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©Jane H.

Buckingham 2019
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
My Big Family
A Day of Tots

Dmitrii Emets

Translated from Russian

by

Jane H. Buckingham

Translation edited by

Shona Brandt

Illustrations by

Viktoria Timofeeva

©Jane H. Buckingham 2019


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
Titles in the My Big Family Series

Mutiny of the Little Sweeties


A Day of Tots

©Jane H. Buckingham 2019


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
©Jane H. Buckingham 2019
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
In blessed memory of my father, Alexander Ivanovich

In a small seaside town there lives a large family, the Gavrilovs, who moved here
from a tight Moscow apartment. The family has seven children and a lot of all kinds of
animals: pigeons, the turtle Mafia, fish, Japanese mice, rats led by the chief rat
Schwartz, parrots, a guinea pig, cats and dogs! And, needless to say, different funny
stories always come with this family!

©Jane H. Buckingham 2019


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
1

Chapter One
The Silver Sun

Children, for some reason, do not choose their life


program by what we teach them and what we say aloud,
but by the unspoken, often carefully concealed, which is the
essence of our nature and what we ourselves, perhaps, are
not proud of at all.
Just a thought

Papa Gavrilov walked along the seashore and dragged behind him a stroller, in
which sat Alex, Rita, and Costa. Exactly behind, not in front. It would not roll in front at
all. Papa already regretted about ten times that they had even brought the stroller. It
would have been more convenient to carry the toddlers on his shoulders. The wheels got
bogged down deeply in the sand, and in addition, the sand was covered with a layer of
dried algae thick as a hand. Sometimes on the beach they came across people with large
bags collecting dry seaweed to insulate walls and ceilings and loading them onto bicycles.

Costa was whining in the stroller. He had a strong attachment to old clothes and
suffered any changes acutely. Here Mama had put a new lined knit cap on him, because
the cap with earflaps was too cold for the sea. And then all the way Costa repeated, “My
caaaap!” and further on in circles.
Behind Papa, stretched along the shore like a chain, trudged Mama, Peter, Vicky,
Alena, and Kate – all freezing and with raised collars. Their neighbours Andrew and
Seraphim, tagging along for company, dragged on last.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2019


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
2

©Jane H. Buckingham 2019


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
3

Andrew, having scratched his little finger when they climbed over the fence, was
suffering and kept repeating, “I told you! I did! And now that’s it! That’s it!” In this case,
what exactly he was saying and what exactly this “that’s it” consisted of remained off
screen. But Seraphim, both of whose legs were wet above the knees because he had gone
into the sea, did not complain and appeared quite satisfied with life.
In general, Seraphim was very funny. Besides being constantly lost, he still said
“hello,” “thank you,” and “goodbye” all the time. Even if he was just leaving for the next
room, he inevitably said “goodbye.” And when he returned, he said “hello!” And this was
awfully amusing: you go to the house and everywhere you meet Seraphim greeting you,
looking out from anywhere, all but the closets.
There was nowhere to escape from the beach. From the paved alley stretching
along the sea, they were separated by a high sand rampart that was swept to the fence by
a tractor so that winter storms would not carry sand away from the beach to the sea. To
the nearest gate there still remained about three hundred metres – a huge distance for
an overloaded stroller. Papa Gavrilov pulled it, imagining himself a horse and the
stroller a plough.
Suddenly the stroller became really heavy. Papa turned around and discovered that
Peter had quietly pulled Alex, Rita, and Costa out of it and sat in the stroller himself.
“Scram! The wheels will break! You’re too heavy!” Papa was outraged.
“They’re sturdy.”
“The old one broke!”
“I didn’t break the old one. Mama did!” Peter stated.
Mama was embarrassed. Peter was partly right. The last stroller broke because
when Peter sat in it like so, Mama sat him down on his knees to show that this should
not be done and he was not little. The stroller did not know that Mama’s objective was
pedagogic and grunted.
Alex, Costa, and Rita, unloaded onto the sand, were busy in their own business.
Rita began to sit her dolls, of which she had three, down on the wet sand. They were
called General’s Wife, Italian, and Lorelei. Rita could not pronounce the word “Lorelei”
and also regularly mixed up the rest of the names. The dolls looked in bad shape. Lorelei
had lost its hair, and Alex had filled Italian’s head with kefir through a hole and left it in
the freezer overnight to check what would happen, but the doll did not look any prettier.
At that moment, Alex was roaming along the beach and finding discarded lighters.
He came across some of them with gas and they burst when hit with a stone.
Incidentally, a question excited Alex: when he is old like a grandfather, will he be able to
buy as many matches as he wants?
“Certainly!” Mama said and, leaning over, deftly took out of Alex’s pocket a box,
which he had already stolen from somewhere, probably hoarding for old age.
Rita began to whine that she wanted to drink, “Driiink! Driiink!”
Mama took out a bottle of water.
©Jane H. Buckingham 2019
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
4

“Not that water!” Rita quickly said. She already saw in the distance the red roof of
the store and weighed all options.
“Ha-ha! You’re our dehydrated one!” Peter said in a deep voice from the stroller.
“You mustn’t want to drink in December!”
Rita stared at him suspiciously and began to slowly open her mouth while closing
her eyes.
“Why mustn’t you want to drink in December?” Alex became interested. “And that
guy over there?”
Peter looked around. “That guy there wanted to drink even in summer,” he
whispered.
Leaving the stroller in the sand, Papa went to the sea and began to throw flat
stones, forcing them to jump like pancakes. Suddenly, something caught him painfully
on the ear. Papa looked around and realized that this was Costa also learning to throw
stones, and he even, one might say, had already learned.

Peter, convinced that no one would tow the stroller with him, folded his hands on
his stomach and argued with Alena, Alex, and Kate that they could not move him from
the spot. Kate did not yield to the provocation and only snorted, but then Alena and Alex
developed a storm of activities. Seraphim and Andrew helped them. After digging out
the wheels of the stroller, they began to shake it and moved it about a metre and a half.
Then Seraphim hung onto the handle, and Peter tumbled onto the sand.
“Come on, you! Can’t do anything!” Peter said, and grabbing the empty stroller by
the handle, ran off ahead with it to tease the young ones.
Alex, Rita, and Costa went on foot.
Alex was as fresh as a cucumber after resting in the stroller. “Imagine, what
arrogance! Yesterday ten people called me back because I accidentally dialled their
number!” he told Andrew and Seraphim, running ahead to see their faces.
Rita, having forgotten that she was just dying of thirst, climbed onto the sand hill
and ran from it into Mama’s arms.
Kate was about to go and catch Rita, but then someone beside her said, “Going for
a stroll? And I have a day off!”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2019
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
5

©Jane H. Buckingham 2019


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
6

Kate turned around. Next to her was the “mouse girl” Liuba, who worked in the pet
store. She was dressed in a ginger jacket and a cap with a rooster’s comb, which made
her deceptively amicable. Kate, accustomed to seeing Liuba in her work robe, an apron,
and a metre-long snake in her hand, did not immediately recognize her. As if a
formidable military colonel went out to the soldiers in slippers and a Santa hat.
Rita once again rolled down the sand hill and, having decided that she was tired,
sagged in Mama’s arms.
“Well, let’s go further! Rita’s freezing!” Mama shouted, although in reality Rita was
flushed from running, but Mama was freezing.
They went along the beach, and together with them went “mouse girl”, who stated
that it made no difference to her in which direction they strolled, because a stroll was
killing time all the same.
Alena, who, when meeting a new person, adored loving him to pieces, was glued to
“mouse girl”. Besides, it was important to Alena to clarify some details of human
relationships. “Here if, for example, there are two girls somewhere: one pretty and the
other a good person, who’ll get married sooner?” she asked.
Liuba frowned and looked suspiciously at Alena, whose face expressed only
genuine interest. “What kind of question is that? How do I know? What am I, your
fiancé?” “Mouse girl” was indignant.
Alena addressed Papa with the same question.
“The good person!” Papa answered cheerfully.
Peter, also hearing this conversation, looked at him without much trust. “Then the
queue would be for the terrible ones!” he declared.
“What, terrible girls are all good by default? The pretty ones can also be good
people,” said Papa Gavrilov.
“You mean, we consider beauty only among good people?” Liuba asked with a
challenge.
“No,” Papa said. “But beauty is a vague concept. Every person is inevitably
beautiful to someone.”
“Even a complete Quasimodo?” “Mouse girl” asked with doubt.
“I think so, yes. But only on condition of kindness.”
Alena did not like to wander in the thickets of theory. “Papa! When you married
Mama, was she a beautiful or a good person?”
“Both beautiful and good!” Papa said.
“Right! Was! And then toddlers hung onto me!” Mama said, pulling out of Costa’s
hand a stick, with which he wanted to whack Alex for throwing a clump of algae at him.
Alex yanked Papa’s hand. “Look!” he shouted, pointing to an overhang approaching
the water.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2019


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
7

Along the sea, a tall guy with a metal detector was walking on the beach and
searching with wide movements along the sand, as if mowing invisible grass.
Occasionally the guy froze, and his movements became cautious, groping. When the
place was accurately found, he began to shovel sand carefully with an entrenching tool,
and, having taken something out, sometimes discarded it and sometimes casually
dropped it into a bag.
“And this one is here! Wherever you go, he sticks out everywhere!” Liuba grumbled,
moving her hat on her forehead.
“Who?” Kate asked.
“This one here!” “mouse girl” repeated, and by the way she said it, everything
became clear to Kate.
“This one” was Pokrovskii, Liuba’s classmate, who raced around the city on a bike
and tied shoelaces in the middle of the road.
“What’s he doing here?” Alex asked.
“Searching! Vacationers in the summer lose earrings, rings, chains of all kinds, they
drop them in the sand, and he walks and searches!” Liuba said.
“Really?” Peter became interested. “What, does he find anything?”
“A bunch of rusty nails! Would be better begging!” “mouse girl” deliberately said
loudly.
The lanky guy heard her voice, shuddered, and turned around. “Hi! It’s you?” he
asked.
“Imagine, me!”
“Taking a walk?”
Liuba snorted loudly: “Did you guess or did someone suggest it?”
Pokrovskii shrugged coldly and continued searching. Costa and Alex could not
leave him alone anymore and followed him like a tail. Pokrovskii was generous and
allowed Alex to hold the metal detector. It was a great carelessness, because Costa, of
course, also immediately wanted it and grabbed the metal detector with his right hand.
Pulling the metal detector from each other, Costa and Alex starting running off
somewhere and fell into a pile of sand.
Pokrovskii rushed after them. He was obviously worried about his new metal
detector. “Hey! Don’t swing it! Don’t scrape the stones! It isn’t a club!” he cried out in
fright.
Watching the anguish of her former classmate, “mouse girl” grinned mischievously.
Finally, Pokrovskii managed to take his metal detector away. Without letting go of
it, he sat down on a rock and stretched out his scrawny legs. Alex stood beside him and,
admiring the metal detector with respect, greedily asked if Pokrovskii had found a bomb.
It turned out that Pokrovskii had not yet found a bomb. Mostly he found beer caps and
small things that poured out of pockets.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2019


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
8

“Of course!” Alex said unhappily and, without any change, added, “Is it true that
one person put chicory in coffee and became drunk?”
“Mouse girl” laughed triumphantly. Pokrovskii squinted at her suspiciously,
checking whether she had taught Alex such a crazy question. “I don’t know. Don’t ask
me this. I don’t drink coffee. I don’t drink at all,” he said.
Not getting a clear answer, Alex shook his head reproachfully. He could not believe
that such a knowledgeable person might not be aware of such nonsense. “Is it true that
you can blow up a gas station with a cell phone?” he continued.
“How’s that?”
“What do you mean by ‘how’?” Alex was surprised. “There they paint a crossed-out
phone! So, it’s possible! And what word should one say on the phone so that it would
blow up gasoline for sure?”
Seeking to hide his global ignorance, Pokrovskii began treating the children to a
baguette, a third of which he had already gnawed off. Vicky refused the baguette, saying
that she did not like it.
“And what do you like?” Pokrovskii asked.
“She loves horses!” Alena willingly informed him. Vicky blushed, because her love
of horses was her biggest secret.
“Really?” Pokrovskii shoved his hand into the bag slung over his shoulder. “Well, if
you love them, then I’ll give you this! Just found it today! Wanted to hang it over my
door!” He handed Vicky an iron semicircle. Vicky hesitantly took it. It was a heavy
horseshoe, rusty on one side, but polished to a shine on the other.

After giving away the horseshoe, Pokrovskii again took the metal detector and,
getting rid of the seaweed with his wet sneakers, continued his search. Papa Gavrilov
walked beside Pokrovskii and asked him about metal detectors.
Pokrovskii explained authoritatively. This one, according to him, was middle of the
road, though not quite. “Here’s such a thing! Military equipment is good, reliable, but
clumsy, and its design is usually such that enemies fear it. Civilian equipment has a
bunch of cute figurines and convenient lights, but this isn’t technology. And this one is
exactly in between!” he said and gently stroked his metal detector.
“So?” Papa asked. “Have you discovered any treasures?”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2019
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
9

Pokrovskii took the metal detector off the sand and quickly turned around,
checking to see if anyone was near. His face became very secretive. “Not yet, but...” he
paused and again went back to the sand. Then he quickly turned to Papa and held him
by a button. “We have a lot of treasures in the Crimea!” he said in a ringing whisper.
“Simply scattered around with treasures literally!”
“Where’s this even from?” Papa doubted.
“What? Crimea was settled a very long time ago! Here all the cities are
contemporaries of Rome! And this is only the story that we know! The Scythians, Greeks,
Genoese, Turks, Tatars, Armenians. And how many merchants were here! They sold
slaves, fabrics, bread, and wine! Huge turnaround! And every self-respecting merchant
inevitably had his own treasure buried in a pot in the basement of his home!”
“Why buried?” Papa Gavrilov did not understand.
Spots flared up on Pokrovskii’s gaunt face. “How else?” he was amazed. “Houses
burn. Thieves tunnel under walls. No banks yet. How would a merchant store his gold?
Why in a pot? Because pots aren’t afraid of soil. A wooden chest will rot in three years. I
won’t talk about iron at all. No one had yet eliminated rust.”
“And why exactly in the basement?”
“Where else? The most convenient place for a hoard is the basement,” Pokrovskii
explained importantly. “We’re not talking about pirate stashes on uninhabited islands. A
self-respecting merchant’s hoard had to be hidden so that it would be convenient for
him to use. He took a handful of coins, placed a handful of coins, sort of like a safe.
Besides, while you dig in your cellar, no one will see you. If you go with the money to the
forest, then the whole street will shout, ‘Honourable Joseph, where are you going with a
jug of coins and a shovel? Do you need any help?’”

©Jane H. Buckingham 2019


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
10

Papa Gavrilov listened with interest, wiggling his frozen toes in his boots. “What?
The merchants later didn’t pull out their treasures?” he asked doubtfully.
“Some, of course, did and spent it or left it as an inheritance. But some were lonely
misers. Or another option. The city was attacked; the merchant died and didn’t have
time to tell anyone. The house was burnt and turned into rubbles. The city is overgrown
with forest and grass. And somewhere there, under the roots, even now lies a dark two-
handled amphora for wheat, full of gold and silver coins,” Pokrovskii said with such
conviction, as if he had found dozens of such amphorae. He even ran his finger through
the air, precisely feeling the long crack in this very amphora.
“Well, have you found any?” Papa Gavrilov asked.
“Not yet!” Pokrovskii uttered bitterly and stared at his metal detector with deep
resentment. “It’s rather weak for me to search for something serious. I have to limit
myself to sand... But there’re a lot of coins here. Over the years, ships smashed in storms,
o-ho-ho, the bay is shallow, and gradually the coins wash ashore from the sand. And
there are only fragments of grain amphorae, just rake it. The sea in general throws out
everything superfluous, everything not its own.”
“Costa’s frozen! Let’s go, huh?” Mama hollered piteously, her nose was already
quite blue from the cold.
Papa harnessed himself to the stroller, and the Gavrilovs continued their journey
along the sea. Vicky held the horseshoe in her hands, looking at it with undecided joy.
They walked for about a hundred metres along the beach when they heard someone
catching up to them. It was Pokrovskii, carrying in his hand something extracted from
his bag.
“Wait a minute! This is for you!” he shouted to Liuba and put something in her
hand. It was a small silver sun, darkened by the water. “I found it yesterday. It came off
someone’s chain! Needs to be cleaned and it’ll be fine!”
“Mouse girl” looked at the sun lying on her palm, “So, clean it!”
Pokrovskii began to rub the sun with a cloth, and rubbed it until the ornament
shone.
“Ready?” Liuba asked. “It’s mine now? I can do whatever I want?”
Pokrovskii nodded.
“Excellent!” Liuba stroked the sun with her finger, stepped toward the water, and
launched it like a pancake. The silver sun flashed, jumped from the water twice, and
disappeared.
“You yourself let me! No one pulled you by the tongue! Mine means mine!” Liuba
said.
“Why?” Pokrovskii asked plaintively.
“So simple!” She shrugged and walked on, and Pokrovskii stood with his mouth
open and watched her go.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2019


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
11

Alena ran in front of her, looking into her face with curiosity. “Is it true that
Pokrovskii was once in love with you and then fell in love with someone else?” she asked.
“How do you know?”
“Kate told me!”
“Nonsense!” Liuba grunted, turning away. “No gossip to pass on. He only danced
with her all evening, but I don’t forgive anyone for betrayal!”
“And I thought only our Peter is a jerk!” Alena said with delight.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2019


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
12

Chapter Two
The Orderly Grandma

“They have a mama critic. It’s very difficult to be a


critic.”
“Why?”
“Because you need to write all the time on the Internet
that you don’t agree with anything. Here you sleep at night,
and mama writes them, although she, by the way, also
wants to sleep!”
Alex

The Gavrilovs returned home. Here was already the “figure eight” street. The gate
ahead showed black. The dogs Stool, Lad, and Tot ran to meet them. Lad, as usual,
barked hoarsely – this was a solitary, terrible, almost lion-like roar – and rushed on the
attack, but always recognized them about twenty paces away, stopped and, looking
embarrassed, turned away into the bushes, where it settled on the ground. Stool and Lad
could not calm down for a long time. They were all running around, spinning, barking.
Then Lad quieted down, and only Stool alone was barking. It was barking in a
quarrelsome way, shrilly, exactly like an old female vendor quarrelling with a buyer. The
buyer was already long gone, but she still could not calm down.
True, today Stool did not manage to bark. “Hands up!” Kate said, and the yelping
Stool immediately fell on its back, exposing its dirty belly to her.
Opening the gates, the Gavrilovs discovered that a striped rug was hanging on the
railing with a carpet beater next to it, and all the animals were thrown out onto the
street and sitting like beggars in front of the door, waiting for the moment when it would
be possible to scurry back in.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2019


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
13

“Someone broke into our house! What crooks!” Peter said, contemplating the stack
of cages in which the rats were frisking and the hamsters were burrowing in the sawdust.
“We must blow them up!” Alex proposed. “We’ll put a lot of baking soda in their
pockets, and then pour in vinegar! They’ll run, and we’ll dig a hole in their path!”
“And if they run the other way?” Costa asked.
“Then we’ll dig a hole on the other side too!” Alex said, and this argument seemed
so sound to Costa that he immediately started digging.
Papa and Mama exchanged glances.
“What date is it today?” Papa Gavrilov asked.
“Thursday,” Mama said.
“Thursday isn’t a date. Today’s December eighth. That means, we didn’t meet your
mama!”
“My mama comes on Friday!”
“No. Mama comes on the eighth. And the eighth is today!”
Pushing through between the cages, Papa opened the door. The cat immediately
slipped into the house. The chief rat papa Schwartz, who was able to open the cage with
its paw, was chasing after the cat. All the children were already running after Schwartz.
“Grandma!” the children shouted. “Food! Gifts!”
For some reason three of these concepts – “grandma,” “food,” and “gifts” – were
stuck together in their minds into one, so that there was a mysterious single
“grandmafoodgift.” From this the conclusion somehow very naturally followed that if
the grandmas disappear from life, then both food and gifts would disappear together
with them.
Papa and Mama discovered Grandma Masha and Great-Grandma Zina in the
kitchen. Grandma was tall, determined, and wore square glasses. Great-Grandma, on
the contrary, was small, round, and had a cane. Grandma never left Great-Grandma,
and they also always travelled together.
Vicky, Alena, Kate, Alex, and Costa were all over the grandmas on all sides. There
was not a single granny to hug Rita, so she just climbed on all fours between the legs and
hugged a grandma’s foot and sneaker. Peter alone did not join in but only stood on the
side and moved his hands in the air. He considered himself above hugs but not above
gifts.
“How did you get into the house?” Peter asked when all the hugs, shouts, and kisses
were over.
“Very simple. We came from the airport by taxi and climbed over the balcony. I
mean, I climbed and opened the door! We weren’t standing for two hours at the gate
waiting to be met!” Grandma Masha said, giving Papa a combative look.
“Over the balcony?” Papa was surprised. “Did you climb over the balcony?" It’s
high!”
©Jane H. Buckingham 2019
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
14

“What’s wrong with that?” Grandma Masha said. Then she thought for a bit and
added, “Of course, it wasn’t easy for me! I had to put the four crates one on top of the
other and lift a leg up high... And the neighbours looked at us strangely!”
“And where were the crates from?”
“The neighbours. I asked. Where else?” Grandma was surprised.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2019


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
15

Five minutes later she was already standing at the sink and washing dishes,
scrubbing them with a sponge with such force it was as if germs could get inside.
“Well, you have grime, Gavrilovs! Dishes shouldn’t lie in the sink at all! Every hour
of dishes standing in the sink increases the number of pathogens twofold!” she said.
“Think! There was one germ, and it became two!” Peter said.
“Yeah. It was ten to the twenty-third degree, but became ten to the forty-sixth! No
difference! That’s all! Period!” Grandma formulated. She counted perfectly. Not for
nothing was she once the chief economist.
Great-Grandma Zina shrugged her shoulders. With a serene expression, she sat on
a chair and fed Alex eggplant spread with a spoon. Alex obediently opened his mouth
and was clearly enjoying the situation.
“He’s big already!” Kate was indignant.
“He’s a skeleton!” Grandma Masha disputed. “A child should eat such that he can’t
eat anymore! I always eat that way, and look how strong I am!”
She picked up a heavy stool by the leg and lifted it over her head. The stool began
to lean over dangerously to the side, and Vicky and Alena hastily ran off. Grandma put
the stool back in place.
“Is it true that when our mama was little, she was so fat that not a single pair of her
pants could be fastened together?” Alena asked. She still did not understand that you do
not need to blurt out everything you know – some things you should keep to yourself.
“From whom did you hear this?” Grandma asked suspiciously, turning so as to see
Papa’s reflection in the glass of the kitchen cabinet.
“From Mama,” Kate came to Alena’s aid.
Grandma Masha relaxed. “Ah! Well, we ate on schedule. Cottage cheese, kefir, sour
cream. When she was a teenager, she got out of hand and slimmed down! Then the kids
began to appear, and she lost even more weight! In fact, I wanted her to have only two
kids! A boy and a girl! With an interval of four years. That’s all. Period.”
Soon the whole kitchen table was crammed with plates and bowls. And in each lay
some mushrooms, sausage, and salads. It was unclear where they came from. Perhaps
they appeared by magic, because earlier, before the grandmas’ arrival, they were clearly
not in the Gavrilovs’ home.

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Grandma Masha was moving decisively around the kitchen, delivering short orders,
“Alena, don’t touch your brother! Peter, don’t get distracted! Rita, you’re already grown-
up to put your hands into the soup! Annie, don’t hunch! Nick, don’t eat fish with
sandwiches! I see everything!”
Costa and Alex opened their eyes wide. “Annie” and “Nick” were Mama and Papa,
whom Grandma very dashingly included in the general rank of kids. Papa and Mama
secretly exchanged glances, suffering the collapse of their authority, but, knowing
Grandma, did not protest.
“Chew worms!” Papa said in a whisper. Mama kicked him under the table. It was
their shared secret.
When Mama and Papa had just gotten married and were living at Grandma
Masha’s, they hid from her a starling chick, which they had found on the street. It was
very difficult to hide the little chick because it also cheeped. One time, Papa hid it in an
old teapot suspended on a rope among the old skis on the balcony. The nestling was very
weak. It could not eat whole worms and it was necessary to grind them up, turning them
into mush. It was from that time that the joke “Chew worms!” remained in the family.
Grandma guessed that there was a chick at home and searched for it everywhere to
throw it out, because when she was young she read in Health magazine that tuberculosis
comes from birds.
Exactly at nine in the evening Grandma’s alarm went off and a new life began for
the children.
“That’s it!” Grandma Masha said. “Get ready for bed! Bedtime! That’s all! Period!”
“We already slept during the day! You made us!” Alex groaned in horror.
“During the day it wasn’t bedtime, but admiral’s hour!”1 Grandma said.
“What time is it now? Field marshal’s?” Peter quipped.
“Now is night rest!” Grandma cut him off and went upstairs. Costa, Rita, and Alex
trudged after her obediently, like sheep.
“Wow! They are obeying!” Alena whispered.
“But you aren’t! She has an inner strength and a willingness to go all the way!”
Peter assessed.
“By the way, this also applies to the older kids! Lights out at twenty-one thirty,”
reached them from the stairs.
Exactly at 21.30, after finishing what Grandma called “wash-up routines,” the older
children were driven off to bed. Only Peter alone escaped. He huddled in his room and
sat there quiet as a mouse, covering the crack under the door with a blanket so that light
would not show through.

1 Admiral's hour is Russian naval jargon for an after-lunch nap.


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Around midnight, reckoning that everyone was asleep, Peter got out of his room
and snuck into the kitchen to eat raw eggs. He was standing in an island of light pouring
from an open fridge and holding an egg in his hands. He cracked it slightly and brought
it to his mouth, but then someone stirred next to him in the dark. Peter gave a start in
fright. An apparition in a long nightgown was sitting on the bench and rocking quietly.
It was Great-Grandma Zina. She could not get up to the second floor and had
settled on the couch in Papa’s office. Except that she could not sleep and was sitting in
the dark: she was conserving electricity. “One guy came from the army. He bought an
egg at the market, did not wash it and ate it. The egg had salmonella. He died. That’s all,”
Great-Grandma said.
Dropping the egg on his foot, Peter leaped back into his room.

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18

Chapter Three
Great-Grandma’s Deception

“You need to have twenty pairs of socks of the same


colour! And ten pairs of pants of the same colour!”
“Well, socks – it’s understandable. That’s so they do not
get mixed up in the wash. But why pants?”
Grandma pondered.
“I don’t know why! But once you’re advised, then there
must be logic!”
Household Scene

The next morning was Saturday. Costa and Rita were sitting on Grandma Masha
and swinging their legs. Kate stood at the sink and looked at the mountain of dishes
from the evening.
“I have a proposal!” she said. “Papa’s forty-one years old. He’ll wash forty-one
plates. Peter’s sixteen. He’ll wash sixteen plates. Vicky’s fourteen. She’ll wash fourteen.
Alena’s ten – well, you understand...”
“And you?” Mama shouted from the room, the sewing machine chirping.
She liked this plan. She had already figured out that, though they had a lot of dishes, it
was clearly not more than forty-one. Hence, Papa would be washing all the dishes.
“And I’ll carry out general coordination and check if there is grease on the plates!”
Kate said and, waving her hands, brushed something standing on the edge of the sink.
“Oh! Dang!”
“What was that sound?” Mama was startled.
“I smashed the blue plate,” Kate explained.
“My favourite?”
“Yes.”
There was a poignant pause in the room.
“But was it clean or dirty?”
“Dirty.”
“Well, that’s alright then!” Mama said.

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Distressed by the loss of the favourite plate, the girls huddled around the sink and
washed all the dishes in ten minutes. In the meantime, Mama and Grandma Masha
compiled a list of foods that Papa should buy at the market. This list was so long that its
tail passed to the second side of the sheet. Papa was not too enthusiastic about this.
“Write me a ‘lost list’ as the last item. Then I’ll start quickly from the end,” he said
and set off to start the minivan. The minivan started pretty well, but the battery was
poor. Therefore it was necessary that it must start on the first try.
While Papa was gone, Grandma Masha and Great-Grandma Zina conjured up
breakfast. Grandma Masha complained that there was nothing to prepare, but all the
same, the whole table was soon covered with plates. The children were running around
impatiently, trying to steal something.
“Rita, did you wash your hands? Well, at least sometime in your life?” Grandma
asked, looking closely at Rita’s hand, blue from a marker, clutching a piece of halva. The
kid’s hands were quickly hidden behind her back. This did not go unnoticed. “With soap,
sponge, and brush! March!”
Rita, whining plaintively, went to wash her hands, closed the bathroom door
behind herself, and almost instantly everyone heard a racket and a splash.
Grandma was startled. “What was that?”
“Oh, nothing special! I think she climbed onto a chair to get the soap from the
windowsill and flopped into the tub. Blankets are soaking there, right?” Kate guessed
instantly, and a second later Rita appeared howling from the bathroom, water flowing
like streams from her, and everyone was convinced that Kate, as always, was right.
“I will ne-e-e-ver wash a-a-g-gain!” Rita wailed while she was undressed and dried.

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“And why is the soap on the windowsill?” Great-Grandma asked thoughtfully.


“Because Alex tried to set it on fire,” Kate explained.
“And it burns?”
“No! But it stinks!” Alex cheerfully explained. “Just need to set it on fire with a
tennis ball! Let me show you!” Alex rushed to demonstrate, but he was forced into his
seat and limited his research impulse with a piece of cheese.
Meanwhile, Rita was changed into dry clothes, her hair braided, and she became
like the grandmas’ idea of a decent person.
“Hot kasha! Anyone? And no more eating at the computer!” Grandma said, putting
the pot on the table.
“Why is breakfast called breakfast? Because it’s eaten the next day?”2 Alena asked,
digging a pit in the kasha to drip butter into.
Papa, having already returned by that time, thought about it. “Good question! Well,
maybe breakfast is what people leave for the next day? Let’s assume, part of the food
was stored in the evening?” he suggested.
“Never leave anything for the morning! Germs multiply in food! That’s all! Period!”
Grandma Masha cut him off.
“That’s understandable,” Papa agreed. “But ancient people didn’t know this. Then
again, they had glaciers, and that’s an excellent natural fridge.”
After breakfast Alex accidentally found an apricot stone under the bench, and he
wanted to break it with a hammer and eat the kernel. In order that Grandma Masha
would not stop him, he ran off with the stone and the hammer to the back room. He set
the stone on firm ground, swung the hammer and... heard a voice, “One guy came from
the army! He began to crack apricot stones and died. His bowel got clogged. That’s all.”
Alex jerked up his head and saw Great-Grandma Zina, who lay down to rest, up on
her elbows watching him from the sofa. Recapturing his right to clog his bowel, Alex ran
to the kitchen and got there just at the moment of gathering. Grandma was dressing Rita
and attentively watching Costa putting on his boots.
“Children go for a walk! They must have fresh air! Period!” Grandma said sternly.
“Children” were understood to be absolutely everyone, even Peter, who was already
showing peach fuzz. The stubbly Peter and the other smooth-faced youngsters did not
dare to protest and went for a walk. Only Papa and Mama escaped, remaining at home,
but the others could not escape. It was a very proper walk under the leadership of the
orderly Grandma. Everyone walked to the playground holding hands, frightened by any
car appearing in the distance.
“Car!” Grandma Masha screamed in a voice that usually screams “Air raid!” and all
the children rushed to the lawns, while Grandma and Great-Grandma covered them

2In Russian, the word for breakfast is zavtrak while the word for the next day is zavtra. The English word
breakfast means to break the fasting through the night.
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22

with their chests. The driver was also usually frightened, stopped, and a confusing
situation emerged: Grandma suspected the driver would move right there and the driver
waved his hands and pressed the horn, begging Grandma to cross the road anyway,
because he could not stand around for half an hour!
The children only looked wistfully askance in the direction of the stores, not
allowing themselves to whine “Buy-y-y-y!” which Rita and Costa usually started. No one
whined today because they knew that Grandma would not buy anything on the street.
They must eat at home. At the table. Hands washed. That is all. Period.
Great-Grandma Zina, whom Grandma also took with her to get some air, was very
slow. She stopped after every few metres, leaning on a fence or a tree for support. “I’ll
only rest for a minute!” she said. “Earlier I was like running! Oh, I was!” And she smiled,
as if she did not believe that she was telling the truth.
Finally, everyone reached the playground.
“We’re building up a reserve of health!” Grandma gave the order and suddenly,
remembering something, stared sternly at Great-Grandma: “Mama, did you take
medicine this morning?”
“Yes!” Great-Grandma hastily said.
“Not true! Why was the sink pink? Did you throw the pill into it?”
Great-Grandma sighed. “It’s so bitter! Can I at least take it with chocolate?”
“What chocolate! You can’t have sugar! Only fat-free yogurt!” Grandma Masha
answered curtly.
Kate and Vicky exchanged glances. They realized that Grandma and Great-
Grandma had changed roles long ago. Grandma had become a mother to her own mama,
and Great-Grandma her daughter.
“Let’s breathe! Don’t get distracted! Nothing for us to hear!” Grandma ordered.
And all the children began to walk and breathe. True, minus Peter, who took off
somewhere on another path after all. Alex whined, not having the opportunity to climb
or fall anywhere, but Costa and Rita walked with pleasure. Except that they regretted
that while one was swinging on the swing, the other must stand ten steps from the swing,
observing safety precautions.
A suitable example was even found for offenders. “One paratrooper returned from
the army. He took something and went to the playground. A swing hit him on the back
of his head and put him down on the spot!” Great-Grandma said, and all the children
fearfully fell silent, imagining to themselves this poor paratrooper and wondering why
he had stood under the swing.
Great-Grandma Zina was sitting on a painted tire sunk into the ground and was
holding Rita in her lap. Rita was very fond of Great-Grandma. She had already said “I
love you!” to her about ten times, but had yet to say it to Grandma, and Grandma was
secretly jealous.

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23

At noon, Grandma Masha’s alarm went off. It beeped once, so very distinctly
without violating established traditions. “Now lunch and admiral’s hour!” Grandma said
sternly and the children went home.
After lunch, Grandma doggedly packed all the children, except the three older ones,
to bed.
“We close our eyes! One hour of nap during the day is five hours of sleep at night!”
she said.
“So we don’t have to sleep at night?” Alena asked, suffering because she, a ten-year-
old, was ranked among the little ones and trapped in bed.
“Need to sleep at night, too! That’s all! We rest!” Grandma said and went to put
Rita down in the small room.
Rita was heard throwing a tantrum, jumping on the bed, and repeating that she
would not sleep. Then everything suddenly quieted down. Ten minutes passed, then
fifteen. There was not a single sound from the room. Surprised that Grandma did not
come out, Alena sneaked up to the door and opened it slightly, leaving a crack. When
she returned, her eyes were round.
“She’s sleeping!” she whispered.
“Who? Rita?”
“Grandma! She announced the admiral’s hour and fell asleep herself! Ha-ha-ha!”
“And Rita?”
“And Rita’s also sleeping! Let’s go!”
Alex and Costa also leaped out of bed, and all the children rushed downstairs.
Downstairs, they saw Great-Grandma Zina, who was reading an old magazine through a
magnifier, at times starting to doze off. Great-Grandma read a lot, and indiscriminately,
everything that fell into her hands. She could attentively read the flyers used to wrap
purchases from the market, five minutes later it was Preparation of History for EGE,3
forgotten by Peter on the bench, and then suddenly Remarque 4 or Chekhov5 appeared in
her hands. Soon enough they also disappeared somewhere, but a newspaper was
discovered, and Great-Grandma was again reading it.
When the children appeared downstairs, Great-Grandma raised her head and
looked at them with alarm. For the first second she thought that perhaps it was
Grandma Masha. Realizing that this was not Grandma, Great-Grandma smiled with
relief and stopped hiding the fruit pastille, which she, breaking into pieces, was stuffing
in her mouth.

3 EGE is a series of graduation exams every Russian student must pass to enter university or professional
college.
4 Erich Maria Remarque (1898–1970) was a German novelist who wrote about the horrors of war. His best

known work is All Quiet on the Western Front (1928) about German soldiers in WWI.
5 Anton Pavlovich Chekhov (1860–1904) was a renowned Russian playwright and short story writer. He

was also a practising medical doctor throughout most of his literary career.
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24

Alena, Alex, and Costa surrounded Great-Grandma and began to talk with her.
Very soon Peter, Vicky, and Kate joined them.
“Great-Grandma, Great-Grandma! Let’s buy ice cream while Grandma is sleeping!”
suggested Alena.
“Is she really sleeping?” Great-Grandma did not believe her.
“You bet! We saw it ourselves!”
Great-Grandma Zina pondered. She loved ice cream. But still she was in doubt.
“One guy came from the army, ate a lot of ice cream...” she began in a squeaky voice.
“...he came down with acute tonsillitis and died?” Peter guessed.
“How do you know? I already told you that?” Great-grandma was surprised.
“No,” said Peter. “It happened in our school. It’s a well-known case in science.”
Kate kicked Peter. “Stop! So, are we going for ice cream? Huh, Gram?”
Great-Grandma put aside the magnifier and leaned her hands on the table. “Let’s!”
she said, chewing her lips. “Give me my cane and my purse!”
Great-Grandma Zina’s handbag was old, of imitation leather, with a thick plastic
handle and a metal clasp that snapped like a pistol with pistons.
“Maybe you can give us money and we’ll run and get it?” Peter suggested, afraid
that while they walked, Grandma Masha would have time to wake up.
“Certainly not! I want it myself! I’ll even look at many things. What kind of store is
there? A candy store?”
Great-Grandma got dressed pretty quickly. All the children also got dressed quickly,
because they understood that the matter was secret and important. Then they all went
out onto the street and, grasping Great-Grandma’s elbows, began to drag her to the
candy store.
“Oh, not so fast! Oh, not so fast! Let me stand for a minute!” Great-Grandma
wailed.
The older children stood patiently, letting her rest, but the younger ones could not
stand and were bouncing around.
“Do you have money? You didn’t forget?” Costa suddenly asked with concern.
Great-Grandma looked anxiously into her purse. “A bit,” she said. “Oh, how nice
that you took me! I haven’t been in a store for some five years!”
“Doesn’t Grandma buy you sweets?”
“Rarely. The neighbours bring a little. But she says I’m not allowed, I have blood
sugar.”
“So you’re not allowed someone else’s sugar, because you have your own? What
luck!” Alex exclaimed.
“I can have everything,” Great-Grandma objected philosophically, pursing her lips.
“Though, maybe, also not. But a little, I probably can.”
Finally, they reached the bakery, where there was a large candy department.
Grandma went up the three steps and leaned against the wall. “Ugh! Exactly like being
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dragged to the tenth floor!” she complained and, after catching her breath, began to look
with interest at the shelves. “Oh! How many new things have appeared! Now, five years
ago I didn’t see these round candies here with fruit jelly in the middle! And these very
long new ones! There were lemon wedges! And drops! And these chocolates here were
issued in wrappings!”
“Is your grandma from an uninhabited island?” the salesgirl asked Peter in a
whisper.
“No, from Moscow,” said Alex.
“Ahh!” the salesgirl said slowly in amazement.
Great-Grandma was already standing at the shelves and gleefully going through
bags of cookies and all sorts of sweets. “Do you have chocolate? With jam? And
shortbread? But not very sweet?” she asked worriedly.
“No such thing,” said the salesgirl.
“Well, then give us three hundred grams in total! In fact, all that you have!” Great-
Grandma said.
“And chocolate!” Peter whispered.
“And chocolate!” Great-Grandma repeated.
Costa asked again if she had enough money.
“There’s enough,” Great-Grandma said bravely. “And if we’re off by a lot, we’ll set
aside the extra. Get what you want!” Alena, Alex, and Costa were standing next to Great-
Grandma and shouting, each pointing at his favourite. Everyone was pulling her by the
hand in his direction.
Suddenly, a phone rang in Great-Grandma’s bag. She found it and punched a big
button blindly.
“Hello, Masha! Yes, the children are with me! What are we doing? Taking a walk!
I’ll call you back soon!” Great-Grandma said into the phone and, looking imploringly at
her great-grandchildren, put the phone in her bag. “I didn’t lie. Just kept quiet about
something!” she said guiltily.
“Who was that?” Costa asked.
“Her daughter, our grandma!” Kate whispered.
They bought so much candy and ice-cream that they had two large packages. The
children and Great-Grandma argued about where to hide everything so that they would
not catch Grandma Masha’s eye.

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27

Soon they were already at home. While Vicky rang the bell, Peter hid behind a car
with two bags in order to sneak in all the sweets unnoticed. The door opened and they
went in. A towel was lying on the table. A huge apple pie was cooling on the towel.
Grandma Masha stood at the table and looked at them with a slight squint.
“Returned, schemers? Oh, well! Sit down for tea!” she invited them.
Vicky looked at the steaming hot pie and felt uncomfortable. “Oh! And we
discussed how to outwit you!” she said innocently.
Grandma Masha waved her hand. “All right! Everyone wash hands! Do you know
how many germs are on a square centimetre of skin?” she said sternly, but everyone was
already rushing to hug her because they suddenly felt that she was nice.
“Good when you have a grandma!” Vicky said at night, when the children were
already in bed and Grandma had gone downstairs to take Great-Grandma Zina’s blood
pressure.
“Yeah, not bad. Only she does not last for long!” Peter said in a knowing voice. The
wall in his room was thin, made of plasterboard, and one could easily talk right through
it.
“Why?”
“Well, I already noticed this long ago. Grandma Masha’s orderliness lasts for three
weeks a year. Then she’s exhausted and saves up energy the whole year for these three
weeks. Well, like a race car. The more powerful the engine, the higher fuel consumption,”
Peter explained.
Kate chuckled. “And our parents aren’t orderly and that’s precisely why they last
the whole year?” She specified.
“Well, practically... Still, it’s great to have an orderly grandma!”

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28

Chapter Four
Five Kitties

The entire person to the last cell reveals himself in his


reaction to the word “cannot.”
Mama

On Monday morning, the children were getting ready for school. Kate was already
standing at the door with a backpack behind her shoulders and her arms crossed,
waiting for her brothers and sisters. Costa and Rita, who, although not going to school
yet, promptly roamed around, crowding together with everyone.
Costa looked with suspicion at the shorts that they were just about to put on him.
Then he began to grimace slowly. Lately he had become very suspicious. “They’re girls’! I
won’t wear them!” he whined.
“Easy, fighter! Not a girl in shorts! It’s a disguised hero in shorts!” Kate said quickly.

Costa pondered and allowed them to put the shorts on him, the disguised hero
hiding under them.
First-grader Alex circled around the kitchen and, pestering everyone, asked them
to find his notebooks.
“Notebooks for lazy Alex! Where are you? Hello!” Kate summoned, arms still
crossed on her chest. Alex apprehensively looked sideways at her and fell silent.
Alena hopped along the hallway and, hastily tossing books into her backpack,
moaned, “Oh! We have work today! Give me a hundred roubles for modeling clay!”
“Your were given some yesterday!” Kate said.
“Oh! I spent it! First, forty on a chocolate bar, and then there wasn’t much left and
I decided to spend...”
Peter’s head popped out of the bathroom. It turned out he heard everything
perfectly. “Give me one and a half million for modeling clay! And three more for an
eraser! But then it’s not enough for the new iPhone!” he said in a squeaky voice.
They threw a towel at Peter and his head hid. In the bathroom, something laughed
terribly, a chair dropped, and the water was turned on. Peter usually went to school a
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29

minute before the bell and took with him a maximum of one notebook, which he tucked
under his belt.
The morning was overcast. Costa, confusing words, called such a morning
“overpass.” The sky was clearly preparing for something spectacular, but what exactly
was still unclear. Clouds were moving like small flocks, gradually gathering into one very
large cloud.
“I also want to annoy like everyone else!” Kate grumbled, waving the bag with her
indoor shoes. “Give me a T-shirt! Not that one! Pour me some tea! Not that tea!”
“Then you can’t grumble at all and be always right!” said Vicky.
Kate pondered. “In fact, yes!” she acknowledged. “Okay, then I agree to stay the
way I am.”

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Kate returned from school at about two, right after Alex and Alena. She stood by
the window. Outside the window, snow was falling in large flakes and settled on an
evergreen shrub and equally on the green grass. Stool, Lad, and Tot sat in front of the
bushes and, with their heads up, looked with bewilderment at the snowflakes on their
noses. Stool whined in fright. Tot growled. Lad demonstrated philosophical calm.
“What went on in school!” said Kate. “Everyone ran from class!”
“And the teachers?”
“The teachers also ran. Everyone stood in the schoolyard and threw snow! Quite
wild, as if they had never seen snow! And behind the fence there, incidentally, were the
power guys!”
“What, did they break the windows with snowballs?” Mama was surprised, cutting
out three-dimensional snowflakes for home decorations. She had already cut out about
twenty snowflakes and each had its own shape. For the time being, it was all cut like
ordinary paper, but then poof! – a momentary movement of the fingers and a snowflake
opened in the air, becoming three-dimensional.
“No,” Kate acknowledged reluctantly. “But these power guys also dropped their
work and built a snowman with a light bulb instead of a nose... They found a large light
bulb somewhere, massive like a soccer ball! But by evening, all the same, everything
melts!”
After standing a little longer at the window, Kate made her way to the closet to put
away clean laundry. Not so long ago she discovered that the children’s clothes got mixed
up in the laundry and nothing could be found when needed. Therefore, it was much
simpler not to sort the things according to their owners but label the drawers with a
marker, and each would easily find their own there. Now on the drawers were large
labels PANTS, SOCKS, SHIRTS, TIGHTS, SKIRTS.
This principle of sorting revealed more and more advantages each day, but at first
this idea had many opponents. Alex especially resented strongly. “What, I’ll be wearing
girl tights?”
“You do have eyes, where yours are and where the girls’ are,” Kate retorted.
“What, I’m supposed to think?”

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“Really! Think! Your head won’t fall off! Come on, show me, what tights do you
have on now?”
But Alex did not show any tights and hastily fled, because he had on Alena’s tights
for the reason that he was too lazy to look for his own in the pile of clothing. Kate
hurriedly scattered the dried clothes according to pants, shirts, skirts and, waving away
Costa, who was hindering her with a T-shirt, returned to Mama.

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32

Suddenly, the intercom started to screech. Once, twice, then a third time.
“Who was so mad there?” Kate asked with displeasure.
It turned out that it was Vicky, who came in breathless and red. “Kittens were
dropped off there at the school! Five of them! In a box!” she informed them.
Papa Gavrilov tore himself away from the computer, where he was trying to
unravel an entangled plot. “So, fine!” he showed appreciation. “A school is the most
suitable place. Children finish classes, the grandmas come for them. If you try very hard,
a grandma can be persuaded to take a kitten.”
Vicky was mysteriously silent, averting her eyes. Papa looked at her. “Just don’t say
that...” he began slowly.
Kate, rushing from the spot, ran to the gate in her slippers and returned with a box.
“Here they are! All five are here!” she shouted.
“Take them back!” Papa demanded.
“No, no! They’ll freeze!” Vicky and Kate shook their heads.
“They won’t. They are nearly a month old!”
“If you were about a month old and they threw you into a box out in the snow?”
Kate asked with such reproach that Papa Gavrilov understood: he was not getting away
from the kittens.
“Fine!” he conceded. “Then feed them, and later go, walk along the street, and
repeat pitifully, ‘Please take a kitten!’”

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“I’ll make an online ad!” Kate proposed.


Papa shook his head. “No way! The kittens don’t get adopted online. It’s a lost
cause. There they’ll only repost, ooh and ah. But no one will take them.”
“How do they get adopted?” Kate asked.
“Kittens are adopted exclusively by way of a chance nudge!” Papa stated. “A person
sees a kitten and he’s caught before his logical thinking kicks in. That’s all. There are no
other ways.”
“I won’t grovel!” Kate claimed.
“And I’m afraid of meeting any of my acquaintances!” Vicky added.
“Well then, you also have no love for the kittens. Also no desire to help them. Take
them away in the box to the school and put them where you found them,” Papa
shrugged.
“What if you take compassionate photos and put them on social media, huh?”
Vicky asked hopelessly.
“Yeah! You hold a kitten by the scruff of the neck over a pot of boiling soup with the
caption: You have twenty-four hours to save this wretch!” advised Peter, having come
down the stairs from his room. Peter had The Brothers Karamazov6 under his arm. He
read a hundred pages of this book a day; in doing so, having read exactly a hundred
pages, even if there were, say, ten lines to the end of the chapter, he would stop. Peter
went to the fridge on his way. He looked into it and snorted loudly.
“Is the soul wandering about in pots?” Vicky asked.
“What’s to wander here? No food! The grannies are strolling by the sea!” Peter said.
“There’s plenty of food!” Kate contested. “There’s simply no pleasing you!”
“Very funny!” Peter cut off a third of the loaf of bread on a slant, smeared it with
ketchup, generously sprinkled chicken seasoning on top of the ketchup, looked at the
composition of the seasoning, and licked his lips. “E260!7 E283!8 Natamycin!9 Diethyl
bicarbonate!10 I love it! Does anyone else want bicarbonate? Well, I offered!” he said and
bit off a huge chunk.
“How can you eat this trash? I’d be sick!” Vicky asked, rolling her eyes.
“Really? Bet you wouldn’t?” Peter suggested and again buried himself in the
seasoning composition. “Ah, how sad! No E240! Without it, food isn’t food!”

6 The Brothers Karamazov (1880) is the last novel of Russian writer Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky
(1821-81), whose works explore human psychology in the troubled atmosphere of 19 th-century Russia.
7 E260, acetic acid, regulates acidity when used as a food additive.

8 E283, potassium propionate, is used as a food preservative.

9 Natamycin, E235, is a naturally occurring antifungal agent used as a food additive.

10 There is no diethyl bicarbonate used in food, most bicarbonates are used as acidity regulators or anti-

caking agents. There is also dimethyl dicarbonate used as a beverage preservative. Although there is
diethyl carbonate, which is a solvent and has been proposed as a fuel additive.
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34

“What’s E240?” Vicky asked.


“Cuc-koo, dark! E240 is formaldehyde!” 11 Peter explained, and chewing the
sandwich, went to his room. Three latches were heard snapping in turn.
An iron sheet rumbled on the opposite side of the fence. Andrew and Seraphim
climbed over. Seraphim was gnawing with effort on ice cream found in the freezer. The
ice cream was so hard that it was possible to knock a stone with it and the stone would
respond with a bang.
“Look at this one!” Andrew said with reproach. “He didn’t go to school because his
throat hurts!”
“But it really hurts! Ask Mama!” Seraphim said and both brothers glared at each
other.
“Oh, adoptable kittens have arrived!” Papa Gavrilov said gladly, especially placing
his hopes on Seraphim, who, in his fantastic poetic absentmindedness, would even be
able to adopt ten pregnant cats smeared with green dye and plastered with modelling
clay.

11 Formaldehyde is classified as a probable human carcinogen.


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Seraphim and Andrew together with Alena and Kate repacked the kittens from the
box to an old hat, went along the main street, and began to repeat plaintively, “Ple-e-
ease take a kit-ten! Ple-e-ease take a kit-ten!”
The kittens got out of the hat, scrambled up their sleeves, and did not stop
meowing. Each of the children had to take a kitten. Seraphim carried two
simultaneously, and the kittens managed to cling to passers-by. Seraphim’s whine “Ple-
ease take a po-oor little kit-ten!” turned out to be the most pitiful. Therefore, people
often approached him.

Alex followed Seraphim, but without a kitten, because he was constantly losing it
and the rest got sick of that. The snow was beginning to melt. It seemed as though it
would not stay till evening. Alex scooped the snow from the fence, shaped it into
snowballs, and threw them high above his head to see what they would fall on. The third
snowball plopped on a taxi. The driver pretended to chase after Alex, who hastily hid
behind Andrew.
“You’re acting erratically! You don’t know what your hands will do in the next
minute!” said Andrew.
“Not true! I know!”
“Yes? And what are they doing right now? Well, tell me! Don’t look with your eyes!”
Not heeding, Alex stared incredulously at his hands and discovered in surprise that
they had picked up a rusty bolt from the asphalt and were trying to twist the nut from it.
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“Please take a kitten!” Alena shouted and burst out laughing, because snow had
fallen from a tree into her mouth. Alex, noticing that snow was falling from the trees,
began to run forward and hit the branches with a stick.
Despite all efforts, the adoption of kittens went poorly. Most passers-by were either
not interested in the kittens at all or said something like, “Should offer in the summer!”
All the same, every five minutes some compassionate auntie would pop out from
somewhere, press a kitten to her chest, and start to aah, “Children! Ah! Kittens for
adoption! How charming! This is a boy! If it were a girl, I would take it!”
“We have a girl!” Kate declared and beckoned Alena with the next kitten.
The compassionate auntie tensed up a little and took the kitten no longer with such
enthusiasm, “Oh! If the girl was lighter, this one has a dark stripe!” she said hurriedly.
“We also have a lighter one! Seraphim, bring yours!” Andrew said in a dull voice,
he liked to bring every situation to a logical conclusion.
The compassionate auntie felt cornered. “What if they’re sick?” she said, hastily
looking for an argument to refuse.
“Then you show the vet!” Andrew suggested.
“No, no! They’re too young! They’ll die! If they were older, then yes!” the auntie
said and ran away cowardly.

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The children wandered along the sea for about two hours and began to lose faith in
their lucky star. But here they gradually began to get lucky. The first kitten was taken by
an old lady selling seashells. Moreover, she took it as if instantly, when they had already
walked past and did not even whine “please take a kitten!”
“Look at you! Yelling! A boy? Come here, boy!” she said and, after glancing under
the kitten’s tail, slipped it into a bag and gave Seraphim a covered seashell. “You’ll make
an ashtray!” she said.
Seraphim stood in confusion with the shell in his hand. “But I don’t smoke...” he
began.
“He does, he does!” Kate hastily said, dragging him by the sleeve. “You have to
think! If you don’t need the shell, give it to me!”
The second kitten was taken by a gloomy saleslady from a store. Kate thought for
the first second that she was approaching to kick them out. The third kitten was taken
by a police trainee to give to his girlfriend. The trainee said that it was all the same to
him whether it was a boy or a girl, because he could not stand cats himself.
“So it’s a sacrifice in the name of love? How nice!” Kate said.
The trainee looked at her rather sourly. “Just tie a bow on it for me!” he demanded.
“Where do I get ribbon? Ah, here!” Kate instantly pulled an elastic band with a
butterfly off Alena, and the kitten was decorated with colourful wings. It was no worse
than ribbon.
Children on the playground wanted to take the fourth and fifth kittens, but Kate
did not let them until they called their parents. As a result, one was allowed, but the
other was not. The one who was allowed already had two cats at home, but the other, not
allowed, did not even have a cockroach in a jar. So the fifth kitten was given near the sea
to three cheerful uncles returning from a cafe after a birthday. The uncles said that they
were from Krasnodar and that there were “actually no” cats there.
These Krasnodar uncles triggered great suspicion in Kate, and she made them
swear ten times that they would not throw out the kitten. “Now someone is cheerful, but
tomorrow he’ll be very unhappy! And you’ll chuck the kitty somewhere!” she said
reproachfully, to which the uncles resentfully replied that they were not animals, that
they were in fact artists and would not chuck the kitty anywhere.
The artists took the kitten at the area by the large fountain. The fountain had not
worked since the end of September, but it still had unfrozen water at the bottom. In
summer a large pond turtle swam in the fountain and a special platform was built so
that it could get out and bask in the sun. And now Alex, for some unknown reason
having climbed into the fountain, discovered that no one would get the turtle from the
fountain to take it to warmth, and it was hiding between the upper layer of the boards of
the platform and its base. Because, probably, it had been forgotten, and it never
occurred to anyone to put a hand between the boards and check if there was anything
there. But Alex came, because he generally put his hands everywhere.
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“Get out of the fountain, genius! You got your legs wet! Grandma will kill me at
home!” Kate yelled.
“She’ll kill me,” said Alena.
“No, she won’t. She’ll kill me, because she knows that I’m the oldest,” Kate said
modestly.
Alex got out of the fountain with the turtle in his hands. The turtle did not show
signs of life. Its paws and head were hidden inside the shell.
“It’s dead! Frozen!” said Andrew.
“No, it’s in hibernation,” Kate argued.
“Let’s poke it with a nail so it’ll wake up!” Alex suggested.
“I’ll poke you!” Kate said, and taking the turtle away him, put it inside her jacket.
The turtle was about the size of a salad bowl and quite heavy.

Chilled but pleased, they returned home with a pond turtle and a whining Alex,
who, besides getting his legs wet, managed to lose his hat somewhere. It was good that
Grandma and Great-Grandma had not yet returned and only Papa and Mama were
home.
“They let me get chilled! My hat was lost, and now they won’t let me touch the
turtle, which I found!” Alex was indignant.
“Did you try zipping up your jacket? By the way, you had a hood!” Mama said.
“Oh! I didn’t think of it!” Alex suddenly realized.
“What didn’t you think of? Zipping up the jacket? Or the hood?” Judging by Alex’s
confused look, he had thought of neither.
“Well, where are the kittens?” Papa asked. “Adopted?”
Kate nodded her head. “Done!” she said. “Now I know everything! Kittens can only
be adopted by those who already have cats! And a kind or unkind person in appearance
means absolutely nothing!”

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39

Chapter Five
Chicha the Monkey

Mama, I will not give you to anyone! Not even to you!


Costa

In the middle of December, Mama was walking along the street with the stroller.
Kate was walking beside her. Rita sat in the stroller and Costa hung onto the handle, but
Alex could not stretch out in the basket below, because there lay fishing floats ejected by
the sea that Mama had taken from the beach for crafts.
So Alex dragged himself along and dreamed, “Here I have some things in my room
and cameras installed everywhere there, and if someone took something in my room, I’d
see who took it.”
“Where’s your room?” Kate asked. Alex drooped despondently. He did not have a
room. And, it turned out, it was possible to get by very well without a camera.
They made a big detour along the waterfront and then came out onto a small
square. Here, near the two competing arcades, motley guys with megaphones were
running around and enticing people to their establishments. One of these guys was
Pokrovskii, whom the “mouse girl” Liuba said worked in five or six places.
“Children, don’t crowd!” he shouted into the megaphone. “We have lots of
souvenirs, so nobody will go empty-handed! Kid, please return my iPhone to the table!
It’s not a souvenir! I accidentally put it here!”
The competitor from the neighbouring arcade had no gifts. He took offense and
yelled at the top of his lungs into his megaphone, “Neighbouring colleagues! Hello to
you! You literally made my day! And you even have wonderful music, guys! Of course, I
can’t be heard at all, and now my boss will come!”
Upon recognizing Pokrovskii, Alex, Costa, and Rita rushed to beg him for magnets.
Pokrovskii magnanimously presented them each with a magnet, then beckoned Mama
to him and whispered mysteriously, “I have a secret! But not here! Ears are everywhere!
Can I see your husband?”
“You can,” said Mama. “At our place. Do you know where we live?”
It turned out that Pokrovskii knew. “He’s the one that drives a minivan?” he asked.
“A small minivan. Very small,” Mama explained.
“Oh!” said Pokrovskii. “It has no crucial importance. Absolutely none. A minivan is
always a minivan, that’s what I think.”
Here in the square between the arcades, Mama came across a tree lot. In the
triangle, enclosed by construction tapes, was something bushy and green. “Firs, perhaps?
No, not firs!” Mama thought. She had not yet finished this thought but Kate was already
yelling, “A-a-a-ah! They cut down pines! Pines, a-a-ah!”

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They really were pines. A lot of young pine trees, piled up any which way. A man
with a musketeer beard and a hat with bells sold them. It was obviously quite legal,
because Kate saw a policeman buying a pine and, holding it with the top down, like a
pulled-out carrot, carried it somewhere in a business-like manner.
Kate rushed to the seller. “Pines! Pines!” she shouted reproachfully, probably
expecting that the seller would fall to his knees and beg her for mercy.
“Happy New Year to you, girl!” the hat with bells said cheerfully. “Five hundred
roubles a metre!”
Kate backed away, not even wanting to touch a pine. “Do you have firs?” she asked.
“We don’t import firs. But we can order for you. It’ll be expensive and prepaid!”
Kate, waving the words away, bounced from him to Mama. “Did you hear? Did
you?”
“Actually, we need a New Year tree,”12 Mama said thoughtfully.
“A live pine? Not a chance!” Kate was indignant.
“It’s no longer alive. What are you, cuckoo? They cut it down!” Alex stated, hiding
behind Mama just in case.
“I don’t care! If we buy it, it turns out that they killed it for us. No way! Better if our
pine withers and he goes under!” Kate was obstinate. However, the hat with bells also
did not think of going under. In front of the Gavrilovs he quietly sold pines and counted
the change from a whole bundle of money.
“Maybe they grow them specially? Well, for sale?” Mama asked with hope.
“Yes, yes, yes!” Kate agreed. “This same uncle grows them! It’s written on his
forehead that he goes around all year with a watering can, watering the pines, shielding
them with an umbrella from the sun, sleeping hungry by their roots, and then sells them
and sends the money to an orphanage!”
This was said loudly. The hat with bells glanced around with displeasure, looked at
Kate, and hastily pushed the bundle of money deeper into his pocket. Obviously, he was
afraid of not delivering it to the orphanage.
Mama sighed and, not knowing how to reply, pushed the stroller along the alley. It
was easier to push the stroller because Rita was walking. She had just got acquainted
with a very young boy, whom she called “Lexander” and he simply called her “girl.”
“Say goodbye! There’s his mama coming for him!” Kate said, and Rita obediently
repeated five times, “Bye, Lexander!”
Alexander did not respond for a long time, then his mother led him by the hand,
and later, already quite a distance away, they suddenly heard someone shouting, “Girl!
Girl! Girl!” Moreover, he was shouting for a long time. This was “Lexander” saying
goodbye to them.

12Since Soviet times, Russia celebrates New Year similar to the West celebrating Christmas, with
Grandfather Frost - the Slavic equivalent of Father Christmas, a feast, and a tree with gifts around.

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After about fifty metres Alex shouted “Look!” and rushed to a lawn. On the lawn
was a hefty pile of pine branches. Apparently, they prepared the pines here for sale,
snipping off all the extras with pruning shears. Mama rummaged in the pile and found a
dozen bushy branches that looked simply remarkable.
“Why?” Costa asked.
“You’ll see!” Mama promised mysteriously and put them over the floats in the
basket of the stroller.
The way back seemed endless. Alex dragged himself behind the stroller and whined
continually that he was tired. Mama tolerated it, consoling herself that if a child was
well-behaved in the first half of the day, then he should behave badly in the second,
otherwise there would be no balance.
“You’re big! After all, be a man!” She finally could not stand it.
“You’re slyyy!” Alex responded. “Men are chiefs, yes? Then why boss me to do
homework, so you’re the chief? But when I should walk, then I’m a man?”

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Mama remembered something and frowned. “We still haven’t cleared up


everything! Did you tie the puppy to the green bike this morning? He was almost
strangled!” she said.
“No,” Alex quickly answered. “It wasn’t me!”
“What do you mean it wasn’t you? We were alone in the room! It turns out that I
tied it?”
“I didn’t tie it to the bike! I tied it to a spoke!”
“If you throw a brick at a person and they ask you, ‘Kid, did you throw a rock?’
you’ll also say, ‘It wasn’t me, because it wasn’t a rock but a brick’?”
“I didn’t know that it would turn the wheel and the leash would wind around it! It
bit my fingers, so I tied it!” Alex quickly protested.
“And who teased it? Something is only fair to you if it is favourable for you! We’ll
still talk with you about the puppy at home!” Kate stated.
The path ahead of them was going through the edge of the city park, where there
was a small zoo. Costa remembered this and shouted, “I want to see the animals!”
Rita also yelled, “I want to see the animals!” When someone started to want
something, Rita also started to want the same thing. Sometimes Peter teased Rita by
shouting, “Me! Me! Me! Put me in a corner! I want it on the bum!” In the first second,
Rita immediately started shouting, “No, not you! Me! Me! I want it on the bum!” Then,
when everyone was already laughing, she would realize and fall silent.
“Okay, let’s go! A small detour!” Mama said and turned the stroller decisively.
The zoo was a circle surrounded by a grid, in the centre of which was the keeper’s
cabin. The area from the cabin to the outer fence was divided into sections, also enclosed.
The first section contained goats, Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs, and a sad donkey. In the
second was a fox. In the third were squirrels. In the fourth were bunnies. In the fifth
were peacocks, chickens, and turkeys. Over the net from the birds sat two displeased
eagles. There were also bears in the zoo: Masha and Misha. A separate enclosure was
built for them. It was indeed not that small, but all the same it was cramped for the
bears; they kept walking back and forth and rubbing their heads against the bars. On
their heads where they rubbed, the fur had been rubbed clean and bone calluses had
formed. Kate could not bear to look at the bears because of these calluses and said that
people who kept animals badly should also be put in cages to be looked at.
Since their last visit, something new had appeared at the zoo. There was an
insulated trailer with the inscription Primates. For those who had not figured out what
such Primates were, Monkeys was spray-painted below. They smeared the inscription,
of course, but the smeared paint differed in shade and was easily read. The trailer was
on wheels. Evidently, it traveled from town to town, stopping for a while in each.

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43

Mama stayed outside so as not to pay a ticket and let Rita and Costa into the trailer.
Kate refused to go, stating that she was not interested in captive animals. Alex said that
it was “boring!” about five times but then slipped in without a ticket, because the cashier,
who was also the guard, had just rushed in shouting, “Don’t touch!”
“What do you think, is he shouting at ours?” Mama asked Kate.
“Who else? I wonder who’s touching whom there: Costa touching the monkey or
the monkey touching Costa?” Kate was interested.
“Maybe Rita is stealing food from the monkeys? We’ve been walking for a long time.
She’s hungry,” Mama suggested.
Rita, Alex and Costa returned only after half an hour. By this time, Kate had long
since run home and Mama had begun to freeze. It seemed that there were quite a few
primates in the trailer; moreover, the gorilla was asleep, the chimpanzee sprawled on
the radiator, resting a cheek on it, and the baboons, according to Alex, were all kind of
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44

rude. And it turned out that in this whole half hour, the three of them were standing
near the monkey, which, pushing a paw through the bars, unbuttoned all of Costa’s
buttons, held Alex and Rita by the finger, and generally charmed absolutely everyone.
The monkey had made a great impression on Rita and Alex. They talked about it
the whole way back. Costa was silent. In the trailer, he looked at the monkey only from
afar, furtively, did not shout, did not jump from delight, and only once thrust a finger at
it, which it touched very fleetingly, distracted by Rita and Alex. However, it did not
mean anything. Costa had such awareness. Impressions smashed into him deeply and
remained for a long time, transforming reality, although at first it did not much manifest
itself.

With Rita and Alex, reaction was intense at first, and then they forgot everything.
Now, closer to home, Rita and Alex began to cool off gradually, and then they saw a
mysterious road machine with a nozzle in the form of a huge corkscrew and, arguing
why such a machine was needed, were completely distracted.
Costa, although he also looked at the machine, was somehow without interest, and
later, already home, suddenly declared in a whisper that he was no longer Costa.
“And who are you?” Peter became interested.
“I’m Chicha the monkey!”
“So, you’re a monkey?” Peter ascertained.

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“A monkey!” Costa clarified with such simple and pure conviction that Peter did
not even manage to laugh. He only grumbled, “Oh well! Work hard, brother! Work
turned a monkey into Darwin!”13 And Chicha the monkey joyfully began to work hard.
Vicky and Alena were very happy that Costa had become a monkey. Alena made
him a tail from the belt of a bathrobe and drew whiskers and a nose with a marker,
placing a large black spot on the tip. Until the evening, Chicha the monkey jumped on
chairs and exclusively ate fruits. Then it remembered that it had no branches, and
indeed monkeys live on trees!
“But we have wall bars! Monkeys may well live on the wall bars!” Papa said.
Usually Costa was afraid of the wall bars because of his weak left hand, which
prevented him from clinging to them securely, but now he climbed to the very top,
inserting the arm between the crossbar and periodically leaning on it.
“No, with your hand! Work your left hand! You’re a monkey! How will you climb
trees?” Mama shouted.
Costa began to cling with his left hand, although he still insured with his chin for
safety. Grandma Masha and Great-Grandma Zina looked at the monkey and shook their
heads. Then Grandma Masha went somewhere and, on returning, spread a piece of
foam underneath, so that Costa, if he decided to fall, would fall on it.
Mama found two dry chocolate cakes in the storeroom. After dinner, she divided
them for everyone and all the children quickly ate their share. Everyone but Vicky. Vicky
loved to do everything thoroughly: clear the table, wipe the crumbs, pour herself a cup of
tea, and then solemnly eat it with tea. However, it often happened that while she was
wavering, one of the hungry little ones would steal her goodies and eat them, and Vicky
then fell into despair and began to die.
By experience, Vicky knew perfectly well how everything usually ended, but she
would not change her habits. Today she decided to use Chicha the monkey to guard her
piece. Chicha the monkey gladly agreed to help its older fellow man, to which it should
eventually evolve as a result of shock work.14
Before leaving, Vicky once again reminded Costa that he was a monkey and
monkeys only eat bananas, oranges, and other fruits. “Understand? I’ll be back soon!”
“Okay,” Costa said and, waving his tail, began to guard the piece of cake.
The first to come nosing out the cake was Rita, but Costa waved his tail accurately,
and Rita ran away with a shriek, “I’ll teell Mamaaa!” Then Alex began to crawl under the
table, deciding to attack the cake from below. But it was difficult for him to climb up
from the kitchen corner and even harder to push his hand up, so Chicha the monkey
managed to grab the piece of cake, slip it under its T-shirt, and escape on the wall bars.

13 Charles Robert Darwin (1809-82) was an English geologist and biologist, famous for his contributions
to the science of evolution.
14 From the end of the 1920s to the middle of the 1960s, there was the shock movement in the Soviet

Union, with the goal of raising productivity and reducing cost of production.
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Snorting and helping itself with its chin, it flew to the very top of the bars and perched
there, warily gazing down. Alex, the cake thief, was jumping below. He would have
climbed up the wall bars, but was rather afraid of Grandma Masha, who was nearby and
could easily announce some general’s, admiral’s, or field-marshal’s hour.
Rita came in and informed them that she had complained to Mama.
“Well done!” Alex praised.
Rita thought about it. “I’ll go tell Mama Alex said ‘well done!’” she muttered to
herself and fled, trying not to forget anything on the way. Rita had begun to talk in
rather long sentences quite recently, but somehow all at once, without change.
“Obviously, a critical mass has accumulated and a breakthrough has occurred!”
Mama said. She had already forgotten how Papa, when Peter was born, had passed her a
note in the maternity ward: Read aloud to the child and show the letters! and she
almost sobbed, discovering step by step that Peter did not speak in a year, did not read
at two, and did not write poetry at three. Only when the child was four, stepping on the
same rake several times, did Mama and Papa figure out that a child does not acquire a
skill when the parents want it, but when he himself builds up this skill.

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Chicha the monkey sat on the wall bars and guarded the piece of cake vigilantly.
Alex jumped below and made attempts to tear off its tail. The monkey understood
perfectly well that he was threatening its tail, and tried to pull it higher, to where it
would be safe. But the monkey had nothing to pull its tail with because it was grasping
the piece of cake with two fingers of its right hand, the remaining three holding on to a
horizontal bar, its left elbow was on the wall bars, and its feet were slipped under the
upper crossbeams.
At one point, Alex jumped higher than usual and managed somehow to grab the
edge of the tail. The monkey uttered a tragic shriek, hurriedly shoved the piece of cake
under its T-shirt, weighed all the options, and, with a wild growl, collapsed upon its
brother’s head.
Nothing terrible happened, even though they flew past the foam. Alex survived
beautifully; Chicha the monkey also did not suffer, and, riding Alex, started to butt him
with terrible howls. Alena ran from the kitchen up to them and dragged the fighters to
different corners. In passing, Alena accidentally looked at Costa’s T-shirt. The white T-
shirt was no longer very white on the chest. Even, perhaps, black.
“Let’s have a look! Well! What do you have there?” Alena yelled and licked the T-
shirt with her tongue. “Chocolate!” She pulled up the T-shirt, and they saw the crumbled
piece of cake. Chicha the monkey was no less surprised than Alena, because it had
already forgotten about the cake.
“This is Vicky’s, right? Now it’s done for! She will never eat crumbled cake!” Alena
declared.
“And what should I do?” Alex asked.
“What can you do? Nothing now!” Alena said in a tragic voice and quickly shoved a
fragment of the cake in her mouth. Alex grabbed a second fragment and Chicha the
monkey, forgetting that it ate only fruit, hastily shoved the rest into its mouth.
A few minutes later Vicky appeared. She had already made tea, cut a thin slice of
lemon, placed it on the edge of the cup, and now came for her cake. “Well, where’s my
cake?” she asked, stretching out her hand like royalty.
“Here!” Chicha the monkey reproachfully poked the chocolate-stained shirt with a
finger.
“I see. And where’s the rest?”
“We ate it!” the monkey said and poked with its finger a little lower, at the level of
the navel.
Vicky rushed at Costa with a woeful shriek. Alena shielded Costa. “He defended it!”
Alena said. “You’d never think! He did!”
“From whom? From you?” Vicky noticed that chocolate was on Alena’s lips.
“I also defended it!” Alena said with such indignation that Vicky believed her.
“So, from you?” Vicky took a menacing step toward Alex.
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“Speaking of which, I just wanted to take the tail!” Alex was indignant. “Only a
small piece of cake got to me! By the way, the most crumbled!”
Realizing that there was no end to be found here, Vicky gasped woefully and began
to swoon, but then Mama called them from above. Moreover, Mama’s voice was such
that it felt like she wanted to show them something good. Alex, Alena, and then Vicky
and Costa rushed to Mama.
It turned out that while Costa was being Chicha the monkey, Mama had made a
New Year tree from the branches that they had gathered on the street. She used the
handle of an old shovel as the trunk, so disguised by the needles of a falling branch that
it was impossible to guess that it was a shovel. The pine emerged like it was alive. All
that remained was to decorate it.
“But it will be for tomorrow! And now bed!” Mama said and smiled. Then she
turned off the light for a moment to show that it was already night, but still it seemed to
everyone that the room was bright. This was Mama’s smile, dissolving in the air,
continuing to shine.

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Chapter Six
Pokrovskii’s Great Secret

“Here one girl lost a pan of potatoes!" Peter began.


“Where did she lose it?"
“At home."
“It’s not possible to lose a pan of potatoes at home!"
“It’s hard, but some girls manage!" Peter said.
Household scenes

Papa Gavrilov was sitting at the computer and trying to persuade his hero to
perform the feat. The hero so far had flatly refused. Rita, who had managed to catch cold
the day before, was hanging from Papa’s shoulder. Papa was swaying her on his
shoulder and typing, slapping Rita on the leg when this leg tried capriciously to kick the
monitor. Mama was cooking nettle soup, having discovered a huge bundle of nettle in
the freezer. It had been harvested in the spring.
“You could at least sink more eggs in there! And potatoes!” Peter advised her.
“Go study for the state exam! It’s next year for you!”
“I downloaded everything!”
“Downloaded where? Your head? Don’t put your hands in the pot!” Mama
grumbled.
Vicky was dancing in the kitchen, occasionally drooping exhaustedly, when she was
asked to sit with the kids. True, after a while she got up and very quietly went to help,
but only if no one had noticed that she had fainted. When a person is consoled, he really
understands that he is impoverished and enjoys the role.
Noticing that Rita’s nose was running, Mama came up and blew her nose. Rita at
first dutifully allowed it to be done, and then realized that this had not been discussed
with her. “Gib me back my not! Gib me back my not!” she screamed. In order not to
argue with the sick Rita, Mama had to pretend that she was returning the snot back into
the nose. “Dere! Now you can dake dem bain away!” Rita generously allowed and again
sagged on Papa’s shoulder.

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There and then a gap-toothed Alex was going around the room and exploring the
scope of the hole that had appeared on the site of his front tooth. This front tooth had
been wobbling for a long time, but did not fall out. Yesterday Alex had a fight with Alena
in the car. She pushed him and he threatened her, “That’s it! I’ll bite off the sole of your
sandal!”
Alena said, “So, bite!”
Instead of the sole, Alex bit her knee. Alena yanked her leg in fright, and right away!
– Alex got out of the car without the front tooth. He walked around the whole evening
with it and schemed, “I’ll hide it under the mattress! The tooth fairy will give me a
hundred roubles.”
“And how will you spend it?” Papa asked.
“I’ll save it.”
The fairy brought him a hundred roubles in the morning. Alex removed it but
noticed that the fairy had forgotten to take the tooth. “Tomorrow,” he said, “I’ll put it
there again. The fairy will forget that she has given... By the way, I have another tooth
wobbling next to it!”

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Finally, Rita fell asleep. Papa carefully put her down on the couch, went back to the
computer, and wrote about ten lines to the place where the hero took the sword and,
scratching himself, trudged to perform the feat.
At that moment outside the gate, Lad barked loudly as if in a barrel, and Tot and
Stool immediately burst out yelping hysterically. This meant that someone was riding a
bike on the “figure-eight” street. Then this someone threateningly shouted “Boo!” at the
dogs and Stool suddenly whimpered in surprise, running back to the side. It was heard
jamming itself under the minivan and scratching there, scraping the exhaust pipe with
its back.
Three or four seconds later the bell rang. Pokrovskii, crouching, entered the wicket
gate. He wheeled in the bike and had a water pistol in his hands. “It’s for shooting at the
dogs,” he explained. “Earlier I travelled with a pepper spray, then with a toy gun that
shot balls, but now I’ve become a great humanist.”
Kate looked at Pokrovskii with respect. She loved everything great, starting with
herself.15 “What’s in there, acid?” she asked.
“No, ordinary water with cologne,” said Pokrovskii. “The main thing here is to
surprise the dog. When it’s surprised, its thoughts shift. Of course, it won’t work against
a serious dog, but against such barkers, it’s perfect.”
Pulling up his short jacket, Pokrovskii, like a mafioso, tucked the gun behind him
under his belt and said that he wanted to talk with Papa alone. If he had not said “alone”,
no one would have bothered them, but now, it goes without saying, everyone became
interested and everyone started to eavesdrop.
“Let’s go to the attic!” Papa said and went with Pokrovskii to the attic.
It was even more mysterious. Dreaming of cracking the secret, Kate and Vicky
twice sent Alena to bring Papa coffee, but Alena did not get there, because she always
drank the coffee herself on the way. How could it be otherwise, if the coffee was with
condensed milk, which she loved?

Pigeons, multiplied over the summer and somewhat feral, wandered around the
attic. Seeing Papa and Pokrovskii, they flew over and sat down on a short iron grating.
Right here in the attic was an old wardrobe into which the Gavrilovs had moved the

15 Kate’s nickname is Catherine the Great. See My Big Family: Mutiny of the Little Sweeties.
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previous owner’s things and sealed the doors with tape so that the smell of pigeons
would not be absorbed into the fabric. Now the wardrobe door was ajar.
“Alex was probably rummaging. Peeled off the tape there,” Papa thought. He was
used to that, when something unusual happened at home connected with excessively
violent restlessness of hands, in three cases out of four it was connected to Alex.
Papa Gavrilov sat down on an inverted drawer. Under the box was a combative
pigeon, which had to be locked up.
Pokrovskii peered through the low window. “Oh, the hospital is visible! I was lying
there once!” he said, beginning to rub his eyes. His nose was red. His chin became more
and more like a red heel. Papa looked at this red heel and waited.
“Don’t be surprised!” Pokrovskii said. “I’m allergic to everything! Achoo! Wool,
printing ink, tomatoes, flowers... Achoo!”
“And pigeons?” Papa asked.
“I didn’t know about it, but, see... achoo ... yes!”
“Maybe we’ll go down?”
“No! I can stand it! Nobody will hear us here!” Pokrovskii said, leaning, and
proceeded in a whisper, “You have a minivan, I have the knowledge!”
“A good combo,” Papa appreciated. “So?”
“I know where the treasure is hidden!”
Papa Gavrilov tried to be glad. “Great,” he said. “I hope it isn’t in Brazil, because
my minivan won’t make it. Anyway, I need to finish the book.”
“No, no!” Pokrovskii waved his hands. “You won’t have to go to any Brazil! It’s here,
nearby. No more than two hundred kilometres in one direction. I would manage it
myself, but it’s handier with a minivan!”
Papa Gavrilov looked out the window. The minivan was not visible from here, only
the bright rectangle of its roof criss-crossed by bushes. Two or three cats sitting on the
roof of the minivan were also visible.
“You, of course, want to know the details!” Pokrovskii continued and, fumbling
under the same belt where he had the pistol, he took out a plastic bag with something
hidden inside. “There’s an old buffet next to my bed. So heavy that it probably hadn’t
been moved since my birth. Five days ago I moved it all the same. And presto! To level
the buffet, this was under it!”
Pokrovskii solemnly handed Papa Gavrilov a book bound in dark cardboard, which
was once pasted with cloth. Now the fabric was preserved only in the place where it was
pressed down by the buffet. The edges of the binding had been eaten by mice. The name
could only be read on the title page.
Complete Course Notes of
Chemistry
Compiled from the Lectures of
Professor G. Zinin
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1851
Pokrovskii opened the book and, after separating the pages, took out a yellowed
sheet of paper. The ink had faded but was still readable. The letters were high, round,
and distinct.
Nadia, you will find this letter on Wednesday or Thursday, when you return from
Yalta! You will not find me. I am going to Bułak-Bałachowicz as a military doctor. I
thought: for a long time we were away from everything and we need to somehow
show God and ourselves whom we are with. I hid in our place something that will help
tide you over at first! If the general situation will continue to remain equally bleak, try
to move to your brother’s in Liege in the spring or summer.
I love you and the children!
Nicholas
20/1.1920

Under the letter was sketched a gazebo, located, in all likelihood, on a hill, because
the foundation of the gazebo seemed skewed. In the distance a line of mountains was
marked as a feature. A short arrow pointed to the second step of the gazebo.
“Also Nicholas,” Papa Gavrilov said perplexedly, peering at the pale letters. For
some reason he always found it strange when someone else had the same name as him.
He wanted to say: Well, how is it? Who am I then? And a slight confusion emerged in his
head.

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“Have you read it?” Pokrovskii asked. “In my opinion, everything’s clear! Here,
look!” He shoved his hand, not under his belt but under his T-shirt, and pulled out a file
folder, inside of which were quite a few pages done on a printer.
“Here!” Pokrovskii said again, putting his hand into the midst of the pages and
unerringly extracting one of them. Bułak-Bałachowicz, Stanisław Nikodimovich.16 In
January 1920, after the dissolution of Yudenich’s17 army, Bułak-Bałachowicz formed
his Volunteer Army. In November 1920, it was smashed by the Reds. The remnants of
the army miraculously got through to Poland. Bułak-Bałachowicz himself was killed in
1940 in Warsaw, when he tried to organize a partisan detachment to fight the German
invaders.
Pokrovskii again shoved his hand somewhere under his clothes. Papa Gavrilov
waited with interest for what would appear from under the T-shirt this time, but it
appeared that Pokrovskii was freezing in the attic and was trying to keep warm.
“In my opinion, everything is clearer than clear!” he continued. “He left his wife a
letter in the book. His wife for some reason didn’t find the letter. Then the book got to
my relatives and goodness knows how long it had been propping up the buffet. My
relatives are nice people, but I can’t suspect them of any interest in chemistry or even in
books at all. Hence, what Nicholas left his wife still lies under the second step of the
gazebo.”
“And we’ll find it? Why did you decide that this gazebo is in the Crimea at all?”
Papa Gavrilov asked.
“Logic!” said Pokrovskii. “My iron logic! First, the sketch will help us. Secondly, we
can assume that this Nicholas was a doctor. Who else could become a military doctor?
And thirdly, here!” Pokrovskii’s warmed finger appeared from his armpit and pointed to
the circular bookplate on the title page:
Sotera
From the personal collection of I. A. Kolokoltsev
“Sotera is a village near Alushta! The Gentle Jets estate there belonged to I. A.
Kolokoltsev. I found this in the guidebook about the Crimea.”
“So I. A. Kolokoltsev, that is Ivan or Igor, and we have a Nicholas! Look, the year of
publication is 1851, but the letter was placed in the book in 1920! Seventy years later!”
Papa Gavrilov said.
“Yes,” Pokrovskii admitted dejectedly. “It’s a discrepancy. But... what do we risk?
This Kolokoltsev could easily be the father or grandfather of our Nicholas. What
prevents us from going to Sotera and searching for this Gentle Jets there? What if the
gazebo survived? But even if we don’t find anything, we’ll see Sotera. The river Alaka,

16 Stanisław Nikodimovich Bułak-Bałachowicz (1883-1940) was a general and military commander of the
Russian Imperial army.
17 Nikolai Nikolayevich Yudenich (1862-1933) was a commander of the Russian Imperial army and a

leader of the anti-communist White Army during the Civil War.


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the Crimean river with the most waterfalls, is near there. That’s why it’s called the
Gentle Jets. Are you with me?”
Papa Gavrilov began to open his mouth to say “Yes!” But a “Ye-a-ah!” suddenly
sounded from somewhere behind his back, from the wardrobe. Papa Gavrilov and
Pokrovskii stared at the wardrobe at once.
“Ye-a-ah!” the wardrobe yelled again.

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The door swung open, and Peter tumbled out of the wardrobe. It turned out that he
had been sitting in the wardrobe from the minute he had found out that Papa and
Pokrovskii were going to talk secretively in the attic. Peter then ran to the attic and hid
in the wardrobe.
Pokrovskii wanted to be indignant and began to wave his hands, but a coat of the
old owner, smelling terribly of mothballs, also tumbled out of the wardrobe together
with Peter. Pokrovskii grabbed his throat. His chin was no longer just glowing but
turned into a ripe tomato. His eyes disappeared, and there was nothing to say about his
nose. It was already like some kind of runny sweet plum.
“Moth... eeeeppp! Can’t breathe!” he wheezed.
Papa and Peter dragged Pokrovskii downstairs where Mama and Grandma Masha
busied themselves with him. As a first task they decisively washed him with cold water.
Then they set him down on a chair and gave him some allergy syrup. The syrup,
however, was for kids, but they doubled the dose, figuring that Pokrovskii was twice as
large as an average child.
Pokrovskii came to gradually. His eyes, among the multiple tomatoes, gradually
began to open. The nose started to resemble a nose, only the chin continued to glow.
Somehow it so happened that, while Pokrovskii was coming to, everyone already
knew about the treasure. In this case it was not clear who exactly had spilled the beans.
Both Papa and Peter swore that they had not. Pokrovskii could not protest, but could
only wheeze indignantly and make weak reproachful movements with his hands.
“Well? When are we going?” Papa asked when Pokrovskii regained the ability to
discuss something.
“Now!” Peter said, ready to jump straight from the window to the minivan.
“No!” Mama said firmly.
“Why?”
“Because we’re going with you. Everyone, including Rita!”
“Why Rita?” Peter asked plaintively, imagining to himself Rita rolling on the
ground and squealing, demanding to have all the shovels at once.
“Children need experiences. That’s one. And two, there’s school now. No one
searches for treasure during school. Christmas is January 7th!18 We’ll need to return
before that time. No one searches for treasure at Christmas either. And then there’s
already school again.”
“So when are we going?” Pokrovskii asked.
“What’s today? December 16th? School ends on the 30th. So, we’ll go on December
31st!” Mama said firmly.
“And New Year?” Pokrovskii marvelled. It seemed to him that he had misheard.
“So? We’ll welcome it in the forest!” Mama said.
18 The Orthodox Church, which Russia follows, celebrates Christmas according to the Julian calendar.
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“But how are we going to eat Olivier salad19 and watch TV?”
“We don’t have a TV anyway, and we can also eat salad in the forest! Well, this is if
someone needs the minivan...”
Pokrovskii needed the minivan. He sighed bitterly and agreed. “Only I hope that
everything will remain between us!” he asked with concern.
“It goes without saying!” Peter assured him, slapping him on the shoulder. “We’ll
be mute, like divers! Who wants to share a treasure? Indeed, we’re already dividing it by
ten.”
“BY TEN!”
“Well, there’re seven of us, two parents and you...”
Pokrovskii’s eyes widened, but he pulled himself together and, after finishing the
last drop of allergy syrup in the glass, asked, “The kids won’t spill the beans?”
“They certainly will,” Peter assured him. “But no one will understand. Rita, tell me
a secret!”
“Secret! Secret! Secret!” Rita said obediently.

19A popular salad and a main dish for New Year celebration in Russia, the modern-day Olivier salad
contains boiled potatoes, dill pickles, peas, eggs, carrots, and meat, and is dressed with mayonnaise.
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Chapter Seven
“Sunshine” and the Magic Cake

“Please, Lena, don’t write a denunciation of Papa to


the Society for the Protection of Childhood! He won’t yell at
you again! He’ll give you all our money and you’ll be able to
get married at sixteen and come home at three in the
morning!”
“Gene, switch on your brains when you fill out a
questionnaire at school! Or the Society of Humanity will
come and we’ll have a video camera in our house!”
“Please, Nick, get off your brother and don’t pound him!
Or the Amity Society will turn up and implant a friendliness
chip into your head!”
“Please, children, don’t jump like that! Or the Society
for the Protection of Motherhood will come and you’ll no
longer have Mama!”
A horror story of many children

The days left before New Year were spent on activities. The Gavrilovs were going on
an excursion. Peter fetched the sleeping bags from the attic and hung them on a rope.
The room was filled with the odour of an old bonfire. A small flashlight fell from one
sleeping bag, and a lot of cracker crumbs from another.
“Aha! I knew he was scoffing at night!” Peter shouted in delight.
“Who’s ‘he’?”
“Well, that guy who came with us on the canoes. On a trip everyone has to eat
together, but he was popping crackers at night. Here are the crumbs!” Peter explained,
sneezing. He sneezed because for several days he had been sleeping on the balcony in a
sleeping bag, accustoming himself to hardship. Running around at night and demanding
that they not close the balcony doors, he gave the cold to Mama, who was also
accustomed to hardship as a result.
After school, Papa, Peter, Alex, and Costa went to the market and purchased
everything necessary for the trip at the flea market. Peter, who adored camouflage, took
the opportunity to drop into the army equipment store and dig through lots of stuff
there.
“Look! A backpack of some Ted Jason! Look at its iron frame! Really
indestructible!”
Papa checked out Jason’s backpack and liked it. True, the capacity of the backpack
was small and the opening did not tighten. Everything would turn into a mess in a little
rain.
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“Here was obviously some kind of upper shelf provided. Well, if, of course, this isn’t
a backpack for the Sahara!” Papa said to Peter, but Peter came up with ten thousand
reasons and, having persuaded Papa, got Jason’s backpack all the same.
Costa and Alex also did not leave without gifts. Costa received a compass, and Alex
an iron whistle on a cord. He, like a savage, whistled into it all day and deafened
everyone except himself.
“You’ll whistle away all your money!” Great-Grandma Zina said.

Alex did not pin great hopes on a treasure. “Money isn’t taken from a treasure but
from a credit card! And a credit card takes money from books or pictures!” he taught
Rita. “You write a book or draw a picture and a credit card will give you money! Now,
don’t yell in Papa’s ear to make him work and the card will give you money!”
Costa had his own opinion about this. “When you yell, the card will give more,” he
declared.
“Don’t listen to him, Rita! You draw!” Alex said.
Rita nodded in understanding. Only now she drew not one picture but somewhere
around a hundred. All her pictures covered the floor like a carpet. True, on each one was
only a squiggle of some kind, since Rita’s manner of drawing was the most concise.
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The days were hectic. The children went to school in the morning. Then began
endless homework, which, like pies, were done until late in the evening. Moreover,
everyone did homework: both grandmothers, Mama, Papa, and even sometimes those to
whom it had been assigned. Still, some part of the lessons remained unlearned, and the
children went to school in extreme terror. Well, except Peter and Kate. Kate was an
honours student, while Peter considered himself a genius and, like a genius, on principle
did not do homework. As an example he cited Dmitri Mendeleev, 20 who, as is well-
known, failed chemistry at first, and then he – poof! – invented his table.
“Well, haven’t you invented a table yet?” Papa said.
“It’s because I haven’t been keen on anything yet!” Peter parried.
The most difficult of all was doing homework with Alex. You were not supposed to
take your eyes off him at all, because, in a moment’s distraction, say, after writing one or
two letters, he would slip like a cloth under the table or hide under the sofa and sit there
quietly like a mouse, trying to remain forever uneducated.

One evening Costa stood by a wall outlet and shoved a bent paper clip in it. Mama
managed to rush to him in time.
“Stop! You’ll get a shock!” she shouted.
“I’ll get it myself!” Costa replied belligerently.

20Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev (1834 – 1907) was a Russian chemist who created the periodic table of
elements.
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Alena, wrapped in a towel, looked out from the bathroom and said angrily, “I can’t
live in this house! There isn’t even soap in it!”
“There was a new soap! I put it there an hour ago! Where did it go?”
“It hasn’t gone anywhere! It’s here! Rita is eating it and isn’t sharing!”
“So take it! Are you an older sister or what?” Papa was indignant.
Alena chuckled triumphantly and went to take the soap from Rita. Ten seconds
later, a scream was heard from the bathroom, then Rita flew out from there like a bullet.
She lost all words in indignation and just pointed her hand at the door.
“She took away the soap?” Papa Gavrilov asked deviously. Rita fell silent, surprised
that Papa had figured it all out so quickly.
“Poor child! Well, doesn’t matter! Grow up, get rich, buy yourself a lot of soap and
eat it, and everyone will watch and be jealous!” Papa promised her.
Mama opened Rita’s mouth. She had traces of soap on her front teeth, but not very
much. Presumably, Rita did not swallow but simply gnawed on it.
“She won’t die from the soap?” Mama asked.
“We’ll find out tomorrow!” Papa replied.
“Very funny! No, we can’t continue like this anymore. The kids have too much free
time! Here they see that we’re busy with the older ones, get jealous, and start to go
crazy!” Mama declared.
“They need some activities on a permanent basis... Maybe find an old lady to read
to them? And then the grandmas will leave!” Papa said and immediately regretted it,
because Mama’s eyes lit up.
“Yes, yes, yes!” she exclaimed. “But not an old lady! An old lady will complain all
the time that we have hyperactive children. And I’ll be forced to listen to this. We need
something more solid. Some serious lessons for Rita and Costa!”
Papa looked at Mama with concern. He knew that at times Mama ruined all his
good plans with their infinite expansion. For example, after getting paid, Papa would
generously say, “We need to change the valves on the stove in the kitchen. They’re
skewed.”
“Yes!” Mama would immediately respond. “But why just the valves? Better replace
the whole stove! And renovate the kitchen at the same time! Since a new stove won’t
look right in an old kitchen!” Now Papa would already thrice regret that he had opened
his mouth.
Or Papa would say, “It would be great for you and me to go on a bike ride for about
twenty kilometres along the sea.”
“Yes! Only we’ll buy many bikes! And get all the kids on them! And we’ll buy such a
cart, which is attached to the back of the bike! There’s even a tent for rain!” Mama would
light up.
“Why a cart?”

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“What do you mean, why? To take the kids with us!” And then Papa would once
again understand that the idea had been premature.
Once she caught fire, Mama did not subside. She found in the city directory the
Sunshine School of Early Development, and they went there the next day.
The school of early development was on the second floor of the office centre. A
voluptuous woman in a colourful shawl sat at the table by the partition and was typing a
list with two fingers. On seeing Papa, Mama, and the children, she broke into a smile
and began to treat them with sweets. Her smile did not disappear, even when Rita
grabbed a handful of candies.
“What wonderful children!” the woman cooed. “Come to me, wonderful children, I
will surround you with love!”
Papa tensed up. He had already figured out long ago that if they talked to you too
sweetly somewhere, then the establishment required payment. And if they gave candy
and threatened to drown you with love, then it would be highly expensive. In normal
state institutions usually sit worn-out women who answer all the questions with “Do you
know how to read what’s on the doors?” Papa and Mama tried to slip away, but the
voluptuous woman had already taken the hands of Costa and Rita and dragged them
behind the partition, where the class of the younger group was starting.
“Meet the children! What a joy: there are more of us!” she exclaimed in a voice
squealing with happiness. “This is Arsenius, Coral, Angelina, Snezhana, Ahmed, and
Bogdan! And whom did you bring?”
“Rita and Costa!” Papa said. He felt awkward that his children’s names were so
unexceptional. After all, it was necessary to call Costa Elpidifor, and Rita, well, at least
Pelagia.
The voluptuous woman easily moved the addition of two weeds to her bouquet.
“Hello, Rita! I am Larisa Robertovna! And what is your mama’s name?”
“Mama,” Rita said.
“Does your mama have a name?”
“Mama.”
“Our mama’s name is Anna!” Costa clarified.
“Right, boy! Your Mama is Anna... and then...”
“Mama!” Rita repeated with displeasure, surprised at how one could not
understand such simple things.
Larisa Robertovna glanced around triumphantly at her very knowledgeable army,
but received no support from it. Her constant friends and clients Arsenius, Coral,
Angelina, Snezhana, Ahmed, and Bogdan related benevolently to Rita’s ignorance.
Arsenius was eating snot. Bogdan and Ahmed grabbed Angelina’s pencil case, but
Angelina was no slouch and leaned her belly on it, and since the girl was not small,
Ahmed and Bogdan were panting in vain.

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Larisa Robertovna looked at the watch pressing into her chubby arm.
“That’s all, children! Let’s sit down on the chairs! Your chair is with a chicken, yours
with a hedgehog! Parents can also stay for the first time! Here, please fill out the form!
We begin the English lesson!”
A placard instantly appeared on the magnetic board and a pointer in Larisa
Robertovna’s hand. “Children! This angry kitty lives in Africa! It’s called a ‘lion’, and
here this is a dog – ‘woof’... Snezhana, don’t bite Arsenius in the ear! Better look, this
here is a ‘tiger’. ‘Tiger’ goes ‘rrrr’!”
Papa Gavrilov stopped filling out the form. “Who goes ‘rrr’?” he asked quickly.
Larisa Robertovna blushed. “Man, stop disrupting the lesson! If you’re so smart,
you can do it yourself!”

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Papa instantly agreed to do it himself and started to get up, but Mama imploringly
put her hand on his knee. Larisa Robertovna continued to glower at Papa for some time,
but then someone began to knock on the glass door and her voice immediately became
sweet. “And who has come to us and wants to smash us with glass? Oh, kids, it’s
Françoise! I recognized her from her papa!”
Taking advantage of Françoise’s arrival, Papa, Mama, Rita, and Costa slipped out
onto the street.
The sun was shining. Someone’s goat had broken loose and was wandering around
a round flowerbed with patches of snow. A yard keeper sneaked up to it. Jumping with
his stomach, he seized the goat in a rope and dragged it to a vacant lot of the nearest
construction site, where two other goats were grazing. Papa saw this from above, from
the stairs of the office centre. Lifting a board, the yard keeper tried to pull the goat by
the rope. The goat was obstinate. Then the yard keeper got out and began pushing the
goat from behind with his hands. Then he slipped, the board fell into place, and one of
the central squares of the small seaside town again acquired a civilized appearance.

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“Yes,” said Mama. “It didn’t work out with Sunshine. Looks like we need a normal
traditional kindergarten!”
It was rather complicated with kindergartens in the city. A free one needed
enrolment almost from birth. There were paid ones, but the prices were too expensive.
Mama had been trying to put Rita and Costa into kindergarten since the summer but
had no success.
But then, two weeks before New Year, Aunt Sveta, the same one that Peter secretly
mocked as Aunt Mraka21 and Meddling Aunt, popped over to the Gavrilovs for a day.
She went on a business trip to Sevastopol, did everything quickly there, got on a bus,
and came to the Gavrilovs.

The recent happy marriage almost did not change her character, which remained
so restless all the same. Aunt Sveta put on war paint, wore her most predatory business
suit and, taking Mama and several snotty kids with her to create a background, set off to
chase bureaucrats.

Svet is Russian for light and mrak is Russian for darkness. So Aunt Sveta is ‘aunt of light’ and Aunt
21

Mraka is ‘aunt of darkness’.


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Chasing bureaucrats had been Aunt Mraka’s favorite pastime for many years. She
had reached exorbitant heights. If some bureaucrat told her that he personally was not
in charge, or advised her to come in a couple of months, Aunt Sveta instantly took out a
notebook and delivered in a sweet voice, “Very good! I’ll do that! Please introduce
yourself! Last name, first name, patronymic, and your exact job title!”
“What’s that for?” The bureaucrat tensed up.
“Just so I know who to approach,” Meddling Aunt politely explained.
The bureaucrats already looked at Aunt Mraka through completely different eyes,
and the “call me next week” game stopped. However, this method apparently worked
only in large cities. In a small town for some reason, no one was afraid of Aunt Sveta.
Refusing to inform her of the “exact title” of their positions, the bureaucrats kicked
her out of the third office to the fifth, from the fifth to the eighth, from the eighth to the
accounts department, and the accounts department sent her back to the third.
Not losing courage, Aunt Mraka ran along the floor and was soon already fully
exploring the local surrounding. The toilet, for example, was designated for camouflage
purposes as “Room 29.” It was written so on the door. Evidently, so that no one else
could guess. True, on a nearby door there was a sign with a boy sitting on a pot, but the
chief accountant was lurking there.
Meddling Aunt ran in a circle, incidentally catching the hiding chief, who was
sitting at the iron door and lying through the window that he was not there, but that he
was his secretary.
“So open it if you’re the secretary!”
“I can’t! I have material resources here!” the chief said and giggled.
This irritated Aunt Mraka very much. “Sit here and watch him!” she said loudly to
the window and sat Mama and the children down on a bench.
Mama, Rita, Alex, and Costa obediently sat on the bench and looked at a terrible
poster depicting the life path of the illiterate. In the first part of his journey, the illiterate
refused to drink kefir, then skipped school, and in the very last square lay in a ditch with
an empty bottle beside him. Mama decided that this was a suitable poster for teaching
Alex how to compose a coherent story from the pictures. However, Alex’s story turned
out to be kind of strange.
“It’s all because of kefir! There’s alcohol in kefir!” he stated authoritatively.
“How do you know?”
“I know!” Alex said and began to teach Rita to say “well, yes!”
Rita learned very quickly and answered all questions with “well, yes!”
“Rita, you’re smart and beautiful!” said Alex.
“Well, yes!”
“The strongest in the world!”
“Well, yes!”
“You have dynamite, and we’ll blow up Costa so that he’ll break into pieces!”
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“Well, yes!”
Costa became offended that they wanted to blow him up, and he, speeding up,
began to butt Alex with his forehead.
Mama for the thousandth time hopelessly repeated that brothers should live in
peace, and then took out a book and began to read. She knew that when she read aloud,
Costa and Alex quieted down and sat quietly, but as soon as she fell silent, they
immediately started running and breaking everything.
“Who wrote the book about Karlsson?22 Karlsson?” Alex asked.
“No, Astrid Lindgren!”23
“Then what did Karlsson write?”
“Karlsson didn’t write anything.”
“Aha!” Alex said, disappointed. “But the book says Karlsson!”
“After all, Karlssons don’t write books, but writers do.”
Costa heard a familiar word and his ears perked up. “Yes! We are all writers at
home! The pigeons are writers, the dog is a writer, only Papa isn’t a writer,” he said with
conviction.
“You’re writers,” Mama was offended for Papa. “But why isn’t he?”
“Because he’s a papa. And if you’re a papa, you can’t work as anything else
anymore!”
While Costa and Alex were sorting out about Papa and Karlsson, Rita quietly broke
away from the collective and, taking advantage of the fact that no one noticed this,
started wandering along the hallway. One of the doors was ajar. Rita saw through the
crack a portly woman with her hair in a bun, typing something on the computer. A small
round table stood by the window, on which were pieces of cake, sandwiches, and sliced
apples on plates. Rita, already not having eaten for forty-five minutes, instantly
squeezed into the office and froze like a column.
“What’s your name?” the woman asked, pulling away from the computer.
“Ita!”
“Ira?”
Rita nodded, agreeing to be Ira. She was still not very good with the letter “r”. The
woman offered her a piece of cake. Rita also agreed to the cake.
The woman watched with affection as she was eating, and then said sadly, “But I
mustn’t eat any of these! I’m on a diet, but colleagues keep bringing everything! They
tease me, you know!”
Rita clicked her tongue, agreeing that teasing was bad. She finished her cake and
looked questioningly at a sandwich.

22 Karlsson-on-the-Roof is a character in a 3-book series for children by Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren. A
Soviet cartoon adaptation of the series was released in the 1970s and is still very popular in Russia today.
23 Astrid Anna Emilia Lindgren (1907-2002) was a Swedish fiction and screenplay writer best known for

her children’s book series.


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“Of course, take it!” the woman rejoiced.


Rita began to eat a sandwich. Then she started on cake again. The woman watched
her eat and tried to type, but she was distracted by the smells and Rita’s chewing.
“But why shouldn’t I?” she said in an undertone. “You can be round but I can’t? It’s
unfair! You understand? Simply unfair!” Rita nodded obediently.
When Mama, accompanied by Costa and Alex, ran into the office in search of Rita,
Rita and the woman were standing in front of the small round table and, eating quickly,
outpacing each other.
On noticing Mama, the official was embarrassed and brushed the crumbs from the
corners of her mouth. “Is this your little girl?” she asked.
“Yes. Please excuse me! She ran away while we were reading!” Mama apologized.
She picked Rita up in her arms and began carrying her out into the hallway, but the
woman quickly shouted after her, “Wait!” Mama stopped.
“Is it you with many children concerning the kindergarten?” Mama confirmed that
it was them.
“Here’s the difficulty! By law, you don’t belong to us, because you have a resident
permit in another region. But I think I know what can be done. There are exemption
spots in paid kindergarten. If you agree, here’s the phone number of the superintendent
and my business card. If she has questions about registration, get her to call me!”
When Mama, having finished thanking the woman, went out of the office, the first
one she saw was Aunt Sveta, rushing towards her. “Where did you go? Come quickly!
The chief came out after all and I forced him into Room 29 with a broom!” she yelled.
“Let him sit there. Rita has already made arrangements for herself in kindergarten!
And Costa too!” Mama said.

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Chapter Eight
“The Kindegardn”

Defeat in battle occurs not from a lack of weapons, but


from disregard and the unwillingness to use them.
St. Ephraim the Syrian24

In the morning, Vicky and Kate were dressing Costa and Rita for kindergarten.
Kate squatted and, gathering the tights like an accordion, pulled them on Rita’s thick
legs. “Give me a leg! Not that one... the right one... Not enough right! By the way, I was
late for school yesterday because of you! Now I’ll bite your little toe!” Rita, of course,
immediately kicked with her foot, and Kate, no longer squatting, toppled onto her back.

“Ahh!” she yelled. “There was no need to have so many kids! They bred bugs here!”
“And how many do we need to have?” Papa Gavrilov was interested.
“One! He would be a good, docile, attractive little baby!”
“So, only Peter! And there wouldn’t be you,” Papa said. Peter neighed contentedly
from his chair. He was not averse to becoming the only attractive baby.
“No!” Kate suddenly remembered. “What kind of rank do I have? Third, right? Well,
so be it, three! And you, attractive baby, sit and pipe down!”

24Ephraim the Syrian (c. 306 – 373) was a Syriac deacon and theologian, beloved in the Syriac Orthodox
Church.
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Alena, dragging two five-litre plastic bottles to pour them into a basin of water for
her imaginary dragon, realized that she would never be born then.
“Why three? Four! Me, and that’s enough!” she yelled.
“What about me?” Alex asked, who had already been panting for ten minutes,
trying to thread the shoelaces into his shoes.
“You’re a bust!” Alena said. Alex launched a shoe at her, and Alena ran away,
splashing water from the bottles.
“And me! Me! Me! Am I born?” Costa shouted anxiously.
“You! You! You! You’re born!” Kate reassured him.
Rita also whimpered just in case, because, although she did not understand what
the deal was, she vaguely felt that it was important. It is necessary to assert one’s
existence.
Costa did not like Rita’s whimpering and gave her a flick on the forehead. Rita,
defending herself, kicked with her legs.
“Vicky, shoo away this little thing! He’s preventing us from pulling on the tights!”
Kate instructed Vicky.

Vicky managed Costa less bossily than Kate. She was a supporter of a different
pedagogical approach. “Ah!” she exclaimed enthusiastically, pressing her hands to her
chest. “What a sun! Costa! Look at the sun! What a sky!”
Costa lifted his head in disbelief, trying to discover the sun and the sky, but saw
only a lamp, because they were in the house. This, however, did not bother Vicky at all.
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“No! It isn’t the sun!” she exclaimed more enthusiastically. “The sun is outside! It’s
huge! It’s beautiful! It’s the SUN!!! But, to see it, you need to put on your shoes and go
out of the house!” Costa looked incredulously at Vicky and agreed to stick his foot into a
shoe.
When Costa and Rita were dressed, Papa sat them down on a recently acquired
bicycle: one in a child seat and the other on the frame. Certainly, December is not the
best time for a bicycle, but it was inconvenient to get to the kindergarten by car. It was
in the courtyards inside a residential block. Half of the yards were blocked by concrete
blocks, because the residents were tired of people driving through.
“Where are we going?” Costa asked suspiciously.
“On very important matters!”
Costa understood well what important matters they went on in the morning. “To
kindergarten, perhaps?” he verified in a dangerous voice.
“Why necessarily to kindergarten? Although, maybe, also to kindergarten! Papa
will check on the way!” Vicky started to wriggle out of it.
“Tell tell him the truth, that we’re going to kindergarten!” Papa angrily demanded.
He considered that the truth is always preferable to lies, because Costa understood
perfectly where they were going, and it was better to say it once than create this circus
every day. The terrible word, which everyone studiously avoided, had been uttered.
“Ah, kindergarten! I don’t want to go! I hate kindergarten! I’ll smash it!” Costa
screamed.
“I’ll bite kindergarten!” Peter prompted deviously.
“I’ll bi-i-i-ite kindergarten!”
“I’ll blow it up!”
“I’ll blo-o-o-ow it up!”
“Don’t tease him!” Papa told Peter and took Costa and Rita on the bike.
The children rode, clutching their little paper bags. In Costa’s bag lay a little car
and three dinosaurs, but in Rita’s bag – a tea cup, a mitten, and soap from the bathroom.
A strange choice, but it could also be anything the child wanted, like a house slipper or
Mama’s glove. Papa suggested that children, when they went to kindergarten, tried to
bring a piece of home with them. Not always toys, often this was even a random item –
an umbrella or a shoehorn. They could be hidden under a pillow or kept in a locker and
you could imagine that you were at home.
On the way, Costa was jumping on the bike frame, waving his paper bag, whining
and trying to extort a chocolate egg as moral compensation for the brief separation from
the family. Papa Gavrilov rode the bike along very complicated loops, trying to pass so
as not to come across any store. If they came across shops, Papa had to start up
complicated explanations.

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“Here are skeleton sellers! Here are ghost sellers! Here are ogre sellers!” he said.
“No ogres here! Here I’ve seen! Here’s an aunt with such nails!” Costa said
gloomily.
Rita sat calmly like a boa constrictor in the bike’s child seat. Accustomed to
upholding her rights in fights with older brothers and sisters, she adapted to the
kindergarten after three days and was a pillar of the teacher.
“She barely speaks, but is the chief!” the teacher said. “She seats everyone in chairs,
they all sit, and she tells them fairy tales!”
“How does she tell?”
“She does! They listen anyway!”
Papa first took Rita into the kindergarten. A small group of several mothers were
standing by the doors, hunting down sneezing children and quarreling among
themselves about who coughed on whom.
“Well, what if he sneezed? He has an allergy!” one justified.
“What allergy in winter? A cold?” another pressed.
“And yours wiped snot on ours yesterday!” the first retorted.
“It’s still unknown who wiped snot on whom! And your Genie even has chickenpox!
Why is she all in green dots?”
“The cat scratched her cheek!”
“Go to the doctor, let him see what kind of cat it is!”
After putting on shoe covers, Papa went up the stairs, dragging with him Costa and
Rita, who together weighed around thirty kilograms. Poor Mama! How does she drag
these bums when they go on strike?

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Hearing spoons banging on plates, Rita immediately stomped to breakfast, and


Papa took Costa along the complex passages inside the kindergarten to his group. On
seeing other children, Costa ceased begging for an egg and looked important. Papa
thought that Peter was right when he said that children always behave worse with their
parents than with strangers, because they know perfectly well that it “will not work”
with strangers.

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Costa, quite recently dangling with his chest on the handlebars, now important like
a little king, approached everyone who was in the changing room and said, “Hello,
Yaroslav! Hello, Carolina!”
And each of the children answered as importantly, “Hello, Costa!”
Papa looked at them and smiled. It was very funny, but evoked respect at the same
time, because it happened in all seriousness. All the children were comical, chubby, and
clumsy. Seriously greeting each other, they were not embarrassed even by the fact that
many were standing with their tights down or in T-shirts lifted over their heads.
“Nazar, do you have a sweatshirt with cars?” Costa continued the small talk.
“Yes, I have a sweatshirt with cars,” Nazar repeated like a robot.
“And you, Carolina, a T-shirt with dinosaurs?”
“Yes, I have a T-shirt with dinosaurs!” Carolina, a girl with semicircular earrings in
her ears, happily agreed. The rest of the children were very fond of touching these
earrings and asking, “Don’t they hurt?”
“No, Carolina! They aren’t all dinosaurs here! These and these here are lizards! And
lizards aren’t dinosaurs!” Costa explained and hurried to Nazar, his best friend.
Actually, there were two Nazars in Costa’s group. In order not to confuse them, the
teacher called one Nazar and the other Nazarie. Nazar and Nazarie were each as bad as
the other. All day the teacher ran after them and, clutching at her head, screamed,
“Nazar, don’t rub sand on Nazarie! Nazarie, where did he run to? I’ll call the guard now!”
And Nazar and Nazarie, taken by the hands, went to show themselves to the
kindergarten guard, who was considered the extreme educational measure in the
kindergarten.
Now Costa took Nazar by the sleeve of his sweatshirt and pulled him into the group.
On the way, they made small talk.
“We haven’t recovered yet! We can cough on each other as much as we like!” Costa
reasoned.
“Yes!” Nazar agreed, and they coughed cautiously at each other. “Why did you fight
with Eli yesterday?”
“He wanted to take my ball.”
“Well, you would’ve given it. Or didn’t he say ‘please’?”
“He said ‘please,’ but I didn’t hear it,” Costa explained.
Nazar nodded understandingly, and both philosophers disappeared behind the
door.
There were two teachers in the group, alternating in turn. One, Galya, was young
and cheerful. She hugged the children and sniffed daisies with them. The other – the
elderly and stern Hedwig Trofimovna – resembled the Snow Queen.25 They worked in
pairs, like good cop, bad cop. When it was necessary to praise, cuddle, or warm someone,

The Snow Queen is the antagonist of the fairy tale The Snow Queen (1844) by the famous Danish author
25

Hans Christian Andersen (1805 – 75).


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Galya would do it, but when one of the children did not want to sleep during the day or
the parents refused to hand over money for the morning performance, Hedwig
Trofimovna would handle it.
Having delivered Costa, Papa rushed home to work until the other children began
to return from school. Here, every second was valuable, and every hour was just worth
its weight in gold.
The children began to return fairly quickly. Already at half past two, Kate wandered
around the kitchen and, holding four young rats in the palm of her hand, moaned,
“Please, anyone, give me as much you can!”

“Get this abomination out of here! I can’t eat!” Vicky demanded petulantly.
“Why are you mad at my rats? This is you grandstanding! When we’re alone at
home, you run them under your sweatshirt!” Kate declared reproachfully and put the
rats in the cage.
There they instantly attached themselves to their mother and hung on her nipples
as if they were glued on, even when she, escaping from maternal duty, hung on the bars
of the cage. But even then the pups did not let go of the nipples. Instinct prompted that
if grabbed, hold on tightly, because no one will pick you up.
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Around three, Mama’s phone rang. The teacher Galya, not explaining anything,
asked Mama to come urgently.
“Let me!” Papa volunteered.
“No, me. Don’t worry!” Mama said.
She came on the bike. Galya, white as chalk, waited for Mama at the gate.
“What happened?”
“Your Rita hit Benjamin in the eye! Flew right into him with her forehead! What
are we going to do? They are blowing dust off him!”
Mama sighed with relief and leaned the bike against the fence. “Phew! But why
Rita? Benjamin, I believe, is from Costa’s group?”
“They’re painting our area and we take a walk together with the ‘Bunnies’!
Benjamin was rushing around like mad, and Rita was also scampering! And then they
crashed into each other!”
“Does Rita have a bruise?”
“Your Rita is sleeping! A forehead is harder than eyes! Why are you smiling? It isn’t
funny!” The teacher Galya was almost in tears.
Benjamin, chubby like a ball, was the storm of the kindergarten. His grandfather
was a former traffic police chief, his grandmother, the head of a construction company,
and his parents were engaged in the tourism business. Benjamin was brought to the
kindergarten in two cars and they said farewell to him at the fence as if they were
escorting him to war. They wept, hugged, and kissed him two hundred times.
“What horror! Benjamin, come here!” Galya called.
The teacher and Mama examined Benjamin in a business-like manner. Benjamin
was quite alive, but a considerable arc was indeed turning blue under his eye.
“That’s all, Benjamin! Go to the arbor, I’ll be right with you!” the teacher said
tenderly. Benjamin took two steps and stopped, eagerly listening.
“Go, Benjamin! The arbor is over there!” Galya repeated more tenderly. Benjamin
left.
“Well, such a bug, and eavesdropping! And what are we going to do?” Galya asked.
“Well, let’s explain,” Mama suggested.
“To THEM?!”
“Well, what can I do then? Let’s finish him off so that he won’t suffer!” Mama
proposed. The teacher did not appreciate the joke.
“So, Anna Igorevna! We’ll say that Benjamin bumped into the toy house! And just
in case, you don’t come to kindergarten tomorrow. Skip a day. Benjamin doesn’t
articulate the thirty-three letters of the alphabet,26 but he’ll point his finger at Rita! I
know him. But this way, he has no one to point his finger at! He’ll point, but they’ll think
that he’s pointing at the toy house. Okay? And for this, we'll make your Costa a
snowman at morning performance! And Rita a snowflake!”
26 The Cyrillic alphabet has 33 letters.
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“Oh, fine!” Mama agreed.

In the evening she came by bike to pick up Costa and Rita. Alena tagged along for
company. Mama could not carry three on the bike, so she wheeled the bike, and Alena
walked beside it, asking Costa how things were at kindergarten.
Costa said that things were fine, and then, remembering, cheerfully added, “Maxim
bit me today!” On his right hand was a clear round imprint of seven teeth. Exactly seven.
On the imprint it was noticeable that the biting one had one lower tooth missing.
“Why did he bite you?” Alena asked.
“My mama is the most beautiful, right? But Maxim said that his is!”
“And you?”
“I pushed him!”
Mama passed a hand over her face. “Why did you push him?”
“What do you mean why?” Costa was indignant. “He said that his mama is the most
beautiful!”
“Basically, you pushed him, and he bit you and went to complain to his beautiful
mama?” Alena clarified.
“No, to the teacher. His mother left them. He lives with his papa!”
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Mama, who had just begun to take pride in Costa, her defender, clutched her head.
“I’ll go crazy with you! But why didn’t you agree that his mother is the most beautiful?”
“Why should I? They buy Maxim two chocolate eggs a day! And a bunch of toys!
And he also has a lot of coins, and he won’t give them to anyone!” Costa objected
heatedly.
Mama, however, all the same felt sorry for Maxim, who bites because he loves his
mother. But she did not know how to explain this.
But then Alena explained everything. “You should’ve said that sometimes of several
mothers there is the most beautiful all-time mama!” she stated very confidently.
Costa was sitting on the bike, holding the handlebar and looking around. Mama
and Alena thought that he had long forgotten about everything, but then Costa awoke
again. “Well, okay. Got it. By the way, Maxim and I made up before afternoon snack!” he
said peevishly.

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82

Chapter Nine
What You Sow, So You Reap

To truly love, you need to be completely disappointed


in someone, and then be charmed again.
Josef Emets, Hungarian philosopher

“For some reason it’s somehow suspiciously quiet!” Mama said. “Where are Alex
and Alena? Has anyone seen them?”
“Now they’re on the street. I saw Alex recently! He was pouring water from a
syringe into a socket!” Vicky snitched.
Mama, as always, heard everything in her own way. “And where did he put the
needle?”
“What?”
“The needle of the syringe. Someone can step on it!”
“He poured without a needle!”
“Naturally. But where did he put it? Kate, find him and clarify about the needle!”
Kate sighed, got dressed, and dragged herself into the yard to look for Alena and
Alex. Costa tagged along behind Kate; he had the habit of tagging along behind every
member of the family who went somewhere sufficiently confidently.
Costa trudged behind Kate with a sword in his belt and periodically repeated,
“Stupid Kate in a nasty forest ate a stinky sausage!”
This bothered Kate and she squatted down. “You want my precious attention,
right?” Costa was silent. “Good! Here it is, my attention! You’ve got it! What will you do
with it?”
Costa fidgeted in place, trying to grope for some thought that he wanted to
communicate to Kate, or at least whack her with something to clarify that a little person
continuously needed to be someone essential. But, needless to say, he did not grope the
thought, and Kate did not give him a chance to whack her.
“Well?” she said. “Don’t touch your nose with the sword! The nose has nothing to
do with it at all!”
Costa looked at the cracked concrete at the gate and, pointing with his finger,
hurriedly said, “We found a poisonous mushroom here tomorrow. Poisonous, but not
edible. That is, you’ll die, but you won’t get sick. We’ll plant it near our yard. Do you
know why? Because no one entered!”
“I see. We’ll plant. Won’t enter. Come on!” Kate said and dragged Costa by the
sleeve to look for Alex and Alena.
Alex and Alena were discovered by the walnut tree. Alex was on the tree lying on a
thick branch, hanging all his limbs from it, and Alena, her tongue thoroughly sticking
out, was writing something in a small notebook.
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It turned out that she was compiling a list of all the boys she was acquainted with
in order to cross out the extra ones to determine with whom she could fall in love. This
list already comprised of around two pages and included both boys she knew and those
who just flew by on a plane.
Alex butted in with his remarks from up the tree. He also wanted to fall in love, but
he did not understand the parameters. “Can you fall in love with a cat? A robot?” he
elaborated.
Alena looked up from her notebook, “Ha-ha-ha! What nonsense are you talking!
You can’t marry a cat!”
Alex sighed, “Well, then I will marry a robot or Mama.”
Kate approached and, critically crossing her arms on her chest, for a time
expressed her attitude towards what was going on, “So, so, so! Now I’ll give someone
robots! No big deal! March after me! Hup-two!”
“Mother commander!” Alena squeaked. She knew that Kate could not stand being
called that.
“Not funny! Mama is calling you! Alex, down from the tree!”
Alex reluctantly jumped from the tree. He had a scratch on his nose. A boy from a
nearby street had scratched him. Alex had run after him and teased him as being
“toothless.” The “toothless” boy did not have a front tooth, while Alex had two upper and
one lower. However, this did not prevent Alex from teasing and the boy was offended.
Alena slammed shut her notebook so that Kate could not peek at what she had
written there. All the same, the lists were constantly updated. Costa noticed that Alena
was in a hurry and understood that this was an excuse to tease her. In search of approval,
he looked back at Kate and, pointing a finger at Alena, mumbled, “She fell in love, in
love, in love!”
“You sit! You even fell in love with your ‘dinosaurs’!” Alena snapped.
Costa fell silent. He really always carried with him a bag of “dinosaurs”, of which
he had about forty, and remembered all their complex names by heart. He knew that
they would not fit into his right hand and the hope on his left hand was weak, so he
carried the “dinosaurs” in a bag. He even played through the bag. When he slept, he put
the bag under his pillow. Alex and Rita had long dreamed of stealing Costa’s “dinosaurs”.
Occasionally, when some regular physiotherapist came to see Costa, they managed to
steal a couple of pieces from the bag, but Costa knew all the “dinosaurs” without
exception, and if some unfortunate parasaurolophus disappeared, Costa would instantly
discover this and then the whole family would search for it, crawling on all fours on the
floor.
“This one?” Papa asked, emerging from under the bed with the next figure in his
hand.
“No, that is the ankylosaurus! I didn’t know that he was lost too! But I need the
parasaurolophus! Aaah! Why did they take them at all?”
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Costa had almost climbed up onto the porch, when he suddenly saw something
interesting from above. An old, huge, and ghastly bone, lying sideways, was firmly
anchored in the ground by the fence. Only its upper part was visible.
“A dinosaur!” Alena said jokingly.
Costa turned his head towards her, looked attentively at Alena, and then again at
the bone. “A dinosaur,” he repeated quietly.
“No!” Kate screamed hastily. “What are you, cuckoo? It’s a cow’s femur! A cow, you
know!”
“A dinosaur!” Costa repeated, like a person who has already interpreted something
for himself. “We must dig!”
He ran behind the house, dragged out a rusty shovel, and began to stick it into the
ground next to the bone. He pushed with his left hand on top of the right, and moved the
bag of “dinosaurs” to his teeth, so that no one would steal it. The frozen ground yielded
badly. The shovel stuck a little and fell.
Alena became sorry looking at him. “Give it to me!” she ordered. “I’ll help!” Costa
shook his head. The bag of “dinosaurs” got in the way of him talking.
“There’s nothing there!” Alena repeated, trying to take away his shovel. Costa
butted her with his forehead and continued digging.
Then Alena ran and dragged out a crowbar. Alex saw that Costa was wielding a
shovel and Alena hollowing with a crowbar, and he also wanted to participate. He
grabbed Alena’s crowbar, but she was stronger. It was also dangerous to take Costa’s
shovel. He always fought to the end, like a berserker. Then Alex found a rake without a
handle.
Kate stood on the porch and, arms crossed, watched them like a commander.
“You’re stupid!” she said. “Doing senseless work! Look at yourselves and understand
how bitter and blind you are being, squirts!”
No one listened to Kate. She became annoyed. “No!” she continued. “If the three of
you had at least a speck of brain, you’d understand: to dig the ground in winter, you
have to pour boiling water on it! But I’m not going to do that! I’m simply giving you a
direction of thought!”
Again no one listened to Kate. She got angry and, slamming the door, went into the
house. “My eyes won’t look at you! Later I won’t let you in the hallway with dirty feet!”
she warned.
Everyone continued to dig in silence. Alena wielded a crowbar, Costa a shovel, and
Alex, in order that they would not hit his hands, stuck his rake in a little to the side, next
to the prickly acacia.

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85

A few minutes later the door slammed again. It was Kate, lugging a teapot with
boiling water. “Make way, squirts! You’ll get scalded! I’m doing this solely to prove to
you!” she said, pouring the water.
“Water!” Alex shouted happily. He loved to make mud.
After the teapot, things went more briskly. The dry land swallowed the water with a
squelch, releasing air bubbles. The “dinosaur” bone had long been dug out and now
everyone was digging under it, looking for the rest of the skeleton.
“A coin!” Alex suddenly shouted, throwing his stomach on the ground. “An ancient
coin!” It really was a coin. Old and green.
Papa, hearing the shout, ran out and rubbed the coin with his shirt. “Yes," he said.
“An ancient coin of three kopecks. In my childhood, we dropped these into machines for
carbonated water.”
“How did the coin turn up under a dinosaur? You’re not as old as dinosaurs!” Alex
asked suspiciously.
“Well, anything could happen. Geological layers shifted. And it happens,” Papa
answered evasively, surveying the yard. The ground under the walnut tree was dug up.
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Papa stood and thought for a bit. “Well? Since you’ve dug it all up, you can do some
planting!” He suggested.
“In winter? What?” Costa asked, having already pulled the bag of “dinosaurs” out
of his mouth.
“Different things,” Papa said. “Have you heard the proverb ‘What you sow, so you
reap’?”
“That means absolutely everything will sprout?” Alex clarified.
“Well, yes. The land here is fertile. Again, the place is magical, here are coins and
dinosaurs,” Papa Gavrilov said and went to finish the chapter. He had the two heroes
hanging on the roof of a house and had to remove them promptly, because their hands
were already unclenching.
Papa managed to work for at most about twenty minutes. Then someone drummed
on the glass with the fragment of a broom handle. Papa opened the window and saw
Alena, very indignant about something.
“He planted nuts!” Alena shouted.
“Who?”
“Your son Alex! He buried all our nuts and bolts and screws in the ground! And
locked me outside the gate so that I wouldn’t interfere!”
“You could’ve used the intercom!”
“He yanked it out of the socket! Didn’t you hear me banging on the gate with my
fists?”
Papa remembered that he had heard some sounds. In any case, he switched the
computer into “sleep” mode and went out onto the porch. Alex finished burying the last
nut. Rita squatted down right away and sprinkled oatmeal generously with the motion
of a sower. Nearby a thrifty Costa was sowing small things, which he had taken out of
Mama’s pockets. Kate was standing close by and, arms crossed on her chest, skeptically
observing everything happening.
“Do you see what they’re doing? Your children!” she said indignantly. “They are
burying all sorts of nonsense and believe that something will grow!”
“You buried the cap of an expensive pen!” Alex snitched.
“I buried nothing!” Kate protested.
“You did! I saw it,” Alex repeated.
Kate turned away sheepishly. “Think about it,” she muttered. “"One miserable cap
from a broken pen, but how much you did there!”
The gate again began to tremble from blows. Papa opened the gate and let in Alena.
Alena immediately ran to strangle Alex, but Papa caught her and threw her over his
shoulder.
“Here!” Alena yelled. “I told you that they’re doing it!”
“And you planted small dolls! And candy! And two of Costa’s ‘dinosaurs’!” Alex
reminded her.
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Papa lowered Alena to the ground. “Is it true, about the ‘dinosaurs’?” he asked with
interest.
“Well, it’s true! He let me, so that they’d grow big! We took the most broken ones!”
“But why candy?”
“Just because. You never know!”
“Everything’s clear with you,” Papa Gavrilov said. “Someone’s ripe for treasure
hunting! You dug such a pit, at least plant a tree!”
He stood for a while, observing how Alex trampled on the nuts, and then went into
the house and returned with his favorite old keyboard, which had recently been
drenched with tea. Making sure that no one was looking at him, Papa went to a corner
and buried the keyboard in the ground. Papa also had a secret dream. He wanted a
brilliant book to grow out of the keyboard.

“Well, that’s it, kids! Enough messing around! Hup–two! Squirts, after me!” Kate
ordered and, turning, set off into the house. She took a step on the tile and suddenly, not
holding her ground, started to slide.

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“Ah! I’m slipping!” she howled in fright. “I’m gliding! That is, I’m sliding! Aah! I’m
not lying!”
“Kate!” Mama was indignant. “You could at least take off your shoes!”
Kate looked down and realized that her shoes were smeared with wet dirt. But Kate
would not be Kate if she did not extract a useful pedagogical lesson from this. She
turned to Alena, Alex, and Costa and said sternly, “I told you that we’ll all have dirty feet!
Didn’t I warn you? And did you listen to me? No! Now undress, march into the
bathroom, and fix yourselves up!”
Papa went to the back room to his laptop and locked himself there. In order that no
one would enter, he habitually wound the door handle with an extension cord. He
worked, worked, worked, and his head swelled, swelled, swelled. He dreamed that,
perhaps, on the street, where he had buried the keyboard, slowly but surely, a brilliant
novel was sprouting.

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89

Chapter Ten
The Endless Movie

“Alex, brush your teeth!”


“Is that all?”
Alex

There were a lot of computers in the Gavrilovs’ home, mostly old laptops, which
relatives and friends had given them, but only the big computer was connected to the
Internet. So Papa tried to regulate Internet dependence. After all, it is not very easy to
become addicted when you have a whole nervous queue bouncing behind your
shoulders, needing to talk to someone via Skype or write a very important letter.
Alex suffered from the greatest dependence on games. He always sat in ambush
under a chair and waited for when it would be possible to break through to the big
computer and type games for boys in the search engine.
Once again, fighting for the Internet, Papa Gavrilov came up with a bonus system:
“Five plates washed five minutes on the Net.” The system was good, but soon Papa
discovered that dishes were being washed at all times. Almost two hundred plates a day.
Then Papa figured out the reason when he saw that Alex and Costa put a piece of bread
on a clean plate, then removed the bread and rushed to wash the plates.
“Not like that!” Papa said.
Alex nodded in a businesslike manner. “I understand. I told him there wasn’t much
dirt. How much dirt is necessary?”
Papa looked suspiciously at Costa, who livened up at the word “dirt” and began to
glance at the front door. In Papa’s imagination appeared piles of dirt from the nearby
puddle turning up on plates. “Alex, curb your talents! Now you’ll only wash those plates
that I personally give you! The rest don’t count!” he said. He thought that Alex would
argue, but Alex did not and in general was somehow unusually listless.
The next day, thinking about how to finish his book, Papa tidied up on the
“desktop” of the laptop. This was the only place in the house where Papa did not tolerate
clutter. Alex sat next to Papa and, his cheek lying on the table, did his homework. Papa
looked askance at him but said nothing. Alex himself should understand that it is
uncomfortable to write in this position. Then Papa discovered that Alex was doing
homework with his eyes closed. The lines were floating, crashing down like a waterfall.
“Lift your head!” Papa said.
“It doesn’t lift!”
“Why?”
“The same reason they didn’t let me play yesterday!” Alex said.
Papa touched his forehead. Alex’s forehead was hot. And his cheek was burning hot,
even hotter than his forehead. “Are you sick?” Papa asked.
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“They sneezed on me!” Alex said, shifting the key point.


“Where did they sneeze?”
“At school.”
“Believe him!” Alena shouted from the kitchen. “Yesterday I came from class and
saw how they were running like crazy without jackets! He and two more from his class!
In the cold, by the way! Uh-huh uh-huh!”
Cautiously giving a sidelong glance at the grandmothers running around, Papa put
Alex to bed and called the pediatrician, Vasily Vasilich, whom the Gavrilovs simply
called Vasya Vasilich.
“I’ll come in an hour!” the cheerful voice could be heard in the receiver. “Today is
my day off. I am shampooing my beard for this occasion!”
Vasya Vasilich came not in an hour, but in one and a half. And his beard also came.
It was huge, red, and long. It lay on his chest exactly like a cat clinging to his chin. But
Vasya Vasilich had no hair on his head. All the energy of the organism went into the
beard.
“What’s the complaint?” Vasya Vasilich asked.
Grandmother Masha and Great-Grandmother Zina stood in the doorway and
spoke in unison. Vasya Vasilich listened to them for a minute and said, “I understand
that you’re complaining about everything. Can I see the patient himself?”
Alex hid under the blanket and was afraid that he would be given a needle. In
search of Alex’s head, Vasya Vasilich lifted the blanket first from one edge, then from the
other. “It’s a whole person! And he’s trembling like a bunny! Can you tremble even
more?” he asked. Alex tried to tremble even more, began to shake the bed and,
distracted, forgot that he was afraid.

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Vasya Vasilich put a thermometer in Alex, and then he listened with a stethoscope
for a long time and forced Alex to cough. Finally he sighed and said, “Deep breath!”
Vasya Vasilich attached special significance to the clarity of the lungs.
“Well! Flu, obviously!” he continued. “I’ll prescribe some medicine, but go easy on
it. Otherwise, you will have to treat for the treatment itself. Drink more liquid, sweat it
out. Well, keep an eye on the cough, so that it doesn’t get into the lungs.”
Saying all this, Vasya Vasilich wrote the prescription at the speed of a train. Peter
approached and began to look over his shoulder at him. “Why do doctors write so
incomprehensibly? In order not to be responsible if someone dies?” he asked.

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“No. There are other tricks for that. For example, send them to specialists for
consultation!” Vasya Vasilich replied instantly. He winked at Alex, who ventured once
more to pop out from under the blanket, and left, promising to drop in one of these days.
Alex continued to suffer, clarifying every five minutes whether he would go to
school the next day. After finding out that he would not go, he calmed down and fell
asleep. By the evening, his temperature soared. Papa made him compresses.
“Don’t you think it! I have very great patience!” Alex said when a wet rag
descended onto his forehead.
Alex’s temperature dropped by midnight. He slept well, and in the morning he
woke up quite chipper. All morning he traipsed around the house and whined that he
had nothing to do and was “bo-or-ored.” Papa set him down to read, but Alex declared
that he was ill and ran for the thermometer as evidence.

“I’m eighty-three degrees!” he was indignant.


“Thirty-eight, perhaps?”
“Well, yes! I feel very bad!”
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93

“Well, so lie down!”


“No! When people feel very bad, they can only run so that the wind blows on them
and they cool down!”
At two o’clock Vicky came in and put on the computer a film about a girl who went
from the city to a farm and started working in the stable. The film was interesting.
Needless to say, it contained first love, a thoroughbred mare with a complex character,
allowing only this girl to approach it, and important jumps with a huge prize, which it
was necessary to win, otherwise the owner would lose the farm.
Vicky watched the movie for forty minutes, glanced at her watch, grabbed her head
and rushed off to art school, exclaiming “I’m late, late, late!” Alena came in, saw part of
the film, became interested and put it back to the beginning. Alex, who had watched the
film with Vicky, watched it again with Alena.
When there were ten minutes left before the end of the film, Alena became bored
and left, because it was already clear to her how it would all end. In order that Alex
would not hang around in front of the monitor, Alena put the computer on “sleep” mode,
from which Alex could not bring it out because he did not know the password. Alex
again became bored and began to whine, but then, lucky for him, Peter and Kate came in
and again started the same film from the beginning. A third of the way into the film,
Peter said that the film was dull and left, but Kate stayed and finished watching. Alex,
naturally, watched the movie with her. When the film ended, Vicky returned from art
school and, remembering that she had not watched the second half of the film, put on
the second half again.
Alex, already quite drowsy, lowered his head into his hands. Here Papa could no
longer stand it and drove him off to bed.
“Ah! I can’t! I haven’t watched any-thing today!” groaned Alex.
“Yea, ‘haven’t watched’! The movie about horses?”
“I was bo-o-ored! I wanted to watch something entirely diff-er-ent,” Alex whined.
“When I’m an adult, I’ll buy my own Internet and play for days.”
“Maybe, or maybe not,” Papa said. “When I was little, I dreamed that I’d grow up,
get my first paycheck, and buy myself a green automatic with a small battery and a light
bulb. I’d lie on the bed and shoot.”
“And did you?” Alex asked.
“No,” Papa said. “When I grew up, I realized that I didn’t really want an automatic
with a light bulb. So, I discovered that my dream had changed, and it was sad.”
“Will you buy me such an automatic?”
“It was called Spark.27 I think it’s already out of production. But if by some miracle
I see it, I’ll buy it.”
“Good night!” Alex said already quite sleepily and closed his eyes.
“Good night!” Papa responded.
27 Spark – Ogonek – is a toy submachine gun.
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94

A few days later, Alex was already almost healthy and, most pleasantly, managed
not to give anybody his cold. And then it happened that the children started to get sick
in a circle, and it lasted for weeks. On Monday morning they dropped into the clinic to
see Vasya Vasilich and sent Alex to school.
When Alex was putting on his shoes the next morning, Peter was standing by the
calendar and crossing out the next passing day with a felt-tip pen. “Twenty-third!” Peter
said. “We leave for the treasure in eight days!”

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95

Chapter Eleven
Pirate

“I have great misery! They seated everyone in English


girl-boy, girl-boy. Only they put me near Viola.”
“Why?”
“Well, it’s just that Viola and I chat with the boys. And
the rest don’t.”
“Don’t you talk to Viola?”
“How can I? She’s such a cuckoo, she only talks to the
boys!”
Alena

Alena was at school and doing math independently, when her classmate Sovenko
received a message from an unknown number. The message was this: Ha-ha! I’m
already here! I’ll kill you!
Sovenko barely had time to read the message when the next one had already come:
Answer, ha-ha-ha! Why are you silent?
Sovenko was frightened and showed the messages to the teacher. The teacher
thought and told Sovenko to call his parents. His parents did not answer. Then Sovenko
and the teacher called his grandmother. Sovenko’s grandmother was paranoid. She
phoned the police right from work and rushed to the school for her grandson.
Meanwhile, the teacher informed the vice principal, who almost fainted, but she
told the director anyway. The director called the district education administration just in
case.
Classes were disrupted. The teacher, the vice principal, and the director were
running along the hallway and, apparently, did not quite know how to save themselves
and where to put the children. Then they instructed the children to be picked up by their
parents, but nothing came of this, because most of the parents were at work and could
not take time off.
Sovenko and his grandmother sat in the classroom and trembled. Alena and her
three friends Sonya, Karina, and Masha went around the school four times and everyone
searched for the maniac, but they did not find him. They started shouting into the
window to Sovenko that there was no maniac, come on out, but Sovenko was still afraid,
and so was his grandmother.
Then Sonya’s father came by car and picked up Sonya, Karina, and Masha. Alena
did not go with them, because she met Vicky and Kate, who were returning after school.
Together they went home. A large young mutt was wandering around the school yard
and tucking in his front paw. The paw was evidently not broken, because occasionally
the dog stepped on it nevertheless.
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96

“Oh, what a poor little dog! Its leg hurts!” Vicky groaned.
“Then take it to your room!” Kate muttered.
“I can’t... Ah! But it’s so miserable!”
“It you’re not going to take it, then don’t whine! And you, go away! Don’t soil us
with slobber!” Kate pretended that she wanted to throw a clump of dirt at the dog, but
then she became nicer and threw it a piece of bread. The dog took the bread in its teeth,
held it for a while out of politeness, and dropped it. It was obviously not hungry.
“Well, let’s look at its paw! Lift your leg! I’ll growl at you!” Kate said sternly.
Alena, Vicky, and Kate examined the paw and found a small thorn in the pad. Such
thorns were called “horns.” The whole city suffered from them, especially cyclists.28 One
only had to ride several metres through grass, and it could easily start to glue to the
inner tube. Kate pulled out the thorn and wanted to send the dog back home, but Vicky
declared that the wound should be smeared with iodine. They threw a lace with Vicky’s
keys around the dog’s neck and led it by the lace to Vine Street.
“You’ll be Pirate!” Kate informed the dog. “Remember your name? Pirate!”
“Why Pirate?” Alena was surprised.
“Why not Pirate? Give me seven reasons why it shouldn’t be Pirate,” Kate asked.
Alena could not give so many reasons, and the young dog became Pirate.
Pirate walked willingly, continually turning its face and inquiringly sticking its
tongue out, but near the “figure eight” street, Lad, Tot, and Stool jumped out from
somewhere and, running at the stranger, raised such a barking that they nearly deafened
themselves.
“Ruff!” Lad wheezed in a terrible hoarse bass.
“Yap-yap!” Tot rapid fired.
“Ar-ar-arf!” Stool was hysterical.
The young dog, baring its teeth, was about to go at Lad with its chest, but the
cunning Stool crept up from beneath Lad’s paws and seized Pirate’s nose with its sharp
teeth. Pirate was frightened, pressed down its ears and, bolting, ran off with Vicky’s keys
around its neck.
“Ah! My keys!” Vicky shouted and rushed after him. Alena ran after Vicky.
Seeing that Vicky and Alena were chasing the dog, Lad, Tot, and Stool also decided
to take part in the raid. Growling and barking, they rushed after Pirate, which, though
even limping, ran faster than poor Vicky.
“Ruff! Yap-yap! Ar-ar-arf!”
Both Vicky and Alena realized that they did not have enough time, as all four dogs
disappeared into the bushes. Breathless after the run, they returned to Kate.
“Well, where are your keys?” Kate asked. Vicky wistfully looked back in uncertainty.
“Of course! We’ll go look!”
28 The weed Tribulus terrestris has many common names. Its fruit has burs with hard spines called
“horns” that are sharp enough to puncture bicycle tires.
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97

And they went in search of Pirate. They searched and searched, but failed to find it,
but then they met Alena’s classmate – a girl with fat cheeks and a small braid. The girl’s
name was just as round and edible – Ponchikova.29 Alena and Ponchikova ran to the
side and began to sort out something of their own.
“You and Rykova will no longer be friends? Never ever? Say ‘okay’!” Alena coerced
her.
“Okay!” Ponchikova agreed submissively. She had two packs of sandwiches with
her. Sausage separately, cheese separately. Strict system.
Ponchikova had hardly said “okay” when a third girl popped out from somewhere
– a small and angry girl with red ears. She grabbed Ponchikova’s arm and, not saying a
word, dragged her along.
Alena caught up with Ponchikova and caught her by the other arm. “You promised
me not to be friends with Rykova!” she reminded Ponchikova.
“And you promised me not to be friends with Gavrilova!” the little angry girl yelled.
“Come on, Ponchikova, who are you friends with?”
The fat Ponchikova, torn apart, puffed softly. Besides, while they were holding her
hands, she could not chew and, working with idle jaws, she risked starving to death.

29 The Russian word ponchik means doughnut.


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98

“You leave them!” Vicky ordered Alena. “Ponchikova, did you see a dog? It has
taken our keys!”
“Yes, I saw it!” Ponchikova and Rykova yelled together.
“Pirate?”
“Pirate!”
Kate narrowed her eyes in disbelief. “Not true! You don’t know what this Pirate is!
We only named it ten minutes ago. Well, what is it: a little black or a big white?”
“I know! I know! A big white!” Rykova shouted.
“You guessed,” Kate reluctantly admitted. “What kind of ears does it have?”
“Such! Such ears!”
“You can’t know anything! You’re simply mistaken. Okay, we’re off,” Kate muttered.
“Vicky, let’s go!” And they took off.
Rykova ran after them and shouted, “I know! Ask Ponchikova! Ponchikova, we saw
Pirate? Yes?”
“Yes!” Ponchikova said.
“Say ‘no’, or I won’t be friends with you!” Alena threatened.

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99

Again faced with the need to choose, round-faced Ponchikova made an indistinct
sound, broke free, and, swinging the bags with sandwiches, ran to the school. Rykova
rushed behind Ponchikova. Alena also wanted to run after them, but she remembered
not to argue with Kate and hurried after her sisters.
They searched for Pirate for another half hour, but found only Lad, Tot, and Stool.
All three looked satisfied, sitting and licking themselves, and Tot was also scratching
with his hind paw.
“Maybe they ate it?” Vicky suggested.
“Aha. And ate your keys,” Kate said and, stating that she was frozen, set off for
home.
Alena went with her. On the way they met Sovenko and his grandmother. The
grandmother looked victorious. Sovenko, on the contrary, had a rueful look. In front of
them, some papa, white with anger, was dragging a teenager by his ear; apparently, he
was the mysterious maniac.
“What’ll happen to him now?” Alena asked.
“I think I know what’ll happen to him. And then I know what’ll happen to Sovenko,
because this guy is from the sixth grade!” Kate said.
At the entrance to Vine Street she noticed a familiar yellow lace in the grass.
“Oh, look! Our keys!” she shouted. “They slipped off Pirate and were lying around
here all the time!”
“Just think, we searched for a bit!” Vicky said and jumped like a horse the rest of
the way home, switching from a trot to a gallop. This meant that Vicky was in a good
mood.

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100

Chapter Twelve
December 31st

“Vicky! No need to search for meaning everywhere!


What, are you becoming a mama?”
Kate

On the last day of the year a mysterious something stirred on the balcony. It reared
up and began to sigh and knock on the glass, demanding that they let him in. It was
Peter, preparing for the trip, having woken up in his sleeping bag. He forbade the
balcony door to be closed, but it was closed anyway, because no one wanted to freeze. In
the cocoon of his sleeping bag, Peter hopped directly into the bathroom, and thundering
sounds, snorts, and the splashing of water immediately began to be heard from there. It
seemed that it was not a teenager but a huge formidable ensign named Perebiinos who
had locked himself in the bathroom.
Peter appeared from the bathroom already with his sleeping bag on his shoulder
and, wandering around the house, began waking everyone up. In the big room, light
bulbs on pine branches flickered and toys cut out of paper swayed from a distant draft.
“Munchkins, everyone get up and put pants on!” Peter repeated under his breath.
Peter went to wake Vicky first. Vicky had spent the night in Peter’s temporarily
vacated room. Three latches, which Peter had screwed to his door, responded to Peter’s
knock. Now all three of these latches played against him.
“Get up!” Peter shouted through the door.
“And the others are already up? When everyone gets up, tell me!” Vicky responded.
Her voice was clear, cheerful, and Peter understood that she was going to sleep another
half an hour. The more honest the voice, the more trickery there is. When Vicky was
really going to get up, she always spoke in a sluggish voice, tossed and turned, sighed,
and made the bed creak.
Peter involuntarily felt himself in the role of Papa, who always had to wake
everyone up. He again knocked on the door and went to get Alena up. Alena jumped up
at once – popped up exactly like a bobber on the upper level of the bed. And she
immediately lay down. And immediately jumped up again. Peter waited until her legs
hung on the ladder, because, until the legs were hanging down, there was no guarantee
of a sustainable result.
The wardrobe on which Kate slept was so high that Peter was not able to touch her,
even by jumping. And Kate, of course, had dragged the rope ladder to herself. “Don’t
wake me! I’ll get up myself with the alarm!” Kate shouted from above. Not even opening
her eyes, she managed to control everything happening in the room.
“It’s now six-thirty!” Peter said.
“No! Six twenty-eight!” Kate corrected.
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101

Alex and Costa were lying side by side in one bed. Costa had had a small accident
during the night and had moved over to Alex. Apparently, in a dream he and the blanket
were fighting each other for a long time, because the blanket had completely climbed out
of the duvet cover. Now the blanket was lying on the floor, Costa was wrapped in the
duvet cover, and Alex was covered with a pillow.

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102

Finally the latches clicked. Vicky got up and immediately began to feed her
Japanese mice. She always did it very responsibly: she grated them a carrot and dripped
liquid vitamins. Peter bent over and deftly caught a mouse by the tail, a white one with
black patches running along the bed cover. Japanese mice were fragile and could only be
caught safely by the tails.
After catching the mouse, Peter returned it to Vicky like a trophy. “This isn’t the
one that ran away yesterday?”
Vicky cried out emotionally, but then took the mouse in a businesslike manner and
examined it from all sides. “No! Pompeii fled, but this is Aphrodite! Most likely set off
looking for Pompeii!”
“How do you tell them apart?”
“By the patches! And then look at the muzzle! Pompeii is romantic, smart, but
Aphrodite is just a market vendor!” Vicky explained, returning the mouse to the cage.
“Ha! In time an excellent mother-in-law will come out of you! You have priorities
properly arranged!” Peter declared.
Vicky muttered something, using tweezers to leave feed for the mice. Vicky’s super-
caring attitude to the mice always greatly amused Kate, who usually fed her rats like this:
she put on top of the cage a half-eaten cutlet or puree from a plate and pushed
everything through the bars with a finger. The rats jumped from below, seizing food on
the fly with their teeth. They had to manage before their spouse-ruler Schwartz, who in a
leap tossed its wives with the movements of a professional basketball player and allowed
them to approach the food only when he had no more room.
“What are you doing?! You give the rats fatty cutlets and puree with gravy! Such a
load on the liver!” Vicky shouted in horror.
“Yeah! They’ll die! Look at my rats and your skinny mice!” Kate retorted.
Indeed, by the efforts of the tyrant Schwartz, keeping its wives in fear and dread,
things were not bad in the rat cage. The wives did not fight among themselves and
peacefully brought up their children. Recently, under the patronage of the “mouse girl”
Liuba, Kate sold thirty-five month-old rats to the pet store, which the fat owner lazily
counted, shaking them one by one out of the jar. Then, just as reluctantly, he gave Kate a
handful of small change.
“I know that it’s not much, but I need to feed them now!” he said with the
responsible face of a person who prepares for the rats a seven-course meal and serves it
on silver plates.
Kate worried that they would give some of her rats to the snakes, but Liuba
whispered to her in advance that the rats had already grown so big that a snake could
choke, and since no one in the city could treat snakes, there was no need to worry.
Peter did not wake up Mama and Papa, but, using a forbidden technique, rascally
woke Rita. Rita always woke up instantly and started jumping on the bed, demanding
that Mama and Papa immediately get up and engaged themselves in her upbringing.
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103

Mama tried to lull Rita back to sleep, cunningly dragging her by the heel under the
blanket, but the woken Rita was not going to sleep anymore. She needed to live and
function. Knowing that Mama and Papa would not sleep now and would get up in about
ten minutes, Peter busied himself with Costa and Alex. Alex was sitting on the floor and,
making wailing sounds, waving a T-shirt over his head. He had already been able to
dress himself for a long time, but if he saw that everyone was in a hurry, he deliberately
slowed down so they would help him. Costa whined and fell out of the tights.
“Let me! They need to be like an accordion! And in fact these are Rita’s tights!”
Alena said and generously began to help.
“And what if they’re Rita’s? Kind of the same!” Papa was puzzled.
“They’ll fit perfectly. Only if Rita sees them on him, she’ll start screaming. Well,
give me a leg here! Relax it! So big already! Give me the second leg! Stretch your leg,
why is it relaxed?” Alena ordered.

She rendered real help, but grumbled constantly at the same time, rewarding
herself for the good deed. The home was gradually filled with sounds. Vicky, Kate, and
Mama, from whose shoulder Rita hung like a scarf, came down.
“Mine! My tight!” Rita screamed, managing to spot them on Costa, even hanging
with her head upside down.
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104

“Yours are with what? With a cherry?” the cunning Alena asked.
“Yes.”
“So they are on you! Only invisible!” Alena said even more quickly and, while Rita,
dangling on a shoulder, tried to see her own legs somehow, hastily put warm pants on
Costa.
Then everyone began to have breakfast, and Pokrovskii, stern and serious, like a
polar explorer before a single Arctic cast, appeared closer to eight o’clock. On
Pokrovskii’s back was a huge backpack. In his hands he held the metal detector,
wrapped in plastic bags over wrapping paper. Apparently, Pokrovskii was going to save
it from dampness this way.
“So, ready?” he asked.
“Yes!” Papa answered and opened the trunk of the minivan, so that Pokrovskii
could offload his things there.
It was chilly on Vine Street. A dense white fog filled the tunnel of shrubs, so that it
seemed like a slow river was flowing nearby. From the river of mist, a seagull, clapping
its wings heavily, rose up and efficiently flew off somewhere.

“It gutted our garbage again!” Kate shouted, peering out of the house with Papa.
Somewhere in the fog, Lad, Tot, and Stool coughed with a bark. Kate called them,
and they ran up, emerging from nowhere. The dogs started jumping on Kate, but she
shouted “Don’t put your paws on me! They’re filthy!” and rejected their snouts.

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105

The backpacks were placed in the trunk of the minivan such that Papa lost sight of
the rear window and could only use the side mirrors. The rats, a turtle, pigeons, guinea
pigs, cats, and a puppy were left to the grandmas.
Grandma Masha looked at the animals gloomily, and Kate and Papa feared that the
cages would again be somewhere in the attic, and all the animals would be put outside
again. However, the cats and the puppy were not used to that. A good kennel was built
for them on the street, even having a curtain of cut linoleum, which did not let out any
heat.
A few minutes before departure, an iron sheet rattled on the other side of the fence
and Andrew, Seraphim, and Nina climbed over. They not only climbed over, but also
managed to pass backpacks over the fence.
“What, they also know?” Pokrovskii asked sternly.
“About the treasure? No, we don’t know anything!” Seraphim naively replied, and
Nina angrily poked him with a foot.
Pokrovskii moaned softly, but before he began to be indignant, a white hen, to
which a milk bag was attached with tape, flew over the fence towards Papa. Seeing
strangers, the chicken began to rush about.
“What’s this? Why?” Pokrovskii was puzzled.
“So that it’s allowed into the house! You tape a bag on it, and it runs around
pecking cockroaches. Our papa came up with it!” Nina said with pride and yelled. “Oh,
catch it, catch it! It’ll fly away!
“Hens don’t fly,” Peter said.
“Our chicken’s worse! It jumps! If it needs to fly over an obstacle, it pretends to
surrender, then jumps on a person’s head and from there it’s already over the fence!”
Andrew said matter-of-factly.
Confirming his words, the chicken with the bag flew onto Peter, brushed its wings
against his face, pushed off from his shoulder, and instantly turned up beyond the gate.
From the other side they immediately heard the barking of Lad, Tot, and Stool.
“The dogs will rip it apart!” Peter was frightened.
“They won’t manage. There’s a gap to ours... And in fact, you can say, chickens are
dinosaurs. Our planet is saved from the rule of chickens only because they’re not large,”
Andrew said seriously and began to figure out where to put his backpack.
Papa Gavrilov looked at Kate in astonishment. Until that moment, he had no idea
that the Mokhovs were traveling with them. Kate looked down demurely. “Surprise!” she
said. “They have a tent, by the way! And their parents let them go.”
“And when did you tell them?”
“Only yesterday!”

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106

The Mokhovs packed in just one evening and very amusingly. They took a lot of
sandwiches, jam in glass jars, honey, and squash caviar.30 Needless to say, all this did
not fit in the backpacks, and they even took with them large garbage bags with strings,
in which the glass jars knocked with every careless movement.
“We wanted it to also be a survival trip at the same time!” Peter reminded them.
“And who prevents surviving with jam?” Nina retorted, and Peter could not think
of anything to reply to her. Indeed, who prevents surviving with jam?
Peter himself prepared for the trip very seriously. He made himself a powerful bow.
Because of the curvature of the improvised arrows, the bow was not too accurate, but if
the arrow hit the target, it would pierce even a plastic motor-oil canister full of water for
weight.
It took them a long time to load the minivan. In the back row sat Mama with Rita
on her lap, Costa, and all the Mokhovs. The remaining Gavrilovs sat in the middle row.

30This is one of the vegetable “caviars” made with onion and carrots as well as squash diced and cooked
down with spices and usually served cold.
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107

Pokrovskii sat in front, holding the metal detector between his knees. Wrapped in
packaging, the metal detector almost stuck to the roof and resembled a bazooka.
Papa Gavrilov walked around the minivan, examined it, pumped up the sagging
tyres, and muttered, “Nine plus three plus one. This isn’t a minivan, simply some fifth
dimension!”
“Right!” Peter responded. “If you don’t breathe, it’s quite spacious here. You can
still shove in a couple of flies or maybe even a lizard.”
Papa Gavrilov occupied the driver’s seat. “Everyone settled? Didn’t forget anyone?
Anyone not here – shout!” he ordered.
“I’m not!” Peter shouted.
Papa Gavrilov started the vehicle and they slowly sailed through the shrubs. Lad,
Tot, and Stool ran alongside and pretended that they were going to bite the tyres. They
were not visible; only occasionally a dog’s face baring its teeth appeared out of the fog.
“And this is December!” Papa said. “No snow at all, only fog!”
“Turn on the headlights!” Mama replied.
“I turned them on long ago. They say that in Scotland, two drivers bumped their
foreheads when they leaned out of their cars in the fog.”
The minivan sailed slowly along the milky river, then completely plunged into it,
then, when the road was on the rise, came up to the surface. The traffic lights were
barely visible. Drivers gave long beeps, like motor ships, at intersections.
Pokrovskii held a Smartphone on one knee and a tattered paper map on the other,
and, verifying them with each other, tracked the route, although it was also not possible
to verify it. Most of the way they still had to go on the highway anyway. Papa floated out
of the city, and the current carried him along a foggy river past a dwarf forest.

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108

Chapter Thirteen
The Moon, Bolted to the Cosmos

When you think about some people, that they are


thinking about such and such, people really do not think
what you think they think. In fact, they are thinking a third
thing.
Kate

Gradually the fog dissipated. Up to Simferopol, the highway went through the
steppe, and then gradually the mountains began. The road rose and looped. At some
point, after listening to Pokrovskii, Papa Gavrilov moved off the highway, and further on
they were already moving from village to village, past fields with concrete pillars
supporting grapevines. Gradually, the road, gaining altitude until then, began to
withdraw noticeably into a valley. But the mountains for some reason did not disappear
even in the valley, but climbed out from under the ground where possible. Where there
was no way for a mountain to get out, a crumbling rock formation, crowned with a goat
or even two, inevitably stuck out.

They went slowly. Every half an hour one of the children was carsick or something
broke loose from the top of the roof rack. While they searched for and tied up the fallen
cargo, the children managed to escape from the minivan into the forest, and then they
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were called to come and were recounted for half an hour. Nina and Andrew held
Seraphim by the hand, not letting go, so that he would not be lost.
When the minivan was no longer standing but moving, Papa Gavrilov heard
behind his back continuous chewing and the tinkling of spoons against jars. This was his
seven children and the three Mokhovs, not waiting for the beginning of the excursion,
already starting to empty their backpacks and reinforce themselves.

“The more we eat now, the less we’ll have to carry!” Vicky reasoned.
“Aha. But the more you eat, the less space I’ll have on the seat!” muttered Alena,
whom Vicky literally pressed into the glass.
Trying to push Vicky aside, Alena clumsily stuck out a hand armed with food and
splashed yoghurt behind Pokrovskii’s collar. He jumped, almost pressing his head to the
ceiling of the minivan. Apologizing, Mama hurriedly handed him a napkin.
“Crap!” he grumbled, wiping his neck. “I’ve never had a more ridiculous treasure
hunt in my life!”
“How many is this?” Papa asked.
“Actually, the first one,” Pokrovskii admitted sheepishly, and suddenly yelled,
“Whoa! Turn!”
Papa braked, then turned. The minivan started to bang at the seams. The road
leading to the right was paved with concrete slabs. In about a hundred metres the slabs
came to an end and a wet country road began.
“Will we go through?” Papa was doubtful.
“Looks like someone went before us! Wheel tracks are visible there!” Pokrovskii
said.
“So, maybe in a jeep? We don’t have an ATV.”
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Nevertheless, Papa turned onto the country road, and the minivan hobbled in the
two treads. On the right and left, the ground was rather spongy, and Papa did not like it.
He tried not to turn the steering wheel to stay within the treads.
Something creamy-grey appeared approximately a kilometre in front of the
minivan. Then something else creamy-grey and very, very many creamy-grey things. At
first, Papa decided that this was a new kind of fog, but this kind of fog made bleating
sounds and advanced on them like a cloud.
“Sheep!” Papa said quietly and stepped on the brake, because there was nowhere to
go.

A minute later they were surrounded tightly by a huge flock of sheep. The sheep
were moving towards the road and pressing so on the minivan that they wiped it with
their sides. On the roadside an uncultured-looking old man in a raincoat and rubber
boots was standing and looking with profound perplexity at the minivan.
“Lambs!” Vicky was touched.
“Shish kebab!” Peter said.
“They're smudging our car! They’re dirty!” Alena was alarmed.
“It’s us smudging them! We’re also not particularly clean!” Papa calmed her.
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The road began to gradually veer off in the valley, and they again found themselves
in the realm of fog. If earlier the fog reached the wipers, now it covered the entire car
almost to the top of the windshield. Where Papa looked, lifting up his head, there
remained only a strip of about five centimetres.
Papa Gavrilov reluctantly continued to go forward, because he realized that it was
no longer possible for him to climb up the hill in reverse anyway. “Still far for us to go?”
he asked Pokrovskii plaintively.
Pokrovskii looked with one eye into the Smartphone and the other on the map and
informed him that there were still 12 kilometres.
“Along this road here?” Papa asked.
“Everything’s quite complicated with the roads. They exist in some places, but in
some places I don’t understand what the map means,” Pokrovskii replied evasively.
At that moment, something squished under the minivan, and it slowly started to
expand on the spot. Realizing that one of the wheels had stalled, Papa tried to step
harder on the gas, but it did not help. Opening the door, he saw that the rear wheel was
bogged down almost to the rim in the soft earth.
Papa stopped the vehicle and jumped out. “The train isn’t going any farther! I
request that you vacate!” he said.
“We’ll push! So many of us here! Rita alone is worth something! And the Mokhovs?
That’s solid muscle! If they stop putting half-eaten sandwiches with jam under me,
they’ll even be invaluable!” Pokrovskii said cheerfully.
Peter broke out with his signature laugh, from which the clouds shook. Fleeing
from his laughter, everyone hurriedly left the minivan and stood next to Papa.
Pokrovskii noisily gave orders as to who should grab what, and for some reason
pinned the greatest hopes on Alex, who pushed a stick into the exhaust pipe. “By the way,
it’s a lever! It’s even possible to turn the earth with a lever, if you bolt the moon to the
cosmos and make it a support,” he explained authoritatively to everyone.
Alas, however, the lever did not help. No matter how much they rocked the
minivan and lifted it with a jack, they failed to move it. The wheel just threw out
fountains of dirt and immediately got stuck again. Papa was worried the whole time,
because Rita, Costa, and Alex were everywhere at once. They ran in front of the minivan,
climbed under the wheels and even on the roof, trying to push the minivan directly from
all sides.
Finally, red and angry, Papa turned off the engine and said, “I’ll go look for a
tractor!”
“Where will you find one?” Mama asked.
“I don’t know! First, I have to find out where a populated place is!” Papa said,
listening. It seemed to him that somewhere in front of him in the milky fog a bell was
sounding weakly.

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Papa wanted to go there, but at that moment a motor started to rumble and an
UAZ31 drove out to meet them – a van with the body of a truck. This vehicle was so
rumpled, as if a giant had swallowed it, and then, after breaking a tooth on it, spat it out.
Papa Gavrilov waved his hands just in case, fearing that in the fog the UAZ would
smash into the minivan. However, it did not crash into anything. It stopped. The driver’s
door swung open, and a lean and lithe man of about fifty hopped down.
He stood on the road and looked with interest at Mama, Papa, the ten children
(including the Mokhovs), and Pokrovskii, holding a metal detector on his shoulder.
“Denis Ivanych. Head of the Church of Tsarevich Dmitrii!” 32 The man introduced
himself and pointed into the fog, where a cracked bell continued to ring.
“And here we’re stuck!” Papa said, although it was so clear.
Denis Ivanych walked around the minivan, looked at the rear wheel, pushed it with
a rubber boot, and snorted. “It’s digging in?” he asked.
“It’s digging in,” Papa replied.
“Clearly. Where are you going?”
Papa was embarrassed, not knowing what to answer, but Pokrovskii bailed him out.
“Here!” he said cheerfully, pointing at the map with his finger.
“You won’t drive there,” Denis Ivanych said. “In summer it’s still possible somehow,
but not at all in winter.”
“For sure?” Pokrovskii asked.
“Never been more sure... There are streams everywhere, it’s all squishy.”
“But is it possible to get across the streams somehow?” Pokrovskii asked.
“Not unless on foot... Well, never mind. I’ll drive you to the church, you’ll leave the
car there. No one will touch it, we have good people! And then I can throw in about
another five kilometres. It’s all the same to me driving in any direction. There we have
Constantinople under siege.”
“Constantinople?” Papa Gavrilov asked, wonderstruck, but Denis Ivanovich had
already climbed into his UAZ for rope.
An hour later, the minivan, covered with a crust of dirt, was already standing on
the paved courtyard of a small church. Papa Gavrilov looked at the wheels with concern.
Each was like a huge lump. It seemed that the wheels did not spin at all, and the
minivan slid on the mud like a sled.
Near the church was the village shop. The children spilled out of the minivan and,
like wild ones, rushed to it. Even Seraphim and Andrew succumbed to the general

31 The UAZ-452 is an off-road van produced by Ulyanovsk Automobile Plant. It is similar in appearance to
a loaf of bread, therefore nicknamed a loaf.
32 Tsarevich Dmitrii (1582 – 91), also known as Dmitrii of Uglich, was the youngest son of Ivan IV, Ivan

the Terrible (1530 – 84), the next-to-last ruler of the Rurik Dynasty. Dmitrii died in Uglich under
mysterious circumstances. He was canonized and was listed as a saint of the Russian Orthodox Church in
1606. Since the 17th century, he has become one of the most revered Russian saints.
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purchasing mood. It was possible to think that they had arrived not from the city but
from a very remote forest and this was the first store that they had seen in their lives.
“Buy!” Alena yelled.
“Buy-y-y-y!” Alex jumped up, the shout eventually falling into a mosquito squeak.
Rita did not risk popping into the store without Mama. Digging in her heels, she
dragged Mama by the hand and repeated, “Buy, buy! Want, want!”
“Well, what should I buy you?” Mama asked.
Rita was confused. She had no idea what she wanted, but quickly got out of the
situation. “I want something yellow there!” she blurted out.
Peter came out of the store impressed and declared that he had not seen such a
store even during the kayak trip. It sold everything – from bread and sprats to stationery,
medicine, and shovels. “Only for some reason there’s no milk!”
“Why would there be milk here? There it is, your milk!” Mama said and dragged
Peter by the sleeve off the road, where a red cow, displaying horns, with a bell on its
neck, was advancing on him. By all accounts, the cow had a difficult nature, because
both her horns donned homemade caps made of plastic bottles.

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Denis Ivanovich, together with Papa, examined the minivan and grunted. “Well,
that’s it! Transfer your things to mine!” he said and, opening the trunk, began to pass
the backpacks into the body of the UAZ. Papa Gavrilov, Pokrovskii, and Peter helped
him.
“By the way, if you need to call someone, call now. Later there’s no longer a
connection. You can receive calls only on that hill there.” Denis Ivanovich pointed to a
rock with a wayside cross, which towered over the entire village.
No one ran to the hill, but Peter recalled that during the kayak trip, when it was
necessary to send a message, they climbed a tree and tossed up a phone.
“What, it worked?” Pokrovskii asked.
“It worked until someone started doing the same thing in the boat. And with my
phone!” Papa said gloomily, and Peter hastily put an end to the subject.
Finally, the loading was finished. A whole mountain of backpacks was piled up in
the body of the UAZ.
“And the kids?” Papa Gavrilov asked.
“The kids go on top and hold onto the sides and things. Adults too. It’s better to lie
down. I don’t advise you to sit,” Denis Ivanych said and chuckled gleefully, probably
imagining what would happen to the one who would risk sitting.
“And if we go on foot?” Mama asked.
“It’s also possible on foot!” Denis Ivanych agreed, but agreed so mysteriously that
Papa Gavrilov suspected that it was better not to do so, and, after helping Mama up onto
the UAZ, began to hand her the small children. Then the adults also climbed up there,
and Pokrovskii briskly climbed into the cab of the UAZ, in which there was only one seat
– the driver’s seat, and instead of the other was a sack full of straw. Pokrovskii sat down
on the sack and laid the map on his knees.
“I’m relaxing! The way will be shown to someone!” Papa said, and Peter almost
flew off from laughing.
Denis Ivanovich stuck his hand out of the window of the UAZ and knocked on the
roof of the cabin, warning that they would now move. The motor started to rumble, the
pipe sneezed with smoke, and the sky lurched, coming into motion.

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115

Chapter Fourteen
An Angel with a Sword and Dynamite

A woman’s work is something of an impasse: washed a


plate – it gets dirty. Cooked food – it is eaten. Removed
something from the floor, then you look – again, everything
is thrown about.
Mama Anna

The road ran along mud – partially liquid, partially frozen and bulging with lumps.
The mud was dug up so much that the off-road vehicle shook as if on waves: up and
down. Sometimes it stood up almost vertically, and then everyone would cling to the
sides and to each other. No, it was not just mud, but the most incredible mud in the
world! The roadsides were littered with tattered ropes and board fragments, which
served to pull out stuck cars. However, not all could be pulled out. One jeep managed to
be bogged down almost to the middle of the door and was sticking out this way, serving
as a rest area for magpies.

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“A smart one wanted to go round along the roadside yesterday! No, the road is
always more reliable! After all, they paved it at one time!” Denis Ivanych hollered
cheerfully, leaning out the window.
“Need a motor boat here. Scrape along the mud with a propeller!” Peter grunted.
He was lying on one of Nina, Seraphim, and Andrew’s packages. The package ripped,
and a jar of black currant jam peeked out. Bouncing with the potholes, Peter managed to
find a spoon in the package and began to shovel in the jam. Something crunched in his
teeth and a puzzled Peter took a narrow wing out of his mouth. “A wasp drowned in the
jam, and I ate it!” he was surprised.
The UAZ continued to slide along the mud. Twice it seemed that it was stuck, but
Denis Ivanych backed up, put something down, and they drove through. The forest was
becoming more remote. From time to time hanging branches rested against the cab,
pulled back like a catapult, and then whizzed over the body, threatening to take down
anyone who lifted his head. Wet snow and drops of water flew from the branches into
the body, and once a crow’s nest full of trash and debris fell down.
“It brushed against my nose!” Alex yelled, showing a red mark on the very tip of his
nose.
A yellow comma appeared on the road ahead. It gradually increased and turned
into a very old Zaporozhets, 33 which could still catch the youth of the UAZ. The
Zaporozhets drove to meet them. Bent tree trunks tied with a wire were tightly piled on
its roof.

33 The ZAZ Zaporozhets was the rear-wheel-drive subcompact built from 1960 to 1994 in Soviet Ukraine.
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Denis Ivanovich leaned out the window. “Oh! Genka went for firewood!” he
shouted. “And what kind of trees is he hauling, do you know? Peaches!”
“He burns peaches?”
“What else is there to burn, when the garden there is cut down? The garden has
grown old!” Denis Ivanych stopped the engine for a minute and the wind brought the
gnawing sound of a chainsaw from a distance.
“How is that?! That jeep could not pass, but the Zaporozhets can?” Papa Gavrilov
asked jealously.
“Well, so it should be! The Zaporozhets is lightweight, can pass through, and
Genka drives with jacks!” Denis Ivanovich replied.
“With what jacks?”
“You’ll see now!” Denis Ivanovich promised.
The Zaporozhets came up to the UAZ. The road was narrow, so the two cars could
not pass each other. While Papa Gavrilov was thinking how they would drive around
each other, the doors of the subcompact opened, four burly guys in rubber boots got out
and, pulling the Zaporozhets out of the mud like a radish, easily moved it to the side.
“Where are you going with the tourists?” Genka shouted. He was huge, unshaven,
and in a sport suit. He could have been scary if not for a completely childlike expression.
“Spend the night in the forest! Come with us!” Denis Ivanovich invited.
“December 31st? What about salad in front of the TV?” Genka said with the deepest
reproach. The UAZ got under way again. The road became drier and reached out to the
hill.
“We’re lost!” Alex said gleefully.
“Precisely, for sure! You’d think they know where they’re going. No, nothing of the
sort! The main thing for the leader is a confident appearance and the presence of a map,”
Andrew, who loved criticising everything, muttered at once.
No one had time to answer him, as the forest suddenly parted. Denis Ivanych drove
to a mound and stopped. “We’re here!” he shouted, and all the children poured out of
the truck like peas.
The first thing the Gavrilovs saw was a Niva,34 loaded like a donkey. Spears, shields,
parts of a tent, and even a small bullbar were strapped to its luggage rack. The Niva
stood on the shore of a small lake with wooden footbridges going into the water. The
lake was so transparent that leaves, still yellow, that had drowned on its bottom were
visible. Near the lake was the palisade of a small wooden fortress.
“Is this Constantinople?” Papa Gavrilov guessed.
“Yes. We built this in the summer. We camp here in winter,” Denis Ivanych
explained.
Several children were already running toward the UAZ, and two men also walked
over.
34 Niva is the LADA 4x4, a Russian off-road vehicle.
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“Father Alexander and Deacon Maxim. From our church,” Denis Ivanovich
presented them.
Father Alexander was of medium height with a thin, light beard. He moved with
short, abrupt darts which were difficult to track with the eye, and then he stopped for a
few seconds, so it seemed as if he did not walk but teleported over small distances.
Deacon Maxim, on the other hand, was huge, slow, and broad at the shoulders and
waist, with a neglected beard that made him look like a red-haired Viking.
Soon everyone got acquainted and, sitting by the fire, drank tea from tin cans,
because the mugs were somewhere at the bottom of a backpack.
“Mother and I don’t have boys. Three girls. But what’s the use of girls? They’ll be
some Bulkinas or Tarakashkinas,” Father Alexander complained.
The future Bulkinas and Tarakashkinas were roaming by the fire. The oldest
Tarakashkina was about four years old. Father Alexander’s wife, Mother Xenia, rotund,
rosy, and cheerful, squatted near the children and watched that they did not grab the
red-hot coals.
Peter got up from a stump, and Father Alexander discovered that Peter was a head
taller than he. “Oh, what a sturdy fellow! Even bigger than Father Deacon! Right,
Mother?” he admired.
Mother Xenia looked at Peter appraisingly. “Not around the waist,” she said.
“So what! But taller! Obviously, that second shield won’t be heavy for him! But
then, they made it and everyone’s arms drooped from it. Mother Xenia! Well, fetch it!”
Mother Xenia sighed. “Father Alexander, perhaps there’s no need, huh?” she asked
plaintively and went for the shield. Two little girls ran after her and the third crawled on
all fours. Apparently, they accompanied Mother all over the place.
“We here... well, aren’t real re-enactors... basically, we made ourselves armour and
some weapons! We climb trees, build fortresses, and organize games. A detachment of
Romans, a detachment of Jews, a detachment of Philistines. Last time happened to be a
scandal for the entire Old Testament: Goliath beat David.”35
“Who beat whom?” Peter did not understand.
“Here he is! Speak of the devil!” Father Alexander pointed to Deacon Maxim. In
the deacon’s hands was a battle ax. As a true Viking, he preferred his sword. “I’ll tell how
you, Father Deacon, beat David.”
“Why did he throw stones? Not beat, but this... Spanked lightly with a spear!” the
huge deacon murmured.
“Basically, we reconstruct little by little! After a shared game, people usually divide
into two groups. Some, mostly girls of all sorts, like to imagine themselves more as
different fairies. They’ll release three arrows to somewhere unknown, lose them, and

35In the Book of Samuel of the Old Testament, Goliath, a champion warrior of the Philistines, is defeated
by a young Jewish boy David, who hurls a stone from his sling and hits Goliath in the forehead. When
Goliath falls face down, David cuts off Goliath’s head.
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then start giggling and weaving flower wreaths. And others, like our Father Deacon, a
sword in each hand, a shield thrown behind his back, goes smashing. Thus, we don’t
have enough people in the second group. Those with flowers, lots of them!” Father
Alexander lamented.
Peter grinned happily. He was flattered that he was classified as the second group.
Mother Xenia appeared with a shield made of thick boards.
"What a shield! A spear won’t pierce it!” Father Alexander said enthusiastically.
“Now we need to find you a sword. You can take my old one. I was disappointed in it,
though I still lug it with me.”
Peter took the shield and the sword. The sword was dull and covered with nicks.
He sensed that it often got into action. “And how do you take Constantinople?”
“Well, we don’t exactly take it. Rather we defend it, but I’ll describe this tomorrow,”
Father Alexander said. “Are you staying with us?”
Peter looked at Papa Gavrilov. Papa Gavrilov looked at Pokrovskii. Pokrovskii
looked at his metal detector, with which he stood like a soldier with a rifle. “Well, we can
stay for one night,” Pokrovskii agreed with a sigh.
The children cheered happily. There might be buried treasure, but at the moment
defending Constantinople was much more interesting. They set up camp in the next
three hours, pitched tents and built a fire. The adults deliberately distanced themselves,
allowing them to figure things out by themselves. Papa Gavrilov watched as they in twos
or threes together dragged the longest dry branches, and Peter and Andrew chopped
them with an ax. The little ones listened to the big ones from the very first, and no one
declared that he was tired. Even Alena said “No, no way!” only five times, after which
she single-handedly dragged over a hefty mountain ash and, by turning it, she took
down the tent.
The bonfire turned out to be so grandiose that it was necessary to move the
backpacks and tents so that they would not be burned. Seraphim did not have time to
remove one of the packages; the package was burned and revealed stuff like ten jars of
jam and fried potatoes, two packs of halva, and many other things. Peter hauled a large
cauldron of water from the pond and hung it over the fire.
“Tomorrow we’ll take the fortress by storm!” Father Alexander said. “I hope
everyone noticed that the fortress has only one wall? Any idea what this means?”
“That we have to attack it from the side where there isn’t a wall!” Andrew shouted.
“Wrong. This just means that it’s not necessary to attack it from those sides. We’ll
consider that those three walls are impregnable... Now, here!” Father Alexander took
out a small package. “Who will earn the badge of ‘three feathers’?”
“How?” Peter asked eagerly.
“Very simple. First feather: don’t talk for a day. Second feather: don’t eat for a day.
Third feather: hide so that you can’t be found! Naturally, around the lake. No need to
run for three kilometres. No one will search there. Who’s participating?”
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“Me!” Peter volunteered.


“Me!” Seraphim said.
“Well, I don’t know. See how it goes!” Andrew said after Seraphim twice poked him
with an elbow.
It got dark early. Snow came, turned into rain, but then it also stopped. Somewhere
far away in the village, muffled fireworks took off and exploded.
“New Year’s coming soon! When midnight comes, they’ll bang even louder!” Denis
Ivanovich said.
Everyone was sitting by the fire, only Peter and Seraphim disappeared by the pond
with torches and bows: they hoped to shoot fish. Costa and Alex set off to help them.
After a short time, they heard a splash, a scream, and a sound like a struggle.
“They shot a carp!” the deacon exclaimed.
“I’m afraid it’s not a carp!” Papa Gavrilov said, and he was not mistaken. A minute
later Peter and Seraphim dragged back Costa, dripping from head to toe.
“He fell off the footbridge? Why didn’t you tell him not to go there?!” Mama yelled.
Peter and Seraphim uttered an inarticulate sound, pointing at their mouths. Costa
quickly undressed and, wrapped in a blanket, slipped closer to the fire. He was not even
particularly cold, and, as soon as he was dressed in dry clothes, again began to rush to
the pond. True, it turned out that there was nothing to shoot the carps with, because
while Peter and Seraphim were dragging Costa, Alex managed to release all the arrows
into the water and it was no longer possible to find them in the dark.
On another occasion, Peter would have arranged a debriefing for him, but now he
only uttered inarticulate sounds painfully and showed Alex a fist. Peter and Seraphim
held on and stoically watched everyone eat pilaf, but Andrew, in order not to suffer,
went into an empty tent, sat in it for an hour, and returned with a changed face.
“I broke down!” he said in a tragic voice and showed a jar of pineapple opened
askew.
Father Alexander sat with his guitar on his knees, tuning it. It turned out that he
played and sang remarkably well. The deacon had a powerful bass. Mother Xenia had a
wonderful, soft voice. The whole evening the guitar passed from hand to hand. Only
Papa Gavrilov could neither play nor sing, but he waved a spoon very artistically.

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Father Alexander’s daughters all fell asleep in turn and were carried into a tent.
Rita followed them in order to giggle that they had fallen asleep but she had not. For a
while she was heard giggling, and then suddenly all was quiet.
“One more giggled to sleep! Get a sleeping bag!” Mother Xenia said, looking out of
the tent.
“How did you get her down?” Kate was surprised.
“It was nothing! I just asked her to pretend that she was sleeping,” Mother said.
Vicky crawled along the next tent with a flashlight and picked from it dead gnats
and mosquitoes left over from the canoe trip. “It’s horrible!” she complained. “Here flies
are lying kind of lifeless! I can’t do this! I’ll walk home!”
Peter made inarticulate sounds and waved his hands. It was noticed that he wanted
painfully to express himself. Unable to withstand it, he even bit his sleeve, and then
began to jab his finger at Vicky and somewhere in the distance.
“He wants to say that you only whine and that you won’t go anywhere!” Kate
translated. “Right?”
Peter nodded and again made sounds, showing that he was strangling Vicky.
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“Well, everything’s clear here even without translation!” Kate said and suddenly
remembered that New Year was about to begin. She crawled out of the tent on all fours
and, after examining all the nearest fir trees, chose the most attractive one. Having
dressed it up with three or four baubles, Kate did not limit herself to this but hung on a
lower branch a notification:

DIREСTION FOR GRANDFATHER FROST

and others, well, you understand me!

THIS FIR IS CONSIDERED THE NEW YEAR TREE


(Place gifts strictly here!!!)

The bonfire gradually died down and only flickered with red coals. And then
immediately crackling fireworks started to go up in the air from different places.
“This is in Novomaksimovka! This is in Sosnovo! Well, Happy New Year, a new
number on the calendar!” Father Alexander said.
He had already been chopping spruce branches for ten minutes and making
himself a shelter by the fire, one end resting on the ground. “Explorer’s tent! Warm air
rests on the roof of spruce branches and will warm me! I didn’t even take a sleeping bag
with me!” he bragged.
“Father, maybe you shouldn’t, huh? It’s winter outside!” Mother Xenia asked.
“I should, Mother, I should!” Father Alexander said and climbed under the shelter.
"I bid you goodnight!"

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Soon everyone dispersed to the tents. Kate and Alena decided to eat cookies in
their sleeping bags, but they sprinkled crumbs inside and tossed and turned all night. In
the morning everyone woke up early and rushed to the outdoor tree to check for gifts.
Surprisingly, Grandfather Frost did not mix up anything and, after finding the
right tree, put gifts in packages under it, labelling each package with the child’s name.
Moreover, he did not forget Father’s girls. Incidentally, Grandfather Frost could not
resist and corrected with a marker a couple of Kate’s mistakes in the notification.
Father Alexander, with a dull look, sat by the fire and threw branches into it.
“How was the warm air? Did it rest against the roof?” Papa Gavrilov asked him
cheerfully.
“For some reason it didn’t,” Father Alexander sighed. “I had to crawl to the fire all
the time! One side was toasty but the other cold.”
After breakfast, everyone started searching for Peter and Seraphim. Peter climbed
the tree to the height of the third floor and, after fastening himself to it, sat there for an
hour. Kate found him by the house key, which had fallen out of Peter’s pocket and was
lying near the trunk, but did not give him away, stepping on the key with her foot while
the others passed by. But no one found Seraphim at all – not after an hour, not after one
and a half, not after two. They searched for him and shouted, even started to comb the
forest seriously, fearing that he had gone to the mountains. Then Seraphim showed up
literally a hundred metres from the tents.
“Where have you been?! Were you lost?” Everyone pounced on him.
Seraphim was silent, pointing to his mouth. Then he was told that a five-minute
break was announced, when it was possible to speak. “I wasn’t hiding! I sat here with a
forest ranger! On the stump,” Seraphim said, pointing at the stump.
“What kind of forest ranger?”
“A gray-haired grandpa with a beard. He was walking somewhere through the
forest.”
Everyone looked at Denis Ivanych. He shrugged his shoulders. “No one walks here.
Our forest rangers ride Urals.36 Perhaps it was a wood-goblin?” Denis Ivanovich joked,
but for some reason no one laughed.
“Or a saint,” Nina said dreamily. “We’re people of darkness here, and no one but
you saw this grandpa! The stump is in everyone’s sight!”
Seraphim sighed. “I don’t know,” he said.
“Did he say anything to you? Well, is he a forest ranger or not?” Alena asked.
Seraphim shook his head. “It was impossible to talk! I was silent, and he was silent.
And so we sat.”
“What a strange man. Sat next to a child, sat and left. And you were silent?”
Mother Xenia asked.

36 Urals Automotive Plant is a major Russian manufacturer of off-road trucks under the Ural brand.
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“Yes. Then he stroked my head and left,” Seraphim said. He did not understand
why it is not possible to sit for two hours with a strange grandpa and be silent. What is
so special about that?
“Did he have wide shoulders? Maybe it was Ilya Muromets? Today is the feast day
of St. Ilya of Murom,” Deacon Maxim said, looking back at Father Alexander.
Father Alexander reacted calmly to everything. “I don’t know. Maybe. Or maybe
just some passer-by. It is easier to believe what’s given to us and not search for any
special miracles. They don’t affect our personal salvation... That’s it, time for breakfast
and taking the fortress!” he said, bouncing lightly, because a girl was dangling on each of
his shoulders and another one was hanging on his leg.

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Chapter Fifteen
The Siege of Constantinople

The boy hits the girl on the head with the bag of house
slippers.
Alena, “What are you doing?! You can’t hit girls!”
“This isn’t a girl! This is my sister! And she spits at me!”
“Well then, a little bit is probably okay.”
Alena

Father Alexander walked around the palisade and climbed up the stairs, made of
two poles with crossbars attached to them, to a platform. A maximum of seven people
guarding the fortress would fit on the platform on top of the wall.
“Someone below please pass me my shield and sword!” Father Alexander asked.
“So! This fortress is Constantinople, which in 1204 was captured by the Latins,
moreover, significantly, during the Crusade!37 Today we will have the opportunity to
defend Constantinople or surrender it again... Gather yourself a troop, Deacon! You will
breach the gate with a battering ram, and we’ll start dropping stones and pouring
molten tin on your heads... Mother, please pass me some rubbish!”
“Okay!” Mother Xenia said and rushed to the bonfire site to collect in a bucket
empty cans, many of which, well smoked and rusty, had been lying on the site since
summer. “Here, Father! Stones... And molten tin?” Mother asked in the most innocent
voice.
“You’re good!” Father Alexander said. “Well, draw water from the pond with the
bucket! Only remember, whoever gets hit, he’s immediately out of the battle! We agree
on no cheating at least once!”
Deacon Maxim put on a knitted ski hat, pulled it down to his eyebrows, smoothed
it meticulously, and slapped a helmet on over it. “I’m ready!” he said.
“Excellent!” Father Alexander approved. “Who are you taking, Deacon? Let’s do
one at a time, like in soccer!”
The deacon chose Papa Gavrilov. Father Alexander – Peter, who instantly took off
to the poles with a sword and a bow. He never found the old arrows, but hastily made
two new ones in the morning. While Peter was climbing, the deacon recruited
Pokrovskii, Denis Ivanovich, and Andrew. Father Alexander took Seraphim, Kate, and

37In 1202, Pope Innocent III (1160/61 – 1216) organized the Fourth Crusade, intending on recapturing
the Muslim-controlled Jerusalem. Instead, a series of events culminated in the Crusaders sacking the city
of Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. The Crusaders were Roman Catholics and
used Latin as their liturgical and scholarly language and historians used the term Latins to describe them,
even though they called themselves Romans.
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Alena. The remaining ones were divided approximately equally and placed on both sides
of the palisade to throw cones.
Mama Gavrilov and Mother Xenia were given the first aid kit with iodine,
antiseptic, and bandages, because since summer, when Constantinople was still
Jerusalem, they knew from experience that wounds would inevitably appear. Until they
appeared, Mama handed Rita a cotton swab with iodine, and she placidly painted her
nails with iodine. Rita was afraid of crawling into battle, so were Father Alexander’s two
younger girls, preferring to cling to Mother Xenia’s legs.
“Well, citizens! To the assault! For the Pope! Hooray, dear comrades!” the deacon
commanded and, throwing his shield above his head, went on the attack first. Peter
released an arrow from above, but it hit the shield and bounced off. The same fate also
befell two cans. The deacon was invulnerable behind his cover. True, he himself also
could not reach the end of the palisade with an ax and only waved it.
Squealing with delight, the deacon’s archers threw cones at random. Father
Alexander tried to introduce at least some kind of system. “We’ll throw in one go! Along
a hanging trajectory!” he commanded.
The volley of fire brought good results. Papa Gavrilov, who lacked a shield, was
immediately bombarded with cones and doused with water, which his own son Peter did
not spare him. “Am I dead or not?” Papa Gavrilov shouted.
“You’re dead, you’re dead! The dead are all getting out!” Father Alexander ordered,
but then he himself got a cone in the forehead and changed the rules. “All right! Let
them not get out! Otherwise, the game will end quickly! Let everyone have three lives!”
Then he was hit with cones two more times, and Father Alexander increased the
number of possible lives to five. Soon it became clear to the besiegers that it was
impossible to take Constantinople without an escalade. Papa Gavrilov and Pokrovskii
became the escalade. They put Andrew and Vicky on their shoulders and began to throw
them onto the wall. Vicky waved her stick for a while with her eyes closed and, not
having discovered a great fighter within herself, surrendered to the mercy of the victor.
Andrew, dangling his legs, hung on the stockade, almost touching the ground with
his feet. “Help! I’ll crash!” he wailed.
"You’re Latin! Yell in Latin! Or at least in Greek!” Father Alexander advised him.
His kind brother, Seraphim, hit his fingers with a stick and Andrew fell down like a
sack. It was not high, about twenty centimetres, but he skinned his finger nevertheless.
So the first wounded appeared in the Latin detachment.
“I knew it... I had a feeling that everything would be like this! We’ll never flush
them out of there!” he whined, hiding his finger from the hissing peroxide.

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“Panic has started in the enemy ranks!” Father Alexander summed up. “This is a
good sign! We will not surrender Constantinople!”
“And we won’t even ask! We’ll simply take it, that’s all!” the deacon replied from
below, the berserker finally awoke in him. He even managed, after jumping, to knock
out of Peter’s hand a spear, with which Peter, hanging from above, tried to get him from
under the shield.
Encouraged by the success, the deacon hacked the gate with an ax and, as his
knowledge of the Latins had long since dried up, encouraged his army with the shouts,
“Hit the Greeks! With cones, hit them with cones! Haul the battering ram!”
Pokrovskii dragged over a battering ram and, running up together with the deacon,
Denis Ivanych, and Papa Gavrilov, whacked the gate. The gate, propped up by a thick log,
resisted, but the palisade itself, heavily undermined by the rain, began to lurch.
“Hooray! Constantinople is falling! It is ours to take!” the deacon rejoiced, but he
did not triumph for long.
Suddenly, Denis Ivanovich, holding the heaviest part of the battering ram, dropped
it and grabbed his belt. “I’m dead!” he informed them.
“No! Live on! We’ll give you the eleventh life!” Father Alexander shouted
magnanimously from above.
"No, I’m dead! Now I can’t straighten up for three days! I have sciatica!” Denis
Ivanych explained sadly, crawling on all fours to the fire.
A minute later the besiegers suffered new losses. Pokrovskii was stung on the ear
by the bucket, to the handle of which one of the treacherous “Greeks” had tied a rope
and begun to swing it. “Stupid, perhaps, slinging buckets? Come on, really!” he shouted
and, dropping the ram, walked away holding his ear.
“Yes, turned out not to be a warrior... Just think, a plastic paint bucket! By the way,
does everyone know that we invented a reusable weapon? Medieval attack pendulum!”
Father Alexander said, pulling the bucket by the rope to the wall.
Without Denis Ivanych and the deserting Pokrovskii, things did not go so well. Still,
the deacon’s bearish strength was enough to beat off an edge board from the gate and
push the log away.
Having opened the gate, the attackers burst into the fortress and scattered the girls
throwing cones. The light infantry disappeared with a squeal into the bushes, pursued
by slingers of the attacking Latins. Somewhere in the bushes, the light infantry and the
slingers finally blended into a common bunch, made a fuss, made peace, and began to
guzzle down cookies together.
Seeing that the infantry and the archers had left the battlefield, Father Alexander,
Peter, Seraphim, Kate, and Alena climbed down from the wall and engaged in a battle on
the ground.
“Crush the Crusaders!” Father Alexander shouted, discarding his shield and
attacking the deacon at once with a sword in both hands.
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“Defeat the Greeks! Long live Rome!” Deacon Maxim snapped from behind the
shield; he was having a hard time because Peter was pressing from the other side.
Help for the deacon was not to be expected from anywhere. His light infantry,
marauding, were guzzling cookies in the bushes. Pokrovskii and Denis Ivanych had been
struck down, one by the bucket, the other by sciatica, while Seraphim, Kate, and Alena
had fallen upon Papa Gavrilov and knocked him down, using the fact that he was
extremely hesitant to wield the spear, afraid to hurt his own kin.
But the deacon was justifiably mighty as a bear. Standing with his back to the fence,
he hid behind his shield and alternately attacked Father Alexander and Peter. It was
impossible to approach him. The deacon was panting and working with an ax like a
lumberjack. The ax, though dull, was heavy.
“I got you below the knee with the spear!” Peter shouted from a distance.
“Below the knee is a log!” the deacon replied with true Roman self-confidence.
“And a cone in the cheek!”
“And what of it? No terrible wounds to me! I’m a berserker and I smelled
poisonous fungi to my heart’s content!” the deacon protested.
Mother Xenia and Mama Gavrilov stood side by side, anxiously watching the battle
that was now primarily going on between the deacon and Father Alexander. Both had
turned red and were attacking each other like roosters. Mother Xenia did not like that
an ax was waving above her husband’s head.
“Father Alexander, perhaps there’s no need?”
“Calm down, Mother! I’ll take him now!”
“It’s still who takes whom!” the deacon wheezed, knocking off Father Alexander’s
helmet with his axe.
“Oh, Maxim! Your leather jacket snagged a nail!” Mother Xenia suddenly yelled.
“Well, wait! Let me unhook it!”
The deacon innocently stopped. Mother Xenia approached him from behind.
“Where do I have a leather jacket?” The deacon suddenly became puzzled. “I don’t
have a leather jacket!”
“Correct!” Mother said and poked his side with a finger. “You just have to think
faster. Poke! It was a poisoned dagger! You’re finished!”
The deacon discarded the shield. “It’s not fair! Female treachery!” he howled.
“Let it be so! But then I won’t be a widow!” Mother retorted.
“And Constantinople stands! That’s it, the Latins have no more fighters! They’re all
defeated!” Father Alexander added, contemplating Papa Gavrilov, on whom three
youngsters were already sitting and a fourth was running up from somewhere.
Pokrovskii began to cough expressively around three in the afternoon. He had been
coughing for hours since noon, but no one particularly paid him any attention, because
they thought he had simply caught a cold. However, by three o’clock Pokrovskii had

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already been coughing so continuously that it became clear even to the dullest of the
Gavrilovs: it was necessary to assemble in order to continue the trip.
Peter and Seraphim stood side by side and issued sounds inquiringly, pointing at
their mouths.
“Aha! The Three Feathers!” Father Alexander remembered. “You didn’t eat and
you hid?” They nodded.
“And you were silent?” They nodded again.
Father Alexander looked at the screen of the phone. “Only twenty-five minutes
left... Well, okay, it’s possible not to count it!” he said generously.
“Maybe, we need to tickle them?” Deacon Maxim offered. “They’ll babble right
away!”
“You just try! It’s no use to attack us! You didn’t take Constantinople, so sit and be
quiet!” Father Alexander declared and bestowed on Peter and Seraphim the “three
feathers” badges. These were dense fabric squares with three feathers depicted on them,
which could be sewn onto the sleeve of a jacket.
Andrew looked at them and sniffed. He was terribly sorry that he had made a
mistake yesterday. And indeed he could have endured it! And the most annoying thing
was that there was nothing to bring back. Some miserable pineapples, which he now
hated, had tripped him.
“Never mind! You’ll try in the summer, when we besiege Troy!” Father Alexander
consoled him and looked at the fortress.
Constantinople, formerly Jerusalem, creaked with the gate ajar and became Troy.

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Chapter Sixteen
The Mysterious Man on the Cliff

I always wrote fictional stories about fictional heroes.


And in general, I’m good at inventing stories. And not bad at
inventing heroes. However, on one occasion I noticed that
those heroes that God creates are more interesting in any
case. There is no need to invent stories, but to write down
honestly and in detail for God.
Josef Emets

Pokrovskii’s navigator claimed that it was ten and a half kilometres to Gentle Jets.
Perhaps it would be so if they were to fly on a helicopter, but everything is not so simple
in the forest and mountains. For example, on the map, the path, slightly interrupted,
passes through a stream. You reach the place and discover a swamp of about a hundred
metres and about three kilometres to bypass the swamp. And in fact, one of the children
has already climbed into this swamp and it is necessary to stop and dry him.
Or you reach something white and flat that lies in your way and you think, “This is
good! Now it’s like I’ll go along something flat.” But this something flat is a mountain
plateau of about eight hundred metres, and it is unclear where to climb it, because
Pokrovskii, it turned out, forgot to download onto his phone the enlarged square of the
map with this mountain, there is no connection to the Internet and the paper map lacks
details.
They walked and walked and walked. Pokrovskii went first, looking at the
navigator and dreaming about what he would buy with his share of the treasure. “One –
a new metal detector. Two – a motorcycle! Three – a sleeping bag for survival! It’s
expensive, but you can sleep on the snow in winter without a fire and a tent!”
Papa walked behind Pokrovskii. On Papa’s back was a huge backpack. Rita got
tired fairly quickly and started to beg to be carried. Papa carelessly took her and put her
on his shoulder. Having detected that Rita was being carried, Costa instantly forgot that
he was big and also wanted to be carried.
Papa began to coax him. “Walk on your feet! You’re a man!”
“No! Not a man!” Costa argued.
“What then? A girl, perhaps?”
Costa also rejected this alternative and, refusing a discussion, simply lay on the
ground. Papa had to take him also. Now Costa and Rita were dangling from Papa’s
shoulders. Moreover, Rita had on a frog backpack, because she did not want to part
from it.

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Alex was jealous and also wanted to climb onto Papa, but Papa kicked him with his
knees and bellowed, and Costa kicked from above, trying to hit Alex. Finally, Alex
realized that he would not be carried and moved to Andrew. However, not to get on the
shoulders but for “chatting”.
“Do you have a wall plug? Saltpeter? Blank cartridges? What do you think, if you
polish a three-litre jar of match heads, is it possible to blow up a tank?”
“Not a tank. But maybe your car,” Andrew assured him.
Mama, Alena, Vicky, and Nina trudged behind Papa. Mama walked briskly and
even collected sticks and cones for handicrafts. Vicky sometimes whined, then
remembered that she was a horse and began to skip. “This is a canter! This is a trot! This
is an amble!” she explained to Nina, pointing at her own feet.
“And what’s that? Well, just now?” Nina became interested.
Vicky stopped and stared at her own knees, trying to remember what she had just
done. Finally, she remembered and said self-critically, “Oh! It’s nothing at all! It’s in fact
a hop!”
Alena wandered over to Seraphim and, holding his sleeve so that he would not get
lost, recounted a film to him. “Kesha is a gangster! And Chin-Yu is a cop! No, you didn’t
understand! Kesha is a good gangster, and Chin-Yu is a bad cop. That is, Kesha is like
the police, and Chin-Yu is like a gangster. Well, we think so. The viewer, that is. And
then it turns out that Kesha is in truth a gangster. He only pretends to be good. And
Chin-Yu only pretends to be bad, because he isn’t even a cop for real!”
Seraphim listened attentively. His face was radiant and a bit sad. He seemed to
peer into the souls of Kesha and Chin-Yu, unknown to him. And it was as if he would
even want to say that Kesha and Chin-Yu were equally good people.
About three hours later, although they had already walked who knew how many
kilometres, Gentle Jets was almost as far from them, because, bypassing the mountain
ridge, Pokrovskii led them to a valley with lots of streams, rivulets, and waterfalls.
“We are near the Djur-Djur Waterfall. But actually it isn’t the most interesting!
Here along the same river are lots more interesting waterfalls, but the tourist bus won’t
drive up to them. Therefore, everyone praises Djur-Djur, and no one knows the more
interesting waterfalls.”
Papa Gavrilov stopped, threateningly shaking his shoulders, from which Costa and
Rita were dangling. “Once again and slowly! That is, we could have driven the minivan
to Djur-Djur?” he asked.
Pokrovskii was embarrassed. “Well, almost,” he said quickly. “But we didn’t really
need to be here. We didn’t know that we would get lost. I even offered to climb on the
rock formation.”
And again they walked, often stopping and waiting for the stragglers. The children
were tired and began to fight. Moreover, the older children even fought in quite a
civilized way. Especially the Mokhovs. They always somehow fought à la aristocracy.
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“Something tells me that you’re glad to see me!” Andrew said to Seraphim.
“Something made a mistake,” Seraphim retorted.
Alex started throwing cones at Kate, got it from her on the back of the head, and
began to swear.
“Never say ‘shut up’!” Kate told him sternly.
“But perhaps ‘close your mouth’?” Alex clarified.
“Well, depends on the context. For example, if the lion in the circus opened his
mouth, and you’re the trainer, then you can!” Kate said.
“Close your mouth! Aah! Save me! She’s after me!”
“Go in the right direction! Don’t leave the path!” Papa Gavrilov shouted.
He was already walking without any enthusiasm, because, aside from the children
who were already hanging on him, Mama put in his backpack a bunch of cones, stones,
and twigs that she needed for handicrafts. “I’m sorry, but it’s so pretty! Simply can’t
leave it here!” she said, sticking into Papa’s backpack another boulder the size of three
fists.
At one point, Papa heard that Costa, whom he had just taken off his shoulder, ran
from the back and shouted in a dreadful voice, “Here’s change for you! Here’s change for
you!”
Papa turned around uneasily. Costa usually yelled like this when he rushed to fight
someone. Papa was already prepared to separate them. But here Costa ran up. He
stretched out his hand. Unclenched it. He had a coin in his right hand. “I found it in my
pants. Left over from ice cream,” he said.
“It really is change!” Papa said in surprise.
“Look!” Vicky suddenly shouted, pointing to the cliff.
A man in an oriental robe and felt hat was standing on the cliff. He was standing
and looking inspired at somewhere off in the distance, above the path, above the
Gavrilovs, above everything in the world. The man was very stately, with a long narrow
beard, which the wind blew to his back. The man was holding in his hand something
long with a bend at the end, but also very magnificent.
“Look!” Vicky whispered enthusiastically. “He has a shepherd’s staff!”
There was some kind of mystery in the immobility of the man standing, in his staff,
robe, and beard. He looked so enigmatic that it was even scary to go past.

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Peter took out the camera and, after taking a picture at maximum magnification,
began to examine it. He had already long figured out using a digital camera as a pair of
binoculars. “That isn’t a shepherd’s staff! He bought a water pipe,” Peter said, moving
the image on the screen. “Here it is, the pipe. But this yellow spot here, he probably
didn’t remove the price tag.”
The enchantment immediately disappeared. But still, they looked for a long time
back at the cliff, on which stood the mysterious man with a long beard looking
somewhere into the distance.
Around eight in the evening, still not having reached Gentle Jets, they set up camp.
They found a dry area near the stream and built a fire. Peter, Andrew, and Seraphim set
up the tents. Alex and Costa, forgetting that they were tired, scampered in circles and
collected branches for the fire.
A grey cat appeared from somewhere and sat down about twenty metres away,
hiding behind rocks. The cat would not let them get closer, but it also did not go away.
The cat’s look was half-wild.
“Food is waiting!” Kate said and threw the cat something edible. It grabbed the
food and, after dragging it behind a rock, began to eat. Kate threw some more, then
more. Then all the children were throwing, and the cat ate it all.
“Poor thing! Probably hasn’t eaten for a week! We’ll take it home!” Nina said, but
the cat, not letting itself be picked up, disappeared into the bush, dragging something in
its teeth.
Nina tried to find the cat but could not. Nina was upset, but Kate was not. “You're
just like my friend from school!” she said. “Forever worries how her cat looks at her
from the couch when she leaves. Moderately sad or excessively sad. Whether it forgives
or not the terrible insult that it was moved from the pillow to the blanket at night.”
“How does your cat look at you?” Nina asked.
“Doesn’t look at all! It has no time to look! Everyone’s running around, yelling, and
I throw slippers at the cat so that it doesn’t dash to the door.”
This conversation about animals broke off, because Mama, rummaging in her
backpack, asked Kate angrily, “Where’s the herring? That was here, in a plastic
container?”
“I only threw the cat the tail!” Kate quickly replied.
“And how much herring was purely accidentally attached to the tail? Incidentally,
not all?” Mom clarified. Kate giggled with embarrassment.
After supper, the children still scampered around the fire for a long time, and Alex
even jumped over the fire until he burned his pants and soles.
“Actually, someone was deadly tired!” Papa said, remembering that not so long ago
Alex was whining more than everyone.
“I’m tired of walking, not tired of jumping!” Alex declared and, with his damp
pants steaming, took off into the forest.
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Papa hoped that the children would immediately lie down to sleep, but it was not
to be. It turned out that Kate had brought a game with her and was now handing out
game cards to everyone. Tossing firewood into the fire, Papa looked from the corner of
his eye at the board lying on the ground with tokens, on which a piece of bark had
already managed to fall and there was even a slight patch of dirt from someone’s boot.
“You have a boy!” Vicky read, turning over the card.
“Please move me ahead one square!” This was not the first time Seraphim asked,
but he was not heard.
“Pay the nanny 5,000 and miss a turn! Hey! I have no kids!” Kate was indignant.
“Give me another card!”
“Can’t! Pay for a nanny anyway! Let it be someone else’s nanny!”
“A card for me!” Alena demanded.
“Don’t shout!” They told her.
“I’m not shouting!” Alena was offended to tears. She had a very loud voice, and she
was always told “don’t shout!” even when she spoke quietly.
Vicky gave her a card and at the same time took one herself. “You have a boy...” she
read.
“Ha-ha! A second one!” Alena shouted and this time did not argue that she did not
shout.
Among the older children, only Peter did not play. He sat aside and tried to
calculate how much one percent of a million dollars would be. For some reason, he
believed that was exactly how much they would find tomorrow. If someone put this in
doubt, Peter said, “Don’t kill my faith in myself! There’s nothing here to taint me with
pessimism!”
Rita walked up to the fire and watched the game from afar. Everyone was playing
so enthusiastically that she also wanted to play. “Me carr! Me carr!” she started to
demand.
“You don’t understand anything!” Andrew said.
“We have to give her one all the same!” Kate decided. “Otherwise she’ll interfere.
Here, carr!”
Rita took the card and began to twist it in her hands. “What do I have?” she asked.
“A hippo!” Kate said. “Okay, let me read it. ‘You love tennis. Put 10,000 rubles into
General Funds...’ That’s it, you have no money! Don’t put it there!”
At this point, Papa went to the creek for water. When he returned, he discovered
that the tokens arranged on the board were already quite different.
“Please move me ahead one square! Well, at least once in the game!” Seraphim
again pleaded.
“Well, Vicky? How many children do you have?” Papa asked.
“Absolutely none. We voided everything, because Rita kicked the board,” Vicky
replied gloomily.
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“Yes,” said Kate. “Now Vicky is a doctor, earns more than all of us and loves
bodybuilding.”
“Calm down, silly!” Vicky muttered and pulled out the card. “Oh! You’ve won the
Nobel Prize. Take 50,000 rubles from the bank.”
“And what does Nina have?” Papa asked, noticing that Nina’s token was standing
farthest from everyone.
“Nina has twins. But she owes all of us money. She even bought a house and
conquered Everest.”
On noticing that Rita had completely crumpled her cards, Papa Gavrilov carefully
straightened them, but did not comment. In a large family, as in big politics, every word
has its own weight. Papa knew that if he said “Hold the card carefully!” then it would be
more or less normal. And if he said “Hold the card carefully! You crushed it!” then it
would be a signal to scream. First, Rita would understand that the card was crumpled.
That is, it would be necessary to either crumple all the other cards or give her new ones.
Secondly, someone would definitely chime in with comments offending to Rita,
someone would placate that first one, saying that she was still small, someone would
start arguing, someone would intervene, and the amount of overall clamor would be off
the scale. And all from one single phrase.
Finally, everyone climbed into the tents and crawled into their sleeping bags. A
dim lantern fastened to the roof was swaying. Dogs were barking somewhere far away.
Their barking was somehow strange – hoarse and short.
“Do you think those are dogs? Those are mountain goats!” Pokrovskii said from the
next tent. “And at night, perhaps, wild boars will come to dig in the garbage. We did
bury the garbage?”
“No,” Peter said.
“Well then, good night!” Pokrovskii said, and he was heard turning over to the
other side in his tent.
Papa cautiously pulled his hand out of the sleeping bag and turned off the lantern.
A minute passed in thoughtful silence, and then Rita’s trembling voice broke through
the silence (they thought that she had been asleep for a long time), “Have we alweady
gone on a twip? Yes? And now seeping at home!” This was, perhaps, the longest phrase
Rita had uttered for the entire day. Well, or one of the longest.

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140

Chapter Seventeen
“Gentle Jets”

“Why did you do that?”


“You yourself told me to!”
“Why did you listen to me?”
Papa Gavrilov

In the morning, everyone was woken up by Nina’s scream that Seraphim was lost.
Everyone poured out of the tents and saw Nina. An empty sleeping bag hung from her
hand. At times, she shook it to show that Seraphim was not inside.
“Is that his sleeping bag?” Peter asked.
“Who else’s?”
“Where’s the boar?”
“What boar?”
“Ugh... I made a mistake. I wanted to say that a boar dragged Seraphim away.”
They waved their hands at Peter and showed him clearly that this was complete
nonsense. A boar, even the hungriest, would not haul children away, and if it did, then
together with the sleeping bag. But, having proven this, everyone was even more worried.
They started running around the camp and shouting, “Seraphim!”
Half an hour later, Seraphim was discovered on an old mountain ash beyond the
brook. He was sitting quietly and waiting to be rescued. It turned out that Seraphim was
removing a cat from the tree, the same wild cat that had run away from them the day
before. When Seraphim scrambled up the tree, the cat, as it turned out, not needing to
be rescued, jumped down and disappeared, and then it became clear that Seraphim
could no longer get down, because the thin branches on which he had stepped when
climbing, had snapped. As a result, Seraphim was sitting on a tree and pondering about
something sublime.
“Get down along the trunk!” Andrew ordered him.
“No!” Seraphim refused.
“Why?”
“Because I’m scared!”
“And how will you not be scared?”
“This way!” Seraphim took a deep breath, unclenched his hands, and fell down. He
lay on the grass, hands folded on his stomach, and looked at the sky. “I fell!” he said.
“How are you? Good fall?” Peter asked.
They helped Seraphim up, shook needles off him, and, having ascertained that he
had fallen quite safely, took him by the hands to the camp before he got lost somewhere
again.

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And again they walked and walked and walked. This time, however, Papa Gavrilov
held the map, but there was no navigation at all, because Pokrovskii’s Smartphone had
run down. Alex, who woke up at five in the morning, was to blame for this, as he
dragged the Smartphone from Pokrovskii’s tent and played on it until the battery was
finally dead.
“How did you know the password?” Pokrovskii moaned.
“I saw you type it.”
“I haven’t typed it in the presence of everyone!”
“I sneaked up from a distance, you didn’t see me!” Alex explained.
For a long time, the terrain did not coincide with the map, and the path had
completely disappeared, but then they were lucky and they came to a mountain. There
was a sign of the mountain’s altitude, and the same mountain turned out to be on the
map. One side of the mountain was flat but overgrown with dense prickly brushwood,
through which it was possible to fight one’s way only on all fours; the other side was
quite steep. In addition, approximately in the centre of the mountain was a hollow,
making it look like a cow’s hoof.
“We’ve arrived!” Pokrovskii shouted joyfully. “On that side of the mountain is
Gentle Jets. No more than a kilometre to there directly!”
“And how many curves? I will not go through thorns! And I won’t let the kids climb
along the cliff!” Mama became stubborn.
“But the treasure is there!” Pokrovskii said in a trembling voice.
“And my kids are here!” Mama said, and everyone went around the mountain.
Going around the mountain turned out not to be an easy pursuit. Pokrovskii,
looking back, watched with sadness that they were moving farther away from the
coveted place. At the onset, a kilometre turned into two, then four. The path meandered
through the woods, constantly coming up against the eroded banks of the brook.
The little ones were tired and the whining began again.
“I want ice-keam!” Rita acted up.
“No ice cream here.”
“Then I want something there! I want to go to a store! Store, store, store!” Rita said
and, stamping her foot, slid down the steep slope into the brook.
Rita was dragged out of the brook. She was wet, but still wanted to go to a store.
While they were changing her clothes, Andrew picked on Seraphim, but then stopped,
because Peter had already begun to carp at all the Mokhovs to quickly specify how much
of a percent of the treasure they would receive.
Vicky moaned that she wanted to walk along with Kate.
“Why?” Mama asked.
“Because she hangs onto me and I have to pinch her!” Kate said.
“Colonel!” Vicky squeaked insultingly. “Commander! You’ll tell your husband, ‘De-
ar, follow me! Hup two!’”
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“And you to yours, ‘Arkaaady, do you looove me? Take me in your aaarms and
carry me to the kiiitchen!’”
Suddenly, Papa Gavrilov stopped so abruptly that Pokrovskii, walking behind him,
buried his nose in his backpack. “The mountain has ended! The path turns!” Papa
shouted and waved the map happily.
And, true, the path turned sharply and, widening, began to descend steadily into a
small valley lying behind the mountain.
“Hooray! All my riches!” Peter shouted and rushed forward.
Behind him, stumbling and falling, all the others hurried, including even Rita,
having stopped longing for a store. They ran along the bank of a stream with many small
waterfalls. Now, in winter, some of them were barely dripping water, but it was possible
to imagine what would start in spring when the snow at the top would melt.
The further down, the faster the children ran. Everyone already felt that
somewhere here, nearby, was the cherished place. And with each next jump it became
closer. All the more detectable.
“Hurry up!” Vicky shouted. The backpack was jumping on her back, and the kettle
tied to it was jumping on it. “Trot! Amble! And now canter! Somehow you’re all running
the wrong way! With some stupid human run!”
They rushed this way for a long time, and then a fence lurking in the short pines
blocked their path. Everyone froze from surprise, because seeing a fence here was
somehow quite unexpected.
“What’s this?” Peter asked. And all the others also asked, “What’s this?” For some
reason the older ones asked the younger ones, and the younger ones the even younger
ones.
While everyone was standing at the fence, Papa, Mama, and Pokrovskii
approached them. Papa immediately began to check the map, but Pokrovskii for some
reason dropped down on all fours and began to test the soil by the fence with a
fingernail. It was not clear to anyone, possibly also Pokrovskii himself, why he did it, but
it looked extremely impressive.
“What now?” Mama asked.
“What now?” Papa replied and walked along the fence, searching for some gap in it.
The fence was the most interesting. Once, obviously, they had started to build it
with boards, then continued with concrete sections, and then for some reason switched
to red brick.
Everyone was walking along the fence, and then suddenly in the fence – it just
happened! – were gates. They were heavy, beautiful, with a flourish. Moreover, these
gates were born in a very different era, because the limestone in their supports felt quite
different – solid, heavy, not porous. And the gates themselves, although pretty rusty but
also eternal, were with traces of not even rolled metal but a blacksmith’s hammer. A

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143

grapevine, on which a few red leaves miraculously survived, twined from below the gates.
And there was even a wicket in the gates.
Everyone began to look at the other side of the gates and argue: was this here or
not. Everyone imagined the place of the treasure a little differently. There should be
skeletons, palms, broken chests. And certainly no one enclosed the treasure with a fence.
But here were a fence, a gate, and even a red awkward structure covered with iron, to
which converged several pipes from several ends of the valley. And inside the building a
motor was running continuously.
“So, is this Gentle Jets or not?” Kate asked for the third time already.
“Unlikely! We’re probably lost!” Peter replied gloomily, and everyone, agreeing
with him, was ready to go further when Alex made a brilliant discovery.
“What’s this?” he said and pointed his fingers at the flourish of the gates.
In the figure of the flourish where the gates were closed, the letters “G” and “J”
were surmised. They were not even obvious at all, blending in so well with the pattern.
“Gentle Jets!” everyone shouted at once, and Seraphim and Peter were already
hanging onto the gates, ready to climb over them.
And here the wicket suddenly opened. A burly man in a vest came out and began to
look at them, putting his hand to his eyes like a visor. He had full cheeks, ginger rusty
stubbles, and a round chin like a tomato. Over his shoulders, with the barrels down,
hung an old double-barreled rifle, the presence of which he displayed in every possible
way.

Seraphim and Peter jumped off the gate.


“A land boatswain guard!” Alex, who had recently read a book about the sea,
gasped. Papa Gavrilov carefully pushed Alex behind him.
“Hello!” Papa said. The boatswain did not respond and looked very sternly at Papa.

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“Hello!” Mama smiled. The boatswain again did not answer and did not lose his
severity.
“Hello!” Peter greeted.
“Hello!” Vicky and Alena said in a chorus.
“Good day to you!” Andrew uttered solemnly.
The boatswain barely had time to look from one greeter to another, and at the end
his severity had already begun to fall short. When Rita said “Hello!” to him, the
boatswain relaxed somewhat, stopped showing his armed side and, unlocking his jaw,
barked, “Not allowed!”
“What’s not allowed?”
“Not allowed to walk here.”
“Uh,” Kate carefully suggested. “We won’t be able to walk here? Can we carefully
climb over and that’s it?”
The boatswain was very surprised. “Why am I standing here?” he asked.
“In the sense of ‘why are you standing’?” Kate did not understand, considering that
the boatswain himself knew the answer to this question better.
“I am standing here so that no one passes!” the boatswain explained.
Everyone nodded seriously, recognizing the significance of his mission. After all, it
turned out that if he were not standing here, it would be possible to pass!
“What’s all this here?” Pokrovskii asked wistfully.
“Water abstraction station!” the boatswain said. “Earlier it was a children’s camp.”
“No,” Papa Gavrilov said. “It’s Gentle Jets, the former Kolokoltsev estate. We’re
writing a book about this and would like to take photos.”
“What, everyone really writes together?" the boatswain asked doubtfully, glancing
at Rita. “No such Gentle Jets here!”
“Yes, there is! What’s this?” Peter triumphantly showed him the gates.
“It’s iron,” the boatswain said. “I myself don’t understand why they haven’t yet
been scrapped. Must be a long way to the road.”
“And these letters? ‘G’ ‘J’ – Gentle Jets. Do you see?”
The boatswain stared at the letters and thought. It seemed that until now he had
perceived the gate exclusively as a source of scrap metal. He thought, thought, thought,
and some great thought matured in him. True, the thought never matured, because
again the words sounded, “Not allowed!” And the boatswain slammed shut the wicket in
the iron gates with a bang.
Hope also slammed shut together with the wicket. Peter and Alex ran and
generated ideas. They had many ideas.
1. blow up the guard;
2. sneak past the guard, waiting until he falls asleep;
3. tie up the guard;
4. offer him three percent of the treasure;
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5. do all this together.


At that moment, a mighty growl suddenly came from behind the fence. The great
thought had finally matured in the boatswain. “Those here writing a book! Just for
information! My shift ends at 1600.”
“And?”
“And my next shift begins tomorrow at 0700.”
Peter thought quickest of all. “And whose shift is from 1600 to 0700?” he asked.
“From 1600 to 0700, the facility is in a closed unprotected mode. In short, there’s
no one here,” the boatswain said, his head already appearing in the wicket.
“And the motor stays?” Alex asked.
The boatswain looked suspiciously at Alex. “The motor stays. And I’ve remembered
you!” he warned.
Papa looked at his watch. No more than half an hour remained till 1600 hours. It
was time to have a bite without lighting a fire. That they did. And exactly at four the
wicket clanged and the land boatswain appeared again. He led an ancient Kama bike38
by the handle-bars; a wire basket from the supermarket was fastened to the rear of the
bike. After standing the bike, the boatswain carefully locked up the wicket.
“And how do we get through?”
“There’s a gap a hundred metres there,” the boatswain said, jerking his bare chin to
the left. “Not allowed to pass here. This here is the guard post.”
He sat on the Kama and, producing a light metallic ringing with parts of the bike,
rode along the path to the unknown distance. Peter ran to the side where, according to
the boatswain, there was a gap. A minute later everyone heard his indignant howl, after
which Peter himself appeared, only already on the other side of the gates.
“Well? Is there a gap?” Papa asked him.
“There isn’t any gap there,” Peter replied.
“What do you mean by ‘isn’t’? How did you climb over?”
“I didn’t climb over!” Peter replied mysteriously.
Everyone rushed into the bush and discovered that there really was no gap,
because the entire fence had fallen for about a hundred metres, if not more.
“Unbelievable!” Pokrovskii exclaimed. “We argued with the guard at the gate,
although here’s such a hole nearby!”
A brick building with a rumbling motor was on the edge of a small hill. Close to the
top of the hill, there was no vegetation except hollow tubular shoots. The dried up
shoots swayed in the wind and struck each other, producing an elusive and light noise.
Pokrovskii ran around with his metal detector, which issued continuous sounds. It
seemed to him that there were solid deposits of treasures under the earth. Papa Gavrilov
chose a different tactic. He wandered among the tall shoots and tried to imagine how

38Kama is a brand of Soviet folding bikes that started production in the 1970s. The brand is still in
production.
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everything looked here a hundred years ago. There was certainly no pumping station.
Not these pipes either.
After half an hour’s search, he found traces of a foundation, similar to a doorway
without the bottom. There had probably been a house with wings here. A ramshackle
wooden building sideways from it had survived by some miracle. Papa went up to it. He
shook it. The construction began to collapse and ... mysteriously straightened up like a
roly-poly toy. Iron that had turned into dust poured from its roof.
Papa continued to explore the area. Here were small pits recurring at regular
intervals, leading to a circular flower bed near the large house. Obviously, there had
been columns here and a grapevine wrapped around all this. Papa Gavrilov stopped and
closed his eyes. It seemed to him that he was reading a book of someone else’s life.
A small estate in the mountains, where the streams were once ringing had now
become pipes. Someone walked here, laughed, light dresses rustled, horses’ hoofs
clattered, a coach stopped. Here a dog ran, a goose peeped out of the vineyard, it was
shushed and clumsily scooted directly along the large flower-bed.
Papa Gavrilov saw all this so clearly that he even began to turn his head, looking
for the gazebo. But Alex, who noticed that tubular shoots did not grow everywhere, and
ivy and some small thorns covered the ground between them, guessed this place before
he did. And both the ivy and the small thorns were growing somehow quite evenly.
“Help me up!” Alex yelled to Papa.
Papa put him on his shoulders. Alex saw a narrow straight line of ivy, which led to
a distant hill and abutted against it. A sandy path! It was probably covered with gravel
under the sand and the tubular shoots could not break through it, but the ivy and thorns
made their way easily.
“More to the right! More to the left!” Alex commanded from above, leading Papa.
Costa, seeing this, also wanted to climb onto Papa and also lead somewhat. “Left!
Not that left! Right! Not that right! Right in reverse!” he shouted, because Costa was not
very good at things with “right” and “left”.
Under the strict guidance of kin, Papa came to the hill and stopped, because they
would have flown into a precipice otherwise. About ten steps to the precipice the path
rose steeply and revealed a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains. The same
place where the path abutted against, there was a small pile of cracked grayish stones,
between which bushes grew.
“GAZEBO!” Papa shouted.
Pokrovskii, who had run up, was about to start operating the metal detector, but
then, having thought better of it, put it aside.
“The steps had to go from here! From the direction of the path! This way? And this
whole structure, when it collapsed, fell right on the stairs.”
“Look!” Peter said philosophically. “Some hundred years and everything collapses!
Meanwhile, the Egyptian pyramids stand!”
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“Are you going to help us?” Papa asked, and they began to carefully dismantle the
pile. Approximately half an hour later appeared the first step, cut from slabs of the same
local stone.
Pokrovskii stroked the first step and even kissed it tenderly, saying, “Oh, you, my
girl!”
“Mouse!” Alena said.
Pokrovskii at first did not understand at all what a mouse had to do with it, and
then surmised, blushed, and, having ceased kissing the step, continued to discard stones.
They continuously slipped down, because when they removed the lower ones, the entire
pile had nothing to hold on to.
However, Papa Gavrilov, Peter, and Pokrovskii did not have the hardest job
anyway, it was Mama. Mama was holding Rita, Alex, and Costa by the hands so they
would not fall into the pit. For some reason, the proximity of a chasm excited them so
much that they even dug their heels in the ground in order to rush to look there.
“I won’t faaall! Ah!” Costa yelled and wham! – fell right on level ground, because
Mama accidentally let go of his hand.
Peter had to hurry to help Mama. “Listen to a great psychologist!” he said
authoritatively. “Children do everything the opposite! In order that they don’t want to go
to the pit, you have to push them there! Here, watch! Come here, little boy! Chuck-
chuck!” And, grabbing Alex by the hand, he dragged him to the pit. Alex was horrified
and began to crawl away from it on all fours. Rita and Costa started to flee after Alex.
“For some reason, children listen better to their older brothers than to their
parents,” Mama said.
“Because they don’t feed them any illusions,” Papa said.
After another hour, when it was beginning to get dark, Papa and Pokrovskii got to
the second step. It consisted of two long flat stones, which, in turn, rested against two
more stones set vertically. They could not turn over the first stone. It fit like a glove in
the ground. But the stone beside it flexed a little. Leaning into it, Pokrovskii easily
dislodged it.
“EMPTY!” Pokrovskii exclaimed, recoiling. Under the stone there was nothing but
a sleepy lizard, because of which Alex and Costa nearly got into a fight. “Maybe it’s
buried deeper there? Perhaps we’ll check with the metal detector?” Pokrovskii offered
wistfully.
“Wait!” Papa Gavrilov said. “I think it’s much simpler.” He knelt down and began
to feel the soil carefully. Then, almost touching the ground with his cheek, he slid his
hand under a nearby motionless stone. Under the stone was revealed a narrow recess,
approximately half a hand wide. Papa’s fingers first disappeared into it, and then they
found something.
Papa pulled, and Pokrovskii and Peter jumped impatiently above him, grabbing
each other’s shoulders. Finally, Papa stopped pulling and straightened up. In his hands
©Jane H. Buckingham 2019
jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
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149

was a tin box, probably for leaf tobacco. The letters had long faded from it. Only by some
miracle survived the painted face of a dashing gentleman with an incredibly bushy
mustache that made him look like a cat and with a huge smoking pipe in his teeth.
“Well?” Peter asked greedily.
“Yes, here!” Papa said. “I don’t know!”
“Well, is it at least light or heavy?”
“Medium,” Papa said.
He slipped a nail under the lid and carefully opened it. In the box was a small
copper ring, the stubs of two pencils – blue and red, a porcelain doll in a dress, and a
small knife with a mother-of-pearl handle. In addition, in the tin also lurked a small
curved half-jar-half-bottle, tightly plugged with a cap. Some unusual vial that could be
discovered probably only in a doctor’s home. Inside the vial, snug against the bulging
glass, lay a small photograph.
In the photo was a bearded man in a light coat. Next to him was a woman with a
serious face and seven children. The older boy was dressed like a student, the younger
boy in a sailor suit and with very plump cheeks. Then four girls in white dresses, looking
very similar to each other, probably one year apart, and the woman had a baby in her
arms. The baby’s head was blurred, because she was probably swinging him. “THIS IS
US!” was written in blue pencil on the back of the photo.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2019


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
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150

“There’re also seven of them!” Kate shouted instantly after counting. “They have
seven children! Can you imagine? Like us!”
“That’s all?” Pokrovskii asked. “Where’s the treasure? Where are the family
diamonds?”
“And children aren’t diamonds?” Mama asked, but this comparison did not console
Pokrovskii.
He threw himself onto his stomach and shoved almost his whole arm under the
adjacent stone, but, alas, except for dead centipedes and a large living beetle, he
discovered nothing.
But then Alex and Costa jumped with happiness. They loved insects. “Into the jar!
Into the jar! Into the jar!” Costa shouted, spinning in place. All the insects he found he
carried with him in a jar with a hole so that they would not suffocate.
Pokrovskii slowly got up from the ground and shook down his knees. “I understand
everything!” he said.
“What’s to understand?”
“The letter was hidden in the book already AFTERWARDS! We somehow believed
that the doctor’s wife didn’t find it. But she did! Perhaps even she herself put it in the
book. That is, if there was something else here, then – whoosh! – it’s gone.”
“But what’s this?” Papa pointed at the tin.
“This looks a bit more like a child’s buried treasure. Likely, the doctor’s children
also wanted to hide a treasure. Well, I imagine this to myself. Papa left a treasure, but
they shouldn’t? Mama was preparing for the departure, cartons, and suitcases were
everywhere, and the children sneaked to the garden and hid this tin here!”

***

Grandma and Great-Grandma left immediately after Christmas and all the
children accompanied them to the airport. Grandma Masha stood very solemnly, with
her back straight as at a parade, but Great-Grandma Zina, looking out from the end,
secretly showed the children a bag of sweets, which they had slipped to her for the
journey.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2019


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
151

After the airport, Kate went to the store for sponges and tomato paste. She was
thinking about something and did not look around. Suddenly, someone beside her
yelled joyfully, “Hello, garage! Don’t recognize your own? Why haven’t you been to the
pet shop for a while?”
Kate looked around. “Mouse girl” Liuba was looking at her, and with her stood
Pokrovskii, who searched for treasures. They held hands. On Liuba’s neck glowed a
silver sun, the same one that Pokrovskii had once given her on the beach. Only now the
sun had become much brighter: Liuba had obviously scrubbed it.
“You threw it into the sea!” Kate said.
Liuba coughed sheepishly. “Well, I did... But it turns out, it was found!” she said.
“Where? In the sea?”
“Well, not in the ocean!” Pokrovskii said and burst out laughing joyfully. And
“mouse girl” laughed. Kate thought that people must probably love each other deeply to
laugh so long at the least funny joke in the world.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2019


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
152

©Jane H. Buckingham 2019


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets
153

Late in the evening, Papa was sitting in front of the computer and typing. It was
already dark. Everybody was asleep.
Next to the laptop was an aquarium with the turtle Mafia. Occasionally, Mafia
poked its head out of the water and uttered a mewing, a very mysterious sound. When
Papa heard it for the first time, he thought he was going crazy. Well, turtles cannot sing!
And then he got used to it. Ancient sea dinosaurs must once have called to each other
this way.
Next to Papa on the table was the curved half-jar-half-bottle with the photograph.
Occasionally Papa picked it up and looked through the glass at the photo. It seemed to
him that they were looking at themselves through time and space.

©Jane H. Buckingham 2019


jhbuckingham@yahoo.ca https://twitter.com/translator_frog
http://emets.olmer.ru/
http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3463868.Dmitrii_Aleksandrovich_Emets