Chapter 047

“Vera, is this for me? To sign?” Sergey looked at his wife in surprise and took a thick stack of waybills from the table.

“Yes, Seryozha, sign them, we have to take them to the accountant at the end of the week…” Vera said, freezing her fingers on the keyboard for a moment, then continued typing.

“Shall we go to lunch?” I grimaced, feeling a growing hunger.

“On foot?” Sergey looked at me.

“Yes, I’d like to… Vera, what do you think?” I looked to the left.

“Okay, let’s go on foot, it’s more entertaining…” she finished typing, stretching as if she wanted to drive the sleep out of her body, which was stiff from sitting for so long. “Take a walk…”

A week ago, for the first time, we walked to the factory canteen instead of riding. It quickly became a ritual. I had always loved to walk, and was glad to have the opportunity to walk to the canteen and back, to stretch and relax from the boredom of the office. Leaving the factory, we followed the path to the railroad tracks and walked the ties to the crossing. Holding hands, Sergey and Vera walked ahead of me. It was touching, and I immediately thought of all my failed relationships.

“Roman, why don’t you say something?” Vera said mischievously, not turning around and dignifiedly walking the ties with her sandals. “Why are you so quiet today?”

“He’s thinking about his broads!” Sergey waved his hand and chuckled.

“I’m not thinking about them,” I replied languidly.

“Roman, take it easy!” Vera continued. “You just didn’t live with them and you had nothing in common, so you broke up with them all so easily! Natasha was a good girl, I liked her, it’s a pity that you broke up. If you had lived together for a while, you wouldn’t have broken up!”

“Maybe,” I shrugged.

“Seryozha and I decided from the very beginning to do everything together! Right, Seryozha?” Vera added.

“What do you mean, do everything together?” I didn’t quite understand.

“Well, we never went anywhere without each other,” Sergey said. “If one of us was invited somewhere, we always went together. And if we couldn’t go together, we didn’t go at all…”

“Good rule, I like it…” I was impressed and lifted my head. The sky was soft blue and cloudless, with two small fleeces in the west. I looked up at the sky – the air was so hot that it flowed to the ground in a haze, accompanied by the crackling of grasshoppers in the tall grass. I was wearing light linen pants and a black sleeveless t-shirt. The air was pleasantly warm against my arms. The sun baked my shoulders and face. I walked the ties, enjoying the constancy of the heat and the silence. My consciousness was saturated with thoughts of peace, in the waves of which I walked to the brick factory, passed the gatehouse, entered the canteen, washed my hands, took a tray, stood in line and began mechanically placing food on the tray, pushing it closer and closer to the cash register. I was thinking about the future, the unknown future. So far I had imagined it, and the future fulfilled all my wildest expectations. Teaming up with Sergey with the expectation of a quick business leap worked, and all my expectations were more than fulfilled. Without investing a penny, we made money almost out of thin air. I was soaked in the business – I thought about it, cared about it and lived it. And I felt that we were almost at the peak, close to the point where the tension of all the threads of the business would be maximized.

“Seventy-seven, come here!” A voice commanded, bringing me back to reality.

I turned at the sound and Vera laughed. The cashier looked at me.

“Me?” I poked myself in the chest with my finger, looked at her and down at the number “77” on my pants. “Ah-ha… I’m coming!”

I took my tray to the cashier and she started to calculate my lunch.

“Verok, write off one hundred and ninety rubles from the common fund later, please!” Sergey paid for all of us, and after we sat down at a free table, we began to eat.

The way back was the same – through the hot haze of the air, thick smells of herbs and mixed with them ethers of railroad ties soaked in oil to blackness.

“When are you going on vacation this year?” I said. “July or August?”

“When do you want?” Sergey turned around, I walked behind them again.

“I don’t care… I’ll go to my relatives in the village for a week, that’s all…”

“We’ll probably need a week too, won’t we, Seryozha?” said Vera, watching her footsteps. We walked along the narrow path by the road – Sergey, Vera and I.

“Right. Romych, I think we’ll be the first to leave in a week, okay?” Sergey also bowed his head, looking down so that his oversized shoulders overhung the rest of his body and his short legs seemed to be pressed into the ground.

“Seryoga, go ahead, I’ll take a week when you get back…” I said.

Fifteen minutes later, we ducked into the cool of our office.

“Whew! It’s a little hot, isn’t it?” Vera looked at me and exhaled.

“Yes, it is,” I said, and seeing a pile of waybills on the table, I remembered and nodded to my partner. “Seryoga, sit down! The general director has a lot of work to do here!”

“Yes, Roman, that’s for sure!” He smiled and settled happily into his chair. I sat down by the door. Having made himself comfortable, Sergey started to work – the pen was running on the first waybill. I watched him – smoothly and broadly Sergey wrote his signature and finished it with the same big monogram at the top. He put the waybill aside, the pen moved to the next one. I looked at Sergey’s face. An impression of solemnity and peace appeared on his face, which made his hand movements even more expansive and unhurried – Sergey was enjoying himself. I was lulled into an after-lunch sleep and closed my eyes.

“That’s it!” my partner shouted, forcing my eyelids open. “I even got tired!”

“Pafarhed?” I smiled.

Our eyes met, Sergey was beaming.

“Forty-three waybills!!!” he exhaled tiredly and happily. “Just imagine!!!”

I smiled, feeling how much Sergey liked being an executive. It was in the formal manifestations of this position. A chain of several separate fragments suddenly formed in my mind – Sergey signing waybills, receiving money from the cashier, visiting the bank, negotiating with the delegation of “Luxchem”. Through all the parts of this strange film there was one thing – Sergey enjoyed all these actions, they reminded him of who he was in his position and social status. “A show-off,” my mind flashed, and I reflexively wrinkled my nose. Another fly in the ointment.


The truck of dichlorvos arrived at the end of the month, and within half a day an exact copy of the previous cube was in place. The truck arrived on time because there were only two hundred boxes left. The weather, after a few cloudy days in the middle of the month, as if to help us, was clear and hot, not even a hint of rain.


July 2, Monday. In the morning I took the waybill for the first run, prepared on Friday, and went to the warehouse. Senya was smoking at the open gate, his son beside him. I handed the waybill to the storekeeper and stepped into the cool of the warehouse – the dichlorvos towered twice as high as the piles of other goods. I stared at the cube and froze. “If we sell the second truck, that would be unrealistically cool! Even if we sell half of it, it’s still more than enough!” I thought, realizing that my intuition had not failed me again.

The sound of Petya’s “GAZelle” came from outside the warehouse and began to grow. The car rolled onto the lot in front of the warehouse, backed up against it, pushed the cover into the gate opening and fell silent. The car door slammed, Petya entered the warehouse and barked: “Good morning everyone!!!”

We said hello.

“Do you have anything to load?” Petya lowered his voice.

“When have we had nothing to load, Petya?” Senya waved his hands.

“That’s just me!” He waved his hand and chuckled. “You have the waybill? Can we start loading?”

“Okay, load, I won’t bother you,” I said and left the warehouse, heading for the office, at the transformer box I met Sergey who was walking towards me.

“We made a waybill with Verok, all the dichlorvos in ‘Fort’ are sold! All gone! I put in more, twice as much!”

“Great, let them sell it,” I nodded.

“Will you come to the warehouse with me?” Sergey smiled.

“I just came from there, Seryoga… All right, see ya,” I said and went back to the office.

A few minutes later Sergey returned, and immediately Stepanov Senya called to place another order. The time until lunch passed quickly. After walking to the factory canteen and back, all three of us sat down in chairs. I sat at the table, Sergey at the door, and as if he remembered something, he opened his phone with a crunch and said:

“I filmed Lyonka the other day! He was eating dumplings. Want to see it?”

I nodded, said “Sure!”, stood up and walked over to my partner. Vera came out from behind her desk and stood on the other side of her husband. Sergey started the video and immediately let out a chuckle:

“Man, how Lyonka ate those dumplings yesterday…”

I leaned closer to the phone screen.

“What’s that smell on you, Roman?” Vera looked at me.

“Perfume… Armani…” I explained.

“It smells nice,” Vera said.

“What? Armani?” Sergey perked up.

“Yes, Armani… Armani Glam…” I nodded, looked at Vera and said philosophically, “The girl disappeared, but the perfume remained…”

“Are we going to watch the video or discuss who smells what!?” Sergey said annoyed. “I’ve been holding the phone for half an hour already…”

“We are, Seryozha, we are,” Vera calmed her husband and leaned down.

“We are, Seryoga, start!” I added, kicking the armrest of his chair with my thigh.

Sergey restarted the video – in the kitchen, Lyonya was sitting at the table in his underwear, a deep plate in front of him, filled to the brim with dumplings. A thick layer of mayonnaise covered the dumplings. Looking into the camera phone, Lyonya melancholically shoved one dumpling after another into his mouth and slowly chewed them. Lyonya’s blue eyes looked at the camera with indifference, as if to say – whatever, it does not bother me, I eat and it tastes good, so it does not matter whether you film me or not.

The video ended, Sergey pressed a button, and the next one began – Lyonya was sitting in the same place, but the plate was almost empty, with five dumplings at the bottom.

“Imagine, Roman, he ate the whole… the whole plate! There were twenty-five dumplings!” Sergey said, still holding the phone.

“Nice!” I nodded, impressed. “The boy has a good appetite!”

“Very good!” Vera snorted sarcastically.

I looked back at the phone screen – Sergey’s hand appeared and pulled the plate with the rest of the dumplings towards him. Lyonya’s face showed concern and he grimaced. His hands grabbed the plate from his side. Sergey continued to pull the plate toward him. The forces were not equal. Lyonya noticed this and it was immediately reflected in his face. The child squirmed more, and fear replaced anxiety. Lyonya began to sulk and sob a few times, warningly. Sergey’s hand froze and immediately resumed the effort. Lyonya howled. The hand let go of the plate. Lyonya stopped crying, jerked the plate back with his hand, stuck the fork into the dumpling, put it in his mouth and began to chew convulsively.

I caught a thought in my head, grinned and straightened up.

“And he ate it all, for crying out loud!” Sergey said in surprise and turned off the video.

“Good appetite! Not every adult can eat that much,” I said and returned to my chair. Vera sat down at the computer. Sergey slammed down his cell phone.

“You know what I call him?” he said, looking at me. “Lord!”

I smiled. I wanted to say “spitting image,” but I kept quiet and looked away.

“On the weekend, we came home from the dacha…” Sergey continued. “To sleep in normal beds, to wash ourselves and the children… Verok bathed Lyonya, I took him and carried him to the couch… wrapped him in a towel. He sat down… opened the towel… and spread his doodle all over the place… took the remote and turned on the TV.”

Sergey cackled, spread his arms and legs, pretended to be his son, sitting relaxed and masterly on the couch, cackled again and returned to his normal posture.

“Sitting like this, enjoying himself, watching TV…” Sergey said. “Lilka came over… wanted to sit next to him on the couch… Lyonya pushed her away with his foot… Lilka got up, stood there, looked at him in surprise, and left!”

“Yeah…” I stopped myself from making a harsh comment.

“Like I said, a real lord!” Sergey nodded, leaned back in his chair with a satisfied look and spread his hands.


The next day I was the first to arrive at the office, at five past nine.

“What’s up?” said Sergey, who appeared next, opened the door with the usual theatrical movement and, holding out his hand, froze in the middle of the room.

“Not much…” I shook his hand and greeted Vera. “I just got here myself.”

“Aha…” Sergey said, putting his briefcase on the shelf, opening it and diving in with his hand up to his elbow. “Petya hasn’t arrived yet?”

The familiar sound of an engine came from outside the window.

“He’s here,” Vera said, sliding into her seat.

Sergey took a bottle of blue perfume from his briefcase, brought it to his neck and pressed the sprayer several times. The air of the room was filled with a rather pleasant smell of freshness, but too strong.

“Did you buy it?” I wondered, as I had never smelled perfume on Sergey before.

“Why buy it?” he defended resentfully. “I’ve had it for a long time. It’s just that I brought it here for the first time. I always use it.”

“Ah-ha…” I said, still surprised but not understanding what exactly.

Sergey put the vial in, pushed the briefcase back where it belonged, sat down in the chair by the door, crossed his arms over his chest and pursed his lips.


“Still, it turns out that you should choose a woman not only for feelings, but also…” I hesitated for a moment, trying to find the right word, “but also for practical reasons?”

“Roman, of course, how else?” Sergey reacted. “You are with her to raise children, to build a family! You don’t meet her for one night, just to fuck and that’s it…”

We were on our way to “Fort” to get money.

“Seryoga!” I didn’t let up, painstakingly penetrating the essence of my partner’s approach to communicating with women. “Okay, I understand that! But in addition to seeing Vera and realizing that she was your future wife… other than that… what things led you to determine that?”

“All sorts of things. I remember sleeping with her at my place. She and I had been together for a long time, and everyone knew I had Vera, and my parents and her mother… and we practically lived together… and we slept in my room most nights. We have a four-room apartment where Romka and my parents live now… So we sleep together one night… and the room is so small. There was a bed and a wardrobe in the room and that’s it! Nothing else! And there was no more space! If you opened the door to the room, it would only open halfway – it would rest against the back of the bed… And here we slept with her, it was one of our first sleepovers, it was a day off, there was no hurry. And Verok jumped up at eight in the morning, grabbed my underwear and dragged it to wash it! And I thought at the time, “That’s what a good wife would do!”

Sergey finished, I remained silent. My brain, having received the next portion of the necessary food, stirred and began to analyze it thoroughly.

“Hmm, that’s nice…” I was surprised. “You’re right, Seryoga…”

“Roman, of course I am! You just have to watch the broad! How she behaves at home, as a guest, how she treats you… It’s all important.”

“It is indeed…” I agreed aloud, more to myself, with my own thoughts swirling in my head with double the excitement, and then I objected. “Fuck, but it’s hard! She has to be attractive and practical at the same time! Usually she is either beautiful, but such a bitch! Like that cunt Lilya! Or some gray blur… she is practical for sure, but almost always ugly!”

“Gah-gah-gah!” Sergey laughed his animal, cynical laugh. “You still can’t forget that Lilya!”

“No, Seryoga, I don’t give a damn about her, she hasn’t bothered me for a long time!” I shook my head and tried to express my feelings as close to the truth as possible. “It’s just that this example is so vivid! A very good lesson for me… Remember I told you that she said that thing – “I’m a beautiful girl, that’s how you should treat me!”

“Yes! I remember!” Sergey nodded, savoring my words with his whole face.

“Fuck! I wanted to fucking hit her then!” I said, immediately feeling relieved, as if in confession. “Right there! In the street! Just hit her in the fucking face! And walk away! And never see her again.”

“Gah-gah-gah!” Sergey laughed.

“I could barely contain myself, I didn’t hit her. If she had said something else like that, I probably couldn’t help it… But she didn’t. She just smirked, and that was it.”

Feeling the blood rushing through my body and wanting to calm down, I added:

“Fucking shame you can’t hit women… Some of them just ask for it…”

“And you’ve never hit a woman?” Sergey looked at me.

“No, not even once… No way, Seryoga…” I shook my head and frowned. “No, hitting women – that’s the worst. I understand, I want to sometimes and I even should, but… I prefer to just walk away, that’s all… I don’t see the point. When a woman behaves so disgustingly, it’s easier and better to leave! What’s the point of hitting her? If you hit her, it means you don’t respect her, and if you don’t respect her, there can’t be any love there… It’s not a relationship anymore…”

We turned onto the ring road and drove faster. The hot air poured in through the open windows, swirled in the confined space, and settled somewhere in the back seats.

“Roman, open the glove compartment, my glasses are there, give them to me!” Sergey said, squinting at the brightness of the sun. I looked at the dashboard, where Sergey’s glasses usually were, but there were none, so I opened the glove compartment.

“There are only these here…” I said and took out other glasses, very simple in design. “There are no others…”

“Yes, these,” Sergey took the glasses from my hands and put them on.

“And where are your glasses?” I was surprised.

“My glasses have a broken temple, it happened on the last outing… Melyokha sat on them with his ass, they were on your seat… and he broke the temple! I had to buy new ones!”

“That sucks!” I said, looking at the new glasses. Dark green-black glasses with chrome rims matched Sergey’s face as well as anyone else’s who had any idea about the combination of facial lines and glasses.

I was disappointed to see that the magic the glasses had created on Sergey’s face was completely gone. Now he was just a man in simple sunglasses – an average picture.

“Those glasses looked good on you, Seryoga!” I continued. “They fit you perfectly! It was as if they were made for your face! And these aren’t… they’re ordinary.”

“Oh, yeah?” my partner gave me a quick look and bit his lip.

“Yeah. They were fucking great. They fucking fit like shit! You looked fucking good in them! You’re dark, and they had brown glasses and gold frames – a perfect match for your dark skin! And these… plain,” I finished with sadness in my voice.

“Fuck, Roman, Melyokha broke them, what can I do?” Sergey said nervously. “I liked them myself! But I had to buy new ones… I cannot be in the bright sun without glasses, my eyes are starting to hurt…”

“Where are they now?”

“At home…” Sergey said sadly.

When we arrived at “Fort”, we parked in front of the main entrance.

“Are you staying here or coming with me?” Sergey clarified.

“No, I’m going to the showroom to look at the displays,” I said.

We got out of the car, Sergey took his briefcase out of the trunk, and we walked up the stairs and into the coolness of the showroom. Sergey went to the cashier, I dove into the rows of display cases and began to study the goods and prices by ingrained habit. Sergey returned in about five minutes.

“You got it?” I said.

“Yeah, I got it,” he said, looking at the windows. “What’s here?”

“Everything seems to be the same…”

“Aha… Let’s go, shall we?”

“Yeah, let’s go.”

We left the building, got into the car, Sergey handed me the sheets with the rest of the goods.

“Fucking great!” I said when I saw the number 320000 on the last one.

We put two hundred into the company’s account, and the rest went to pay for the apartment under construction


For the next week I worked alone – Sergey and Vera were on vacation. Our business had settled down so well over the past two years that it worked almost automatically – every morning I handed over the day’s waybills to Senya, and then collected the customers’ orders for the next day. I spent no more than two hours doing this, and the rest of the time I sat in the office alone with my own thoughts.

Saturday, July 14th was my birthday. At noon, the mood was irrevocably ruined by another scolding between my father and mother. “Moron!!! Bastard!!! Miser!!!” she shouted at him at the top of her lungs. “Fool of a woman. Crazy bitch,” my father muttered, pacing around the apartment and finally retiring to the balcony with a cigarette, as usual. Fed up with it all, I went to the center, where I wandered aimlessly until dark. The summer day, which was at its zenith, was fading for an unbearably long time. Knowing that people wouldn’t come to “Clear Skies” until after ten o’clock, I couldn’t stand it any longer and went down to the club half an hour earlier.

The place was empty, the waitresses hanging around lazily to the soft background music. I leaned against the small bar as usual.

“Why so grumpy?” the bartender said.

“No reason…” I shrugged, realizing that I had been walking around all day with a sullen expression on my face, replaying my parents’ fight in my head. “Do you have any whiskey?”

The bartender nodded, and in a few swift moves he made whiskey and coke.

“Cheers!” I lifted the glass and took a big swig. My stomach clenched, but I didn’t care. As soon as the alcohol hit my bloodstream, I felt an inner relaxation. The DJ emerged from the darkness of the empty and silent dance floor.

“Oh, look who decided to show up!” He held out his hand, and I shook it.

“What’s up?” the DJ asked the routine question.

“Not much… It’s my birthday today. How about that?”

“Wow!” he acted surprised. “And how old are you…?”

“Thirty,” I nodded philosophically.

“Oh! Congratulations from me! I’ll play something for you, I already have an idea!”

“I look forward to it,” I nodded, the DJ made a fuss and disappeared.

I looked into the empty glass.

“One more?” the bartender grinned.

I nodded and got a second glass of booze, took a sip. The whiskey didn’t seem so strong anymore. A slight euphoria washed over my body after the alcohol. The DJ walked by in the opposite direction. Moments later, the dance floor came alive and music blared out of the darkness. I moved slightly to the beat, feeling a rush of good vibes. As if drawn by the sound, customers streamed in. Half an hour later, the club was more than half full. My ears picked out the beginning of a new track from the music stream:


The sun has lit up the horizon bright,

Morning broke my sweet sleep with its light,

I woke up and felt a sudden fright,

Years have taken their toll, it’s not alright.


As never before I saw the light,

As never before I felt warmth so right,

Years have caught up, though I’m not old quite,

Today I turn thirty, what a sight!

I tensed, the glass frozen in my hand. The words penetrated me and I moved my lips to sing along. The song caused a wave of euphoria – feeling myself in the center of the words, I began to let each one pass through me.


On this day I was born into this world,

On this day I was wrapped in a blanket curled,

On this day your warmth around me swirled,

Today I turn thirty, my flag unfurled!


On this day I’ll say to life “Hello!”

On this day I’ll take a ticket for grown-up show,

On this day even vodka won’t be a foe,

Today I turn thirty, watch me go!


Suddenly, anger rose in me, and I took a big gulp to try to extinguish it. The feeling boiled over instantly, and I only had time to realize that it was a dark anger, caused by people from the past, that had suddenly built up and stirred. I took another sip and scanned the faces of the visitors – the vast majority of them were younger than me. Much younger. “Twenty to twenty-five years old,” I estimated the age of the club’s audience. I looked around for people my age in the crowd. There were none, only very young faces flashed in front of me. Suddenly, at that very second, I realized that my time and the time of everyone I had known in “Clear Skies” was over. It was as if someone invisible had turned the page of life, pushed us thirty-somethings out of the colorful window called “youth,” and let in the loud, energetic, and frivolous twenty-somethings. Their eyes burned with the lust for life, sparkling and beating with energy and health. Our thirty-year-old eyes had already partially switched to energy-saving mode and looked at the world around us through the squint of wrinkles.

“I need to get out of here! “I must get as far away as possible! I have to live, start living, not languish here and waste time! It’s slipping away! I’m wasting my time here! Life is passing. To live it like this, with a glass in my hand in some club… Ugh… No!” alcohol-fueled thoughts raced through my head.

I drank the contents of the glass in two gulps and sprinted out into the street, crossed it, and stopped when I calmed down a bit. I turned around. For the umpteenth time I stood in the same spot and stared at the sign of the club. And then I felt a tremendous longing in my soul. A lump in my chest stopped my breathing and tears came. I almost cried.

“I’m thirty years old! Thirty! Just yesterday I was twenty-nine, twenty… twenty! And now it’s thirty! I will never be twenty-two, twenty-three, not even twenty-nine! I’ll only be thirty… three, five… nine! Nightmare!” I almost panicked, trying to calm my twitching mind. Suddenly, I realized this simple thought so clearly. It was as if I had stepped forward on the day of my birthday, and a door immediately slammed behind me. “Decade of twenty pears” – was written on it. I pulled the handle, but the door wouldn’t budge. I pulled harder and harder, but the door wouldn’t budge. The way back was cut off forever…

“This is it! This is the end! I’m never coming back!” Something in my chest throbbed, a lump rose to my throat again, and I almost held it back with an effort of will. My eyes moistened. The past decade flashed through my mind – leaving the army, my first job, graduating from the institute, starting my own business. It was as if I was looking at myself from the outside. Twenty years old – quite “green”, tall, thin and awkward. Twenty-six – energetic and mature. Twenty-eight – a little tired, asking myself more and more questions. And… the movie stops at thirty. And all the moments of the past decade became unbearably dear to me. The bad and the good – I didn’t want to part with anything. All these events were stored in my memory like photos in a family album. The good and the bad, the torn, the worn, the crumpled… all kinds of things. They were my life album. I loved them all, every picture of those days of my life. Cars rolled down the avenue, people walked by, and I was still standing, looking across the street at the neon sign. I looked and realized that a part of my youth was now forever connected to that place. And that connection was quickly receding into the past. The page of life called “Clear Skies” – bright and real – had turned forever. I turned and walked away. The next decade stared back at me in the darkness of the streets. I walked and stared with my mind forward into my future, but I saw nothing of what I was doing and living. I saw a future that was completely different from reality. And I felt that there was a gap between the present and the future that I would have to overcome in the next ten years. Time, which had been passing by carefree and unconcernedly during the previous ten years, suddenly became tight – it was running.

I shook my head to get rid of my heavy thoughts, took my hands out of my pockets and walked faster, as if determined not to miss the years to come.

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