her face slightly. I almost pecked her ear with my lips and went to the car. The aftertaste of the date was mixed, I didn’t want to go home and soon Vovka and I showed up at “Clear Skies”. The evening was in full swing. I found Rita as usual with my eyes. She noticed me right away, running between the tables with a tray. I endured the girl’s indifferent gaze, nodded hello and passed by.

“Ritka’s looking at you!” Vovka grinned as soon as we occupied the arch in the grotto.

“I don’t give a fuck!” I muttered. “Let her look, it’s her problem.”

The next night I borrowed five thousand from Vovka and we blew it at once in a cafe and some clubs. The total attention of the two guys made Lilya glow. In the last club, she scolded the waitress for her sloppy service. Lilya looked at the girl so haughtily that I felt uncomfortable. The waitress blushed and made a fuss about us. I was in a bad mood, but I didn’t show it. Vovka flew into a rage – he yelled and told Lilya all sorts of stories about work and hunting. That night I felt tired for the first time, and at three in the morning I felt weak and tripped out.

In the morning I could barely open my eyes. I got up mechanically, took a shower, fried some eggs, ate them, drank some tea, and drove to work. My stomach hurt a little more than usual from the alcohol. My heart was pounding. My head felt heavy, like it was filled with lead.

“Seryoga, let’s take another ten grand,” I suggested in the middle of the day, as soon as we were done with our daily business. “Since I borrowed from Vovka, I have to pay him back.”

“Roman went all out!” Vera smiled.

“Come on…” I brushed off, not having the strength to justify myself.

“It’s okay, Romych!” Sergey encouraged me and immediately put his hand into his briefcase. “How much did you say we should take?”

“Ten each, because I owe Vovka a nickel, I have to give it to him,” I muttered.

“When is your Lilya leaving for Moscow?” said Sergey.

“In a week… I think…” I mumbled again.

“Well, nickel is not enough for a week!” Sergey said firmly. “Maybe we’ll take fifteen each? Look, we have money, we can take it…”

I thought about it. The proposal seemed reasonable.

“Yeah, let’s take fifteen each!” I waved my hand doomily.

“Vera, write off fifteen thousand each, we can’t leave Romka penniless with such a woman, can we?” Sergey smiled at me, counted fifteen thousand and put it in a separate pocket of the briefcase.

Fifteen grand ran out on Wednesday, the last day of summer. And Sergey and I, in his words, “dived back into the common fund”.

On Friday I called Lilya and was repeatedly greeted by her mother’s metallic voice.

“Lilya!? Yes, sure!” She barked into the phone and shouted: “Lilya! It’s for you!”

The evening was fun as usual. The three of us walked around, changed places, danced, and finally decided to have a barbecue tomorrow. After supporting Vovka’s idea, Lilya shouted “Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah!” and clapped her hands like a little girl.

I arrived at Vovka’s house at ten o’clock on Saturday morning. He was already busy packing a bag that was lying on the floor in the middle of the room, as if he were going on a hike.

“Did you get everything?” I checked.

“Yeah, I fucking got everything! There’s two kilos of meat in there! I prepared it yesterday!”

“Let me give you a hand. What else do we have to put in?” I offered.

“I think that’s about it! We’ll buy cucumbers, tomatoes, some greens and that’s it!” Vovka exhaled and looked around the bag.

“Did you get skewers?” I said.

“Yes! I did! They’re down there!” Vovka brushed off.

Half an hour later, we were already downtown at the meeting place. Lilya was running late.

“Fuck!!!” Vovka suddenly barked.

“What!?” I stared at my friend, fumbling with the bottom of the bag.

“I left the skewers at home!!” He said, blushing from the effort.

“Fuck, Vova, what the hell!? Where are we going to get them now!?” I said and started to look around.

We were standing at the main entrance of a large hypermarket.

“There must be some here!” I said, pulling the bag and Vovka with me. “Let’s go look!”

We wandered around the store for a while, looking for the right department, until I stumbled upon a counter with an “Information” sign. A girl was sitting behind the counter. I dragged the bag and Vovka to the counter. A tall brunette of pleasant appearance in her twenties, with straight black hair below her shoulders, smiled at us kindly, got a little confused, and in response to my question about the skewers said that she had only been working here for the second day.

“All right, it’s okay, we’ll find it ourselves!” I muttered. “Let’s go, Vova, let’s look for it!”

The counter was almost as high as Vovka, only his head stuck out. Vovka looked at me, at the girl, and began to blink in confusion. I pulled him away by the bag. Vovka absent-mindedly grabbed the handle at his side and followed me sluggishly, muttering “girl”.

“Girl what?” I said as we walked away from the counter.

“The girl is pretty,” Vovka mumbled.

“Oh yeah! She’s all right!” I supported him, but after dragging him a few steps, I realized. “Do you like her!?”

“Yes, she’s pretty… Very pretty,” Vovka was embarrassed, blushed and stared at the ground.

“Then why are you stalling!?” I hummed. “Don’t sweat it! Go get her phone number!”

I looked in the direction of the counter. The girl smiled shyly at us. Vovka hesitated.

“Vova, go ahead, for fuck’s sake! We still need to buy skewers and Lilya will be here soon!” I snapped at my friend and pushed him towards the counter. “Get her phone number, tell her you’ll call her later!”

He took a chance and staggered over to the counter as if he were about to be executed. I thought only of the skewers, turning my head and running my eyes over the department signs, trying to figure out which one was the right one.

“That’s it,” Vovka’s voice echoed behind me, “I got it.”

I turned around and he was beaming with happiness.

“Well, that’s good! Otherwise, you’d be standing there for another hundred years! Let’s go, there’s a section over there, there might be some skewers!” I grabbed the bag, but Vovka grabbed the handle from his side and dragged me along. “What’s her name anyway?”

“Lera,” he said cheerfully, discreetly correcting himself, “Valeria.”

We bought skewers, waited for Lilya and took a taxi to the country side of the park. There, in the woods, we found a place with logs and an old fireplace, where we settled down.

The evening was a success. The campfire was lit, the barbecue was cooked and eaten. Vovka made a fuss, chatted more than usual and was courteous to Lilya. She graciously accepted his efforts, laughed at all his jokes and affectionately called him “Vovchik”. I fell into a deep thought for a while – summer was over, Lilya would be gone, winter would come and I would have to deal with my private life again. When darkness fell, I didn’t notice. The fire burned out. It suddenly got cooler, the darkness closed in around us, and the voices of the people in the park fell silent. It was ten to ten. It was time to make tracks.

We extinguished the fire and the darkness became pitch black.

“How are we going to get out of here?” said Lilya reasonably. “I can’t see a thing.”

“We’ll think of something!” I said cheerfully, took off my shirt, wrapped it around a stick, poured the rest of the liquid to light the fire and ordered: “Vovan, light it!”

He held up his lighter, the torch flashed and drove the darkness five meters around.

“Wow!!!” roared Vovka. “That’s more like it, Ramses! Smart thinking!”

“Awesome!” Lilya chirped, clapping her hands enthusiastically.

“Follow me! Time to hit the road!” I said solemnly, like in children’s movies about pirates, and we walked single file through the forest.

After a few minutes we came out of the woods. The park was nearly deserted. A dozen latecomers like us were crowding the exit of the park at the trailhead. I felt cold. Goosebumps ran down my bare torso.

“Are you cold?” Vovka grinned.

“No, I’m fine,” I lied. “We should call a taxi…”

Vovka did it. Lilya sat down on the bench, crossed her legs and shivered, her T-shirt no longer protecting her from the September chill. I took Vovka’s jacket and threw it over the girl’s shoulders.

“Thank you,” she said, smiling and looking down at the ground.

I crouched down in front of Lilya, took her ankle and slowly ran my hand up, freezing just below the knee.

“Tomorrow you’ll be gone, and that’s it…” I said, feeling my face widen into a guilty, embarrassed smile.

“Well, I’ll be back…” Lilya said, grinning, lifting her head and starting to stare at the passing cars behind me.

I looked at the girl and two contradictory feelings were fighting in my head. On the one hand I liked Lilya, she was striking and that attracted me. On the other hand, the bell was ringing in my head. I tried not to notice the disturbing sound that echoed in the moments I deliberately ignored. A chill ran through my body and I shivered and looked at Lilya again. Her blue eyes looked everywhere but at me. The bell in my head rang and I clenched my teeth – it went silent. I felt sick at heart. I turned away from Lilya and stared at the street. The bell in my head rang again, and angrily I mentally crumpled it up and threw it away.

A taxi pulled up. Lilya and I sat in the back, Vovka in the front. Immediately I felt warm, the goosebumps on my skin disappeared and I warmed up. My anger disappeared with the coolness. I turned to Lilya, smiled and took her hand. The girl smirked and I forgot all my worries.

When we said goodbye at her house at three o’clock in the morning, Lilya offered me her cheek as a courtesy. I became bolder and pressed my lips against hers. Lilya blushed and smirked.

“I’ll call you…” I bleated.

“Why call, just text me,” the girl practically suggested.

My phone didn’t support text messaging, but Lilya solved everything – she offered me to buy a second phone with text messaging and I agreed. We said goodbye, and on Sunday, September 4th, I bought the cheapest phone I could find, so that it would only be able to send texts and make calls.

“How fast, well done,” Lilya said and then added sadly, “And I’m leaving today.”

“Shall I come to the station to see you off?” I said hurriedly.

“What for!?” Lilya was surprised with a tone that immediately became that of her mother. “Don’t! My family will see me off. My mom and dad and my brother and his wife. Why would you do that?”

“Why would you do that?” It repeated twice in my head, and it was like a sobering experience.

“Really? Well, okay,” I mumbled. “Bye. Have a safe journey!”

“Yeah, bye, I’ll be hearing from you!” I heard a routine sentence, and then she added poetically: “And thanks for the wonderful vacation!”

But I couldn’t hear those words anymore. The resentment came from within and crushed my fervor like a wave of water crushing a flame.

That same day, my father and I bought two couches and a bed for my mother.

“Why did you buy me this bed!!?” my mother screamed as we put the purchases together in her room. “I don’t like it! Get it the fuck out of here!”

“You don’t like it!? Why didn’t you come with us and choose the one you like!!?” my father couldn’t take it anymore and yelled. “Why the fuck have you been lying here like a deck for five years!!! Letting your hair grow!!! Like a scarecrow! Get a haircut! Clean yourself up! Clean up your room! Made a pigsty! Knee deep in filth! You were offered to come with us and choose a bed! You didn’t want to! Then sleep on what we bought!”

My father left my mother’s room, slamming the door violently and whispering desperately:

“Oh, fudge, what a stupid woman…”

I stopped understanding my mother at all. The surrealism in the family had reached its peak. My father was right – my mother had sunk to a point beyond which there was no return to normal life. For days on end, she would lie on the bed in her room under the covers and sleep. Or she would stay awake and watch her small television, which seemed to run 24 hours a day.


I woke up from my delusion on Monday.

“Your fiancée has left, hasn’t she?” Vera looked at my long face and felt sorry for me.

“Yes, she’s gone,” I muttered, shivering in the chair by the door.

Sergey took his eyes off the papers and looked at me carefully.

“How are you now?” Vera said with a touch of sympathy.

“Here,” I took the new phone out of my pocket, “I’ll text and call her.”

“How much money did you spend with her?” said Sergey.

“I have no idea…” I was surprised by the question and shrugged. “I didn’t count, I took it from the common fund, count it yourself, how much is there, I don’t know…”

“Listen, Verok,” Sergey looked at his wife. “I think we should buy me a phone, you and I use only one. It is uncomfortable. And you can keep this one.”

“Buy it if you need it,” she smirked.

“You should buy one for Vera too!” I interrupted. “Because this one is already junk, the screen is still black and white. Even my shit has a color screen! It costs pocket change – three thousand!”

The computer suddenly clattered with a distinctive sound, as if it were puffing up from exertion.

“By the way, we can buy a computer, we were going to!” I remembered.

“Yes, we could buy a computer,” Vera gently supported me.

“Vera, not could, we definitely should!” I cut her off. “Why are you sitting at that crap, it already doesn’t work, it creaks, smokes, it’s about to die! If the drive fails, all the information will be lost, you’ll have to restore all the invoices again!”

“If the computer breaks down, will the information be lost?” Sergey was worried.

“It depends on how it breaks!” I shrugged. “If the hard disk is gone, that’s it, deep shit!”

Sergey thought about it, sighed and said reluctantly:

“Yes, we have to buy a new computer, this one is too old…”

“Let’s go to the warehouse, Seryoga!” I said, slapping my hands on the armrests of my chair. “Because the salts are coming soon, we have to decide on the place for them.”

“Roman, tell me!” Sergey began as soon as we were outside. “We’re bringing in salts now, we’ve brought in poisons, ‘Aerosib’ is coming, we’re going to buy the leftovers from them…”

“So what’s up?” I said, walking briskly.

“Do we have the money for all this? Well, do you have the money in case we have to pay for all this stuff?”

“We’ll manage just fine, Seryoga. We won’t need the money, you’ll see!”

“God forbid if we do. But what if…”

“Seryoga, there is no ‘if’- we are doing well! Everything we bring in sells well! There are no loose ends! You’re worrying for nothing, with sales and margins like this, we can easily cover any delays in payment out of the profits! Even if we’re a week or two late, I think they’ll wait, no big deal!”

“Romych, I’m all for it, if it’s what you say! But if…”

“Seryoga, I have money, really!” I smiled and gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder.

“Well, if you say so, I’m not worried. It’s just that I… Don’t tell Vera, she doesn’t know… I’ve got a bank account and stocks, three hundred thousand in it! So if we need it, I can take it out and put it in here. If you have about the same amount… then I’m cool.”

“Seryoga, don’t worry so much! There is money! I won’t lie to you! It’s okay!”

“Well, at least not less!?” said my partner and smiled.

“More, Seryoga, more!” I patted him on the shoulder again and we went into the warehouse.

Our sales were growing rapidly, the warehouse was already three-quarters full, and we had to decide what and where to move to make room for the new goods.

“Senya, you got it!” Sergey said, putting his hands at his sides and his foot on the pallet. “You prepare the place for the salts, and then ‘Aerosib’ will come.”

“Yes, Seryozha, of course, I’ll do everything!” He almost jumped to attention.

I smiled, the storekeeper’s behavior was amusing.

“Senya, listen, can you manage on your own?” I asked, realizing that with the appearance of new goods, one worker in the warehouse would not be enough. The storekeeper’s answer confirmed my thoughts – soon a loader would be needed.

“Do you have a friend or acquaintance in mind?” I asked.

“Yes, I have one…” Senya grinned.

“Well, okay, we’ll decide that later!” Sergey waved impatiently, tired of listening, took his foot off the pallet and walked pretentiously to the exit.

“Yes, we’ll decide later,” I agreed and followed him.

“Romych, you just don’t think that…” Sergey continued the conversation as we passed the corner of the warehouse. “I, for one, can take the money out tomorrow and invest it in the business, I have it… And you answer as if you and Anatoly Vasilievich don’t even have it, or you just don’t have the guts to answer? I just don’t get it…”

I even hummed in amazement.

“Seryoga, what does guts have to do with it?” I shrugged and spread my hands. “Some childish definition. That’s what you said! Surprised me! I don’t know about you, but I don’t measure these things in the category of having or not having guts…”

I was silent, and Sergey walked thoughtfully beside me. My heartburn, which had been bothering me since the morning, intensified and made me cringe. I took a bottle of water from the water pump and spent the rest of the day taking small sips. I barely made it to the end of the workday, trying to make the heartburn go away. On the way to the dacha, Sergey and Vera gave me a ride. When I got out of the “Mazda”, I ran to a drugstore, bought some pills and mineral water, took them, and hobbled home after relaxing a bit. I spent the rest of the day sluggish – the heartburn was gone, but my stomach was twisting. The alcohol I had drunk while out with Lilya had taken its toll on my health, and I was preparing for a week of struggling with my stomach. For some reason, Sergey’s words about wasted money came to my mind, and I, who had never done anything like this before, counted the expenses and was unpleasantly surprised. In two weeks, two months’ salary had gone to Lilya. The feeling that my money and, more importantly, my efforts had been wasted crept up from somewhere in the back of my mind and settled in my head with a malicious grin.

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