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My Big Family
Translated from Russian
Jane H. Buckingham
Translation edited by
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
IT ALL BEGINS
Two kids are already too many, but
three is not enough.
A well-known fact
In the city of Moscow in a two-bedroom apartment lived the Gavrilov family. The
family consisted of a father, a mother, and seven children.
Papa’s name was Nicholas. He wrote fiction and was afraid to even step briefly away
from the computer so that the small children would not type any extraneous characters
into the text. Nevertheless, characters were still okay. It was much worse when the
children managed to delete a piece of text accidentally, and Papa discovered it only a
month later, when he started to edit the book.
Still, they pestered Papa all the time because he worked at home, and when a person
works at home, it seems to everyone that he is always free. Therefore, Papa got up at
four in the morning, slipped into the kitchen with the laptop, and froze when he heard
children’s feet starting to thump on the floor in the next room. This meant that he had
not managed to get out of the room unnoticed and now one or two whining kids would
be hanging around him.
Mama’s name was Anna. She worked in the library centre as the senior skilled hand
in the Skilful Hands circle. True, she frequently stayed home because she had given
birth to another child. At one time, Mama even had an online store of educational games
and school supplies. The store was on the glassed-in balcony. There it resided on the
many shelves that Papa knocked together, hitting his own fingers with the hammer. The
children really liked that they had their own store. And they liked it even more when
Mama gathered the orders in the big room, laying out dozens of different interesting
games on the carpet.
They then sat and said to each other, “The main thing is not to touch anything!” At
this time, the older ones held the younger ones’ hands just in case. The younger ones
either bit, because it is not very agreeable when someone holds you back, or were filled
with a sense of responsibility and also taught each other, “The main thing is to put
everything in its place!” and “The main thing is if you opened the package, then close it
However, all the same, if Mama had gone for a short while to put away the milk or
answer the phone, packages would go out to the customers with incorrectly-sorted
blocks, with gnawed-through mosaics, or entirely without chips. One client received
Papa’s sneaker in the box and was about as unhappy as Papa. The client and Papa then
had a long phone call and arranged where to meet to return the sneaker, but never met.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
About six months later, Papa made off with the second sneaker from one of the kids or
Mama, and everyone denounced him in one voice.
Besides children, skilful hands, and games, Mama was also the family ingester. As
soon as she had some free time, she immediately ate up everything from the children’s
plates and slept. “Don’t bug me!” she declared.
Peter, the oldest of the Gavrilov children, was 15. He talked mysteriously with
someone on the phone for days on end, leaping onto the landing where only five floors
of neighbours could hear him, did his homework late at night, and at home fenced
himself off from his brothers and sisters with furniture, on which he hung “Do Not
Enter!” signs. He wrote in school questionnaires that he was an only child in the family
and he walked on the street away from everybody so no one would think that this whole
crowd was related to him.
For all that, when the younger children sometimes went to Grandma for a week,
Peter was obviously bored. He walked around the empty apartment, looked under the
bed and said pensively, “How quiet, for some reason! When will they come back? Soon
His sister Vicky was 13. She could not sit at the table while there was at least one
crumb on it. She could not lie down in bed if the sheet had not been ironed to the point
that the last wrinkle had disappeared. Still, Vicky constantly danced by herself and in
principle read only those books with horses. For example, there are horses in War and
Peace, so she read War and Peace. There are no horses in Woe from Wit,1 so Woe from
Wit remained forever unread, even if the teacher hanged herself on the blinds. Never
mind that Woe from Wit is seven times shorter and five times easier.
Vicky always did her homework with great care and suffered for half an hour when a
line was coming up to the margin but she still had three letters or numbers. It would be
stupid to carry over to a new line, but you would have to climb over the margin to finish
Mama and Papa never stopped wondering how Vicky managed to combine in
herself the romantic, the love of horses, all these wrinkles on the sheets, the agony
because of the climb over the margin, and the crumbs on the table.
Kate recently turned 11. She had the nickname of Catherine the Great. She was the
only one of all the children who knew the password of the “big computer” and her
brothers and sisters had to beg her to turn it on. “Why? Have you done your homework?
Washed your hands? Put away your things? When did you last brush your teeth?” Kate
asked sternly, after which the convicted, screaming “oh-oh-oh” with tears of impatience
in the eyes, raced hurriedly to choke down kasha or brush their teeth.
Woe from Wit is a comedy in verse by Alexander Sergeyevich Griboyedov (1795-1829), Russian diplomat
and playwright, as well as poet and composer. The play is a satire about post-Napoleonic Moscow society.
It was written in 1823 but only first published in 1833. It was compulsory reading in school during Soviet
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Once, Papa got tired of this and removed the password from the computer
altogether. But it just got worse. The children fought, each wanted to watch or do his
own thing on the computer, and the little ones generally spent so much time in front of
the monitor that they fell from their chairs. Therefore, it was necessary to return to the
system of Kate’s despotism, and again everything was calm.
When she was free from active management, Kate always went through the
apartment and put up yellow stickies with the notices: Don’t steal chairs! Put them
back when done! or Toys should promptly be put away before 7 p.m.!
Alena was eight. She was constantly falling in love, and this surprised her sisters,
because Kate and Vicky, though older, rarely fell in love. Alena was nicknamed the “No
Girl.” If she was asked to do something, she immediately shouted, “No! Never! Nothing
doing!” and would instantly do it. But if others responded, “Yes, now!” then they would
have to wait three hours. Therefore, it turned out that the No Girl helped with the young
ones more than everyone.
Six-year-old Alex was a great chemist. He mixed everything with anything and
watched what happened. For example, he mixed shoe polish with apple juice, squirted
deodorant in there, and checked if it would explode or not. Food from the fridge,
especially flour and eggs, and liquid from the top shelves in the bathroom suffered the
most from Alex’s experiments. One day he accidentally discovered that vinegar and soda
could make a big boom if they were mixed correctly. From then on, vinegar and soda
almost had to be taped to the ceiling, because he was forever stealing them. Alex
modestly described his talent as follows: “Now my name is Superpower! Now my name
is Megamind!2 Now my name is Flying Rag!”
Four-year-old Costa’s left hand did not work too well and he limped a little.
Although the limping did not even prevent him from running, the hand had to be
worked constantly, which was the cause of Mama’s eternal worry. Knowing that he could
not rely on his left hand, Costa walked around with a wooden sword all the time and was
an expert at head butting. Alex and Costa could exist peacefully for no more than five
minutes a day. Even in the car, they could not sit next to each other but only with a child
between them. Knowing the hardness of Costa’s head, Alex was afraid to fight him and
preferred to blast his brother from a distance or fire from a slingshot. Each time it
usually ended with Alex hitting Costa in the eye with a small block and hiding under the
sofa from his wrath, and Costa furiously pounding on the sofa with his sword and
shouting, “Ah! Kill him on the butt!”
Rita recently turned two. She was not talking very well yet, but she was always
eating and was very round. A first breakfast, a second breakfast, a third breakfast, and
then it was already time for lunch. If you hid food from her, Rita would steal the soap
from the bathroom and nibble at its edge. She also constantly wanted those things that
Megamind is the super-intelligent alien protagonist of the 2010 3D computer-animated superhero action
comedy of the same name.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
were in the hands of her brothers and sisters. Pencil case, backpack, textbook, it did not
matter what it was. She would stage wild concerts to get them. Hence, the other kids
were forever devising ways to outwit her. They would take some sock or unwanted head
from a doll and pretend not to give it to her for anything. Rita would stage a concert,
receive the doll’s head, and run off to hide it. And everyone could do homework in peace.
When such a large family went for a stroll, people exclaimed. Different people,
especially the elderly, often came up to them and asked, “Are these all yours?”
“Yes, they’re ours,” Papa and Mama cautiously replied.
At home, the children slept on bunk beds, forming three sides of a rectangle; in
addition, the younger ones had cribs with a removable side panel. When the side panel
was removed, the crib could be placed right up against the parents’ bed and the young
one could roll in and roll out like a round loaf.
However, despite all the tricks, the Gavrilovs settled themselves rather poorly in the
two-room apartment. The bathroom was always busy, the bathroom door was
constantly taken off the hinges, and their relations with the neighbours in the same
entrance were cool. It was probably due to the internal walls, which were very thin and
sounds passed through easily. The majority of the neighbours more or less understood
the situation, but on the second floor lived a lonely old woman who was forever
tormented by the suspicion that the children were sawing with a blunt saw at night.
“Why did they shout like that in the middle of the night?”
“Because Rita wanted to go to the store and the other children tried to soothe her,”
Mama patiently explained.
“You’re the parents! Explain to her that stores don’t open in the middle of the
“We did, but she only believed it when we drove her to the store and showed her
that it was indeed closed!”
“I don’t like all this! I’ll be watching!” the old granny said, turning pale.
“Well, watch for yourself!” Mama gave her permission, but her mood was spoilt all
Mama went from room to room and begged the children to speak in a whisper. The
older kids more or less agreed with her, but the younger ones did not quite know how to
“Mama, I whispered correctly yesterday, right?” one of them yelled from the
bathroom, through closed door.
Mama grabbed her head, and Papa said, “You know, I thought I understood the
meaning of the word ‘horde’!”
“Are you sure I should clarify?”
The watchful granny was very annoying. She had no idea that, under different
names and with different appearances, she had become a popular character in
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
contemporary literature. Papa, not knowing how to take revenge on her, killed her in
many novels. Three times fiery dragons burned the watchful granny. Twice hungry
goblins ate her. Once the murder took place in the elevator and the criminal managed to
hide the body without a trace as the elevator went from the fifth to the third floor.
Somehow, when the children got noisy once again, the watchful granny called the
police about “underground production at home.” Three police officers in bulletproof
vests with assault rifles came to expose the operation. First, they plugged up the hallway
all at once and started to feel out something, but Mama declared that there would be
nothing for them to feel out, because one child was sitting on the potty and the other
would soon be waking up. Then Alex appeared and began to ask the police for an assault
rifle. He said that he would not shoot and only wanted to look at the bullets. The police
did not give him a rifle, but while an officer was rescuing his weapon from Alex, the rifle
barrel got entangled in the tab of his mesh jacket and it was difficult to extricate because
the hallway was terribly tight. While all three officers were disentangling one rifle, Costa
appeared, triumphantly carrying in front of him the potty with the results of his efforts,
then Rita woke up, and the police began to back out very slowly to the stairs.
“What do you produce here at least?” one, the youngest, asked hopelessly.
“You still don’t understand? Come on, go, go!” the older officer said and began to
push him back down the stairs.
However, the absence of an underground factory in the apartment did not improve
relations with the watchful granny. Peter even drew a caricature very similar to her,
under which in bold letters was the caption: I WATCH, I AM WATCHING, I WILL BE
The watchful granny continued to irritate them, though no one was walking on
tiptoe anymore anyway. One day Mama sat on the floor in the hallway, crying, and said,
“I can’t take it anymore!”
“What’s ‘it’?” Papa was puzzled, looking out from the kitchen with the laptop, where
he was dealing with the watchful neighbour once again, sending her live piranhas in a
jar with cucumbers.
“We’re too crowded here! We’re like sardines in a can! This city has eaten me up!”
Mama repeated and cried even louder.
Then Papa and Mama began to dream about moving to a detached house by the sea,
where there would be no neighbours, and renting out the apartment in the big city. They
weighed, considered, and decided to take a chance.
“Good thing that you don’t have to work!” Mama said.
“What?! I work from morning to night, but the kids interrupt me all the time!” Papa
“That’s right! In a house, you’ll have your own office! We’ll all walk on tiptoe and
not disturb you!”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Yes!” Papa Gavrilov was inspired. “A real office with a real desk! I’ll wind barbed
wire with an electrical current around the door and put wolf traps near it. In addition,
there’ll be holes in the door through which you can spit out poison darts.”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
PAPA SEARCHES FOR A HOUSE
Papa, did you buy worms? Did you buy
food for the worms? But what will they
In March, Papa Gavrilov went to the sea and began searching for a house that they
could rent for a long time. The seaside town had low buildings, very picturesque, with
roofs lined with red clay tiles. Leaves had not yet appeared everywhere, but many trees
had already blossomed, and their soft pink flowers became blurred in the eyes, so that
one could not see individual flowers. It seemed like the trees were wrapped in a
Papa had a list of addresses, but, alas, it seemed that everything depicted on the
Internet was not quite as in reality. What was presented as “a detached house with many
rooms” turned out to be a cramped temporary shed in the owner’s yard divided by
plywood partitions, and with windows looking out at a howling dog on a chain. What
really looked more or less like a house cost so much that it did not suit Papa.
Wandering around town until the evening, Papa despaired. He decided to take the
train and leave. However, there was still a lot of time until the train, and he sat down to
rest in a confusing lane similar to the figure 8. Two entrances led into this lane, but they
were very narrow and, if one did not know them, it was possible to go endlessly along
the “eight” which never ended.
Papa sat on the curb near mailboxes, where there was a board and a jar with
cigarette butts, and began to eat a sausage. Soon a large shaggy dog approached him,
barking carefully, and calmly sat down. After a minute, a medium-sized dog of off-white
colour came running, also barked at Papa, and sat down with a sense of having fulfilled
its duty. Last, with a front leg drawn in, a small but very long dog with a bald back
walked up, also barked, and took a seat beside the first two. It was felt that all three dogs
had known each other for a long time but did not know Papa, and they were interested.
Papa fed the dogs some sausage and waited for a fourth dog, because someone else was
barking close by.
However, a fourth dog did not appear, but a dried-up grandpa about eighty came
out of a gate instead. He stopped nearby and began to look quietly at Papa. Papa at first
did not understand why the grandpa was standing there, but then surmised that it was
his board and his jar with cigarette butts. Papa, apologizing, moved over, and the
grandpa sat down beside him. They got into conversation and Papa told him that he was
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
searching for a house but could find nothing and was therefore going to the station. The
grandpa muttered something and then they were already chatting about something else.
Papa Gavrilov finished eating the sausage and went to the station. The station was
quiet. Direct trains only came here in the summer, when resort visitors were travelling,
and the rest of the time, only six cars were coupled to a longer train at the railway
There was still a lot of time till the train, the car doors were not open, and Papa
strolled along the platform. Suddenly he heard someone hailing him. He looked around
and saw the dried-up grandpa, making his way to him, hurrying and breathless.
“I was thinking! I’ll rent my house!” the grandpa said.
“And you?” Papa asked.
“I’ve intended for a long time to go to my granddaughter. But she lives far away in
Yekaterinburg. I won’t be able to come here, but I don’t want to abandon the house,
because it’s indeed home and has to constantly do something with it. I need the proper
person whom I could trust. Are you the proper fellow?”
Papa said that he did not know if he was the proper person.
“But you won’t sell the kitchen table? You won’t unscrew the sockets?”
Papa promised that he would not sell the table, but some of the young ones might
just unscrew the sockets. Or shove clay or paper clips in them. But Papa did not mention
this, and they went to see the grandpa’s house.
Papa really liked the house, although it was not detached but semi-detached. It had
two floors with a large attic and its own separate plot of land in a shape resembling the
letter L. The long arm was the size of three cars and the short arm of one car. There was
even a tree on the plot – a huge old walnut.
On the ground floor were one large room, one small room, and the kitchen. On the
second were three small rooms and one medium one. The sea was not visible from the
window, but the lighthouse standing on the seashore was.
“Does it work?” Papa asked.
“Of course! The searchlight turns at night. I lived here for forty-two years with my
wife and now seven years without her. I played the trumpet in a military orchestra. We
bought the house here when my wife said that she had bad lungs and needed warm
winters,” the grandpa said and stroked the windowsill, as if it was alive.
“Then maybe you shouldn’t...” Papa began, but the old man hastily repeated that he
had decided everything a long time ago; it was dangerous for him to live alone because
he had trouble with his heart from time to time, and he was very glad that everything
was finally taking shape.
They agreed on how much to pay and on how to send money, and the grandpa
began to show where the fuse box was, where the meters were, how to shut off the water,
and what bad habits the gas boiler had.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“It’s good, this boiler, better than other new ones, but a little stubborn. Need to get a
feel for it. It lights with matches, here... Only when you light it, keep your face away!”
Papa looked suspiciously sideways at the boiler. It looked like a huge cannon
projectile, and tubes of different diameters were connected to it. Something was puffing
and raging in the boiler.
“Any instructions for it?” Papa specified timidly.
“What instructions? It’s almost the same age as me. The main thing is just be
friendly to it,” the old man said, sighing, and began to twist a big valve. “Here, I turned it
off! Now I’ll light it! Careful!”
The old man held a match up to the boiler, and – PUFF!
It was the loudest “puff” in the world. Papa even squatted, saving his head just in
case, but the boiler was already peacefully heating water, and an extremely satisfied old
man stood beside it.
“Well, that’s all! Seems I’ve shown you everything! Now run for the train!” he
hurried Papa and Papa travelled to Mama and the children.
April and May went in a terrible rush. They advertised the Moscow apartment with
an agency and rented it to a family with two children, which would take possession in
June. The children of this family were so quiet that Papa was certain the watchful
neighbour would like them. Although, possibly she would now decide that the tenants ’
children sat quietly because the parents gagged them or tied them to chairs.
“Not a sound for an hour! Just sat and drew with markers! Why can’t ours be so
docile!” Mama said enviously.
“Ours can’t, but others can. It seems to me that ours are Italian spies,” Papa
“You and I are Italian spies! Only the Italians don’t know about it yet,” Mama
She had barely slept in recent weeks. No one knew when she rested. Since the
beginning of May, Mama had been packing what they would take with them and giving
away what they would not take at all.
During these two months, the dried-up grandpa changed his mind three times
about going to his granddaughter, and then made up his mind again. This confused
Papa, but all the same, Mama persisted in continuing packing, declaring that she had
already made up her mind, and once she did, it was then too late to give up. Whatever
happened, they would just go and sit on the bags at the station, and then somehow
everything would work out by itself.
Then the grandpa raised the price slightly and went to his granddaughter after all.
This took place a few days before the end of the last school term. The children would
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
start in a new school in a new town in the new school year. Now everyone realized that
the journey was actually happening and started to pack four times faster.
Each child packed his own things in his own backpack. The younger had a smaller
backpack, the older, a bigger one, with the exception of Rita, who was so little that her
backpack was a frog with a zipper at the mouth.
Alex assembled a full backpack of toys, and when they did not fit into it, he started
banging on the backpack with a hammer, kneading it so that it turned out to be more
compact. At the same time, by way of selfless help, he also “kneaded” with the hammer
the big bag in which Mama had packed the dishes, after which it turned out that all the
dishes left whole could easily fit in one package.
“Well, doesn’t matter!” Mama said, consoling herself. “Indeed, we could break them
on the road, and then it would be much more annoying!”
Kate filled her whole backpack with animal cages. At the bottom was the cage with a
guinea pig, then a rat cage on it, and at the top of the pyramid – the red-eared slider
turtle Mafia. They named the turtle Mafia because, when it was living in the aquarium, it
ate newts, crayfish, and goldfish. It gobbled up absolutely everything at night without a
trace, but during the day, it stayed at the bottom like a completely respectable
individual, so they started to suspect it only because the newts, crayfish, and goldfish
simply could not have just gotten up and gone somewhere on business. Later Kate
suddenly remembered that they were not going yet and pulled out all the cages so that
the animals would not suffocate. Nevertheless, having pulled out the cages, Kate again
succumbed to the mood of general packing and put everything back. She again thought
that they would suffocate and again pulled them out.
Alena whined and did not want to go anywhere. She had fallen in love with Vadik
from the next class, who always threw a heavy medicine ball at her back during physical
education, but never at the other girls. Although there were bruises from the ball on her
back, it was still not worth ignoring Vadik.
Kate, the older sister, interrogated Alena, “Vadik! Ha! What was the name of the boy
you fell in love with last week? Dima?”
“Cyril. He stuck gum in my hair.”
“But Dima didn’t?”
“Cyril also stuck gum in Dima’s hair.”
Kate twirled a finger at her temple. “Ugh! Such drama! Cyril and Dima stick gum in
each other’s hair, and she falls in love with some unfortunate Vadik! That’s it, go pack
Alena took a broom, swept her broken heart away into the dustpan, and started
Finally, the day of departure arrived. Papa took Mama and the kids to the station.
Then he was to return, load into the minivan the things that amounted to much more
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
than seven backpacks, and drive for a whole day. However, the train also took a day. So
they should turn up in the same place around the same time.
The watchful granny from the second floor unexpectedly went to see them off at the
station. Papa and Mama did not want to take her at all and made up a story about
broken seatbelts in the third row of seats, but it turned out to be quite difficult to turn
her down. In the car, the old woman held Rita on her lap and kissed the top of her head,
and Rita turned her head, because the kiss was moist.
“Look! She’s drinking from her brain!” Peter whispered and laughed so wildly that
they wanted to send him to the station by subway.
At the station, the old woman kissed all the children, not even excluding Peter, who
had to bend down because he was two heads taller. Peter, after being kissed, made scary
faces and tried to catch free Wi-Fi at the station.
“I remember when you were still so tiny!” the old woman said, showing with her
hand the level of her knee. Then she gave the children a transistor radio with a solar
charger. Rita, of course, immediately wanted the radio for herself alone and she lay
down on the asphalt right on the platform so that everyone could see how indispensable
it was to her.
“It will be shared! And it’s yours too!” Kate said, but Rita wanted it only for herself
“Look here! No one is torturing her!” Papa Gavrilov could not refrain from saying.
“Work with the child’s character, work! Explain to her!” the watchful granny said,
but in a rather weak voice.
The train started moving and the watchful granny waved to them. “Kate, Alex, Rita,
Costa, Vicky, Alena, Peter! Goodbye! Write me! I don’t even know your address!” she
Mama was astonished. She had not even suspected that the watchful granny knew
all their children by name. The train pulled away, and it was visible from the window
that the neighbour was walking along the platform and wiping her eyes.
“You know, but she’s kind of good! How come we didn’t notice this before?” Mama
“We can go back! It’s not too late to jump off the train!” Vicky proposed.
“No! We won’t go back!” Mama hastily replied. “But now that I know she’s good, my
heart will be lighter!”
Vicky chuckled and sat down to read The Headless Horseman,3 in which there were
The Headless Horseman (1865-66), a novel by Thomas Mayne Reid (1818-83), an American novelist of
adventure novels, is based on a south Texas folk tale.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
NO. 6 VINE STREET
While a frog is sloshing around, it will
Before leaving, Papa walked around the minivan and rocked it, checking if it had
been loaded evenly and would not lean to one side. The minivan was loaded up like a
mule. Boxes and things filled it from floor to ceiling, even with the seats down.
“Poor thing!” Papa said, feeling sorry for his minivan.
The Gavrilovs’ minivan was Japanese, right-handed drive. Once, a young Alena
washed it with a brick, scraping away the dirt, and then a year later the already grown
Alex thoughtfully tapped it with a hammer on all sides, knocking down the ice in the
winter, and covered the minivan with pockmarks. Papa sometimes thought whether it
would be good to exchange the old minivan for a new one, but who is to say that they
would not wash the new one with a brick, and the old one, though looking like a wild
shed and more than 10 years old, was actually quite lively.
By the example of his own minivan, Papa learned to identify minivans with many
children. To do this it was necessary to go to any busy intersection on Sunday mornings,
when services got under way in the churches in the city centre, and see which minivan
was bouncing and swaying, waiting for the green light. There turned out to be quite a lot
Papa spent the day behind the wheel, listening to a good audio book and making an
effort to drive faster, but all the same, because of having to load the boxes, was an hour
late. Mama and the children were standing at the station, not knowing what to do, and
their backpacks, boxes, and suitcases were lying in a small mound near them. Rita,
whom Mama was holding so that she would not fall down, was jumping on top of said
mound. However, it goes without saying, Rita was certain that she would not fall and
pulled her hand away, but when Mama let go of her, Rita immediately tumbled. Papa
barely managed to catch her.
“It was a quiet horror!” Mama complained. “We terrorized the entire car! Rita was
running all the time, Costa didn’t want to sleep on the same berth with Alex, pushing
him off with his feet, and Vicky didn’t want to take him!”
“You sleep with Costa, you wake up in a puddle! He’ll then say that he dreamt of the
potty again,” Vicky explained.
“Not true!” Costa wailed.
“...and our rats slipped away!” Mama added, changing the subject.
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“Yes, yes, yes! Even Schwartz!” Kate shouted. “They ran around the car! And what
do you think? All the men were afraid of rats, one even jumped onto a second berth, but
the women picked them up!”
“That’s because women aren’t afraid of rats but of mice! And when it’s advantageous
for them!” Peter said.
“And where’re the rats now?” Papa asked, hoping that they had escaped and that
would be the end of it.
“In the cage, of course! They later returned!” Kate said and looked in her backpack
to check whether the rats had slipped away again.
Then everyone piled into the minivan, managing to find a seat on top of things, and
Papa proceeded to show them the house. He was very proud of himself and wanted
everything to be great.
“Soon you’ll see! Soon!” he repeated constantly, but the promised “soon” for some
reason did not come.
They drove along the waterfront six times and crossed the tram tracks ten times, but
did not find the figure 8 street. The next time along the waterfront, the children staged a
mutiny. They wanted to swim, but Mama did not remember which box their swimsuits
were in. And she doubted that the water had warmed up. The beaches were still quite
Mama started to look at Papa with some doubt. “At least the right city?” she asked
guardedly. “Do you remember the street name?”
“No. 6 Vine Street!” Papa blurted out.
“Well, so ask someone!”
Papa refused to ask out of principle. He already considered himself a local, and
locals do not ask for directions. “I know how to walk from the station! But I walked
through courtyards, you can’t drive through that way!”
“So, let’s leave the van and walk!” Mama, who was impatient to see the house,
“No, that’s stupid! We may lose the van and all the things! Now I remember, it’s
here!” Papa became obstinate and, turning resolutely, drove into a dead end, which was
complete with a wall of green shrubs. Papa started to make a U-turn, which was not
easy, because boxes and his kin lying horizontally blocked up the whole rear window
and the street was almost as wide as their car. Papa backed up, then drove forward and
unexpectedly cut into a solid wall of green shrubs.
"Be careful! It’ll scratch!” Mama yelled, but the shrubs suddenly parted and the
branches only slid along the glass.
A bewildered Papa, stepping on the gas, continued to drive to who knows where,
and the van passed through the green wall without the slightest resistance. Bright
tattered flowers, in which bees and beetles were crawling, drummed on the windows.
“We’re like Alice in Wonderland!” Alena shouted.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Then the shrubs finally parted and everyone saw a dusty path with undulating
asphalt, cracked from the roots of the many acacias under it. A big shaggy dog ran along
the path to meet them with a hoarse barking. Behind the shaggy dog, a medium-sized
off-white dog also rushed over barking. Finally, a quite small short-legged dog with a
bald back came hobbling last. This dog was no longer barking but coughing.
Kate rolled out of the stopped car and ran to meet the dogs. Mama yelled, afraid
that the dogs would tear her to pieces, but the dogs suddenly turned and ran in the
opposite direction, except the bald dog, which fell on the ground from terror and, giving
up, turned over with legs up.
“See? Afraid that Kate will hug them to death! I’d be scared too!” Peter said and
again started laughing so wildly that Vicky demanded pushing Peter out of the car
because he had completely deafened her.
“I’ll go myself!” Peter said and crawled out of the car through the lowered rear
window. Alena, Costa, Alex, and Rita got out after Peter.
They all crowded in front of the van, and Papa could no longer go anywhere and
turned off the motor.
“Where is the house?” Mama asked.
“Here!” Papa said, pointing to that which Mama could not see from the van.
Mama got out and saw the house. It had peeling plaster, which was not conspicuous,
because vines were embracing the second floor and the roof, and blooming dog rose,
curling along the window bars, covered the first floor, where the grapevines were only
thick bald trunks.
The house’s double gates were metal, twice the height of a person, and painted
black. They had rusted for many years and the rust was carefully painted over. They
rusted again and were painted again. As a result, the gates, oddly enough, turned out to
have a very beautiful texture – so uneven, rough, really lively. At the bottom, where the
gates had rusted heavily, small holes formed here and there.
Rita and Alex were already lying on their stomachs, trying to peep through the holes
to see what was happening in the yard. “Mama, look! Look!” they yelled.
“Good heavens!” Mama said. She approached carefully and ran a hand along the
gates. The black paint, warmed up by the sun, burned the palm of her hand. The wind
swooped down. The gates stretched like a sail and buzzed. Mama wanted to stand here a
bit and try to catch a response in her heart, which would suggest whether this was the
house she dreamed of, but Papa was already hurrying to open the house. Alex had
managed to climb up the gates and now, feet dangling, was sitting almost level with the
second floor. Everyone was shouting for him to get down, but Alex liked to sit so high.
He climbed the post of the gates and climbed over to the balcony from there. He was
scrambling with ease, like a monkey.
Mama was afraid that Alex would fall and demanded that he come down, but Peter
declared that he knew Alex. Alex would never come down himself, because he saw
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
perfectly that no one could reach him. Peter himself had also been mischievous like that
in childhood. Now he was wise.
“Wise, wise! Only don’t bray so loudly!” Vicky said and moved aside just in case.
“What if we threaten that we’ll punish him?” Kate suggested.
“Then he really won’t come down. What’s the sense of coming down if you’re going
to get punished? Better to sit until everyone forgets that they’ve promised to punish
you!” Peter continued authoritatively. “No! A better way to get Alex down is to throw
something at him. For example, bricks.”
“Not on your life!” Mama objected.
“I wasn’t suggesting to start immediately with large bricks. Can start with small
pebbles. Well, if you don’t want to, don’t! Then option number two! I’ll bet on a trick;
Peter leaned down, picked up Alex’s backpack from the asphalt, and began to
rummage in it. “Wow!” he exclaimed. “Soda! And what’s this in the bottle? Vinegar,
“Give it back! It’s mine!” was heard from the balcony. Alex deftly rolled down from
there like a ball, and, clutching his backpack, started to pull it away from Peter.
“Learn from me while I live! Childish greed is the key to a child’s heart!” said Peter.
However, no one wished to learn from Peter. Everyone was already rushing into the
house. Costa flew first with a sword in his right hand. Rita followed. After Rita, Vicky
and Alena. Kate ran last, all three stray dogs – large, medium, and small with a bald
back – sticking to her. Now these dogs did not consider themselves strays anymore, but
had thought about it, talked it over, and decided to become pets. Mama waved her arms
at them and stood at the door, and the dogs again became strays.
“You’re cruel!” Kate said. “By the way, I’ve given them our pâté! It would have gone
“My pâté? It couldn’t go bad! It was wrapped up. I was planning it for dinner!”
“It’s already irrelevant, can’t get it out of the dogs anyway,” said Kate.
Then they all walked around the house for a long time, and Papa showed them
everything that the grandpa had shown him last time. Here is the large room on the
ground floor, here is the small room, which he, Papa, would take as his office, and here
is the kitchen! There are still three small and one medium-sized room upstairs. And here
is a door, but he, Papa, has no idea where it leads.
“To Bluebeard’s room! Two hundred strangled wives there!” Peter said and opened
the door. Beyond the door was revealed a sinister type of staircase – dark and narrow.
Everyone began to descend cautiously, the older ones holding the younger ones just
in case. There were certainly no strangled wives there, that was nonsense, but still it
would be better if Papa went first. It would be safer, more secure. And better if Mama
would hold onto Papa and the rest of the children clung to Mama.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
The lower they went, the darker it became, like the open mouth of a passage from
where light could no longer filter through. Papa fumbled on the wall. He found the light
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
switch, turned on the light. A light bulb hanging from a wire flashed and everyone saw
the cosiest basement in the world. An unfinished small sailboat was on a workbench and
wooden shelves with hundreds of dusty jars stretched along the walls. Mama and Vicky
immediately rushed to wipe the jars, making small windows with fingers in the dust.
Preserve turned out to be in some of the jars, compote and jam in others.
“We can’t take them! They belong to someone else!” Papa said sternly.
“We won’t steal! But we can ask the old man politely, ‘Can we take your preserves?’
Most likely he’ll say, ‘Certainly!’ It's not like he’ll go on the train for two days to eat three
tablespoons and return!” Kate declared.
Papa then turned off the light in the basement; everyone went upstairs and ran
around the house. Papa showed Mama how to light the gas boiler and how it made the
loudest “PUFF” in the world. Alex, of course, was already standing nearby, pricking up
his ears, and Papa had to plug up Alex’s ears with his fingers and cover Alex’s eyes at the
same time so that Alex would not nose out how to make the biggest “puff”!
While they were examining the boiler, a terrible noise surged on the second floor.
The floor shook, the house jumped up and down, and Mama was glad that they no
longer had neighbours who would now come running to knock on the door.
“Do you hear? What are they doing there?” she asked Papa when Alex, attracted by
the general noise, ran upstairs too.
“I think they’re dividing up the rooms!” Papa suggested. “They’ve never had their
own rooms. Although there aren’t enough rooms for everyone here.”
“What do you mean not enough? There’re six rooms! You said there’re three small
and one medium on the second floor. One large and one small on the first!” Mama
“That’s right, six rooms. Seven kids and nine of us in total... Plus the big room on
the ground floor is obviously the common room. No one will be able to sleep there. So,
minus one. Even minus two, because the small one will be my office!”
“Wait, I need one room for the little ones... The quietest and farthest so they won’t
be disturbed in the afternoon! What if you get the basement for your office? Imagine,
how cool! Sitting in an outstanding, cozy, dry basement, writing novels, and eating jam!”
Mama proposed carefully.
“No way! Better pack the kids in the basement! A nice, cozy, dry basement full of
preserves!” Papa said gloomily, having decided to defend his office to the last.
Some time later, when the noise quieted down, Mama and Papa went upstairs. The
second floor was a demarcation zone.
The boundaries of each sector were marked out with the children’s backpacks and a
line of things laid out in a row stretched across the room, even taking into account the
interests of Rita and Costa. The older kids assigned the far left room to them and
blocked them up in that room so that they did not run and grab everything. They
generously gave the next room to Mama and Papa as their bedroom. Vicky, Alena, Alex,
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
and Kate divided the centre room among themselves, where, in principle, there would be
enough space for everyone if bunk beds were put in. Kate had already managed to put
the guinea pig and rat cages on the centre room windows – and there were two of them!
Vicky did not like it. “No rats! They throw sawdust out of the cage all the time! Dirt
from just one of them! Choose: me, your sister, or the rats!” she yelled.
“I didn’t ask you to choose!” Kate warned ominously.
Peter won for himself the far right room. He had already managed to close the door
and hung up a “DO NOT DISTURB!” sign, which he had foresightedly printed on the
printer back in Moscow, glued onto cardboard, and brought with him.
Mama wandered anxiously around the house and counted the beds. This turned out
to be simple; there was only one bed. There was also a huge decrepit sofa. If you tapped
on it even just slightly, a cloud of dust would rise to the ceiling. Costa discovered this
first when he hit the sofa with his sword. On noticing this, Alex approached it, and Rita
after Alex, then all three began to bang on it with passion.
Peter watched the childish fun for some time from the height of his wisdom, and
then also wanted to move onto the sofa. Better yet, to run, jump, and flop on it from the
maximum possible height. “Well, break it up, pip-squeaks!” he ordered offhandedly.
However, before Peter could pound on the sofa and break all its legs, Mama ran into
the room. Coughing from the dust, she began to pull the kids out of the room and
demanded that Papa drag the sofa onto the street. “Okay! We’ll buy beds tomorrow.
Good that we took the kids’ mattresses with us! They can sleep right on the floor!” she
said, and everyone went for the mattresses.
Later, everyone still ran around a little and lay down to sleep. Papa fell asleep first,
having been up for more than 24 hours. He did not even unload the things from the car.
Rita, Costa, and Alex slept with him on the same mattress. Papa had to lie on the edge
and pull up his knees, because they would not fit otherwise. They did not fit because the
mattress was so small and Rita wanted to be right in the center, but she began to twist
and turn and kick all those who accidentally touched her. Costa and Alex fenced Rita off
with pillows as shields.
This was their first day at the new place.
THE FLYING SHOE
The legendary creator of gunpowder,
the monk Berthold Schwarz, 4 died in the
explosion of his invention.
The morning began with a scream. It was Vicky. Everybody woke up at once and ran
to her. There was no saying what and why. A new home, a new place.
“A cockroach was climbing under my mattress!” Vicky informed them.
“That’s all? At least a large one?” Kate asked, yawning.
“Huge! Never saw anything like it!”
“Put down soggy bread for it, cockroaches love that!” Kate advised her and lifted up
the mattress to look at the cockroach.
“Careful! Wrinkles!” yelled Vicky, the only one who managed to put sheets down for
The cockroach turned out to be a giant purple ground beetle, which was hiding in a
crack in the wooden floor. Peter immediately got on the Internet and found out that a
ground beetle never attacks first, but, escaping from enemies, can secrete yellowish
drops of acid. If the poison gets on the hand, for example, and the person wipes his eyes
with this hand, then the retina cannot be restored.
Alena and Vicky immediately began to run away from the ground beetle, but the
others, on the contrary, ran for it. Alex tried to place the ground beetle on a sheet of
paper so that it would secret poison. Kate yelled, “Leave it alone! It’s in the Red List!”5
Costa, brandishing his sword, tried to get to the ground beetle and hit it. Rita screamed
just for the company, because she saw that everyone was running and yelling. At the
same time, she was also stomping loudly.
Everything ended when Papa placed the ground beetle in the palm of his hand, took
it out into the courtyard, and released it onto the grass. The ground beetle did not
secrete a drop of poison. It did not figure out that it was on Papa’s hand. It probably
seemed to it that it was a piece of bark.
“You kicked it out of the house! It was happy here with us! Comfy and safe!” Kate
said sorrowfully, and Mama forced Papa to wash his hands with soap.
“If you go blind, who will feed us? You work with your eyes!”
“Very funny! And no one ever mentioned being sorry for me!” Papa sulked and
quickly went to his new office, before some crazy toddler kept him busy.
It is unclear whether Schwarz is a historical or purely legendary figure. It has been suggested that he was
a historical alchemist of the late 14th century who developed gunpowder in Germany.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
There turned out to be no desk in the office. There was only a nightstand smelling of
valerian6 with a lamp attached that had a neck like the knight in chess. Papa started to
move the nightstand so that it would be closer to the light. Breaking away from the wall,
the lamp immediately dislodged and fell to the ground. It turned out that where the
bolts were attached had managed to rot.
“Well! First destruction!” Papa said, with sadness remembering the old man, who
treated them as decent people.
“Not the first destruction! The second!” Peter corrected him. It turned out that he
had already managed to break a chair, which, according to Peter, had itself to blame,
because who knew that one should not stand on it.
Papa took the chair and the lamp to the basement and placed his laptop temporarily
on the windowsill. When he did that, someone loudly said “honk-honk!” at him. He
decided that it was Peter, but then saw a gaggle of geese, in a long chain like prisoners in
the movies, walking around an enormous trough and making an awful racket. An elderly
woman, hands in her apron, was standing near the geese and admiring them. All this
took place some two metres from the window of Papa’s office. If Papa opened the
window, he could easily stretch a mop through the small flowerbed to the geese and the
“Isn’t that our yard?” Mama asked perplexedly.
“No, not ours! This is the side of the street,” Papa replied. “What, will they be
honking all day? This is a city! It’s two steps to the main street! Why are there geese
“Do you want me to stick some film on the window so that nothing will be visible?”
“Oh no, don’t! I want to see life, not a film with flowers!”
Leaving Papa to observe life, Mama set off to the kitchen to make breakfast and save
the rest of the produce from Kate. Dogs were already barking somewhere close and
Mama suspected that Kate had something to do with it.
Looking out onto the street, Mama discovered that it was indeed so. Kate was
feeding the dogs their remaining sausages, and Vicky was standing beside her, smearing
iodine on the bald back of the long dog with a squirrel-hair paintbrush, which Mama
recognized as one of her favourite paintbrushes. The bald dog was eating a sausage and
it was all the same to it that they were pouring and spreading iodine on it with a natural
squirrel-hair brush. True, the other dogs were looking at the bald dog with suspicion
and moving away from it.
“What are you doing?” Mama shouted.
“Why is it bald? If it’s bald, that means it’s sick. If it’s sick, it must be treated!” Vicky
Valerian is a perennial flowering plant with the roots being used in herbal medicine, since valerian root
has sedative and anxiolytic effects.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Don’t touch it with your hands! What if it has ringworms?” Mama was worried.
“No one is touching it with hands! I’m touching it with a brush!” Vicky explained,
and the dogs, having finished the sausages, rushed to the gate to bark at a lone cyclist.
Mama was afraid that people would think that these were their dogs because they
ran out of their gates, and rushed to save the cyclist. The cyclist yelled and jerked his
foot, trying to kick the dogs. As he rode down the figure-eight street, the dogs ran
alongside and barked horribly, and the largest even seized his pant leg. However, as
soon as the cyclist approached the exit from the street, the dogs immediately lost
interest and went back home. At the same time, the bald dog managed to roll about in
the dust, and all traces of iodine disappeared from it.
When Mama returned, Papa was unloading things from the van. Peter and Vicky
were helping him, and Alex was roaming around the courtyard seeking out anything
interesting. He discovered quite a lot of interesting things. A rusty rake without a
handle, a watering can in the shape of a flamingo, originally pink but faded from the sun
to almost white, two very old car license plates, and a big shoe. The shoe had probably
been in concrete once, because it still had cement on it now and even its shoelaces were
Alex took the shoe, thought for a bit, held it in his hands, and then with the words,
“Why is it lying in our yard?” threw it over the fence to the neighbour’s yard.
“Don’t!” Mama yelled, but she was too late. She only had time to hear as the shoe
fell on the other side onto something metallic, because the sound was of scraping metal.
“Well! Now we have to go to the neighbour’s to apologize!” Mama said. However,
before she took a step, the shoe flew back and plopped down between Mama and Alex.
“Wow!” Alex said and, faster than Mama could even move, tossed it back again.
This time it managed without crashing. Hence, the shoe had flown past the iron
sheet. But after three seconds, the shoe appeared over the fence again, spinning in the
air. Obviously, someone had launched it by the stiff lace. Peter, walking across the yard
with boxes, dropped the boxes and rushed to catch the shoe. He managed to intercept it
immediately; it barely appeared from behind the fence and Peter hammered it exactly
like a volleyball.
“You’re sick!” Vicky said.
“Cool, eh? Flinging shoes at each other!”
“We started first!”
“We can! This shoe is not ours!”
“What do you mean it’s not ours? It’s on our lot!”
“It’s still not ours. Let them show the receipt that it’s ours!”
The shoe again whistled in the air. Peter grabbed his ear and slowly began to get
“Ah! It hit you? Are you hurt?” Vicky exclaimed.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“No! It tickled me! Better you all leave, because I can miss!” Peter said in a voice
terrible in its quietness.
Having taken the shoe by its laces, he twirled it and launched it up with force.
Almost reaching the sun, the shoe, gaining speed, rushed down, and hung safely on the
branches of the walnut tree.
Peter tried to get to it, but the upper branches of the walnut tree were brittle and
could not hold his weight. Then Peter sent Alex, stating, “The chief monkey goes to the
A flattered “chief monkey” climbed up the walnut tree, but the branches began to
crack even under him and the “monkey” came back with nothing. Seeing that time had
passed but the shoe did not come flying, someone was romping about in disappointment
on the other side of the fence. They heard something being dragged, most likely a chair,
onto a sheet of iron, and then someone, sighing, scrambled onto it. A pale face with redbrown freckles appeared over the fence. It belonged to a boy about eleven.
“I would like to draw to your attention that throwing objects is rude!” the boy
informed them. His head was swinging like a pendulum, first disappeared, and then
“It’s you throwing? Now I’ll give it to you in the forehead! You hit me in the ear!”
The pale boy looked seriously at Peter’s ear. “Wait a minute! Sorry to digress, but I
must promptly finish an unpleasant matter!”
The boy did not reply and disappeared, and a moment later, the iron sheet rattled
“What, running away?” Peter asked.
“No,” a weak voice came from the other side of the fence. “Not exactly. I fell off the
Peter realized that this was the same unpleasant matter that the boy had to finish.
“How is it possible to fall from a chair?”
“I stood on its back, and it broke. Could you get me up please? I’m stuck.”
Peter and Vicky, followed by Kate, leapt over the fence and jumped down on the
iron sheet. They were in a courtyard resembling a tennis racket. The racket handle was
paved with coloured tiles. The round part of the racket was a small courtyard. Two cages
were in the yard. Four chickens were languishing in the first. Five or six bikes were
locked in the second cage adjacent to the wall.
A chair with a broken back lay on the iron sheet. A boy was lying on his back near
the chair. His foot was stuck in the forked trunk of an acacia, on the thorny branches of
which a great number of socks were drying. The boy was pressing his hand to his chest.
His white t-shirt was slowly stained pink.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Goodbye!” the boy said solemnly, looking not at them but at the sky. “Please tell my
parents that I’ve died. Although, I think they’ll also guess!”
Vicky began to squeal, but Kate squatted down and asked why he decided that he
“I cut myself,” the boy informed her.
“Cut what? A vein?”
“No. I ripped open my finger on this iron sheet. Of course, my parents will now
throw it out, but it’s already useless! A person cut by a rusty object dies within a few
hours. Tetanus starts in him.”
Kate disengaged the boy’s leg from the forked acacia and helped him up. The boy
stood and swayed. He pressed his injured hand to his chest and would not show it to
anyone. His t-shirt continued to stain.
“Anyone home?” Kate asked.
“Well, let’s go there! What’s your name?”
“Andrew! Andrew Mokhov,” the boy introduced himself.
Kate and Peter grabbed him by the elbows and led him away. Andrew Mokhov
walked firmly, but only until he looked at his shirt. Then he began to pale and his knees
“Of course everything will be bad!” he said, making his way between the cage with
bicycles and the cage with chickens. “That’s your car there? So big? I saw it from behind
the fence. How many of you kids are there? Although you don’t have to answer. Already
doesn’t matter to me now!”
“Seven,” Kate said.
“For some reason this would be valuable information!” Andrew admitted. “There
are two of us. Nina and Seraphim.”
“Then why two? Aren’t you Andrew?”
“Correct. But when I die, only Nina and Seraphim will be left. I corrected the
number, so as not to mislead you.”
“How old are Nina and Seraphim?”
“Nina’s fourteen, Seraphim’s eight. But he’s been lost since this morning, so Nina’ll
probably remain alone.”
At the end of the yard, they saw a small house with cracked paint. It was entwined
not with a grapevine but an ivy with a trunk the thickness of two human arms. In order
that the roots of the ivy would not wreck the walls, pieces of wood were placed near
“Wow! Some house! Where did it come from?” Peter was surprised.
“It has always been here,” Andrew said with an air of importance. “Even before
yours. Yours is sixty years old. Ours will soon be a hundred. See, what thick limestone.”
“Why didn’t we see your gate?”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Andrew sighed. “Because our gate isn’t here. There’s a wicket gate, but it’s far... it’s
all very complicated in the city. A bunch of all kinds of side-streets and courtyards.”
“We already realized this when searching for our house,” Peter said.
“You realized nothing. The figure eight, it’s this here.” Andrew traced with a finger
in the air. “And here’s one more lane, like a one. It turns out that it’s not 8 but 18. We’re
on the 1 and you’re on the 8. In short, we’re closer over the fence. If you walk, then you
have to go around everything in a circle.”
Andrew got up onto the porch and began to knock on the door with his forehead. No
one answered, then Andrew pressed the handle with his elbow. “It’s open,” he said.
They found themselves in an enclosed patio, where there was a gas boiler the same
as the Gavrilovs’. Here was a large table in a kitchen area. Despite the bright day
outside, the ivy shaded the window so much that the patio was lit by a chandelier with
five dusty globes. A huge dried-up butterfly had hardened on one of the globes.
“We specifically did not take it off. For the sake of artistic shadows on the wall. Papa
won’t allow it,” the boy explained.
“Your father’s an artist?”
“Photographer. Works on the sea front. And in schools too.”
Andrew sat quite calmly down on a chair, but looked by chance at his hand and,
remembering that he was dying, started to slide from his chair onto the floor. Vicky
looked at him with understanding. She loved to suffer when the appropriate occasion
“Go and rinse out the wound!” Kate ordered.
“No way! I’m afraid!”
“Let me call your mama! Where is she?”
“Mustn’t disturb Mama! She was on the Internet all night and only just lay down.
And Nina has gone for her guitar lesson...”
“Where’s your papa then? At work?”
“No. Papa’s searching for Seraphim. Seraphim is lost. He gets lost all the time...”
“In a white box!”
Kate began to look for a white box and discovered it to the right of the teapot. All its
sides, the outside, and even the inside of the lid, were covered with many phone
numbers. While Kate was looking for the box, she noticed many icons, including the
Nursing Madonna7 and Our Lady of Kazan,8 on the patio walls. The stump of a candle
stuck out of a candlestick by the window.
Kate looked at this with understanding. “You also go to church?”
The Nursing Madonna shows the Virgin Mary breastfeeding the infant Jesus, a depiction representing
Our Lady of Kazan is an icon representing the Virgin Mary as the protector and patroness of the city of
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Mama, yes. Papa... well, probably also yes! But I’m an atheist!” Andrew said. “I
don’t believe in God but in that when people die, they decompose to water and mineral
Peter looked at Andrew with great interest and scratched his nose. “And how do
your parents feel about you being an atheist?” he asked.
“It’s alright. Mama says that atheism is a normal step towards faith and not a fear
for God. Ouch, don’t pour iodine on the wound! Never iodine on the wound, only on the
edges! Lord! That hurts!!!”
Using the fact that Andrew, blowing on the wound, involuntarily stopped grabbing
her finger, Kate deftly put a bandage on his hand and wiped it with a wet towel. Then
she forced Andrew to change his t-shirt. The spots of blood had barely disappeared, and
Andrew immediately calmed down. Even his cheeks visibly turned pink.
Andrew was embarrassed to admit that he was alive. “My finger is throbbing!” he
said, paying attention to his senses.
“No, not a lot, but it’s throbbing. Come to my room! Just don’t yell! Mama’s sleeping
behind the door!”
“Right now, no one to yell at here! No little ones!” Kate said and was mistaken.
While they were busy, Alex managed to get over the fence and dragged Costa with him.
No one dragged Rita over the fence, and she was screaming on the other side,
demanding to join the team.
Andrew’s room turned out to be a real pirate’s nook with an upper deck supported
by four wooden pillars. A rope ladder hung from the deck. True, it turned out that
Andrew did not use it because he was lazy. On a littered table were textbooks for the
fifth grade, a tablet, and a laptop without a single key. Only two or three elastics and
some plastic parts were intact.
“Don’t pay attention to the keyboard!” Andrew said grimly. “Seraphim picked them
off when I sat on his grasshopper. He didn’t believe that it was an accident.”
“Yes. He fed the grasshopper grass and it was all around the whole house. He
deleted everything from my desktop. Now I have an eighteen-character password. I type
it in front of Seraphim, but he can’t remember.”
“How do you enter the password?”
“On an external keyboard. I hide it just in case... Hey! Is this also your brother? Get
my paper from him!”
“Also your brother” turned out to be Costa, who had pulled some paper off the table
to draw on. They caught Costa and took the sheet of paper from him. Costa wanted to be
indignant but felt that there was no sympathetic public near at hand, and he very quietly
got busy examining a fishing bobber, which glowed when shaken.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“What’s this formula? You like chemistry?” Peter asked, looking at the sheet rescued
from Costa’s hands.
Andrew hastily grabbed back the sheet written on with a wide marker. He listened,
looked out the window, and whispered, “Can you keep a secret?”
“Yes!” Peter said.
“Then here it is! Do you know where to buy uranium?”
“What kind of uranium?”
“Enriched. I know how to make an atomic bomb, only I have no uranium!”
“At a drugstore?” Alex naively asked.
“Uranium? At a drugstore?” Peter laughed his signature laugh, but Andrew looked
at Alex without irony, which Alex appreciated very much.
“You don’t understand! Such things aren’t in drugstores. They wouldn’t even sell me
manganese! Said it’s forbidden to sell it.”
Next to Andrew’s table was a huge cookie box filled to the brim with all sorts of
technical treasures: parts of phones, coils of wire, tools, batteries, electric toys, and
constructor components. It was worthwhile for Alex to see all this, as he stuck to
Andrew exactly like a boy from the Middle Ages to the Pied Piper.
Therefore, when Mama began to shout from behind the fence and call them to
breakfast, the older children left immediately, but Alex stayed with Andrew. And Costa
also stayed. He generally tagged after Alex all the time, and whatever Alex was
interested in, he roughly determined that he had to take it away or steal it.
Alex and Andrew started to rummage in the box. From time to time Andrew
groaned, trying to bend the cut finger. They made a catapult, which was to throw
batteries with an ignition mechanism fastened to them. Andrew gutted ignition
mechanisms from broken plastic lighters. According to the design, all this should
explode and kill everyone on site, because Andrew read somewhere that batteries
contain metal salts, but also discharge gas, which would certainly ignite with the
mechanism. Costa was jostling near them, grabbing everything, and interfering. Then
they climbed the rope ladder to the upper deck on the pillars. Costa could not climb up
the ladder because of his left hand and was starting to get rowdy below. They paid him
no attention. Then Costa went out into the yard, picked up clumps of dirt, returned and
began to throw dirt at them.
“Are you nuts, kid? What do you want?” Andrew was mad when a piece of dirt hit
him on the nose.
“It’s Costa,” Alex prompted.
“Costa! What do you want?”
Costa did not know what he wanted and pouted angrily. “Say ‘table’!” he demanded
in a voice trembling with anger.
“Table!” Andrew repeated obediently.
“Table! Your grandma’s a boxer!” Costa shouted. “Ha-ha-ha! Say ‘nose’!”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Nose! Your grandma’s a boxer!”
Andrew shook his head. “No, doesn’t rhyme! You can’t say ‘your grandma’s a boxer’
there. Now say ‘sermon’!”
“Sermon!” Costa repeated.
“Sermon! Your mama loves German! Remember?”
Costa rushed ecstatically into the yard and began to shout for them to take him
home. At first, no one heard him, and then Papa sent Peter, who passed Costa over the
fence to Papa.
Costa was trembling with excitement. “Papa, Papa!” he yelled. “Say ‘sermon’!”
“Your grandma’s a boxer!” Costa said and laughed happily.
A BEDTIME STORY
Modern children are taught to fear
everything. Children walking along the
street should look no higher than the
asphalt, and if someone accidentally says
“Hello!” to them, they should quickly
change into a run after poking the person
in the eye with a pencil beforehand. Such
children, who see danger everywhere, can
grow up only as hunted animals.
Papa was busy searching for beds the entire second half of the day. Mama, who
initially wanted to pick out everything herself, stayed home with the children. She had to
get Costa and Rita down for a nap.
There were three furniture stores in the city. One was in some basement, one on the
main street, and one in a glass hangar. The shop on the main street sold office furniture,
revolving chairs and huge desks for managers. Papa wanted to buy himself such a desk
for his office, but he looked at the price and decided to leave it for later, when he would
already be writing the brilliant novel.
Yes! Papa had a dream – to write a brilliant novel. Sometimes this novel really was
stirring in him, it was so dying to come into the world. But Papa pushed it back into his
soul with both hands and said to it, “Sit quietly, mature!” So, for the time being, the
brilliant novel fought its way out only in fragments.
In the glass hangar were plenty of nice sofas, kitchen units, and bedroom furniture.
There were beds too, but none shorter than 200 cm. Papa calculated what it would be if
he bought beds of 200 cm for all seven children, and realized that he did not need this
train of seven cars stretching to fourteen metres in the house. Hence, he bought only one
such bed for Peter, who was a metre ninety tall. Thus, there even left some margin for
the kid to grow in the direction of a decent member of society. Though in their former
two-bedroom, Peter lodged perfectly well with knees drawn in on a small sofa.
There was nothing else interesting in the glass hanger, and Papa went to the store in
a basement. Here he immediately saw a bunk bed and, pleased, he rushed to the sales
clerk, who hid a half-eaten egg in a new nightstand and smiled questioningly, waiting for
“Can I have two more of these?” Papa asked.
The sales clerk explained patiently that what Papa saw in the store was all they had.
If Papa did not see something, then they did not have it. For example, he did not see the
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
moon, so it meant it was not for sale in the store. However, if Papa insisted that he
wanted to buy exactly three beds, they were ready to do the impossible. They would get
the money from Papa now and give him the beds in August, when they would have a
Papa turned down such a scheme and, having bought the bunk bed that was there,
began to think where to find two more. In the end, he hit upon buying the city
newspaper ads and found another bed. Papa phoned and drove around the city, looking
for the necessary street.
The street turned out to be in Outskirts, the name of the area bordering the city.
There were many identical parallel little streets and one-story houses very similar to one
another and overgrown with grapevines, cherry trees, and some southern plants,
An old married couple opened the door, both strong, tanned, and, similar to the
houses on the street, looking like each other. The bunk bed they showed Papa was a little
shaky, but then a metal ladder was attached to it with hooks, and a huge number of
stickers and chewing gum trading cards were glued on both the inside and outside of the
bed. Some of the trading cards seemed awfully familiar to Papa. Terminator,
Terminator-3, Rambo! Wow, hello childhood!
“Your children no longer need the bed?” Papa asked cautiously.
“No. They’re already grown. The son has gone swimming and the daughter’s in
Kamchatka,” the chubby head of the family said and winced, because his wife stepped on
his foot so he would not chat too much. She was afraid that Papa would not buy the bed,
thinking that it was ancient.
“They barely slept on it! We bought the bed when they were in seventh grade,” she
hastily said. “And we’ll even give you the mattresses!”
Papa immediately agreed and together with the old man began to disassemble the
bed. It was secured with such strong bolts that Papa was immediately reassured. A bed
with such bolts simply could not fall apart, rather everything else around would fall
apart first. If it was unsteady, one could put something under the legs!
However, the mattresses surprised Papa most of all. One was light and rustled
continuously, but the other, on the contrary, was awfully heavy. Papa slipped twice
loading it into the van.
“What are the mattresses stuffed with?”
“One with straw. But this with cotton wool, seed husks, and beans,” the head of the
“How many beans?”
“Already hard as stone. But many, very many. Then I worked on the base!” the old
guy said, and after rustling the mattress for the last time, hastily slammed shut the
trunk. He was still a little sorry to part with the bed and the mattresses.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Papa returned to Vine Street only in the evening. Having dragged stools, chairs, and
even a solid box from the whole house into the kitchen, the entire family was sitting
quietly at the table and having tea.
Tea was rarely managed without adventure, because there were usually not enough
cups. As soon as the happy owner of a cup of tea, especially if the tea was with lemon
and sugar, got up to get something from the fridge, someone would steal his tea at a
moment’s notice. The previous owner instantly discovered the thief by the pattern on
the cup and rushed to take it away.
“I thought you didn’t want it!” the thief justified himself.
“You thought nothing! Now give it back!!!”
“Too late! I’ve already spat into it!” the thief sighed, and still did not return the cup.
At other times, however, it goes without saying, the robbed walked around with his
cup all the time and sometimes, in a fit of suspicion, even carried it to the bathroom.
Mama was clinking her tea with a spoon, dissolving a fallen bit of oatmeal cookie
and pondering something intensely. “How many bunk beds did you buy?” she asked
“Hurrah! I’m very happy! I was just thinking that the cribs would be enough for
Costa and Rita for the time being!”
“Kate will sleep on the wardrobe.”
“WHAT??? WHERE?” Papa stared at Mama and then at Kate. Kate did not look up,
but one could sense that she was very satisfied.
"It’s her idea!” Mama explained. “Remember the huge wardrobe on the second
floor? Well, you still didn’t understand why there were metal corners that can withstand
an elephant? We nailed a railing to it so that no one would fall, and just lay a mattress
on it. Still, dust collects on the wardrobe and it has to be wiped clean all the time.”
“So, we’ll wipe the dust with Kate! But how is she going to climb onto it? It’s so
“Easy! For the time being Kate will climb up from a table. Later, we’ll make a rope
ladder, like our neighbour’s. By the way, we got acquainted with them... Very nice
people! True, we talked for literally minutes. Their Seraphim was lost again.”
“Seems that he was already lost.”
“Then their papa found him. Then he and our Alex made a flamethrower out of
deodorant and went on the sly to set fire to the dandelions. Both were lost, but then they
brought Alex back, and they’re still looking for Seraphim,” Peter informed him and, with
a flick of his index finger, sent a piece of beet from the vinaigrette into Vicky’s tea so that
he would get the tea. He knew that Vicky would not drink tea with beets. Vicky kicked
him in the kneecap under the table and poured her tea into the sink. She only left the
lemon and ate it.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“How silly! You’re selfish!” Peter declared.
“And you’re not?”
“I’m still young. I need it.”
“Yesterday you were wise!” Kate sarcastically reminded him.
“Here I’m wise,” Peter said, covering one part of his head with a hand, “and here I’m
young!” and he covered another part of his skull with his hand.
"So you’ll let Kate sleep on the wardrobe?” Mama asked.
Papa looked at Kate, who was beaming like a new coin. She was very pleased that
she would be sleeping above everybody, near the ceiling, where the little ones would not
reach her. Well, except for Alex, who was able to run up the ceiling and screw a light
bulb into the socket.
“Fine!” Papa yielded. “Only I’ll have to check the railing! But you and I, Mama, have
no bed. Only a huge mattress!”
“That’s very good,” Mama said. “I didn’t really want a bed. The young ones often
still sleep with us and constantly roll down onto the floor. But they won’t roll anywhere
from a mattress!”
Papa assembled the beds after dinner. Peter helped him, and Costa and Alex were
underfoot and hindering terribly, but they also could not dismiss them because Mama
said that they would not grow up to be men then. Meanwhile, the “future men” carried
off all the nuts and bolts, fought because of them, and scattered them around the entire
room. As a result, not all of them were found, and Papa had to be very creative, even
screwing on the bottom rack with a wire. Finally, everything was assembled, the
mattresses were beaten with a stick on the balcony, and the room gained an inhabited
By that time, night had already quite set in. Beyond the window curled with
grapevines, the lighthouse was rotating a searchlight, music was blaring, and salutes
were cracking. Papa closed the window and all the extra sounds disappeared.
“Father! Come here!” Peter called from the next room. “Cool! Seems like they’re
cutting up someone!”
Everybody rushed to Peter. Peter was standing with binoculars and looking at a
four-storey block, which was a short distance from them. At the most two rows of lowrise houses over. All its windows were dark or if lit, dimly yellow, normal, except for the
top floor, bathed in a bright blue, almost otherworldly light. It was visible how figures
were floating slowly, like shadows dragged by a draft, from the window across the
middle and gathering in the centre. It looked ominous.
Papa took the binoculars from Peter and noticed that all the figures except two were
in blue robes. “It’s probably a hospital, and the top floor is surgery. Or maybe
resuscitation, because where else would they be operating at night?”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“My nerves can’t stand this! We’ll be living here and they’ll be cutting someone up
over there!” Mama lamented.
“Memento mori.9 Easier to pray. Are you putting Rita to bed?” Papa asked.
Mama looked anxiously at Rita, who, singing monotonically, was already hanging
from her shoulder like a scarf, and agreed to go crazy a little bit later.
“That’s all! I’m calling it a night!” Papa said and closed the curtain.
The hospital immediately disappeared. Together with the blue robes bathed in
otherworldly light. Everything unnecessary vanished.
Mama set off to put Rita down. Peter locked himself in his room and began to try
the password to the neighbour’s Wi-Fi. At the same time, he was laughing demonically
and tapping the tabletop with his elbows. Vicky smoothed out her sheet and moaned
that there was a wrinkle near her pillow and that the mattress was puckered.
“I’ll release a rat!” Kate warned seriously, shifting the cages.
Before climbing onto the top bunk, Alena went to the bathroom and got a basin of
water. She brought the basin into the room and put it under the bed. The children
watched the installation of the basin rather maliciously but kept quiet, and Costa even
walked with Alena and, helping her, supported the basin with his right hand.
Everyone knew that an invisible dragon flew to Alena at night and drank water from
the basin. If there were no water in the basin, the dragon would die, because dragons
need to drink a lot. It is well known that they are hot, and water cools them. Once, two
years ago, Peter decided to play a joke. He dropped a fizzy aspirin into the basin and
stated that it was a poison pill, and that the dragon would now die for sure.
Although they then changed the water in the basin a hundred times, Alena cried all
night and calmed down only by eight in the morning. From then on, no one touched her
dragon and no one meddled with the water. Only Kate occasionally dared to put into the
basin the red-eared slider Mafia, which, though it devoured all living things, was not
dangerous to a fire-breathing dragon.
Having taken care of the dragon, Alena climbed into bed. Papa lay down on the
spare bunk under Alena. Costa and Alex immediately came to him, kicked each other a
couple of times as a formality, and one squeezed in on the right side and the other the
left. It was necessary to keep them exactly the same, each head had to be strictly at the
level of Papa’s armpit, otherwise intense jealousy would start.
“Tell a story!” Alena demanded.
“I want to sleep!” Papa rebelled.
“You slept yesterday! Alex and Costa, shout ‘story’!” Alena ordered from above.
“Story, story!” shouted Costa and Alex, who did everything Alena ordered except in
those cases when it was unprofitable for them.
Papa raised his head and scratched his forehead along Costa’s forehead, because his
hands were occupied.
Latin phrase: remember that you must die.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Fine,” he said, starting to make it up on the go. “Well, once upon a time, there was
a girl. Her name was Lena.”
Papa was talking in a dull voice, constantly yawning, and Alena was keeping an eye
that he did not fall asleep, because when Papa fell asleep for at least thirty seconds, his
processor would overload and he would forget the story he was telling. Then the
children would shake him and ask, “What comes next?”
“Huh? What? The hedgehog went on!” Papa would answer randomly.
“You said that the hedgehog died!”
“Really? And you believed it? Have to read between the lines, clearly see the
author’s secret plan! So, it ate a magic mushroom. Or it was a hedgehog-zombie!”
On hearing that the girl’s name was Lena, Alena hung from the bed and lit Papa
with the phone flashlight.
“What’s her name?” she asked suspiciously. Alena could not stand it when the hero
of a story had her name. Papa knew this but loved to tease her.
“Well, let it be Luna!” Papa corrected himself.
“It’s not me?”
“Of course, it’s YOU! Who else?” Kate said from her wardrobe.
“Not me! Not me!”
“Not you, not you at all!” Papa yielded. “There are all kinds of Lunas in the world! In
short, Luna (Not you! Not you!) was walking down the street. She saw a dirty coat,
falling apart, so wet and disgusting, but with shiny new buttons! Luna felt sorry for the
buttons. She snipped them off with a nail clipper and took them.”
“Where did she get a nail clipper? She carried it with her?” Kate, who enjoyed
creating literary problems for Papa, cut in again.
“It was in the coat pocket. Blunt and rusty. And with suspicious brown marks!” Papa
“And, of course, they turned out to be magic buttons?” Alena asked.
“Yes. There were five altogether. Four big and one small. Luna came home and
sewed two buttons onto the toy bunny with a torn ear. And the other two buttons she
sewed onto a monster made out of an old sweater and with sofa springs in it.”
“Ah! She liked to sew! And put in springs.”
“What did she do with the small button?” Alena asked.
“She sewed the little one onto a mouse made from a sock and stuffed with cotton
wool. Then Luna went to sleep, but when she woke up in the morning, there was neither
bunny nor monster nor mouse. They had all come to life and ran away. Then Luna got
scared! She was sorry that she gave the monster a scary face and sewed two serrated
knives to the sleeves of his jacket!”
Someone sobbed near Papa’s right armpit. It was Alex, whom Papa believed had
fallen asleep a long time ago, because there had long been snoring under the left armpit.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Don’t!” Alex squeaked. “I’m scared!”
“Must!” Kate said from the wardrobe. “Scared, cover your ears!”
“I can still hear.”
“Continue! Pa, hello! Pa!”
“Don’t!” Alex began to argue, but Kate and Alena demanded a continuation.
However, Papa was suspiciously silent for some reason, and then Kate came down and
shone her phone on Papa, making sure that he was asleep. Knowing that he could not be
shaken out of slumber now, she climbed onto the wardrobe, and soon the whole house
plunged into sleep.
RITA’S TERRIBLE SECRET
“I have... what is called... the word is...
sclerosis, in short!”
Days passed. Papa, Mama, and the seven children gradually made themselves at
home in the new place.
Not in vain was Mama considered the most skilled hand in the library. The house
became cozier with each passing day. Mama brought her sewing machine and quickly
sewed curtains for all the rooms, because the old ones were so saturated with tobacco
smoke that everyone had a headache.
Mama’s curtains were unlike store-bought. She matched appropriate fabric, pieces
of bed sheets, and duvet covers, and stitched into these fabrics certain cut-out parts of
children’s clothing. For example, Kate’s favourite dress, which she had irreparably burnt
with an iron, turned up in the living room on the first floor next to Rita ’s colourful
romper, which was already too small for her. Kate looked at her dress and grieved. Rita
also pointed at her romper and, trying to explain that she recognized it, squealed like a
piglet. Papa’s gloves turned up on the curtains in his office. Mama managed to make
four out of two gloves by cutting them in half. As a result, it always seemed to Papa that
someone was climbing along his curtains.
The old drapery rods also did not suit Mama, and she made new ones out of some
thick, suitable, sawn-off vine trunks that someone had abandoned by the school on the
next street. Mama did not understand how anyone could throw out such beautiful
The neighbours, on the contrary, wondered why Mama dragged home this garbage,
sweeping the asphalt with them. Only one neighbour, Uncle Vova, who fed all the stray
dogs and puttered in the garden all day, planting cucumbers and tomatoes, understood.
“Ah, you want to make kebabs! Only don’t throw in the green ones, otherwise it’ll
The new vine drapery rods turned out to be a lot livelier than the previous ones;
however, due to their roughness, the curtains did not move along them and simply had
to be tied up. Mama braided the thin green shoots into large globes and hung them
instead of chandeliers. In the evening, the globes cast very mysterious moving shadows
on the walls.
“How contented I am!” Mama said. “I finally have a table to put my sewing machine
on! And a large mattress on which I can lie down so that no one jumps on my face!”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
While Mama was busy with curtains and chandeliers, Papa learned to understand
the whimsies of the boiler and painted the rusting gates with black paint. True, Costa
then stuck a hand in the can of black paint and left many, many handprints on the fence
and on Papa’s car. Papa wanted to be annoyed, but Mama wiped off two blurred prints
and intensified the others instead, so that it turned out beautifully.
In the same period, five new stools appeared in the house, but three old stools and
one chair were moved to the basement. Every day the kids broke something, and one of
the escaped rats managed to gnaw through the cord of the kettle and stay alive.
“Wow!” said Kate. “But it’s written on the Internet that you can kill a rat with one
“Well, probably if it’s wet!” Vicky suggested, and Alex found a battery, put water in a
douche bag, and ran to chase the rats. Everything ended with his finger jammed in the
cage and Papa straightening the bars of the cage with pliers.
While Papa was rescuing Alex, Rita quickly grabbed something from the kitchen
table and ran to the bathroom. Then everyone heard the sound of flushing water. Mama
was the first to run to Rita. Papa, who actually went for peroxide to treat Alex’s finger,
hurried after her. Alex, bleeding a single drop of blood, trudged behind him and tried to
show courage. He suggested to himself and those around that he was a soldier. And, as a
soldier, important military matters excited him.
“What happens if a soldier starts to fight without pants?”
“Well, the other soldiers will laugh at him!” Papa replied absent-mindedly.
Alex waved his wounded hand. “But he’ll hit them while they laugh at him!” he
When Papa and the wounded Alex appeared in the bathroom, Rita was standing
beside the toilet and laughing.
“What did you drop in there?” Mama asked severely.
“Keekeekeekee!” Rita said and laughed even happier. She was very satisfied that
they were paying her attention. Attention, as is known, is measured in heed-mark, 10 and
Rita loved getting a lot of it.
“What was it?” Mama repeated, but Rita only looked at her with huge eyes.
“She’s keeping quiet!” Mama said with despair.
“What did she do?” Papa asked.
“Dropped something from the table and flushed!”
“What did she drop?”
“How would I know? Something!”
Papa grunted philosophically and set off to bathe the soldier Alex’s finger with
peroxide. Ten minutes later, Papa promptly needed to drive to register Kate and Vicky in
art school. He started looking for the car keys and was unable to find them. Then he
A measurement of attention obtained.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
remembered that Rita had dropped something into the toilet and dashed to Mama.
“Keys to the car! She flushed my keys!”
“Take the spares.”
“Have you forgotten? We have no spares!”
“I told you to make spares! Didn’t I tell you?” Mama immediately declared. She
loved to say something useful and correct, with great public value. Well, there is
“children should behave well” or “the country should live grandly!” If children then
fought or the country did not live grandly, Mama instantly recalled that she had warned
them what was right, but they had not listened.
“Think: did you leave the keys on the table?” Mama asked.
“I don’t remember where I left them! Sometimes on the table, sometimes by the
window! But they’re definitely not by the window!”
“Don’t panic! Go search!”
Papa went searching for the keys. He looked at all the windows, everywhere. When
he returned, it was clear to Mama from his expression that he had returned with empty
“Maybe in your pocket?” she asked.
Papa patted his pockets, crouched down, and was on the same level with Rita. “Let’s
remember! What did you drop? The keys, yes?” he asked in a frighteningly gentle voice.
“Yeth!” Rita blurted out.
“Aha!” Papa shouted triumphantly. “I knew it! She confessed! Did you hear?”
“Wait!” an approaching Kate dampened him. “You asked wrong!”
“What do you mean, wrong? She said ‘yes’!”
“She always answers ‘yes’. To all questions. Watch this!” Kate also squatted next to
Rita. “You dropped dynamite! Dynamite, yes?”
“Yeth!” Rita willingly acknowledged.
“Not dynamite, but a big house? Did you drop it?”
“Yeth!” Rita acknowledged still more willingly.
“You see!” Kate said. “She simply can’t say anything besides ‘yes’!”
“No!” Rita suddenly said. “Keekeekee-thee!”
Papa grabbed his head. “Keekeekee-thee! That’s keys! The words are similar!
Everything’s clear! We’re without a car!”
“Get a mechanic!” Mama said.
“Do you know how much it’ll cost? The car is Japanese, thousands of cables there.
They’ll gouge us with triple the price, and then nothing will work. Would be cheaper to
break the toilet. Where’s our axe?”
Alex and Costa happily rushed for the axe. They knew that tools were in hand-made
boxes under the wooden step, although their parents hid this from them. Nevertheless,
the more hidden from them, the more they found out.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Mama caught both by the collar. “Stop! Why touch the toilet when the keys are
already in the pipe? How do you imagine a house without a toilet?”
“How do you imagine a house without a car?”
“Easy. Better a house without a car than a house without a toilet. We’ll go by bike!”
“We have no bikes!”
“We’ll buy them!” Mama said, and the children immediately pricked up their ears.
They liked the idea. In such a case, it was very worthwhile to flush the car keys down the
“I want a bike! Me too! And me!”
Papa fancied that he would have to buy nine bikes and diplomatically answered, “I’ll
think about your proposals.”
“When you say ‘you’ll think about’, it means ‘no’!” Peter declared from the stairs.
“Fine. We’ll do this gradually.”
“Aha, gradually! Today the seat, tomorrow the handlebar, and in two weeks the
“Indeed!” Papa said glumly. “What’s this: mutiny of the little sweeties?! We’ll buy
bikes as soon as money appears. And preferably used, from newspaper ads! Used bikes
are often better than new ones because people often add a bunch of accessories and then
sell them just as they are.”
An hour passed. Already no one tried to find the keys. Certain that they were
flushed away, Papa made up his mind to go find a mechanic, but Mama decided to feed
him dumplings before he went so that he would be nicer. She opened the freezer and the
first thing she came across was the car keys, covered by a white layer of frost.
“Did you see this? Who put them there?” Mama exclaimed in amazement.
“Oh, no!” Papa said. “It seems I did! I wanted to get ice when Alex squeezed his
finger. And the keys were obviously in my hand. I put them down purely automatically
so they’d be out of the way.”
“Then what did Rita flush? Rita, what did you drop? What’s ‘Keekeekee-thee’?
Huh?” Mama asked
Everyone stared at Rita, but she laughed and ran away somewhere, loudly stomping
her plump legs on the stairs.
BEASTS OF MINE
Let us put mice in our basement, then
we will need to get a cat! What, my plan is
not great? Answer me: why?!
The Gavrilov family had always had many pets. It came from Mama, who as a child
led stray dogs on an elastic strap tied to her pants. Now Mama pretended that she could
not stand animals, that they only forced themselves on her, but for all that, she never
prevented the children from acquiring new animals.
This was Mama’s tactic. First, she would say, “Oh, what a cute behemoth!” Then she
would encourage Kate to bring the behemoth home on the cord for keys, but later, when
the behemoth smashed something, would grumble that she was not the one who had
acquired the behemoth and that she was against it.
They considered most of the animals to be Kate’s. They said “Kate’s rats,” “Kate’s
guinea pig,” “Kate’s turtle.” This was advantageous; the rest could whine that Kate has
rats and a turtle but I have nothing... Not fair! Let us get another forty duplicate rats and
turtles, but they will already not be Kate’s but mine! And each turtle, of course, will
remember who owns it and perhaps even wear an engraved photo of the owner on its
shell at its heart.
One morning, Mama was bathing Rita and Costa, but Alex ran in and threw rubber
slippers into the bath. Then he tried to fill the tub with vinegar to check whether Rita
and Costa would dissolve.
Papa set Alex on a chair to think over his behaviour and went off himself to finish a
story. Alex sat on the chair and whined. Then he began to move the chair on the wooden
floor, making horrible sounds. Papa endured these sounds for about five minutes. Then
he came out and said sternly, “Have you thought it over?”
“And what do you think? What was your behaviour?”
“And what are your conclusions?”
Alex snuffled. He did not seem to have any conclusions.
“Conclude that you won’t do it anymore! Agree?”
Alex agreed with this answer and Papa, with relief, handed him over to Kate and
Vicky, who were just about to go for a walk. “Only hold his hands and cross the street on
a green light!”
“Can’t on green!” Alex instantly declared.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“What lights do cars go on? Green! So, people should go on red!”
“Cars go on their own green, and people have red at this time.”
“What if people think that the green for cars is their green? And the cars think that
their red is red for people?” Alex, who loved strict consistency in everything, specified.
Papa was utterly confused, because he remembered that there is even the green
arrow, on which the cars turn, and that some cars do not let pedestrians pass, and he
was instantly quite uncertain how to explain. “You know, you just hold your sisters’
hands and do as they do!” he said.
Alex held hands with Kate and Vicky and they set off wandering around the city. The
three stray dogs living on Vine Street – Stool, Lad, and Tot – stuck with them. Stool was
a very long dog on short legs. It was so long that sometimes it was as if all the
dachshunds in the world had united in it. Tot was medium-sized and off-white, and Lad
was a shaggy calf which barked in a bass. Trying to persuade the dogs not to accompany
them, Kate and Vicky stamped their feet and threw dirt at them, but the dogs pretended
that they noticed nothing and still stayed with them.
Usually, Stool, Lad, and Tot sat on Vine Street and rarely left it, because the city was
divided between rival clans of dogs, which could bite off the ears of strange dogs. But
when one of the children went into the city, Stool, Lad, and Tot decided, “Our pack is
going hunting, now there are many of us, we are cool,” and set off following. They ran
across the road, barked at cars, got into fights with strange dogs, and, although they did
not belong to the children, there would be shouts at them from all directions, “Restrain
Today everything ended when Lad carried off a herring from the scale of a market
seller and, fleeing from pursuit, darted across the road. Behind Lad, tails tucked under
them, ran Stool and Tot. Alex wanted to follow them, but Kate and Vicky would not let
go of his hands.
“Calm down! Keep walking as if nothing happened!” Kate said, quickly dragging
Alex around the corner. Peering out from behind the corner, she was relieved to see that
the seller was laughing and seemed ready to forgive Lad for the herring.
“This is stupid! There was no need to bring these dogs with us!” Vicky said.
“We brought them? By the way, I threw dirt at them! Now I have dirty nails!” Kate
They still knew the city poorly but were getting better every day. The tramlines
divided it into two parts – the holiday resort part and the non-resort part. They lived in
the non-resort part. All the main streets retained their former names: Krupskaya, 11
Dmitrii Ulyanov,12 International, and Sixtieth Anniversary of October. Between the
Nadezhda Konstantinovna Krupskaya (1869-1939), a Bolshevik and politician, was Lenin's wife.
Dmitri Ilyich Ulyanov (1874-1943), a doctor and Marxist, was the younger brother of Lenin – Vladimir
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
infinite Ulyanov relatives and other Marxes ran many alleys and streets – Peach,
Cottage, Apple, Cherry, Free, and Seaside.
Peter was the first to come up with how to navigate the city. “If there are tracks, it’s
close to the sea! That’s one! If the street is called some sort of October or Lenin Avenue,
it’s a main street. Go along it and get to a familiar place! That’s two. Don’t turn onto
small streets. Carry a phone. That’s three!”
Now Kate and Vicky went first along a main street, then turned onto a secondary
street named after a famous Ukrainian poet, and suddenly saw a pet store. It was a very
big pet store. It occupied the entire first floor of a small three-storey building.
Kate was the first to run bravely into the pet store; Alex and Vicky carefully trickled
in after her. Alex immediately grabbed Vicky’s hand. To his surprise, it seemed to him
that he had found himself in a jungle or in the tropics. Hundreds of parrots were
squawking in cages, thousands of fish were swimming in aquariums, hamsters were
turning their wheels, jerboas were burying themselves in sawdust, and a big metre-long
python was sitting in a huge terrarium in the corner. And all these among the many
potted plants. Kate immediately went astray among the cages, and Alex, letting go of
Vicky’s hand, also disappeared somewhere after her.
A minute later someone was heard shouting, “Kid, do you understand Russian?
Hey, kid! Don’t touch the gnome!”
A girl immediately brought Alex out by the hand. She wore glasses, had on a robe
and a homemade apron of medical oilcloth, and was, in Vicky’s opinion, already
advanced in years. The girl was about twenty years old. In appearance, this was the
sternest girl in the world, short hair, determined, with a voice cutting like a scalpel. She
could easily be trusted to command the army. In her right hand dangled a mutilated
hamster, which she casually held by a hind paw, swinging it from side to side, and she
was holding Alex by his collar in her other hand.
“Is this your brother?”
Vicky looked attentively, and even with some suspicion, at Alex and acknowledged
“He touched a gnome! Shoved his hands right into the mouth!” the girl said
“And a gnome is...?” Vicky started carefully, trying to understand what kind of
animal this gnome was.
“A gnome is a gnome! And in the gnome display!” the girl finished and handed Alex
over to Vicky with the demand to either tape his hands together or take him away from
Vicky took Alex’s hand and together they made their way along the wall to the exit.
Kate had disappeared somewhere in the bowels of the store. The routes of her
movements could be tracked by the squawks of the parrots and the squeaks of the
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
rodents. However, the girl in the robe for some reason did not interfere with Kate,
evidently sensing a kindred spirit.
Vicky was already almost at the exit when Alex suddenly sat down and pulled her
down. Between two wooden tubs, Vicky saw an aquarium like a jar with a heater. Three
tiny white mice with black spots on their backs were sitting on sand in the aquarium.
The largest of them could fully settle on a tablespoon. The mice were sitting and washing
with their paws.
Watching them washing, Vicky experienced off-the-scale affinity. She just wanted to
have them. Time disappeared. Vicky looked at the mice, and the mice were washing
quietly and very thoroughly. One of them was significantly fatter than the rest. Evidently
it was expecting.
Alex took advantage of the distraction and ran away. Vicky remembered him only
after hearing the shout, “This hyperactive kid again! Don’t get to the spiders! They’re
poisonous! I already asked to watch him!”
The stern girl again appeared nearby, firmly holding Alex by his collar. Discovering
Vicky by the aquarium with mice, the girl frowned slightly. In her left hand was no
longer a dead hamster but a live rabbit, which she was carrying by the ears. “What do
you want here?”
“I’m looking. Can I buy these?” Vicky tried feverishly to remember how much
money she had in her piggybank. In any case, there should be enough for the mice. The
cage, drinking bowl, and everything else she could take from Kate.
“They’re not for sale! These are Japanese mice! They’re for the snakes!” the girl cut
her off and shook the rabbit. The rabbit tried to kick her with its hind legs, but she let it
hang down by the ears and deftly grasped it under the belly.
“What do you mean, for the snakes?”
“For the snakes! We feed them to the snakes!” the girl replied with irritation.
Kate jumped out from somewhere and quickly considered the situation carefully.
“You’ll feed this one to the snakes? It’s pregnant!”
The girl squatted and looked at the aquarium in a business-like manner. “Indeed,
pregnant! No, I won’t with this one. Too big. I’ll wait until it gives birth. Then feed its
Vicky issued the sound “ah-h-h!” on a breath and was about to faint, but there was
nowhere in the tightly packed store for fainting and she just turned pale.
“Stop whimpering! Can’t you feed the snakes something else?! Some sausage?”
Kate, who could only be made to faint with a shovel, asked matter-of-factly.
“Impossible! They’ll croak. Snakes are expensive, sell two in a month and you
already make a profit! If you want, buy all the snakes from the owner and feed them
sausages! That’s it, go away!” the girl said, displeased, and pushed them out of the store.
“You’re bad! A very bad, stupid fool! I’ll blast you with soda!” Alex shouted.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Go, go, hyperactive! Watch your step, or you’ll fall!” the girl barked and returned to
the store. She stood with her arms crossed at her chest and looked at them through the
Kate and Vicky dragged a resisting Alex with them. Vicky was crying. Kate cursed
the girl as a moron. They had already walked halfway down the street when someone
hailed them. An unknown guy caught up with them on a bike. “Hey, people, wait! Hold
on! This is for you!”
“You’re two girls and a squirt in a blue shirt?”
“That’s us. What’s for us?” Kate asked in a business-like manner.
“Here! Ordered you to open the lid on the way so they don’t suffocate! Cover the top
with a hand or they’ll jump out!” The guy gave something to Vicky and left.
Vicky followed the bike with frightened eyes and only then looked at what she was
holding: a jar, a half-litre jar with a white lid. There was a small opening in the lid.
Obviously someone had poked it with a knife but did not cut through, not having enough
time. Vicky held the jar up a little higher. In the jar were...
“Mice! Mice!” Alex shouted.
“Shut up, squirt in a blue shirt!” Kate said.
Very satisfied, they returned home. Vicky pressed the jar to her chest, and the squirt
in a blue shirt was jumping up and down trying to look inside.
So, the Japanese mice settled in the house on Vine Street. In the beginning, there
were three. Then there were six, then twelve, then Kate and Vicky even started giving the
babies away at school or selling them through the newspaper, but they always found out
beforehand whether the person buying them had snakes at home.
THE DEEPEST PIT IN THE WORLD
Women should be teased regularly so
that their character does not spoil. If a
woman is not teased for a long time, she
will put on airs, start to listen to herself,
believe herself, and become haughty and
The Gavrilovs, tired of Moscow, tried to go to the sea every day. All their neighbours
– both Aunt Klava with the geese and Uncle Vova feeding the dogs and spending time on
grapevines and tomatoes – looked at them as at the deranged.
Among the locals there even existed the sport of boasting who had not been to the
sea for how long. Uncle Vova maintained that he had not been to the sea for ten years,
because “he does not need it very much.” Aunt Klava remembered that the last time she
swam was last year, when they went to the estuary for a barbecue.
However, the old man Abramtsev, who lived at the beginning of the street, beat
Uncle Vova and Aunt Klava. According to his assertion, he had not swum for about forty
years, because in his childhood, the sea was like clear tears and the sandy beaches were
so long that by the time you reached the water, your legs were tired. Now they dumped
slag into the sea, the sand was washed away from the beaches, and they were gradually
building the devil knows what, therefore Abramtsev sat at home and watched soap
Nevertheless, it was all the same to the big family. Every day around noon, when the
early-rising Papa stopped working, or more exactly, when all the children started to
make a noise so that Papa had to stop working, they all left home and went to the sea.
So it was that May morning. Rita sat in the stroller. Costa stood behind on the
baggage rack, leaning his elbows on the handle of the stroller. Alex sometimes stayed
with him and sometimes ran off to see if Stool, Lad, and Tot stuck with them. The other
children had already gone off by themselves.
After about forty minutes with all the endless stops, close examinations of bugs, and
“Oh! I left my swimsuit at home!” or “Where’s the bag with the towels? I think I forgot it
when I got my swimsuit!” they reached the sea. Here Mama, who had not slept at night
because Costa had had an earache, collapsed on a mat and warned them not to pester
her. Papa went to swim in the cold water, came out blue, and said that this was the
resource of health and he felt fit. The rest refrained from this resource of health.
Alex, after soaking his shorts, went waist-deep into the water looking for crabs. He
found a dead one and pried it open with a nail to figure out how a crab was arranged.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Papa!” he said importantly. “A crab isn’t arranged in any way! It has no heart, no lungs,
no internal organs! I didn’t find them. It only has meat and yellow gunk!”
Peter, after putting on dark glasses like a Mafioso, stood on the shore and looked
indifferently into the distance, occasionally spitting into the water or throwing stones. In
Peter’s mind, everyone who passed by should now look at him and think, “How cool!
What an imposing young man!”
The remaining six children hardly worried about how they looked from the outside.
They ran along the beach with loud screams, occasionally fishing Rita out of the water.
Rita purposefully ran into the sea and to the depths. Alena and Kate pulled her out by
her arms and legs and promptly unloaded her on the sand. Rita got up decisively, shook
off, and ran to the sea again. Finally, Alena and Kate lost patience and dragged Rita to
“Here, take your daughter! She’s so stubborn! I was never like this!” Kate declared.
“Indeed! Remember how you wanted a lollipop in the subway? And how the woman
on duty calmed you on the escalator?”
Kate blushed. “Those were errors of youth,” she said, inadvertently releasing Rita’s
Rita immediately jumped up and rushed to the sea. At the same time, she looked
around and laughed loudly, showing that she knew perfectly well that they would now
run after her. But Papa did not run after her. He issued an amazed sound and quickly
began to dig the sand with his hands. “Kate, look! Don’t show Rita! Here’s pirate
Rita, having already reached the water, looked around. Papa and Kate were digging
in the sand. Rita watched them incredulously from afar. On her face was written, “Ha, I
know you! You want to lure me!”
But Papa and Kate did not even look at her but were digging in the sand with four
hands. Then Alena also joined them. She dug like a dog throwing sand out with its two
front paws. That is, of course, with her two hands, not paws. Then Papa shoved his
hand, squeezed into a fist, into the pit, pulled it out, opened his fingers, and Rita saw
candy in his palm.
All doubts instantly disappeared. Rita rushed to Papa and, grabbing a scoop, took
the most active part in the treasure hunt. Very soon, Alex and Costa joined them with
the shout “Diiiiig!” The longer they searched, the more candy they found. However, for
some reason, no one was surprised that candy only appeared when Papa’s hand turned
up in the pit.
Kate, Vicky, and Alena certainly knew that there was no treasure there but dug with
no less passion. Kate and Alena dug with their hands and Vicky with a piece of roofing
tile from a beach shed. Every now and then, Vicky checked whether sand had gotten
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
under her nails and, after putting aside the tile, cleaned her nails with the edge of a piece
Peter alone was not digging. He was walking nearby, hands in the pockets of his
shorts. He looked occasionally into the pit and it became apparent that he also wanted
to dig. But then it occurred to Peter that it would not be sufficiently imposing, and he
controlled himself and turned away.
Gradually they started to come across less candy, and then Alex dug out a crumpled
piece of paper on which was written in crooked letters: NO MoRe CanDY. YouR
“What’s written here?” Alex asked greedily.
“Read it yourself! I don’t know!” Papa said.
“I can’t read!”
“Well, then you’ll never find out what they wrote to you!”
After being tormented for about five minutes, Alex managed the text after all and,
on understanding the contents of the note, called it stupid.
“Why is it stupid?” Alena was surprised.
“Because it’s written here that the treasure wrote this! But pirates wrote this! A
treasure can’t write,” Alex stated authoritatively.
Costa nodded, impressed by his iron logic. Mama woke up; she could not sleep
because they were pelting her with sand. She was convinced that once the candy was
gone, they would abandon the pit, but nothing of the kind. The pit was so great that it
aroused the children’s sportive spirit to make it even deeper. Even Costa was digging.
With his right hand he drove the shovel into the wet sand and with his left he knocked
on it from above, as if he was hammering in beams.
“What happens when the pit reaches the centre of the earth?” Alex asked.
“Lava spews out!” Peter said. “Don’t even have to reach the centre! Drill about ten
kilometres and it may already spew. This is the sea, the continental plates are thin!”
Alex was so happy that he forgot how to breathe, but he did not die, and, after
staying completely stunned for about five seconds, asked, “And lava, it’s an explosion?”
“Not quite. But if there’s a volcanic eruption, then yes! Smoke to five kilometres, ash
cloud and all that!”
Alex snatched the piece of tile from Vicky and jumped into the pit, and fountains of
sand began to fly out from there.
“You’ll have to escape by yourself when lava spews!” Papa warned.
“Doesn’t matter! We’ll pull him out by his shorts!” Vicky promised.
Peter, passing by for the hundredth time, finally broke down. With the shout,
“Everybody get out! You’re all digging wrong!” he slipped down into the pit with a hefty
board rejected by the sea. Peter plunged it into the wet bottom, dislodged the sand, and
the “nippers”, as he called his brothers and sisters, emptied out the sand.
Half an hour later, when the pit had become much deeper and Alex was whining
with disappointment because there was no smell of a volcanic eruption, a timid boy in
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
blue shorts, which now and then slipped down, wandered over to them. Then the boy
said, “Excuse me! I have a problem!” stopped and pulled up his shorts. Alena
immediately dragged the boy into the pit-digging process.
Five minutes later, the boy in the shorts was already indistinguishable from the
other seven children. Just as the others, he was running, jostling, and throwing sand
out, and they yelled at him the same way when he knocked down the edge of the pit.
Mama even said to Papa that they could take the boy with them. The main thing was
that he would wash the dishes after himself. Later as time went by, he would marry Rita.
“He’s a rich heir, it would be foolish to let such a boy slip away! Even has his own
bucket! And two shovels!” she said.
Mama had barely said it when out of nowhere a determined little woman in dark
glasses ran up to her. Evidently, she had gotten sunburned the day before, because her
shoulders were red with white stripes from a bathing suit. Her nose was also red and
sticking out like a perky thumbtack.
“I heard everything!” she shouted.
“Pardon me?” Mama did not understand.
“You wanted to take my Paul with you and marry him to someone there!”
“It was a joke!” Mama was embarrassed.
“I understand that it’s a joke! But all the same, I want to say, also as a joke, of
course, that children aren’t pieces of goods! A lot of children, it’s mass production! You
understand it’s impossible to give each child enough attention!”
“Well, and where’s your piece of goods now? Socializing?” Mama asked.
The little woman turned in alarm. Her piece of goods was perfectly happy running
among the children and did not want to go anywhere. He wanted to bury Peter, who had
taken his bucket, in the sand.
“Come here! Paul! To whom am I talking? Come to me!” Paul did not budge, only
pulled his head into his shoulders.
The woman turned beet red. “Not listening? To whom am I talking? Well!”
She leaned over, pulled her son by the hand out of the pit, and began to drag him.
Paul resisted. Two trenches remained in the sand from his feet. Papa and Mama felt
sorry for him, but they understood that if they got involved now, it would only be worse
Sand continued to fly out of the pit after Paul’s departure, but no longer as
energetically as before. The children were getting tired. Besides, they were sad that their
wealthy heir with a bucket and two shovels had been taken away.
Peter was the first to get tired of digging. He remembered that he was already grown
and that it was improper to engage in such nonsense. “Ah-h! The volcano is erupting!”
he yelled and, throwing the board away, hastily began to climb out of the pit, which
reached the middle of his chest.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Rita, Costa, and Alex climbed out in a panic after him. The pit was already level with
their heads. Peter generously helped Rita and Costa out, but said to Alex, “Say goodbye
to life!” and pushed him into the volcanic crater. Alex closed his eyes in horror and
prepared to be cooked alive, but Papa grabbed him under the arms in time and Alex was
“What, are you sick or something to scare your brother?” Mama was outraged.
“That’s it! We’re going! Have to put the kids to bed!”
She started to move back, dragging the bogged-down wheels of the stroller, into
which a yawning Rita had already climbed, out of the sand. They had not even gotten
onto the asphalt and Rita was already asleep. Costa, recalling that this stroller was once
his, got in beside Rita and began to push her onto the asphalt with his knees.
“That’s not nice!” Mama said.
“Nice! My stroller!” Costa said, but started to think all the same, and having thought
it over, got upset, and being upset, fell asleep. He slept, and his head was lying on Rita’s
shoulder, like a pillow.
Alex also fell asleep, but on Papa’s shoulders, upon which he thrust himself,
declaring that his legs were tired. Therefore, he was also sleeping, on Papa’s shoulders,
with a cheek on top of Papa’s head, and Papa supported him with a hand so that he
would not fall backwards.
The fact that all the kids fell asleep was no surprise. They had dug a very big hole
after all. Literally to the centre of the earth.
LIUBOV AND PIGEONS
“Why do you think so?”
“I’ll prove it to you logically,
“Yes I believe. I believe.”
“No, please allow me! Grammatically,
dramatically, critically, etc.”
Afanasy Fet.13 Memories.
Kate went out of the house in the morning. Their neighbour Andrew was sitting on
the fence, swinging his legs dangling on their side. A girl with a thoughtful face and a
long braid sat next to him on the fence. Kate immediately guessed that this was
Andrew’s sister, Nina, whose voice she had heard many times in the neighbouring lot.
“Good morning!” Kate said, stopping about five steps away.
“What’s good about it? A normal June morning,” said Andrew.
“Don’t grumble!” his sister said.
“I’m not. I’m just pointing out. If it were raining, she would also say ‘good’, though it
would be ‘wet’.”
“She said it out of politeness!”
“Why say out of politeness what you don’t think?”
The girl with the braid pushed Andrew with her elbow. “Don’t pay him any
attention! He wants to be different but can’t, because he’s this way! Climb up to us!
Kate climbed the fence and settled down beside the girl. “How do you know that I’m
“Well, I know Vicky! We were talking about horses, and she has such wavy hair,
right? And your Rita and Alena are still small. So you’re Kate!” the girl spoke seriously
and simply at the same time. She did not try to talk down to Kate, who was younger, and
Kate was flattered, because she did not often encounter this.
“And you’re Nina?”
“Yes!” the girl shifted the braid behind her back.
“And where’s your Seraphim? He didn’t happen to get lost today?” asked Kate.
“How do you know?” Andrew was surprised.
“Again? And your papa is looking for him?”
“Papa’s working. The season has started.”
Afanasy Afanasyevich Fet (1820-92) was a Russian poet, regarded as one of the finest lyricists in
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Is your papa the one carrying a monkey on the beach?”
“No, that’s one of his acquaintances. Papa once carried an eagle, but it wasn’t
profitable. People are afraid for their children to have pictures taken with an eagle. It
would even peck,” Andrew said knowledgeably.
Kate thought for a bit. “Your Seraphim is eight! Why is he lost? He should know the
city well!” Kate was surprised.
“He’s lost because he daydreams!” Nina explained. “He needs to remember where
he’s going, why he’s going, and that we’re waiting for him at home. Sometimes he goes
to school, but his legs carry him to the sea. Or somewhere else. He’s simply lost in
“But you don’t get lost in thought?” Kate asked Andrew.
“Why would I? I know everything! Seraphim can’t even explain what he’s thinking
about! He just thinks and that’s all! Is it really possible to think and not know what
you’re thinking about?” Andrew declared with confidence.
Kate looked at Nina, who shrugged, showing that it is difficult to judge whether
Andrew knows everything or not, but in general, he and Seraphim are completely
“And if Seraphim had a phone so that it would be easier to find him?” Kate
“Useless. Already bought him three. He either loses them or forgets to charge
them!” Andrew said with a sense of superiority.
Then Kate remembered that she had left home in the morning on business and,
having apologized, jumped down from the fence.
“Where are you going?” Nina asked.
“To the pet store.”
Kate had become good friends with the “mouse girl” and visited her almost every
day, helping her clean the cages. Every time she came, the girl gave her a sign so that
Kate would stop near the aquariums and Kate did. The girl, on the run, pushed with her
thigh an iron shelf, on which were about twenty cages. The shelf moved a few
centimetres with the push, and hundreds of mice, rats, jerboas, and parrots started to
run, dig, or fly in a panic. Nevertheless, this did not disturb the girl.
“Now you can move! Now he can’t see, the skunk!” the girl said, shaking her fist at
someone invisible, and Kate came out of her hiding place.
The “skunk” was the shop owner, who, having grown a paunch, sat at home, but
watched the store through a camera installed on the ceiling. When the girl pushed the
shelf, the camera was blocked and the most that the owner could see was two or three
parrots. The camera had no microphone and you could say anything you wanted. For
example, after selling another guinea pig, you wave at the camera, smile, and wish, “May
you fall out of a chair!”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Mouse girl” did this regularly. And Kate also repeated after her at times, but
“mouse girl” put a heavy hand on her shoulder and said solemnly, “This isn’t your war,
Today Kate had not yet gotten out of Vine Street when Andrew and Nina caught up
with her. “Nothing to do anyway! Can we join you?”
Kate replied that she had no objection. They walked along the figure-eight street,
and Andrew threw dirt at Lad and Tot, which tried to stick with them in order to pinch
something in the city. Stool had disappeared somewhere recently, and it was strange.
Sometimes its barking and squealing were heard in the evening, but no one could
understand from where.
After being hit by clumps of dirt a few times, Lad and Tot lagged behind by the road.
They turned and quietly trotted back. There was no resentment at all in their run. On
the contrary, they seemed content to finally take the hint.
“Phew!” Kate said with relief. “I was afraid they’d run into the pet store. I’d really
get it then.”
“You leave them on the street!” Andrew advised her.
“You’re simply a genius! Where do you think I’d leave them?! But if someone opens
the door, they’ll rush in. Do you know what two stupid dogs would do in a pet store?”
They crossed the street and the yards, making their way along the short path to the
pet store. Here Andrew scraped his big toe kicking the curb and became dejected.
“Everything will be bad!” he repeated, sitting on the edge and swaying. “Animals will die
of old age or distemper, I from blood poisoning, and a car will certainly run down
Seraphim. Other people will also die. Some earlier, some later.”
Kate wanted to blurt out something with the request to shut the valve and stop
turning on the waterworks, but Nina was Nina not without reason. She sat next to
Andrew and put her hand on his shoulder. “Andrew, you’re wrong! They’ll discover
immortality!” she said seriously.
“Immortality? That’s even worse!” Andrew declared with confidence.
“There won’t be enough food for all. And the old will go around whining that they’re
Kate wanted to blurt out that not only the old whines, but Nina imperceptibly
nudged her with a finger.
“Fine! But if people will grow wiser?”
“No point in them growing wiser. Better let them be kinder. Though, all the same,
the sun will go out and explode in seven billion years.”
“Five!” Nina said.
“No! In seven and two-tenths! I checked. And then eight minutes will pass and
Earth will perish. I also checked!” Andrew declared tragically.
“But people will fly to another planet!”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“What can they do on another planet? There will be some methane instead of air.
Better perish instantly!” Andrew, groaning, got up from the curb, and, often stopping to
look at his toe, trudged after them. He quickly fell behind and Kate was able to talk with
Nina, whom she liked more and more with every minute.
“Is he always like this?”
“Yes. He wants to find out everything, to the very foundation. He asked Father
Alexander at Sunday school why they can’t invent a pill that would let people always be
good. So, you swallow the pill and won’t overeat, won’t lie, won’t be jealous, and so on.”
“Father Alexander said that there wouldn’t be any human effort then. No one’s own
will. No struggle. Then he asked Andrew to help him colour eggs. Andrew liked it very
much. He painted somewhere around four hundred eggs. Wooden eggs. You dip them in
paint, they dry, and then you draw on them.”
“Ah-h! And your Seraphim believes in God?” Kate asked.
Nina shrugged. “Don’t know. I didn’t ask. But he sometimes lifts his head and
becomes lost in thought for about fifteen minutes. Seems to me that he sees something
in the air. They’re quite different and they always fight. Mama says that Andrew is
rooted on the ground up to his neck, but Seraphim listens without understanding, and
flies and doesn’t land at all.”
“And a dragon flies to our Alena! She fills a basin with water for it!” Kate bragged.
“Ah! Of course, where else would you put water?” Nina said without the slightest
surprise, as if they were talking about a fly.
They talked more about something insignificant, and then Nina asked, “Are you
friends with all your brothers and sisters?”
“Except Peter. He’s very disgusting. He walks around blowing his nose. Sleeps
during the day, goes on the Internet at night,” Kate complained.
“He’s not disgusting. We met recently. He’s okay.” Nina said.
“At your place, everyone’s good! He’s a pain!”
“There aren’t harmful people! I’ve thought about it!” Nina replied seriously. “Every
person wants to be loved. Wants attention. The more a person wants to be loved, the
more disgustingly he behaves. The more disgustingly he behaves, the more he should be
loved. But love properly, so that the habit of disgusting behaviour doesn’t consolidate its
grip but rather is shaken off.”
If the habit was shaken off, then Kate was, on the contrary, quite confused. It was
too complex for her.
“But if he behaves totally disgustingly? Simply like nausea?” she asked with
“Then he should be loved even more, but this doesn’t always turn out. Andrew here
recently also brought Seraphim to tears, declared to him that the neighbours’ kebabs
were our cat. Seraphim howled and wailed, and we couldn’t calm him down at all. We
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
told him that it wasn’t the cat, that it was a joke, and he still wouldn’t believe us.
Everyone had to run to find the cat. It always disappears for three days.”
They reached the pet store. Andrew did not go inside, because he stated that he
hated animals. Actually, as Nina explained, he was just shy. The “mouse girl,” who,
incidentally, was called Liuba,14 waved her hands, asking them to wait outside. Kate was
sure that now she would again push the shelf and block the camera, but Liuba jumped
out of the store, dashed to a van, opened the back door, and pulled out a big, very dirty
cage, which could easily fit a child of Rita’s size. Four pigeons sat shivering, huddled up
on a perch in the cage.
“Will you take them? Free, of course!” the “mouse girl” offered.
“Where did they come from?”
“Mamaevka. A grandpa is in the hospital. Stroke. We sold all the pigeons, but these
“How are they ‘defective’?”
“Well, there’s something not quite right with them. The experts won’t buy them, but
they’re still pigeons anyway. Good pigeons. If you take them, I’ll take you in the car, and
then you won’t have to carry them.”
Kate, it goes without saying, immediately wanted the pigeons. “But will my parents
“Call your mother!”
Kate phoned Mama. On the phone, Mama was yelling at someone, but someone
beside her was making excuses and did not want to admit his guilt and say “Sorry!”
Although no one explained anything to Kate, she understood in three seconds that Costa
had bitten Rita and Mama was resolving the situation.
“No-no-no! No pigeons! This is my firm and final word!” Mama stated. “Not enough
for us already, now pigeons! No one gets on my nerves, everybody’s obedient, everyone
helps me, washes dishes around the clock, sits with the little ones when they’re asked!
Perfect, the best family in the world!”
“And where are we going to keep them? Bear in mind: I will not look after them! Not
even lift a finger. You bring them home, you feed them yourself! How many are there?
Are they at least pretty? Is there a water bowl?”
“Very pretty! I’ll call back later!” said Kate, who was uncomfortable talking in the
presence of Nina and “mouse girl”, especially as the earpiece was very loud.
Understanding that Kate was allowed to take the birds, Liuba closed up shop and
began to hustle Kate, Andrew, and Nina into the van. “Only very fast! Otherwise THAT
ONE could find out that I’ve deserted the store!” she said.
Already on the way, Kate realized that she knew absolutely nothing about pigeons.
“What do I feed them?”
Liuba is a diminutive of the name Liubov, which, in Russian, means love.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Have you seen a man standing with a sack at the market? To the left of the
entrance! He’s Uncle Tony. Now, tell him it’s ‘for pigeons’ and he'll give you everything.
Only don’t tell him ‘no money’, but make this face and repeat ‘nada dough!’ He’ll then
lower the price!”
“But where will they live?”
“Hello, move over! Where will they live! You do have an attic?”
“I don’t know.”
“How can you not know? Is there a roof? Or do you sleep in the rain?”
“There’s a roof.”
“That means there’s also an attic! For a bird not to fly away, you tie three to four
feathers together. With tape or string. Tape is better. I’ll show you how! They’ll walk
along the windowsill and look around but won’t be able to fly to the old place. They’ll get
accustomed after two or three weeks, lay eggs, then it’ll be possible to get rid of the tape.
They won’t go anywhere.”
“They also lay eggs! Will there be chicks?” Kate groaned.
“No! Crocodiles!” the “mouse girl” responded angrily and began banging on the
horn, because some cyclists, young and a reasonably nice guy, decided to dismount from
his bike and tie his shoelace in the middle of the street.
The cyclist raised his head, looked at the van and the one who was driving, and after
turning away, calmly continued tying the lace. “Mouse Liuba” again honked furiously,
turned the wheel, and drove around in the next lane, in passing splashing the cyclist
with mud from a puddle. Moreover, she purposely drove into the puddle.
“What’s with you?! He’ll kill us!” Kate was horrified. She was sure that the cyclist
would now jump onto his bike and catch up with their van at the next traffic light.
However, for some reason he did not. He only wiped dirt off his face with his shirt and
followed the van with a long look.
“He’s memorizing the number! He’ll find you!” Kate said.
“A nightmare! He’ll find me! I’ll die from terror! But then he won’t guess where to
find me!” Liuba exclaimed.
“You know him?”
“Why should I? He’s my classmate, Pokrovskii! He was in love with me.”
“Now don’t you see? He’s tying his lace on the road!” the “mouse girl” said. She was
very pleased about something. Simply off-the-scale pleased.
How hard it is to love someone other
than yourself. And all the rest is terribly
Periodically, the impetuous muse of repairs visited Mama. This usually happened at
night. Mama started to put up wallpaper, sew drapes, or drill something. Papa tried to
help her once, but soon grasped that Mama liked gluing, sawing, and drilling by herself,
and it is foolish to deprive a person of pleasure, especially if this person was the most
skilled hand at the library centre.
On this July night, Papa was sleeping peacefully until a crash shuddered the
building. He came down and discovered that Mama had fallen, trying to place two chairs
one on top of the other to reach something on the top shelf. A jar of glue and a roll of
wallpaper had fallen down together with Mama.
“Couldn’t you have taken the stepladder? Isn’t it beside you?” Papa specified.
“A basin of plaster was on the ladder! I was too lazy to move it!” Mama explained. “I
intended on casting bas-reliefs!”
“That’s those in the oven?”
“No. That’s ordinary clay in the oven. You understand nothing!” Mama rubbed her
knee and asked Papa to make her eggs.
Having eaten the eggs, she went to sleep, and Papa went to work while the children
were still sleeping. The kids slept for a long time, then had a long breakfast, and Papa
was able to work until almost noon.
At noon, Papa looked out the window. Outside the window, like two soldiers, Lad
and Tot were sitting in a row in the full sun and kept on staring at Aunt Klava’s gate,
beyond which were geese. Occasionally, a goose shoved its head under the gate, hissed
in warning, and immediately pulled it back.
Aunt Klava came out of the gate, shouted lazily, “Guarding the goslings! Take that!”
and threw a board from a box at Lad and Tot. Lad and Tot got up very quietly and, their
tails between their legs, plodded to the mailbox. It seemed they were saying, “We are
mortally offended and leaving. But if you call us, we will instantly forgive you.”
“Why are there two of them again? What happened to Stool?” Papa yelled through
“I didn’t take it... Wait, are you talking about some stool?” Kate did not understand.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“No idea. But yesterday we heard it squealing a little somewhere again. You know,
where the hives are. I wouldn’t go there!” Kate declared.
She dipped a cotton swab into Brilliant Green 15 and smeared it under the wing of a
pigeon, at the same time holding its feet firmly. For some reason, there were parallel
scratches on one side of the pigeon, as if it had torn itself against a board with nails. The
pigeons had already been living in the attic for two weeks. The attic was low, but just
right for them. During the day they walked around the attic and cooed, and on and off
pecked wheat with an appetite. Papa himself had made them a nest. It resembled a
wooden frame of four boards, with a bundle of dry grass scattered between them. Three
flight feathers on each wing were taped together as before, but Kate was going to remove
the tape as soon as the pigeons lay eggs. She did not like it that the birds could not fly.
Papa still worked a little more, but the text was already lacklustre. Someone was
whining behind the door that he was “bo-o-o-red!” and demanded to watch cartoons.
This was clearly Alex.
“No cartoons for you! You were watching all day yesterday!” Vicky warned.
Alex went somewhere and put Costa and Rita up to howling at the door and
demanding cartoons. Rita could not articulate the word “cartoons,” so she shouted
“Toons!” instead and loudly banged her shoe on the door.
Realizing that he would not manage to work in the next few hours, Papa put the
computer into sleep mode and opened the door. “Let’s go somewhere while Mama
sleeps!” he suggested.
“You decide. Maybe a museum?”
When Papa suggested it, the four young ones immediately looked at the three older
ones to see what expression their faces would assume. If it was written on Kate’s,
Vicky’s, or Peter’s face that museums were nonsense, Alena, Alex, Costa, and Rita,
getting the hint, would howl that they hated museums and would not go anywhere. But
here the opinions of the older ones were divided. Kate stated that she did not want to go
to a museum. Vicky carefully said that it was all the same to her, from which Alena
concluded that Vicky was not against it, because Vicky, as a true lady, never said “yes” in
general. Now it only remained for the young ones to find out the opinion of Peter, the
family’s power broker. The power broker scratched his nose, scratched his leg, and was
about to say “no,” but then suddenly grasped that he would be able to get directions on
Google Maps and caught fire.
“Only if we go where I say!” Peter said, burying himself in his phone. “It mentions
this! Three museums here! The Wax Museum, the Regional Museum, and the Museum
of Medieval Castles.”
“Which one shall we go to?” Papa asked.
Brilliant Green is a dye, the diluted alcoholic solution of which is used as a topical antiseptic in Eastern
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“All of them! They’re all close by, almost on the same street,” Peter declared.
“Rita will be afraid to go to the Museum of Medieval Castles! All sorts of spooks
there!” stated Alena, who was actually afraid herself.
Peter looked slyly at Rita and crouched down. “Rita! You aren’t scared?” he asked,
knowing that the question “you aren’t scared” can be answered “yes” as well as “no.”
“No!” Rita said.
“You see, she isn’t scared!”
“She doesn’t understand!” Alena yelled. “Rita, you don’t want to go to the museum,
right? You’re scared, right?”
“No,” Rita said, looking at Alena with a sense of superiority.
It was absolute defeat.
Papa put Rita in the stroller, Costa as usual climbed under the handle and leaned
with his elbows, and Alex, who did not have enough space to hang on at the back,
because Costa butted and bit him, got under the stroller into its baggage rack and
stretched out on it.
“What are you doing?” Papa asked.
“I’m dead tired!” Alex declared.
“When did you get dead tired? You were ‘bo-o-o-red! ’” Kate mimicked.
“I’m tired because I’m bored!” Alex explained.
“Don’t go onto the baggage rack! They’ll think that we’re crazy!” Vicky said.
“Everyone thinks that we’re crazy as it is. The main thing is not to go through
puddles so that Alex won’t get wet,” Papa said.
Papa, Alena, and Kate pushed the stroller, which was barely rolling because of the
overload. Vicky and Peter walked slightly to the side and pretended that they were
seeing this whole gang for the first time.
“And this is our family! Ahoy!” Alex, egged on by Kate, shouted from below.
Vicky was embarrassed and hid behind the bushes.
Peter’s Google Maps hung once, and led them straight to a fence from time to time,
but they quickly found the museums all the same. The cost for entering a museum was
two hundred roubles for an adult and a hundred for children five years and older, but
Papa paid nothing because he showed the page in his passport where all seven children
This page of the passport was the strangest, without any stamps. In the Registrar’s
Office, upon receipt of a birth certificate, sometimes the page was filled, but sometimes
they waved a hand and did not fill it and Papa added the children himself. You can even
write a whole bunch if you desire. However, for some reason, the cashiers still trusted
this page in the passport more than the ID of a large family, which they always studied
for a long time with suspicion. Obviously, they understood that any ID is only a cover,
In a Russian passport, there is a page that lists all the children belonging to the passport holder. If there
are more than 3 children, then they are admitted into a museum or a zoo for free.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
which can also be fake, and nobody would list extra children in the passport just to go to
museums and zoos.
The Museum of Medieval Castles was in three large rooms, where all sorts of cages
and racks were set up and loudspeakers croaked in the corners. An obvious lunatic in an
executioner’s apron was roaming around the museum selling magnets. Alex began to
beg him for a free magnet. The lunatic felt sorry for the magnets and hid behind a rack.
Papa feared that Rita would be scared of all these axes and cages but she was not;
however, Alena refused even to cross the threshold. Papa went out with her, taking Rita
along. A minute later, Kate, Vicky, and Costa ran out to them, pursued by the
executioner shouting, “They broke my nose!”
It turned out, however, that the nose was not the executioner’s, but Alex had ripped
it off a plaster head in a basket under the guillotine. Alex maintained that the nose had
broken off by itself. To calm the executioner, Papa bought a magnet from him.
Peter was the last to come out of the museum with his hands in his pockets.
“What do you think?” Vicky asked.
“Okay! We looked for four minutes and thirty seconds. Saved 200 roubles + 100
roubles x 4. Not a bad result!” Peter stated and led everyone to the Wax Museum.
Here they stayed for almost half an hour, although the Museum occupied all of one
hall. Along the way, it turned out that Peter the Great was tall, Catherine II was a very
plump and short lady, and Nestor Makhno 17 was generally a dwarf, slightly larger than
his Mauser.18 While Alex tried to find out whether he could touch the pistol in Georges
d’Anthès’19 hand and if it was loaded, Peter studied the moustache of Taras
Shevchenko.20 This moustache had produced a great, simply indelible impression on
him. It was so long in all places that, hanging from the upper lip, it covered the poet’s
whole mouth and half of his chin. Papa and Peter argued for a long time about how the
great Ukrainian poet ate and concluded that Shevchenko either did not eat at all or
drank milk from a straw passing through his moustache.
The girls liked most of all the curator, Lena, who was sleeping on a chair on the
second floor, her head resting on the back, and who also turned out to be a wax figure.
Rita for a long time did not believe that the curator was inanimate. She touched her leg
and bounced back with a slight, excited squeal. Then, after making sure that she really
was inanimate, Rita promptly grabbed the stocking of the real curator and sat down on
Nestor Ivanovich Makhno (1888-1934) was a Ukrainian anarcho-communist revolutionary during the
Russian Civil War (1917-22).
A Mauser is a German army rifle introduced in 1871, invented by the brothers Peter Paul (1838-1914)
and Wilhelm (1834-82) von Mauser.
Baron Georges-Charles de Heeckeren d’Anthès (1812-95) was a French military officer and politician,
the brother-in-law of the wife of the great Russian poet Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin (1799-1837),
whom d’Anthès killed in a duel.
Taras Grigorovich Shevchenko (1814-61), was a Ukrainian literary, artistic, and political figure. His
literary heritage is regarded to be the foundation of modern Ukrainian literature.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
the floor, when the curator asked, displeased, “What do you want, girl? Whose child are
The Regional Museum occupied an entire building. In front of it, part of an
excavation with large clay amphorae and millstones was enclosed in a glass triangle.
Scythian women and warriors from burial monuments were standing along the sides of
the triangle. Costa immediately got onto an old naval cannon, where, besides him, three
kids of varying degrees of smallness were also hanging around and throwing coins into
the barrel of the cannon. It was supposed to bring happiness. Costa had no coins and he
began to ask Papa.
“It’s superstition! It won’t bring happiness!” Papa said. “Look over there, the guy is
standing with a cut bottle on a stick, and when people look at him, he turns away. What
do you think he’s doing here?”
However, Costa still wanted to throw coins. He agreed to hang onto the cannon for
this, helping himself with his left hand. Papa found only five iron roubles.
“Let me handle this!” Kate volunteered. She unnoticeably dropped the five roubles
into her pocket and gave Costa one rouble. While Costa did not understand the
difference, he noticed that the coin was less than what Papa had given her and began to
stand up for his rights.
“Money should be saved, not tossed into a cannon! That’s it, move!” Kate said
sternly, and Costa had to content himself with one rouble.
The museum turned out to be bigger inside than expected from the outside. There
was even a café selling wrapped cheese sandwiches. Rita immediately wanted these
sandwiches, although she had already eaten three times at home.
“I’ll make them for you in the evening! Here they’re the price of a helicopter!” Kate
declared and covered Rita’s eyes.
There were many rooms on the perimeter. Each had two cameras. Alex was running
around. He did not want to fall onto any one camera and show up anywhere. For this, he
squatted, ran squatting, pressed against the wall, and when the curator came into the
hall, made such a stony face that Vicky almost cried from laughing.
This number of cameras simply suggested to Peter the idea of robbing the museum.
He began to photograph the plans of all the rooms and whispered ominously, “You have
to break through the ceiling. No, there are certainly sensors! Better to hide in this huge
vase, climb out at night, then get into the vase again and remain there until the museum
opens! Then go out with the crowd! And put down a fake instead of the real diamond!”
“Where do you see a real diamond? There’s even nothing for the director to steal.
Some rubbish. Rocks, bones, stone axes...” Kate said, yawning. Peter waved his hand
angrily at her and began to search his pockets for dark glasses in order to look at the
security cameras quite ominously.
Alex, sticking out his tongue, ran after Peter. “And the tomb with the alarm system?
Can’t touch, right? If you throw a screw into it? It’ll start to howl?” he specified.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“What, you have a screw?” Kate asked suspiciously.
“No. But here’s this piece of iron!” Alex showed an unclear something of an
impressive size that could be an internal part of a tractor. With this piece of iron in his
pocket, he would lose his shorts every fifty metres, which was also happening in general.
“Not the piece of iron! Put it away quickly, otherwise they’ll think that you have
stolen it from here!”
Alex put away the piece of iron.
“And a stuffed fox with an alarm? And where did they put the alarm in it? And this
guy with an alarm?”
“It’s a stuffed Scythian.”
“Is not! He wasn’t alive at all.”
“What, and the fox was?”
“The fox was at least real.”
“Does his spear have an alarm? And his bow? Where did they attach an alarm to the
bow? And this stuffed aunty has an alarm too? Can I touch it?”
“Boy! Where are your parents?” the touched, stuffed aunty said angrily, looking up
from the newspaper. Alex leaped away fearfully to Papa. “Hold him by the hand, please!”
“Vicky, hold him, please, by the scruff of his neck!” asked Papa, who was already
holding Costa by the hand as well as Rita in his arms. At the same time, Papa sniffed
suspiciously, as he had some vague doubts regarding Rita.
A great deal of guns, mortars, military equipment, and ammunition, all raised from
the seabed, were exhibited in the next hall. Alex immediately wanted to detonate a large
aircraft bomb. While they were dragging Alex away, Costa managed to wriggle out of
Papa’s hand and sat right on the shells, which tumbled down in different directions like
a set of dominoes.
Fortunately, the curator in the hall turned out to be kind and said that it was no
problem, she would put everything back. The only thing that should not be touched was
the torpedo, because she did not know for certain if it had been disarmed. On receiving
such a hint, Alex and Costa immediately rushed to touch the torpedo and ascertain that
it did not explode. True, they were banished from the hall to the lobby after this.
In the lobby, Rita saw a table with souvenirs and made a scene at the fountain on
the topic of “Buy, buy!” Alex, Costa, and the morally unsteady Alena joined her.
Fortunately, they were all afraid of Kate, who stated that they would not get ice cream
then, which, most likely, would not be bought for them anyway, because everyone would
have a sore throat.
On the way back, Rita fell asleep in the stroller. Costa fell asleep as well, and then it
turned out that Alex had also fallen asleep lying on the baggage rack below.
Transporting sleeping children was significantly simpler, not counting Costa, who was
now falling down, not finding room in the stroller with Rita. He had to be carried.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Vicky galloped all the way like a horse. She displayed the trot, gallop, canter, and
pace. She was so fond of horses that even at school in gym class she ran like a horse,
driving the teachers out of their wits. Kate grumbled and instructed Papa not to buy
many small ice creams but one big one, because it was more cost-effective.
Peter was again using the navigator on the phone and trying to prove that the
navigator calculated metres incorrectly, because it did not understand the difference
between a lawn and the sidewalk. And it generally believed that there was a house where
there was not.
Papa suddenly stopped. “Stop!” he said. “I’m just wondering! Do some of you at
least remember what you saw in the museum? Well, besides the mines and guns? Well,
at least when the city was founded? Or at least by what peoples?”
Peter fell silent perplexedly, and then growled that yes, he had seen the vase, in
which he wanted to hide. And all sorts of machine-guns. And he actually looked at other
Later they came home and started to unload the children from the stroller, trying
not to wake anyone up, since awakened children always brawl louder than those who did
not sleep. It turned out that Mama was already awake, and while they were gone had
managed to glue wallpaper on one entire wall and prepare dinner.
“How nice! Tomorrow you’ll also go to the museums for the whole day!” she said
“Yeah! We’re already running!” Kate said. “Well, I mean, I wanted to say that we’ll
consider your suggestion!”
RITA JOINS THE PUPPY RANK
The best way to check if a person is
genuinely suffering is to leave the one
suffering and go to another room. If the
one suffering follows you and continues to
shout there or lies down on the floor,
bending his legs and stomping them, then
it is reason to reflect.
In the morning Alena stood by the kitchen table, looking at the tattered prayer book,
and muttered loudly, “Thou Kingdom come!”
Alex stopped running around on all fours and lifted his head with interest. “Thou
kingdom?” he asked.
“Not ‘thou’ but ‘thy’. That means, your kingdom!” explained Vicky, who was nearby.
“But why did she say ‘thou’ just now? She’s quite stupid, right?” Alex asked.
Alena’s eyes watered. “Why are you badgering me, shorty? You can’t read at all!”
Alena broke down and rushed at Alex with her fists. Alex pulled his head into his
shoulders, closed his eyes, and began to fan her off.
“Come on, easy! Break it up!” Peter said, separating them.
Alena stomped her feet and ran upstairs. Compassionate Vicky wanted to run after
her, but Peter saw the problem from a different angle.
“It pays for her to be offended, because it’s possible not to finish reading the
prayers. She’ll return in two minutes, bet you anything.”
Peter adored betting and was always wagering for some reason, but no one ever
wagered with him because no one had any money. Well, except for Alex and Costa, who
had already lost many millions to Peter, but had yet to pay up. Peter was probably
waiting until they grew up and got rich to remind them of their debt.
The gates slammed. It was Mama, arriving on a bike from the market. Everyone
rushed to her at once to see what she had bought. Mama was jumping on one leg, trying
to throw the other over the frame of the bike. Everybody clung to her packages, shoving
a hand there, and some even a head.
Alena also rushed to check what Mama had brought.
“Wait a minute! You’re upset!” Peter reminded her, but Alena only fanned him off
with a foot. She found a hot baguette and began to share it with Alex. The rest jumped
on top of them, shouting, “Give me some!”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Let me share honestly! You don’t even know how to break it off!” Peter
volunteered, taking the loaf from them. “Well! Now it’s quite another matter! Is this
“Better than ever! Now give me what you’ve shared honestly for yourself!” Kate said,
taking the crust from him.
While the children were splitting the hot bread, Mama took the produce from the
bag. “One might think that you haven’t been fed for a week. Later there will be nothing!”
she said grumpily and immediately, remembering something, added happily, “Your
Stool has puppies there! She was leading them for a walk.”
“Why is it our Stool? You didn’t allow us to keep it!” Kate was indignant, not
managing to hear clearly. Then the meaning of the words reached her and she shouted,
“WHAT? PUPPIES?” She bolted off, not even thinking of putting shoes on. Costa, Vicky,
Alena, and Alex flew after Kate. Peter went last, hands in his pockets, pretending that he
was not interested and was above this.
“Take Rita with you, since you’re forcing yourself to go anyway!” Mama said.
“Okay, kiddo, let’s go!” Peter generously agreed and put Rita on his shoulders.
Rita very much loved being on someone’s shoulders and she squealed happily, just
in case grabbing Peter’s hair for insurance. Admittedly, Mama feared that Peter would
put Rita down on top of the gates, but he squatted down. She heard Peter through the
window instructing Rita indulgently, “Hold my ears! You can steer with my ears!
Understand? Pull the right one, I go right! The left, then I go left... What are you doing?
Don’t spit on my head, or else I’ll give it to you on the forehead!”
“Head! Head!” Rita shouted happily. She was forever doing this. When she felt
good, she followed someone closely and, not knowing how to express her delight,
repeated a word after him. Often the most ridiculous and random of those said. For
example, “nose” or “curtains.”
Mama watched from the window as the children ran past the mailboxes. Seven
people had on four pairs of shorts, one dress, one skirt, one diaper, one sword, four pairs
of sneakers, a pair of rubber boots, one baseball cap, and some bare feet.
They ran to a narrow entrance, which Papa once could not find by car, and stopped.
Here on the figure-eight street was a small apiary, enclosed by a three-metre fence of
rusty iron. Behind the fence were a tractor, which had not gone anywhere for many
years, and three or four hives. Looking through a crack, it was possible to see how the
bees were buzzing near the hives.
“Grandma Mila and her husband live here! They sell honey to suckers!” Alex
“Sell to whom? I’ll wash your tongue with soap!” Kate was outraged. Even though
she knew a bunch of bad words, she always demanded her brothers and sisters not to
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Here you can also say ‘visitors’! From where did you learn such a word?”
“‘Visitor’? You said it! Is it really bad? Really, really?” Alex asked eagerly, reckoning
opportunities were opening.
“You’re driving me crazy! No, the other one!”
Realizing that the word “visitor” was normal, Alex sagged, losing interest in it. “Ah!
I heard them and Aunt Klava swearing at each other. Aunt Klava said that their honey
was made from sugar and that their bees sting, and they replied that them pigeons
stained their wash in the yard.”
“Not ‘them’, but their!”
“I also say ‘their’. Them pigeons stained, the geese squawk and these get
Vicky and Alena turned their heads, looking for the puppies. Someone was making
noises nearby, and then the puppies, already fairly grown, about four weeks, climbed out
from under a bent-back sheet of metal. It was strange that the bald, scary, infinitely long
Stool had such beautiful, fat, and fluffy puppies, like cutlets on legs.
Stool was rushing around the cutlets barking with alarm and trying to make them
listen to it. It even knocked to the ground the “cutlet” butting Vicky’s legs and bit it
lightly. At the same time, it also tried to growl at Vicky.
“What's this?!” Vicky said sternly, and Stool, recollecting, wagged its tail. A minute
later, it was already eating cold buckwheat with meat gravy, which Alena had brought.
One of the puppies fell into the buckwheat and the rest were licking it clean.
After the puppies had finished eating, Kate stated loudly that they certainly would
not be living on the street anymore. The street was full of dangers. Germs, viruses, cars,
other dogs. Bees, after all, could sting.
“And they haven’t before? Now they’re so huge!” Vicky said.
“You keep quiet! Tell me, are the puppies vaccinated? Do they have flea collars? Has
a vet looked at them? Here, this one’s eye is running!” Kate yelled and Vicky retreated,
because it is extremely difficult to argue with a person who is right in everything.
“Well, it has started!” Peter groaned and stomped home. Rita was bouncing up and
down on his shoulders, tugging his ears in all directions and demanding that her horse
There were six puppies. Kate, Alena, and Vicky each took two and, accompanied by
a worried Stool, set off home. Kate was planning complicated forms of treatment and
the construction of a multi-storey kennel, but Papa unexpectedly opposed. “Either the
puppies or me!” he declared.
Kate looked at Papa and at the puppies, making a difficult choice. “But where will
you live?” she asked Papa.
However, Mama took Papa’s side and he had to be left alone, while the puppies had
to return to the apiary. Kate and Alena were angry with Papa for about two hours, and
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
then discovered eye drops in the medicine box and went to treat the puppy with the
“Why are you dragging the dogs back to me? Well, take them away! You took them,
so take them away! I’ll drown them all!” Grandma Mila shouted at them from behind the
Then Grandma Mila went home and the girls decided that she was going for a
bucket to drown them, but Grandma Mila evidently did not find a bucket and returned
with macaroni. The macaroni was cold, but there was a lot of it. Only now did it become
clear to the girls why Stool and the puppies were so fat.
It all ended up with Alena being stung on the hand and the puppies taking refuge
under the hive and growling at Kate when she tried to drag them out with a fragment of
a mop. The eye drops remained unused and Alex used them up that very day trying to
figure out whether they would burn or not.
The puppies made the biggest impression on Rita. She was still not talking very
well, but, trying to show how the puppies amazed her, she ran on all fours the whole day
and even demanded soup in a bowl in order to eat like a dog, standing on all fours.
Mama let her, but it turned out to be awkward and Rita was forced to sit at the table and
take a spoon, because it was against her principles to stay hungry.
After lunch, Rita again went down on all fours and, barking abruptly, began to run
on the stairs and scratch like a dog plagued by fleas, and kind Alena put Papa’s tie on her
as a collar and led her behind her.
By means of much persuasion, Kate convinced Papa that they would take in the
sickest puppy for the night to render it urgent medical care and return it to Stool in the
morning, because she understood that the puppy still needed its mother’s milk. Stool
did not notice the abduction of its baby because crafty Kate distracted its attention with
a sausage and, after grabbing the puppy, ran away before it began to yelp.
Interested by this phenomenon, Alex and Peter recorded the yelps of the remaining
puppies on the phone and began an experiment. It turned out that Stool did not know
how to count. It was possible to steal all its children, not letting them squeal, and it was
all the same to it, but if all the puppies were in place but the phone continued to yelp a
little, then Stool would go crazy and search for the source of the sound. The experiments
would have continued until the evening, but the bees came to help Stool. One of them
flew into Peter’s mouth, and although he got rid of it before it stung him, he preferred to
withdraw and leave the dogs alone.
Meanwhile, Kate was busy with the sick puppy. It was hideously fat and, perhaps
from weakness, was continuously getting into a mess. Kate washed it with shampoo,
then removed two bloated ticks from it and threw them onto a burner of the gas stove.
This angered Costa very much. After shouting “Bad! Bad!” at Kate, he began hitting her
on the leg with the sword.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Easy! It still has a third tick! I’ll show it to you!” Kate proposed and started to chase
a squealing Costa with the tick.
Pitying his brother, Peter took the tick from Kate and wanted to throw it into the
toilet, but he changed his mind and, for the sake of interest, fed it to the rats.
“They’re going to die now!” Kate said.
“They won’t!” Peter said and proposed a bet. Kate refused and Peter wagered with
Costa and Alex, increasing their already insolvent debt.
Costa and Alex sat by the cage for about fifteen minutes, but greedy Schwartz,
having devoured the tick all by itself, simply did not die. Then Alex and Costa,
distressed, went into the yard, hid behind the corner of the house, and began to scheme.
Mama immediately suspected that they were scheming because they had not been
seen or heard for a long time. Typically, Alex and Costa were always heard. She went out
of the house and sneaked up on them unnoticeably. Alex and Costa were sitting on their
haunches with their heads almost touching. Sticks, cotton wool, and pieces of paper
were piled between them on the ground, white smoke snaking up. Panting from the
effort, the boys were heaping onto the pile everything that could burn.
“What are you doing here?” Mama asked.
Alex jumped up and hurriedly hid something in the dry leaves.
“We’re making fire!” Costa informed her happily.
“Costa, I already told you! Campfire, a campfire!” Alex hissed.
“Ah, yes, a campfire!” Costa corrected himself, but it was already too late. Mama
took the matches from Alex, put out the fire, and went with them to the house.
Alex, demanding the matches back, trudged behind her, but along the way shoved
his hand in his pocket and groped for something there. “Oh, Mama! A tooth! Can you
put my baby tooth in a jar?”
“I’ll clean it every day. It’ll be so clean.”
“And you couldn’t clean those teeth in your mouth?”
“No, that’s uninteresting,” Alex said and set off to the bathroom to brush his baby
tooth. Costa, envying him, jumped beside him and rocked his own teeth in the hope that
something would fall out of his mouth. Alas, his teeth were holding on firmly.
Alena led Rita on the leash till the evening. Until then, Rita was so impressed by the
puppies that Mama could not put her down to sleep. She carried Rita around the room,
rocked her, lowered her head onto her own shoulder, bounced her up and down, and
sang “ah-ah-ah!” but Rita jerked up her head all the same, grabbed the curtains and,
after pulling them open, looked at the lighted windows of the neighbouring homes and
the floor of the hospital bathed in otherworldly light. “Not night! Not night!” she said,
pointing at the light with her finger.
“Night,” Mama said. “Night. Sleep!”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Not night! Not night!” Rita persisted and again stretched out a finger, trying
agonizingly to explain that you really cannot see: there is light! There is life! There
someone is walking!
Nevertheless, Mama stubbornly shut the curtains and continued to insist that it was
night after all. Finally, Mama lay down on the couch next to Rita’s crib and, rocking her
with a leg, gradually fell asleep. Rita quickly rolled out of bed and tiptoed down the
corridor. Everyone was asleep. She went down the creaking stairs and turned on the
“Not night! Not night!” Rita repeated triumphantly.
Someone knocked against Rita’s leg. The puppy! All this time it was whining by the
stairs and trying to climb the steps. Leaving the light below, Rita took the puppy in her
arms, carried it upstairs, and put it down right beside Mama. Mama, in her sleep, first
pushed it away, and then feeling something warm, pressed it to herself. The tired puppy
calmed down and fell asleep.
Rita was satisfied. Someone else for Mama to feed and put to bed. Now let her be
the puppy’s mama! And tomorrow Rita will take the mother dog for herself and will not
have to go to bed, because dogs do not tuck in their children. Dreaming about how she
would go looking for her new mama tomorrow, Rita curled up on the rug, closed her
eyes just for a second, and began to whimper softly. She whimpered more and more
softly. Half an hour later, Mama got up and put the puppy and Rita in her crib. Rita,
half-asleep, touched Mama with a hand, then a foot, sighed contentedly, and, after
turning over onto her stomach, finally fell asleep.
“SOON SUMMER WILL END, SOON THE END OF SUMMER...”
Okay, people! I understand that my
communication is worthless, but I went to
It was the last week of summer. The city emptied; the resort visitors were leaving.
The quiet little station was swollen and overcrowded with people. On the platform under
the clock, taxi drivers honked angrily at each other. These were their golden days. Trains
were moving one after another almost without a break. At night, they could hear the
coupling rumbling and the person on duty at the station demanding the removal of a
locomotive from the first track.
“Time to think about school!” Papa said, concerned. “How do we find out about
“The mommy network is the best means of information of the system. Also the
church. What mothers in church know today, intelligence only finds out in a year,”
Mama replied, unruffled.
She had already gone around to a few schools in the city and stopped at the nearest,
which had recently been an English school but now remained just a good school.
The young Gavrilovs regarded the approach of school differently. Timid Vicky was
nervous, as she had been accepted to a new grade, gnawed her nails, and downloaded
from the net all sorts of tutorials of the type Leadership Primer or How to be oneself in
any team. Kate knew beforehand that she would figure it out without tutorials, did not
worry about anything, and only demanded a new backpack.
“Your one from last year is still good!” Mama objected.
“It’s old. And Peter used it.”
“It may be old but it wasn’t made in China. It’s unbreakable. See: triple seam and
parachute thread. And all these pendants will rub to a shine in two weeks.”
“I still want a new one! Let Alena have the not-made-in-China!”
Alena was indifferent to what backpack she used, provided that there was a pocket
for her phone. She twirled in front of the mirror and was determining the whole time,
which was better – two braids or one? One or two? Then she hid in the bathroom with
scissors, cut off her bangs and howled for a long time, because they turned out uneven.
Vicky began to clip her second bit of bangs and they turned out even more crooked. They
had to resort to Mama’s help. Mama did a good job, however, alas, nothing remained of
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Peter was also preparing for school. He passed by the mirror, lifting his chin, and
tried to decide the whole time if he was cool or not. Then he decided that he was and
bought himself a pair of sunglasses like those of a special agent. It was his fifth pair.
It thundered on August 31st. The phone rang. Mama answered. It was the owner of
the house calling from Yekaterinburg, informing her that he had quarrelled with his
granddaughter and would likely return.
“And us?” Mama asked.
The old man on the other end of the line sighed. “She doesn’t like that I file my nails
with a pumice stone. And I mustn’t put my clothes in with their wash! And she forbids
smoking!” he complained about his granddaughter.
Everything came tumbling down in Mama’s mind. With such a bunch of kids and
things, they would fit nowhere else. Prices had gone up for the summer. The Moscow
apartment was leased for a year. Where would they go now? Who would lease what to
them? They would have to return to Moscow and ask to live with Granny.
“So we have to move?” Mama asked.
The grandpa sighed again. “I don’t know yet. I haven’t quite decided if I’ll return.
Maybe my granddaughter and I will adjust to each other and then you’ll be able to stay,”
“So what are we to do?” Mama asked.
“I’ll call you,” the grandpa replied and said goodbye.
Mama stood for a long time with the phone still in her hand and then ran to Papa.
Papa was sitting in front of the computer and stroking the keys. The brilliant novel was
hiding somewhere among the keys, and all that was needed was to press the keys in the
correct sequence. But who knows what the correct sequence is!
“It’s August 31st!” Mama yelled. “We’ve just enrolled in school! And now, it turns
out, there’s also a caving-in with school and you can’t understand anything at all! It’s as
if we’re on a volcano!”
Papa looked at the wooden floor. There clearly was no volcano under them, but then
a mouse was living under the floor. At night, it could be heard running and rustling, and
sometimes in the morning, there would be a small pile of sawdust on the floor that the
mouse had thrown out.
Papa put Mama on his lap and stroked her hair. “Everything will resolve itself
somehow!” he promised. “Remember how many times everything was difficult and bad,
and then everything resolved itself?”
“So we’re still going to school?” Mama asked.
“Where else will we go?”
Mama ran to iron uniforms, wipe with a damp cloth the backpacks dusty from the
move, and do other important things that without which September 1 st would never
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
The most trouble was with school uniforms. They were not required in the previous
school, which only asked to come dressed in something “normal”. In this school, they
had to wear something responsibly dark, in a decorous style, and under no
circumstances a sweater and jeans. Peter, though, was a supporter of jeans in particular.
He had roughly the same number of jeans as sunglasses.
“Give him your pants! You’ve almost never worn them and they look very
respectable!” Mama said to Papa.
Papa doubted that Peter would agree to go to school in the pants, especially those
that someone had worn before him. Peter got accustomed to things for a very long time,
could go around in one thing for weeks, and cursed a lot if something else appeared.
“Don’t you mention these pants to him at all! He’ll say that they’re filth and lousy.
You wash all his old jeans and secretly put these there. He’ll then put them on in order
not to go around naked. Only don’t get into any argument with him!” Papa advised her.
“But what about pedagogy? What about Makarenko?”21 Mama asked plaintively.
“Students of Makarenko wore athletic shorts,” Papa parried.
The night of August 31st to September 1st turned out to be difficult. Rita was whining
non-stop. She was cutting another tooth and clear snot was flowing from her nose like a
long, sticky river. In view of that, Rita did not sleep for a large part of the night, and
Mama and Papa watched her in turn.
At some point, on Mama’s watch, Papa heard shouts of “Hello! Hello!” in his dream.
He sensed a dirty trick and woke up. It turned out that Mama was trying to weave
grapevines into a rocking chair, using the wooden frame of an old chair which she had
found in the basement. Rita was walking around with Papa’s phone, calling anybody,
and shouting, “Hello! It’s me! Hello! It’s me!” The unhappy voices of people who had
been woken up could be heard responding. This was all fun for Rita and she broke into
Papa ran to catch Rita. On seeing that someone was trying to catch her, Rita rushed
off with laughter in the opposite direction. She ran to the bathroom and froze, looking
around merrily and jumping on the spot. Papa started to sneak up carefully to her.
Detecting Papa sneaking up, Rita was amused and began to run away from Papa around
the baby bath, which was about a third full of water and with rubber boots standing in it,
on the floor.
“Why did you give her my phone? She’s calling people!” Papa shouted at Mama.
“Sorry! I didn’t see it!”
“I don’t believe you! Oh-h! Catch her! She’s dropping it!”
Papa rushed forward. The phone slipped from Rita’s hand, flew up, bounced off the
edge of the sink, and fell into the baby bath. Papa uttered a plaintive cry, rushed to the
Anton Semenovych Makarenko (1888-1939), Russian and Soviet educator, promoted democratic ideas
and principles in educational theory and practice.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
bath, and saw that the phone had fallen right into a boot and was lying in it safe and
Papa quickly took it together with the boot, but told Rita that the phone had
dissolved. No more. Rita looked all around in the tub, spread her arms, and repeated
wonderingly, “No more! No more!”
On the morning of September 1st, while Papa fed the other children breakfast, Mama
stood by Peter’s door and listened. Now Peter pushed the stool with his knee, now he
was searching for his jeans. Now, he sniffed decisively and set off to the door. Mama had
managed to disappear into her room and dived under the covers.
“I’m sleeping! Don’t bother me! ” she yelled before Peter had time to knock.
Peter stopped thoughtfully, looked at his watch, put on the pants, made sure they
were sitting all right on him, and resigned himself. Downstairs, the children were given
pocket money for all kinds of snacks in the school cafeteria. Even Rita, seeing that the
others were doing this, demanded money, although she only had a vague idea of what to
do with it. Papa tried to give her a coin, but Rita wanted paper money, because she saw
that Papa had given paper money to all the others.
However, Papa had only a large bill left and giving it to Rita was not in his plans.
Rita did not understand this and had already started to pout dangerously. Fortunately,
Alena had the sense to take a magic marker and draw for Rita money with so many zeros
that you could buy the whole town, if only it was accepted for payment. She even
depicted quite acceptably a portrait of Mama on the banknote. So, the money turned out
to be tolerably official.
“100 roubles to the 100th degree! That’s powerful!” Peter stated the value and went
Papa stood at the window and watched as Peter went to school together with his
toughness. Peter caught up with Alena, who was still scared to go to a new class, where it
was unknown how she would be taken. She walked along for some time and then, as if
by chance, stretched her hand out to her brother. Peter conferred with his toughness,
looked back at the window, checking to see if the parents were watching, and took
Alena’s hand. Alena went with a huge bouquet of gladiolus thrown over her shoulder like
the club of a folk warrior. Vicky and Kate followed at some distance behind Alena. Kate
went without gladioli, folded her arms on her chest, and looked like Napoleon heading
to a council of marshals. Vicky was moving in short dashes, clutching flowers to her
chest. Mama and Alex brought up the rear. Also with gladioli. Mama held Alex’s hand
firmly, knowing that he would climb on fences and trees otherwise and immediately get
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Mama returned home at nine in the morning. “It seems that everything’s fine. I
looked at the line. Alena and Kate immediately joined the team, but Vicky is staying on
the sidelines and pining for the time being. It’s always like this with her. She’ll get
accustomed in a day or two,” she communicated.
“I didn’t see him. There were many classes, everyone was running around, the
orchestra was roaring... By the way, Alex has to be picked up in an hour!” Mama said.
“Yes. Nice to study in the first grade!” Papa said.
Mama was standing, looking out the window, and thinking about something. “It’s
strange that all our children are so different! Different personalities, habits, desires... All
different! But growing up together!” she said.
“Nothing strange about it. They sometimes mix up in maternity wards!” Papa
responded. He had already started weaving a story. “Perhaps my perfect child is now
with the Turkish Sultan? Yes, exactly!”
“Simple! The Sultan could have come to Moscow with all his wives to see the Red
Square. And then – oh! – one of his wives clutches her stomach. The Sultan grinds his
teeth because he hasn’t seen the Place of Skulls. 22 But there’s nothing to be done. He
jumps in the limo and takes the poor wretch to the hospital in Kapotnya, where you gave
birth to Peter and where they’re ready to accept a non-resident woman without
registration... The guards wave their pistols, the Sultan plucks his beard, and the
hospital staff is nervous and attaches the name-plates incorrectly! My perfect child turns
out to be in Turkey, while we only have the heir to their throne!”
“Uh-huh. Seven of your perfect kids are with kings and queens who did not manage
to see the Place of Skulls! And we have seven heirs of the ruling dynasties of Europe,”
Mama agreed and went for Alex.
Alex and a fat boy, Vova, were squatting by the radiator and trying to pull from it
the jammed pencil case of a girl, Madina, who was sobbing nearby.
“Did you shove it in?” Mama asked sternly.
“No!” Alex and Vova shouted together.
“Really not you?”
“No! She herself is guilty! She said, ‘I bet you don’t have enough strength!’”
“I’ll tell Papa! He’ll break all your bones!” Madina promised.
“You yourself helped us shove it in! You pushed with your knee!” Alex was outraged.
“I’ll tell Papa!” Madina stubbornly repeated, having decided to hold onto this
winning line to the end.
Having fetched his pencil case, Mama took Alex to the school exit. Vova ran ahead.
Mama, dragging Alex’s bag, found that Vova was not so much fat as broad and strong. It
Lobnoe mesto, also known as the Place of Skulls, is an old circular stone platform on Red Square, a
place that was used for the announcement of royal decrees and other special public events.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
seemed that he would even be able to force a pencil case through a keyhole. Vova the
strongman led them up to the school doors and turned to the stairs, with his shoulders
pushing like an icebreaker past third-graders.
“I’ll go get a bite, haven’t eaten anything since morning!” he said, though it was, in
fact, still morning.
“Alone? Do you know the school so well?”
“A little,” Vova declared. Then he thought for a bit and said, “My mama works in the
All the way back home Alex was knocking down flower heads with a stick and
chatting, “Do you know how a person grows?” A wave with the stick. “A person has a
thyroid! The thyroid sends antibodies.” A wave with the stick. “Antibodies reproduce,
and hands and feet grow!”
“Is this what the teacher told you?”
“No. I remembered this myself,” Alex bragged.
“Of course. But don’t you feel sorry for the flowers? They’re actually alive!” Mama
“I leave the roots alone.”
“What if someone pulled off your arm but left your legs? Or smashed you and threw
“Ha-ha-ha!” Alex said uncertainly but already waved the stick above the flowers.
Then he quickly looked back at Mama to check if she noticed that he had resolved to pity
the flowers. Mama looked to the side and did not intervene in Alex’s decision.
Kate, Alena, and Vicky returned from school at about one.
To Mama’s question about school and the new class, Kate replied briefly, “Okay!
Normal.” Textbooks were distributed, workbooks signed, then they arranged a good
lesson and yelled at some boy for it, nonsense in general, not even anything to present at
“And the kids?”
“What kids are in sixth grade? Absolute cuckoo, normal. As everywhere,” Kate said,
shrugging her shoulders.
Alena liked the new school. She imparted that two boys had fallen in love with her,
well, she believed so, because they were constantly pursuing her, but she was beating
them with the wet rag for wiping the board.
“How about you?” Mama asked Vicky.
It goes without saying that everything turned out awful for Vicky. The whole class
ran terribly and was horribly noisy, but she was reading quietly on the phone.
After lunch, Kate went to the attic to her pigeons. Over the summer, the pigeons of
four became three, because the children forgot to untie the flight feathers of one of the
pigeons launching from the balcony. The pigeon hit the ground. When they ran to it, it
was completely intact, only a red ball was quivering on its beak. The ball was very bright,
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
rich, perfectly round, and did not change shape, and it was especially scary. Kate took it
in her hands, and it died there a minute later, its head hanging down.
Papa buried it where they buried all dead animals – a little away from the mailbox
at the fence. Kate then cried for two days and Alena also for some time. But Kate was
always crying quietly for a long time, hiding on her wardrobe and covering her head
with a blanket. It was like a long drizzling autumn rain. Alena would cry like a summer
rain-shower: with claps of thunder and lots of tears. When she cried, she had the
capability to wet even a woollen blanket.
After a good cry, Alena began to wander around Kate repeating, “I told you! I told
you!” As to what exactly she had said and for what reason nobody remembered, because
Alena generally expressed herself a lot. Kate got upset and said that she would pour out
her dragon’s water, and on Alena’s head at that, if she would not be quiet. Alena was
offended and left.
The remaining three pigeons, their flight feathers having long been untied, flew
quite freely, and considered the attic their home. At times some neighbour’s pigeon
would join them, and the neighbour would sometimes come for it and sometimes not. In
general, a pigeon hangout quickly formed in the attic. Three little eggs appeared in the
nest-box; two of them hatched. The chicks had little resemblance to birds and were
more like unpeeled pink potatoes.
Kate spent a rather short time in the attic and came tearing along with a shout that
someone had attacked the pigeons. The neighbour’s stray had vanished, as did the one
that was not part of a pair. Apparently, they had just flown away. The two that remained
were scratched. Of the chicks, only one survived.
Mama and Papa went up to the attic and looked at the pigeons. Rita trudged behind
them. It turned out that she had learned to climb up the steep ladder to the hatch, which
she pushed with her forehead at a starting run.
“Looks like the attack of a predator!” Papa said, examining the pigeons. “They
defended themselves from something, but it still dragged away a chick. But what
predator was able to climb to our attic? It’s unlikely!”
“Certainly unlikely! The cats haven’t yet managed!” Mama said.
“Impossible. There’s only one window here, that’s it. But a bare wall underneath. A
cat can’t climb along the plaster.”
“Jump from the walnut tree?”
Papa leaned out and estimated the distance.
“From the foliage at four metres? What should such a cat be? Moreover, the jump
would have to be aslant along the house.”
Someone sneezed behind Papa. He turned around. Rita was standing quietly and
unassumingly near the far wall. She was the most noiseless kid in the world, a model for
books written about obedient children. An off-white scarf was hanging from Rita’s
shoulder. Papa looked at the scarf once, twice, three times. For some reason the scarf
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
bothered him, but Papa was distracted and thinking about something else. Then the
scarf began to bother him again and he squinted at it again.
After looking at the scarf for the fourth time, Papa discovered that the scarf was
moving. Besides, it was moving somehow in parts. Rushing over to Rita, Papa
discovered that the neighbour’s skinny cat was hanging from her shoulder, sagging as if
it had no spine. The cat did not even look at the pigeons but the pigeons were behaving
as if they had been acquainted with it for a long time. Soaring, they rushed about
confusedly around the attic, trying to protect their flightless chick.
“Rita! Have you come here with the cat before?” Papa asked sternly.
Rita shook her head.
“Well, I can read it in your eyes! Did you or didn’t you?”
Rita quickly covered her eyes with her hands.
“Everything’s clear!” Papa said. “This cat will not be in our house anymore! And
there will be a lock on the attic door!” He felt like the greatest detective in the world.
Sherlock Holmes smoked nervously on the balcony, occasionally interrupting to beat his
head against the wall.
A day passed, two days, then a week, and the old man did not call. However, Mama
all the same looked at the phone in horror, like looking at a planted bomb that will
definitely blow up someday. At times, she even tried very inconspicuously, as if by
accident, to cover the phone with a pillow.
“Perhaps we should call him?” Papa suggested.
Mama grabbed his hand. “No! What are you doing? What if he has made up with his
granddaughter, but you’ll stir him up with your call, they’ll fight, and he’ll come back!”
Papa looked at the phone and sighed. “Sad to be old. He’s a good person, but he
lives in three rooms with his granddaughter, who doesn’t let him smoke or file his nails
with a pumice stone. But he’ll get used to it all,” he said.
“Yes,” Mama agreed. “I thought about it. Imagine, we’ll also be subject to a
granddaughter this way.”
“That’s alright,” Papa said. “Chin up! One hope is that we’ll have many
grandchildren and it will be possible to find among them the least harmful. One that will
let us file our nails with a pumice stone.”
Autumn by the sea is the golden season. It is the time of poets, artists, old men with
beautiful beards and skinny legs, and ladies in hats. The sun no longer turns shoulders
into steaks, the nights are chilly, but the sea is still warm, mothers with children have
gone home, and only the gulls disturb the sleepy beaches with their calls. The Gavrilovs,
living on the coast for the first year, earlier perceived this as a cliché, but it turns out
that everything was exactly so, and all their former friends knew this.
After waiting till mid-September, their old friend Uncle Blahblah came to them.
They called him Uncle Blahblah because he could explain for twenty minutes what a
normal person would understand after four and a half seconds.
Uncle Blahblah was formerly a lawyer who left work to write detective stories and
scripts of police serials. His detective stories were somewhat long-drawn-out and very
didactic, but employees of Internal Affairs really liked them because everything in them
was very thorough. That is, not like Papa Gavrilov’s heroes flying across the sky,
attaching themselves by suspenders to the sun, and falling in love without a break. With
Uncle Blahblah, if a bench participated in a book, then he specified the material from
which it was made, its length, weight, the number of nails, its combat capabilities in a
fight, and a lot of other details. Later on, this bench might not be mentioned at all.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
In addition to scripts and detective novels, Uncle Blahblah also wrote poems not
containing punctuation. His poems had never been published, but Papa considered
them good and advised Uncle Blahblah on how to release his poems to the world. “You
either perform them with a guitar or present your poems to your heroes!”
“How do I present them?”
“Well, say you have a criminal lawyer or senior investigator who writes poetry! Then
you can introduce them directly into the main text and a reader will understand!”
“Oh! That’s an idea!” Uncle Blahblah exclaimed happily, and in his books appeared
the head of the homicide department who, after putting aside his pistol (the description
of the pistol followed on the second page), wrote poetry.
Upon learning of Uncle Blahblah’s arrival, Mama groaned that they had no place to
put him. “He’s rich! He can rent a room in any hotel!”
“First, he doesn’t like unnecessary spending. Second, he wants to talk with me and
show me his new poems. Third, he intends on improving his health and soaking up the
sun,” Papa defended him.
“Let him soak up the sun somewhere else! I don’t want a lawyer in my house seeing
that our things are all over the place!” Mama said, but yielded.
The next day Papa met Uncle Blahblah at the station. Uncle Blahblah emerged from
1 class, although he had written in the mail to Papa that he would come by 3 rd class.23
After jumping out of the car, Uncle Blahblah shook Papa’s hand and immediately rushed
to a flowerbed to smell the flowers. He smelled flowers anywhere and scared people
unaccustomed to this.
“I waited for you by another car,” Papa said.
“You mean 1st class?” Uncle Blahblah asked. “Oh, yes! Such nice people showed up!
You see what the deal is: I pointed out some minor corrupt practices to the conductor.
In a completely friendly manner. They took offence and called the head of the train. He
rushed over as red as a lobster, but we talked and it turned out that they had a free 1 st
class compartment. Expensive, you know, few people can afford it.”
“Free?” Papa asked, knowing that Uncle Blahblah would not pay an extra three
“Why free? How narrow your thoughts are!” Uncle Blahblah was indignant, picking
up the handle of his suitcase on wheels. “Are you aware that each train has a book of
‘Complaints and Suggestions’? I wrote words of gratitude and my own poems in there!”
The Gavrilovs settled Uncle Blahblah in Papa’s office on the first floor. On this
occasion, Papa’s laptop moved into the next room and Uncle Blahblah’s computer was
assigned to the table. However, he rarely worked on his computer. He more often wrote
in a quick hand in a thick notebook with metal springs.
Long-distance trains within Russia have 3 main classes of accommodation. First class has 2-berth
compartments with both beds at the lower level on both sides of the compartment. Second class is 4
berths per compartment. Third class is an open-plan dormitory car with bunks arranged in bays of 4 on
one side of the aisle and bays of 2 along the coach wall on the other side of the aisle.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Uncle Blahblah was chubby and well-nourished, led a healthy lifestyle, and rode a
bike to the sea every morning, where he doused himself with water from a child’s
bucket, considering bathing unwholesome. Then Uncle Blahblah returned to the
Gavrilovs and walked around the room, occasionally stopping to smell the blooming
In the evening, Uncle Blahblah drank wine, which he bought in plastic bottles from
a Tatar. They were very cheap, because it was an illegal enterprise, trading under the
counter, and completely lacking sanitary certificates.
“You’re great, I’m great! We’re both geniuses, you know? Friendship of the great,
you know? Pushkin and this... Turgenev! 24 Pour yourself another!” Uncle Blahblah said
“Thank you, I have juice,” Papa refused.
“You don’t respect me as a person!”
“I respect you as a poet!”
“This is great! C’mon! To the muse! Where’s your muse?”
“The kids packed it away.”
“But who’s this running?”
“The kids are still up!”
“Why aren’t they sleeping?”
“The light distracts them. When there’s light somewhere, children flock to it like
moths. Therefore, we usually arrange ‘night’.”
“Turn off the lights in the whole house. The children see that there’s nowhere to run
to, there’s darkness everywhere, and go to sleep with grief,” Papa explained, going for
the bare heel of Costa, who especially came down to see Uncle Blahblah.
“Uncle Blahblah!” he uttered loudly.
“Who’s he talking about? Who’s this Uncle Blahblah?” Uncle Blahblah, not knowing
that he was Uncle Blahblah, tensed up. He naively thought he was Valentin Sergeevich.
Mama came down, lifted Costa onto her shoulder, and carried him away. In the
kitchen remained Papa, Uncle Blahblah, Kate, and Peter. Having finished eating, Peter
got up from the table and trudged to his room. He was hoping to slip away unnoticed,
but far from it.
“Wash up after yourself! Once or twice!” Kate said in her usual voice, not even her
She said this to Peter, but Uncle Blahblah decided that it was to him, and he was
frightened at first, but then was carried away. “What a woman this one will be in ten
years! A character!” The poet-lawyer was delighted. “A true woman should be heard a
long way away! She’ll be a hybrid of a dictator, mother, muse, and victim. Precisely so!”
Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev (1818-83) was a Russian prose writer and playwright. His works are
regarded as major 19th century Russian Realism.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Very funny!” Kate said sullenly and uttered an angry outcry. It turned out that
Peter had turned the head of the faucet the wrong way and covered the tiles with water.
“Society of mutual understanding of will!” Uncle Blahblah continued
enthusiastically. “You tell me, ‘Do this!’ I’ll do it! The woman says, ‘Put down the glass,
go to work!’ Here it is – genuine concern for fellow creatures!”
“Where’s your wife?” Kate asked.
“She left me. She wasn’t destined to understand my complex soul,” Uncle Blahblah
said bitterly and again reached for the bottle.
“Please put the glass down and go to work!” Kate said.
“I’ll put it down... that is, I already did!” Uncle Blahblah said and obediently trudged
off to Papa’s study to write a story. Some time later, he walked stealthily into the kitchen
to get the bottle, but it turned out that Kate had already poured all the wine down the
sink and washed the bottle, which was now drying upside down.
Uncle Blahblah uttered a sad sigh and returned to the office. He worked all night,
both in his notebook and on the computer, and when all the children came downstairs in
the morning to get ready for school, they saw Uncle Blahblah cooking eggs and bacon.
Bacon was sizzling in the pan, and a very satisfied Uncle Blahblah was standing beside
“I was thinking about you all night!” he said very solemnly. “You people are creative,
freelancers, so to speak, and your life is chaotic! You lack a system, discipline! That’s
possible in a small family, in which everyone runs where he wants, but in a big family,
the structure must be monarchic! Here’s what I’ve come up with for you, dear
Uncle Blahblah ran into Papa’s study, and the printer started to hum almost
immediately. Then Uncle Blahblah came out and attached a sheet of paper to the fridge
with four magnets.
“Here!” he said. “The fruit of my night’s reflection! I once saw similar rules on the
Internet. They’re similar in structure, but I’ve altered everything, of course.”
No matter what, Mama and Papa are always right.
And they will be right in the future.
Mama does not raise her voice, she draws attention to the important things and
Papa does not curse, he worries that the children will develop into bad people.
Peter and Alex do not tease the girls, they prepare them for the fact that their
husbands will also not be angels.
Alex does not refuse to read aloud, he proceeds from the premise that it is
easier for an illiterate to remain a good person.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Kate does not bully Alena every second, she reminds her that she has a wise
8. Costa does not butt, he is preparing for the international tournament of fights
9. Vicky does not die twice an hour, she is rehearsing the ballet The Wounded
10. Rita does not whine like a chainsaw, she reminds everyone that she also has a
right to attention.
11. All the children hear a speech addressed to them for the first time. They do not
express dissatisfaction with shouts, but with calm objection, “I am distressed
and cannot agree with you for such and such a reason.” After which, the reason
is voiced and the next steps agreed upon.
Papa and Mama liked Uncle Blahblah’s rules. The children also appreciated them.
Peter even asked to have them sent to him by email, and Rita and Costa laughed for a
long time, not because they understood anything, but because they saw that the others
were also laughing. Kate alone reacted sceptically to the family charter.
“Papa, he’s what, brilliant..?” Kate asked after breakfast, when everyone was
drinking tea. Uncle Blahblah thought that they were talking about him and blushed
modestly. “...puts a wet spoon into the sugar bowl!” she finished.
Late in the evening, when the other children were already asleep, Kate climbed up
onto the wardrobe, tossed and turned for a long time, arranging her pad, then rolled
over on her stomach and leaned out from under the blanket. This meant that Kate
wanted to talk with Mama. Mama sensed this and remained below. She stood with one
knee on a revolving chair.
Kate lowered her head, touching Mama with her hair. “All the same, Uncle Blahblah
is partly right!” Kate declared. “You’re not correct parents.”
“Why?” Mama was surprised.
“Well, here’s an example. When you say NO, it should immediately be NO, not ‘noyes-no-yes’. It’s always possible to pressure you or wear you down. You told Costa, ‘I’m
not buying a chocolate egg!’ but then you bought it anyway. Inconsistency! Or tonight
you said, ‘Candy only after dinner!’ But they gobbled them up before dinner, and
“So I should chase after them with a chainsaw because of the candies?”
“No. But then there was no need to say ‘after dinner’. Instead, say, ‘I don’t care when
you eat candy. Decide for yourself!’ Then there won’t be disobedience.”
Mama sighed. “I pity Costa.”
Kate hung down even lower. “You shouldn’t pity children! You must love them, but
not pity them!”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Because! At our old school, Oksana Timofeevna was like that. At first, she took us
all to the museums to see butterflies, and when her class got on her nerves, she poured a
jar of water on Smirnov, pulled a wastebasket over Apresian’s head, and then ran away
from school because Apresian’s parents are well-to-do.”
Mama thought for a moment. “So what do you recommend?”
“Well, change a little bit!” Kate graciously consented. "You’re good. And don’t argue
with Papa! If he says something, so it will be. Love us, but no need to pity. We’re all little
“Are you a rascal?”
“A little,” Kate sighed. “Each of us pressures you differently.”
“Vicky dies and Costa waves his sword?”
“Well, yes. Roughly,” Kate admitted.
“Hmm... And how is it at the Mokhovs?” Mama asked jealously.
“Everything’s the other way around there. It’s great! There the kids become the
mother to their mama!” Kate said enthusiastically, and Mama was even a little jealous
because Kate rarely praised anyone.
“I don’t know how to explain to you... Aunt Tanya sits at the computer, and they
bring her sausages on bread. They cook and bring it! The kids can generally do anything.
You want to sleep for three hours, do. You don’t want to lie down, don’t, but do you still
have to go to school in the morning? Therefore, they go around twelve, and read as
much as they want, and watch whatever movie they want.”
“Why supervise them if they are normal? Indeed, all parents only pretend to
supervise. Actually, to supervise someone, you have to be a born bully. People simply
delude themselves, yell at the kids because of a spot of ketchup on a shirt, and the kids
quietly laugh at them and nothing changes.”
Mama put a hand on her forehead. “And what do you recommend?”
“Two options!” Kate said. “Option A. You’ll be quite strict. But it doesn’t work for
you, because we already know that you aren’t strict. Option B. You’ll just quietly paint,
sculpt with clay, and read aloud. Then you’ll be happy because you like all this, and we’ll
sense this and then the whole house will be happy! This I, Catherine the Great, said!
HOW PETER LOST A BILLION TO RITA
The worse the circus, the more the
Uncle Blahblah lived with the Gavrilovs for a week, after which he could not stand
the noise and rented a room from an old woman who lived by the sea in a prerevolutionary house. The old woman on the top floor had flooded this old woman’s place
and she wished to write such a paper that they would even shed tears in court. Uncle
Blahblah, rubbing his palms, promised that they would shed tears in court and rolled his
little suitcase on wheels to the old woman’s place.
Now Uncle Blahblah nurtured his creative soul in the evening and night. In the
morning, he sunbathed on the beach, sponged down using a child’s bucket, then slept,
and dined tastefully. He also composed for his hostess a tearful civil complaint with
heartbreaking details on how the old woman above, in response to a polite request to
take measures to stop the flooding, laughed viciously, as a result of which the old woman
below sustained moral injury. Peter went to visit Uncle Blahblah several times after
school, because the old lady with whom he lived baked remarkable charlottes. 25
One day Peter returned from there and immediately shouted excitedly, “Know
what? Uncle Blahblah moved to the old lady above!”
“How? Why?” Mama was surprised.
“Ah, I don’t know! It seems he’s now composing a complaint on the old lady below!
The old woman above is also not bad. She cooks meat well, but her pancakes are slightly
burnt! Her TV is huge, hangs on the wall, while that of the old woman below stood on
the table and only had forty channels.”
Mama looked at Peter anxiously. The Gavrilovs had not had a TV for fifteen years
already, but, unfortunately, the computer had successfully replaced it.
A few days after this, Alena ran home from school in great excitement, waving
colourful leaflets. “Some auntie from the circus came to our class! She invited everyone
to the circus. Here, look! 3+1=3!” she yelled.
Peter started to study the flyers with apprehension. “Buy three tickets and get
the fourth one free. Children under six are free!” he read and began to count.
Peter was one, Vicky – two, Kate – three, Alena – four. Rita, Costa, and Alex were
still little, they would let them in anyway. It turned out they would buy three tickets and
seven people would get into the circus. Hmm... Hmm... Arithmetic! Just in case, Peter
A baked charlotte is similar to a fruit and custard pie, with the piecrust replaced by sponge cake or
bread soaked in oil or egg.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
repeated several times that they certainly would let no one in free, but later he went to
consult Papa. He once again voiced to Papa his doubts about the honesty of advertisers
and only after this handed Papa the flyer.
Papa called and confirmed that yes, he spoke with the cashier and it was all true.
The fourth ticket is free and children under six are free if they go with someone with a
ticket; as there would be three tickets, it turned out that everything was in order.
“Well, then, it means the circus is lousy, since it’s so easy to get in! I’m not going!”
The performance started at six. Until five o’clock, the children were deciding who
was going to the circus and who was not. All the young ones wanted to go, but the other
ones were changing their minds every half an hour, and then, seeing that they were not
persuaded, again caught fire. It bothered Vicky and Peter most of all that they would
have to go with the youngsters and everyone would start to say that here – ha-ha! – is
some demonstration, and old women would rush to Costa and pull up his pants.
“Is it too much for him to pull up his own pants?”
“They’ll still fall down. He chooses the biggest, to be like Alex!” Kate was
“They won’t fall down today! We’ll put suspenders on Costa!” Mama promised.
Papa drove the children to the circus, not forgetting to seat them in a checkerboard
pattern so that everyone was peaceful and managed without quarrels on the road. For
some reason, it is always this way: the ones adjacent in age quarrel, but the next nearest
are friends. The children went to the performance as seriously as if to war. Kate
collected all the phones and left them in the car.
“Did you read what’s written on the flyer? No taking videos! If someone takes one,
his phone will be taken away! Everyone indeed will do so there!” she said and looked
sternly at Alena, the main target of her tutelage.
“I will not!” Alena was indignant.
“Then you’ll lose your phone. You already did!”
“You wrecked two!” Alena squeaked.
“Wrecking is not losing!” Kate cut her off, with a voice showing that any comparison
here was off-base. Then she turned her attention to Alex and began to teach him to say
that he was five.
“I was seven on my last birthday!” Alex turned obstinate.
“Only blunder that you’re seven! Do you want Papa to pay for a ticket? Do you? Do
we have extra money?” Kate attacked him.
“We have money! Here! Here!” Rita started to yell, pointing to Papa’s bag.
“Informer!” Papa said.
The circus tent was pitched in the city park next to a low stone fence. Beside the tent
were a few circus vans, two cars with megaphones on top, and a trailer converted to a
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
A crowd had gathered by the tent, and two muscular gymnasts, temporarily
standing in as ticket collectors, let people inside by turns. Papa bought three tickets and,
after arming his family with them, moved the children forward. He remained outside,
near the tight rope, because if he had gone beyond it, he would not be able to push his
way back. He saw how one of the gymnasts, after taking the tickets, looked at them for a
long time and then started counting the children, pointing at each with a finger.
Finally, the man squatted down in front of Alex and asked sternly, “Boy! How old
“Eight!” Alex blurted out in fright.
“How old, how old?”
“Five!” Kate hissed, pulling his hand.
“Ten!” Alex repeated.
“Indeed!” the gymnast said and, totally starting to suspect everyone
indiscriminately, turned his gaze to Costa. “And you?”
“Ten, ten, ten!” Costa yelled, not wanting to resign himself that Alex was older.
“He’s four! Can’t you see that he’s just a toddler?” Kate shouted. “Maybe you’ll even
say that she’s forty?” she said and pointed to Rita who was eating an apple
The gymnast looked attentively at Rita and reckoned that she was not forty, but
possibly only thirty-five and a half. “Where are your parents, little girl?” he asked Rita.
Rita quite accurately pointed a finger at Papa, but Peter was also in the same
direction, and it turned out that she pointed to Peter. The gymnast looked perplexedly at
the young father of six children, who, without taking off his sunglasses, was moving a
match around his mouth like a Mafioso, and, desperate to understand something, waved
his hand and said, “That’s it! Go, papa! Hold the young ones on your knees! And if there
are empty seats, sit them down!”
The children went into the circus. It was rather dark inside the tent, especially for
Peter, who stubbornly did not want to take off his glasses.
“Did you see how he was scared of me? Isn’t it cool?” Peter smugly asked.
“Ah-ha. He was shaking the whole time! Only you, for some reason, didn’t even
open your mouth,” Kate said.
Soon the orchestra was thundering and clowns were running out into the arena.
One was redheaded, but another pretended that he was a random person from the
audience. They doused the second one with water about five times, and kicked him as
many times, again when he attempted to be indignant.
“I wonder, do they get paid the same?” Peter asked. “They hit and pour water on one
all the time, but the other stands there, uninvolved, and only giggles stupidly!”
At that moment, they dumped a cake on the head of the redheaded clown and
justice had more or less been served. Then Peter’s thought flowed in another direction.
“I bet the cake has expired! It isn’t profitable to buy fresh cake. If only we could see the
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
date on the box!” declared Peter, who found it irrational to dump an un-expired cake on
the heads of clowns.
It goes without saying, none of the older children would argue with Peter, and he
argued with Alex, Costa, and Rita.
After the clowns, the jugglers came out; after the jugglers, a trainer with five poodles
and a Persian cat; and again the clowns. The clowns were busy all the time while
something was being prepared or installed backstage or in the arena. The random
person from the audience had managed to change his clothes by that time, and they
again hit and sprinkled him a little so that he did not feel too happy.
Costa, Alex, and Rita did not stop laughing. Vicky, Alena, and Kate pitied the poor
man who was kicked all the time, but Peter was hemming and hawing with distrust,
calculating what salary a clown could get and, consequently, whether it would be
profitable to be a clown.
Finally, the clowns left and a woman appeared with two little monkeys. The
monkeys’ names were Gabriella and Marina. Gabriella was in a black tuxedo and hat,
and Marina in a pink dress with a short skirt.
The monkeys jumped on drums, somersaulted, rode on a bike, hid candy in pockets,
talked on the phone, and behaved exactly like people, except that they were not rude and
did not betray each other. But they could be forgiven for this little thing. Rita and Costa
liked the monkeys so much that they almost ran after them backstage, but Kate told
them that a hippo would eat them backstage. Rita believed in the hippo, but Costa
repeated several times that there was no hippo, though he did not go backstage all the
same, because it was rather scary to go alone and Vicky was holding Rita firmly on her
During intermission, the children spent all their pocket money on party blowouts
and juice with straws. Kate carried out a complicated scheme so that those who already
got blowouts would not get juice. Still, it turned out that someone got both blowouts and
juice while someone got nothing at all.
In the beginning of the second part, the master of ceremonies announced in a
frightful voice that there would now be tigers in the arena. They must not move, breathe
loudly, or do anything at all, because the tigers could behave unpredictably.
Immediately after this announcement, the lights went out, the master of ceremonies
cried out in fear, and following this, a terrible, awe-inspiring growl resounded
backstage. The women began to scream, someone rushed to the exit, a spotlight
suddenly flared up, and everyone saw two guinea pigs in the arena.
“I already said that they have no tigers! Some clowns with expired cakes!” Peter
All the spectators laughed with relief, except for Rita, who was so frightened by the
tiger growling in the darkness that she started howling and did not want to stay in the
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
circus a minute more. Kate tried to calm her, but nothing doing! Rita howled like a siren
and indicated with a hand that she needed to be rescued from this horrible place. Peter
had to throw her over his shoulder and carry her out. Vicky, Kate, Alena, Costa, and Alex
hurried after Peter. Dangling on the shoulder, Rita did not stop howling, at the same
time managing to control Peter’s movement and point with a hand the direction for him
to carry out her salvation.
People looked askance at them, annoyed. The aisles in the circus were narrow, and
to let one spectator out, the whole row had to get up. And here were a whole six, and
even a dangling screaming seventh on the shoulder of one.
Finally, they emerged from the tent, and Peter unloaded Rita onto the sandy area.
“Phew! As if I again... with this pipsqueak! She should be put in a cage! How we all
disgraced ourselves!” Peter said, panting. Rita kicked him in the leg. “Stop it! I’m not an
animal!" Peter said.
“Yeah! You were perfect, of course! Who poured soup from a squirt gun over
himself?” Vicky was only two years younger than Peter and remembered his small sins
“Soup is something else. And here’s simply a crazy pint-sized klutz!” Peter said
firmly. Rita somehow determined that they were talking about her and threw sand at
Peter. “Wow!” Peter was puzzled. “How could she be offended? She doesn’t know what a
‘crazy klutz’ is!”
“She understands from your voice! Don’t talk to her in a harsh voice!” Vicky
appealed to him. “Watch! Rita, little one! Come here! Hug me!” Rita immediately ran to
her and hugged her with plump arms around her neck. Skinny Vicky immediately
started to fall from such an anchor, but Rita laughed and hugged her even harder. “Let
me go, you monster! You’re choking me!” Vicky croaked.
They stood there for a little while longer and then tried to return to the circus, but
Rita remembered the tigers and went on strike. Costa, dressed in a shirt with short
sleeves, sneezed loudly.
“Already a first candidate for a cold!” Kate said sullenly. “Papa won’t be coming in a
hurry, and all our phones are in the car.”
“Then we’ll walk!” Peter decided. “We can cut through the park here!”
“No, we have to wait! Papa said to wait!” Vicky said.
“And I say we go! Still have to wait an hour, but we’ll get there faster! Well? Are you
coming or do I go alone?!” Peter threatened.
And they went. The first few minutes Rita flew like lightning, and it was good
because she set the pace for the entire company.
“Run! Even faster!” Kate shouted to her.
However, here it came into the lightning’s head that it was possible to fly not only in
the direction of home but in any direction at all that her head turned. Her head was
turning completely unpredictably. Several times Vicky, Peter, and Kate had to rush after
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Rita deep into the park, scaring her with robbers, and once Peter yelled, “Look out!
There are maniacs here!” as he pulled her out from under a bench on which sat an
unassuming couple in love, holding hands.
Fifteen minutes later, it occurred to Rita that she was dead tired. She lay down on
the ground and began to whimper. Kate sat down beside her. “What, you don’t know
how to walk? Quietly this way! March!” she asked. Rita shook her head.
“You’re asking wrong!” Peter declared. “A question with a hidden negation is
needed here. Ask, ‘You haven’t forgotten how to walk, huh?’” Rita shook her head again,
and somehow it turned out again that this option of the answer was right.
Yet Peter did not give up. “Your legs don’t hurt anymore?” he asked cunningly,
reckoning that it was not exactly possible to answer “yes” or “no” to this question.
However, Peter only did harm to himself, because Rita now knew precisely why she was
lying on the ground. It turned out that her legs hurt! What horror! She pointed a finger
at them and repeated with a sly face, “Oh, oh, oh!”
“She’s not tired, for sure! She ran circles around us for 50 kilometres!” Vicky said.
Peter picked Rita up and sat her on his shoulders. Rita grinned knowledgeably and,
grasping Peter’s ears for control over the situation, started to look around at the
surroundings. And they started walking again, only not for long, because Costa suddenly
noticed that, for some reason, he was walking but Rita was riding Peter, and he lay down
on the asphalt.
They admonished Costa for about five minutes, frightened him with everything in a
row, and stood him up vertically, but Costa flopped down like a cotton doll. Peter
refused to carry Costa too because, he said, Rita was as heavy as a sack. Papa could
immediately drag along two or three, but he, Peter, would get a hernia and would get hit
in the leg.
After an emergency meeting, it was decided that Peter would carry Costa, and
Alena, Vicky, and Kate would drag Rita along. So they did. A satisfied Costa moved onto
Peter’s shoulders, and the girls took Rita’s arms and legs and hauled her. Rita giggled
and kicked her legs, causing Alena and Kate to sway from side to side. They stopped
every few metres, unloaded Rita onto the pavement, and rested. While they were
resting, Alex caught up with them. He had managed to find a paper bag, put it on a stick,
set it on fire, and was now dropping pieces of burning paper bag on everything in
“Where did you get matches?” Kate asked him gloomily.
Alex, with an honest look, stated that he did not take any matches, but here his shirt
escaped from under his belt and about five transparent lighters, which he had collected
as they walked through the park, fell out of it. He kept some and smashed the others on
the pavement, making loud bangs.
An aggravated Kate took the lighters from Alex and pushed them into the tight grille
of the drain. “There! Now fetch!”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Wh-y-yy?” Alex shouted.
“So that you’ll set the house on fire? Right?”
“Gim-ee!” Alex tried to snatch the last lighter from Kate, but she pulled his baseball
cap over his eyes and, shaking her fist, said sternly, “Mister! Control yourself!”
The mister refused to control himself and started jumping on the spot, throwing
sand and leaves at Kate. Then Kate, Alena, and Vicky again picked Rita up and dragged
The city park was designed in a very complicated manner, with a lot of structures, a
summer cinema, a children’s railway, a zoo, and even a Ferris wheel. Each had its own
little fence and it was necessary to go around them. All the paths seemed to go in the
right direction, but soon they began to twist and turn and it became clear that you were
going in a completely wrong direction. Another attribute of the park was the specially
arranged dead ends. You would be going and going among boxwood shrubs and
suddenly bump into a cheerful yellow sign: Lost? Go back! And it was necessary to go
back against your will, as there were fences or thorny bushes all around.
After the third such joke, Vicky, who was dragging Rita’s legs, her heaviest part,
began to die. “I can’t anymore!”
“Come on, drag! Don’t whine! Once born, they have to be carried!” Kate said
through clenched teeth and immediately added in a cowardly way, “It would have been
better to wait at the circus. Papa definitely won’t find us here.”
“He’ll come in the car,” Alex said.
“How? Move it through the fence? Drag, I say!”
“I can’t! I’m dying!” Vicky groaned.
“You’re dying? Really?” Alex asked eagerly.
“Really, Alex love, really!” Vicky moaned, glad that at least someone was sorry for
“After you’re dead, I’ll take your flashlight, okay?”
“And I your phone, tablet, and the red skirt!” Alena said.
“And I your backpack and desk! And your Japanese mice!” Kate added.
Peter realized that he needed something to stake a claim in memory of his sister. He
considered for some time what among her belongings was of value, then declared that
he would take for himself the charger from an old Nokia and the revolving chair!
Vicky looked warily at the four pairs of eyes directed at her, grabbed Rita under the
armpits, and quickly carried her.
Dusk was falling fast. Somewhere in the depths of the park, dogs were barking, but
they walked and walked. Dragging Rita by the arms and legs was uncomfortable. They
gradually developed a new carrying technique, which did not tire the arms so. Kate
carried Rita on her back, and Vicky and Alena supported Rita on both sides. They
changed from time to time and then Vicky carried, while Kate and Alena supported.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Peter, whom nobody substituted, got tired and increasingly unloaded Costa onto the
ground. Then he even stopped unloading because pulling his brother off the ground was
even harder, and he just leaned against a tree somewhere. What was the most incredible
was that Costa had managed to fall asleep, placing his cheek on top of Peter’s head.
Finally, almost exhausted, they came to the boom barrier of the adult clinic, circled
around it, and turned up on the next street not far from home.
Here Rita, sitting on Vicky’s back, raised her head and said cheerfully, “Papa!”
“I bet you a billion it’s not Papa!” Peter grumbled, not even trying to turn his head.
Rita was forever imagining Papa even where he was not.
“Papa!” Rita stubbornly repeated.
Peter reluctantly squinted and saw a silver minivan turning off the main road to the
gate. The van was puffing wearily with the exhaust buzzing. Obviously, it had had to
travel here and there around the park for a long time.
“Papa,” Peter uttered dully.
So, he acknowledged that he had lost a billion to Rita.
THE ARRIVAL OF THE MEDDLING AUNT
“Three months ago a pregnant young
grey kitty with fleas was found in the
basement of the service building of Maple
Park. Homes have been found for the
kittens; the kitty has healed, been
sterilized, vaccinated, microchipped, and
has received a pet passport. 26 Now I am
going to the cottage and have no time to
spend on it anymore! Any owner, take it,
Ad on a post
On Wednesday after school, Kate, Vicky, and Alena decided to invent their own
secret language, which no one else would understand. It seemed to them very
convenient to have such a language: you talk about what you want and no one will find
Vicky took a thick notebook and carefully made columns in it, as in a school
dictionary: word – transcription – translation.
“What will ‘cat’ be?” asked Vicky.
“Pshygl!” said Kate.
Everything – animate and inanimate that dwelt or just happened to be in the
Gavrilov house – was named roughly this way. The difficulty was that these new words
were certainly immediately forgotten and it was necessary to constantly look in the
notebook in order to talk and then pass it on to the person with whom you were just
having a conversation. The person took the notebook and you started to point with your
finger to the words you had just said.
Now the main concern was to hide the notebook from the other four children, who
were interested in stealing it. At first, Kate, Vicky, and Alena hid the notebook by turns,
but later it was only Vicky, who had the gift of hiding an object in the most obvious place
so that it was unlikely to be discovered. For example, between two pans, one nested
A pet passport for a cat or a dog is an international veterinary document containing information about
the animal in questions and its owner, proof of vaccinations, ID information such as the number of the
microchip or tattoo, and other information required to simplify the transportation of the animal between
countries without undergoing quarantine.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
within the other, or right in her drawer, wrapping it in the cover of the school diary,
which was immediately discarded, of course, because everyone saw that it was a diary.
Peter was the most zealous of all in the search. He literally rummaged the whole
house, suspecting that the poster appearing on his door – “ENNEI – URLINKLE!” –
meant “Peter – idiot.”
Finally, Kate was tired of this. “No,” said Kate. “‘Urlinkle’ is something else. You
won’t snatch it out of my hands? Honestly? No, I don’t believe your word of honour!
You’ll say you gave your word not to snatch it from my hands but you’ll snatch it out of
one hand! Or from the fingers! You really wanted to say that, right?”
Peter puffed, because Kate, it goes without saying, had guessed right. “What will
happen now?” he asked.
“We’ll tie you up!”
Peter willingly agreed, and the three girls thoroughly tied him up with ropes to a
chair. Peter grinned in secret, because he tensed up his right arm so that it would be
easy to pull it out.
“Ready! Then look!” Kate carefully covered the page with her fingers, leaving one
line. “Here! Idiot is ‘shmurk’!”
“And ‘urlinkle’ is donkey? Show me ‘urlinkle’!” Peter said and grabbed the notebook
with his freed hand.
“Ah! You promised not to! Get it from him!”
The three girls grabbed one part of the notebook and Peter’s hand the other. The
girls, huffing, pulled it to themselves, and Alena even tried to scare Peter with the
clicking of teeth near his hand, but Peter would still have won, and then Mama’s phone
played a military march.
Mama did not react because she did not realize that it was her phone. Peter was
forever changing her ring tone, considering it witty. Sometimes Mama’s phone began to
rumble like a tractor, then scream, then fire a single shot with the sound of a recoil.
“The phone! Didn’t you hear it?” Peter shouted and, having let go of the notebook,
jumped together with the chair to hand Mama the phone.
“Hello! Good evening!” Mama said carefully. She always answered the phone very
affectionately, especially when the call was from an unknown number.
“When you answer like this, they’ll think that you’re very kind!” Peter said.
“What, and I’m not?”
“I’m not arguing! I said, they’ll think that you’re very kind!”
Today, however, Mama’s affectionate voice remained much longer than the first two
phrases. It remained even when Mama’s face fell and her cheeks paled.
The children were bouncing beside her, trying to find out whom Mama could be
talking to with such a face, but Mama, in order that they would not interfere, climbed up
onto a chair. Then the children dragged other chairs over and climbed onto them in
order to be taller, and again moved their ears to the phone.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Who was it?” Peter asked when Mama finally hung up.
“Aunt Sveta bought a new SIM card!” Mama said, a guilty smile remaining on her
“Aunt Sveta? Where is she?” Papa tensed up.
“She said it’s cheaper to call with local SIM cards. But it’s true, it’s cheaper,” Mama
continued, evading a direct answer.
“WHERE IS SHE????”
“Well... uh... Aunt Sveta flew in, then changed to the bus, and is now coming to us
from the bus depot!”
“Meddling Aunt!” Papa and Peter exhaled at once.
“Who, who?” Alex asked.
“Have you forgotten? The same aunt who turns chocolate foil wrapper in as scrap
metal, and tortures the nerves of those who don’t do so!” Peter reminded him, and Papa,
making a sound, tugged at his sleeve.
Twenty minutes later, someone called on the intercom. The gates rattled. A small
and delicate woman in a baseball cap turned backward appeared on the porch. In her
hands was a transparent package with yellow tubes.
“Hello, kids! Hello, Annie! Hello, everyone! By the way, Nick, you owe me four
hundred roubles, and better immediately, because later we’ll forget!” she said to Papa.
“For what?” Papa tensed up.
“I bought sunscreen for you on the way out!”
“At the end of September?”
“Yes! But I bought four for the price of two. There’s a sale! And the cream will be
useful for next year!”
The little woman went into the kitchen and looked around in a business-like
manner. “Not bad!” she approved. “Simple but spacious! It’s a background for action.
What’s this you have?”
“The fridge!” Peter said.
“Good boy! You know everything!” Aunt Sveta praised. “But why is it here? The sun
from the window hits it. The sun shouldn’t hit the fridge! We’ll move it from here right
Aunt Sveta leaned a shoulder on the fridge and, straining, began to rock it. Papa and
Mama exchanged glances. They had no intention of disturbing someone else’s fridge,
having stood here clearly for a hundred years, but what can you do when before your
very eyes a frail woman is just about to acquire a hernia and clearly with the best of
Papa and Peter leaned their weight together on the fridge and moved it about a
metre to the side. At the same time, they accidentally forgot to unplug it and the cord
flew from the wall. Besides, it turned out there were no tiles but simply the painted wall
behind the fridge.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“This is minor! Tiles or no tiles! We’ll remodel everything here!” Aunt Sveta
consoled Papa. “And for such a large family, this fridge is too small and too noisy
altogether! Here’s what I propose... We’ll sell, discard, or put it in the basement! And I’ll
give you my black one cheaply for a purely symbolic amount. I’ll send it from Moscow in
“In a dark-dark house was a dark-dark fridge...” Papa said quietly.
“You don’t understand! Mine is a high-end fridge!” Meddling Aunt was offended.
“Not a fridge but a huge freezer! You can shove half a cow carcass in it! Don’t you
Papa carefully remarked that they do not buy cow carcasses.
“But that’s wrong! Carcasses are much cheaper, and you have a big family. Besides,
you can freeze a lot of vegetables and fruits and eat them in the winter!” Aunt Sveta said.
Mama, of course, was immediately excited that the children would have vitamins,
and began to tug at Papa’s arm, while he had already realized that he would not be able
to deliver the manuscript, because he would have to pursue the aunt’s freezer across the
Aunt Sveta’s phone, which she was holding in her hand and not letting go of because
messages, emails, and notifications from every possible social network were always
arriving, started vibrating. Aunt Sveta looked sternly at Papa, imprinting in him the
bright dream of a freezer, and brought the phone to her ear.
“Face me!” she said sternly. All the Gavrilovs faced Meddling Aunt fearfully, because
it was unclear to whom she was talking: the phone or them.
“What do you mean ‘what for’?” Aunt Sveta continued, looking at everyone at once.
“Where are you? Well done! Remember at all times, where you’re facing, you go in that
direction! Frr! A minute! Which way are you facing? What trees? Promptly go in the
other direction! Why was I wrong? On what street are you? Let’s take off from there!”
Aunt Sveta heard some answer. She rushed to the window. “That’s it! Stand still! I
can see you! Wave at me! Yes, it’s exactly you! Stand still and don’t go away!” And Aunt
Sveta rushed toward the exit.
“Who’s this?” Papa asked, helping her open the gates because the lock opened with
some trick produced by its antiquity.
“The porter! Well, not quite an official porter, but still...” Aunt Sveta said.
“Where did you find him?”
“I didn’t find him anywhere! A young man at the bus station asked me for money for
cigarettes, but I don’t encourage idlers just as I don’t encourage taxi drivers! I said he’d
get a huge sum if he carries my luggage! I gave him your address and I myself came
“What if he...”
“Out of the question! I took his passport! And no one has ever cheated me at all!”
Aunt Sveta said this so threateningly that all the Gavrilovs felt that it would take a lot of
courage to cheat her.
Along the figure-eight street, clinging to the bushes, a lanky young man was making
his way in their direction. His arms were weighed down by the incredible quantity of
luggage. Every three metres he stopped and squatted down. Aunt Sveta gave him money
for cigarettes, returned his passport, and the porter left.
“Yes-yes-yes!” Aunt Sveta said. “I know what you want to ask! How did I carry all
this? I have four pieces! Each 15 kg, and only 20 without additional payment on the
plane! But I stuffed them in your old stroller, in a couple of packs, and in the notebook
bag, and carried everything as carry-on!”
“Did you take any airplane food?” Alena eagerly asked.
“Of course!” Aunt said and, like a magician conjuring in the fifth dimension, took
from a bag two whole containers of airplane food.
“This is mine and this is my neighbour’s! He refused to eat, because I forbad him
from pulling out the little table!”
“Why did you forbid him?”
“Because my feet were on the baggage, and he hit me right on the knee with the little
table!” Aunt snapped. “And the neighbour on the right, a very nice woman, by the way,
refused the jam! And here are the spoons and napkins!”
“And what’s this?”
“Headphones!” Aunt Sveta said. “Gift from the airline! They were lying there in the
“The headphones aren’t a gift! They’re for watching in-flight movies!” Peter said,
admiring Meddling Aunt for pinching the airplane headphones.
“Really?” Aunt Sveta asked coldly. “Since they’re lying around and not attached, that
means they are a gift! Well, I’ll find out on the Internet and if you’re right, I’ll return
them on the way back!”
“And when’s the way back?” Papa wanted to hint, but Mama looked at him so
severely that he kept quiet.
Aunt Sveta settled where Uncle Blahblah once lived, namely in Papa’s office. On
Papa’s desk was her tablet, player, ebook reader, netbook, phone, and camera, while
Papa’s laptop was ousted to another room. In passing, Aunt Sveta tried to demonstrate
that Papa’s laptop was old and should be replaced promptly or at least some programs
on it updated, because modern, truly talented, and original writers work “not with pitiful
obsolete Word but...” Papa, however, not letting her finish, grabbed his laptop and was
The children treated Aunt Sveta differently. Alena and Kate stuck to her like two
magnets and wanted to transform, overhaul, and break everything together with her.
Vicky slipped away skilfully, because Aunt Sveta interfered with her dying. Well, think
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
for yourself! You slip down onto the floor exhausted, to show that it is unrealistic for you
to wash five cups, but at this time, they are dragging over you a two-metre ladder from
the room or a huge oak tabletop eaten through by beetles, which Aunt Sveta was going
Rita laughed and ate constantly because Aunt Sveta cooked well. True, she
demanded that they ate only at the table, and washed the kids’ hands not with soap but
some hand sanitizer, then wiped them clean with cotton disks. Alex and Costa hunted
for Aunt Sveta with pistols, and stole all sorts of buns from her and ate them under the
table so as not to wash their hands, but Aunt Sveta banged on the table with a fork and
threatened that they would never grow up to be decent members of society.
Papa and Peter ran around the house from Meddling Aunt, because as soon as she
saw them, she instantly beckoned them to her and said sternly, “The boys should
promptly dig a foundation on the street and make a gazebo!”
“Why? We have no land. Just some extension!” Papa hastily objected. “And you
know very well that all this here isn’t ours. They can evict us from here right away!”
“Calm down, Nick! Don’t program yourself to failure! If the foundation is properly
dug, land isn’t necessary. The gazebo will be on top. We’ll sit in it and drink tea!”
“We can drink tea in the kitchen.”
“I really don’t know where the air is fresher, your stuffy kitchen where a smelly
turtle swims in the aquarium, or in a gazebo where a wonderful view of clay roofs opens
Papa imagined to himself a very long pole, on which a gazebo stood, and Meddling
Aunt sitting in the gazebo with a two-litre thermos, admiring the roofs, and sending
pictures every minute to Instagram and Facebook.
RITA RECONCILES THE OLD WOMEN
Don’t want to sleep at night? Look at
your children’s statuses on Facebook.
Aunt Sveta had lived at the Gavrilovs’ for all of two weeks and the house already
resembled a construction site. Papa could only work intermittently, hiding with his
laptop in the attic, where the pigeons went around his head and shoulders.
One day, he was typing and heard Peter on the stairs persuading Mama, “Don’t tell
her that we need a wardrobe!”
“Well, she will meddle! I’m already studying in the bathroom because of repairs
Aunt, by some miracle, caught the word “wardrobe” through three walls, and a
complex chain of many links started in her consciousness. “Yes-yes-yes! A wardrobe!”
she exclaimed, appearing out of nowhere. “You have things lying on the floor already!
We’ll give the Pautkins your shoe rack, take possession of their plastic boxes for the
Fedosovs, and they in exchange will give you Arkady Petrovich’s wardrobe, which is kept
at their cottage!”
“Not the one lounging around in the cottage?” Mama asked guardedly.
“Yes. To tell the truth, it also didn’t fit in Arkady Petrovich’s. But then everything
absolutely goes into it!”
“But it also won’t get in here! It’s tight everywhere here!”
“That’s another question, how to make it such that the wardrobe that fits absolutely
everything will get into your house!” Aunt snapped back.
“So, maybe we’ll just put our house inside the wardrobe and won’t go through the
hassle? And, incidentally, it’s one thousand and four hundred kilometres from here to
the wardrobe! What, it’ll fly across the sky?” Papa shouted from the attic, forgetting that
he was hiding.
“That’s already the third question! We’ll cross the bridge when we come to it!”
Meddling Aunt cut him off. “That’s it, Nick, come out! Now I know where you’re hiding
from me! I need your minivan to ship the trough!”
“What kind of trough?”
“The construction kind. I’ve come to an agreement with a guy. We ship him your
trough for mixing mortar, and he in return gives us an almost new balcony door!”
“We have a balcony door!”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“This one has a little glass area! More glass, more light! Besides, there’s a draft
under this one!” Meddling Aunt began to descend the stairs triumphantly.
“I’ll tell! I can’t! I’ll tell!” came from the nursery. A flushed Alex jumped out of there
and, bouncing, exclaimed excitedly, “You’re not Aunt Sveta! You’re... you’re... you’re...
Meddling Aunt stopped and scanned Alex from head to big toes. “Why no sneakers?
I’ll ask you to return for sneakers, and while searching for them, work out a clear
argument why I am Aunt Mraka and who fills you with such thoughts!”
By the middle of October, even Mama had grown tired of Meddling Aunt. Mama’s
favourite mattress, which occupied half the room and, besides Mama, had room for
three or four more kids, was exchanged for a sofa, which had many disadvantages and
only two merits: it was collapsible and the children could inconspicuously shove candy
wrappers and other junk into its wooden interior.
“Now your house looks nice! Now you can have any philosopher as a visitor without
shame!” Aunt said.
“I don’t know any philosophers! And if there were any, philosophers don’t care
about mattresses. They’re above it,” Papa retorted dejectedly.
“One can be above a mattress, but not a sofa!” Aunt said, with one sentence
including herself in the ranks of the classicists.
“It’s possible to be above a sofa too!” Papa objected.
“I’m a weak woman! You don’t understand me!” Aunt Sveta said.
“I can’t take it anymore! Let’s tell her that nothing needs to be undertaken
anymore!” Papa said in the evening, when he and Mama were bathing Rita and Costa.
“Never offend a person if he does something with the best intentions!” Mama
sighed, trying to guess the children by contours, because Costa gurgled so much foam
that it rose half a metre above the bath.
The next morning, Uncle Blahblah came to visit the Gavrilovs. He came on a bike, in
a striped vest and straw hat, and with sandals on his feet. “Sorry that I’ve stayed away
for so long! I was writing a poem about love. The plot of the poem is: a playwright
doesn’t want to pay his wife alimony on the grounds that she is seeing an artist
specializing in battle scenes. More precisely, he wants to pay it at the minimum rate, as a
creative person and without a regular income. The wife, of course, is against it, which
enhances the dramatic conflict!”
Uncle Blahblah blurted out all this while jumping on one leg because he was too lazy
to dismount, and he wanted to wheel the bike in but was hampered by the lower cross
Svet is Russian for light and mrak is Russian for darkness. So Aunt Sveta is aunt of light and Aunt
Mraka is aunt of darkness.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
bar of the iron gates. Standing the bike, Uncle Blahblah came across Meddling Aunt,
who was hammering four iron rods into the ground in order to hang on them a brace for
a pot of ivy.
“I don’t need a bike here!” said Aunt Sveta in an indisputable voice.
“Reason?” Uncle Blahblah asked, not even moving an eyebrow.
“I don’t need it here!”
“That’s not a reason. That’s the emotional component,” Uncle Blahblah objected.
“The bike has dirty wheels!”
“That’s the subjective component. Where’s the line separating clean and dirty
wheels? One speck of dust is still clean but two is already dirty?”
“There are a hundred specks of dust here! And piles of mud! No need to ride
“Examine, please! A clear differentiation of dirt and dust! And also the original
condition of the yard!” Uncle Blahblah demanded, scowling. When Uncle Blahblah was
angry, he never shouted, but stooped a little somehow, pressed his chin to his chest, and
began his “Blahblah”.
Meddling Aunt swung the hammer in her hand. Mama was afraid that she would
now attack Uncle Blahblah with it. However, Aunt Sveta waved her free hand instead
and said, “We’ll return to this conversation!”
Uncle Blahblah realized that he had won. “Valentin!” he said with the voice of a
“Svetlana!” Meddling Aunt muttered.
Mama had washed the kitchen floor and it was not possible to enter the house, so
Aunt Sveta and Uncle Blahblah set off to the playground of the nearest school. Rita,
Costa, Alex, and Alena tagged along behind them. Alena went on rollerblades because
the playground had good asphalt.
Going for a walk with Aunt Sveta and Uncle Blahblah was not easy, as they worried
very much because of their inability to adjust. They demanded that the children held
their hands, did not pick up cones, did not climb over a fence, and generally behaved
like little lords. Uncle Blahblah confiscated Alex’s store of chemicals: crushed calcium
gluconate tablets, detergent powder stained by a marker dissolved in cologne, matches,
glass, syringes without needles, and a vitamin bottle filled with dead bugs. The only
thing he did not take was a large magnifier, and he was utterly amazed when Alex, using
this magnifier and the sun, soon caused a lighter found in the bushes to go bang.
Rollerblading, Alena turned around and saw Aunt Sveta arguing about something
with Uncle Blahblah. From her direction, their dialogue – Alena could not hear the
words – went as follows:
Uncle Blahblah twisted a button on Meddling Aunt’s jacket and quietly rattled,
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Bratatat-ratatat!” Aunt Sveta exploded with the sound of fireworks on New Year’s
As each “blahblah” became longer, the responding explosion got shorter, and Alena
concluded that Uncle Blahblah was gaining the upper hand. Costa, Alex, and Rita were
standing beside them and, with mouths open, watching whether the lion or the rhino
Having gone around another circle, Alena stopped and sat down on the curb to
adjust the insole bunched up inside the boot. She, by chance, turned out to be beside
Uncle Blahblah, who was saying severely to Meddling Aunt, “Women are evil. They
throw everything about! I got married the first time because of an extension cord!”
“How because of an extension cord?” Aunt could not believe it.
“Simple. One girl studying Roman law asked me for an extension cord. I gave it to
her like an honest and noble person. Then I needed it. I reminded her three times. She
still forgot. Then I went to her place to pick it up. She was a terrible mess. I began to
clean up. While I was cleaning up, she managed to break her pinkie. I took her to
emergency, someone sneezed on her on the bus, and she got sick with the flu. And so on
endlessly! I only managed to escape eight years later.”
“And the extension cord?”
Uncle Blahblah waved his hand, indicating that he never got back his extension
cord. He was very angry with women.
After the walk with the children, Aunt Sveta and Uncle Blahblah returned home
“Somehow they’re suspiciously clean. Did you sit in a café perhaps?” Papa
“No! We walked in circles, hands behind our backs!” Alex said.
Papa looked interrogatively at Uncle Blahblah, who awkwardly cleared his throat.
Meddling Aunt went to answer her mail, because while she was gone for a walk, eight
letters came to her, four of which were important.
“Interesting woman! Formulated her thoughts very clearly. And she has a lot of
different ideas,” Uncle Blahblah praised.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“An off-the-scale number of ideas,” Papa agreed, but it seemed Uncle Blahblah did
not catch the irony because he nodded very seriously.
However, Meddling Aunt did not like Uncle Blahblah. She said that this Valentin
was a smug character and she hated smug characters.
In the evening, the older children did their homework, but the younger ones
interfered with them, so Papa took Rita, Costa, and Alex for a stroll to the sea. All the
way, Costa and Alex were teasing Rita, telling her that she had ugly sandals. Rita did not
have on any sandals but light boots; however, Costa and Alex found that when they told
Rita she had ugly sandals, she got angry and chased them. Most of all they were amused
that Rita was teased the same way countless times and could not figure out that they
teased her precisely because she could be teased.
In the end, Papa gave Costa and Alex a stern dressing down and sat Rita on his
shoulders so that she would not listen to “all sorts of nonsense.” Walking, they turned up
at the house where Uncle Blahblah was living. Rita recognized the house and began to
point a finger at it, shouting and informing Papa at great pains that see, it is that same
house! Hearing her voice, Uncle Blahblah appeared in a second-floor window and
invited Rita in, promising that he would keep an eye on her.
Rita, of course, immediately agreed, because Uncle Blahblah had a small loaf in his
hands and Rita had not eaten for an hour now and had lost a lot of energy during the
teasing. Papa lowered Rita from his shoulders and she ran to the staircase and began to
climb the stairs.
On the first floor, the old woman of the lower floor was standing by her apartment.
On seeing a little girl climbing the high steps alone, the old woman held out her index
finger and began to help Rita. She and Rita climbed to the second floor together. The
door there was open, and Uncle Blahblah and the old woman of the top floor were
standing at the threshold.
The old woman from below did not expect that the little girl, so plump and seemly
in looks, would turn out to be from the enemy camp. She became uncomfortable,
blushed, and tried to escape, but Rita did not let go of her finger and pulled her into the
apartment. The old woman from below froze, but Rita, digging both her heels in, pulled
like a tractor. The old woman from below hesitated to pull out her finger, and the old
woman from above did not dare to chase the old woman from below but invited her to
The old woman from below was thinking that now she would be having someone
else’s tea, and later they would say that she was a freeloader and did not have her own
tea. She ran to her home and brought a wicker basket of pastries. The woman from
above in the meantime set out a lot of pâtés, smoked chicken legs, and other goodies.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Initially, both old women were unsociable and looked at each other like Mafiosi
from warring clans, but between them sat Rita and Uncle Valentin, not stopping his
“blahblahblahblah” for one second.
Little by little, the old women calmed down and, having stopped exchanging caustic
remarks, took it upon themselves to feed Rita. Rita took a cheese Danish in one hand
and a sandwich with pâté in the other and nibbled on them in turn, but never drank any
tea, because what is the point of drinking tea while eating pâté and a cheese Danish?
At the end of the meal, the old women had made up so well that Uncle Blahblah
persuaded them to withdraw their claims. The old women agreed. After all, they had
been acquainted for more than forty years and living in the same building all this time.
“And the ceiling?” the old woman from below remembered.
“I’ll pay for the ceiling! I live here just like that and I feel uncomfortable!” Uncle
“No! I’ll pay for the ceiling. Because I flooded it!” the old woman from above said.
“But I’ll pay only for the plaster without any painting and not a penny more!”
Here Uncle Blahblah again started his “blahblahblah” because he felt that the
subject was becoming slippery and the old women could easily fall out.
When, after an hour and a half of walking with Alex and Costa, Papa returned for
Rita, Uncle Blahblah was already writing his alimony poem very quietly and Rita was
already on the street. She was strolling along with the old women, who were holding her
The old woman from below was small and round. The old woman from above was
large and stern, with unpleasantly painted lips and bright red hair. Rita seemed like a
thumbtack between the old women. Nevertheless, in the end, she was precisely the one
who reconciled them.
THE HEART AND A DRILL
“I personally would keep track of any kid with my heart! The eyes would not see, but
the heart would tip off that he’s doing something wrong!” Aunt Sveta stated after Rita
fell off her chair with a crash in front of everybody and no one managed to catch her.
“With the heart? Well, well... Look behind you!” Papa said.
Meddling Aunt looked back. Costa was standing behind her; in his hands was a drill
with a very large drill bit, and it was aiming at her like a machine gun. Aunt Sveta
jumped up half a metre. “You all saw it and said nothing?! He almost drilled me like a
“He wouldn’t. Its thirty-centimetre cord isn’t long enough to reach the socket! And
now look over there!”
Aunt Sveta now turned more quickly. Alex was standing by the table and coolly
covering a piece of chocolate with Brilliant Green. “I’m killing germs! I dropped it!” he
Aunt Sveta snatched the chocolate away from him and, her hand stained by the
green dye, threw it into a bucket with disgust. Alex, whose body Papa seized crosswise,
threw himself at his aunt with his fists and shouted through his tears, “You don’t
understand! You’re stupid! Green kills ninety-two percent of germs!”
“Where did he pick this up?” Aunt asked suspiciously.
“Andrew,” Papa explained.
“Andrew, our neighbour across the fence. They’re working on an atomic bomb
together. By the way, do you by any chance have enriched uranium?”
Aunt Sveta sighed, twirled her finger at her temple, and said, “You Gavrilovs are all
a little – you know! If I had children, then, first of all, no more than two. And, secondly,
they would be well-mannered children, who wouldn’t walk around with a drill, lick
swings, or kill microbes with green dye!”
Mama was sitting at the table and, while listening to the conversation, loading the
fretsaw with a new blade. She had just finished a wooden lampshade, but something did
not join and needed a fretsaw. “Somehow you’ve been talking regularly about children!
And you have become softer and lazier in general. We haven’t moved cabinet at night for
a long time now. Even somewhat unusual, you know!” she said.
Aunt Sveta blushed. True, she had changed. Recently, Vicky, doing math till late at
night, went downstairs and saw Aunt Sveta on her knees crying in a corner of the
kitchen, and Mama stroking her arms and hair and talking, saying something. Vicky
froze in surprise with her mouth open and forgot why she went down.
However, Meddling Aunt was not inclined to cry now. She was in a business state of
mind. “Nonsense, Annie! By the way, you need to change the boiler! When it flares up,
the flame reaches the middle of the kitchen in the first second! I burned my eyebrows!”
“So, don’t put your face there! Light it with a match in an outstretched hand,” Papa
“Stuff and nonsense! I’ll ask what kind of boiler it is that I can’t put my face to it!”
Rita’s puppy responded to her from under the chair. The puppy still did not know
that he was Rita’s and, bugging everyone without exception, snapped at everyone’s socks
or stockings with its teeth, sharp as nails.
Someone knocked on the glass with a stick pushed through the dog rose. It was
Uncle Blahblah. Peter opened it. Uncle Blahblah was in flip-flops and a t-shirt, but, for
some reason, with a bowtie on his neck.
“Where’s Svetlana? We agreed to go to the oriental café! They say that they make
dumplings there the size of a thumbnail!” he asked Peter.
Peter could not believe his ears, because he considered Uncle Blahblah a skinflint,
talented for going to a café only at the expense of others, disguising it as a business
dinner with a client.
“Coming!” Aunt Svetlana shouted through the window.
“Yes-yes! I’ll wait!” Uncle Blahblah replied tenderly.
The poet in him awoke. The poet began to smell the flowers and was moved by the
sky. Then he saw a seagull and melted. “Ah! A wonderful white bird! Beautiful wings!
The seagull is a symbol of freedom, Chekhov, and the Art Theatre! 28 By the way, what’s
she doing there?”
“Going through garbage bags. Someone threw out rotten fish!” Peter said.
“Ah-h-h! How sweet!” Uncle Blahblah was carried away, waved his arms in delight,
and the poet in him jumped up to the roof.
Someone honked from the street.
“Oh, the taxi!” Uncle Blahblah said.
“You came in a taxi?”
“Are you proposing that I transport a woman on the back of a bike? I’m forty years
old! I’m a member of the Literary fund.29 And an honourable lawyer. Why’s he honking?
Let’s find out!”
The taxi driver got out of the car and squatted in front of it, examining something
and occasionally half-rising to honk once again. On noticing Uncle Blahblah, he began to
The Moscow Art Theatre was founded in 1898. Its production of The Seagull (1895) by Anton Pavlovich
Chekhov (1860-1904), a Russian physician better known as a playwright and seminal dramaturge of early
Modernism in the theatre, as well as one of history’s greatest writers of short stories, was so successful
that the theatre adopted the seagull as its emblem.
The Literary Fund, established in 1934, is an organization attached to the Soviet Writers ’ Union that
renders everyday support to writers.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
grumble that the paint was scratched when he forced his way through the bushes on this
cursed street. Did they warn him about the bushes? No! He will have to charge extra for
The poet instantly fell asleep in Uncle Blahblah and the lawyer woke up. “Fine! Do
you have a transport license? What do you mean it’s not with you? Did you turn your
document over to another person?”
The taxi driver, having gone quiet, pulled his head into his shoulders, hid in the car,
and began to play “Don’t touch me! I’m in the house!”
Aunt Sveta appeared only five minutes later and not alone. In her arms was happy
Rita, holding in her hands the biggest of her Aunt’s phones, and behind her, Costa and
Alex were walking like two soldiers, pulling Aunt’s tablet away from each other.
“They’re coming with us?” Uncle Blahblah was surprised.
“Of course!” Aunt Sveta confirmed. “The kids haven’t had their walk today and
Annie wants to wash her hair!”
“Can’t she wash her hair with the kids around?” Uncle Blahblah said more precisely.
“Please, more details here. Tell me in the smallest details how you see this!” Aunt
Sveta asked very politely.
Uncle Blahblah quickly ducked towards the taxi driver in the car, and they both
began to play “Don’t touch me! I’m in the house!” Aunt Sveta and the children settled in
the car. The taxi driver sullenly drove through the prickly bushes. A strong desire to
grumble was written on his face. When this desire almost reached his vocal apparatus,
Meddling Aunt exclaimed happily, “Oh! One more! Stop!”
“One more” turned out to be Alena. She was returning from the school grounds with
a pair of twins and was laughing loudly. “Ha-ha! Runt! Ha-ha-ha! Squirt!” The boys
were puffing angrily, not knowing how to retort.
“Get in with us! Who do you have here?” Aunt Sveta asked, when the taxi driver
“Shh! I told them that I’m nine years old!” Alena whispered, joining Costa on the
“And are you?”
“Shh! Not in the least! They’re two to three months older than me! Let’s go!”
The taxi driver began winding through the narrow streets of the old Tatar city, on
many of which two donkeys with loads could barely pass by each other.
“This intersection, this intersection! Here Kate and I saw the red guy with an arm
and a leg cut off!” Alena suddenly shouted. Costa and Alex pricked up their ears, but
Aunt Sveta said in a hurry that there was no need to describe all these horrors to the
“What horrors? Just the half-burned-out light bulb of the pedestrian traffic light!”
Alena was surprised.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
They walked for half an hour in the old town and then set off to the café, which was
located in a house settled into the ground and where nothing had changed for three
hundred years already. After eating large portions of dumplings, Alex and Costa were
intoxicated from satiety and began chatting incessantly and talking complete nonsense.
Uncle Blahblah even summoned the waitress to ask what kind of herb they had put in
“Ah! Nonsense! They’re always like this after eating! Papa says that the blood
pumps out of their heads to their stomachs!” Alena declared.
Costa left Alex alone and teased Rita. “Rita, you’re stupid!” he said.
“No! Not stupid!” Rita yelled.
“No! Not fat!” Rita yelled even louder.
“Rita, you’re pretty!”
“No! Not pretty! Not pretty!” Rita was outraged, not noticing that the cunning Costa
had changed tactics.
However, she was not outraged for long because she fell asleep right there on the
oriental sofa. Despite this, or maybe because of this, Aunt Sveta and Uncle Blahblah
spent the evening talking pleasantly about something for a long time. Again, it seemed
that Uncle Blahblah was saying “Blahblahblahblahblahblahblahblah!” continuously and
Aunt Sveta was responding with gunshots “Ratatat-tat-tat!” But these “Ratat-tat-tat!”
were somewhat quieter, as if the artillery were shooting somewhere very far away.
Costa and Alex did not realize that they were in an expensive café and remembered
nothing, because they were playing on the tablet all evening. Alena was also playing
until she dropped Aunt Sveta’s phone into the salad.
“You see, there was free Wi-Fi!” Alena explained.
“Did you at least see what kind of stucco moulding was on the ceiling?” Mama, who
had never managed to visit an oriental café, asked disappointedly.
“No. But then I took a whole bunch of sword-shaped toothpicks!” Alena said.
After returning from the café, Aunt Sveta was behaving strangely. She rushed
around the room, and time and again phoned someone but hung up. She started
answering emails but also did not finish, because she did not know what she was
“What’s the matter with you?” Mama asked.
“Nothing!” Aunt Sveta quickly replied, but later, not holding back, ran to Mama and
said in a shaky whisper, “Valentin proposed to me!”
“And you accepted?”
“I said I’d give it some thoughts, but now I don’t know how I should think and when
Mama and Papa looked at each other knowingly. They knew that Aunt Sveta always
thinks very quickly. Uncle Blahblah, on the contrary, thinks much more slowly.
Therefore, Aunt Sveta would have to wait at least two days, so as not to appear hasty.
“And how will you respond?”
“No, of course!” Aunt Sveta stated firmly. “How else can I answer? We’re completely
“That’s right!” Mama said cheerfully. “Completely different! You must categorically
Aunt Sveta looked despondently at Mama. “But he’s suffering!” she said.
“Really?” Mama asked. “Somehow I haven’t noticed!”
“But he is!” Aunt Sveta shouted, because it was very important to her that Uncle
Blahblah was suffering and she would be able to pity him a little.
Kate and Vicky certainly found out everything already after five minutes. Kate,
unable to suppress her curiosity, came to Aunt Sveta and asked, “And what dress will
you wear? A white one?”
“No, beige! The top a little lighter,” Aunt Sveta replied mechanically and instantly,
recollecting herself, added, “I will say no!”
“And shoes?” Kate asked.
Aunt Sveta waved her hand and ran away from Kate. “You Gavrilovs are intolerable!
I won’t invite you to the wedding! Well, maybe a few of the quietest kids, to carry the
veil!” she shouted from a distance.
Mothers should not hit children or yell
at them, no matter how strongly they
provoke this. Because when someone hits
or shouts at children, they instinctively
rush to mama to seek salvation. And this is
a deadlock situation.
Mama was away in Moscow for a few days. The next morning, Papa got up stealthily
and carefully pushed Alex and Costa together; they were sleeping with him now using
the excuse that they were afraid. Papa moved them because, being moved, they felt
something warm nearby and believed that Papa was still lying right beside them. If they
were not moved, after some time, someone would wake up for sure and start to wander
around the house, looking for adults.
In complete darkness, lit only by the screen of his phone, Papa went to work. It was
dark and cold. In the dark room, there was a continuous swishing, squeaking, rustling of
papers, and short frenzied quarrels. It was the huge rat, Schwartz, with a tail thick as a
ring finger, educating his wives. The awakening parrots responded to the rats. Half an
hour later, when dawn began to appear weakly beyond the window, high, continuous,
melodic sounds were added to the choir of rats and parrots. These were the guinea pigs
squealing a little, demanding food.
Wrapping himself in a blanket, Papa made coffee, sat down at the computer, and
began to work immediately in three windows, in each of which lived a separate chapter
or story line. At seven, the alarm went off on Papa’s phone. He climbed the stairs, and
while he was climbing, all new alarms above snapped into action. Each had a different
melody and some even a train whistle. These were now the children’s alarms on phones,
smartphones, and tablets.
The alarms did their best, but still no one woke up. Papa got angry and ran, pulling
blankets off everyone and repeating monotonously, “School, school, school!”
Occasionally one of the children half rose in the bed, looked at Papa with eyes seeing
nothing, and settled back on the pillow again.
Finally, Vicky woke up, followed by Kate and Alena, and then Papa went downstairs,
knowing that everything would go as usual. He washed buckwheat kasha, added water,
and placed it on the stove. Kasha is valued because one can eat it in any way: with milk
or without milk, with sausages or without sausages, with sugar or without sugar. And
cooked kasha is quite edible even after two days.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
The kids could be heard screaming at each other upstairs.
“Turn off your alarm!”
“I can’t! It won’t turn off!”
“Well, at least put it under the mattress!”
Somewhere in the process of the overall noise, Costa got into a fight with Alex, then
he went to the mirror and, lifting up his t-shirt, began to study his chest earnestly.
Mama once told him, “You’ll have a black heart when you fight!” And now, after fighting,
Costa always lifted up his t-shirt, looked, and then yelled, “Not black! Not black!”
However, it was apparent all the same that this issue troubled him. After yelling “not
black!” several times, Costa just in case put the shoes back in the place where Rita had
left them, went to Papa, and asked in a whisper, “Is my heart red now? Look!” And, not
waiting for an answer, he quickly ran away.
Finally, Papa brought the chapter to a turning point, where it was possible to break
safely. He sat Costa and Rita down on the bike and took them to kindergarten, where a
crowd of mothers, getting excited, were discussing buying shampoo or a vase for the
teacher’s birthday. While Papa was trying to get away from the discussion, the children
went to school with Alex in tow.
Walking to school with them were Nina, Andrew, and the lost Seraphim, a quiet boy
with long wheaten hair, whom Nina was leading by the hand so that he actually got to
class. Andrew walked beside Alex and authoritatively argued that school is worse than
kindergarten, college worse than school, work worse than college, family life worse than
work, and worst of all retirement, after which there is only death. Alex nodded
importantly, agreeing with him.
On the school steps, Nina discovered that Seraphim had not taken his backpack
with textbooks and, shouting at him, dragged him home on the double. Seraphim
rushed after his sister, managing on the run to crane his neck and look at the sky.
Already on the way back, it was discovered that he had lost a shoe while running and did
not even remember where it had come off.
Returning home from kindergarten, Papa walked around the kitchen, amazed at the
silence disturbed only by the rhythmic knocks on the glass. This was the turtle
swimming in the aquarium, knocking with its shell. Papa contemplated the unusual
silence for some time and then realized that he was ALL ALONE in the house.
Finally! What happiness it is to write a book when they do not pester you! When the
computer does not rumble with cartoons and no one sings in your ear! When there is
SILENCE in the house! Now the opportunity for him to work has arisen!
“There!” Papa Gavrilov said aloud, addressing the turtle. “It’s high time!”
Rubbing his hands, Papa walked around some more, dreaming how he would work
for a bit now, and sat down at the computer. He wrote about five lines, but somehow got
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
stuck and brewed coffee. Then he wrote two more lines, made a sandwich, and deleted
about ten lines. Then he got up and began to walk again, trying to understand why he
did not feel like working.
Something was wrong. But what?
Papa fed the turtle, changed the guinea pigs’ sawdust, and isolated the rat Schwartz
in a free cage. In the separate cage, Schwartz was shaking the bars and squealing like a
tyrant locked up in prison.
“That’s it! I will write! I will work! And you’re free, women of the East!” Papa
informed Schwartz’s wives and returned to the computer. And again he did not feel like
working. At first, Papa deleted individual words, then sentences, then paragraphs, and
in the end almost deleted the whole storyline.
However, here he discovered that now he would be deleting the entire book and
hastily stood up. Terrible shrieks reached him from the rat cage. Left without the
tyranny of Schwartz, his wives were fighting among themselves and began to steal each
other’s food and children. They managed to shove one of the rats’ heads between the
bars and, had Papa not appeared in time, everything would have ended badly. Papa
hurriedly transferred Schwartz. An enraged Schwartz instantly gave all his wives a
dressing-down, took all their food, with his hind legs sent the children flying by the
handful, approximately an equal number in each, and again restored the fragile family
peace in the cage.
Papa began to wander through the house, collecting cups forgotten in corners. But
inspiration did not come to light in the empty cups. He climbed up to the pigeons and
scared them with the broom, hoping that they would take off to the infinite sky, but the
pigeons had grown lazy and, barely having flown away from home, returned to the attic.
Papa had to launch the broom again.
“What’s with you! You’ve Become fussy!” Papa said to the pigeons. “You’re just like
people! To get you to fly, someone has to constantly bash you with a broom!”
He poured wheat for the pigeons and tried to work again, but did not even reach the
laptop, feeling that it was useless. Not knowing what to do, he washed all the dishes and
wrote “so?” on the fridge with a marker, putting down the date.
This was a “time bomb” – a timid attempt of today’s Papa to stretch a hand out to
tomorrow’s Papa, who will already know everything. Papa had a score of such temporal
beacons around the house. He was constantly throwing them at himself, when no book
had come out for a long time or no new kid was born for more than two years.
Papa Gavrilov loitered this way till one in the afternoon and then he had to go for
Alex. Peter appeared at two, Vicky, Kate, and Alena returned, and the house was filled
with noise. Something fell and crashed, someone got into the fridge, soup was being
warmed, someone grumbled, and someone clambered onto a stool looking for Kate’s
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Peter wandered around the house and, rewarding himself for pretending to be a
decent person in school all morning, disturbed all the smartphones, tablets, and
computers. He updated, changed systems, connected to and disconnected from Wi-Fi,
restricted access, and added passwords. Alena and Kate groaned, because Peter had
installed a program throwing them off the Internet every ten minutes and demanded for
every subsequent logon something delicious from their caches.
At half past five, Papa brought Costa and Rita home from kindergarten and began to
work with Costa on his left hand, because, although Mama was not home, Costa ’s left
hand had not disappeared anywhere. Costa repeated that he did not need his left hand,
that his right was strong, and tried to run off.
“The female approach is doing everything according to plan!” Papa said. “But the
“... is to do nothing at all!” Kate got in.
“No! The male approach is creative improvisation!” Papa contested and, proposing
to Costa to play pirates and captives, tied his right hand to his body with a rope. His left
hand, however, Papa, like a careless pirate, forgot to tie up. Now, in order to free
himself, Costa had to untie the knot with his left hand. After panting for fifteen minutes,
he managed it and was then very proud of himself.
“Here, I’ll untie any knot!” Peter said and ordered Costa and Alex to tie him up.
They tied him up, and Peter, it goes without saying, easily freed himself. Then Peter
began to demand that Alena and Kate tie him up, and he also got free.
“Now you!” he said to Vicky, and Vicky tied Peter with so many small knots that he
could no longer free himself and started yelling that she had tied incorrectly and only
damaged the rope and made other similar criticisms.
While everyone was tying Peter up, Papa mechanically checked whether the left
hands of the remaining children worked and was very surprised that they did. For
example, Alex even managed to twirl a pencil like a propeller between the fingers of his
left hand, because in a movie one thrower did this with knives.
Costa became bored and began to fool around. All the same, the poor guy was
unaccustomed to being without Mama, who was busy making a bust of him in clay,
appliqué, and many other things. Alex was walking around in a bike helmet, because
Costa was hitting him on the head with a boot.
“Doesn’t hurt! Doesn’t hurt!” Alex shouted and moved the helmet, until Costa hit
him on the nose. Then Alex wrested the boot from him and quickly ran off somewhere
with it. The boot was only found in the freezer an hour later. It was Alex’s terrible
revenge. True, he no longer remembered that he had hid it and was no less surprised
than the others.
Costa continued to behave badly. He grabbed the girls’ things, put them somewhere,
and would not tell where.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Vicky tried talking to him in a nice way. “DID YOU TAKE MY STUFF? Tell me,
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
“Please!” Costa repeated slyly.
Vicky went to complain to Papa. “He’s stupid! Let’s turn on the computer, let him be
glued to it and turn into a zombie!” she yelled.
“No. Read to him instead!” Papa said.
Vicky grumbled, then threw Costa over her shoulder and dragged him into the room
to read. Alex also went upstairs with Costa, although Vicky repeatedly reminded him not
to stick with her but to go to Kate. However, Alex did not go to Kate, but Kate herself
soon came, supposedly looking for something at her desk. Very soon, it became clear
that she was not searching, because she was lying on the air mattress behind the curtain
and listening also as Vicky read. Then she grew quite bold and began to correct the
stresses, “VIllage! Not ‘telephOne’, but ‘tElephone’! Not ‘overGoat’, but ‘overCoat’!”
Meanwhile, Peter was setting up the router and was unable to get it working,
although he had done it dozens of times. He also followed the instructions and changed
the settings, all to no avail. Rita was bouncing up and down beside him and animatedly
saying something, bursting to help.
“Get her away! She’s bothering me!” Peter dismissed her with kingly negligence.
Who was he and who was Rita? Fat belly in tights straining at the chest.
Nevertheless, Rita would not leave. She was jumping up and down and trying to
communicate something, but the words became entangled.
“No, do you see this squirt? I’ll bet a billion that she can’t fix it! The whole thing
needs to be disassembled here!” Peter exclaimed, leaning back in his chair.
Now Rita, continuing to mutter something, stretched out a finger and everyone saw
that one of the wires into the router was not inserted properly. No one had noticed, but
Rita did. Hence, Peter lost a second billion to Rita.
However, Papa did not hear any of this. He was sitting in his office and typing
quickly and greedily. Thoughts overtook one another and his fingers barely had time to
type. Occasionally, Papa stopped suddenly in the middle of a sentence and it remained
unfinished, because the idea had already hastened on. It does not matter, he will finish
Now Papa knew what had interfered with his work during the day. To work, he
needed NOISE, as continuous as the sound of ocean waves. Long live noise!
A PHOTO KEEPSAKE
Saturday morning Kate got up late and on the wrong side of the bed; the night
before, an unknown someone from the remaining urchins had poured compote on her
phone. She roamed around the house, stood against the wall for some time, butting it
with her forehead, and went outside looking for trouble. She found it pretty quickly.
Alex was sitting under the walnut tree and stuffing the hollow of a toy soldier with
sulphur from matches. Andrew and Seraphim were squatting next to Alex.
“They force me to clean up in the room! But I’ve made a devil ray!” Alex
complained, indicating with his chin a tiny dot on his shoulder.
Seraphim and Andrew looked knowledgeably at his dot.
“Not worth it for you to do this. You’re most likely going to get sick and die... But
don’t you worry, it’s not scary to die in childhood!” Andrew said.
Seraphim nodded sadly. He was sorry for Alex, sorry for everyone. Kate was always
burying her dead rats and pigeons anywhere, and Seraphim would find the place, place a
stone on top, sit beside it and think about something. Alex did not want to die. He was
upset, but not enough to stop stuffing the soldier with the heads of matches. He wanted
to blow it up so that it would soar above the walnut tree.
Kate began to sneak up to grab Alex’s ear. But an iron plate clanked under Kate’s
foot. Seraphim, Andrew, and Alex suddenly looked up and hurriedly flew up onto the
“No need to build bombs here! Build them at your own place!” Kate yelled and
returned home, after deciding to go on the Internet. But it also did not work out. She
discovered Vicky in front of the computer, on a social network, and putting dozens of
horses on as wallpaper. Then she liked and admired herself.
“Like me, huh? From your account! Please!” she asked Kate.
“I can’t,” Kate muttered.
“Have you forgotten? You’re on my black list! I unfriended and blocked you!” Kate
Vicky remembered and was distressed. “But you can add me again, huh? Please!”
“I’ll think about it!” Kate promised and looked into Papa’s study.
There Mama was working on Costa’s left hand, which had already been warmed
with ozokerite.30 Ozokerite is a mineral wax. When simmering, it gurgles and reeks, and
then it hardens and is so similar to chocolate that it tempts one to eat it.
Now Mama was forcing Costa to take small objects and drop them in a box. It was
not working out. Costa tried to grab the object with his right hand, but Mama firmly
Ozokerite is a naturally occurring mineral wax. Its high thermal capacity and low heat conduction allow
it to give heat to the body for a long time. Hence, it can be used for therapeutic heat treatment.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
held his right hand in her own. Costa got angry and bit the fingers of his left hand. He
wanted to finish everything somewhat more quickly. He hated working his left hand.
Why the left when it is possible to do everything with the right? Even picking up a heavy
chair and dragging it to “cartoons”.
Once, Mama even put a plaster cast on Costa’s right arm up to the elbow, so that he
would work with the left. But he managed to work the tips of the right hand even
through the plaster. Besides, he quickly figured out that the plaster could hurt in a fight
and walked around the house like a king, dispersing his brothers and sisters on the way.
Kate stood and watched as Mama and Costa waged war with small figurines.
“Work! No one will marry you!” someone said instructively behind Kate.
Kate turned around. This was Alena sneaking up and pushing her head into the
room. Kate also could not stand Alena yet and, forgetting that she had just chased away
Andrew and Seraphim, climbed over the fence to the Mokhovs.
All the Mokhovs were at home. Even Papa Marat Mokhov, something that actually
rarely happened. He was usually rushing around the city from morning to night and
photographing weddings, school kids, kindergartens, parties, and other such things.
Nevertheless, sometimes Papa Mokhov wanted to put his heart into his work, because
he was a good photographer after all, not a hack wandering along the beach with a dead
monkey. Then he would give up a whole workday, take his camera, and go to the
mountains to shoot landscapes.
Now it was one such spell of Papa Mokhov. After returning from work, he kicked the
bag with his work Nikon under the sofa with a jaunty, but actually very careful, foot
movement and took from the closet a box with an old Japanese lens.
Mama Mokhov, with sixth sense, guessed from the room where her husband was
now and what he was doing. She tore herself away from the Internet and asked, “Marat!
Are you going to the mountains?”
“Yes!” Papa Mokhov replied, admiring the lens. The lens was the size of a small
saucer and mounted on a digital camera via an adapter. Papa Mokhov was very proud of
it and claimed that it contained either mercury or caesium or something equally
dangerous, and that if it were dropped, it would be very jolly for all. As a minimum, the
whole house would have to be decontaminated.
Kate and Alex were standing beside Papa Mokhov and staring as he lovingly wiped
the lens. He noticed this and said merrily, “The Japanese, you know, are people of high
goals! Now they make everything on a production line. But about forty years ago, if they
needed a lens, they would put a dead cat there, for example, or pour potassium cyanide,
provided that there would be a good lens! Still, this is very whimsical! That’s what I love
“Whimsical?” Alex repeated.
“Yes! It doesn’t agree with the electronic brains of modern cameras. And that’s not
all! It bluntly rejects nine photographs out of ten, but the tenth one is absolutely
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
brilliant! Simply scoops up life like a washbowl! Any auto-focus, any blurring, it’s not for
it at all!”
Uncle Marat stood, gazing thoughtfully at the lens. A thought was slowly ripening in
him. “I want to go to the mountains, but no sense in going today. By the time you’ve wait
for the bus and gotten there, the lighting will be nothing at all. Right?”
”Yes,” Kate said obediently, understanding that precisely this response was expected
“But I want to shoot something NOW!” Uncle Marat continued to develop his
thought. “And here’s what I’ve come up with: I’ll photograph your family with this lens!
It’s not a portrait, but it’s also interesting... Do you have at least one general family
“No!” Kate said. “In parts yes, but you’ll never gather everyone together!”
“Excellent! Get Alex, and let’s go to your place!” And Uncle Marat swiftly jumped
over the fence. Jumping down, he carefully pressed the camera to his stomach.
Kate, whose mood had abruptly improved, ran to call everyone. Mama, of course,
said that she did not have time to wash her hair and that she always turned out poorly,
but she was persuaded. Peter declared that he would not have his picture taken and that
it was all kitschy-mushy and sappy. But they also talked him into it. Alena ran for the
puppy. What would a group shot be without the puppy, which is also a member of the
family? And the turtle, Mafia, is a family member, and the rats headed by Schwartz, and
the guinea pigs. Everything should be in the photo!
Finally, everyone was gathered, including the turtle, guinea pigs, rats, and pigeons,
which had been handed out to everyone, and Uncle Marat began to arrange everybody.
Alena climbed forward, Costa tried to touch the camera lens, and Alex wanted to go to
the toilet, because it turned out that he did not know how to open the door at the
Mokhovs’ and was too shy to ask.
“Say who’s not here! Let the one who isn’t here respond! Rita!” Mama shouted.
“Where is she? Someone get Rita!”
Someone went to get Rita, but when that someone was gone, Rita was discovered
near someone’s leg, but then somebody had disappeared and that was the end of it.
Nevertheless, not for nothing did Uncle Marat frequently photograph large groups and
he showed incredible patience.
“No, you’re certainly not the fire brigade or hospital personnel. They all wait for the
birdie in such a way that you would be touched! Pure souls! Everyone look at me and
don’t tense up! Now a hundred birdies will take off in a row!”
“Why so many?”
“Otherwise it doesn’t work. The majority of the birds will still fly the wrong way...
Attention! Say cheese!”
And then Uncle Marat’s camera was already clicking continuously. Uncle Marat first
ran away, then closer, then got down on one knee with the camera above his head. Even
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Peter, turning the back of his head to the camera, accidentally got into the image several
times, because he carelessly turned his head around to check whether this madness was
finished. And more and more new kids climbed over the fence. Seraphim, who got lost,
climbed over, Nina climbed over, Andrew climbed over, and even their mama showed
herself to report sadly that her computer had hung.
And Uncle Marat was clicking all the time, releasing all new birdies. Rita got tired of
sitting still. She was bouncing on Papa’s shoulders and rocking to and fro, and Papa was
also rocking with her, because Rita was able to rock in such a way that even a concrete
pole would loosen.
“May I stand this way so the sun isn’t in my eyes?” Alena asked.
“You may, but then nothing will turn out! Everything goes to the sun!” Uncle Marat
These simple words, said regarding something totally different, struck Papa
Gavrilov. He suddenly realized that everything really does go to the sun and not
anywhere or to anything else. Later he was whispering for a long time, while standing,
“Everything goes to the sun! Everything goes to the sun!”
In the evening, the house phone rang. Mama shuddered. Their house phone rarely
rang. Indeed, they often called each other on cell phones.
“Hello!” Mama said carefully, and by the special posture of her back and how she
suddenly tensed up and turned to the window, everyone sensed that the owner of the
house was calling, because who else could it be?
Papa and all seven children crowded around Mama and were so quiet that one could
hear the scratching in Schwartz’s cage. For some reason, the children always caught on
when a call was really important. When they felt that the call was not important, the
noise was usually such that Mama had to either plug up her other ear with a finger to
hear something at least or run into the bathroom.
Mama answered in monosyllables and it was quite impossible from her responses to
figure out exactly what the old man wanted and whether he was trying to evict them
from the house.
“All is lost! I know that all is lost!” Alena said loudly.
At that exact second, Mama hung up and turned to them.
“Well! Well! What?” everyone yelled.
Mama paused for a few seconds, but everyone already saw that her eyes were
shining. “His granddaughter has given birth to a girl!” Mama informed them. “Grandpa
is very happy and no longer wants to come here! Says the great-granddaughter is just a
spitting image of him.”
“What? Also smokes tobacco and files her nails with a pumice stone?” Papa asked.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2015
Mama waved a hand at him and Peter laughed. Alena ran around the rooms,
stroked the walls, and, while kissing them, repeated, “Our house! Ours! We’ll live here
for a long time!”
And then it was the usual bustling day, but a happy day, because Mama, Papa, and
the seven children already knew that they would remain here. Someone fought,
someone made peace, someone spilled water on the floor in the bathroom, someone
whined that he would not do homework. Papa had work and Mama had the running
around, laundry, and dishes. In the evening, Mama, as always, read aloud to the young
Then the long preparation for bed began. Someone woke someone, someone leaped
up and started jumping. Costa, whom they thought was already asleep, suddenly
announced that he wanted a drink. Rita also wanted a drink and wanted to eat, and the
party continued for another half an hour.
Now, however, a miracle finally happened and everyone fell asleep, including Papa,
who, putting Alex and Costa down, also unnoticeably fell asleep himself.
Mama walked around all the rooms, looked at everyone, covered up everyone,
pulled headphones from all the kids’ ears, and turned off the lights everywhere. Then
she carefully descended the stairs to the first floor. She found the kettle and set it on the
stove. The kettle began to boil with a strange, slightly embarrassed sound, which usually
rumbles in the stomachs of polite people. The boiler, in which something was banging
and hooting, responded to the kettle. It was felt that the kettle and the boiler were well
acquainted and had known each other for a long time.
Mama sat on the edge of a chair, drank tea, nibbled on very hard rolls found in the
kitchen cupboard, and mused that the greatest happiness of a mother of many children
is when everyone is home and asleep.