Chapter 028

Sergey brought cigars to the office again. I accepted the offer of a smoke and we went outside. And immediately, shivering from the cold, we came back.

“Ugh! To hell with it!” I fell into the chair at the table with a smoldering cigar in my hand.

“Is it cold?” Vera smiled. “Frozen?”

“Yes! It’s not May! Ooh!” Sergey sat down in the chair by the door with a cigar.

“Are you going to smoke here?” Vera asked.

“Yes, Vera, we are! It’s so damn cold out there!” I nodded.

For the next ten minutes we diligently smoked cigars. Vera tolerated it tactfully, waving the smoke away and blinking frequently. When I was halfway through the cigar, I lifted my head. The blue smoke hung from the ceiling, covering everything there. Soon it began to settle and descend to the level of the tables. I immediately felt the lack of oxygen. My eyes were tingling, as was my nose. I rubbed them, coughed, and tears streamed from my eyes.

“Fuck, Seryoga, I can’t breathe, open the door!” I almost cried.

Sergey laughed in a bass voice, grabbed the knob and opened the door. I couldn’t stand it and jumped out into the hallway. Still laughing, Sergey came out next and started rubbing his eyes.

“Ah, stinging too?” I said. “Fuck them, these cigars! Vera, are you alive in there?”

Sergey’s wife calmly came out of the room, smiled, looked at us as if we were misbehaving children, and said: “I am, Roma. What will happen to me…”

I went outside. Sergey followed me, cackling. After throwing out our cigars and getting some air, we returned to the room. The smoke was almost gone.

“Seryoga, leave the door open,” I said, returning to the chair at the table.

The woman from the gatehouse came into the room after us with the mail.

“What is this letter? From whom?” I asked.

“From St. Petersburg, Roma. Waybills,” Vera said. “Stamp it and give it back to them…”

Holding the papers in the air, Vera held them out to her husband questioningly.

“Vera, stamp them and put them in an envelope, we’ll mail them on our way home!” Sergey waved, wrinkled his nose, crossed his arms over his chest, sniffed, crossed his legs and began to turn slightly in his chair.

“Seryozha!” Vera said with a dissatisfied face, tapped the stamp on the papers several times and handed them to her husband. “Done! Here! Sign!”

“Here Verok!” Sergey giggled. “How meticulous you are! You should have sent it like this!”

He rolled up his chair to the table and signed the waybills, finished, handed the sheets back to his wife, and added with a smile:

“Here! Done! Happy? Everything okay now?”

“I am!” Vera didn’t keep a serious expression on her face, smiled and took the papers. “It’s all good now!”

“That’s the kind of wife I have, Roman!” Sergey rolled over again. “She won’t miss anything!”

“That’s good, Seryoga!” I exclaimed. “I wish everyone had such a wife!”

“Did you hear that, Verok?” he said playfully. “You’re a good wife, it turns out!”

Vera immediately tensed up, became serious, gave her husband a stern, questioning and surprised look, and muttered, staring at the monitor, “Do you still have doubts?”

There was an awkward pause in the room, and I tactfully buried my nose in a piece of paper.

“Come on, Verok!” Sergey waved carelessly and relaxed into a smile. “I’m just kidding, you know…”


“And how long has this Melyokha been married to this, what’s-her-name, Dasha?” I asked Vera on Friday.

Sergey had left on business, and we were alone in the office drinking tea.

“Just a minute! Shall I give you the reports for October at the end of the month?”

“Of course,” I said, smacking my lips, having adopted Sergey’s habit of drinking tea with a piece of sugar.

Vera clicked her mouse and said, without taking her eyes off the screen, “I don’t know exactly when they got married, Roma! A long time ago. They already have a big daughter, five years old.”

“And how did they meet anyway?” I was still curious. “I couldn’t say they were a couple. He’s a tall, handsome guy. And she… well, she’s not pretty.”

Vera looked at me thoughtfully and began to choose her words:

“Yes, Dasha, she looks… well, yes, not a beauty…”

“Vera,” I lowered my voice conspiratorially. “Let’s face it, she’s ugly.”

Vera looked at me with understanding, but held back her smile. Having captured in her the struggle of objectivity with female solidarity and etiquette, I smiled and continued: “No figure at all, like a barrel…. I didn’t see any genius either…”

Vera held back, but she was already smiling.

“And Melyokha is tall, slim, handsome, cheerful!” I insisted. “Vera, how did they get married? Shotgun marriage?”

“No, I don’t think so!” she waved me off. “Well, somehow, like this… they got married.”

“You don’t think so?” I grinned.

“Well, I don’t know exactly…” Vera smiled and fidgeted. “But I don’t think so.”

Soon everything came to light. Melyokha came from an ordinary family, Dasha from a wealthy one, her father held an important position in the city administration and supervised land issues. “Kept man,” I mentally summarized. Vera stopped ennobling the couple’s relationship and moved on to frankness.

“I must be a fool, but I don’t understand how people can get married for reasons other than love!” I said. “Well, I can still understand it, if he is handsome and smart, so is she… Although, if both are smart, it’s not a family without love, it’s just a cohabitation. But it’s okay, I can still understand it – two personalities got together and are living. But if it’s like this… I’m looking at it from a man’s point of view…”

Vera was in current things, listening to me, casting attentive glances.

“But she’s ugly, Vera! How can he sleep with her? Or is he in love with her?”

“Oh, what love, Roma!?” Vera waved away. “You understood everything yourself. She likes him, of course! And he… You know, when he gets drunk, he talks about sex all the time!”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, we visit each other a lot. The kids are friends with each other. So we hang out together, you know, in social gatherings. When he drinks, he starts talking about the same thing…”

“The tongue always turns to the aching tooth!” I uttered a hackneyed phrase.

“I suppose so!” Vera smiled.

“What does he do for a living?” I asked after a minute.

“Well, he has his own company, he cleans sewers or something. I don’t know for sure.”

“Strange! He earns money by himself, but he got married in a strange way…”

“Himself, no way!” Vera snorted. “Dashka’s father arranged everything for him!”

“Really!?” I raised my eyebrows.

“Really!” Vera mocked me.

There was a momentary pause. I fumbled with the papers on the table.

“I don’t understand men who settle down like this and don’t care who they live with as long as it’s nice and comfortable,” I said, imagining the couple again. “How can he sleep with her!? Fuck, I don’t understand!… Although, maybe she’s magical in bed…”

“Aha, magical!” Vera smiled demurely. “So magical that when he drinks, he pesters all the men with the question – do their wives give them blowjobs or not?”

“What!?” I stared at Vera and laughed softly. “Does he really?”

She gave me an affirmative look and blushed.

“Why does he ask that!?” I wondered.

“Well, I don’t know!” Vera shrugged and laughed. “Apparently he misses it!”

I laughed. Vera blushed even more. Our dialogue came to a sticky point. Remembering that I was not talking to some random girl in a pub, but to the wife of my business partner, I decided to choose my words carefully.

“Oh yeah!” I hummed, “You’re right!”

Vera stared at the monitor, hiding her embarrassment.

“Did Seryoga tell you that?” I smiled, barely holding back my laughter.

Vera looked at me affirmatively, and then she realized:

“Look, you just don’t tell him that I told you here!”

“No, Vera! Why should I set you up? This is between you and me.”

There was another pause.

“Poor Melyokha, how long has he been married, five, six years?” I looked at Vera. “I wonder how he hasn’t gone crazy! Actually, I understand him…”

“Dashka once asked me the same thing…” Vera interrupted her work. “Once we were sitting in a group and she came up to me and asked, ‘Do you give head?'”

Stunned by such candor, I froze and looked at the door.

“What did you say?” I squeezed out.

“Well, what did I say – that I do, of course,” Vera said.

My cheeks and ears immediately caught fire and I felt ashamed and embarrassed.

Sergey defused the situation. The door opened, he came in, and the office returned to routine.

For the rest of the day, images flashed spontaneously in my head – Melyokha running back and forth with an erect penis, begging everyone to give him a blowjob; his wife squeamishly twisting his penis in her hands; Vera giving her husband a blowjob, shrugging her shoulders guiltily and saying, “I do, of course”.

And only sleep interrupted this stupid merry-go-round.


I finally got used to the fact that I didn’t have to work physically. But I still felt that fact almost like magic. All I did at work was paperwork and phone calls. Goods were received and shipped by the storekeeper, the loader helped him, the driver drove the goods to the customers. Accustomed to working efficiently, I did my part of the job quickly. By three o’clock every day, everything was done. I spent the rest of my working hours talking to Vera and Sergey. I finally realized that the company was lucky to have Vera as an employee. She worked like a machine. Any work Vera took on was done quickly and with perfect quality. Sergey would spend the longest time doing his part of the work. He would start slowly, as if reluctantly, and always involve his wife, even for small things. She would react like lightning – she would stop her work, quickly do her husband’s errand, and then return to her own tasks. I liked being at work. The alternative – the apartment with my depressed mother and resentful father – did not appeal to me. At the same time, the better things went for me, the worse the rest turned out. And the contrast was growing at an alarming rate. In addition, the mood was soured by the autumnal gloom and the shrinking daylight hours. By the end of October, the sun was setting at six, and twilight began at five. During the day I would suppress my nervous state with work, and in the evening, without spending a minute at home, I would run into the drunken crowd of the club. I would wander the dark streets of the city like a loner, drowning my nerves in vodka and juice. Vovka didn’t call. Lilya… what about Lilya? The relationship didn’t work. When I realized this, for some reason I kept writing to her and calling her. My stomach hurt from nerves. Dulled by alcohol and cigarettes, it subsided, but during the day the pain returned and became stronger. I would go to work in a crouch and pour mineral water on the pain. In the evening I would increase the dose of vodka and the pain would subside, but not completely. I started drinking anesthetic gel and swallowing pills again. My stomach hovered on the thin edge of a slight permanent malaise.


To our surprise and joy, the first batch of perfume from Moscow was sold out quickly, in two weeks.


On Saturday I didn’t go to the club, but stayed home to kill the evening playing a computer game. My father was smoking on the balcony. The TV in his room was on, and there was a boxing match on. Two big “heavyweights” were hitting each other for eight rounds. It was after ten on the clock. I sat on the couch and watched the fight. It was almost even. But one boxer, who had better technique, was methodically pummeling the other with long-range punches. The second boxer looked stronger and healthier, but moved worse, and he paid for it. The result of the fight was clear to me – the first one, if he didn’t do anything stupid, would win on points, or put the slow one down in a round or two.

“Watching boxing?” came a text from Sergey.

“Yes, I am.” I sent.

The phone rang immediately.

“You are watching, aren’t you?” Sergey said impatiently.

“Yes, I’m watching… two big assholes fighting…” I said looking at the screen.

“Well, what do you think, who do you think will win the fight?” Sergey asked excitedly.

“What is there to think? This one will win, will shoot until the end and will win…”

“You think?”

“Well, yes…”

“We’re sitting here with guys, making bets! Melyokhin here, like you, says this one will win, but I’m not sure yet!”

“Let’s see, there are only a couple of rounds left…”

“You don’t think he’ll jump?”

“There’s nothing to jump from, he’s already dead, he’s only capable of one good punch at most…”

“You think? All right… Let’s wait and see!”

I didn’t have time to answer, Sergey ended the call.

The fight continued. The slow one was getting worse, but he still had strength, and he was dangerous. Time after time, he threw punches from as far away as he could, and they all landed. The big man swayed but held on, his back against the ropes.

“Grandstand play maybe?” came the message from Sergey as the final round began and it was obvious that the big man was barely on his feet, tempting the other to finish him off.

“Why? Stupid. He could run into a counter. He’ll win anyway.” I replied.

The fight ended, Sergey didn’t write or call again. “Grandstand play…” was turning in my head. The expression puzzled and interested me. Without immediately finding out its meaning, I memorized it and filed it away in my mind. The pattern of the fight did not change – the technical boxer carefully carried the fight to victory without giving the big guy a chance.


For the next week I was plagued by gastritis. Every morning my stomach, which had calmed down overnight, made its presence known right after breakfast – it started to hurt. I would swallow a few pills, pour some anesthetic gel down my throat, and go to the bus stop. Half an hour of jolting along broken roads in a shared taxi and bus turned my stomach into a solid, aching wound. The minutes of the ride seemed like hours. Nausea would rise to my throat, and my stomach would feel like a heavy lump, impenetrable to food. I would turn pale, sweat, and saliva would fill my mouth. When I got there, I would get out of the shared taxi and walk down the path to the factory on shaky legs. A few times I threw up there. I realized the situation was much worse.

“Ulcer, definitely an ulcer,” I thought the first time I threw up on the road. Both times I vomited so much that I broke out in sweat and tears. And then relief came. The pain was gone. For a few minutes afterward, I stood still for fear of upsetting my stomach. Then I walked slowly down the path. I knew from experience that the most important thing after vomiting is not to eat for as long as possible. I didn’t eat. I lost a lot of weight, my stomach was gone. I became irritable and angry. When a person is in pain, he gets angry at everything around him. I was angry at myself, at my mother, at my father. At my stubbornness. I was angry at myself for leading such a lifestyle and putting my body in a miserable state. I was angry at my mother for acting like an idiot and rocking our decrepit family boat as hard as she could. I was angry at my father for being aloof, resentful, and doing nothing. I was angry at another relationship that didn’t work out. Everything was bad. Everything but the business. It was going up fast, and that sharp contrast tore me in half.


Lilya called on Friday, November 4th.

“Hi, I’m here!” Her voice sounded into the phone.

“Hi, Lilya! Great! How long are you staying?” I answered with the rest of my emotions.

“Are you happy?” she said.

“Of course I am, Lilya!” I replied, but the sentence was pronounced with a hint of obligation.

“For all the holidays…” Lilya started, stopped, there was a rustle in the phone, a muffled displeased voice of her mother in the back of the room and a hasty, frightened answer of the girl. “Yes, mom, okay, I’ll be quick… listen, I’ll call you back later.”

“Okay…” I barely managed to say it and heard tones.

In the evening I met Lilya in a cafe in the center. When I entered, Lilya was already sitting at a table with a friend. She looked striking, as always. Her black hair, as if dyed with tar, was slicked down, framing and shading her white face beautifully. Black mascara and deep red lips completed the firecracker picture. When she saw me, Lilya stood up and walked towards me. At that moment I suddenly realized that I saw her differently. Now it seemed to me that her face had too many flecks, her figure was far from ideal, her hands were ugly, her fingers were skinny, and the brightness of red nail polish irritated me with its vulgarity. Lilya smiled and I realized what had confused me about her teeth. She had a bridge in the upper right. It was misplaced and protruded slightly downward. Because of the dentist’s mistake, when she smiled the artificial teeth were slightly exposed in front of the neighboring teeth and later hidden. I began to notice things I hadn’t seen before. I wouldn’t have, but the numbness of a brief crush had worn off irrevocably. What remained was the tugging feeling of duty and obligation, instilled from childhood, which weighed down and entangled my will.

“Hi,” Lilya came closer, pulling me out of my introspection.

“Hi,” I said automatically, putting my arm around her shoulder and walking towards the table.

“Aren’t you going to kiss me!?” the girl was surprised.

“Oh yeah, sorry Lilya! I just got distracted for a moment,” I kissed her cheek, said hi to the other girl, and sat down on a chair.

Lilya sat down thoughtfully across from me and looked at me for a few seconds with an attentive, studying gaze. I looked at her; Lilya looked striking, but I didn’t care. I caught the first notes of indifference in my chest and I liked them.

“Will you have a drink?” Lilya said sympathetically.

“Yes, I’ll have a drink!” I turned my head to look for a waiter. “I think I’ll have some tea…”

“Tea!?” Lilya stared at me in surprise.

“Yes, tea,” I nodded. “I don’t feel like drinking alcohol.”

I ordered a cake for tea. I shouldn’t have. My stomach hurt immediately. I lit a cigarette and the pain eased a little.

“Where are we going today?” Lilya tossed back a lock of her hair with her practiced movement and looked at me, but immediately lowered her eyes to the ground.

“I don’t know, anywhere,” I shrugged.

“Maybe we’ll go to the club?” she suggested.

“We could go to a club,” I shrugged again, enduring the pain. “Do you want to dance?”

“I just want to chill out. I don’t have time to go to clubs in Moscow – I have to work.”

“A club then,” I nodded.

Lilya gently asked me if I would mind if her friend came with us.

“I don’t mind,” I said, and a vague feeling of dissatisfaction came over me.

We walked around until we reached the club. There were two dozen people on the dance floor bouncing to the loud music. We went up to the second floor and sat at a table near the edge where we could see the dance floor below. My stomach kept hurting.

The waiter came over. The girls ordered champagne and dessert, I ordered tea and salad.

“Tea again!?” Lilya looked at me in surprise.

“My stomach hurts, I won’t drink alcohol.”

“Aha…” Lilya said indifferently and turned to the dance floor.

I lit a cigarette and listened to the sensations inside. My stomach throbbed and twitched. The waiter brought the order. The girls started with the champagne, I with the salad. Wrong again. I ate half the salad and nausea came to my throat, my stomach came to life and I felt a sense of blockage. I took small sips of tea. It didn’t get better, but it didn’t get worse either. I put my arm around Lilya’s waist. She turned around, smiled and turned away again. Lilya’s friend drank champagne in silence, occasionally exchanging short sentences with her. My mood was completely gone. My thoughts drifted away. I stroked Lilya’s waist and tried to imagine our future together, the two of us in bed, her as my wife. Nothing came out, this girl was not in my future.

I felt more nauseous. My stomach ached unbearably. Sweat appeared on my face. I wanted to go home. I needed rest, treatment and diet. But I was in a nightclub, eating and smoking.

After a few glasses of champagne, the girls cheered up.

“How’s your stomach?” Lilya asked, tossing back a strand of her hair.

“It’s okay,” I grumbled, smiling sourly. “More or less, it hurts a bit.”

“Have some vodka!” Lilya smiled. “It’ll cheer you up and your stomach will feel better…”

I didn’t have time to answer, she turned away and continued to look down at the audience.

“Have some vodka! Have some vodka. Vodka…” repeated in my head. Anger began to boil in my soul, thoughts swirled in my head. “What a fool you are! She doesn’t give a shit about you! All she cares about is having fun! To feel good and have fun! She doesn’t give a shit about you and your stomach! She didn’t say “have some vodka” because she cares about you and your health! She’s worried about her fun! Have a drink, kill your pain and have fun with us! Spend the money! Spend it on fun! Spend more on me! Spend it on my friend too! You’re the fool, you pay for everything! And in three days I’ll leave, and you wait for me, I’ll come back! And you will entertain me again, take me to cafes, clubs, spend on my fun! You’re the fool!”

I pushed those thoughts away, but the facts kept scratching at my eyes, my mind, and my soul.

My stomach wouldn’t let go. Time hardly moved. After the torment of the club and saying goodbye to Lilya, I flew home, stripped down to my underwear, locked myself in the bathroom and threw up.


Tomorrow at noon Lilya called again.

“My friend and I are sitting in a cafe, do you want to join us?”

“I don’t know,” I mumbled, feeling the remains of the urge to her. “I could, of course…”

“Stop!” My mind flashed immediately and I started to get angry with myself.

“Then come over, we’ll wait for you here. We can go bowling later.”

“The three of us?” I clarified, stalling for time, feeling a simple but important thought ripen in my head.

“No, why the three of us? My brother’s coming over, so you can meet him. Let’s go as four. And in the evening we’ll go to a cafe, you and I.”

The thought matured and the answer was born by itself: “Lilya, listen, I don’t really feel well. You better go bowling and then we’ll go for a walk in the evening, okay?”

“Yeah, all right,” the girl grudgingly replied.

“Then I’ll see you later, I’ll call you at five, okay?” I continued nonchalantly.

“Yes, okay, see you later,” Lilya said sharply and disconnected.

The thought lived in my head and didn’t let me rest until the meeting. As soon as Lilya and I sat down in a cozy cafe, I asked: “So, how was bowling? Who won?”

“We thought about it and didn’t go!” Lilya brushed it off. “We felt too idle.”

“So the three of you just sat there for a while and went home?” I clarified.

“Why the three of us?” Lilya said, studying the menu.

“Well, your brother…”

“Oh, no! My brother called and said he couldn’t, he had some things to do!” Lilya tossed the sentence without taking her eyes off the laminated book.

“I see,” I nodded and stared at the menu, unpleasantly realizing the correctness of my thoughts.

The evening was tedious. I had to say something to Lilya, listen to her, and do it all without desire and attention. My interest in Lilya faded. There was only irritation and anger at myself for wasting time, energy and hopes. I decided to go for a walk with Lilya on the last day of her mini-vacation and that was the end of it.

“I’m sitting in a meeting at the hospital in the morning…” her voice brought me out of my thoughts, “we have a hallway with many rows of chairs. I’m in a white coat, like all the doctors, sitting somewhere in the middle. The head doctor is telling us something and we’re all sitting there listening. I threw my hair back like this…” here Lilya repeated a movement I knew well, “and behind me sat this stupid girl who is always jealous of me. She’s ugly herself and her hair is thin, not like mine…”

I looked at Lilya’s hair. It was really beautiful – thick, strong, long.

“And this sheep, can you imagine, says, ‘Liliya Mikhailovna, please don’t wave your hair all over the audience, it’s unhygienic!'” Lilya stared at me, expecting approval and support. “Can you believe how stupid she is!? I turned around and said, ‘If you’re jealous that I have such luxurious hair, then be jealous in silence!’ This is the kind of idiot I have to work with! She sits there and tells me what to do! And by the way, I have an honors diploma and a post-graduate degree with distinction!”

“You have an honors diploma?” I said with a hint of surprise.

“Why, did you doubt it!?” Lilya glared at me aggressively. “I have an honors diploma, I was the best in the course and in the post-graduate school, I finished it externally!”

“Wow,” I mumbled, annoyed by the empty self-glorification. “That’s tough! You’re good!”

“I know!” Lilya waved me off.

“Precious fool,” I thought, and started looking at the girls at the other tables. And I liked what I thought. My upbringing had cracked again. Before, I never allowed myself to call girls names, even mentally. All sorts of emotions happened, but name-calling was not one of them. And I should have! It changes things. I immediately relaxed, felt light and stared at Lilya with indifference. She was telling me something. Still snobbish and arrogant. I barely made it through the next hour. When we left the cafe, we took a taxi to Lilya’s house. At the gate of her house I gave her a quick peck on the cheek. She stood and looked at me with the fake look of a naive simpleton. For some reason, I reached out and pressed my lips to hers. They were soft, tasteless, and sticky with lipstick. After a few seconds I was disappointed – Lilya didn’t know how to kiss at all. She moved her lips haphazardly around mine, not knowing where to put her tongue. I tactfully finished fumbling, mumbled something like “See you tomorrow, I’ll call you when I wake up” and, holding back my running, walked briskly back to the taxi.

“Where to now?” said the taxi driver tiredly.

“Back to the center!” I almost shouted, as if revived.

Ten minutes later, I was almost running down the steps of the club.

“Hi, Rita!” I shouted to my ex-girlfriend, bubbling over with joy that was unclear even to me. Rita looked at me in surprise and said hello confusedly. I went to the small bar in the grotto and ordered a double “screwdriver”. The adrenaline gave me a rush of emotions and a desire to drink. But after consuming three doubles in an hour, I became depressed and mopey. My mood was gone. I went outside, smoked, shivered, and looked around. The cold, piercing wind was chasing the last dry leaves and rare groups of people along the asphalt of the avenue. It was half past midnight. November is the most dreary month of the year. It was as if life had frozen and didn’t know what to do next. Neither did I. I stood, swaying with alcohol, staring across the street.

“What am I doing here? Why do I keep coming to this club? How much longer will I come here?”

Such questions made my chest tighten. The meaninglessness of my own life suddenly became so clear that it was hard to breathe. As if to escape the thought, I became angry with myself and ran across the street. As I crossed the roadway, I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and froze in a kind of stupor.

“Hi!” came a sudden voice from my left. I flinched and turned around. She was walking in front of me, the same blonde I’d seen twice before at the club. She smiled at me and walked briskly past me. She was with a friend. She was holding her hand and pulling her along. They were both laughing. The blonde was dressed the same as before, but she was wearing a gray coat with the top open.

“Oh, hi…” I mumbled, immediately feeling a strong rush of life.

“Come to ‘Clear Skies’!” The girl turned and called, walking away quickly. A gust of wind from behind ruffled her hair. The girl flicked it away with her hand, but the wind wouldn’t give up. The blonde girl shouted: “Come! I’ll come…”

I tensed but didn’t catch all the words. Her friend pulled the blonde’s arm sharply and she laughed. Resonant and beautiful, revealing the flawless whiteness of perfect teeth. Her friend pulled her again, and the blonde turned to face her, her words drowned in the headwind.

“When?” I wanted to shout, but it was barely a whisper. I looked around, but no one was there. When I came to my senses, I found myself looking in the direction of the blonde and reaching for her. I looked at the club and immediately back at the blonde – the street was empty. The girl flew by like a ghost and disappeared into the night.

“When!? When to come!? Tonight!? Tomorrow!? When!?”

Obeying the impulse, I ran back across the street and found myself back at the bar.

“Another double!” I rubbed my palms together vigorously, shaking off the November chill.

I waited for the blonde until closing time. She didn’t show up. Two hours flew by and the waiting made me feel alive. My stomach couldn’t take the fourth double and it hurt. Cigarettes didn’t help. I left the club and walked to the hotel.

“She didn’t come. When will she come? Tomorrow? Sunday. Yes, that’s right, she must have meant tomorrow! I’ve got to come over! She’s so beautiful! What an extraordinary girl!”


The next day I met Lilya after lunch in a quiet street in the center. Her brother and her friends soon gathered at the entertainment center, the same one where Sergey and I played billiards. Lilya said we could join them. I agreed.

“You’ll meet my brother too…” she added.

We slowed down, turned into the park, chose a free bench and sat down.

“I have a present for you,” Lilya said suddenly, flashing her eyes and smiling.

I was surprised. Lilya opened her handbag, took out a men’s perfume of a well-known company and gave it to me. With words of gratitude I accepted the gift and kissed Lilya on the cheek.

We were sitting in the park, surrounded by trees that had long since turned yellow and were half naked. The day was calm, sunny and warm. Soon the sun disappeared behind creeping clouds, and it grew cool. The drizzle dragged the sparse leaves across the concrete slabs of the park.

“How are your parents?” I forced myself to say. “How’s mom? How’s dad?”

I’d never met Lilya’s father, but somehow I imagined him as an intellectual, Anton Pavlovich Chekhov-style. And next to him an angry broad with the voice of a watchdog. She barks, and Lilya’s dad fixes his glasses on the bridge of his nose with a trembling finger and bleats, “I love my wife very much!”

“Oh! Mom has problems with these tenants!” Lilya suddenly burst into flames.

It turned out that Lilya’s family owned another house nearby. And they rented it to three students. And they were having a weekend party with girls and, as usual, they fought and broke the furniture. It was the police who stopped them.

“Imbeciles!” Lilya almost shouted in anger, her face contorting.

“Well, yes, not the sharpest…”

“They’re imbeciles, you know! Just imbeciles!” She waved her hand in front of my nose like a saber. I was silent. Lilya boiled up and started talking about something else. I supported the topic, but the image of Lilya’s face, distorted with hatred, froze in front of my eyes.

We arrived at the entertainment center at five o’clock. There was a group of six people waiting for us. Lilya introduced me to her brother, his wife and the others. We sat down at a table.

“Would you like some vodka?” said Lilya’s brother, a bespectacled brunette with a schlubby appearance.

“No thanks,” I refused, “I’ll just have tea, that’s all.

“Well, tea it is…” he hummed and put the bottle down.

“Why won’t you drink!?” Lilya stared at me sternly.

“Lilya, you know why,” I answered as quietly as possible, almost in her ear.

“Aha…” she said, raised an unhappy eyebrow and commanded: “I want some champagne. Pour it for me!”

I poured. After emptying the glass, Lilya became cheerful, a blush ran down her face. The initial awkwardness of acquaintance passed, the group began to discuss common topics. Everyone chattered. Lilya, who was sipping her second glass of champagne, was having fun and sometimes threw vague glances at me. I smiled back, but in my heart I was bored. We played a few games of pool with Lilya. Clumsily holding the cue, she missed and was a bit promiscuous.

“What do you do for a living?” Lilya’s brother asked as soon as we were back at the table.

I answered all the questions one by one – I have my own small business; I live with my parents; I don’t have a car and I’m thinking about buying my own apartment. The schlubby one left me alone, and the crowd started chattering again, all returning to their previous topics.

“Pour me another one,” Lilya commanded.

I did.

“Are you going to buy an apartment?” Lilya clarified.

“I’m thinking about it. I’ve got a decent amount of money, I don’t need it for work, so I thought maybe I’d buy an apartment,” I shrugged. The first time such a thought crossed my mind was about a month ago. Before that, I was waiting for my father to start some kind of business. He had all the prerequisites: six hundred in a bank account, his own “GAZelle”, almost free storage space at the factory. Take it and work. My father was inactive. It was surprising. I understood that money lying idle in the bank is bad, inflation eats it up.

“Buy one in Moscow!” Lilya was enthusiastic about the idea.

“No, Lilya! I don’t even have enough money for a one-bedroom apartment in Moscow!” I grinned.

“Well, not in Moscow itself, you can buy it in the suburbs! The prices there are the same as here!”

“Come on! What would he do in Moscow? He can live here! Buy an apartment here and live, right?” Lilya’s brother rebuked her unceremoniously and stared at me with a dull look.

I nodded and ducked into my cup of tea. Lilya threw her hair back nervously and took a big sip from her glass, smearing more lipstick on the rim.

After half an hour, the conversation at the table became sluggish. I remained silent, drank tea and was happy to have a lull in my stomach. Lilya, drunk and with a flushed face, actively intervened in one of the dialogues. She began to argue and prove her point in a peremptory manner. I listened. Lilya’s brother joined the argument, and later the whole table. The group came to life. Self-confident Lilya was talking nonsense, if not stupidity. And I couldn’t stand it anymore.

“Lilya, you are wrong here…” I said carefully. “Your brother says the right thing…”

“And you shut up! I know what to say and what not to say! Got it!?” She glared at me angrily and waved me off.

I was stunned and speechless. The others continued to argue. There was no doubt about it – I had been rudely and unceremoniously shut up! Immediately, my inner block activated – I swallowed the rudeness. If it had been said by a guy, I would have reacted. But a girl… I couldn’t say the same to her. “Fucking manners!” A lump of anger rushed through me and my body instantly filled with rage. I looked at Lilya. She was in the middle of an argument – gesticulating, talking a lot and completely ignoring me. A nullity. I looked at Lilya again and immediately looked away, startled out of my thoughts – I wanted to punch her in the face, hard enough to knock out her remaining teeth. “Scum!” I boiled. With an unbelievable effort I controlled my anger and decided to talk to Lilya alone afterwards. I spent the rest of the evening sullenly sitting, and then I helped Lilya put on her coat in the checkroom and said:

“Lilya, let’s walk for a while. And when we get tired of walking, we’ll take a taxi.”

“Okay,” she said, pointing to the sofa next to her. “Give me my bag!”

Holding back a new burst of anger, I obeyed the order. Outside, the pleasantly cool air blew over my face, bringing me back to my senses a little. I was fine. The anger remained, but I controlled it. We walked in silence for about five minutes.

“Lilya, listen…” I started. “I didn’t really understand what you said to me…”

“What didn’t you understand!?” she parried aggressively.

“Do you realize that you humiliated me in front of everyone by telling me to shut up…”

“What did you expect!?” Lilya said indisputably. “I have a lot of friends, I’m often in groups, we communicate, I express my opinion, and if you don’t like something, you have to get used to it… I’m a beautiful girl, that’s the only way to treat me!”

I grinned, Lilya had presented me with a non-existent choice. Everything inside me was churning with the urge to punch that fool in the face! “It’s not okay to hit and insult girls!” the barrier signaled in my head and I controlled my anger again.

“So that’s it, huh?” I asked calmly, looking at Lilya. And at the same moment I realized one simple thing – Lilya was drunk, alcohol had exposed her essence. What was hidden behind the sign of intellectuality in her sober state, now came to the surface. A simple, bold hussy walked next to me.

“Yes, that’s it!”

“Well…” I grinned and made a decision. “I see…”

We walked a few more blocks, I took a cab and drove Lilya home. I kissed her cheek, mumbled, “I’ll call you tomorrow morning,” and got back in the car.

“Where to now?” the taxi driver looked at me.

“Downtown, to ‘Clear Skies’.”

I stayed at the club until closing. The blonde didn’t show up. I got drunk. I got home and I was on the toilet and I was puking inside out. I pulled the lever, the water rumbled, I saw out of the corner of my eye two drops of blood, and they were flushed.


Monday, November 7, as agreed with Sergey, was a day off. I woke up around noon. My stomach hurt a little and I felt wrecked. I managed to eat some breakfast and crawled back into bed. I picked up a book, started reading, and realized that I hadn’t read for a long time and had missed out on a good read. I gave up on Lilya and decided not to call her again. No explanations or clarifications. I didn’t need it.

Around two o’clock in the afternoon my phone rang and on the screen was “Lilya”.

“Yes, hello,” I said into the phone.

“Why didn’t you call me?” she shouted almost rudely.

I shrugged, paused and mumbled: “I don’t want to…”

“Hm!” she sounded surprised. “Well, as you wish!”

There was an immediate ringing in my ear – Lilya had hung up.

“Go fuck yourself,” I thought. I was sure that Lilya would show up. “She’ll call me again,” I realized, thought of the blonde and continued reading.

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