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Actress's Diary

– Gukovskiy! Gukovskiy!
– Huh? – Pavel answered drawling, not understanding who might need him at this moment, when the material has not been ready yet, there are loads of doc-uments on the table and the turned-on computer starts to annoy with the same type of icon.
“I should change it”, – a thought flashed through his mind.
– Go to the chief, – a voice materialized in the form of his colleague Sveta.
Pasha nodded. The edition office was already noisy. Everyone was running with papers, showing something to someone. Sveta, after passing him the chief’s request, sat down at her desk and began to call on her mobile phone, tinting lips with one hand.
“How can she manage to combine it all?” – Pasha thought.
The “asshole” (it’s the nickname of Alexander Pletnyov – a skinny blond tall guy who was constantly mocking at Pavel and making fun of him) was telling something to Natasha. Sensing that Pavel was looking at him, he turned around.
– What are you staring at, Celentano? Go, the chief calls you. What are you staring at, slow poke! – He drawled the last word.
Natasha, a busty brunette, laughed as always.
“What a beauty!” – Pavel thought.
He stood up, straightened his fashionable scarf and headed to the chief.
– Hey, Celentano, – the “asshole” called him. – Who are you, Gukovskiy – a Pole or a Jew?
– I am a Jewish Mason! – Pavel retorted.
– Sanya, why did you pick on the guy! – Sveta intervened.
– Oh, our protection has woken up!
– Well, that’s enough! – Sveta shrugged and stared at the monitor.
– He can not stand up for himself! – Alexander did not back off.
– Shall I pour some water over your head? – Pasha asked.
– Just try it!
– Okay, enough! – Pavel said.
He waved his hand and went into the chief editor’s office opposite. The door was closed, and he knocked softly.
– Gukovskiy, come in.
– How did you know it was me? – Pavel said, coming in.
– How, how… Only you come in like this – always guilty and very long.
After hearing the morality of how one should come into an office, Pavel thought, while looking at this, no longer young man: “Why are they all so alike? A bald spot on the head, certainly a white shirt, a tummy and short legs (well, they can’t do without them, do they?), piggy eyes, darting for you in search of some other disadvantages. Maybe, the chief editor is a nationality? Just look at Chinese – they all look alike!”
– In short, Gukovskiy, we need material from you! You are a social lion here. You even have a nickname, which everybody envies – Celentano! In gen-eral, you need to write something about Yarskaya... Sorry, – his phone rang, and the chief editor picked it up.
A secretary entered the room and laid some documents on the table for him to sign. The editor pointed her at a chair, and started signing the documents.
– I said, about Yarskaya!
– Fuck you! – Pavel snapped after a pause.
The chief editor even stood up in surprise.
– How are you talking to me?!
The secretary, a young girl, graduate of the Faculty of Journalism, dyed blonde in a short skirt, who was sitting on a chair, got embarrassed and stared at Pavel, too.
– I will not write anything about Yarskaya!
– Fling mud at her gently, delicately.
– No!
– Pasha, do you want to get salary?.. That’s all, Lida, you may go, – he or-dered to the secretary. She obediently left.
– Semyon Semyonovich, this woman will remain in the history of the Rus-sian cinema. We won’t be here, and she will be remembered. She is a star, one of the rare ones. And there will never be the same one on the horizon.
– Pasha! Pasha! Pasha! You are talking about different things! It’s adver-tising for them! Yarskaya is a bright name. Now everyone is talking about her... Well, take an interview.
– She does not give interviews until the fall.
– I’ll fire you until the fall! – He said a quiet, measured voice. – Do you understand? – He stared at Pavel. – Take that act of yours when you poured wa-ter over Sanya’s head... Well, everyone is laughing at you. Everyone knows that you’re in love with Yarskaya as a boy despite your many years. Well, you should somehow... You offended your friend.
– Pletnyov is not my friend!
– Well... and to hell with him... And I...
– I will not write a single bad word about Yarskaya! – Pavel interrupted him.
– Get out of here! You’re fired! Just sitting here, with no sensible material from you! Pathetic scribbler! Everybody writes! Everybody lies! And you’re of the decent ones, it’s even disgusting! The newspaper must be bought, and for this there must be something written in it... Try to enter a shop without money and take some sausage. And in a bid to pay, just say: “Oh, I have no money... You know, I did not write nasty things about Yarskaya and thus was not given sala-ry…” So, when they give you your sausage, then we will not write nasty things! Is everything clear? Well, who I’m telling all this! So, either you quit or interview Yarskaya. If no – you’re fired! And without further talking!
The chief editor was shouting. He even turned red from screaming.
– You know... – Pavel made a pause. It was clear that he was going to say something that... – I wanted to tell you this long ago. You’re such an asshole! – Pavel said the last word with relish, focusing on each letter.
– What? – The chief editor’s eyes began to leave for the desired orbit. – I... am an asshole?! You... Get out of here!!! – He yelled with all his forces.
Pavel went out, banging the door especially loudly. He went into the office. Sveta looked at him intently. Then she got up and came closer to appease her friend.
– Pasha, what’s up with you?.. I heard shouting even from here.
– I’m so sick and tired of everything! – Pavel took a seat. – Working your ass off here... I worked for him from the very beginning... I’ll leave, Sveta.
– Pasha, what? – She leaned closer to him, touched his hand.
– I... I… – He began to drive his hand from side to side. – I’m a pathetic scribbler, good-for-nothing!
– Well, come on! Do you really pay attention to it?
– He remembered everything: lack of private life, nickname Celentano, be-cause I’m ugly, and not so charming, as he is...
Pavel blew out his cheeks and slowly let the air out. His eyes blinked under the glasses and began to fill with tears.
– I’m leaving.
He rubbed his eyes, already full of tears, and sighed.
Then he took his mobile phone and wallet out of the top drawer and left.

– Lena, where are you going? – Sergey asked, trying to stop her.
– Sergey, leave me alone! – Lena pulled down his arm and headed for the hallway.
– Lena, don’t leave! Lena, don’t leave! – He stood in the middle of the hallway repeating the same thing.
– Sergey, I don’t love you! You know that.
– You are so beautiful, you can not even imagine...
– I’m sick and tired of all of you!!! – She yelled with all her forces and cried. – I’m still a person, and not just an actress. I’m not playing a role, I want to say something, and you just have to listen.
Sergey came over and hugged her.
– Sergey, I don’t want to live like this anymore. I’m leaving you! – She pushed him.
– For Cheburashka?
She looked at him angrily.
– Misha is from him, huh? Is it true? – Sergey stared into her eyes.
– Misha is from me, – she said quietly and walked out the door calmly.
– Elena Mikhailovna, where are you going? – Her guard Mikhail tried to stop her, watching his tearful boss leaving in a short slinky dress. And it will be evening soon.
A luxurious cloud of hair swinging at each step of hers rested on her shoul-ders. Her gait was from the hip. Moreover, from such luxurious hips! She was as graceful as a swan floating on the river. Her facial features and blush were so good that it seemed that she used very expensive cosmetics, but in fact she did it very rarely and mainly for the shooting. The impression was the Lord has once again decided to create Eve, only her name was Elena Yarskaya.
Mikhail was nervously fingering the radio in his left hand and watched her. He felt when it was better to leave his boss alone, but at the same time he was supposed to know where she was.
– Misha, bunny, – she came to him.
– So, it’s Misha or bunny? – He asked, trying to cheer Elena. And he suc-ceeded. A charming smile appeared through the tears.
– What a confidence smile you have!
He stood in front of her admiring the view. Taking a coat from her hands, he said quietly:
– Let me show you the way. Take your coat, it’s cold in the evening.
She nodded. Mikhail was her personal bodyguard and they became friends soon. He became her best friend in the pants, whom she could trust many things that her female friends would not understand because of their talkativeness and chronic natural curiosity. Mikhail often rescued her from various vicissitudes: rich annoying fans, love affairs and other troubles.
– Misha!..
He did not let her finish.
– Are you going to Cheburashka?
– No, I’m going to relax a bit... And I was not drinking! – She knew about his suspicions.
– Be careful, otherwise...
Now it was Elena’s turn not to let him finish.
– I remember it – “a good front crash”, – she voiced his bore argument somehow sadly.
– What? – Mikhail hesitated. – Not scary at all?
– Well, you’re threatening and threatening all the time, – Elena said, open-ing the door of the car.
She took her coat from the guard’s hands and threw it on the seat.
– Misha, I love you very much. I even named my son after you. You’re my best friend!
– Well, come here, I’ll kiss you, so be it.
Misha spread his hands. She laughed even harder, seeing her husband’s glance in the window, and with the tips of her lips touched lightly Mikhail’s cheeks.
– Bye, Misha.
– Call if you need me.
– Bye, – she said again and sharply took off.
Streets, lights of the big city were flashing by. She turned on the high beam. During the first minutes she thought of nothing. Everything was left somewhere behind. It always seemed to her that problems stayed exactly where you lived. The whole area inhabited by you acquires your thoughts. You need only to go beyond it, and it becomes much easier for the soul, freedom overwhelms a tired heart.
She sighed, and then...

Pavel went out to breathe fresh spring air mixed with Moscow’s smell of cars, shimmering banners and an endless stream of people running somewhere. He was at piece. He did what he wanted: told the chief that he was an asshole.
“Lord, only two words, and it’s so easy on the soul! So calm! Only it’s not clear what will happen next. Ah, well, tomorrow will be tomorrow”.
He decided to have a walk. While walking, he tried to figure out where to go, and whether to go there at all. He ran across the road and he went to a café: decided to take a hot cappuccino there. It will be evening soon, and he felt cool, even though he was in a jeans suit. The café had Wi-Fi, and he asked for the net-work.
He went to “Rambler” and read: “...Elena Yarskaya crashed on the Aba-kumova Avenue. A child ran suddenly into the road, she wrenched away and crashed into a truck. Her…”
He ran out of the café, throwing some money for the cappuccino, and rushed to the accident site. It was very close, he had to run two blocks only. Pavel ran them without looking back, pushing people and running in front of cars. Soon he saw the accident site: a truck across the road, and what was left of Yarskaya’s car (BMW of the color of wet asphalt) – a pile of twisted iron now, and a crowd of people watching this horror. He ran closer. She was in the car. Her face, thick hair – everything was covered in blood. Pavel pushed through the crowd and tried to get to her. By the sounds she was making, he realized that she was still alive.
– Has anyone called an ambulance?! Has anyone called an ambulance?.. – Pavel yelled with all his forces.
Everyone stood stone-still: a lean student in glasses, falling jeans and stu-pid blue sweater, a woman with four shopping bags in two hands, some bald hunk filming everything on his mobile phone, and a dozen of other passers-by.
– It’s Yarskaya! – Someone said in the crowd.
– So I film it because of Yarskaya, – the hunk explained calmly.
Pavel felt her pulse – she was still alive!
Remembering first aid techniques, as he recently got his driving license, Pavel gently pulled her out of the car, called an ambulance and the traffic police. According to the rules, she could not be taken away from the scene, but the same could be said about leaving her in this state on the roadway, especially knowing the “speed” of our ambulances. And he needed the first aid kit to help her. He took the liberty and moved her to a small café, which was across the road.
– That’s right, there, – the trucker, a heavyset man of short stature in a baseball cap and robe, supported him.
He stroked his mustache, took her over from Pavel’s hands and helped to carry her to the café.
– You bring her up, and I’ll wait here for the cops.
Pavel nodded and brought Elena in the café.
The waiter – the stronger one – intercepted Yarskaya and put her on the sofa.
Meanwhile, she slowly recovered, and now only moaned.
– Vasya, hang a sign “Closed” on the door. No big deal, they’ll drink else-where. We have something here!!! – The stronger one ordered to his slim col-league.
– Aye, understood! – An obedient boy rushed to perform the task.
– So, come on: cotton, alcohol, first aid kit, if any, – Pasha ordered.
– I’ll be back right now, – the waiter ran away.
While he was absent, Pasha took a damp cloth and wiped the blood from Lena’s forehead. Soon, the waiter returned with the first aid kit. Pasha treated the wound and gave her ammonia to smell.
Elena came to herself, sighing and moaning.
She opened her eyes.
– Oh, who are you? There’s a girl... and where am I?.. We have to go!..
She tried to get up.
– There is no need to go anywhere, – Pavel said calmly. – The girl’s all right. How do you feel?
– What do you mean – no need?! – Elena started screaming and tried to get up again.
– Lie!
– I do not need to lie! – She rudely pushed his hand away. – We have to go and save the poor child! I go! Let me go immediately! – She attempted to get up again. Pavel forcibly sat her down on the sofa.
– Hold her! She’s in shock! – Pavel called the waiter.
The latter grabbed Yarskaya. His grip was actually strong. She immediate-ly stopped and stared at the waiter, her eyes bulging. Meanwhile, Pasha opened a bottle with pure alcohol and poured it into a cup.
– Drink! – He gave it to Elena.
She drank and leaned back on the sofa, calming down. Pasha and the wait-er stood aside looking at her, as if bewitched. Then they looked at each other.
– Alcohol is the best anti-shock remedy! – Pavel commented.
– Ah, – the waiter answered, looking admiringly at Pavel.
– What’s your name? – Pavel asked.
– Pasha.
– Namesake! Nice to meet you!
– And are you Celentano? – The waiter did not let him finish.
– Yes, Adriano, – Pasha remarked ironically and then added, – Okay, I’m sorry. Pasha, we need a hearty meal. Bring us something instead of the alcohol.
– Got it, – the waiter nodded.
– I’ll pay, – Pavel called after him.
– Everything on the house! – The waiter said, leaving to fulfill the order.
Pavel approached Yarskaya and sat opposite. He looked around the café. The place was pleasant in all respects. Twilight, dim light in beautiful chande-liers, paintings on the walls – all this created a situation of solitariness. However, wooden tables and white tablecloths on them looked very standard and somehow not in the Moscow style, without the pathos inherent to local restaurants. But the interior was extremely well matched.
– Well, how are you? – He leaned over Elena.
– Quite well! Everything happened so quickly: a truck, that girl, her moth-er, I was so confused...
She gestured strongly. It was evident that she was off her head.
– And then I...
Pavel handed her a glass of water. Lena drank it greedily.
– Do you happen to have a mirror and a comb?
– You are a real woman, – Pavel said admiringly.
She did not answer. Pavel even thought that she was tired of compliments. He got her everything she asked. While Elena was making her toilet, Pavel was afraid to disturb her with a gaze, then sat and stared at her.
Soon the table was set and they sat down to have dinner.
– We have such an unusual acquaintance! – She said with a smile, and took a deep breath.
– It’s okay. You’ll be calmer in a bit.
– Why so? – She asked briskly.
– I finished driving courses recently. There I attended lectures on first aid during accidents.
– Um, they turned out handy, you see.
– Yes, – Pavel said. – Let’s have a drink.
– Well, as I understand it, for the meeting? – She supported him, raising her glass.
They clinked glasses.
– And I know you. You are Celentano.
– Well, yeah, – Pavel remarked ironically. – Adriano.
– Well, what’s up? You are a charming man... And I did not introduce my-self. I am Elena.
– I know who you are, – Pavel said delicately.
– Well, you still need to introduce yourself, don’t you? How are you here, a savior?
– Well, I… you know... problems somehow piled up, I went out for a walk, and then you... in such a situation. I read online that you crashed to death.
– Oh! Well, that’s something new about me! I already “was” a lesbian, slept with all the men of the Russian cinema. I have not been a zoophile yet.
She perked up a bit.
– Do you suffer a lot from the “yellow” press?
– Well, you know... it’s passable. There is, however, one journalist. He is really a representative of the oldest profession...
– And who is that?
Pavel expected to hear “Alexander Pletnyov”, but she shrugged. There was a pause.
– Well, and you? Where were you going?
– I, – she caught her breath, – was going from an unloved man to a beloved one. Wanted to tell him that I love him very much and that he should decide whom to be with. I don’t really like the role of a mistress.
– Yes, it’s not really pleasant. It involves love, but... – Pavel joined her.
– That’s right, there is a “but”. And it’s all about it. Everything should be in place. Beloved people should be together. It’s okay, – she said sadly.
– You know, Lena, until you meet the reciprocity... I had women. Only when I allowed them to be loved, I immediately became the best and the most wonderful one. But then I had to sleep with them without love, and it’s immoral. And the far-fetched pleasure...
– In my opinion, Pasha, we are very proper ones, – Elena concluded, listen-ing to his words. Pavel laughed.
– Many people said something like that to me.
– And I have not come to the place of my destination, – she again passed on sad notes.
– Well, I can give you a lift, – Pavel suggested.
– We’ll sort it out, – Elena waved a hand.
She called the waiter and asked:
– Pasha, do you have the Internet?
– Will do.
Soon he appeared with a laptop. They got on the Internet. The whole net-work flashed with the news that Elena Yarskaya crashed in a car accident: “A famous actress is dead! A terrible accident took place on the Abakumova Ave-nue”.
– Yeah, – she pushed away the laptop and thoughtfully bit her finger.
– I can call... tell them that you are alive, – Pavel suggested.
– No!!! Dead, then dead!!! – She replied sharply and even rude.
– Um, – Pavel started from a sudden rise in her voice.
– I’m sorry, – she apologized.
Pavel nodded.
She leaned back on the sofa again and stared thoughtfully out the window.
– Eat something, – Pasha suggested some time later.
– Yeah, let’s eat. We should ask the waiters not to rat me out. Let’s say that you have taken me to the hospital yourself.
She was silent for a long time and then suddenly said:
– Pasha, I have desires that I have wanted to fulfill for a long time. And now there is a unique situation – everyone thinks that I’m dead. Will you help me?
– With pleasure, – he disappeared in his own smile.

Not far from the café there was a parking lot. Pavel always left there his car – a brand new Volvo which he was able to buy immediately after the courses. They drove out of the parking lot and headed towards the ring road. A long road went right all the time. Cars were becoming scarce. Basically, at this time of the day people were going in the opposite direction – to the city.
They passed the last neighborhood and were outside the city.
– I said good-bye to him in a bad way. It’s about my husband, – Elena be-gan her story. – I can tell you this, – she involuntarily smiled and became thoughtful. – We met long ago, during my first shoot. He is my first director.
Pavel looked at her and then back at the road.
– The first film role. I was in the wild delight. The first director – and crazy about me! I was happy! Then, receiving the first flowers, I realized that he was in love with me. Then – more. He’s older than me and always seemed so experi-enced. And I am so naive, I always thought that everything would be endured and there would be love, I consoled myself with the thoughts that one loves, and the second one allows to be loved. But then I wanted to love. I don’t know when I would have time for everything. Anyway, time is needed for relations, and with my employment... Sergey became very jealous. Thank God, at least he did not raise a hand to me. Pasha, I just wanted to call on him and thank him. I have not told it to him for such a long time. And now, when I’m dead, – she giggled.
– Don’t tell me such things! What’s up?! – Pavel was indignant.
– Well, I’m sorry.
– I... – Pavel started gesticulating. – Well, it’s nothing!
While she spoke, an elite settlement inhabited by new Russian movie, TV stars and other celebrities appeared on the horizon.
– Where shall I go? There? – Pavel asked.
– Yes, Pasha. The second house. Park there, on the left.
A beautiful three-story red brick building barely peeked from behind a tall fence. There was a massive gate with two cameras and two searchlights illuminat-ing the road. Pavel came closer and stopped.
– I’ll go with you, it’s already late, – Pavel turned on the light in the cabin.
She became thoughtful.
– I suppose, yes, – and she got out of the car decidedly.
Approaching the gate, they called. Nobody answered, only a ringtone sounded. Lena and Pavel looked at each other. Then Lena tried to open the gate. She managed to do it. The gate was opened. She carefully looked inside.
– Pasha, let’s go, – she whispered softly.
An asphalt path illuminated by the searchlights led from the fence to the house. Around it there was a green lawn with an automatic grass-watering sys-tem. But in the house, with about twenty people inside, there was absolute si-lence.
– Pasha, something has happened here, – Elena whispered again.
Looking back, they went to the house along the asphalt path.
– Let me go first, I’m still a man, – Pavel said quietly and went forward.
He opened the door quietly, and they went inside. TV was on, loudly re-porting on the death of Elena Yarskaya, lights were turned on in the hall. They walked up and froze.
– Who’s there? – A voice asked.
– Sergey, it’s me, – she came out of hiding.
– Lena! But you...
A short-cut, black-and-gray-haired man of about forty-five stood looking at his wife. He was wearing faded jeans and a dark blue sweater.
– What’s the matter with you? – She came closer and touched his face, see-ing the marks of beatings on it.
– You’re alive! The main thing is that you’re alive! – He hugged his wife and noticed Pavel.
– Who are you? – Sergey asked.
– Sergey, I have not introduced you two. This is my savior.
– And how did it happen?.. – He wanted to say that she was considered dead. But she did not let him finish.
– Well, then it must be so.
– They searched for your diary, Lena. By the way, they showed me your photo, too, – Sergey turned to Pavel. – Soon is April 4 – presidential elections. Yes, yes, Cheburashka can fail.
– Beasts! – Elena sighed and lowered her head. – Sergey, do not tell anyone that I came. Okay?
Pavel understood that they needed to talk and he – to leave them alone. He went outside and got in the car.
– Sergey, I would like to say thank you for everything you have done for me...
– Well, wait, – he tried to hug her.
– Don’t interrupt me, – Elena snapped. – Thank you for what you have done for me. We will never meet again.
Sergey watched her, not looking away. She turned and left. Sergey was left alone. He did not want to run after her, realizing that it was useless. Anyway, he got a lot: five years of her life, joint life with him. And now he was standing in an empty hallway and listened to the sound of her footsteps – of the woman he loved, who was going away forever and who would never return. Once in the car, Elena did not say anything for a long time. Pavel was silent and waited for an or-der.
– Go, – she said.
– Where to? – Pavel asked.
– Straight.
He started. They drove back to the city. Elena still did not say anything – only told him where to go further. Pavel thought that it did not become easier for her after that visit.
– Take me, for example, – he said cheerfully. – Today I told my boss that he is an asshole!
Lena looked at him in surprise.
– And my mood is wonderful! And you say goodbye in such a sad way! There is in fact a sacred female commandment: “Do not be sad, otherwise your breasts will be bad”.
His joke succeeded. Elena smiled and rejuvenated.
– How so? Did you get sick and tired of him?
– Ah, – Pavel shrugged. – An asshole is an asshole. You just endure it, and then fly over the handle... But in general, it became easier. And after that I went for a walk.
– Oh, I see. And what are you now?
– I’ll find another job.
– Be sure to find it. Everything will be fine.
They were silent for some time.
Soon Pavel started to realize, where they came; the area seemed very famil-iar to him.
– Novo-Ogaryovo? – He asked.
– Yes, it is. Cheburashka lives here.
– Residence of the President, cool! And is he a loved one?
– Well, – Elena began to gesticulate. – It just happened so, – she added with humor. – We met at a reception in honor of the anniversary of something. We talked for a long time, then fled from everybody to the balcony, and drank champagne. Three minutes – and I fell in love. I was looking at him, with my mouth open, and he continued to say something. Then he admitted that it was the same thing with him. I have never loved so, and it came late to me, I was already married. And then he walked me home through the night Moscow. It turned out that in order to see how people live he often walks around the city by himself. We searched the most unusual places of the capital. Still, we have an amazing city. Then we started dating, and Misha appeared – the best man in the whole world. But... he’s married, and then he has another love – politics... Yesterday I was going to tell him to dare to something: whether abandon his wife and politics and stay with me, or...
Elena sighed. Then she grinned.
– You know, I wanted to tell him that he is an asshole! I was so angry. I can’t stay with Sergey, I don’t love him, it all became unbearable... Let’s go?
– Elena Mikhailovna, who will let us in? Maybe you have a right to entry, but not me – of that I’m sure.
– Pasha, don’t be a chicken! It’s Russia. Here, there is a hole in each fence! – She said cheerfully.
– What, in this too?
Pavel stared at Lena with surprised eyes. She said nothing – just smiled. Approaching a long white fence, beyond which there was the residence, Lena took off her shoes, threw one of them over the fence, then the second one.
– Follow me! – She commanded. Pavel shook his head, but obeyed.
The guard was interested in flown items, so they climbed through a secret passage and entered the territory of the residence. They found themselves in front of a huge oak tree in the park – and stood there with their legs apart and their hands behind the back.
– Elena Mikhailovna! – Chief of the guard was screaming at her, surround-ed by his subordinates. – There, there is a door! And above it, there is a doorbell!
– Boys, –she began playfully, turning to them. – Pavel and I were walking past the residence. I was in a good mood. There was nobody in the street, and I allowed myself a weakness – tossed up a shoe, and it accidentally flew over the fence. So I decided to climb in, but I would not climb in one shoe, like a fool. That’s why I threw the second one.
– Kostya! – Chief of the guard shouted to his subordinate, who stood at a distance. – Come here, you should hear this.
The young man approached.
– That’s what I love you for, Elena Mikhailovna. Every time you penetrate here you come up with a new explanation, and you have never repeated yourself in your explanations!
– I thought Cheburashka was not alone, – Lena explained guiltily.
Chief of the guard sighed and said:
– Victoria Eduardovna is absent. She will not return soon.
– Your hand, Pavel, – Elena approached Pavel. He silently handed her an elbow. She took Pavel’s arm and, watched by the six guards, they went to the two-story house at the end of the square. Other guards opened the door for them. Pavel and Lena entered the house and mounted the stairs to the second floor. There, at the door, they stopped.
– Pasha, I can’t face him!
She became worried, as a person worries before an important conversation in life.
– Well, come on! We got through such things here! – Pavel became indig-nant.
She hesitated.
– Listen. You start first: introduce yourself and so on, and I… I’ll hide here and then I’ll go out from behind a corner.
– Well, what... – Pavel rebelled. But seeing how hard it all was for her, he gave in. Meanwhile, someone was going to the door and, seeing a familiar silhou-ette, Elena hid around the corner.
– Hello, Anatoliy Mikhailovich.
– Hello, Pavel Nikolayevich.
– Do you know my name?
Pavel did not expect it. Inside, he realized that there was a guard and other informants, but he was pleased that a person of such high rank called him by name.
– But you did not come alone, – the owner of the house began delicately.
– No. She said to tell you that she sees your relationship differently, that they should be built on a different basis, on the basis of mutual understanding.
– I just feel as if at a meeting. Where is she? Is she alive?
– Yes, yes, everything is fine. She asked me to tell you that...
– That you are an asshole! That’s what I wanted to tell you, – she came from behind a cover, placing hands on the belt.
– Pasha, go take a walk!
Pavel went one stairwell down and out into the street.
– Come in, – Anatoliy Mikhailovich suggested to Elena.
She entered and remained standing at the door.
– Tolya, listen to me, do not interrupt, I have to go... I have a lot to say to you.
– I read that you were dead, almost went crazy.
She paused. He kept silence, too, looking at her, afraid to touch, to get closer.
– You know, I dream that you will live in a huge mansion in a village. When someone calls at the door, you will appear in your chestnut gown, busily tightening the belt, and ask: “What do you want?” And I will live with you, we will have many children, and the oldest one, Misha, will look after everything... It will be my best role. Thank you for everything that I have experienced... Yes, – she changed the tone. – They searched for my diary at Sergey’s. Elections are soon, and then...
– Yes, I know what’s then. We are already engaged in it.
– You can abandon your search, here it is.
She handed him a small book.
– I will not keep anything anymore. Let it remain with you. As a souvenir.
She went out and closed the door quietly.
– Did it become easier?
Pavel waited for Lena in the car. She drooped even more and stared out the window. He did not wait for an answer and started the car.
– I will never return here. There will be nothing more... Let’s go, – she whispered in a sad tone.
– Where to?
– There is one trash – Alexander Pletnyov.
Pavel looked at her with surprise. “So, a real asshole”.
– Drank so much blood from me. There is such a colleague of yours. I just do not know where he lives.
– I know, – Pavel said.
– What, seriously? – Elena raised an eyebrow in surprise.
– We work together.
– So, that is your rag?! – She said at an elevated tone.
– Not mine, – he tried to pacify her edifyingly.
– I’m sorry, Pasha.
– Then to his home. You know, all these publications are not painless. Ser-gey rolled such scenes that... And how can I explain him? He sees what is writ-ten, there is a harmless photo enclosed, but you can turn upside down every-thing. And Misha heard it all. And for a child’s mind it’s very dangerous. Very!
– And what do you want?
– I want to stuff his face. Just so. I’ve never done it before, but I’ll try. I think I will succeed.
– What is an action plan?
– We’ll see.
Circumstances were such that Pavel hid near Pletnyov’s door, and Elena called the door, pulled a strap of her dress and ruffled her hair. A lavender fitting dress, luxurious thighs in flesh-colored stockings, high heels... Pavel could imag-ine what picture Pletnyov will see. Her eyes changed. It seemed to him that she begins to play a role. A victim? A prostitute? A sexual stranger ringing the door-bell? Pavel did not know yet. But he could argue that it was not Elena Yarskaya near him, but a completely different woman.
– Who’s there? – Pletnyov opened the door without looking. – You? – He stood in the doorway, staring at Elena’s charms.
– You always wanted me, right? – She said, pulling a button on his shirt.
– You?! But you are dead. I saw it in the Internet! – He backed away.
– Well, come on, while I’m still warm.
– Well, that’s enough!
She entered the apartment and closed the door. He leaned against the wall, standing in his jeans, plaid shirt and torn slippers, frozen, unable to take his eyes off her. Elena came quite close. The tips of her hair touched his face. He enjoyed the line of her lips, they were getting closer and closer. He could feel her every breath, her breasts rising, her cold fingers touching his body. She undid one but-ton at a time. He began to breathe deeply. His eyes were closed in pleasure... And then she hit him in the groin.
– This one is because I’m a whore and slept with everyone!
The second blow.
– This one is for tantrums at my home after your articles!
Another blow.
– This one is for the fact that I lost a role in the States because of my alleg-edly tarnished reputation. And remember, pathetic scribbler, if you write any-thing from my diary, I’ll be back!
She went out and slammed the door.
– Let’s go! – She ran down the stairs.
– What happened?
– I’ve done what I wanted to. Come on, until he called the police.
Soon they raced along the highway.
– Elena Mikhailovna, I’m still a man. Somehow it’s not “comme il faut” that you left me behind the door and went to stuff his face! I was worried, by the way! Where are we going? – He asked in one breath.
– House of the Actor... Pasha, no offense, I had to do it myself.
– It was so funny to look at you when you shouted “let’s go”.
She laughed, too, imagining how it looked with her – an intelligent woman.
– Introduction in the House of the Actor? Ah, yes, – Pavel began with iro-ny. – We’ll see. Your favorite method!
– Um, um, – Lena answered.
The famous building held a regular meeting on something in the name of something. As soon as she came in, there was a storm of applause. She took the floor and spoke without any notes for about forty minutes. All this time Pavel listened calmly leaning against the wall. Everybody applauded standing, includ-ing all those envious – both men and women.
– There is one place left, Pasha. Misha is the best man in the whole world. I promised him something.
Along the way, they stopped at a supermarket and bought a huge construc-tion set. Misha lived with Lena’s mother in a private house in the suburb. When they arrived, they saw no light in the windows. Only in one window there was light: a reading lamp was turned on. We were greeted by an elderly woman, of about seventy, in a flannel white scarf and dark blue dress.
– Pasha, let me introduce my mom.
– Maria Sergeyevna, – the woman said, and asked in the same breath: – Well, my girl, why are you so late? – An old lady came up and hugged Elena, in-vited them into the house.
– Misha? – Lena asked in a whisper, knowing that her son was probably already asleep.
– Sleeping, – the grandmother smiled. – Come on, go look at him. He’s an angel, looks like Cheburashka, like his father.
Elena smiled. She went into the bedroom to see her son. He wrapped him-self in a blanket. A sweet expression on his face told her that his dreams were nice. She sat on the bed and ran a hand through his hair. She sat for a while, ad-miring the best man in the world, then got up and went to the kitchen to her mother.
– Mum...
– Well, why are you standing? Come here, have some tea with the old lady.
She leaned against the doorway and stared at her mother.
– My girl, I don’t like your look, as if you are saying goodbye. It’s not good.
– Mommy, sweetheart, well, if I need to go, what shall I do?
She came closer. The mother hugged her, kissed her on the forehead like in the childhood. For a moment she became warm and calm from her mother’s hug.
– It’s time, Mom, – she stood up. – You’re the best in the whole world.
Her eyes changed. She became sad, hopelessness appeared on her face. The old woman walked her to the door. She went out and closed the gate quietly. Pavel was waiting for her at the car. The sky was starry, beautiful. There, outside the city, it seemed closer, with brighter stars. Pavel stood admiring the warmth of a spring night, with his hands on the car. At the sound of her footsteps he turned.
– That’s all, Pasha, thank you. I’ll do myself now.
– What do you mean “yourself”? I’ll give you a lift.
He was surprised. She looked intently at him… and said:
– Pasha, well, you know that nothing of this was real...
After a pause, she added:
– You know that you pulled me dead out of the car.
Pavel said nothing.
– It’s time for you to go... Come, the living are there... behind you... Thank you. I’ve done what I wanted.
She turned her back on him and left. Pavel stood watching her. She raised her hand and waved at him without turning around. Pavel stood watching until her figure merged with the darkness of the night.

She’s right – nothing of that was real. There was a completely different sto-ry...
I pulled her dead out of the car and screamed in pain for a long time. I loved that person so much and had to meet her like that. I hugged her, smearing blood on my jacket, and saw a notebook next to her. I don’t know why, but I took it. The title page stated: “Actress’s diary”. I put it in the inside pocket of my jacket. When the ambulance arrived, I got in the car and left. Then I stopped at the curb and began to read. I read everything and was shocked. I had some doubts: maybe, it was a murder? The diary contained everything: about deputies, what they do in reality, about higher ranks of the country and our celebrities – addicts and perverts. No, it was a really tragic accident. The girl broke away from her mother and ran out into the road. To save a child’s life, Elena twisted the wheel and smashed into a truck. The girl whom she saved is going to become an actress; her name is Elena, as her grief-stricken mother said. I did not understand only one thing: why does my neighbor Semyon, a rare drunk, live? Let him live, of course. But people who are so few are no longer with us and will never be. Of course, you can ponder over it for ages! But... there is no such desire. I watched her movies many times. I cried and laughed, I was happy and said. It was so sin-cere and incorruptible! In general, I lived a life!
And she also wrote about what she would like to do. She had a few desires. And I thought that I should go and make it all for her. I imagined how she would do it. I was sure: just as I wrote in the first chapter. I wish she still lived in my imagination! At least one more evening, one more night. She was an adventuress – in the best sense of the word. Who else would I penetrate into the residence of the president with? And now... But why talk about it!
After that I went to see Sergey. His house was really searched. They were looking for her diary. Sergey and I talked and decided to cheat at something. Watching the movie “Midshipmen, go ahead!” attentively, I caught out one detail. Do you remember how Bestuzhev pretended that his correspondence was authen-tic? He gave away a couple of real letters, but put a few fakes into them. We did the same thing: we got four diaries instead of the one (it was of a tear-off type). She wrote a lot and preferred a piece of paper instead of a file in the computer. Thus, we did it. They really showed him my photo, and I realized that they would not leave me alone just that simple. On April 4 we’ll have presidential elections, and because of this diary the country may have another president. Then I went to Cheburashka. He opened the door for me. I said:
– I have a message from Elena Yarskaya. She was going to see you. She wanted to tell you something.
– I know, – he said quietly, his head bowed.
He smelled strongly of alcohol. I paused for a moment and then said:
– She asked me to tell you that you are an asshole, but she loves you very much.
I was emboldened by reading her diary. Thought that I would be killed right there.
– Come on, – he said.
Misha – her guard and best friend – was at the table. We had a drink, and then Cheburashka asked about the diary. I gave him the diary.
Next, I went to the set of Mosfilm (there was no House of the Actor – I came up with it). There I was raised on high, and I read from her diary everything she wanted to tell everyone. There was a storm of applause. I went to the director and said:
– I’d like to give you her diary.
I felt that I was being watched. I do not know who by – special services? Cheburashka’s ill-wishers? But someone was constantly there. In each place I visited I left one diary. While the essence of the matter, while they sort out whether it’s true or not, in the meantime I’ll be in another place – namely, with Pletnyov. On Friday evening he was drinking with his friends – as usual. The bar was the same. And for me it was no trouble to find him.
– Ah, a moron, well, your Yarskaya kicked the bucket? And I wanted to fuck her, – he did a puff and exhaled.
– Let’s go, we need to talk, – I began sharply. I found him in the dressing room, where people smoked.
– Come on, the weather is nice, – Pletnyov said.
He stubbed out his cigarette and followed me to the door. We went out into the street. Backyard of the restaurant was a deserted place. I looked around and realized that we were alone.
– Listen, a defective one. You have Yarskaya’s real diary, and not the bull-shit you gave me.
“Oh! – I thought. – My calculation is correct”.
– You won’t get it. She wanted to stuff your face. It was her last wish. So, I’ll do it.
I recoiled at the thought that he was going to hit me first. But he just laughed. I swung to hit him in the jaw. He put a block with his hand and struck the counterblow. I found myself on the pavement. I felt that I had a mouth full of blood. And falling, I hit my head. A sharp pain crushed my head into pieces.
– Well, a defective one, the diary! – Pletnyov said and kicked me in the stomach.
I shouted. Spitting blood, I tried to get up. Another kick followed, this time in the jaw. Here Yarskaya’s diary helped me, namely the place where she de-scribed shooting an action. After reading it, I remembered how to make an under-cut. She liked this technique herself, and she laid it out really well. My opponent was on the ground. Oh! And that was my turn. I jumped on him and stuffed his face so that it was a bloody mess.
– That’s for Yarskaya’s being a whore! That’s for me being defective...
I remembered all his rags.
– Bitch, here is your fucking diary! Nothing can help her now. And the fact that another president may be elected... Well, to hell with him, we’ll survive!
I reached inside my jacket and pulled out the diary I wanted to give him. In general, I presented it in a way as if it were real. I knew that he would buy it. In the talk show for the first channel he made a fool of himself in full, for the whole country. Everyone understood that there was no compromising there. And I, all beaten, went to see her son, gave him a construction set through his grandmother. And his mother’s diary, too – a real one, of course. He will grow up and decide for himself what to do with it. And nobody will tell him better about his mother.
I came back to the accident scene in the morning. The night was... God for-bid having another such. With a broken face, I sat on the fence and drank a bottle of beer. It’s very difficult to have this amount of stress for one night, all the more sober. The accident scene was already cleaned, which was natural, of course. Cleanliness. Utility services in Moscow operate properly. An empty highway, no people. Early morning. All the shops and cafés closed. Soon everything will re-vive. However, the entire highway was dotted with flowers. The police marked them with a red ribbon. The day will begin soon. The first day without her!
That morning I went to the editorial office long before the workday. I sat at my desk and wrote a letter of resignation. Then I picked up another piece of pa-per and wrote the name of my first story: “Actress’s diary”.

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Alex entered the smoking room, took out a cigarette, lit it, and opened the window, letting in the fresh spring air. He liked something in smoking: whether his brain was tired after a hard day or it was the effect of doing something very important and significant, when sagely inhaling and puffing smoke.
“Yes, I’m tired. The day ended. I should have a rest today... Maybe, hook a woman… It’s Friday, after all. And on Friday, as you know... well, yes, Friday is a reason itself. The most important thing is to learn a trade. If she is an account-ant, then...” he smiled. “I’m tired of them at work... If only I could see her to-day…”
Every evening, she always came out at seven minutes past six. At that time, she was at the elevator. It’s not clear why: whether she went to her husband and at ten minutes a car was waiting for her on the porch, or for some other rea-son.
“Everything has an explanation”, he said something philosophically, puff-ing smoke.
They always said a couple of sentences to each other. Alex told her an an-ecdote, and she laughed.
“My God, what a smile! Wife of the company’s president! It’s frightful even to fall in love with her. Not my rank. A pleasant woman, of course. No match for her fool. Although, it’s not up to me to decide. I don’t understand in the boys”, he liked his own joke. He finished his cigarette and threw the butt into the trash.
The post of a Senior Accountant required corresponding appearance: a stylish suit, a snow-white shirt and a yellow tie with black polka dots. In general, everything is quite standard. Although with his athletic figure it all looked a lot better on him than on others, that even such simple, classic things seemed quite fine.
He went back to the office and, as always, gallantly said goodbye to the colleagues. Those strained from making hypocritical smiles and pronounced:
– See you tomorrow, Alex!
She was not near the elevator.
“Probably, went earlier or will go later”, he waited for her for two more minutes, giving place to the colleagues from other departments, and went down in the next elevator himself.
“But dreams do come true: I have always wanted to work in a large busi-ness center, go up in such a transparent elevator and look down on everything: parked cars, people on their way to or from work...”, he thought examining the local skyline.
A huge white building of the business center with its thirty floors towered over all other buildings. It stood a little distance from them. And a large parking lot ran to it, shrouding it from all the sides with countless cars. He often turned around when he went from work and looked at it. He did not like this “white monster”. And compared to it, he was a small bug in the vast harmonious mech-anism for making money for an “uncle”. And he would like... like... uh... if there was something he would not like. For the whole days he had numbers, papers, reports, sales. Work – home, home – work. If the life would boil up, or some-thing! Just so boring…
“Well, I’ll hook a woman now, get drunk with friends, dial her phone num-ber and put the receiver down with the last digit. So what?”
He walked to his car , took it off the alarm, gently pulled out of the parking lot, and two minutes later sped down the main street.
“Well, my dear Alex, let’s hook a woman then... Go ahead!”
Near the hotel “Megalopolis” he turned left and went down to the restau-rant located in the same building, but in the back. He spent some time in the parking lot hoping to find at least some free space. It did not work. And then a black “Mercedes”, as always dignified and graceful, gave way to him. At such moments, he somehow always remembered the following anecdote: a “Mercedes” had no way to go, as a “Toyota Prado” blocked the road. A man looked out from the “Mercedes” and shouted in the direction of the “Toyota”: “Hey, you! On your UAZ! Let me through!”
Alex nodded to the owner of the “Mercedes” as a sign of gratitude and be-gan to park. Getting out of the car, he looked around. There was no one. “Maybe, everyone has already hooked all women, and I just came? Um...”
Then he heard some shouting.
– Boys, stop it!
He looked back.
– I’m not going anywhere!
The voice was very familiar, and the shouts came from somewhere around the corner. He put on the alarm and quickly headed for the voice.
Turning the corner, he saw the silhouettes of four men and a woman whom they tried hard to push into the car, but she resisted, with all her strength.
– Shall I help you to push?
Everybody froze from such an unexpected question. The woman looked at him almost from out of the car.
– Alex? – The woman asked.
– Valya?
“So, after all, she went down earlier. I was right not to wait for her any longer”, for some reason, the thought raced through his head.
– Hey, you, witling! Shall we fuck you, too?
Apparently, it was the main one among them who asked, because his joke was immediately appreciated by his companions, one of which, judging by his clothing and demeanor, was a foreigner.
– Go away, – the sturdy guy continued closing in on him.
After letting him pretty close, Alex jumped and stabbed him in the stom-ach. The latter doubled over in pain and fell to the pavement. The second one went at Alex immediately, with a knife in his hand. Alex turned away from the knife, grabbed it and stabbed his attacker in the leg. The second one cried out in pain. With the remaining one, it was much easier. The foreigner released Valenti-na and backed away. So as not to have problems for sure, Alex kicked him in the head. That one started cursing in his native language and fell down. The fourth one, their partner, said:
– I’m not going to do my face because of a woman!
And he ran away.
Alex grabbed Valya’s hand, she somehow grabbed a briefcase, standing on the hood of her abusers’ car, and they ran away with all their might. Despite the danger looming over them, Alex still managed to notice her luxurious appear-ance: a mini-skirt, covering up little, with her chic thighs, a blouse unbuttoned at her chest, and high-heeled shoes, which prevented their escape now and then.
– Wait, – she said nervously. – Or I’ll lose a shoe.
– Come on! – He urged her. They ran behind a row of cars and took refuge there. – There seems no one.
Alex looked out, and they ran to his black “Skoda”.
They started sharply, but at the very exit from the parking lot a man ap-peared from nowhere, blocking their way. Alex did not slow down the speed, but vice versa, even put it on.
– What are you doing? We will crush him! – Valya screamed, trying to stop him.
Alex did not react. Before the actual collision, the young man jumped to the side, cursing.
– You must never allow yourself to be blackmailed! – Alex looked out the side window. – There is a tail. We did not manage to leave in time! Damn it!
They were chased by a black “Lexus”, and at high speed.
Valya looked at the car following them, then at Alex.
– Now do not be afraid and sit quietly, – he said, assessing the situation, turned into the next quarter, and then drove some more, turned into a side street where there were three arches, moved into one of them and ordered:
– Get out. Quickly. But quiet!
Two cars drove in the yard. Eight men got out, and all of them moved in the direction of the three arches. Alex looked around. In the arch there was a door leading to one of the entrances. They ran there and paused at the open door. Two men went into the arch and stood at the entrance. One said to another:
– We find them, and I’ll do the face to this man. We’ll fuck the chick and write it off on... on anything.
Another one smiled mischievously.
Hearing that, Alex came up a little closer and struck the head of one of them from the corner, jumped out and punched the liver of the second one with a fist. Both bent down.
– Now, be quick! Who follows us?! – Alex asked.
– I will not say, – one of them said.
– The answer is not full! – Alex said and dealt another blow to his stom-ach. That one bent down and began to spit. From the inner pocket of the coat of one of the strangers Alex pulled a license and read: “Main Intelligence Direc-torate, Special Department”.
– Fucking shit!
He quickly grabbed Valya, and they rushed to the car. Her shoe slipped again. Alex bent down and with all the anger hurled both shoes to the side.
– I’ll buy you new ones! Well, if my salary would allow it.
– Two grands! Of course, you’ll buy them...
– Do you want to talk about this now? – He snapped at her. They managed to get into the car and drove away in front of their pursuers.
On the road, Alex sighed.
It was night, the road was empty, with a single car driving from time to time in the opposite direction. His eyes fell on the diplomat on Valya’s laps.
– What’s that? – He turned on light.
– I don’t know, I took it there, in the alley, from those men who grabbed me, – Valya answered excitedly.
– Open it, what’s there?
Valya opened a small red leather diplomat.
– Oh, there are some drawings, – she turned over one of them, then picked up another one.
He looked down at her legs.
“What luxurious legs, and this mini-skirt... there, under it, there is probably something I’ve never seen!..” – He thought.
Seeing his look, she gently said:
– Maybe, a little later? – And she smiled fabulously.
– There is a cape for sexual fellow travelers there! Put it on your legs! – He shouted. – I can not concentrate! Sorry, – he added more calmly. – I’m just wor-ried, and with your legs I can not watch the road.
– Yes, I’m sorry.
– So what’s there? – Alex was watching the road.
– Oh, yes, – she again looked at the drawings. She gave him one of them. – It is marked “top secret”. These are drawing of a new secret submarine, – she was horrified and bewildered when she uttered these words.
– Damn it! We ran into a spy story! In a single moment! – Alex laughed and slapped his hand on the steering wheel.
– Over a whole lifetime, you will not get into this story, and here we did it in one night! Y-yes. Cool!
– Yes, really, she supported him.
– And what were you doing there? – He asked Valya.
He looked at her, then back at the road.
– It’s a long story. – She hesitated and asked in return. – And you?
– I... well... – This time he hesitated. – It’s a long story.
She smiled in response.
– Do you know who chases us? – She looked at him. He replied calmly:
– MID, Special Department.
– What is MID?
– Main Intelligence Directorate of Russia!
– Fucking shit! – She clutched her head.
– Yeah, that’s for sure.
– Well, fine… – She began, and continued encouragingly: – They follow us, so we just stop and give up this fucking diplomat! Yes?
– Did you hear the conversation of those two fighters? Huh? – He stared at her, frowning, then looked back at the road. They drove up to the circular road.
– Yes, but...
– I think I’ll take you to my country cottage, nobody knows it, and then I’ll take this bag and give it away, and you’ll be safe.
– No, I grabbed this damn diplomat, and I’ll take back! Why do you have to get mixed up in this story? – She stared at him for a moment. – Alex, and who are you?
– Accountant, – he answered with astonishment, understanding in general why she asked.
– And how do you know to fight so well?
– I wanted to enter the MID. But failed sparring and orienteering, to put it simply.
She raised an eyebrow in surprise.
– Well, that’s the way it is! – Alex continued. – This is Russia, after all. By the way, tell me, who are these people?
– I came to this restaurant, – she began, – sat at one of the tables; then two men approached me and asked for permission to take a seat. One of them was an American, as I understand from the dialogue, he lived in this hotel...
To the left there was a forest, to the right – a small sleeping area of the city. Alex drove her to his country cottage. Very few people knew it, he wanted to leave Valya there, then to head to the Russian Federal Security Service.
– Here, well, then, – she continued, – they dragged me into the street. Well, then you’ve seen everything yourself.
– Which one of them had the red diplomat?
– The American, – she answered.
– Yeah, – Alex sighed.
They were silent for a bit, and then suddenly they saw a traffic police post in front of them.
– Oh! That’s it! We’ll give them the drawings and we are free, – she said briskly, looking at Alex with the hope in her eyes.
– There never was a traffic police post, – he said quietly.
– Alex, – she took him by the sleeve, – are you sure?
– No, but I know this road.
– Alex, – she tugged at his sleeve, – it’s a quarter past one now, middle of the night. You can be wrong. They were probably instructed by the radio to take a bag, and that’s all. Don’t be a chicken, baby! – She slapped him on the shoul-der.
– Oh, Valya! – Alex got excited. – It’s a bad idea!
Meanwhile, the traffic police post was getting closer, and they saw an in-spector waving his stick. Alex thought hard: to stop or not.
– Okay, I’ll listen to you! – From the nervous tension, he even shouted.
– Well, everything will be fine! – She slapped him on the shoulder again.
– Well, – said Alex with displeasure, leaning back in his seat. – Let’s stop.
They approached a traffic cop, a middle-aged thin man, with a cap shifted to the top of the head.
– Well, you’ve done something seriously wrong, yeah? – With these words, he tapped on the glass with his stick. Alex looked around, behind him there was another cop, a large man with a large face, holding some papers. He was walking sedately, not in a hurry, swaying from foot to foot. He pointed to the subordi-nate, saying “get them out”. Alex and Valya dutifully got out.
– Wow! – The two cops froze, staring at Valentina’s charms. She effective-ly strode toward them, wiggling her hips.
– Lieutenant Petrenko, – the senior one introduced himself. – We received an orientation on you. Your documents!
Alex reached into the inside pocket of his jacket. A car roared somewhere near – someone else approached them, and from the forest belt. A toned “Lada” appeared. From it, three men with machine guns got out. They opened fire on everyone at once.
– What is that? – Lieutenant Petrenko asked...
Those were his last words. He and his assistant were killed with the ma-chine guns. At this moment, Alex and Valya leaped away and hid behind the cops’ car.
– Oh, God! Living people! Living people, and that’s all! – She grabbed her head and started to cry. – I should have listened to you! What a fool I am! Alex, I’m sorry!
Alex stayed cool. He literally pulled her along the ground to his car.
– Valya, come on!
– Yes, yes, yes, Alex, I’m coming! – She said through her tears, got up and ran after him.
Soon, the toned “Lada” began to overtake them. They heard a machine gun fire.
– Get down, now! – He tilted her head down. Crushed glass rained down. The car was touched, but Alex twisted the steering wheel sharply.
– Never mind, we’ll turn to the sleeping area. There we’ll deal with them. I know this area well.
They drove into the neighborhood, and Alex immediately turned inward. Some side streets, yards, trash cans flashed by.
– I wonder who is this? – Without straightening, Valya asked.
– I think owners of the diplomat.
The car continued to follow them. They turned again.
– Valya, I’ve got an idea. At the end of this neighborhood there is a high-way, which is located on the bridge. Only two roads lead to it. I will go along one of them. I would like them to go along the same one. So, along the second road – it comes from the top down – you’ll have to throw down a series of barrels – there is a beer warehouse there. Barrels will roll down, then they will turn and go down the same road as I, and then I’ll deal with them myself.
– I did not understand anything, but I agree.
Alex smiled, he liked her answer. They cleverly hid from their pursuers. She ran to these barrels and with all her forces pushed them around. They rolled down. At this time, the toned “Lada” put on speed, and then Alex ran into them in his “Skoda” and began pressing to the edge of the road, behind which there was a precipice. They opened fire, but, nevertheless, from the third attempt he hit their car from the bridge and into the precipice. There was a deafening explosion, and a pillar of fire rose into the sky. He took a deep breath. After some time, Valya ran up to him, gasping for air, and leaned on the car. Alex put his car on the handbrake and got out.
– You know, I’m tired of running all the night! Fuck them all! Let’s have a rest, – he slammed the door hard, took out a pack of cigarettes and pulled one of them. – Do you smoke? – He asked her.
– Only when having a rest, – she said, and reached for a cigarette. He raised an eyebrow in response (well, yes, logically, we’re having a rest, aren’t we?).
– And I smoke when the stress is strong, but this is rare. Well, once in a quarter, – he smiled at those words, referring to the quarterly report. – You know, she screams so! I just can’t stand that shout!
– Our chief accountant? – Valya asked in surprise. – A hysterical patient! A fool! And my husband pays her big money!
It was evident that she soiled, throwing down barrels. He took out a hand-kerchief and handed it to her.
– And what were you doing there? – She asked.
– Actually, I wanted to hook a woman.
She smiled and said quietly:
– And I went there to hook a man. Mine is cheating on me! – She stared in-to his eyes.
– Cheating on you? – He cried out.
– Yeah, can you imagine? I foolishly decided to take revenge, and that’s why I dressed up, and only later came to senses, it’s so stupid, but it was too late, at least you arrived in time.
They both put their hands on the car and stared off into the distance.
– Dawn is soon, – he said. – In all this running around I never...
She finished herself.
– You wanted to say “never hooked a woman”? And I did not hook a man, what shall we do?
– I know what to do, – he came closer and gently kissed her on the tip of her lips.
– I’m sure it’s necessary to achieve our small goals, – she put her arms around him, and for a while they forgot about everything.

– My God, I don’t want to go anywhere. Let’s stay here, – she reached out and stared at the ceiling of the car.
– We’ll have traffic cops put on us, you’ll see.
– Oh, what a night! I did not even expect it. Let’s throw out this fucking suitcase!
– Diplomat, – Alex corrected her calmly, but seriously.
– Yes, we shall get dressed and go, – she concluded, putting on her bra with displeasure.
Alex was dressed in forty-five seconds. She slapped him on the buttocks.
– Did you learn it in the army or with women in the back seat? – She asked him slyly.
He looked at her bang that fell over her eyes, at the little bra, trying to keep those breasts, and briefly stopped his stare.
– No, Alex, we must go. Is it far from your country cottage?
She quickly got dressed and sat down next to him.
– No, we’ll be in place soon. I think no one will find us there. It does not look like there is a house behind the trees at all.
– That’s excellent. Let’s go.
They added speed.
– I did not think that accountant is such a sexy profession, – Valya said, after a pause, while buttoning her blouse. He did not just smile, but blossomed from such compliments.
Soon, they came to a settlement located in the forest. Small one-story hous-es were to the left and right of them. A flock of local dogs, seeing early guests, clung to the car, barking at it. Because of the lack of roads in the settlement, the car was shaking a little. Turning to the next street, Alex pulled up.
– But there is nothing here! – Valentina said, looking ahead.
– Everybody thinks so, so we will not be found here.
They went behind the trees that made the appearance that there was a for-est belt behind them and nothing else, and there was a house and a small garden.
– Look, it really seems that a forest starts behind these trees! – She stopped and looked at his car.
– Well, you beat your car a lot, of course!
– Well, what could I do? – He threw up his hands.
They went into the house. Reaching out, Alex took a key hidden over the door.
Upon entering, he turned on the lights and she saw a small and cozy room, in the middle of which there was an oak table, behind the table, in the corner – a fridge, to the left of the wall – a fireplace, and then there was a bedroom.
– Take a seat, – he pointed to a chair. – I’ll do everything myself.
She sat down.
– And what do you have to eat?
– Of course! – He smiled, opening the fridge. She took a cloth and wiped off the table. Soon everything she could think of appeared on it: salmon, sand-wiches with red caviar, tomatoes salad, cheese, and a bottle of champagne.
– You’re a magician, – she said, with her mouth open, looking at all this abundance.
– Wait a minute! – He looked hard at the window. – There’s someone there.
She shivered.
– I want to bring you flowers, – he said and took her hand. – I’ve got such roses here!..
– Damn it, Alex!.. You scared me! – Valya became indignant. – Run, I’m waiting for you.
He nodded.
– I’ll be quick.
On the porch, he took a knife and went to the forest belt. Leaning over the roses, he felt… a knife at his throat.
He froze.
– Russian MID, come with me, – a steel voice sounded.
– There won’t be any other offers? – Alex tried to laugh it off. MID soldier took him to the house. Several men in civilian clothes were already inside. Valya was sitting in a chair, with her hands handcuffed. She lowered her head, her hair hiding her eyes.
– Men, we are in no way to blame, – Alex started.
– Maybe, you – no, – one of the men in civilian clothes said, showing Alex his ID. – Colleagues, I am pleased to introduce you to Alexa Cole, – he pointed to Valentina. – Since 2000 a CIA agent. In Russia since 2007. Taking into ac-count the disaster of the ship “White Gull” in 2007, after which a Valentina Gorokhova goes missing, God rest her soul, we have her – Alexa Cole – new Valentina Gorokhova. Well, yeah. In 2008 she married a prominent business-man, owning an agricultural company with branches across the country. On their professional holiday, this businessman invites a number of high-ranking officials from the government. With these parameters of the body, she easily gains trust, has affairs with some of these officials, and so on. A great number of brilliant op-erations! The elusive person! From her former colleagues in MI-6, from under their nose, she stole drawings of the new submarine, and do you know what she used? After the next operation Steve Jones always went to hook a woman. Well, take this diplomat to the embassy, but no! This one, with her parameters, ap-peared in the right place. And then, a young man, – a man in civilian clothes pointed to Alex, – came to hand as ever in time.
Alex stood, listening to it all, and could not believe his ears and eyes.
– If it were not for this turkey in love!.. – Valentina snorted.
He did not see her like that. She has changed in a single moment, it was a different face: evil eyes and sarcastic mockery. It was a different person! Flowers on such a night! You would have never caught me!
– In some ways you’re right. In 1999 Alex Seleznyov tried to enter our of-fice, and he brilliantly chose a place for his country cottage. Probably, away from thieves. Okay, enough of romance. Pack up that lady!
Two men in civilian clothes took her by the arms and led to the door. Pass-ing by Alex, who wilted, she stopped, pulled out of the men’s hands, and her lips passionately dug into his. He did not answer.
– I’m sorry... It was the best sex of my life.
– Go! – One of the men pushed her. – You’ll still have the best sex of your life! We are going to… have your brains right now! – Again, she was taken by the arms and pushed into the car.
He turned around, looking at all this, and thought: “Yesterday she was stuffed into the car, and today... Why would I do that? The result is the same”. Alex stood a little more, then left the house and went to the river bank. He sat down on the grass. His hand reached for the water surface, scooped some water, and washed his face. He loosened his tie and unbuttoned the top button of his shirt.
– What a night!.. What a shame!.. – A lump was raising to his throat, so that…
With the rustling of the grass, he turned. A man in civilian clothes was heading to him, holding something in his hand.
– Do you mind? – He asked.
– No, not at all, – Alex tried to smile, but apparently, he did not do it well.
– You tried to enter, didn’t you?
– Yes, we were together. You’re… Konstantin Govorkov, Govorukhin...
– Do not guess – Gorelov.
– Maybe, you’ll join us now?
– No, Kostya, thank you. I’d better stay with my numbers, papers, reports, summary tables and women who come to work not to work, but to keep gossip, intrigue, secret games, – Alex said sadly.
– Well, – Konstantin said and placed a bottle of champagne and a glass be-side him. – Have a drink, you can use several glasses. Well, bye, – Kostya said and gave Alex a hand.
– Bye, Kostya.
“Here it is, the truth”, Alex thought, looking at the lake. “Smooth surface of the water, which reflects the forest, a boat mooring, a duck on the water, birds singing in the morning, the blue of the sky... And there is nothing else: no Valya, no women from work, because there is no need in it! Everything is here without it!”
He opened the bottle and poured a glass of champagne, lit a cigarette...
– I do want to sleep, – he stretched himself to the sky and fell into the grass. A minute later he was asleep.

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A Small Café

“I don’t know if she’ll be there. And anyway, why am I going there? Um, intuition is the Queen of the decision-making! Yes, probably, that’s she talking inside me”. Alex honked a car that tried to overtake him, then gave way to it and put on speed.
Driving along the broad road was a pleasure. Steppes spread to the left and right. It was sunset. The wind openly flirted with him through the right side window. It will appear soon – a small roadside café. They met there seven years ago. He did not know how to start a conversation, frankly staring at her, thought quite a long time and pronounced as in an old joke: “Are you also sitting in this café?”
Well, but then things got rolling...
“Will she come today, or not? I’d rather think about the new novel, but my thoughts are elsewhere. I do want to see her! The latter one was published, that’s good. Well done!” Nevetheless, his thoughts switched to the novel. “And they promised to transfer a royalty today, the devils!” He jokingly called his publishers so – probably for their remarkable business grip.
Soon outlines of a roadside café appeared. A nice place, a-la an American diner of “cowboy times”. He parked. Entered.
The same wooden tables of “hazelnut” color, covered with a white cloth, the same bar, a couple of visitors, bored over a beer. Renovations, however, have been made recently: false ceilings, new blinds on the windows fluttering here and there in the breeze by an open window. A young beautiful girl standing behind the bar and wiping glasses smiled graciously and invited him to take a seat.
“The most typical barmaid”, he thought. “Brunette with long hair, balls-like breasts “as if trying to get out of a blouse” and beautiful shifty brown eyes”.
Alex sat down at one of the tables. The “typical barmaid” brought him the menu.
– Espresso, – he said, somehow with a Spanish accent.
She retired.
– Um, maybe she’s there, after all? How many years I've been looking for her through the search service at “odnoklassniki.ru”! What a fool, I swear!
Alex opened the laptop and went to “odnoklassniki”.
His page failed to open for some reason, but it was not really something he needed. He decided to once again find her. Mereschenko, Meresyeva, Marshenko-va, but she – Natasha Merkulova – was not there.
– Um... – here he caught sight of one of the users who were online. – Sergei Shevtsov! But he died last year!
Alex looked at the name of the site – “odnoklassniki.another.world.ru”.
– Oh, my God!
He felt that someone came up to him, and Alex looked up. All the visitors of the café were standing next to him: a big-faced man in a baseball cap and grubby T-shirt, from under which hair stuck out, his friend, with whom they had already taken a nip, a tall thin girl in creepy glasses, which obviously did not suit her, and a charming barmaid.
– Welcome to another world! – The middle-aged man in a baseball cap said smilingly.
– Another world?! What’s this nonsense?!
The barmaid smiled sincerely again and added:
– Alex...
– How do you know me? I did not introduce myself, did I?! – Alex asked, startled.
– Well, first of all, you are a famous writer. And secondly, you got smashed up in an accident half an hour ago, while making an overtake. And you honked to that obstinate driver. Here, watch the news, – she snapped her fingers and there was news on the First Channel:
– (marked urgent) A famous writer Alex Mikhailov smashed up near a roadside café on the Kiev highway today at 15.30. His novels “Shelter of Lonely Dreams”, “I’ll Give You... Death”, “Old Omeliya” and others caught fancy of the reader...
The barmaid switched off the sound to finish up.
– Oh, my God!.. – Alex took his head in the hands.
– Don’t worry so! By the way, go and talk to him. He’s having his break-fast now on the shore of the ocean, – she continued.
– Who is “he”? – Alex asked in surprise.
– The Lord. Oh! He is a big fan of yours. Especially rereads the books, where you write about him. Can’t put them down, awaits publication of a new one. Says that it’s a lie, but beautifully written. And laughs heartily at this. Thank you, Alex, – the girl thanked him.
– Well, and how do you live here? – Alex calmed down a bit and asked a question.
– Perfect! We have Internet and TV. We have no money, but we have eve-rything! It’s scary when everything is because of the dough, as you say, there, in “your world”. Here you write a book, kick the bucket – and that’s it.
– You use what you want. It is the paradise, after all! – It was the turn of the man in a baseball cap to explain things to him.
Alex looked out the window. There was a sign saying “Paradise – one hun-dred meters”, and on the right there was another one: “Hell – two hundred me-ters”.
He wanted to ask why it is longer to get there...
– And?.. – He was showing at tables with a hand.
– To reflect while going – the man answered sternly.
Then the barmaid was shaking him by the shoulder and asked:
– Are you also sitting in this café? Are you also sitting in this café? Are you also sitting in this café?
Alex jerked and... woke up. It was she standing in front of him – Natasha.
– Oh, God, hi! – He got up, shining and absolutely distraught.
It was she! She! The same blond hair, a strand of them as usual falling down over her eyes. And these eyes! What the eyes! His favorite dimples in her cheeks. His favorite black dress...
Still, she came, did not forget.
– You had a dream? – She asked, smiling.
– A dream... so... you know... I... probably, wrote more than I needed to the day before.
– Hello, Alex!
– Hello, Natasha! – Alex was beaming. After all, she’s here! She came! She’s here! She did not forget!
– I thought – what if you come here?
– I thought the same thing.
– You became a famous writer, – she said, not taking her eyes off him.
– Ah... – he shrugged.
– How are you, Alex?
– I’ve been looking for you for so long. Let’s take a seat.
They sat down.
– ...Including at “odnoklassniki”, – he took his breath. – I have not seen you for five years... Even now I’ve been looking for you through the search ser-vice, and fell asleep, and I had a terrible dream. You know, I...
She did not let him finish, took him by the hand and said:
– Don’t worry, from now on I will be always at “odnoklassniki”!

Uncle Mitya

“Well, then. According to the map it must be somewhere here”, – Alexey thought and turned left on the highway. The fresh snow crunched nicely under the wheels of his jeep, and the new one was still hovering in the air like some wondrous magic from the fairy-tale. “Only God knows how much snow fell! Good weather: it should be five or eight degrees below zero”.
Alexey looked at the navigator. The arrow indicated that the goal was close. “From the look of things I should go here”, – he concluded. Up ahead on the column he could see a sign “Cheryomushki village”, although there was nothing like this on the map.
“I should have put a new one, Misha gave me a right piece of advice. Well, I’ll ask someone now”, – he looked around. – “And there are no people, not a soul. Well, but it seems to be the start of the day!” Alexey turned back and ran a car off the road.
“Yeah, it is beautiful here”, - he looked around, opened the door of the car and got out. The nose tingled with the cold. It was easy to breathe in the fresh air. The snow, like an artist, shrouded the trees in a classical way – nice and smooth, in the form of white furry hats. And the sky was clear and had such a pleasant light blue color, with a few dark clouds, from which, probably, the snow was falling. Alexey was standing on the slope of a large river. Beautiful paints. Even fantastically beautiful.
In one sweater, even let it be a hand-knitted one, it became cool, and he went to the car. And here between him and the car a woman appeared as if from nowhere. It gave him a start of surprise.
– You scared me, – Alexey gasped.
The woman was looking at him in silence. The impression was repellent, as if there were a homeless person in front of you. Long and rough hair that seemed to have been unwashed for a long time, pouches under the eyes... She was dressed in a hoodie of some earthy colors.
– You are going to Cheryomushki. Don’t go there! –the stranger said.
– You know… I… – Alexey tried to approach her.
She turned and walked away.
“Oh, my God” – Alexey took a breath. – “Good advice, say nothing: “don’t go there… The Chief Editor will eat me bag and baggage! What a place it is”.
He pulled away and drove in this “Cheryomushki” that appeared from nowhere. Up ahead there was a street where you could see a few houses, rather ramshackle with the wells left and right. It seems that somebody used them: icy tracks were stretching from them. But there was nobody in the street. Only one more strange sign in another tree: “Old Matthew (Uncle Mitya) – twenty steps, well, twenty-five, not more”, – and the arrow indicated directly. The inscription evoked a smile – it’s not difficult to make twenty-five steps, although in the jeep. Up ahead there was a light in one of the houses. “I guess, it’s here”, – Alexey thought and, having given a honk, he went out of the car.
– Coming, – you could hear from the yard. A dog was barking.
Well, the village...
At the gate there appeared a small old man in the vast hairskin coat with a stick in his hands. The coat was obviously off-size: his hands were barely visible in the sleeves. But looking at the clenched fists, you had an impression that there was strength in those hands. The old man rearranged his ear-flapped hat on the head, smiled and said:
– Hi. What is your name? – The old man’s voice was muffled, and Alexey recalled something of his grandpa.
– I am Alexey. I am a correspondent of the newspaper “New Life”. I am collecting materials about the ancient Russian folk that used to live here.
– Well, let’s collect, if you need it. Come on, I will lodge you, the third column.
Alexey smiled at that strange joke and followed the old man to the neighboring house. The old man opened the door.
– And is the house nobody’s? –Alexey asked.
– This place is unusual, but don’t be afraid, nobody lives here. Come in and make yourself comfortable.
– Yeah, I’ve already been dissuaded from going here…
– Oh, Lizka, jadeite! Only devil knows where she is. Don’t pay attention. If need be, say that you are my guest, –old Matthew said and turned on a small light.
Alexey looked around: everything was modest but neat: furnace, old benches… they seemed to have been sat on at the time of Kolchak. There was a bed to the right, and behind it there was a window into the yard. The whitewashing was old, but the house was still standing.
– I’ll go and take the things, –Alexey turned.
– Come on, I’ll wait here.
– Oh, a good iron horse, – old Matthew clucked his tongue, examining the car. Alexey nodded and invited him into the house.
– Go and have a rest, my son, and in the evening we’ll have dinner and start writing this dissertation of yours.
Gazing the old man, running homeward, Alexey took thought:
“It’s strange. What is he doing here alone? And what kind of place is this? It’s not marked on the map...”
He wanted to sleep after the journey, so he gave up all thoughts, spread a white bed sheet with the smell of freshness and flavor of the winter air, threw the pillow, took the blanket and… he just turned, and on the bed – fancy that! A girl! Naked and calling.
What is this?! Where from? It does not happen! If someone was coming in, he couldn’t help hearing…
Alexey sprang quickly back with surprise. Then he remembered the old man’s advice and said:
– I am a guest of Uncle Mitya.
– Yes, I know whose guest you are, – the beauty said sweetly and ran a hand over her body. – Come here.
Appetizing forms, long curly brown hair, but…
– Who are you?
– I am Maria, – she turned on her stomach. – Are you coming?
– No, I…
– Well, then close your eyes, because I am not dressed.
When he opened his eyes, she was gone.
– Bother it! I got so frightened, – he sat down on the bed. But the fatigue took its course, he had enough strength just to get undressed and go to bed.

He slept well. Fresh cold air penetrated from the street, it was warm in the house. When the dream started to set him free, the first thought turned out to be: “I should ask the old man about the girl”.
Somehow he didn’t feel any shadow of fear, on the contrary – just ease and comfort. He opened his eyes and turned on the light – it was already dark outside, and in the room the table was set. Soft napkins were on the plates with dishes, as in a restaurant.
“Wow”, – Alexey thought. – “Ah, yeah, Uncle Mitya!”
He looked at his watch – it was seven o’clock. “The old man is about to come for dinner, so let’s stop wallowing. Let’s have dinner and get down to business!”
No sooner had Alexey taken off the napkin, Uncle Mitya’s voice sounded:
– Lyaksey, it’s me.
– Yes, Uncle Mit, come in.
The latter came in.
– Hi. Did you get enough sleep?
– Yes, thank you.
– Why didn’t you take Masha? I thought you could relax after the journey, it wouldn’t be out of place.
He walked up to the rack and took off the hareskin coat. Groaned a bit and sat down.
– Uncle Mit, well, I got scared to death.
– Never say this word! – The old man gave a slap on a wrist in the old-age way.
– Okay.
– You are in the unusual place. Believe that dreams come true here.
– Really?
– Well, – Old Matthew smiled and raised eyebrows. – Well, yeah, I tell you! And don’t be surprised about anything. We have such a nation. Well, you have come for this purpose, haven’t you?
– That’s it. Let’s have dinner? Thank you for your hospitality, Uncle Mitya.
– Come on. You are after the journey, I decided to pamper you.
They made themselves comfortable and started eating.
– Uncle Mit, and why are you Mitya? Your name is Matthew, isn’t it?
– It’s shorter. Matthew is a short version of Mat, which means “mother”, and Mat seems like Mit. Well, tell me about yourself: who are you and what are you doing?
– I am Alexey Matveyev, a correspondent of the newspaper “New Life”. Here, I was given an editorial task – to write about a small Russian nationality, because there is nothing left to read. Readers are spoilt.
– Oh yes. You should write what you need, instead of entertaining. There is such a nation, and I am the only one left of it.
Alexey raised eyebrows.
– Yeah, yeah, Lyaksey, the only one. We all lived here in these parts… Yes, I almost forgot. So that the conversation could get on… – Uncle Mitya stood up and walked to his oversized hareskin coat, ran a hand though his bowels and pulled out a bottle of vodka.
– Ah… no, Uncle Mit. I’m holding my hand.
– Lyaksey! To welcome the company.
– Well, okay, – Alexey finally agreed.
The conversation was getting on, the glasses were swigging off one after another. Alexey was even worried that he would have a drop too much.
– Don’t be afraid, – the old man guessed his thoughts, – this vodka is special, it doesn’t make you drunk.
– Well, watch it, Uncle Mit. Listen, and what did you sing in your youth?
– “I don’t pass through the windows of the village council without any jokes…”
Alexey burst into laughing.
– And seriously?
– Well, we sang all Russian songs. We are a small nation.
– Well, and how did you live? I dare say that you lacked blessings of the civilization?
– What kind of blessings? A TV set? There, you have all the blessings outside. Look, what a beauty!
– Well, I agree, Uncle Mit. The paints are magical here.
– The place is unusual – that’s why, –old Matthew concluded, pouring some more vodka. – I don’t have a TV set in the izba. I don’t like it: exuberance of high spirits, reality-shows only, everybody is joyful about something, but you, modern people, don’t have any time to think about yourself and about your soul. We used to live in harmony with nature, with the God. Should a stranger attack us, we’ll clock him, and then – well, if he wants, he could stay with us. If not, we’ll give him some money for a trip and let him go. We were all equal. When Pete’s house was burned down, we built it all together. There was no money – so what? Look: there is water in the river, it’s nobody’s, ours, go and take as much as you want. And so we used to live and used to have everything. Ah…– Old Matthew talked round corners and waved his hand.
– You are right, – Alexey leaned back in the armchair and stared at the ceiling. – And as for the TV set, I agree with you: it’s impossible to watch it now. And anyway… we are running somewhere all the time, we are in a hurry, and it takes us nowhere.
– Golden words. To succeed in everything! – Old Matthew raised his glass.
– Come on!
They finished well after the midnight. The whole conversation was on the recorder. Alexey gratefully showed Uncle Mitya to the gate and went to bed.

He had to wake up early in the morning from a severe headache. It seemed that the previous day’s bottle was the one too many. But next to him he could hear a voice:
– Lyaksey! Wake up and take a hair of the dog that bit one!
– Oh, Uncle Mit, I shouldn’t have followed your advice yesterday…
“I’ll get up today before the dawn. I’ll pour myself and I’ll drink myself. I’ll smash the neighbor’s shutters, because I am the only one local…” – singing gaily, Uncle Mitya poured something into a glass and handed it to Alexey. The latter drank it… and everything was vanished as if by magic!
– Oh, Uncle Mit, what is it? It’s not vodka…
– Oh! I do say to you: listen to Uncle Mitya and everything will be alright.
– A clear head. There is not any hint at the morning hangover, as if there were nothing yesterday.
– It’s our vodka made according to the ancient recipe. That’s so. Then, it is such a place – you can do everything here. The weather is good today, so we’ll go and meet the dawn. I always get up so early. I’ll tell you something more on the way.
Alexey stood up and started to get dressed, and Uncle Mitya began to hurry up:
– Uh, we have guests. I’ll be back right now, – he left.
Alexey looked out of the window and saw right in front of the house … a Red Army soldier of the times of the Civil War with a rifle in his hands and Budyonovka on his head. Uncle Mitya approached him and they started to discuss something. Watching this conversation with enthralling eyes, Alexey tried hard to understand: where is he after all and what is that?
– Uh, how it is, – Uncle Mitya returned. – 65 years have passed, and they are still being found. But we won’t be sad.
– Who are being found? – the dumbfounded guest asked, almost stammering.
– I will tell you later, – the old man snapped. – Let’s go and watch the sunrise.
– Let’s have breakfast, don’t we?
– We’ll eat on-site, at the river.
On gathering all the necessary things, they walked to the end of the long street. People were peeping from behind the windows of neighboring houses. Alexey just managed to nod his head to the left and right.
The weather was not frosty. They settled down comfortably at the river and watched the sunrise.
– Put on sunglasses. Your eyes won’t survive such a view, – old Matthew handed the sunglasses to Alexey.
The paints were really unprecedented, Alexey was watching open-mouthed. Meanwhile, Uncle Mitya took all the accessories for winter fishing and got off the dime.
– So, we’ll have some breakfast. I’ll fish some for the fish broth…
The conversation was getting on easily at the breakfast, as if it didn’t stop the day before.
– Uncle Mit, – Alexey asked by the way, – you are a clever one, tell me: there are two women, both are splendorous, one is attracting like a magnet, and the other one is not? Just doesn’t evoke any emotions. Why is it so?
– The body tells the best object for procreation, – Uncle Mitya said somehow thoughtfully and sighed.
They were silent for a bit.
– If fishing didn’t ease the nerves, I would strangle everybody! – The old man suddenly snapped to the side of the hole. – Lyaksey, we have been sitting for three hours, and no fish!
Alexey burst into laughing, and they started to get ready to leave.
On the way back a familiar face suddenly glimpsed in one of the windows: a recent guest, a Red Army soldier was looking at Alexey and smiling, holding a pillow in his arms; he seemed to have been making his bed.
“He feels at ease”, –Alexey thought. – “So did I yesterday – after the journey I went to bed at once… There is something wrong here”, – He didn’t manage to get rid of the general strange feeling of what was happening.
Old Matthew, dissatisfied with fishing, was silent all the way.
– Uncle Mit, let me treat you today, don’t worry so much, – Alexey patted his shoulder.
– Everything is okay, – the latter waved aside discontentedly. – Ah, huh, Lyaksey, come afterwards, we’ll sit for a while at my place.
Alexey nodded.
– You would better have a walk. The weather is wonderful today! The places are good here and the air is clean.
They said good-bye, and Alexey decided to go for a walk.
– Just don’t go to the cemetery. You have no business being there, – the old man shouted after him and began to move away.
Alexey looked back at him and went to the forest, thinking to go around the other side of the river and see how it was there. A walk through a pine forest in the winter – what can be better?
The thoughts blew over. There was silence and peace. He forgot about all the problems in the editorial office, about “hot” material and about Lucy. Although Lucy was the only person who always haunted his mind. Constant quarrels, squabbles, and there were enough reasons for jealousy.
If only he could meet her now and tell her everything of what he was thinking. As that day when they went to the forest with her friends and she hugged Misha all the way. Why not? He could understand him: she is a fabulous woman.
Alexey turned to a well-trodden path and went into the very depths of the forest… It was she who was walking towards him, Lucy!
How?! Here? Oh, my God, where am I? “It is such a place, everything is possible”, – the recent words of old Matthew sounded in his mind.
Well, then, that’s true. Come what may!
– Lyosha, hi, – he heard a voice, so sweet to his heart. Lucy walked towards him, smiling.
– Hello, Lucy, – he began speaking coldly. Then he gathered his thoughts and blurted out: – I’ll tell you at once, I am sick and tired of your eternal hysterics! I am pop boring to be jealous of you, and I will never get used to it, even taking into account your past profession…
– Oh, and you have thrown off reserve! What’s wrong with you? – She said with a light smile. – Yes, I am a slut. Did you say everything?
– Yes, – Alexey looked at her with surprise. She turned back and began to move away.
Suddenly, he realized that she was leaving forever and started running after her. But what a paradox! – it was impossible to catch a quietly walking woman, even bending over backwards.
Pooh! What is this place, huh? “Where am I???” – He shouted in a fit of temper. He caught his breath, looked around and found nothing better as to walk down the path running between two tall pines. A peaceful state to which the soul returned after seemingly earnest emotional outbursts and the feelings of inspiration and flight, not astringent with the impossibility of everything that was happening, impressed him more and more.
Going down to the river, Alexey once again could not help but admire the nature of this region that was giving a thrill. In the fullness of his heart, he scooped up fives of snow, quickly made a snowball and, choking with delight as a child, threw it away towards the river. “Beauty!..” He was still standing for one more minute, until a man’s cry penetrated into his thoughts:
– Help! Help save the girl!
Alexey turned. A hefty man was running towards him, waving his arms like blades of a mill. His face was red, weather-beaten – in such a cold he was without any hat.
– A girl is drowning there, –a sturdy guy outbreathed, and Alexey ran with him to the river.
Thank God, they managed to save the girl of about six years old. The man took her and carried to old Matthew.
– What a disobedient girl, what were you doing there again? – Uncle Mitya growled, seeing the child. Then he quickly took off her wet clothes, put her on the bed and started to rub her with his vodka. Soon she started to come to consciousness.
– Well, why are you standing there like a stuffed dummy? – The old man cried at the man. – Go and chop the firewood, it’s not for the first time, is it?
Alexey even started: “Not for the first time – but what time?” – He thought and pulled back to the wall.
– Well, sit down, – the old man suggested and went on talking with a caring smile:
– The main thing is not to be afraid of anything and not to react to anything.
The old man’s smile calmed him down. And it happened in time, because further there were difficult events, hardly fitting into the consciousness.
Old Matthew covered the girl with a blanket, sat next to her on a chair and started reading aloud a book. From the first sounds Alexey thought that they were ancient spells. And not without a reason. Something incredible started to happen to the child! First becoming red and then pale, suffering in delirium, sweating, she was moaning, crying, periodically calming down and falling asleep, and then waking up again. The old man was reading casually, as if a cookbook, only once waved Alexey with his hand – meaning, be quiet!
At one time or another it seemed that everything was over: the child calmed down and was lying with closed eyes, but the old man didn’t hurry to stop. Suddenly this angelic creature with the hair of the color of the sun gave a jump on the bed and turned into a brown-eyed beast, staring at Uncle Mitya with an ominous look:
– What else can you say?! – Something hissed with the child’s lips.
The old man went on reading, as if nothing had happened.
And everything started from the very beginning: delirium, screaming, moaning, cramps... It seemed that it would never end, and then everything ceased, the child started breathing calmly and fell asleep.
– That’s enough! – Old Matthew concluded and took a deep breath. – Lyaksey, go and see what the fighter is doing, – he looked at Lyosha and smiled again.
Stunned, to say the least of it, hardly realizing what was happening; Alexey obediently went into the yard. The sturdy guy was chopping firewood like a machine. His face was red, and the hands, violently gripping the ax, were bloodless from the pressure. Still in the state of groggy, Alexey stood by and asked without thinking:
– And who are you?
The latter took a deep breath and wiped the sweat from his forehead.
– It doesn’t matter who I am, listen to Uncle Mitya. I am up to go, – the stranger stammered out under breath, stroke the ax into the deck and went away. Alexey remained standing in the yard.
– Well, where have you been, – the old man looked out, – we are already going crazy!
He seemed to have in mind games with the child: Alexey could hear a childish rolling laughter from the izba.
– Come here, let’s have some tea with cranberries.
Alexey, being confused – let it be so! – went in. The girl, who turned out to be Nastya, sat at the table drinking tea with the old man, as if nothing had happened. On the table there was a samovar, cups with steaming tea, a plate with cranberries and cracknels. Amused Uncle Mitya was laughing and screwing around with the child: and who will eat a cracknel with more crunch, and who will lick the spoon with jam so that it could shine brighter... Alexey just stood there frozen to the spot – how touching this picture was, the old man was likely to be on cloud nine: probably he has always dreamt about a granddaughter.
– Take a seat near us! – Uncle Mitya demanded once again. His eyes were shining.
After tea the old man commanded:
– Okay, Lyaksey, we should go. Today we have newcomers. You go with us: with me and a booger, – he looked at Nastenka impishly.
– I am not a booger, grandpa, – a child screamed.
– Then a mite, – the old man continued to insist.
– And I am not a mite! I am Nastenka.
– Oh, my darling, well, let’s get ready. You are with us, aren’t you? – This time he turned to Alexey.
– Well, of course, Uncle Mit, – Alexey uttered, not knowing what to say.
Five minutes later all the company was walking down the street.
Soon they came into a house. There were people, very pale; they were about ten. Sitting on a couch in front of the old man, they had their ears flapping, keeping an eye on him. Nastya, sitting next to Alexey, didn’t get tired of whispering:
– Don’t be afraid, everything is okay, nobody will hurt you here.
Being in earnest and not having a clue, Alexey just nodded obediently.
Then they went to another izba, and the same started there.
They returned home after midnight. The stars were shining, lighting the way, the snow was crunching under their feet, – for three of them it was funny.
They spent the night at Uncle Mitya. And a rooster’s crow awoke everybody in the morning.
– Fuh, what a beast! – The old man grumbled.
The rooster seemed to have gone silent, and everybody started to fall asleep, but then again: cock-a-doodle-doo.
Old Matthew, grunting discontentedly, turned on the other side.
His nap was interrupted by the third crow.
– Could you ever shut up or not? – The old man cried in a fit of temper.
– Uncle Mit, be quieter, you can wake up the child! – Alexey couldn’t be silent.
– I can’t. She has gone.
– Where has she gone? How? – Alexey jumped on the bed.
– It doesn’t matter… sleep, – one could hear a heavy sigh. – My booger won’t come to me any more… well, everything comes to the end sooner or later.
And here, away from the point, the forth rooster’s crow followed.
– Lyaksey! Do you like rooster soup? – The old man jumped in his pants and ran for the rooster.
It is not easy to catch a rooster alone, and some time later you could hear from the yard:
– Alexey, I need your help.
Rooster soup was ready by the dinner time.

Alexey spent the whole morning at his place: the information received from the old man needed to be processed. And Uncle Mitya asked not to go to his place:
– Household cares, why do you need them? I’ll cope with everything, make soup, and then come.
That was a deal. Alexey worked with pleasure and had some inspiration – proper words went on a clean sheet themselves, a pen seemed to slipper on the paper without any pressure like a figure-skater, making hooks and curls. From a certain moment Alexey even stopped to recognize his handwriting – it was so neat. A crazy thought came to his mind: maybe, it was the old man who had a finger in the pie...
The mood wasn’t just great – it was sublime! He created! The old man’s stories gained visibility and scope right in front of his eyes, becoming a reliable picture of the history and life of a distant people, visible so clearly, as if you were a part of it yourself: some people build, others plow, warriors protect their land from greedy and envious enemies… The material started to acquire definite outlines, and it seemed that everything was almost ready, just a little bit more, the last item and the final touch…
Setting aside the pen and putting his hands on the nape, he leaned back in his armchair. He had to catch his breath.
“How nice it is here!” – Alexey exclaimed, looking dreamily out of the window.
It has always seemed to him that nothing lasts forever, and neither does the sense of pleasure. How do we live? Today we are well and tomorrow we’ll be bad. And here everything was the other way. Flush, one continuous flush. How nice it was in the heart!
Not so that he’d notice, it was lunch time. He threw on his jacket, put on his boots and went to the old man.

– You know what the soup is made from, – Uncle Mitya put a hot plate in front of the guest. – Lyaksey, as a favor, get it out of the hareskin coat.
Alexey grinned, realizing that he meant a bottle.
They sat down.
– Well, how’s your work? – Uncle Mitya asked, scooping the soup with a spoon.
– Well, almost everything is ready, there are only finishing touches left…
– And what do you need? – The old man didn’t let him finish.
– You know, Uncle Mit, probably just tell me. And then we’ll see.
– Okay, Lyaksey, then listen, – old Matthew started talking. – Do you understand what was important for us? We had to leave something behind ourselves. For example, a shoemaker leaves his boots, a writer – a book. The nation should enrich with something. You’ll die – and what? What will be there after you? You say, children – well, that’s right, but the children will die as well, and you need eternal things: a book, a word, the good, boots…
Alexey burst into laughing, suspecting that there won’t be any relationship between a book and boots.
– Don’t interrupt the old man, – Uncle Mitya joked. – Well, it must be the best boots: if you die, people will remember you. The civilization is enriched in such a way. What is the difference for you whether you high off a stick of sausage or off the fanciest trousers? Here a high is ingenuous, fungible. So, should you chase after a new pair of trousers, if the old one is out of fashion?.. And you, Lyosha, go to the forest, to the river – the nature talks to you in thousands of voices, and maybe, millions. And feel: you are a human-being, a part of this life, improve yourself – and the life will feel your care about its part. That’s the morality we had… Yes, lots of things have happened… well, then, let’s eat.
– You tell in an interesting way, Uncle Mit.
The latter grinned and started eating in silence. Alexey finished the soup more quickly, put a napkin to his lips and said:
– Uncle Mit, I’ll go and take a walk. Everything is almost done!
– I see you are in a good mood, – the old man smiled.
– After yesterday, you know… – Alexey started.
– Go, go, the third column, – the old man hurried up for shits and giggles, apparently, meaning the “fifth column” again.
– Uncle Mitya! – Alexey was about to take offence.
–Well, I’m just joking… Only don’t go to the cemetery!

A small well-kept cemetery was in the open field, covered with snow. The path was trampled with bloody traces…Something made Alexey come closer.
There was a portrait of Nastya on one of the plates, and further – a portrait of that sturdy guy who tried to save her. And this is… Lucy! Lucy-y-y-y!.. He cried with all his might, fell to his knees and closed the face with his hands. And his echo sounded for a long time. And suddenly he felt that there was nothing… Water and snow, field and sky… but there was nothing of this. It was not even a void – there wasn’t any space, and he was alone here. His grandma’s story, that he had heard once, sounded in his ears. She saw a deceased neighbor in her dreams. She asked: “Well, what is there?..” – And he answered: “Nothing. And it’s very cold”. So, that was it. And that was the truth, it was cold. Cold and awful.

– So, why have you got there? – Old Matthew leant over Alexey’s bed. – And I am a fool: how can I forbid you something, – he grunted in the old-age way.
– Is it very scary? Uncle Mit? Forgive me, Uncle Mit, – Alexey said, being sick of speech. The sweat was raining down him.
– Time might have sucked you. You would be somewhere there, it’s not clear where exactly, in a pit of the time. And bang! – it’s a good thing that Lizka, jadeite, is gadding about and only the devil knows where, so there is some sense from her.
– Uncle Mit… – Alexey tried to say something, but the old man didn’t let him finish:
– Okay, I will tell you what it is. That sturdy guy in the river drowned that girl because of the inheritance. And then he kicked the bucket in the same lake. Now, here. He rescues her every day, he wants to make it up to the God. This Red Army soldier has been found recently, he also got to me. He is a NKVD officer, he sent so many people to the skies, that… oh, don’t want to talk about it!
– Uncle Mit, are we alive?
– Yes, we are alive. You and me. We are sitting here with the skeletons accused by the God!
– I think you make them better… praying.
– Maybe you are right, – old Matthew got up, walked up to the fireplace and threw another log that was seized by the fire. Then he returned to his armchair and covered himself with a blanket.
– You know, there is no time, it was proved by Einstein. The past is as real as the present. But where is it? It’s here. I don’t know at all where we are. The God does not give answers to all questions so that you could develop somewhere, strive for something. I don’t know where we are, don’t ask me. Yes, your…
– Lucy? What has happened to her? – Alexey startled.
– Lie calm, don’t jump, you were not jealous of her in vain, she died in a bed with her lover. He… her… to death…
– Lyuska, Lyuska, she loved that thing, – Alexey wailed.
– Let’s drink! It won’t hurt.
Alexey smiled wryly.
– Close your eyes, – Uncle Mitya said.
Alexey closed his eyes, and when he opened them, he saw that the table was set. He slowly got out of bed and went over to the table.
– Uncle Mit…
Old Matthew didn’t let him finish again.
– I didn’t tell you why I am here, – his tone changed and became a little sadder. – I am waiting for her. She will come here… Forty years have passed and I still can’t forget her. Oh, come on. Let’s change the subject.
Old Matthew poured some more of his magic vodka and they distracted from sad thoughts. The old man was joking again, recalling some stories.
– Oh, Lyaksey! Will you take Masha today?.. Do you want some striptease?
– Uncle Mit, what are you talking about, – Alexey smiled, lifting his hands aside in dismay.
All of a sudden, there appeared a pole. Naked Masha hung on it and, following the shouts of the old man “Manya, bring it on”, started pulling off such things...
They spent half a night in such a way. Old Matthew said good-bye and went to his place.

– How do you think, I am not too bad after all? – Old Matthew posed this question to Alexey, when he came to him early in the morning. The sun was shining in all its glory. Alexey opened the window, and a frosty smell of winter reined in the house. The old man stood in the doorway smiling. Shaved once in a blue moon, dressed in the old, but clean white shirt, combed (two hairs in two rows) and happy.
– She died, – he said, satisfied. – She is in the coffin in front of the house. Well, another two hours, and she will be here. And she will be mine. And now let people grieve about her there, sing at the funeral, weep... But then, – the expression of Uncle Mitya’s face quickly changed, – then she – mine! Oh, and I with her! Here, on each bed! I’ll catch up the past!
Alexey shied at hearing these words.
– Well, you know, Old Matthew, I’ve been listening to you all the way… but now… – and suddenly, a guess pierced him out of the blue: – You… you are dead… dead, yeah? – Panting, he forced himself to speak and rushed hotfoot out of the izba.
Not remembering himself, Alexey ran into old Matthew’s house. That’s so, he was sitting there, in an armchair, in front of the fireplace, where he sat yesterday. And he died in the arm-chair, wrapped in the blanket. And this one… who was this, a clean-shaved one, in a shirt?
When he returned to his place, old Matthew was still standing in the doorway, waiting for Alexey.
– Well, finally came? How stupid of you. Because you are young. But what is the difference whether I am dead or alive? It’s all just words. The main thing is that she will be near, and not for seventy or eighty years … but for the eternity! That’s the main thing when you have a beloved one! Lyaksey, don’t cry!
Tears were flowing spontaneously: the mental stress of the last days was evident. Trying to control himself, Alexey put the old man in an armchair. Then he pulled himself together, smiled at the old man and decided to help him look like a million bucks: he corrected his inept shave, put on him a suit that he had taken for the journey and a tie with a white shirt.
– Well, then, Lyaksey, you got to go! – Old Matthew said in a serious tone. They embraced. Alexey went out and walked to the car, and Uncle Mitya remained gazing after him, standing beside the road. Suddenly Alexey had a strong desire to look back, and…
There was spring, only starting to rein. The birds were singing, the sun’s rays barely caressed but didn’t warm. On the road there was old Matthew in the similitude of a twenty-year boy with brown hair, dressed in a stylish green suit. He had a bouquet of flowers in his hands, and next to him was she, in a summer beige dress.
Alexey haven’t seen a more beautiful woman for the whole of his life.
He got into the car and looked back at the road: snow, blizzard… – turned on the wipers and put on speed. In a folder on the adjacent seat, as he thought, there was a report on a small nation, written by Old Matthew, but in Alexey’s neat handwriting. And in the end of the report there was a postscript, but already in a different handwriting:
– After all, that’s the shit, Lyaksey. “Passing through the windows of the village council” – that’s harsh! Here it is, national folklore!

A Winter Dream

Cocking a branch of a pine, Masha looked in his eyes. Snow fell from the branch wrapped in winter clothes. Sasha caught some snow in his palm and stared at her. A bullfinch flied up, seeing the two lovers: apparently, it felt that it was not in time. The lovers had a look at the bird, then Masha pulled another branch, and Sasha was totally covered in snow. Masha started running, drowning in large drifts in the hope that she would be caught soon and would appear in his arms. Near the next pine she swept snow over him again. Masha stood aside and burst into laughter. Perhaps, the silence of a winter forest was not broken but for a couple of lovers who found themselves alone with each other.
It all ended as Masha wanted it to end: she was in his arms.
“What a wonderful winter dream”, Masha thought. She rolled over on her side and wrapped in a blanket. She frankly did not want to get up. And she could easily do it: it was the last day of the year, December 31, her “bunnies” were still asleep.
It was quiet in a country cottage in the pine forest covered with snow, ready to celebrate the New Year, ready for festivities and countless fireworks produced by holiday-makers.
It was not cold. And at night she could come out with the children into the yard, where there was a huge spruce tree that grew up here, as it seemed, three hundred years ago. During the construction of the country house it appeared as ever suitable, and even more so when she had her two little “bunnies” – Misha and Katya.
She threw back the blanket, looked out the window and stretched. From the window she could see a beautiful view of the forest. Flakes of snow were falling from the sky. She ruffled her hair and slipped her feet into slippers.
– So, today is a good day!
When she dreamed of him, Masha was always in a good mood: she shone all day long, and in the last day of the year it was, perhaps, particularly im-portant.
Masha put on a gown, opened the door and walked towards the stairs. There was her first sleepy little “bunny”.
– Mommy, – her daughter said, rubbing her eyes.
– Katya, why are you up? – She leaned over and patted her on the head.
– I got up to help you, – her first little “bunny” said, yawning.
– Well, let’s go, my assistant. I’ll have a cup of coffee and we’ll begin.
Two ladies walked down the stairs, holding each other’s hand.
– Tomorrow is the New Year. Do you already know what you’re going to wish?
– Yes, Mommy. For Misha to listen to me even a bit, because he’s quite naughty.
Masha smiled.
– You’re my good assistant.
They went down. Masha turned on an electric pot, and both beauties went to the window.
– Mommy, it’s so beautiful here! And will uncle Kolya come today? – She asked suddenly.
Masha changed in the face.
– No, uncle Kolya will come later. And do you like him?
– Mommy, well, it’s you who should like him.
– Ooh! You’re all grown up now.
Masha opened the cupboard and took out a cup.
– You know, sometimes there are moments when you just must like some-one.
– Well, but it’s bad, Mommy.
– Oh, my little one, it is. Well, let’s talk about something good. Have you prepared a gift for Misha?
– Yes, – Misha’s sister said in a satisfied voice.
– Let’s go, you’ll show me.
– Mommy, tell me please about the fairy.
– And what should I tell you? I’ve already told you everything, – she hugged her daughter.
– Well, tell me again.
– Every year, at the New Year’s Eve, she comes and helps Santa to give gifts to children. Santa has much work to do, and we’re living in the forest, and Santa may get lost. So, the fairy – the owner of the forest – helps him.
–Well, and will she come today?
– Of course, because tomorrow is the New Year.
They went into the nursery, and Katya showed her a gift – a great construc-tion set that Misha constantly asked from his mother.
– Cool! Well, Katya, come on, while your brother is sleeping, we’ll start preparing for the New Year, huh? And then he’ll get up, and we’ll have break-fast. All right?
– Let’s go, Mommy.

– That’s because you are an idiot! Holy shit! – Lena slammed the car door. – Sasha, fucking shit! It’s an hour before the New Year, and we’re stuck in this forest. Well, what shall we do now?
– Lena, sweetie, well, don’t worry so much!
Alexander went to his future wife and adjusted the scarf on her fur coat.
– A little bit cold, – he commented his act and kissed her on the nose. Lena softened, but not for long.
– Well, damn it, – she sniffed again.
– Lena, well, let’s meet the New Year here. We have a full trunk of food, vodka and champagne. Well, you wanted to celebrate the New Year originally, didn’t you?
– Shall I booze with bears here? – Offended Lena said frowning.
– Let’s do it this way: there are lampposts, so there is a settlement some-where here. And then, as far as I know, there are cottage houses here. I think people are preparing to celebrate the New Year there. Let’s go. We’ll get warm at the same time. It’s not warm at all to stand here. I think we can ask for some-one’s invitation or take the tools and fix the car.
– You’re so naive! Well, who will invite us? We are in the forest! Maybe we’re some maniacs?
– Well, you are, for example... – This time, he did not let her finish.
– A very sexy maniac, – he put his arms around her. – I would like you to come to me in the New Year.
Lena smiled.
– And so I came to you in the New Year. In such a way we met each other, Pushkin! – She remembered Sasha’s nickname at the institute.
– Well, let’s go, what else can we do? – Lena commanded.
– Or at least we’ll take the tools and I’ll fix the car, – Sasha was catching up with her.
– Now I’ll make my husband work at the New Year’s Eve! What am I, some kind of a monster?
They started walking along the road. It was well trodden, indicating the proximity of civilization benefits. Snow was creaking under the boots, frost was pinching their noses, stars were shining brightly illuminating a beautiful winter evening, with spruce beauties dressed in snow caps. A hare ran in the snow.
– Oh, look! Someone’s running! – Lena looked at the hare.
– A hare! Hurrying to his friends for the New Year.
– Very funny, Sasha. Just very! I’ll take a picture of it with my mobile phone.
– Lena, how are you going to be in time with it? – Sasha nodded his head.
– Of course, I’ll be in time. Do you doubt your girlfriend? – She took out the mobile phone and went to build links with the “locals”. Ironically, the hare was standing still. Whether it liked Lena’s mink coat or beautiful Lena herself, with her long brown hair, thin lips, big brown eyes that she knew how to use in relationships with men, when she wanted to impress them, and slender figure, or something else, but it was standing still. She clicked the camera button – and he escaped. Lena wanted to get closer but then ran away back to Alexander.
– Sasha... There’s a man in the snow, – she said scared, pointing at the snow.
– What? No way!
– Maybe he’s dead?
– Stay here. I’ll take a look myself.
Sasha began to approach, when someone climbed out to meet them... And it was Santa! His beard was hanging out on the left ear, they could see his real black mustache, one mitten was hanging on an elastic band, the second one was lost somewhere. His drunken eyes were barely open. In a slightly “sober” voice and barely getting the words, he said:
– Sorry, but the New Year is already here?
– In general, we wanted to ask you about it, –Alexander retorted.
– Me? – Santa asked in surprise. – I don’t know, – he spoke confusedly. – I went to congratulate kids with the coming New Year. And whether it’s here or not, I do not know absolutely. Sorry, – and with that he went back into the snow.
– Where are you going? – Lena ran after him.
– Lena, well, you’re like a Santa Rescue Service! – Sasha grabbed Santa by the arm and pulled back onto the road.
– Let’s have a drink? I have it. Let’s go, – Sasha suggested, probably to certainly discourage his desire to sleep in the snow. Santa’s eyes lit up and dis-tinctly widened.
Lena and Sasha went back to the car to set a stranger Santa in order. They put him in the back seat and began to rub his ears. After a while, distant sobriety seemed to appear on his face.
– Oh, what’s up? – He shook his head.
Lena nodded.
– What’s your name? – Alexander bent over Santa sitting in the car.
– Santa, – he replied confidently.
– What’s your name? – Alexander continued.
– Santa.
– And in your ordinary life?
– Sergey, why? Where am I? – His eyes became round. – Who are you?
– My name is Alexander, that’s my girlfriend Lena.
Lena nodded.
– We’re stuck in the wood. Our car broke down, – Alexander continued.
Sergey decided to introduce himself, stood up, straightened his Santa’s beard, took off his hat and said:
– Best mechanical engineer of the local factory, the best one! Hope of the local convoy. According to the surveys of independent experts.
– Drinking buddies, then, – Lena whispered to Sasha.
– The king, very nice, the king! –Alexander said ironically.
Sergey shook his head and a minute later came to his senses.
– OK, guys, I’m going to congratulate kids with the New Year. It’s not far from here. Let’s go and ask for the night. Maybe she’ll let us in. She’s a good woman.
– Well, let’s go to your good woman. Why sit here? – Lena joined the con-versation.
Everyone stood up.
– I rarely drink, – Sergey justified himself on the way.
The couple smiled incredulously.
– But then, you know, “What?! You won’t drink for kids at the New Year’s Eve?!” And for the first time I did not restrain myself and thought: oh, fuck it all! – He waved his hand. – And thus I got drunk. I wanted to enter the theater school, but failed. But, you know, the soul is in it. Well, everyone shall have a blast somewhere, – he said, looking at Alexander. The latter nodded. – We’ll look at your car tomorrow. Do you agree to celebrate there, huh?
– Sergey, – Lena joined the conversation. – We are not against it. But we are strangers. Who will let us in?
– Don’t be afraid! She’ll let you in. And then, what’s about human confi-dence, help?.. To leave people in trouble?.. Well, how did you happen to get here? – He turned to Lena.
– Thought to save some miles in Zvonaryovo. It’s close here. And then stalled. There are ten people waiting for food and drinks. Well, that’s nothing, now stores work for the whole night, it’s not a problem. They can buy every-thing. We, thanks God, let them know. So, our conscience is clean. Whatever God does is for the best.
Alexander glanced toward Lena, feeling that she softened to him.
The company turned to the left. Soon the outline of a small house and two or three downed poles acting as the fence in front of it appeared. In the yard there was a lush spruce tree. Approaching closer, they saw a dog kennel and (looked like) her owner, who was delighted to see the guests and was running in circles around the kennel.
– Boys, I’m afraid of dogs.
– This is Laika, there’s no need to be afraid, – Sergey said.
– She justifies her name exactly, – Lena said.
– A young shepherd, – Sergey explained.
– Lena, you stay here, and we’ll come to the house.
They left Lena at the fence and went closer to the porch. Sasha was looking at his future wife all the time. Laika was a friendly German shepherd. She let no one through without some licking. Hearing noise from the yard, the owner of the house appeared on the porch. She was wearing winter boots and hareskin coat with a cloud of her blond hair. Sergey straightened his Santa’s beard, took his bag with gifts over a shoulder and said in a fabulous voice:
– Hello, miss! I am Santa. Came to congratulate your kids with the New Year.
– Hello, Santa! – The lady answered in the same tone, with a nod to Santa.
And in the same breath she added:
– Where were you keeping yourself for so long? The kids have been waiting for you.
– Masha, what’s up with you? – Santa was outraged.
– Sergey, Toma called – she’s worried. I am your last today, but you never came.
Masha turned her attention to a man in a black fur coat, standing a little way off.
– Ah... yes. Masha, people are stuck in the wood with their car. Let them in, will you?
– Or at least give us some tools. We will not embarrass you, – Alexander began.
Masha stared at him. Sasha was standing in front of the lantern. And she could not see his face. There was a pause. Then she asked:
– Sasha?
Alexander took a step forward.
– Masha? – He asked, though he knew the answer already, and literally froze. He did not expect such a meeting.
– Sasha! – She repeated.
– Masha! – He came closer to her.
– Do you know each other? – Sergey looked at one, then the other. They stood in silence, staring at each other.
– And... uh... yeah… – Sergey was trying to break the silence.
– How are you? – Sasha began.
– OK, but what are you doing here?
– I’m not alone...
Sergey did not let him finish.
– He’s with his wife, and... uh… well... – He lowered his head, realizing that he’d rather keep silent.
– Wife?
– To be. In two weeks.
Masha raised her eyebrows in surprise.
– Yes. We are stuck in the wood, were going to celebrate the New Year and now...
– Where is she?
– She’s afraid of dogs. We left her at the fence.
Masha saw a silhouette at the fence.
– We’ll do everything now. Sasha, call your wife.
She tied the dog and returned to the porch to Sergey.
– So, you know them? – Sergey asked.
Masha was staring into the darkness, trying to see this “to-be-in-two-weeks” wife and said in a sad tone:
– Only him.
– Um. Well, OK, – Sergey hesitated again.
– That’s all right, Sergey. Happy New Year to you! – Masha tried not to show emotion. Sergey was saying something else, she nodded, but thought about him all the time, constantly looking out into the darkness. He watched it, and then asked:
– Masha, are you somewhere on Venus?
She immediately found the answer:
– Do you remember it? “I was on Venus, on blue hills in unearthly si-lence...”
Masha did not finish – Sasha and Lena were already near the porch – only glared in his future wife’s eyes and quickly assessed: “...brunette, beautiful, long hair, thin lips, big brown eyes... And mink suits her perfectly!..”
– Hello! Come into the house. Already frozen? – Masha opened the door.
– A bit. We won’t embarrass you? – Lena asked, exchanging pleasantries.
– No, no, Sasha and I know each other a bit, we studied together.
– Yes? Even so? – Sasha and Lena looked at each other.
– Come on, I don’t want to keep you in the cold.
Everyone entered the house.
– Take off your coats, – Masha began to take off her own clothes.
– Masha, – Lena said, – we have plenty of food in the car, if you let us in, let the men go bring it, and we will not be so embarrassed.
– Masha... – Sergey volunteered.
– And I’ll help you here, – Lena continued.
– Good, – Masha nodded. – Santa, take off your clothes, too.
– Oh, well, yeah… – Sergey started, taking off his fabulous hat and coat. Soon, a small man, thin, with black mustache already graying in some places ap-peared in front of them. He ran his hand over his head, trying to sleek the hair that he still had, rolled up his black knit sweater and straightened his collar shirt.
– There you are, a forest deer! – Sasha said, and they all laughed. – Come on, let’s go.
The men were gone.
– Such a beautiful fur coat, – Masha said.
– Thank you, – Lena took a comb from the inside pocket and started brushing the hair. – I really thought that only bears will hear me talking about it. Can you imagine it? We’re stuck. Ten people waiting for us with food and drink, and we’re here.
– So, you left ten people hungry?
– Oh, come on, stores are open for the whole night, they have time to do everything.
Lena looked around: a beautiful wooden house, room flooded with light, table to the right of the door. Masha has already covered it with a white cloth and put spoons and forks on it. To the left of the door, in the corner, there was a magnificent spruce tree decorated with colorful balls. They were few, but each knew its place, and that’s why it became quite exquisite. TV with a plasma screen was on the wall in front of the table.
Masha meanwhile examined Lena’s outfit: tight jeans and a bright red blouse with a wide cut in front.
– Come here, wash your hands, – Masha offered.
Together they prepared the table. An hour remained before the New Year. But due to the changes, there was a lot to do. The women quickly found a com-mon language and communicated on abstract themes. But then Lena asked:
– Masha, and you’re alone here?
– No, my little bunnies are sleeping in the next room. I have two: Katya and Misha – five and four. Preparing to stay up all night and sit with their par-ents until the last moment. Although, as usual, they will be asleep in the middle of the night.
– Um, I also tried it as a child, but I was forcibly put to bed.
– Yes, it seems like everyone had it, – Masha supported, remembering her own “New Years with parents”. – Do you have children?
– No, Sasha insists, but I somehow... I don’t know. He wants a girl, – and after a pause she added, – wants to call her Masha.
Masha froze, but tried not to let on. Especially because her companion, ap-parently, did not notice the similarity of her name with the name of their future daughter.
– And where’s the husband? The oldest bunny? I’m not way out of line?
– Ah... no, that’s OK. I divorced him. We are so different. Do you know what they say: “A good man, but not yours”?
– It happens. Well, you did the right thing. Give me some more potatoes, I peeled these ones.
– Yeah, here, – Masha passed some potatoes.
Then the doorbell rang.
– Our boys came, – Masha said and went to open the door.
– Guys, why so much food? – Masha asked, looking at two huge bags.
– That’s all right, I would not bring it all myself, of course, – Sasha said, shaking off the snow.
– Yes, it was not an easy task, – Sergey added, and exhaling deeply, put the bag on the floor.
– So, guys, take off coats and help us – two fragile defenseless women, – it was Lena’s turn to command.
New Year’s Eve vanity whirled, children woke up, started running to the kitchen, every five minutes telling their mom how much time was left until the New Year. The men tried to steal something from the table, with everything being so appetizing.
Soon, the women puzzled them with male business: opening jars of pickles, canned foods and bottles of liquor.
– Sasha, let’s have some. With the women not seeing it.
– Sergey, didn’t you have enough? – Alexander questioned Santa’s health status.
– Come on, it’s the New Year, for the eyes to shine!
– Fuck it all! Come on! – Sasha nodded and they drank. Then again and again...
“Irony of Fate” was already on TV. The clock showed the last minutes of the year. The table was already laid. Lena was only better laying out cutlery. The children sat on the couch, looking at gifts from Santa. Everyone was in excellent mood.
– Masha! – Sergey shouted toward the kitchen. – Come here, let’s see off the old year! It’s half past eleven!
– Yes, boys, I’m coming, – a voice came from the kitchen.
– Sasha, two forks are missing, go to Masha, take them, – Lena asked.
Masha was alone. Sasha went quietly into the kitchen and stood in the doorway. Masha felt someone behind.
– Yes, Sergey, – she turned, holding two forks. Alexander was standing in front of her. She seemed frozen. They kept silence, looking at each other. They wanted to say so many things, and yet...
– Forks... – Masha said musingly... – Two forks are missing, – she said and paused again, never taking her eyes off him. He stood still. Lena’s voice dis-turbed them.
– Guys, where are you?
Masha silently handed a pair of forks.
– Oh, guys, I’ll go to change, – she said.
– Masha, can I put on make up with you? – Lena asked.
– Come, come, of course.
Entering the room, Lena noticed a necklace lying on the trellises. It immedi-ately caught her eye.
– Oh, what’s it? I have something similar. Beautiful trinkets.
Masha strangely looked at the necklace, then at Lena and added quietly:
– There was one big bright love... but it disappeared somewhere.
– I’m sorry, Masha, it’s private, I understand…
– Well, New Year is a bright holiday.
They put on make up and headed to the guests.
– Come to the table to see off the old year! – Masha offered, entering the room.
– Let’s go, let’s go, – the children shouted in one voice. By that time they finally woke up and took Santa prisoner, getting at him from both sides. He glowed with happiness.
– Bunnies, this is Aunt Lena, and this is her friend, Uncle Sasha – our guests, – Masha introduced guests to her children.
– Mommy, – Misha, her eldest, a small blond burly, began, – why Santa turns into Uncle Sergey every year?
– Let’s get to the table, and then I’ll tell you.
Everyone took a seat.
– Well, guys? Let everything bad stay in this year, huh? – Masha raised her glass.
– Yeah, yeah. A perfect toast! – Her guests supported her. Then, following an old tradition, they started telling each other what good they had this year.
– We had a good year – bought a car, – Lena said. – Sasha got a promo-tion, he’s a big boss now.
– Well... – Sasha waved away.
– Masha, was he already nicknamed Pushkin back then? – Lena asked briskly.
– Yes, – Masha nodded. – During the double period, when the teacher not-ed attendance, we made a list of the group and wrote: Pushkin, Suvorov, Kutu-zov. Well, the teacher, making the roll call, asked in a serious voice: “Is Kutuzov here?” And gave his regards for the systematic skipping of lectures. In general, it was funny, and then one of the guys noticed Sasha’s name and patronymic. And so it went.
– Yeah, cool, really, – Lena nodded. – And the teacher bought it, right?
– Yes, it’s one of the best jokes of the institute.
– We bought an apartment, Masha, – Lena continued, – made repairs. So, we’ll celebrate the New Year and move there. The year was good, of course.
– The best year for me, – Sergey intervened. – How you meet it – in the same way you’ll spend it, and it’s about me... Oh, congratulation of the presi-dent!
– Yes, let’s hear what this good man will say to us, – Masha said and add-ed volume on the TV.
– Well, that’s not it... the country is run by other people, – Sergey, already pretty drunk, joined the discussion.
– Well, you know that, – Masha noted ironically. Everyone laughed.
– I’ll finish, – Sergey insisted, joking. – Here I am, too – Santa. Do you think it’s me giving gifts?
After this question everyone looked at Sergey.
– No, – he continued. – I have a little fairy for this. – Masha raised eye-brows. She told her little “bunny” the same story about a fairy.
– And that’s she who makes wishes come true, and I’m only entourage, cover.
– That’s enough, – Lena concluded. – No more alcohol for Sergey.
– But why don’t you believe me? – He could not calm down.
– Masha, well, and what good did you have this year? – Lena turned to her.
– I divorced my husband, bring up children. It’s difficult for a single wom-an, of course, but, in principle, we cope with it. In the whole... – she sighed, – in general it was a good year.
– If only I could have spare parts for the carpool! – Sergey interrupted her. – Why are you all laughing? – He wondered.
– We’re talking about happiness and success, – Lena tried to explain.
– I don’t know. You all philosophize... When I see my car, which appears after repair as a new one, I get into it. Roads are waiting for me, and there is a pack of cigarettes in the pocket. Oh, and nobody’s happier than me in the whole world.
– Now it’s your turn to philosophize, Sergey, – Masha said. – So, does Toma yell as usual?
– Well… – he waved away.
– Sergey, – Alexander started. – I wish you a lot of parts in the future year! Well, my friend, give me high five!
They shook hands.
– Yeah, OK, – he waved away again, suspecting irony of the guests.
So, it’s the long-awaited time... Chimes strike twelve on the TV screen. With cries of “Hurrah!” everybody clinked glasses and made a wish.
– Happy New Year!
– Happy New Year!
– All right, guys, help yourselves. Who wants what? – Masha as a hospi-table owner of the house began to watch the table. The guests clattered with spoons, forks, plates.
– With these shows there’s a desire to constantly switch channels from one to another. There used to be only the “Blue Light”, and it was excellent, and now...
– I totally agree with you, Lena, – Masha nodded.
– Sergey, let’s have a smoke, – Lena suddenly offered. – Guys, we’ll be back in no time. Just want to have a smoke, excuse us.
– Let’s go, – he agreed immediately, reached into the inner pocket of his coat and pulled out a pack of “Priluki”.
– Well, OK, guys, but be back quickly.

Meanwhile, a slow song sounded in the “Blue Light”.
– Let’s dance, – Sasha suggested.
– OK, – Masha stood up. They left the table. Not believing her luck, she gently placed her hands on his shoulders.
– You have such shoulders, – she looked at him, – and light stubble... did you call it in this way?
He nodded.
– I’m even afraid to feel you, – she commented. – I’m so out of the habit with you. With your gray eyes, your hands, your eyes... I can not believe it. It’s you! – She spoke, not taking her eyes off him. – It’s you!
Sasha took a deep breath.
– I myself do not believe it, – he looked away. – Such a meeting!
– How were you doing all this time? – she asked.
– Not bad, scrambled out. Could not find you, and then there was Lena.
– She’s a beauty.
– Yes... – Sasha hesitated, and added somehow hard. – Beauty...
– I have a similar story with you. I was desperate to find you and... And then, you know, divorced – just could not do it any more. He feels... he feels eve-rything... And, you know, it became somehow easier. I became free, I suppose.
– I am very glad to see you. To know what you are.
– I want to say the same thing: I’m glad to see you.

Lena and Sergey were on the porch.
– What do you smoke? – Lena asked, wrapped in her fur coat.
– “Priluki”... simple like that, – Sergey reached into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled pack of cigarettes.
– Take mine, – she handed him a pack of “Dunhill”.
– To be tough at the New Year’s Eve with cool cigarettes? Well, it’s possi-ble, – he pulled one and reached into his pocket for a cigarette lighter.
– Hey, and why is she alone? – Lena asked, making a puff. – A beautiful woman.
A lantern was swinging in the wind at the door. In its light they could see snow falling.
– She had a great love. His name was Alexey or Alexander, as that of your man. I do not remember exactly. Masha and I grew up in the same yard, became friends. And so, went on with our lives. She told me all her secrets, women can not be particularly trusted, – he inhaled and exhaled smoke. – Cool cigarettes. Um...
– And what happened to that love? – Lena asked, looking at Sergey close-ly.
– Well, he was gone...
– What, made her children and was gone?
– No. Why children at once? In Moscow, at the railway station there was a terrorist attack, this guy sensed something was wrong, and covered her with his body, there was an explosion. When medics arrived, they separated them. They were holding each other so tightly that they barely managed to do it. In general, he turned out to be dead. When she heard it, she rushed to him, screaming so... oh... and began to kiss him. Well, there are these nine minutes when the heart is not working, but the brain is still alive, and man can still be brought back to life. And there it was eleven minutes, well, and medics moved away – well, that’s it... you know? And then his pulse appeared. Weak, but still the pulse. Medics were standing aside in disbelief. Masha was screaming hysterically: “Do something!” Well, those ran fussing... with a defibrillator or something, this is how this thing is called? Brought him back to life. Masha was constantly holding his hand. Once she let go of it – his pulse was gone. You know, when he feels that she’s around – he lives. Without a touch of her hand – that’s it, the pulse disappears. Medics shook their heads and said: “Love! There is no other scientific explanation”. In the ambulance Masha became ill, and they took her to a hospital, which was on the way and took care of the wounded during the attack. He was back to life more or less, but was taken to another hospital – a specialized one. I’m not a doctor, so, I tell everything as I understood it. Well... That’s how they lost each other.
– Sasha, and what about phones? Well... social networks? How is it possi-ble to lose each other now?
– Everything was gone in that explosion. Well, do you remember the num-ber of your cell phone?
– No, why?
– Well, here it is the same. Now, of course, she knows it, but then...
– Well… A cheerless story. And not for the New Year’s Eve at all.
– Lena, you asked – I answered.
– Yeah, of course, – Lena nodded.
– And now, does she have someone?
– Yes, there is one suitor. She does not accept his courtship much. In gen-eral, Kolya is a good guy, efficient man, with a snap, he has some business, trad-ing building materials or something.
– And what does she think about him?
– In my opinion, she still misses her Alex or Sasha.
Lena immediately stopped and became pensive.
– Lena, let’s go.
– No, no, Sergey. I’ll have another one. You go.
He nodded and left. Lena lit another cigarette and looked out the window at Sasha and Masha’s dance, trying to outshine this picture by the exhaled cigarette smoke. She tried to remember, to compare: can it really be him? At that time he really was in a hospital somewhere... It can not be true... Maybe, they’re not here by accident? Well, could he plot the car damage? Well, it’s silly somehow. She was very touched by the story told by Sergey. This love only happens in movies. Sasha is certainly capable of such feelings. But she wanted them to be given to her.
However, Lena decided to reject such thoughts and sort things out. Per-haps, it is not her Sasha. And still, it’s the New Year’s Eve now. She stubbed out the cigarette and went inside.
– Are you still dancing? – Lena looked at Masha in the hands of her future husband.
– Yes. We have been waiting for you for a bit and got carried away, – Sasha said.
– Well, yes, – Lena hung her fur coat.
They all sat down at the table again.
Then the doorbell rang. Masha looked at the door in surprise.
– Another visit? I’m not expecting anyone, – she said and went to the door. Sergey and Sasha went with her.
– Kolya? – Opening the door, she asked in surprise. – And what about your business trip?
At the door stood a tall man with a broad smile, in his forties, in a long black leather coat and mink hat, in his right hand he had a package. He took off his hat, and his bald head with a little hair on the sides gleamed in full. He alter-nately looked at the men standing next to the woman he loved, then at her her-self, apparently trying to understand whether she is pleased with his arrival or not.
– Happy New Year! Well, I’m late for the chimes, – Nikolay said. – I left the car there. You know, even froze while walking here. – He began to shake off the snow. – Apparently, the frost hit. But basically, you can shoot in the wood.
– Come on, Kolya, – Masha invited him inside.
He went into the house, rubbed his hands, kissed Masha. Lena was watch-ing Alexander’s reaction.
– Oh, Kolya, you’re so cold, with red cheeks, – Masha smiled friendly.
Kolya reached out to Alexander.
– Nikolay.
– Alexander.
Then he greeted Sergey. Masha helped him take off his coat and invited to the table. Everyone turned attention to the new guest, his bald head, black eyes and a charming smile that appeared on his face almost every thirty seconds. It was evident that he was very glad to get here.
He unbuttoned the top button of the suit and looked at Lena.
– This is Lena, Alexander’s girlfriend, – Masha introduced her. – They got stuck in the wood before the New Year, and we studied together with Sasha. Such an unexpected meeting.
– Masha, I... Where are your bunnies? I brought them gifts, – Nikolay reached for the package.
– Let’s go, have a look. They are probably already asleep, but maybe not. Katya asked about you.
They went into the nursery. Her little “bunnies” were asleep and probably saw sweet dreams.
– Masha, – he hugged and kissed her. She did not answer. Even shivered somehow.
– Let’s go to the guests, – she said quietly.
Those were silent and waited for the couple.
– Kolya, help yourself, – Masha took a seat. Nikolay remained standing.
– Yes, Masha. It’s from me, – he took a bottle of vodka and expensive French champagne out of the package.
– Kolya, we have enough of everything!
– Put it here, Kolya. I’ll run things a bit, – Lena joined in.
– Masha, – Nikolay paused. By his face, it was clear that he was preparing to say something very important. Lena showed Sergey with a gesture to diminish the TV volume.
– Masha, – Nikolay was worried. – I wanted to do it later, but... Not so, – he smiled and corrected himself. – Masha... – She stared at him. – You know I love you. And this night I wanted to propose to you, for you to become my wife. I was going to tell you this later, but... I know that in your life there has already been love. I will not be such. But one loves, and another one allows to be loved. So it is all arranged. This must be understood. I’ve been waiting for a long time... This person is not here with you. And I understand that he will never be. I’ve been waiting for a long time... I can not wait any longer. You will have every-thing.
There was a silence. It even seemed that they heard snow falling outside the window.
– I am not a poor man. I mean, as for the proposal… – He said, smiled and exhaled, pulling a small gold ring from his pocket.
Masha lowered her head. After a while it became clear that the pause is prolonged. Lena broke the silence.
– Well, a lovely man’s act. You were also going to propose to me, weren’t you? Only on my birthday, in two weeks, – she turned to Sasha, who became somewhat pensive and sat staring into space.
Masha didn’t look up.
– Maybe, you will do the same? You are a real man, too, – Lena continued. Sergey did not understand what was happening, and looked from one couple to another one. Alexander stood up, picked up the glass and looked at Masha. She did not raise her eyes to him. He was silent. The pause was long. Lena picked up a napkin and with the words: “As was to be proved!” threw it on the table, got up and went to get her things.
– Lena, where are you going? – Alexander shouted.
Lena said nothing and left the house. He immediately ran after her.
– Lena, well, come on! – He shouted.
But she walked without turning, barely pulling her legs out of the snow, wrapping herself in the mink coat and did not think to stop.
He caught up with her, stopped and grabbed her shoulders.
– Sasha! I realized it: you had a great love. Sergey told me everything. I just don’t want to interfere. You are so decent, it’s even disgusting! You will suffer with me, but won’t quit me. No, Sasha! Be happy! Masha said it right: “There is such a concept – a good man, but not yours”. I feel that you are always some-where far away, and here you blossomed when you saw her. I’ve never seen you such! Sasha, leave it, each person should be happy.
– No, I don’t agree! – He yelled with all his forces.
– Sasha, just do not spoil your life and mine! Now I understand the reason for your constant shitty mood! – She was screaming now. – Sasha, it’s destiny. Go and try to be happy.
She started walking again. After a couple of steps she turned.
– And tell her I said hi... Bitch!
And then she shouted:
– Sasha, will you ever go with a scarf? Well, I’m tired of barking at you! It’s so cold, and you are with an open throat, – she immediately started to cry bitterly, turned and walked on.

– It’s him? – Kolya abruptly pulled out a chair and sat down. Masha never looked up. After some time, she nodded.
They were alone. Sergey went out somewhere, probably to catch up with Lena and Sasha. Kolya leaned over her, kissed her hair. Masha lifted her head. It was evident that she was crying.
– It’s the New Year, you can not cry, – Kolya tried to smile, though he felt his own tears in the eyes.
He kissed her on the cheek, got up, took his coat and left in a hurry.
– Kolya, do not leave! – She immediately ran after him, finding her usual vest.
Once she managed to run out onto the porch, Kolya has already pulled away from the gate on his Jeep.
Without knowing why, she decided to have a walk. To make it more com-fortable, she put her hands into the sleeves, as in the muff, and wandered aimless-ly with his head tilted. There was a crazy roar from holiday fireworks in the wood, it was as bright as if in the daylight. After walking for a while, she sat on one of the stumps. Tears were running on her cheeks again. She heard footsteps, then felt someone walking to her. It was... a little girl dressed in some kind of a very large shirt, in which she was drowning.
– Who are you? – Masha stood up in surprise, wiping away tears.
– Me? – The girl’s voice was fairy-tale, quiet and very gentle. – A little fairy.
– So, girl! What a fairy! Do your parents know where you are? Are you cold? – With these words she began to take off her vest.
– No, no. I need nothing.
– Well, what do you mean “nothing”? – Masha did not listen to her.
– I’ll reveal you a secret... He’s here. Sasha is nearby.
– How do you know him?.. Well... wait, who are you?
– I am a little fairy.
– What a fairy! – Masha was indignant.
– The one you and Sergey-drinker told your children about, not holding your tongues! Next time I’ll have another Santa, – she said resentfully, rubbing her eyes.
– So, you are alive?! I told my children about you. I thought that I made you up! – Surprised Masha leaned over the girl and began to consider her.
– Well, thanks God! Everything you ever made up really exists. And how can a mother lie to her children? Well, you finally believed me! You, adults, have a problem with a belief in miracles.
– Wow! – Masha sat down. She immediately started smiling in disbelief. – A fairy? – She repeated. – It can not be true!
She came closer and touched her hands.
– It’s the New Year, no one should cry. Besides, you have already been told about it today.
– How can I not cry? Kolya is unhappy, Lena is unhappy, Sasha is wor-ried.
– Well, and what about you? Are you happy?
– Me? Very. He’s back in my life! He is here, I can see him, I can touch him, I can talk to him. And this is the greatest happiness!
– These are beautiful words, and let me take care of the happiness of oth-ers, right? And you should watch yourself, your happiness.
With these words, Masha somehow calmed down and stopped crying. Ei-ther magic acted, or the fairy’s words were so convincing that it was impossible not to believe her.
The fairy vanished as silently as she had appeared. Masha got up and wandered off somewhere again. She wanted to find him. Maybe, he’s still here and never left. Near a spruce tree, she stopped holding a branch, decided to fix one of her boots. And then snow was falling from other branches. She turned. And there he was, Sasha. Standing and smiling.
Cocking a branch of a pine, Masha looked in his eyes. Snow fell from the branch wrapped in winter clothes. Sasha caught some snow in his palm and stared at her. A bullfinch flied up, seeing the two lovers: apparently, it felt that it was not in time. The lovers had a look at the bird, then Masha pulled another branch, and Sasha was totally covered in snow. Masha started running, drowning in large drifts in the hope that she would be caught soon and would appear in his arms. Near the next pine she swept snow over him again. Masha stood aside and burst into laughter. Perhaps, the silence of a winter forest was not broken but for a couple of lovers who found themselves alone with each other.
It all ended as Masha wanted it to end: she was in his arms.

– It turned out well, – Sergey, dressed in Santa again, said to the little fairy.
They stood on the edge of the wood, discussing their actions.
– We still have to think of the rest of them, – the fairy said.
– And what shall we do? I don’t know. Well, for some nice policeman to stop Lena’s car?.. Banality! – Sergey concluded.
– Well, yes. We need to think. Well, a company of drunken cops in the wood? Cool! – The fairy supported his idea.
– Do you really think so? – Sergey said and touched his mustache. – I’m not sure. Hey, what did you do for Sasha’s car to stall?
– Ah, – the little fairy waved him off. – I’ll tell you something: it’s not stalled. Lena’s going to leave in it now. Well, when you crawled out of that drift, I laughed so hard.
– And where were you there? I did not notice you.
– I was sitting on a branch. What should we think, with no such banality? – The fairy became thoughtful. – And why not banality? Let it be.
Meanwhile, Lena’s car was spanking along the belt road. Lena stopped at the traffic lights, staring at the red light shining brightly in the darkness, and thought about something else: about Sasha, how they met… Maybe, she should... Her thoughts were interrupted by a wild crash – someone drove into her car.
– Well, what the fuck! – She slammed the car door and walked to the of-fender, owner of the Jeep. The latter was not getting out of the car. By the silhou-ette, she realized that it was a man. Lena menacingly tapped on the glass. The glass went down slowly.
– How are you feeling? – Slyly alluding to January 1, Lena asked.
– Well, OK. This is my way of making acquaintances, – said... Nikolay.
– Kolya, it’s you?!
He looked out.
– I’ve got a bottle here... not opened. If you want, we can invite cops – to have some company, – he smiled. – If not, the New Year on the belt road is quite unusual.
– Yeah, we have such a New Year... – she said sadly.
Kolya opened the door and got out.
– Lena, well, now they just need to be left alone. I’ve heard their story. And then, you see: it’s not clear how it will end. They have not seen each other for a long time, they became estranged from each other. Now they need to be alone, and then, maybe, we will be back. Life will dot all the i’s.
– And you are a crafty guy. Went away in order to return?
– Ah, – Kolya shrugged, making a face. – Leave it! If a fiancée leaves, you never know who the lucky one is!
– And you know how to calm down, – she became kinder. – And I have food in the trunk.
– This phrase should be told with a gleam in the eyes and a sense of undis-guised joy! I’m empty at all and want to eat something. Better yet, to get every-thing here! – Nikolay said, and together they walked to the car, in which Lena came, to get some food. Five minutes later, a makeshift New Year’s table was laid on the hood.

– Well, everybody is done with. That’s good! – Seeing it all, the fairy con-cluded. – I came up with a good idea. Banality, of course. But then we have no time to argue about it, or they will leave for good. And then, why can’t they be together, why look for some other “halves”, since they met here like this?
– Little one, fulfill one my wish.
– Come on, and then I have to run to the adjacent district, it’s also ac-countable.
– Well, actually... – Sergey hesitated.
– Well, Sergey, any wish today.
– I’d like some spare parts for the carpool, – he blurted out.
The little fairy laughed.
– Oh, well, quite a fool! I’m a fairy-tale fairy, I bring happiness into homes, help lovers find each other...
– But do you know how happy I’ll be with whose parts in the carpool?.. I’m so tired of Mikhalych!..
– Oh, I can’t stand it with you any more! OK, you’ll have your parts!.. All right, Sergey, bye! Until the next New Year’s Eve! Thanks for the help! And… do not get drunk so again! – She came closer and hugged him.
– Bye, little one! I’ll miss you.

Masha woke up and opened her eyes. Sasha was lying next to her. Snow flakes were falling outside the window. It was quiet. She could only hear his breath. She turned off the blanket and gently stroked his back, remembering fa-miliar bumps and hollows, every cell of his body. Then covered him with the blanket again. Morning of the first of January – beginning of a new life. She al-ways liked this moment. There is still nothing, just the forest wrapped in snow outside, silence, everyone’s asleep, New Year… No mistakes are made, no joy is received, there is no loss.
Beginning of a new life. Now she will get up, put on her slippers and a gown, at the door her little “bunny” will be waiting for her, rubbing her eyes. She and her daughter will walk down the stairs, brew some coffee, the house will be drowned in its fragrant smell, and it will be snowing outside. They will stand at the window, looking at all this beauty, and Masha will think that a new life has begun, a life, in which she won’t be alone!

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