Chapter 026

“Hi, Lilya! How are you? Miss you already.” I typed my first text message.

“Hi. I’m fine, working. Miss you.” My phone beeped back.


“Do you think we’re doing all right?” Sergey looked at me attentively.

It was noon on Tuesday. We walked from the office to the car.

“Yes, we are,” I nodded and got in. “Why did you ask?”

“No reason! To get your opinion!” Sergey started the car, put on his glasses, and the “Mazda” rolled up to the gate. “I think so too! I’ve analyzed the situation, we’re off to a good start, we’re going steady!”

We passed the gatehouse. The janitor with glasses, standing on the threshold with a cigarette, looked at us indifferently. The “Mazda” began to rock monotonously on the dirt road.

“Well, what do you think?” Sergey continued. “How do we go on, will there be development or are we already at the maximum?”

“No, what maximum!?” I said. “We have room to grow, we still don’t use ‘Aerosib’ to its full potential. Poison has appeared. Salts, I think, will also sell well. The most important thing is that we have caught all the big pharmacy chains, and they will do the job! But it’s about three years, I think!”

“What do you mean, three years?” Sergey looked in my direction more quickly than usual.

“Well, in three years we will be cornered!” I explained relaxed.

“Why is that?” Again my partner threw a few nervous glances in my direction.

“We raised the prices a lot! In ‘Sasha’ everything was sold at a standard percentage, everyone knew it, got used to it. And now we’ve set new prices. They are good, we have entered the market. The first year none of the wholesalers will bother, they know that our company is the successor of ‘Sasha’, you’re here, everything is fine. In the second year everything will be fine too, because we have an exclusive contract with ‘Aerosib’. But someone will start to feel our goods for the sake of interest, will see the high markup and will start to sell them too. Then we’ll have to lower the price, and our super profits will shrink to the usual…”

While telling all this, I looked at the landscape outside the window on the right. Sergey was silent. I looked at him. My partner was staring ahead, chewing his lip in confusion. I looked at Sergey again; he was sitting behind the wheel in a subtly unnatural position, as if he were shrinking and looking frightened. I felt his fear in my skin. As soon as I turned away, the feeling was gone. For a minute we rolled toward the intersection in complete silence. As we passed it, I pulled my new cell phone out of my pocket.

“You’re still in touch with Lilya, aren’t you?” Sergey looked at the phone.

“Well, she just left! Of course we’re in touch!” I said.

“Well, you never know, maybe you just had some fun and broke up!”

“No, everything is as it should be, we keep in touch!”

Sergey looked at me, smiled and shook his head: “Roman the sentimentalist…”

The “Mazda” crawled from the dirt road onto the asphalt and immediately accelerated.


With the Internet connection, we switched to electronic banking. In the past, Sergey and Vera often drove to the bank in the morning and made all payments and transactions there. Now everything is done in the office. It became much more convenient.

“Romych, do you know how to play billiards?” said Sergey suddenly, crossing his legs, his ankle on his knee. His foot got stuck with the heel and almost jumped back, his stomach was in the way. But Sergey picked it up with his hand and pulled it towards him, exhaled, leaned back in the chair and clasped his hands behind his head.

“Why?” I was surprised. “Well… I can play a little. It’s been a long time since I played… And you?”

“I play well!” Sergey said flatly. “I just thought we could play because I haven’t played for a long time and I don’t have anyone to play with. Nobody I know knows how to play. They can, but you know… just messing around like everyone else… You’re good, aren’t you?”

“I’m okay,” I shrugged, and then I dove into my memories. A few years ago, I started trying to play billiards, real billiards, where the ball goes in the hole flush. In the first game, when I was desperately losing and trying to make at least one ball, I hit so hard and angrily that I smashed my knuckles against the table, but all for nothing. Russian billiards is a smart game, it does not tolerate stupid violence, and it lends itself only to calculation and coolness. And once I accidentally hit the ball correctly and immediately realized the whole point of the game. For the next two years, I enthusiastically raced balls on every billiard table in town. My level grew to a solid middle level, and once I even won the game with a smash that started and ended with nine balls in the pockets instead of eight. Later I cooled down, but the skills remained, only dulled by time.

“Well, maybe we’ll play then!?” my partner smiled mischievously. “Tonight…”

“Well… I think we could…” I agreed, realizing that my evening was free.

“Where are normal tables? You know, probably. Hang out with Vovan in all the pubs in town, you know everything – who is who and what is what!” Sergey cackled.

I thought about it and mentioned an entertainment complex in the city center with a big billiard room.

“Well, then we’ll go there,” Sergey decided. “You don’t have to take the money! We can pay from the common fund, we’ll spend time together anyway, you and me!”

“Why are you two going together!?” Vera said in a playfully indignant voice. “Maybe I want to go too!?”

“Romych, you know…” Sergey turned to me, feigning desperation. “Should we take her with us? I think it’s okay if Verok comes with us? She’ll sit there in the corner on the sofa, well, even if she drinks a glass of juice, the company won’t get poorer, will it? If you don’t mind, of course.”

“No, Seryoga! Why should I mind? What a thing to say! We’ll take Vera with us, of course!”

“And as for the money…” Sergey continued. “Well, I think when Verok writes off the amount, she will write that it is for the company, the rest, right, Romych?”

“Yes, that’s fine,” I nodded.

We arrived at seven o’clock. Half of the tables were empty, there were few visitors, and the silence in the billiard room had an immediately relaxing effect.

“Can we smoke here?” Sergey asked the manager.

“Yes, of course you can. But you are not allowed to hold a cigarette above the table, so as not to accidentally spoil the cloth,” she said politely.

“I have cigars!” Sergey said nonchalantly.

“If there’s no ashtray on the table, tell the waitress to bring one.”

“I see…” Sergey muttered, pursing his lips. I looked at him and, perhaps for the first time, saw the image of my partner in a meaningful way. Sergey was clearly trying to look important and significant. The carelessness in communication, the emphasis on the cigars, the constant fumbling with the car keys, the dark glasses that were not taken off in the room, the tilted chin – the image was contrived and radiated affectation and falsehood. This fakeness caught my eye and imprinted the sensation in my memory.

We chose a table closer to the billiard table. Vera modestly sat down on the sofa. I took the same one opposite. The waitress came over and took our order – juice, mineral water and three salads. Vera went to the bathroom. After rummaging through the rack of pool cues, Sergey pulled one out, approached me and smiled.

“Why are you smiling?” I said, and I couldn’t help smiling back.

Sergey took the menu, opened it and pretended to read. He looked at me. Suddenly he leaned the menu to his face, like ladies in the movies do with a fan, coquettishly leaving only the eyes. Sergey froze, gave me a mischievous look and smiled.

“Seryoga, what a fool!” I laughed, averting my eyes and shaking my head. If my partner had been a girl, I would have interpreted such a gesture as flirting. But in front of me was my business partner, a man, a father of two children. Sergey fooled around and did it very skillfully. A subtle sense of emotion, the ability to make you laugh, to bring you to a state of joy and euphoria with a barely perceptible movement, gesture, word, quick mimic – all this was in Sergey, and he would automatically win everyone’s favor. I looked at my partner, he was already standing absolutely serious. I burst out laughing again.

“Let’s go play!” Sergey said cheerfully. “Stop laughing!”

I stood up. Vera came back. The waitress brought our order. I chose a cue, rolled it across the table – the cue didn’t “play”. I nodded to myself with satisfaction.

“Why did you do that?” Sergey asked me.

“I wanted to make sure it wasn’t crooked!” I said.

“Aha!” Sergey said and put the balls into a triangle. “Well, Romych, are you ready?”

“I’m always ready!” I smiled and hit the pyramid hard, the balls flew across the table and froze. “Come on, Seryoga, start!”

I went back to the table. Vera smiled. Not wanting to miss the moment of the first shot, I took a sip of water. Sergey didn’t know how to set up his support hand, the distance from it to the ball was badly chosen, the cue wandered and was set up at the wrong angle. The cue wobbled, the ball jerked, rolled towards the pocket and hit the cushions far from the pocket. Sergey straightened up with a serious look, came to the table, took out a cigar from his shirt pocket and smoked, let the smoke rise with a serious look, sipped juice from a glass and looked at me with a challenge.

“Come on, Romych, bring it on!”

“Oh! Cigar! Seryoga, you surprised me!” I exclaimed and lit a cigarette.

“I like to smoke a cigar sometimes!” said Sergey. “At the dacha, you know how good it is to sit on a chair in front of the fire in the evening, drink cognac and smoke a cigar!”

“Tastefully said!” I nodded, smiled at the repeated “cigar” message and, leaving the cigarette in the ashtray, went to the billiard table.

I tried it on and hit it. The ball went in tight, twitched in the pocket and flew out again.

“I haven’t played in a while… my accuracy has gone… it’s okay, I’ll get better as the game goes on…”

The first game wasn’t smooth. I hit difficult balls on purpose, just to get a feel for the cue. Sergey walked around the table for a long time before each shot, puffed on his cigar, looked around, tried it on, then walked around again. Vera sat in her place, almost without touching her food and drink. Towards the end of the game, I caught up with Sergey, tied the score, but still lost by one ball.

“Eight to seven, Seryoga! You got it!” I said and added: “I demand a rematch!”

Sergey started the second game and lost 2 to 8. His swagger subsided.

“Well!” I exhaled. “And a third one to find the winner!”

“Maybe that’s enough?” Sergey said, demonstrating his fatigue and loss of interest in billiards with all his movements. “We’ve already played two games, my hands are tired.”

“Seryoga!” I exclaimed in surprise. “We need a third! Come on, one more and we’re done!”

I started collecting balls. Sergey sluggishly began to help me, made a martyr’s face and said, “Well, if you want, let’s do it.”

I started the game. Sergey immediately made it clear that he was playing reluctantly – he was hitting almost without aiming. His mood was transferred to me – I started to miss a lot and won the third game 8 to 5. As soon as I put the winning ball in the pocket, Sergey put the cue on the table and went to the table.

“How did you play?” Vera asked me when I came to the table later.

“Two to one! Seryoga won the first game, and then I won two!” I reported cheerfully, sitting down on the sofa and looking at my partner. He started to chew his salad with obvious displeasure.

“But Seryoga plays well! I had to sweat with him!” I added.

He didn’t react. The rest of the evening was subdued, and soon we left the place.


“Roman, do you bowl?” Sergey said a week later in the office.

“Well, not really…” I thought about it. “I can play, of course… why?”

“We could go bowling, have some fun! Like last time. I always liked it – working together, resting together, like a big family, common business, common interests, everything is friendly, based on trust… I like it very much!”

I didn’t answer, some strange thought came into my head and distracted me.

“You can take Vovan with you if you want!” Sergey continued. “Verok and I and you two, we’ll play some games together!”

“Yeah, I guess we can…” I said, feeling no desire to play.

“What are you going to do in the evening anyway? You’re going to sit at home! We’d better have some fun… It’s time we had our own company ethics! We’re a company after all! And all respectable companies organize company parties for their employees! So let’s have one for ourselves!”

I hummed. I didn’t feel like bowling. And I didn’t feel like anything else. But the prospect of spending the evening at home didn’t appeal to me either. Sergey’s voice broke my sluggishness once again.

“Let’s go, Romych! You don’t need to take the money! Vera will write it off from the common fund, like last time! I’ll pay from my half, and then we’ll calculate and balance the money…”

I agreed.

We were again in the same complex, but already on the second floor in the bowling alley. Vovka arrived. The machine put out the pins, and the game began.

A strange feeling stayed with me all evening, as if I were still at work. The tension in the air made it hard to relax. The balls were knocking down pins, everyone was cheering, congratulating the lucky ones. But there was no real fun. Vovka laughed stiffly. Vera, as always, supported us politely and delicately. Sergey? His apathetic face and dull look told me that fun was a burden. So why insist on it? The general uneasiness shone more and more clearly through the masks of merriment. We were tormented for an hour and a half and then went outside.

“You and Vovan are going to ‘Clear Skies’, aren’t you?” Sergey looked at me, hiding his attentive gaze behind his sunglasses, and approached the ‘Mazda’.

“I don’t know,” I shrugged and looked conspiratorially at Vovka. “Which way the cat jumps!”

“I see!” Sergey grinned.

After shaking hands and saying goodbye, the “Mazda” dashed out of the club’s parking lot to the left onto the roadway, leaving Vovka and me behind.

“To the ‘Skies’?” I broke into a smile and looked at my friend.

“Fuck, Ramses, sure as shit!” he shouted with joy.

We walked briskly out of the parking lot and turned right into the park. It was a leisurely fifteen minute walk to the club.

“The cat jumps all right!!! Right, Vovan!?” I suddenly shouted, childishly jumping on my friend from behind like a horse.


The summer heat was gone. September was dry and warm. After Lilya’s departure, my stomach ached for a week, but by pouring mineral water into it and filling it with pills, I managed to bring back a shaky sense of comfort. Vovka had almost disappeared, having gone over to his new friend Lera. I saw him three times in one month.

“How do you like the girl?” I asked him, standing in the grotto with a glass of “screwdriver”.

“A great bride – two flats!” Vovka barked, his eyes flashing greedily.

I got a twitch, but I played along, smirking:

“Then get fucking married if she’s such a good bride!”

“There you go! Hee-hee-hee!” Vovka laughed. “I should fucking think about it!”

I started showing up at “Clear Skies” less often, going there only on weekends. The chaos in the club had reached its peak – fights, drunk customers lying in the corners, pissed and vomited toilets had become the norm. The eyes of the regulars were filled with fatigue and apathy. I could feel the need for change in my skin. Only short text messages lightened my loneliness. Lilya and I texted every day. When I was in the club, I would take a double “screwdriver”, step aside, smoke, and, almost ignoring the music and the fun, devote myself entirely to texting.


“Hey, Lilya. What are you doing?”

“Hey. Was in the shower, about to go to bed. What are you doing?”

“Walking around town, went to ‘Clear Skies’. Boring. You’re not here. :)”

“I miss you too. Maybe I’ll come visit you soon.”

“Wow! Cool! When?”

“November holidays.”

“Not soon. It’s a month and a half away.”


“Hi,” a familiar voice came over the thunder of the music.

I looked up. Everyone was having a good time, and people were passing me all the time.

“Hi,” I nodded to Polina, the pimply waitress. She slipped past me to the dance floor with an order and immediately returned with the words, “Why are you standing all alone, bored?”

“I’m not bored,” I lied.

“Ritka’s not working today,” Polina said.

“I don’t care,” I shrugged. “We’re not going out.”

“Oh, really!? Why?” the girl was surprised, but playing badly, she obviously knew.

“No reason,” I waved my hands, “it just didn’t work out, we decided to call it quits.”

“Before or after her trip to the sea?” Polina said and immediately added, as if she realized, “Oh, forgive me if I interfere!”

I answered as it was – in fact, we broke up before the trip, and the conversation took place after.

“Ah-ha, I see… Did she tell you anything about her vacation?”

“What do you mean? What should she have told me?”

Polina was nervously silent.

“She didn’t say anything,” I said.

“Well…” the girl hesitated and looked around conspiratorially. “She had… she… well, she had an affair with a local guy there!”

“Hu-huh!” I grinned, and having heard the platitude, I relaxed. “Well, whatever! We were clear before the trip.”

Polina was slightly disappointed by the lack of effect.

“Well…” she hesitated awkwardly and surprised. “Don’t you care at all?”

“I don’t care at all,” I hummed. “Polina, you won’t believe this – I couldn’t care less!”

She stood there and looked at me with her mouth open.

“That’s why she’s not at work!” the girl added. “She went to see him!”

“Let her go!” I smiled. “Maybe they’ll fall in love there and everything will work out!”

“Do you really feel the way you say!?”

“I do!” I nodded. “Rita and I are done. I hope she didn’t waste her time with this guy, I wish her love and all the best! You can tell her that!”

Polina looked at me uncomprehendingly. And I looked at the pimples that covered half of her face and wondered what it was like for her, a girl, to live with them.

“Ah-ha, well, okay, I’ll go!” she huffed. “I have customers.”

We said goodbye. My mood had soured. I went outside and immediately felt my stomach ache. When I sobered up, it hurt more and more. I smoked a cigarette. The cigarette dulled the feelings for a while. I inhaled the night air and walked toward the hotel.


At the end of September, a container of salts arrived. Three of us unloaded it: the storekeeper Senya, me and Sergey. The heavy boxes made my arms ache almost immediately. We carried them and passed them to each other, but my arms only hurt more.

“Roman, throw slower!” Sergey shouted, barely catching another box from me. “My hands hurt!”

“Well, sorry, Seryoga,” I waved my hands, feeling embarrassed and guilty. “I didn’t know your hands hurt! When did you manage to hurt them!? You didn’t tell me before.”

“Well, who cares if I didn’t!” He pursed his lips in annoyance and placed the box on the pallet. “While boxing…”

We worked in silence for a while. I felt awkward, and Sergey continued to sulk. Senya was silent. We unloaded the goods in two hours with breaks.

“Senya, you probably already need an assistant, a loader, right?” I looked around the warehouse. “We already have a lot of goods, the warehouse is almost full…”

“Yes, that would be nice…” He grinned awkwardly and shifted from foot to foot. “Actually, I’m fine, but… yeah, you could add a man…”

“You think?” Sergey sniffed his nose and looked at me.

“What is there to think, Seryoga? One man, well, with Petya it’s all unrealistic! Especially now that we have a double turnover of goods because of barter… It’s a hell of a lot of work! We need a loader!”

Sergey didn’t say anything.

I began to pester the storekeeper – does he have a friend who does not drink and steal and whom we could hire? Senya thought about it, scratched his chin, smiled mischievously and said that he had such a friend – he knew him since childhood, they grew up in the same neighborhood.

“Well, is he okay!?” Sergey said with pressure, looking at him importantly.

“Not boozing?” I clarified.

“Well, I don’t know if he does… like everyone else!” Senya hesitated, snapping his fingers on his neck under his cheekbone. “He drinks on weekends, but in general… he doesn’t booze much!”

“All right,” I said and left the warehouse, “you’ll work for the next month, and if it’s hard for you, you’ll call him…”

“Senya, get things in order here, will you?” Sergey added and followed me out.

As I stepped outside, I looked around the factory. Summer was over. Fall was about to turn from a warm season to a chilly gray. The air was getting colder by the day. The white clouds were turning gray, only to turn leaden in November. The feeling of carelessness and lightness left with the summer. In its place was a feeling of despondency, stagnation and desolation. The abandoned territory of the factory only intensified it.


“Hi!” Sergey shook my hand as he entered the office on Monday, September 26th, tiredly putting his briefcase in its usual place and sitting down by the door.

“Hi!” Vera, who came in next, smiled and squeaked. “What’s new here?”

Without waiting for an answer, she slipped behind the computer and started working.

“So, the order for the salts came from the pharmacy…” said Vera when she got the email. “Boys, we are almost out of salts on the leftovers!”

To everyone’s surprise, the container of salts was sold out within a week.

“Yeah, we distributed them fast!” I said. “Is there enough for this order?”

“It is,” Vera waved her fingers and fluttered them on the keyboard.

“Listen Seryoga, we need to order more salts!” I stared at my partner who was sitting in the chair as if in prostration.

“Roman, wait! My head’s not thinking straight, I’m exhausted…”

“Why are you exhausted? It’s only Monday!” I snorted in surprise.

“Roman, you’re the one without a family, but I have two kids! You try to spend the whole weekend at the dacha with two kids, and I’m looking at you!” Sergey spread his hands.

“What, you’re still living at the dacha?” I stared at both of them.

“Oh, we live at the dacha for a long time!” said Vera. “Until the first frost, well, until the middle of October for sure! What’s there to do in the city? Now we are only at the dacha on weekends, and all week in the city, of course!”

“Aa-ha, well, then it’s okay…” I said. “Is your cabin warm there?”

“Yes, it’s fine there, a cast-iron stove, we heat the house quickly with wood…” Vera continued. “We have a small house – a kitchenette and a small room, that’s all…”

“Why don’t we have a cup of tea?” Sergey suggested.

“Oh, we could!” I supported him. “But we have no sugar, no brew, nothing…”

“I brought cups!” Sergey smiled and took two cups out of his briefcase.

“So this is for you and Vera…” I said.

“Well, drink from mine, what’s the difference… shit, we didn’t buy any sugar! Vera!” Sergey looked at his wife. “I told you, when we pass the market, remind me to buy sugar!”

Vera remained silent, looked at her husband and stared at the monitor.

We had to go to the market. Soon Sergey and I returned with a package of sugar cubes. My partner began to conjure up two cups, but Vera immediately refused.

“Drink from mine, I don’t want it yet, I’ll drink it later,” she told me.

I threw three lumps of sugar into the cup and began to sip the hot tea.

“Ouch!” holding the cup in the air, Sergey suddenly screamed, immediately put it down on the table and grabbed his hand. “Fuck!”

“What is it, Seryoga?” I was surprised.

“My hand, damn it!” He grumbled in his chair, rubbing his wrist. “These salts! I told you my hands hurt… So they got sore again, because I’ve been carrying these boxes…”

“And they still hurt!? We unloaded them a week ago.”

“Shit, Roman!” Sergey got angry. “If your hands were hurt, you wouldn’t be talking like that!”

“Well, I don’t know…” I shrugged and looked at Vera. “I’m used to unloading, I don’t have any pain. It’s you, of course, who’s not used to it, you could wear out your hands…”

“Why should I be unused to it?” Sergey became more agitated. “Or do you think that I didn’t carry boxes in ‘Sasha’? Yes, I did! Loaded and unloaded!”

“Seryoga, I’m not arguing, it’s just that you worked as a manager, and you had storekeepers and loaders, while my father and I had no one! We carried everything ourselves! That’s why I said I’m more used to this kind of work than you are, that’s all… I didn’t mean it like that.”

Sergey took a piece of sugar, dipped it into the tea, chewed off the soft rim, carefully took the cup in his hand and with a smacking of his thick lips sucked the hot liquid into his mouth.


The new order for salts was three times larger than the first. When Sergey realized the volume, he hesitated, but I said that since there was a demand for the goods, we should take it and sell as much as was needed. Sergey agreed.

“Romych, I propose that we celebrate the end of the month and the successful start of the salts trade!” he suddenly said on Friday, the last day of September.

We sat in the office and drank tea. Vera in her seat, me at the desk, Sergey at the door.

“How?” I leaned back in my chair.

“Let’s go somewhere, as usual, the whole company – me, you and Vera – have some fun together!” Sergey said. “Take Vovan again, if you don’t want to be bored…”

“I’m not bored without him!” I smiled.

“Well, I just meant that you can invite him if you want. We won’t be poor if he comes at the company’s expense. And Vera will write it off later, as usual, from the common fund!”

I thought about it. I remembered the last time we went bowling. Suddenly I felt clearly that I didn’t want to have such “fun”. There was something empty and unnecessary in such “fun” together. There was no fun in it. And I realized that I didn’t want to see Sergey and Vera outside of work – I didn’t want to interfere with the categories of work and rest. And the money factor appeared. Before, when I was working with my father, I didn’t think much about it. My father kept the books. Now it’s just me. “Money should be earned, not squandered,” was the attitude in my head. I felt that if Sergey and I were as careful and thrifty as my father had been, we could make good money. Not the crumbs my father and I had scraped together, but a lot more money. I saw this opportunity and was determined not to miss it.

“Seryoga, I don’t feel like it, to be honest…” I said gently.

“Why!?” he was surprised, freezing with a lump of sugar in his hand.

“I don’t know, it’s not really my thing… company parties…” I shrugged. “I’m not used to it, my father and I didn’t have company parties, we worked without a break…”

“Well, we worked at ‘Sasha’ too, we didn’t lounge there!” Sergey parried. “And Davidych was a good man in this respect, he arranged for us to go out of town on holidays and some parties in the office and in cafes…”

As he listed, Sergey shook a lump of sugar in the air as if conducting.

“I’m not saying you’ve been idle… I’m saying I’m not used to this… We were just working, that’s all. And now, all of a sudden, we’re doing things: bowling alleys, billiards…”

When I finished, I stared at Sergey, and he stared at me. There was a pause.

“You had a paid leave at ‘Sasha’ every year, didn’t you?” I continued.

“Well… of course I did!” Sergey was surprised, chewing sugar and sipping from his cup. “Everyone had one! We go to the sea with Verok every summer! I don’t know how it will be this year, maybe we’ll go, maybe not…”

“You see – every year! And I’ve never gone anywhere. In fact, I haven’t had a time off in seven years. I don’t mean that I’m tired, but that I’m used to this kind of regime.”

“Oh, well, if so…” Sergey was confused, put the rest of the sugar on the shelf next to the cup and spread his hands. “Well, if that’s the case, then we don’t have to organize anything like that! I didn’t know you didn’t like it, you should have told me right away! Then no company parties, we’ll rest separately! You and your Vovan, and Verok and me!”

“Seryoga, it’s not ‘my’ Vovan! And it’s not about ‘separate’, just this format is not for me, that’s all…” I spread my hands.

“Roman…” Sergey said, leaning forward and putting his hands in the armrests of the chair. “I’m not forcing you… yes – yes, no – no it is! And don’t pick on words like that. You’re becoming just like Anatoly Vasilievich!”

“Well, he’s my father, like father, like son. You look like your father, I look like mine…”

“No, Seryozhka looks more like his mother!” said Vera, looking warmly at her husband.

“Vera, I mean the character…” I nodded. “On the outside, yes, Sergey looks like his mother, I’ve seen her, but I haven’t seen his father…”

“He doesn’t look like his father at all!” Vera added. “Uncle Misha, he’s so… tall, gaunt… and Seryozhka… he’s so…”

Vera stammered, unable to find the words.

“Yes,” Sergey chuckled, catching his wife’s hesitation, “and Seryozhka is so…”

“Seryozha!” Vera smiled. “That’s not what I wanted to say…”

“I understand, Vera!” He said, resting his elbows on the chair, crossed his fingers, tapped his foot nervously, and exhaled sadly: “Right, God didn’t give me any height, no, He didn’t… “


On the third of October, Monday, Senya brought Kholodov to us, a stooped old man of medium height with sunken brown eyes, a large hooked nose, and a slurred, mumbling speech because half his teeth were missing. “Kholod,” Senya called him behind his back, had a doomed look and an indifferent gaze. He was stationed in Senya’s den. When I found out that Kholodov and Senya were the same age, I almost choked on my tea. He looked seventy. It was clear that alcohol was to blame. We realized that for five thousand a month we couldn’t find anyone better – Kholodov was hired.

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