“That’s it, the train began to roll!” I said on Wednesday, April 26, as soon as I entered the office.
Sergey took his eyes off the newspaper, Vera off the monitor. They both stared at me questioningly. I sat down in the chair by the door and explained:
“Yesterday I took the money for the apartment, that’s it! The price went up! Ten percent at once!”
“How are you going to pay now?” Vera was puzzled.
“He only has two percent!” Sergey reminded her, sighed and rolled up the newspaper.
“Oh, right!” Vera waved her hand and smiled. “I forgot!”
Sergey looked at me with a slightly confused look, blinking and thinking about something.
“I thought you brought the last of the money last time… didn’t you?” he said.
“Yes, I’m out of savings! That’s it! That’s what I saved from my salary!” I confessed.
“And how much did you take?” my partner sniffed.
“Nah!” I brushed it off. “Just chicken feed! I only bought two meters, twenty-eight thousand five hundred!”
Sergey looked at me thoughtfully for a second, turned his head sharply toward his wife, and said: “Come to think of it, Verok! Roman goes out, hangs around in various clubs, meets some chicks, and manages to save money for an apartment from his salary! And we barely have enough to feed our family for a month!
“Seryozha, what did you expect?” she said. “He’s alone, he has expenses only for himself, and you have two children! If you were alone, you would have enough money for yourself! You would save it too, and you…”
“Yes, I understand!” Sergey nodded and chewed his bottom lip, looking at me. “How long did it take you to save this money?”
“How long…” I spread my hands. “As soon as I signed the contract in February, I started saving… March – April, well, and there was some money left over from February…”
Sergey paused again, as if checking something in his head.
“You saved money on two meters in two months!? We get paid seventeen and you save fourteen!?” He made a surprised face.
“Well, not in two months… three… I didn’t really count it, Seryoga. I had money, so I took it! I hardly spend anything on myself now! We don’t hang out with Vovka, we go out with Natasha, and even then I don’t spend much… Not like with Lilya! Thirty grand a month – phew!! And gone!”
“Some Natasha…” Vera rolled her eyes up and smiled. “We don’t have time to keep track of your friends, Roma! It’s Lilya, then Natasha…”
“It’s over with Lilya! The past!” I smiled. “Now Natasha!”
“Why did you and Vovka stop hanging out!?” Sergey said. “Did you have a fight?”
“No, we didn’t have a fight! That’s it! He’s settled down! Lera’s pregnant, they’re getting married this summer!”
Sergey wanted to say something, but then there was a knock at the door. Petya came in and filled everyone’s brains with a stream of questions – What have we got today? Where am I going? And those are in the warehouse, right?
Sergey irritably shoved the waybills to him and said: “All right, Petya, go,” and began to bend down to pick at his sandal, as if the driver were not there. He staggered to the door, looked at me and Vera, and said confusedly, “Ah, okay, I’m off then,” and left.
The whole month of April was a blast. Every day we kept our customers stocked up on dichlorvos. We understood a simple rule – the more dichlorvos they ordered from us, the less they would buy from our competitors. By the end of the month, we had distributed half of the ten tons.
“Not bad, eh, Romych?” Sergey said in surprise, looking around the warehouse on April 28th.
“Just right, Seryoga!” I nodded. “In May they’ll have eaten the first half, in late May or early June we’ll distribute the rest, and in mid-June we can order again…”
“You think?” He looked at me carefully.
“You’ll see!” I said, not realizing the source of my confidence.
Sergey was silent, and soon we left the warehouse and walked back to the office.
“What are you doing for the holidays?” my partner squinted against the sun.
“I don’t know… Rest… Go out with Natasha, maybe see Vovka… And you?”
“I’ll go to the dacha!” Sergey exhaled almost sadly. “I’ll take the kids there for all the holidays, I’ll take the barbell… By the way, I bought a barbell!”
“Really???” I was surprised. “I thought you were kidding!”
“No, I have to work out! I have completely given up on sports, at least you cheered me up! Nobody around me does sports, all my friends are like Melyokha – they just want to get drunk and dance in some pub! In such an environment it’s hard to think about sports. Now I’m going to start training. I should also buy a punching bag, hang it in the dacha, to remember my youth, to train a punch…”
“What does this have to do with the environment?” I was surprised. “If you want to train, go ahead and do it!”
“I wouldn’t say that, Roman… The environment has an effect!” Sergey parried.
“Well, it does, but not to that extent. No one is forcing you to drink with them! It’s your personal decision! There, Senya – he decided not to drink anymore, and he doesn’t…”
“That’s because we kicked Kholodov out! And Senya, he’s keeping his place…”
“I don’t think Senya stopped drinking just because he was afraid,” I said, wanting to see the storekeeper’s decision as motivated not just by fear, but by something more conscious – an inner choice. “But because he chose to. The environment doesn’t influence a person’s choice that much, if he really chose something…”
“Roman, you don’t have such an environment!” Sergey began to get annoyed.
I didn’t want to aggravate and argue, the weather was too nice for that. So I just went back to the beginning of the conversation and said: “A punch bag is a good thing! We have one hanging in our gym and sometimes I hit it to warm up before training.”
We walked lazily to the office, all our thoughts already on the holidays. There were four days off, four more after that, and then the hot summer. My feeling of closeness to the first really good earnings intensified. Driven by the excitement of money and the growing volume of the company, Sergey and I quickly moved into the tantalizing unknown.
Vovka called again in the morning, screaming in my ear:
“Ramses, we have a walk with Lera in the fucking center! Lera wants to see you! She fucking pissed me off this morning! She’s been whining for two hours. Where’s Roma? Where’s Roma? Come on, let’s go for a walk together!”
Vovka was like a brick – square, clinging to everyone with the corners of his behavior and jokes, completely unaware of it and absolutely happy.
“I’ll be there, give me some time to eat and I’ll be there!” I replied with a smile.
“Hurry fucking up, eat faster! We’re waiting for you! Yeah, yeah… Lera says hello! Yeah! She tries to grab the phone! Yeah… Here… Kiss Roma… Yeah… Right on the gums and through the phone!” There was more squirming, giggling and sniffing of Vovka. “So, Ramses, you know what I mean – she’s kissing you through the phone! Uh-huh… You wish! So come on, come quickly…”
Half an hour later I saw the pregnant Lera. She was immediately embarrassed and blushed.
“That’s more like it! Well done!” I said. “See? You can do it if you want to!”
“We can, but what about you? It’s time for both of us to become fathers, how long can we go to these pissing pubs!?” Vovka almost shouted, pointing happily at Lera’s belly. “This is the fucking meaning of life!”
“Do you know who’s coming?” I looked at Lera.
“A boy, I think,” she said.
“Yeah! They said it would be a guy!” Vovka shouted.
“Have you chosen a name?” I looked at them both.
“No, we haven’t thought about it yet…” Lera looked at me guiltily. “Maybe… Andrey…”
“Andrey, well… it’s okay…” Vovka mumbled. “Andrey Vladimirovich…”
“Or Sasha…?” Lera looked at me questioningly for some reason.
“Aleksandr Vladimirovich… well, it’s not bad either…” Vovka said.
“Or Roma?” Lera kept looking at me.
“Roma… Roma… why not!?” Vovka perked up. “Ramses, eh!? We’ll name our son Romka!”
“Don’t look at me!” I was surprised, embarrassed, felt cornered.
“Fuck, that’s it, Ramses!! We’ll name our son after you! He’ll be Romka! What do you think, Lera?”
“I like it…” she said, shrugging her shoulders and looking at me.
“Don’t look at me!” I chuckled. “I’m pleased, of course! It’s so unexpected…”
We walked through the center of the city. The avenue was crowded, car traffic was blocked, people were walking along the road in both directions. There was a festive mood in the sunny warmth of the air. We walked the whole avenue and half of it back, sat in a street cafe, walked back out onto the avenue, and then my cell phone rang. The number was not in my contact list, but I recognized it.
“Hi, Roma, it’s Lilya!” came a silky voice in my ear.
“Hi Lilya, how are you?” I said calmly, but my heart started racing, pumping my blood with adrenaline for a split second. I intuitively realized that the moment of finality of the story with Lilya had arrived. I had to solve it like a problem. Once and for all.
“Recognize me? Nice…” Lilya purred.
“Yes, I recognize you… Are you here in town?”
“Yes, I came for the holidays to my parents, I took some time off from the hospital,” Lilya sang.
“I see, good for you,” I nodded, feeling my inner tremors subside. Anger and cynicism joined the calm. And then my arms and legs suddenly swelled with fatigue, weakness and emptiness growing in my body, as if someone invisible had taken my strength in the seconds of communication. I wanted to stop the conversation. I looked at Vovka. He was grinning and making faces and gestures. Lera smiled and listened to the conversation.
“Remember I promised to take you for a ride in the car when I bought it?” Lilya said.
“Oh yes, I remember… Did you buy a car?”
“Yes, I did. I came from Moscow in it…” Lilya said and fell silent.
“Ah… well, good for you, congratulations! Having a car is good!”
“Thanks…” Lilya made a second attempt to throw the thread of conversation to me.
I didn’t say anything.
“If you want, we can meet downtown at three, I’ll give you a ride…”
“Yes, let’s meet downtown at three, suits me.”
“Okay, then I’ll meet you at…” Lilya named a place. “I’ll be in a gray ‘Matiz’.”
We said goodbye, I put my phone in my pocket and looked at Vovka, who was grinning.
“What’s up with your Lilya?” he said. “She bought a car, wants to take you for a ride!?”
“She has to find a fool to pay for her partying, that’s why she called me!”
“Come on, maybe she just wants to see you, she missed you,” Lera interjected.
“She missed me, you say… she missed the free fun!” I nodded.
“Ramses is a tough nut to crack! He’s not so easy to get! Got it, Lera?”
“I got it, yes… poor girl…” she answered Vovka ironically.
“Yes, very poor!” I nodded. “A few months with her and you’re poor!”
Vovka laughed chokingly.
“Okay, I’m going… on a date with Lilya!” I said goodbye to the couple.
In anticipation of the finale of a long, cheap flirtation, degenerated from an unwritten novel called “The girl Lilya, who could have been the mother of my children, but turned out to be an ordinary bitch”, I went to the meeting place.
I saw her across the street. The “Matiz” was at the curb, and Lilya was standing on the grass next to it. She was wearing a loose blue dress with a belt below her knees. Lilya noticed me, waved and smiled. I crossed the street and we greeted each other. The adrenaline started to flow again, because I did not want to give away the excitement, so I tried not to look at Lilya. I reacted painfully, like a patient who had been dissected earlier without anesthesia, who still survived and who started to panic when he met the doctor for no clear reason. And the urge to smash the doctor’s head in was just too strong.
“Nice car!” I said, sitting down in the car after Lilya and stubbornly pretending to look at the interior. “Cozy… so small…”
The car was crap. Cheap plastic, minimal parts, bad soundproofing.
“Buckle up,” Lilya commanded and put on her seat belt.
I buckled up, the “Matiz” started and we drove off. The suspension was stiff, and through the rattling of the wheels I felt every bump in the asphalt with my ass. And that sound of the engine, not like in big cars, but sharp, like a motorcycle… We began to slowly exchange vague general phrases in the style of “how are you and how are you?”, until Lilya took the bull by the horns again and asked bluntly: “Where are we going?”
“I don’t know,” I shrugged, although I wanted to say “I don’t care,” and added, “As long as we don’t go around the center, it’s too noisy here…”
“We can go out of town, to the park…” said Lilya, driving the car unsteadily.
“Yeah, it’s cool there…” I remembered the day I sacrificed my T-shirt to make a torch in that park and added, “Let’s go… Take a walk there.”
“I need to buy cigarettes, I’m out…” Lilya said, looked for a shop, stopped, took fifty rubles out of her purse and handed them to me. “Could you go?”
“Yes, of course,” I said, knowing very well what her “Could you go?” meant.
Women like Lilya don’t go for cigarettes themselves, they send others. And they have a choice – to go for cigarettes or to refuse. If you go, you will go for cigarettes for these “Lilyas” all your life. If you refuse – separation is inevitable. It frightens those who are on the hook of love. I wasn’t on the hook anymore. I had another reason to go.
Soon I came back with a pack of cigarettes. As expected, Lilya was pleased. For her, I was the same Roma who had been “going for cigarettes” since our first meeting and who continued to do so.
Twenty minutes later, we were there. In the evening the park was almost deserted.
“Now that I have this car, I’m thinking about other things,” Lilya said, annoyed. “Before, I would have bought boots for ten thousand, but I had to buy summer tires.”
I understood her. In addition to the necessary, in her opinion, status purchase, there was also the hassle.
“But now guys want to meet me while stuck in traffic, can you believe it?” Lilya looked at me, stepping carefully on the sand with her heels, trying not to get it in her shoes.
“I can imagine,” I nodded, grinning.
“They even try to get acquainted at gas stations!” she added.
“Why are you so stupid?” I thought.
Walking next to Lilya, I realized that I was being controlled by an inner player. And it was driven by the question – by which methods would Lilya turn me into an obedient idiot again during her next fun? We left the asphalt road and walked along it into the forest. We immediately smelled the coolness of the forest. Lilya shivered and wrapped her arms around herself. I took off my jacket and threw it over her shoulders. Lilya gave me an appreciative look and a strained smile. Appreciative exactly, not grateful. Gratitude is for equals, appreciation is for servants. I grinned. As we walked deeper into the forest, we talked about all sorts of things, but I was waiting for the main thing.
“You know, I’ve been thinking about our relationship…” Lilya started. “We had a little fight the last time… I think relationships can be all kinds of things, and you and I have our rough patches… But I like that we get through them and appreciate our relationship.”
Lilya fed me bullshit, head down, walking measuredly, watching her steps, occasionally flicking back her long, thick black hair with her hand.
“Well, yeah…” I muttered.
“And today, lo and behold, we met and we’re really socializing… I even missed our meetings…” Lilya flipped a strand away again and gave me an analyzing look.
I walked, looking at my feet like she did, and shoved my hands into my jeans pockets.
“We always have such a good time together…” Lilya said, coming closer and taking me under her arm, pressing her breasts lightly against me and looking up into my eyes.
“Had,” I mentally clarified.
“We could find a quiet cafe tonight and spend some time together…”
“Yeah,” I murmured.
Lilya let go of my arm, came back to the same distance and wrapped up the jacket.
“It’s just that sometimes you’re a little unyielding… You’re rude to me sometimes… It makes things difficult between us. I don’t think you should act like that… Be more gentle and you’ll see that our relationship will be better. I don’t understand the rudeness, the outbursts… I’m hurt and offended by them… I don’t want to hear such things in the future…” Lilya continued to work on my consciousness.
“As soon as I relax with you, I’ll end up down on my uppers,” I thought, smiling and looking at the girl. She also looked at me during the monologue, studying me like a doctor – would the patient accept or reject the therapy? I didn’t show any signs of rejection and continued to walk around like a docile vegetable. I was bored, so I added fuel to the fire.
“What do you mean, rude?” I looked at Lilya in surprise. “I’m just reacting to your rudeness… You’ve been rude and boorish to me, and I’m acting the same way…”
She grinned, the sentence hitting its target.
“Now wiggle out,” I mentally encouraged Lilya.
“You’re a guy, I’m a girl. I have my emotions after all. You have to realize that and take it gently, it’s wrong to be intransigent… We can have a great relationship if we don’t pick on little things like that…”
“As great as your browbeaten jerk of a dad and termagant of a mom,” I thought, grinned, and said: “Well… I guess…”
After passing the far point of the big circle, we started to walk back. Lilya kept spinning a list of what I should do. The list sounded vague. I, as a man, had to do everything. She, on the other hand, as a woman, just had to be. And that was my male happiness. I, a fool, could not comprehend her words and taste the juicy, poisonous fruit of my relationship with Lilya. When she tried to convince me, she sometimes lost her patience. Then a copy of her mumsie burst out of Lilya, which she effortlessly hid behind a forced smile. She treated me with a hatchet, tried to buckle me, to break me. Lilya saw me as a stubborn, untrained stallion who would kick and then get under the saddle.
“What are we going to do tonight?” she said as we walked to the car.
“I don’t know. We could go to a cafe and drink coffee,” I shrugged, and once we were in the “Matiz” I added, “I bought an apartment, by the way!”
“You bought an apartment!?” It was as if something important had switched on inside Lilya, her eyes lit up and she looked at me differently. I could literally feel my stock price skyrocketing.
“Yeap. The house will be ready in a year and a half,” I said, deliberately not looking at Lilya.
We drove back to the city.
“You bought a one-room apartment?” Lilya asked the obvious question.
“No…” I said as casually as possible, “Two…”
“Two!?” Lilya looked at me, stopped talking, thought about it, and after a minute added, “And why didn’t you want to buy one near Moscow?”
“There’s no point in me buying it there now… Maybe I will, later.”
We drove almost to the place where we met. Lilya repeated the question about this evening.
“Listen, Lilya, I’m hungry! Let’s stop here, eat, drink coffee!” I pointed to a two-story cafe building, and the “Matiz” immediately parked in front of it.
We went upstairs. The second floor was cozy, the interior in the style of a village hut.
“Fried eggs, please, tea and… what would you like?” I looked at Lilya.
“Green tea… no sugar!” she perked up and fixed her hair.
I got really hungry out there, and when the order came, I devoured the fried eggs. Lilya took a cup of tea with a confused smile on her face and took a sip. I looked at the girl with a deliberately withdrawn gaze, as if I was seeing her for the first time. Sitting across from me was meekness itself. Who would have thought that she was a calculating, cold schemer? Lilya’s eyes betrayed her.
“What are we going to do tonight?” Lilya insisted, still as meek as before.
“I don’t know, I haven’t even thought about it yet,” I mumbled with a half-full mouth. “I should at least go home first, get changed…”
“I park my car there, on my brother’s parking lot in your neighborhood!” said Lilya. “I can give you a ride! I’ll park the car while you change, and we’ll go somewhere together!”
“Well, okay…” I mumbled and finished my tea.
We left the cafe, got into the car and drove to my neighborhood. Because of her inexperience, Lilya drove the “Matiz” tense and silent. I didn’t bother her with conversation either.
“Where should I stop?” said Lilya.
“There … right at the bus stop,” I pointed with my hand.
Lilya turned on her turn signal, slowed down and stopped where I told her to.
“Thanks, Lilya!” I said without looking at the girl, got out of the car, slammed the door and walked home without looking back.
Behind me, “Matiz” shrieked, the engine started nervously, revved up and drove off. I grinned and felt my spirits rise. I was in the mood to have a good time.
After dinner at home, I went to the club. After an hour there and two glasses of whiskey and coke to add to my euphoria, I went outside. I had a lot of thoughts in my head, I wanted to put them in order, to come to my senses. I crossed the street to the movie theater and walked through the park.
I thought about Lilya, about how being with her had changed me. I felt that I had become different. There had been an important systemic shift in my understanding of myself – the foundations of my personality had shifted to the right places, where they should have been originally. I vaguely realized that my upbringing had put them in the wrong places to begin with, and I finally found a way out of this impasse of attitudes instilled by my parents. I realized that smoking was over for me. Thoughts of giving up alcohol also loomed. Another beacon was sports. My consciousness fixed these beacons in my mind and decided to go for it. The old way of life was still clinging to me with its hooks – old habits. Each of these hooks was like a heavy block of concrete. But consciously and methodically, pushing myself, I removed the hooks one by one, and the next steps were easier. I realized that there were many more hooks, and only when I was free of all of them would I be able to go easily wherever I wanted and feel the fullness of life. Shivering, I zipped up my jacket and walked a lot more before my legs got tired and I took a cab.
On the morning of the third of May, I entered the office to find Sergey sitting at his desk with a newspaper.
“Wow, you’re here already!?” I was surprised, knowing that it was ten to nine.
“I came quickly!” Sergey shook my hand. “I came from the dacha, I thought there would be a lot of cars, but the road was completely empty! I got here in fifteen minutes!”
“Is Vera not here?” I looked at the computer, which wasn’t turned on.
“No, she won’t be!” Sergey sniffed his nose, looked at me, turned the page of the newspaper. “Lyonka has a fever, I left Vera with him!”
“Well…” I took a chair by the door. “We can do the waybills ourselves…”
“That’s what I thought!” Sergey waved his hands and leaned on his elbows over the newspaper.
“We’ll have to call the customers and prepare the goods for the whole day,” I said.
“Well…” Sergey looked at the phone screen. “We’ll start calling after nine. We could also check the mail, ‘Fort’ always sends the leftovers before nine.”
He said it without taking his eyes off the newspaper. I didn’t move either, I said in a joking tone: “Well, since Vera isn’t here… Then you are for her today! Crawl over to her place and I’ll take yours…”
Sergey looked at me, sighed, smiled slightly, rolled up the newspaper and went to Vera’s empty chair. I moved to his seat.
“Shall I turn on the computer now, or can we wait?” He said with an irony I could easily detect.
“As you wish, we’ll start working when you turn it on,” I shrugged.
“Where is this button?” Sergey groaned heavily, bent over his stomach and reached under the table with his hand. There was a click and the computer came to life.
“How do you turn on the Internet here?” Sergey said, looking at the monitor with a puzzled expression. His hand barely touched the mouse, covering it from above, his fingers shaking. It had been almost a year of working together, but Sergey hadn’t made any progress in his computer skills. He didn’t really care. After all, there was Vera, his active wife, who would do anything at the first command.
I answered Sergey, showing him.
“Uh-huh, got it… uh-huh, okay, got it…” he said and clicked twice. It didn’t work the first time. He clicked again. It worked. The modem rattled, the Internet was connected.
“Where’s the mail?” Sergey asked the next question.
I was patient – I replied, I showed him.
“How do you print it?” A few minutes later another question came.
I told him.
The printer whistled and rolled out six sheets instead of three.
“Wow! Why!?” Sergey stared at the sheets in his hands.
“Fields should be put out…” I said, exhaled, suppressed the nervousness that had arisen, got up from the chair and did it myself. Sergey followed my actions with puzzled eyes, and in the end just said: “Aha, I see…”
He didn’t understand anything.
The trade program went faster. My partner sniffed, thought hard, and poked at the keyboard with shaky fingers, but he got the job done and the waybill was created.
“Roman, here!” Sergey handed me the remains of our goods in “Fort”, which I had just received by e-mail. “Dictate and I’ll put the goods through!”
For the next half hour we did everything – we made waybills for three wholesale depots.
“Petya has arrived,” Sergey said, looking out of the window, signing and stamping the waybills.
“Seryozha, so, how is it going?” the driver shouted, falling into the office and spinning his eyes.
“Well, first of all, hello, Petya…” Sergey said moralizingly, holding out his hand.
“Oh, right! Hi, Seryozha!” He jerked and shook my partner’s hand and mine. “Hi, Roma! I’ve completely lost my mind with this road, traffic jams everywhere!”
“And second, here are the waybills for both runs…” Sergey handed the papers to the driver.
“Aha!” Petya grabbed the papers and stared again. “Is Senka here?”
“I don’t know, Petya, look for yourself!” Sergey replied with slight irritation.
“Seryozha, are the waybills ready!?” Senya’s head popped through the door.
“Ah, here’s Senka!” rejoiced Petya. “We were looking for you!”
“Why!?” The storekeeper opened the door. “I’m right here!”
“Senya, Petya!!?” Sergey shouted, restoring silence, and after a pause added, “Go to the warehouse! Load the goods! There you can discuss who’s where!”
Petya made a fuss, hurried to the exit, and began to push the storekeeper out the door with his belly.
“Okay, okay, we’re off, Seryozha!” Senya jumped into the aisle, stopped, turned, and said to me over the threshold, “Roma, your father is there!”
“There? Where, Senya?” I was surprised. “There, at the warehouse! On his ‘GAZelle’!” shouted Senya from behind the door, not seeing me through the door and not daring to enter the room again. “Only he’s without the cover!”
“What do you mean – without the cover!?” I said, looking at Sergey in surprise. He put his hands on his head and rested his elbows on the table, showing his helplessness and fatigue.
“Okay, we’re off!” came from the hallway, and the workers left.
The office became quiet.
“Let’s have some tea, Romych, I haven’t eaten anything this morning!” Sergey came to life.
“Why didn’t you eat?” I was surprised and pressed the kettle button.
“The kids were sleeping with Vera, I didn’t want to wake them!” Sergey said, leaning back in his chair. “And Vanyok came, there’s not much room…”
“Who is Vanyok?” I asked in surprise.
“Verka’s brother!” My partner rubbed his palm from top to bottom of his face, as if to wipe away sleep or tiredness or all of the above.
“Oh, right! Vera has a brother!” I remembered. “And what does he do now?”
“How long will he drink?” I asked rhetorically. “What about work?”
“Well… he works sometimes, then he gets kicked out… then he doesn’t work for a while, my mother-in-law feeds him and gives him moonshine. Then he works again. Anyway, this Vanyok is useless, to hell with him!” Sergey waved, got up and went to the kettle. “Shall I pour it for you?”
“Yes, sure,” I nodded. “And where does he live? Separate or with your mother-in-law?”
“Separate?” Sergey was indignant. “He lives with her, with Verka’s mother…”
“Hey, where’s his… her father?” I waved my hands, confused by this story about Vera’s family tangle and the relationships within it.
“They got divorced a long time ago, Verka’s father… too…” Sergey stuck his index finger under his jaw and handed me a cup of tea.
“Aah! Well, that explains why Vanyok is like that,” I nodded.
I reached for the sugar and scooped up four lumps. Sergey took one.
“Does your mother-in-law buy moonshine for him?” I was confused by a sentence I didn’t immediately understand.
“No, she makes moonshine herself!”
“Well… for Vanyok, for herself… I can have a shot after work…”
“Why, does she drink too?!” I stared.
“Well, yes… sometimes she can have a drink with Vanyok, for the sake of it…”
“Fucking hell!” I continued to stare, forgetting about the tea, but after a moment I remembered, dipped a piece of sugar into the tea and immediately bit into it, taking a sip.
“That’s just my mother-in-law’s way – so Vanyok doesn’t go out all day…” Sergey took a bite of sugar at the very corner and also sipped from his cup, “She pours him a glass in the morning… Vanyok drinks and falls asleep! And she calmly goes about her business.”
“Damn…” I froze with my mouth open and sugar melting in it. “Complete fuck-up! I can’t understand it! Her son is a drunk and she doesn’t treat him, she gives him a drink! Fucking hell! So much for a mother!”
“Romych, this is how people live!” Sergey sighed heavily. “You see, you don’t understand, I don’t understand… But this is how people live… Now you understand what it’s like for me. It’s a good thing I managed to get Verok out of there, otherwise she would have…”
Sergey waved a lump of sugar, chewed off the crumbs again, and took a sip of tea.
“Yeah…” I drew a dark picture in my head of Vera’s mother – a half-alcoholic living with her alcoholic son and pouring moonshine into his glass in the morning. “Ugh!”
I shuddered, shivered. Sergey cackled, bit and sniffed a sugar cube, sipped loudly from his cup and said: “Let’s go to the warehouse and see what’s what!”
We left the office and were barely on the road leading down to the warehouse when we saw my father’s “GAZelle”. The car was parked at the corner of the warehouse and there was no cover over the body. Sergey and I were talking about something, but as if on cue, we stopped talking. My father and I still had a strained relationship. My father blamed me for his leaving the company. I thought he’d screwed things up himself. It was at this point of silent recrimination that he and I were stuck.
“Why did Anatoly Vasilievich take off the cover?” Sergey muttered.
“I don’t know,” I said quietly, watching my father gather tools in the cabin. “He told me he was going to make a box on the ‘GAZelle’ instead of a cover…”
“Is he going to drive some kind of goods?” Sergey said, lowering his head and pretending to look under his feet while watching my father from under the brows.
“I think he said he wanted to do tomatoes, well, vegetables, fruits…” I also looked down at my feet, we were already ten meters away from the “GAZelle”.
My father noticed us. He looked at us carefully, took the cigarette out of his mouth, blew out the smoke, put it back in, and went about his business.
The distance closed. Five meters. I glanced furtively at my father. He was fumbling under the steering wheel in the cabin. The tension grew. Three meters. The same. I could almost physically feel the tension turn to confrontation. My father deliberately did not make eye contact. One meter. “Is he going to say hello or not, is he going to look or not?” I thought, still sneaking glances at my father. He continued his preoccupation. “One meter. Well?” echoed feverishly in my head, and I glanced at my father, hoping he would see it. My father didn’t raise his head. Sergey and I passed the “GAZelle” and turned the corner. My soul immediately pinched, squeezed and twisted. “Somehow it’s all wrong, it shouldn’t be like this, it’s not good, he’s my father… why doesn’t he look at me? Am I his enemy or something? It’s high time he realized that no one is to blame for this conflict but himself! He slammed the door and left! Nobody kicked him out. And nobody could, we had an agreement. Even if he and Sergey don’t like each other, no one would throw my father out! He shit all over himself! He just got in the car, said I won’t work with you and bailed. Why would he do that? Why!?” My mind was racing. I was trying to understand how this ridiculous thing could have happened, how my father could take odd jobs, consider me almost an enemy, and not even say hello. I was immediately ashamed of my thoughts. I suddenly realized that I was justifying myself. I immediately contradicted myself that no, I was not justifying myself, I was judging the situation impartially. But the guilt remained and grew. And my father’s defiant ignoring of me made me feel even worse. I felt like a traitor. “Terrific! Here we go!” I was confused, bewildered, stuck in my thoughts. I exhaled heavily. I gathered my strength and came back to reality. Sergey and I were already in the warehouse. All three workers were carrying boxes to the back of the truck.
“Finished?” Sergey said, looking into the body under the cover.
“Yes, Seryozha, almost done!” shouted Petya, carrying the box and breathing heavily.
Without waiting for an answer, Sergey went deep into the warehouse. I went back outside.
“So, shall we go to the office?” Sergey came out of the warehouse a few minutes later.
“Let’s go,” I nodded sluggishly, pulling myself together – we had to walk past my father again.
A few steps of oppressive silence and my father was behind me again.
“So, Anatoly Vasilievich decided to take up tomatoes?” Sergey said as soon as we were far enough away from the “GAZelle”.
“Well, yes, the season seems to be starting now, so he has to earn money, too. We work, and he just hangs around on his own…”
“Why is Anatoly Vasilievich alone?” Sergey looked at me puzzled. “He seems to be with us again. I thought we had decided that he would take over this chemistry… I don’t mind, neither do you… If Anatoly Vasilievich thinks I’m secretly against it, then tell him that I’m all for it! Let him develop the direction! If he doesn’t like the percentage, we can increase it! In fact, we can keep the minimum to pay off the warehouse, and he can take the rest!”
“I’m for it too, Seryoga,” I waved my hands, clearly realizing that there was no use for my father in this business, and he was doing the right thing, because even the highest interest on unsold goods is not enough, life needs real money. “But you see yourself, these canisters are hardly ever sold. One order and that’s it. And the rest of them sit in the warehouse.”
“How are we supposed to deal with them now that Anatoly Vasilievich has decided not to deal with them anymore?” Sergey’s tone hardened. “Are we going to sell them ourselves?”
“No, my father said he would try to sell what’s in the warehouse… Although, we have to admit that this thing is a dead end… I think we should sell the rest and not do it anymore…”
As we passed the transformer box, we saw the janitor with glasses in the gatehouse. She was smoking. When she saw us, she came out of her melancholy, nodded vigorously and called out:
“Roma, Seryozha, good afternoon!”
“Anatoly Vasilievich poked us with a pin nicely,” said Sergey, waving his hand and poking the air with his forefinger like a nail.
“No, Seryoga, what pin!?” I shook my head. “It was a dead deal from the beginning, I suggested it to my father… I just wanted him to do something…”
I dismissed it as an idle topic. We were already in the front yard.
“And if we don’t sell these canisters, what will we do?” Sergey slowed down and looked at me demandingly.
“We won’t do anything, we’ll just use them to wash the dishes!” I said indifferently. “Ten cans each, we won’t have to go to the store for detergent for a few years.”
“So we threw away ten grand each for nothing, huh?”
“Well, first of all, we haven’t wasted any money, the goods are in the warehouse, we just have to sell them. Second, even if we don’t sell it, we can use it at home, we’re still spending money on it. And third, if you are so sure that we ‘threw away ten grand’, I can give you my tenner from the profit and the matter is closed!” I finished a little irritated, tired of Sergey’s whining. Instead of thinking about how to solve the situation, he was intensely picking at a failed trading operation, looking for someone to blame.
I finished the sentence just before the door of the building. Sergey opened it and went in. I followed him. I didn’t hear an answer to my conclusions.
My father spent the first half of May rebuilding the “GAZelle”. Already on Friday at noon he arrived at our warehouse with the metal frame of the future box welded in the back. None of us said hello. What an idiotic situation!
“I’ve always supported you! Always! Because I was brought up to believe that you have to protect your family, always be on their side! You can do whatever you want to strangers, but you can’t betray your family!” my father burst out on Saturday, May 6, telling me everything he thought about me and this case; my father ran around the kitchen pouring a stream of accumulated resentment on me. “And you, on the contrary! You ran after your Seryonya like a whiffet! You didn’t support your own father!”
“First of all, I didn’t run after Seryonya like a whiffet,” I said calmly, which took a lot of effort, my father’s words stinging like a blade. “And second, I didn’t betray you. Do you think I betrayed you?”
“Yes, I think so! You rushed to that Seryozha Lobov, who is a shrewd and cunning crook! Seryozha can get up anyone’s ass without soap! And you don’t see it! He did it on purpose so that I’d fly off the handle and leave! He didn’t want me to deliver your goods for fifteen thousand and then hire Petya for the same money!”
“Dad, I’m not defending Sergey…”
“Yes, you are! You defend him all the time! And all he does is shit all over the place! Your Seryozha is a sly dog!”
“Well, he’s not mine… And I didn’t betray you…”
“Why didn’t you stand up for your father when Seryozha was scrimping?! Why didn’t you raise your voice!? Huh!? That’s just it! You chickened out! Tucked your tail!”
My father was exhausted, took a breath and added disappointedly:
“Keep kissing your Seryozha’s ass! He’ll do the same to you! You’ll see!”
“Dad, I don’t kiss anyone’s ass, and don’t use words like that, okay!?” I tried not to get angry, but it didn’t work. My father said nasty things to me. It was unpleasant, but I didn’t want to make excuses. Guilty people make excuses. I didn’t feel like one. My father made it seem so grotesque. Was that how he saw it? I gathered my courage and tried again to tell my father how I saw the situation:
“Dad, even if I wanted to take your side in this dispute, I couldn’t. We had an agreement – no relatives of the four of us would interfere in a dispute between us. Sergey, when I asked Vera about her salary, didn’t get involved. He said – I’m an interested party, you decide for yourself! Was there such a thing? There was. And I stayed out of it when you started arguing about your salary. Yes, Seryoga clearly underestimated it. Ten thousand is not enough. No one would work for that, and you wouldn’t either. And I wouldn’t. Well, then you have to defend your position! Make some arguments! You should have said to him, ‘Seryozha, look for a driver with his own car for ten thousand a month, and if you can’t find one, I’ll drive the goods for fifteen, or as much as you can find!’ Well, you could have said that! You could have! And he wouldn’t have had a choice! He’d have hesitated for a while and sat on his ass. He would have agreed to pay you fifteen. And you’d be driving our goods right now. But you said you didn’t want to work with us, that we’d find a driver wherever we wanted, and you slammed the door and left. Didn’t you? You did!”
My father stood in the middle of the kitchen, listening silently.
“We stood there with our mouths open! I remember that Vera looked at me and said, ‘Why did Anatoly Vasilievich leave, what happened to him?’ And I shrugged my shoulders and said, ‘I don’t know, I’m stunned myself!’ And Seryoga stood there and didn’t understand either…”
“Your Seryoga for sure!” My father waved me off. “He’s a hell of a player! He’ll make any face he wants!”
“What’s Seryoga and his face got to do with it!?” I got angry again. “You left yourself! It wasn’t Seryoga who threw you out, and it wasn’t me or Vera! If you hadn’t left, no one could have kicked you out! We had an agreement – we work as four! And we would have found a place for you, if not in the ‘GAZelle’, then certainly in the office!”
My father didn’t answer; he was standing in the middle of the kitchen, eyes blinking, staring at me.
“Here’s the thing!” I paused so that my father could understand the meaning of my words. “It’s not that someone betrayed you. You’re looking for someone to blame. You’re the one who screwed up.
My father was silent, blinking, opening and closing his mouth like a fish on land.
“And then you’re driving around, doing odd jobs… so I thought maybe I could get you a job somehow… with all this chemistry… I thought it would do some good… I thought you said yes… and then you said no, but okay… I don’t mind… Seryozha started charging me for these canisters – what did we buy them for!? Okay, it’s pocket change, we’ll sell them ourselves! That’s not what I mean! I’m saying that it’s nobody’s fault but yours that you left… It was your decision… Yes, Seryoga, he was a miser. And I don’t know why he made such a fuss about this five thousand, when we got Petya for fifteen! I don’t understand it either!”
“He did it on purpose! What’s not to understand!?” said my father.
“Maybe he did it on purpose, I’m not arguing, but I don’t understand why he would do that! All right, maybe you had disagreements with him, and you didn’t want to see each other… That’s not the point! The point is that you’re looking for someone to blame! And there is no one! It was your decision. And I tried to get you back, but you left again… So… What does that have to do with us… me… Sergey… Vera?”
“I don’t want to work with you,” my father said suddenly in a simple way, and all the steam of our dialogue, which had been under the pressure of mutual demands, evaporated in an instant.
“Well, you see…” I let out a sigh of relief and immediately felt empty and tired. I was so tired that I had a headache. I got up and walked out of the kitchen.
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