by Olivia Steel
A story about a Russian teenage girl based on real life.
That was a nice, splendid June. Sue and I spent every day together for four weeks. We kept walking around hand in hand like two little fools and people would say that we were “as thick as thieves”.
As the saying goes, a man is known by the company he keeps. It was truly said about Sue and me. The fact that we liked each other at first sight and got on like a house on fire was no accident. I could see a vague reflection of myself in her – the true myself, dormant still. The artistic temperament of my new friend, her recklessness and passion for adventure was a part of my own personality suppressed so far by my family and school environment. We had similar souls but different backgrounds: unlike me, she wasn’t pushed around by her family and her self confidence was appreciably higher.
That summer was unusually hot. Sue and I would spend all afternoon at the lake, swimming ourselves to death. When the weather was bad we would climb the stairs up to the attic in my house, have tea and share different stories. The attic was cluttered up with all sorts of rubbish: crates for cabbage, rolls of tar-paper, woodworking tools… There had used to be my grandad’s workshop up there; now, as Grandad was down after a stroke the attic was covered with dust and looked totally neglected and destructed. Sue and I had done our best to make it a home: from the empty ctates and boards we’d fashioned a table, two stools and even a sofa which we’d covered with an old rug and some badly-worn foam cushions.
At times Sue was given her pocket money: forty or fifty rubles. Back those days it was a big sum – as big as a thousand rubles now. And then we rode our bicycles to the store and bought all sorts of treats: iсe-cream sandwiches, lollipops, potato chips, coke, chocolate bars – mars, bounty, twix… We grabbed all that stuff, brought it to my attic and made a feast up there. Sue had always been generous in sharing treats with me and I loved her for that.
But all good things must come to an end. Time passed, and one day our serene friendhip was put at stake.
One of my first novellas, no longer existant, was “A bone of contention”. I wrote it when I was thirteen years old; it was about Sue betraying me for the first time. Or, more specifically, not that she did ”betray” me – that’s too big a word for it. Our “bone of contention” was a guy we both had a crush on. Back the time I was writing that story in the aftermath I described her treachery and highlighted the contrast between our enjoyable, untroubled friendship before and what it had turned into after the unfortunate day we’d met at the lake a cute boy named Roma, and she had immediately ripped off her friendly mask and revealed her true colors.
Now, looking back as far as almost twenty years ago I am forced to admit that there was no stark contrast between the “good friend” and “evil monster” I had described in that novella. Since I’ve put pen to paper over again I’ve decided not to pursue intrigue or a twist, but just tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. That’s why this story is kind of boring. Any unvarnished story is. Nonetheless, I think it’s worth writing for this is a case in which this boring story has a right to exist.
Long before we had an argument over Roma boy my friendship with Sue had begun to deteriorate slowly but surely. Sue kept hurting me accidentally on purpose, leaving fractures in my soul. She could, for instanse, start picking on me in the middle of a nice heart-to-heart conversation we liked to have sitting in the “confidential attic” as we called it.
“You know, I reckon even in the countryside one should dress smartly. Your red t-shirt and green skirt don’t match in any way,” she pointed out demonstralively eyeing my clothes whereas I was actually wearing a faded red t-shirt and unwashed green long skirt.
“Yeah, maybe…” I mumbled uncertainly as I glanced at my shabby outfit, “But I’ve got no other clothes in here”
Sue rolled her eyes.
“Come on, you’re making excuses. Look, you’re complaining that boys don’t like you. But you do nothing to make them to. They like well-groomed, well-dressed, good-looking girls…”
“So, according to you, I’m not well-groomed and not good-looking?” I said frowning.
“Well, if I’m honest… I mean, no offence, honey, ok?”
“Well?!” cried I losing patience, “Fire away now, will you? Do I look ugly?”
“Actually yes, you do. No, I mean, not that you look that very ugly, but, you know, you look just a little bit… frumpy.”
“What the hell?!” I exclaimed flaring up “Why do you think I’m a frump?”
“Not a frump, I didn’t say that. I’m just saying you’re a little bit frumpy, that’s all.”
Oh she definitely knew how to push my buttons; those remarks of hers were driving me up the wall! But I said nothing, idiot that I am, even as I was seething inside with anger and resentment.
That day Sue and I were at the lake as usual. It was a weekend; the beach was packed and the lake itself crawling with swimmers. But at that age, unlike this, I found no sight more delighful than a big crowd of lively people. This created an exciting, festive atmosphere inside of me; just like this I used to enjoy crowds of guests at our home, and every time the party was over I felt like happiness and joy had gone with the guests, leaving some strange void in my heart.
Crowds of people used to be in my sweet dreams; what sweet dream could be without a lively hum of many voices, merry crowds and many smiling faces popping out of open windows.
And now the crowded view of the Saturday beach and the sparlking in the sun water surface crawling with bright-colored air mattresses, rubber boats, balls and swimmers’ heads filled my heart with festive joy. The cheerful confusion of many voices mixed with loud dance rhythms coming from transistor boomboxes was literally music to my ears.
“Let’s go swimming now!” I cried in excitement as I was pulling off my clothes right there.
Sue didn’t mind – and in one second we joined the crowd of bathing people, jumping in the water, splashing and laughing.
“Could you cross to the other side?” I nodded at the far-off (as it seemed to us back then) opposite side of the lake.
“Piece of cake!”
And so we swam forward. But as soon as we got out of our depth Sue suddenly felt like drowning me. Her face got twisted with fury; she swam up to me with the intention to fulfill her horrible plan. I rolled over on my back to make it easier to escape from her and went as fast as a motorboat.
“Okay, that’s it! Come back now, I won’t hurt you” cried she pretending to surrender.
“Go to hell!”
She dashed like a shark towards me again with the purpose of catching me. Laughing, I kicked the water and splashed her face.
This is where, while we were fooling around in the middle of the lake, a big rubber boat approached us. There were two people in it: a grown-up man and a boy of fourteen or fifteen, a very cute one, I must say.
“Hey ladies, it’s dangerous to swim this far!” the man called out to us, “Come on in the boat!”
He didn’t have to ask us twice, as we leapt into the boat that very instant.
“Sergey!” called out a female voice from ashore. Apparently it was the name of the boy’s father.
“Rom, you take the oars now, ok?” he said to his son and, as he jumped in the water, the man swam breaststroke towards the shore.
Having remained in the boat with Roma Sue began to shoot questions at him:
“What is your name, boy? How old are you? What grade are you in?”
Roma patiently answered all of her questions. When he added that he had completed the secondary school and achieved good scores, Sue turned up her nose and snorted:
“Huh! I’m a strong A-student!”
Oh yeah, a straight A-student, right! I’d seen her grandad make her do math after dinner every day! I’d seen her geometry book with a D in it! I wished I could tell Roma about it, but Sue jabbered on and on so I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. She was brazenly sitting close to him, nearly trying to kiss his mouth, while I was backed into the stern and sat there quietly sighing to myself and taking shy glances at Roma. He didn’t even look at me which was no wonder, as Sue made me look tacky. She had gorgeous flowing hair; her breasts were filling out of her new sexy pink bikini. Whilst I was wearing stupid pigtails and an antediluvian swimsuit of Gran Zoya I’d taken in with a thick thread. I looked just hideous; and to cap it all, as ill luck would have it, flies started gathering around me and making me look in Roma’s eyes even more ridiculous. Sue, asshole that she was, noticed it and didn’t refrain from the snide comment:
“Flies are usually attracted to shit”
Struck dumb with her impudence I was at a loss for words. Roma, in the meantime, had already landed and said they were going home now but tomorrow, at about four pm he would be here at the lake again.
“Let’s go home” Sue said to me as Roma was gone.
“So soon? Haven’t we just come?” I said reluctantly, yet I pulled on my clothes and rode my bicycle after Sue.
All the way back we were silent. Usually we had come back home from the lake by five pm – right to Simplemente Maria tv-show we would watch at her place eating cherries. But this time Sue didn’t even make an attempt to turn on the TV and she never touched the peaches and apricots sitting in a pile on the dining table. We sat sullenly on the couch and sulked – we both knew why.
“Shall we watch Maria today or not?” I began first.
“I don’t want to” muttered Sue, “Let’s go up to your attic instead”
“Up to my attic? Why?”
“We need to talk.”
The attic was, as usual, cluttered with dusty crates, boards and stuff. There was a big pile of wood shavings under the lathe. Sue and I had usually liked to have fun rolling in those wood shavings, but now we were not in the mood for it.
As soon as we came into the attic I sat in a big vegetable crate and began to reflect. Sue was frowning, too. She found some old little mirror in the pile of rubbish, fiddled with it for a while and, as she wiped it with an old piece of cloth she sat beside me.
“Repeat after me: With this holy mirror we vow to tell each other the truth and nothing but the truth. Now you answer me a question so I will answer it honestly.”
I didn’t know what to ask her about. I mean, I did, but I preferred to think I didn’t. Probably because I was afraid to hear the “honest” answer.
“I think you better go first.” I said.
“Alright, then” Sue said rapidly and fired:
“Do you love Roma?”
“Yes” I said briefly.
Sue flung the mirror aside, paced up and down the attic and, as she halted, she stared in my eyes.
“And you are hoping for… something between you and him?”
I averted my eyes.
She squatted down in half-turn to me and said after a pause:
“I tell you what, forget about Roma! You are not a match for him.”
She gave me a contemptuous look.
“Let’s be honest. Roma is a handsome guy. A handsome guy needs a beautiful girl. Right?”
“That’s right” I admitted.
“Are you beautiful?”
“See?” emphasized Sue, “That’s my exact point. So please, do me a favor, get out of my way. Tomorrow I’ll go to the lake alone.”
“Oh I see. So you’re saying that the best match for Roma is you?”
“Yes, it’s me. Not you.”
“May I ask why? On what grounds?”
“On such grounds, honey, as me being a lot more attractive, successful and better than you.”
“Prove it!” I cried.
“I will,” Sue took her thick curly lock of hair in one hand and my thin rat tail in the other and in the sunlight coming from the dim little window she showed the comparison
“See? My hair is way better than yours.”
“Ok, let’s say it is. What else?”
“What else?” Sue stood up demonstrating the shape of her well-developed bust, “Is it not enough? Whose breasts do you think look more appealing – mine or those mosquito bites of yours? And what about legs? Whose legs are longer – let’s measure!”
“I’m not going to measure anything.” I muttered.
“Of course you’re not, because you know the result.”
My chin quivered and my vision became blurry. I clenched my teeth trying to choke back my sobs but tears were already rolling down my cheeks.
“Aw, honey, are you crying? What’s wrong?” she tried to hug me but I pushed her arms away.
“Nothing. Piss off!”
“Ok, let’s just forget the conversation… I don’t want us to quarrel over some random boy!”
“It’s not about the boy!” I howled.
“So much the better! Friends now?” she held out her little finger and, taking mine, she recited:
“Make friends, make friends,
Never never break friends…”
“Alright, but only if tomorrow we go to the lake together.” said I.
Sue sighed a sigh.
“Okay, if you insist…”
Like yesterday, there were a lot of people on the beach. Again there was loud misic booming from the sunbathers’ portable speakers and cars. Again there were cheerful screams of bathing kids, splashing and jumping in the water. But unlike yesterday I no longer felt as happy and excited. I didn’t feel like swimming; wrapping myself in a towel I stood on the bank and peered into the distance trying to figure out the brown rubber boat amidst the colored variety of others on the water surface sparkling in the sun – but it wasn’t threre…
I didn’t care about the bright summer day on the beach. I didn’t care about the happy people having fun around me. I was blind and deaf to everything around; even the Sun in the sky seemed dark to me, the lake cold and uncomfortable, the bustling of the beach stupid and unnecessary.
Sue, excited and cheerful, ran up to me.
“Why don’t we take a swim?”
“I don’t want to” I muttered sullenly.
She squatted down beside me and, as she found a stick in the sand, handed it to me.
“Draw what you’re thinking about”
I drew a heart with an arrow through the center. She frowned.
“So that’s it?”
“Yes, that’s it” I answered through my teeth.
Sue stood up abruptly.
“Wow, it’s past three already” she said looking at her watch, “You gotta go home, your gran is worrying”
“She can wait,” I said dryly, “But why are you sending me away? Let’s go home together, then.”
Sue began gathering her shits with apparent reluctance. I was all dressed and stood by the bicycles waiting for her, while she was lingering on purpose, pulling off and on her bikini and employing any pretext to stall me: now she lost her sunglasses, then she dropped her pants in the mud…
“Will you quit dawdling there or not?” I snapped out losing patience, “Don’t keep me waiting!”
“I’m not keeping you! You may go, if you want to.”
I gave up on her and went home alone.
At home I was ”greeted” by my very cranky grandmother. As soon as I opened the gate she shouted to me from the other end of the yard where there was a shed we used as a kitchen:
“Have you got mashed potatoes for brains or what?”
I ignored that remark and, having washed my hands, approached the table.
“Bear in mind: if you are late for dinner next time, the shed will be shut!” Grandmother hurled a bowl of sorrel soup on the table, “I’m not gonna dance around the stove for you all day!”
Another time I would have burst out laughing on fancying the fat figure of Gran Zoya, wearing an apron and a kerchief and dancing the twist at the stove with a ladle in her hand – but now I couldn’t think about it. I was chewing sluggishly on the cold soup, reflecting over where the deuce that Sashka could be. It had already been an hour since I left the lake yet she wasn’t showing up.
Sue popped up only in the evening. I was sitting in the arbor and reading a book about a girl in white when I heard her abrupt voice calling my name from behind the gate.
I immediately put the book aside and headed for the gate. Sue was standing behind the fence with a twisted face and shaking the gate so furiously as though she was going to rip it off the hinges.
“Open the gate, quick! I got to talk to you right now!” she snapped out.
My hands shaking, I rushed to pull out the tight rusty latch. It wouldn’t give way. It was past nine o’clock and my paranoid grandfather had the habit of locking all the doors including the gate at eight.
“Call your grandfather, now! Tell him to open the gate! Quick!!!” cried Sue losing it.
Grandfather came and opened the gate. But Sue refused to come in so we sat down on the grass by the gate in the shade of a big fir tree.
“I’ve been at the lake…”
Those words hit me like an electric shock. So that’s where Sue had been until nine p.m.! That’s why she had dawdled there for so long, trying by hook or by crook to get rid of me!
She didn’t really have to continue; what she said next wasn’t breaking news to me. Although it was so unbearably painful to listen on.
“Roma came with his friends and we spent together all day. And then his mate pulled him aside and I heard him ask: “Is it the girl you like?” And Roma said: “Shh, yep…”
Sue was chatting on and on but I could no longer hear or understand her. All my hopes, all my dreams had collapsed. What an idiot I’d been baring my soul to her! And she had just snatched my crush from under my nose! What sense did it make talking to her now?
“Oh honey, please, don’t cry…” she said mockingly in a sing-song voice “I’m so sorry for you, so sorry! Don’t make me feel bad… Do you want me to cede Roma for you? I will talk to him, ok? I’ll tell him to go out with you, if you want me to.”
“No!!!” I snapped, “I don’t want your pity or your favours! You’ve already done me a favor…”
“Up to you,” she replied coldly as she stood up, “If you don’t want to admit that you’ve lost the game, just say so, ok? And stop sniveling, go to the abandoned house and calm down. I’m not going to wipe your tears!”
And she left me sitting there in the dust, crushed and brokenhearted…
The next day dads came and, as always, forced me kicking and screaming into the car and drove to the country. They kept me there for a month – and I spent all the month of July feeling terribly depressed. All days I stayed inside the dark dirty hut; got ringworm from the cats – that’s probably all I can tell about July, 1999. Leaving aside the fact that due to my depression and the gloomy atmosphere around me I nearly lost my marbles.
One evening when my dads were going to visit some relatives living nearby I asked them to lock me in the hut in case of Irinkas coming to ask me out to the nightclub where I didn’t want to go for the reasons mentioned above. This way they might come and, on seeing the padlock on the frontdoor, think that nobody was at home and go away. Thus I was ridding myself of the negative communication with them and avoiding conflicts at the same time.
Being locked in I had to stay put – no approaching the windows, no turning on the light, no going out to the toilet, using a piss-pot if there was no way to hold it in. Of course, this kind of existance aggravated my already severe depression. But it couldn’t be helped anyway.
So, one evening as I was sitting alone locked in the dark hut I suddenly heard some strange voice calling my name from the outside.
I shrunk. Had the locals got into the backyard? But the voice, hovewer, sounded male.
“I must’ve imagined it” I thought, but the indistinct voice from the backyard called my name again.
“Is that you, Dad?”
I cautiously unhooked the backdoor and, taking a flashlight, peeped out in the twilight. There was no one there.
I got overwhelmed by fear. I couldn’t have imagined it twice! And my dads, as ill luck would have it, had got stuck somewhere and weren’t coming…
I recalled Irinkas telling me the history of this hut the year before that. My parents and I had lived in another house before – the house of my mom’s family, her sisters and their husbands and kids. After the death of my grandads, my mom’s elder sister, a bossy rough woman hating my guts, had kicked us out. My submissive mother succumbed and ended up hitting the road with all her shits. It was then she and my father had found this abandoned wreck of a house at the very end of the hamlet. They moved in it, fixed somehow the leaky roof, whitewashed the fireplace, brought in electricity. But I disliked this hut badly; I just couldn’t stand this horrible crypt. And then Irinkas told me that the house had been cursed that’s why it had stayed abandoned for such a long time.
“Many years ago – during war – a woman lived in this house. One February night a crippled soldier knocked at her door. “Let me stay the night in your house” he said. “I am wounded, have come from far away.” And that woman was nasty and stingy. She must have thought the soldier was gonna ask her for food, too. “Clear off!” she said and slammed the door in the cripple’s face. And then he said the following: “I curse this house and the people living in it, and the people who will.” Having said so he went out in the field, whistled – and a heavy snowstorm began, and wiped from the Earth both the woman and the soldier…”
It was in vain that I besought my parents not to move in this house, telling them that terrible story – they were hopelessly stubborn. “Old wives’ tales!” they would say every time.
Actually, I don’t consider myself superstitious and like any reasonable person I tend to question any hypothesis, but the fact remains. Everything that has happened since we moved in that cursed house is not a fiction or a product of my morbid imagination. The fruits of that curse I’ve been reaping up till now as I am neither happy nor lucky in anything, although I bend over backwards trying to do whatever I can. That curse has hit my parents as well…
In the meantime they, deaf, dumb and stiff-necked, settled in this rotten black-aured hut, not noticing or not willing to notice the putrid, distructive fluids of the cursed house.
Soon after that weird incident with the ghost voice calling my name I had a nightmare.
I dreamed about our villa. But it looked rather strange – instead of the neat currant bushes and flower beds Gran Zoya was usually taking such a proper care of – there was faded grass, brown and rotten. Instead of the villa itself there were debris over which crows circled and crowed. And in the middle of the neglected, ruined yard there was a long thin pole, creaking and swaying in the wind, disappearing high in the dark-grey heavy clouds. And at its very peak there was a black flag fluttering in the gloomy sky like a sign of a looming disaster…
And there was the strange voice again – like grandfather’s – whispering my name right into my ear.
“No… No… Noooooooo!!!”
I woke up screaming and tossing my head about the pillow.
“What the hell?!” my father muttered woken up by my scream.
“Take me out of here! I can’t stay here any longer… Please, do take me out of here!!!” I besought my parents with tears.
“We will when the vacation is over.” replied my father.
“But I can’t take it anymore! I feel awful!!!”
“Well, that’s your problem”
They were just intractable. Nothing worked with them – neither my tears nor my tantrums. As dumb as stumps on the moor they planted the seeds of alienation inside of me forever. And, moreover, even then I already knew for sure that I didn’t want to continue their cursed line and I was not going to.
My nightmare about the villa had begun to come true as early as August of that year. When the excruciating July in the country was over and I was dumped like a log at the villa again I figured out that the sick aura exactly like that I had dreamed about was already forming. To get the whole picture the place only lacked the debris and the creaking pole with the black flag, but my gut told me that they wouldn’t be long in coming…
Sue would come over almost every day, begging me for forgiveness and promising from now on to make any sacrifice for the sake of our friendship if only I gave her another chance. And I, kicking myself for being such a softy, made it up with her and we started to hang out as before.
Meanwhile, things were getting even more tense at home. My grandads’ attitude towards me was getting worse and worse; not a day went by without them scolding me or nagging at me for something. I saw the reason was my grandad’s decline in health. Almost every week came an ambulance; the rest of the time he groaned, moaned, got annoyed with everything and at times even cried like a spoilt baby.
One day Gran Zoya remembering the doctors’ order not to give Grandad too much greasy food denied him another portion of jellied pork. And she did it so brusquely that he sat down on the stair and broke into tears.
“You rascals… You’ll all regret it when I’m dead! Screw you!..”
“There you go again!” exclaimed Gran Zoya clapping her hands, “Honestly, Sasha, you’re being childish!”
I was sick and tired of all those groans and whimperings of my ailing grandad. At such moments I felt like giving him a swift kick and saying something very rude to him.
But we all got the worst of it at night. Then the senile old man would get especially anxious which was a telltale sign of a coming heart attack. He would rise from his bed and, grunting and gasping, wander around the house like a ghost with a flashlight on, not letting anyone sleep. I would frequently get woken up by the flashlight right in my eyes.
“Grandad, are you nuts? Why are you wandering around here in the middle of the night?” I grumbled.
“The car… The car might get stolen!” he snapped out gasping for breath.
“Oh come on – who wants that old jalopy of yours?”
“Shut up, you rascal! How dare you… How dare you open your mouth to your own grandfather, you filth?”
I resented him. It was difficult to say if my grandad was a good man or a bad man, but he was ill, irritable and definitely hard to deal with. I remembered that when he’d been well he’d loved me and cared about me, but I’d never truly appreciated it. I was mad at him, and he would say both lovingly and disdainfully:
“I’d squish you like a bug, just can’t be bothered…”
Sometimes during the day as I sat with the girls on the windowsills of an abandoned house which had been being built on an empty lot once upon a time but never got finished – we could clearly hear the tumult coming from our villa, and so we knew that my grandad was having a heart attack again. All the windows and doors were wide open, and Gran Zoya running up and down and cackling like a disturbed hen. And the terrible, harrowing screams of my grandad, I think, could be heard as far as at the railway station:
“You rascals! Let me die!!!”
And then Gran Zoya’s sister from Lithuania who’d been staying with us at the villa that summer – a dried-up little old woman, “Splinter” as my mother had nicknamed her behind her back – as calm as a zombie, would repeat the same:
“We won’t let you die.”
At times like that I tried to show up at home as rarely as possible. And Splinter, stirring her tea, would say calmly:
“She’s a callous girl, isn’t she…”
Grandad didn’t really need my sympathy, though. Having got his needle he would finally calm down and as he saw me he would only say this:
“I’d squish you like a bug, just can’t be bothered…”
One day, in the end of August Gran Zoya and I had a very big argument.
It was one of those rare sunny days of late summer; after the incessant cold rains the pale sun, no longer warm enough, showed up from behind the clouds, laying its farewell rays on the wet grass, chrisanthemums, asters, gladiolas.
“You’ve got such wonderful flowers, Zoya,” complimented Splinter as she and my grandma sat over tea on the patio. I was present there, too, sitting aloof with a Cool Girl magazine. Can’t remember why exactly I didn’t participate in the tea party – for a wrong doing or something else.
“The love of flowers I inherited from our mamma,” replied Gran Zoya, “You remember how carefully she used to look after the flowers in our little garden… She had all sorts of flowers: roses, peonies, dahilas, lilies…”
“Oh yes, our mamma was a dab hand at many things,” Splinter said with a sigh, “What beautiful cushions she embroidered, what delicious pies she made! She picked ambers for this very necklace, too…”
“And we all helped her” Gran Zoya carried on, “I remember us running around the seashore, searching for those ambers… Family values were the most important thing back those days, weren’t they? And mamma would never, ever raise her voice at any of us, no matter what…”
“Well, perhaps there was no reason to raise her voice at us. We never were rude or irreverent to her…” remarked Splinter glancing at me sideways.
“Oh, Vera, even now I keep dreaming about the Baltic!” grandmother said wistfully, “But it’s alright; as soon as Sasha gets better, as soon as he is back up on his feet – we will take a trip there together…”
“Oh yeah, translated into a normal language it means “we’ll never go there” I snorted from my seat.
The old women put their cups back on the saucers and looked quizzically at me.
“What do you mean by “never”? I said, as soon as Sasha gets better…”
“What makes you believe he’d get better?” I said, “People of his age and with health issues like that don’t get better, but end up dying. I’m surprised you don’t know that.”
Gran Zoya’s face turned red with ire.
“What?.. How dare you talk like that, you little shit?! How could you even say that?!”
“What’s wrong? I was just telling the truth…”
“The truth?!” grandmother rose from her chair and punched me hard in the chest, “I’ll show you the truth! I’ll kick the shit out of you!!! Get out of my sight, you fucking asshole! Clear off now!!!”
That very instant I slammed the gate and left.
My route went in one direction, to Sue’s place. As I came by her tacky wooden house with an overgrown garden the first thing I heard was a distinctive ruckus coming from the inside: that was Sue fighting with her old folks.
“Where’s the phone?”
“Sasha! Put on your tights!”
“Where’s the phone?!”
I opened the heavy frontdoor upholstered in filthy oilcloth and instantly smelt the stale air of a poor country house. It smelt like dampness mingled with chimney smoke, dried herbs and dirty old clothes – it was the smell of poverty, so familiar to me. The decor of the house spoke for itself: a pile of cardboard boxes containing all sorts of rubbish, a tattered plastic tablecloth with spilled milk and spat out plum seeds on it, buzzing flies circling over. The picture was completed by an old couch, greasy and lumpy, and a rolled-up on an iron bed dirty old matress with yellowish stains on it.
Sue’s grandad was crouching in front of a small furnace and putting twigs on the fire. Her grandma in a greasy apron was standing at the cooker and making sugary plum jam. Sue herself was running around with a bare butt kicking the rubbish on the floor and nervously eviscerating the cardboard boxes in search of the telephone.
“What’s up? Going to call someone?” I asked her instead of saying hello.
Sue gave no answer. She grabbed my hand instead and pulled me to her “bedroom” – a little corner behind a thin partition. There were two iron beds in there and a big poster with Eminem on the wall. One of the beds was piled up with rubbish; the other was occupied by Sue. I sat down on her unmade, untidy bed and some sharp item immediately poked me in the ass. I ran my hand through the sheets and fished out an aluminum fork with crooked prongs.
“Why do you need a fork in your bed?” said I, “Oh my God, what else is that… peas or something, ew! What a mess your bed is! How can you even sleep like that?!”
“Well, I eat in bed” Sue shrugged her shoulders. Like there was nothing wrong with it.
“I’ve got kicked out of home,” I said with a sigh. “Bitched with grandmother. Can I stay with you for a while?”
Sue squeezed my hand with a solemn air.
“Oh honey, of course you can! My place is your place, you know.”
“Sasha!” her grandad called out as he stood in the doorway.
She winced with annoyance.
“What is it, old man, you are wanting?”
“Come here for a minute”
“Why can’t we talk where we are?” muttered Sue.
She went outside the partition, though. I got this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Is there anything worse than being let know that you are no more than an outsider and there are things definitely not for your ears? However, the “not for my ears” information shared behind the partition was heard pretty clearly.
“Sasha, you have to understand, we cannot let her stay with us. She should make it up with her grandmother…”
I went out and, without saying anything, headed for the front door.
“Wait, I’ll go with you!” Sue grabbed her jacket off the nail.
“Sasha, come back!” her grandma shouted to her.
But Sue just flipped them off and darted outdoors after me.
We sat on the roof of a shed near the mentioned above phone booth the villagers used to call the city from. Neither Sue nor I knew where else to go; so we, hiding on that roof, entertained ourselves picking yellow plums and eating them, and throwing the seeds down on the road trying to fling them as far as possible.
“I told you I’d sacrifice anything for our friendship,” Sue convinced me heatedly, “You have no idea how restless I felt all the time while you were gone! Then I realized I didn’t really need any Roma… So I just turned him down.”
“I don’t need him either,” I said ostentatiously, “I love Shurik. And Roma is just a passing thing, you know.”
“But you may never see Shurik again” reminded Sue.
“That’s true. Dads say after the May incident I’m never setting foot in Kruglovo again. But nonetheless, I will always love Shurik, for the rest of my life.”
“And you will never marry anyone else, right?”
I shook my head.
“No. No one else but Shurik.”
“What if he rejects you?”
“Then I’ll stay unmarried forever. I love him truly and deeply and I will love him until my last breath.”
Sue giggled up her sleeve.
“What’s so funny?” I snapped out rudely.
“Sorry. You’re just being so naive…”
“Why am I being naive?”
“Because… Shurick the hick… You may never cross paths with him again!”
“Never say never,” I said unexpectedly, “The world doesn’t revolve around dads, after all! There are plenty of ways to get to Kruglovo…”
“What ways? Going there on our own, for instance! Why not?”
“Do you have any idea where it is located?”
“Not really…” I mumbled, “But we could buy a map and see…”
“Maybe it’s not even charted on the maps! Even if it is – do you know how many Kruglovos there may be in the country? More than you can count, that’s how many!”
“Oh well, we could find all the Kruglovos and travel to all of them… Sooner or later we must get lucky and come to the right place!”
Sue laughed contemptuously.
“Do you know how many years it’s going to take before you’ve been to all your Kruglovos? You’ll make me die, really…” she said doubling over with laughter, “I imagine this picture in sixty years… You are a crooked old woman traveling around on and on in search of Kruglovo… Ha-ha-ha! And when you finally see your beloved Shurik, a bald old man, wrinkly and toothless, all falling apart… Hallo, my luv!.. Oh, you crack me up!! Ha-ha-ha!!!”
“Very funny” I said offended.
But there was no stopping Sue.
“And then he… farts!!!” she squealed like a pig choking on her laughter.
That really took the biscuit. I sprang up and went at her.
“Say one more word and I’ll kick you off the roof. Understand?”
“Okay, okay, I got ya…” she pretended to be scared but couldn’t help laughing out again.
I swung at her with the intention of giving that ass a good punch and teaching her to watch her mouth when I suddenly saw the fat figure of my grandmother Zoya approaching our booth.
The blood drained from my face. I ducked down to the very edge of the roof and crawled rapidly back.
“What’s wrong? Are you okay?”
“Grandmother…” I gasped quietly, “Get down or she’ll see us! I wonder what the heck she’s doing here…”
We layed still up there like two spies. Meanwhile, Gran Zoya went inside the booth and we understood that she had come here to make a phone call.
“She must be going to call my father and complain about me,” I said in a whisper, “What an old cunt! That’s all I needed…”
“Be quiet! Let’s listen to what she’s gonna say”
We got quiet on the roof. And the loud, distinctive voice of Gran Zoya wasn’t long in coming.
“Hello, I need an ambulance! I think, my husband’s having a heart attack! Yes, a heart attack! Please, come quickly to the address…”
A few days later my grandfather passed away.
(THE END OF PART TWO)