He is real

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Chapter 9. Day five

Having opened the toilet door, Misha saw me sitting on the floor with my legs pulled up to my chest. My hands fell on the tiled floor. My head was resting on my knees, disheveled hair covered my face. Misha squatted in front of me, pulled the hair out of my face and raised my head holding my chin, shook it, my neck’s muscles were completely relaxed, my eyes didn’t open.

Hey, pin-up blonde. — I was still there.

— Anna, wake up. — There was no response to his words. — Anna, wake up, I’ve been looking for you all over the apartment! — now he began to shout.

That’s what I’ve come for.

The first thing I saw when I sharply opened my eyes was Misha’s face blurred outlines. I tried to focus on him and caught an angry look.

— Misha… you’re my… — fumbling muttering came from my lips. — I saw…

I saw what? The madhouse where I was one of the patients, and my “invisible friend” came to me as an angel. I didn’t have time to get a good look at him. Moreover, everything was so realistic and clear in this dream, too realistic.

— What a… what a strange dream.

— You can’t imagine how you scared me, crazy thing. How did you get here? — Misha said angrily, continuing to look at me indignantly.

I stretched my hand to his cheek, he quickly grabbed it and squeezed tightly in his palm.

— Why? You? Left? — he said slowly, stressing every word and, without waiting for the answer, added: — You were falling asleep next to me.

I looked at him and in no way could I figure out what he wanted from me, the dimness of consciousness went off the scale, my eyes began to roll up, for a second it seemed that I was falling asleep again.

He caught me round the middle and lifted me off the floor. Standing on weak legs, I leaned my back against the wall. He silently began fastening the buttons of his shirt on me one by one, and inserting them into buttonholes. Holding my head down, I was watching his fingers, trying to concentrate, catching the details of his movements. Gradually, the images around me began to get their proper clarity.

— Have you come to senses? — He asked, buttoning the last button under my very throat.

— Yeah. And I’m glad to see you too, — I replied sluggishly, — I couldn’t sleep, that’s why I left. I don’t understand why I fell asleep here.

— That’s why. — He took out foil-sealed tablets from the pocket of his sweatpants, demonstrating his finding.

— Left them on the table, right?

— You are not going to take them anymore, — he said succinctly.

— Yes, no problem, — I agreed with him with ease, knowing that the second blister with the pills left in my bag, and unbuttoned the last button on the collar.

— You mix them with alcohol and don’t think about the consequences at all. (This combination could really lead to disastrous consequences, because being switched off and no longer controlled by consciousness, the brain thinks that it’s sleeping, but actually I could be in a state of wakefulness under the influence of whiskey and absolutely not realizing what I was doing.) -I woke up, but you were not around. — He put his hands on my shoulders. Continuing to speak, concentrated, with a little frown he looked in my face, as if something was wrong with it. — Your things are spread across the floor, and you are nowhere to be found. I’ve completely forgotten about this room. — He stopped looking at me — it seems that everything was “like all right” with my face — and added: — Come on, I’ll make you some coffee.

— And haven’t you forgotten where the coffee machine is?

— Very funny, young lady who has forgotten the way to the bedroom. — He even smiled.

— Come on, I’ve just crashed out on the floor in the toilet, stuff happens.

***

— Breakfast, I must make the breakfast, — Misha, lost in thoughts, was standing in the middle of the kitchen.

— Anything but pancakes. — I was holding an empty mug in one hand, feeling how the invigorating drink consumed a short while ago was warming me from inside, and the cigarette not smoked to the end in the other, a couple of puffs provoked a wave of nausea.

— You didn’t like them? They were cooked by the housekeeper, she told me that she was good at cooking and would make some special pancakes.

— I liked them very much, they even appeared in my dreams, and she guessed it right with jam. — I had to put out my cigarette in an ashtray.

I was still swaying, I leaned on the edge of the high bar table, which separated the kitchen from the living room, in an attempt to gain a foothold. Misha went to the fridge. I was watching him, not taking my eyes off his naked torso. With each movement when he was leaning, taking a package of eggs from the shelf or shaking a box of milk, this or that muscle got tense on his arms, shoulders and back. His body was bound to admire, but it was he who admired me more, because in order to achieve such a form, you need to have considerable will power and a lot of patience. Gray sports trousers were hanging on his narrow hips, his oblique abdominal muscles stuck out above the wide elastic band of the trousers. The lust for this guy was stronger than hunger.

Taking the eggs out of the carton, he looked at me, noticed my devouring gaze, heard me giving a short, barely audible moan and sigh. For a few seconds he froze with a pair of eggs in his hand. Perhaps he imagined my naked body under the shirt and how he would rip it off me. In any case, I really wanted it: the fantasies born in his head, and then the action.

His hands tensed up, and the eggs cracked in his palm. Spreading out, they slipped on the table between his fingers.

— What are you doing? — He opened his hand and threw the remnants of the crushed mass into the sink.

— Just looking at you, you are jazzing me up.

Standing with his back to me, he turned the iron tap handle and began washing his hands under a water stream.

— I got you. — Looking half around, he squinted slyly. — You look very sexy in my shirt, but soon you won’t have it on you. — Having said that, he pulled a small towel off the hook, turned around, slowly wiped his hands, smiled playfully, which caused a light smile in response, and threw the towel away. He approached me, grabbed the shirt collar and violently pulled the flaps aside, spreading his arms. The buttons scattered cracking, the fabric slipped from my shoulders.

His eyes were riveted on my half-open lips. He ran his hand into my hair at the back of my head — they slipped between his fingers, — twisted them into his fist, lifted it up and said in an excited, deep voice filled with low notes:

— Let’s start the morning as is right and proper, as usually, baby. At first…

Blowjob, and then omelet. — I don’t know how it happened that such a phrase came off my lips, which subsequently deftly fulfilled what had been said, but everything happened so right, instinctively, just breathtaking.

***

Misha brought me a new shirt with buttons, no less elegant and nice to the feel. As for breakfast, we cooked it after all.

Misha took over most of the duties, and in general this work was clearly not a burden for him, but a joy (well, since he is so helpful, let him do it for pleasure, for us).

He was diligently cutting vegetables for salad, cooking an omelet, adding seasonings, cheese and mushrooms to it. He consulted with me, studied the jars standing in the fridge, tried their contents — olives, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, cubes of Bulgarian cheese — as if everything was new for him, although it was in his own refrigerator. How did he say that about me? Weird. Oh well.

When I was looking for plates, I came across a bottle of Krug champagne with a black label. It stood alone on the shelf. Misha said that we were going to drink juice, I wanted to argue, but he snatched the bottle out of my hands, and it flew into the dustbin under the sink, cracked, and hissed. A considerable amount of paper impregnated with indelible paint should have been shelled out for possessing it. I had to hold myself in check in order not to clutch my head.

***

— Tell me about your dream. — Leaning over the plate, Misha was parting the omelet into pieces with the fork ridge.

We were sitting opposite each other at the bar table (at the very table, where on the corner a few minutes ago we experienced lascivious sensations) and were enjoying the breakfast — Misha’s handiwork.

— The dream… I don’t even remember now what there was, you quickly made me forget everything, — I tried the omelet cooked by Misha, it was just melting in my mouth. — Mmm, well done, it’s delicious.

— Thank you, the merit is yours, you’ve helped me a lot, — he said lustfully and poured some more juice into my almost empty glass.

— I can also help you in many ways. With lunch or dinner, for example.

— I will always be glad to accept your help. But don’t you sleep in the toilet any more. — Having finished, he casually smiled and put a few spoons of salad on his plate. — Does my bed fit you?

— It fits all right, and indeed any bed will do if you are in it. But will you just stop teasing me, you — the guy who can’t get a sense of the TV remote control. — After the words I said, Misha smiled good-naturedly and continued eating his salad slowly. — I take these pills because they help me not to have dreams, but recently something has gone wrong. I think you understand what I mean. There are dreams that you don’t want to see. After all, you yourself sleep, as if you’re experiencing the same nightmare.

— I often dream about entering the ring, I try, but I lose the fight. I try to change everything, but I can’t. Everything repeats and doesn’t change like an endless circle, — he said with regret, without raising his eyes.

— Did you often lose?

— No, during my nine years in the ring — just a couple of times. The result is always equivalent to the effort invested in it. I was always pushing myself up, I knew that I could do more. That I can become stronger and better, I only had to work harder. More training — more stamina, more punch practice — more advantages over the opponent. I was getting stronger, victories gave me confidence, and I already started to think that no one could break me. No one and nothing. But life can break anyone … — Raising his eyes, he suddenly stopped talking. His gaze met my gaze, frightened and frozen.

Crazy kid. Yes, exactly he. His blurred translucent image appeared from nowhere. He was standing on the right side of Misha’s shoulder and pointing at him with his long finger, giggling with bulging eyes, covering his mouth with one hand. Fear gripped my body for a few seconds.

— Anna? What’s going on? — Misha turned around cautiously, assuming that someone was standing next to him, then shook his head, because he didn’t find anyone there (in fact, he didn’t find anything disturbing about who he saw there). He leaned back in his chair, picked up a pack of cigarettes from the tabletop, lit one, dragged on and exhaled heavily with smoke.

The boy vanished as suddenly as he had appeared.

— Nothing to tell. It was just a feeling, — I said, perplexed.

— You seemed to have seen a ghost.

Barely noticeably he squinted his eyes to the place where my dazed look was directed a few seconds ago. I had completely forgotten that, according to Misha, I am a psychic talking to ghosts.

— There is no one there and there was no one.

I emptied the glass of juice to the bottom in sips, my heart took a steady pace (it happened to me for the first time to encounter something like this — the personalities from my dreams remained only in them).

— Have I scared you?

— Well, it’s just … — He hesitated a little, put the cigarette in the ashtray. -No, you haven’t scared me. Come here.

I got up and walked around the bar table, got so close to Misha that my breast touched his chin (still could not get used to the feeling that I have it, my breast, I mean), he immediately pulled me to him and locked me in his arms.

— I have nothing to fear, and you shouldn’t pretend that nothing had happened. — He ran his hand across my back, looked up at me, sitting on a bar stool. — If I asked about your dream, it means that it’s really important and if now you tell about the one you’ve just seen…

— I don’t want to talk about this. Forget it, OK? — I said flatly, interrupting him.

— OK, — he agreed, and frowning and being puzzled.

My mental protective barrier (it’s easier to provide access to the body than to the world that is hidden inside the body) — yes, for the first time this barrier cracked, Misha was confident in breaking it, and I was clearly aware of it, but still thought that I and this guy who burst into my life by chance, don’t know each other so well to trust him completely. Misha managed to break much and many, including himself, and his words differed from the truth only because he could not tell me. Life did not break him, only once he followed the circumstances, he was in despair. Now he was with me, here, smiling and enjoying what he, in fact, had been striving for. But I still didn’t know all of this.

— Should I better clear the table, — I suggested, and reached for his empty plate.

— Don’t do it, — he stopped me, — the cleaner will come soon and clean everything up.

— You are a baller. — I gently smiled at him, hugged, kissed on the cheek over the stubble line. Resting my forehead against his temple, I ran my fingers along the barbed hairs along his cheekbones, buried the other hand in the hair on the back of his head.

— My friends are already on the way to Eilat, will you come with me? — he mumbled having his head on my breasts and buried in them.

— Yes, I just need to take some things, swimsuit, sunscreen, I don’t know what else. — I continued massaging his head, standing between his legs bent at knees.

— I’ll buy anything you need. Go, and get dressed. — He raised his head and lowered his hands.

Slapping his already tousled head after a restless sleep, I went to the bedroom, but lingered on the threshold, turned around (I managed to look around just in case, I made sure — the crazy guy finally disappeared into the place where he had come from) and asked Misha:

— Can I take your toothbrush?

— Yes, — he answered shortly, and lit another cigarette.

— And your comb?

He nodded affirmatively, looking at me, exhaling cigarette smoke.

— And your razor?

— Take whatever you want.

— You are a generous guy, Misha, and… it turns out, that you are so caring.

He gave me a kind smile, specifying:

— Not for everyone…

— … but only for pretty girls, — I continued for him, ironically shrugged my shoulders with a faint grin on my face, which I was given a reproachful look for in return. — OK, OK, I’m a very special pretty girl, — I said, and proudly disappeared from his eyes into the bedroom in order to smooth my rumpled feathers.

***

The road to Eilat should have taken a little more than four hours. Last time I visited this colorful resort city about three years ago. It is located on the shores of the Red Sea in the southernmost point of Israel, on the borders with Jordan and Egypt, surrounded by high red-brown mountains. After long kilometers of the monotonous desert landscape, you rejoice at the meeting with it, as if meeting a blooming oasis. One can only wonder how the Jews managed to create such things on the lifeless desert land.

The city is created for tinsel luxury. Most of it is occupied by hotels for every taste and budget. Yachts ply coastal waters, with noisy parties thrown on board. Beautiful beaches stretching for several kilometers with many bars, restaurants and night clubs are open 24 hours a day. Eilat is filled with a special life, the life of those who have fun day and night. You indulge in such an atmosphere, forgetting about all the pressing problems, and it’s good, if you wake up to find yourself in your own hotel room.

Before we left Bat Yam, Misha stopped the car at a gas station. He brimmed the tank of gas, went to the store, located there and bought some chips, beer, nuts, a couple of bottles of water and cigarettes. When he returned, he asked me to turn on the music, opened the package with the nuts and handed it to me. I refused, he emphasized that I eat very little, tried to scold me, but gave up and didn’t start a senseless argument.

We were driving past the park that stretched along the road on the outskirts of the city. It was filled with people in black and white clothes of the same type. A crowd of religious Jewish families who decided to arrange a so-called kosher picnic with barbecue on single use iron charcoal grill. The change of the traffic light signal that was too long made us observe the improvised action of their family idyll.

— Do you know what I think, looking at them? — I gently turned to Misha, who was chewing nuts. Feeling the pleasure of how they crunched in his mouth, periodicity, he replenished the stock to have the crunch going on.

— That these “penguins”1 have a screw loose in their heads?

— They can’t be all like that, but most of them for sure. In a strip club, I often saw such “men of faith”. They hid the kippot in their pockets and tucked their sidelocks in their pants.

Slang, used by Russian-speaking citizens of Israel, who gave their own definition to orthodox Jews, associating them with penguins because of their black-and-white outfit.

— Everyone has his own philosophy of life. What is that to you? Why do you care? — Misha threw the empty bag of nuts that were once in it in the back seat, opened a new one and, holding the steering wheel with his elbow, and sharply stepped on the gas pedal. The car speeded off.

— It’s just an association, when you see the truthfulness of the intentions of people hiding behind their faith. It ceases to be significant for them in the dark rooms of the hotel or empty corners of strip clubs. When I started working at private parties, I came to the “haredim” several times (yes, they also have parties), now I refuse such orders. In a word, imagine: a husband and wife — the ideal of religiosity, a rented hotel room, they look, stroking each other, at how my partner, Lena, and I are performing for them a long ago practiced “lesbian act”. Their strokes turn into kisses, and then they get excited and undress, take everything off. She, the wife, tears off her wig, under which, according to their faith, there should be no hair, breathes the air with a full breast, and the hair falls on her shoulders, feeling freedom, just like she herself. The husband takes her it in different poses, without any sheet with a slit, which, in theory, should be thrown over her body.

— I’ve lost my appetite. — Misha threw a half-empty bag of nuts into the window.

— How do you actually eat this salty stuff? — I gave little a grimace, showing disgust.

— As easy as you are talking about this “pervert shit” of the religious. — He briefly looked at me with a bit of reproach and continued monitoring the road.

— You don’t want, I won’t speak. I’ve just told you what I saw.

On the touch screen of the dashboard, I chose an hour long track of one of the popular Russian DJs that was smoothly flowing from song to song, turned up the volume, took off my shoes, threw my legs up so that my toes touched the windshield and, relaxing, threw my head back on the headrest.

***

We were driving further and further away from Bat Yam, leaving kilometer after kilometer behind. The familiar city became a dark line in the reflection of the side mirror of the car. I imagined that my “invisible friend” stayed there, in our small rented apartment, where we often returned in the morning after work (I found such an excuse for his absence, being afraid to reconcile with the “bad” one, thinking last of it). I recalled how I threw my bag in the hallway, hung the keys on a hook hammered into the wall, threw off the clothes smelling of the smell of unknown men and sat on the sofa. My knees ached, my legs were humming with fatigue, and my head was spinning. My friend sat beside me and said: “Everything will be fine” (Jewish favorite expression, which is a part of their philosophy). For some reason, he always had confidence that everything would be fine, and even if it wasn’t then, he still thought that what we had was already good, because it could be worse taking into consideration my stupidity. No matter how you slice it, everything that will take place will be good.

When I turned on the music and one of the lyrical songs with a soul-penetrating rap singer, who wanted to convey his anguish from lack or loss of love, started to sound from the TV, my friend asked me: “Find that club track with low bass and plain phrases in English”.

And I played “that track.”

When I, got undressed completely and was sitting on the couch, drinking whiskey before going into the shower, I made my worn out speech: “Creating my appearance and working out hard, I tried more for “Him”, but not for these customers expressing their admiration. Touching some of them, I imagine that I’m touching “Him,” and don’t understand why “He” has never existed and still doesn’t exist? Why are there many others, but not “He”? I don’t want to go to the shower without “Him”, and I don’t want to go to bed without “Him,” and in general I don’t want anything without “Him,” my friend usually replied: “Change the music and your own record to a more positive one. And when you are in the shower, turn on the hot water stronger, it will relax you”.

I usually did so, but that morning, which was already beginning to grow into a day (a week before the meeting with Misha), I still continued to delve into the topic that my friend usually avoided.

— It’s so weird, — I said thoughtfully, running my fingers over the label that says Jameson, — I miss him.

— Feel like you’ve lost a loved one? — my friend suddenly asked, surprising me with his desire to keep the conversation going.

— You’ve got it on the head, — I replied beyond a shadow of a doubt.

— But you’ve never even had such a person.

— No, I haven’t, but I’ve got a feeling that… I used to have “Him”, and we had a house on the lake, we loved night walks, and when we swam in the lake, the stars shone brightly over our heads. Many, many stars. — I smiled bitterly and, taking a few sips of whiskey from the bottle, continued: — We used to go to bed late and get up early in the morning because we tried to spend as little time as possible sleeping. And every morning before breakfast on a log porch…

— I’ve been always telling you that you have a rich imagination, — my friend’s voice that became even lower and rougher, interrupted me in mid-sentence.

— Of course, it’s a fantasy. The fantasy itself. But you can fantasize as much as you want, anticipating that the fantasies will come true, everything is different here, I feel as if it has taken place, — I said confidently, trying to convince him.

— Has it? Have you lived these moments?

— Yes, they are like a memory. They give me a feeling that they existed in distant past, which echoes in the memory. And “He” was there, but he is no longer with me, because… Because he no longer lives on the earth.

— It turns out that all of this has really happened, but in fact it hasn’t and it never will. Some kind of paradox. — Even though notes of sarcasm could be heard in his voice, they were no longer filled with swell-headed intonation, which I was used to.

— Right, it sounds crazy. But I feel it and I can’t do anything about it. At first, I didn’t understand why “He” stuck so hard in my head. Why you don’t want me even think about it. And now I understand, and you can hide the truth as long as you like or push me to taking pills that block my brain, but I will still think about “Him”. This is a subtle connection. Thoughts about “Him” give me warm memories, and I feel good there, everything was completely different there, not as it is now. It was some other life, full, interesting, and so, so… real. — I put the bottle of whiskey on the glass tabletop and got up from the couch, adding: — And now it is empty. — Then I sighed shortly and decided to add something else: — Therefore, it’s becoming more and more indifferent to me. OK, I’ve got to go to the shower, because I smell expensive male perfume. The smell of those who sometimes can replace “Him”.

— Hold on a sec. — I responded to my friend’s request, but didn’t turn around, as there was nobody to turn around to. — Anna, I’m very sorry, but if I tell you everything, you will never hear me — never.

— You can tell me nothing, I’ve already understood everything myself. Paradox, you say? You are this paradox. It all started with you. — I turned around, naturally, no one was sitting on the couch. I had to imagine the opposite. — And it seems to me, that even if it sounds as crazy as it gets, that you are this “He”. You are the one who is somewhere, but not here. You are the one who seems to be so far away, but at the same time so close that I can touch you if I reach my hand out. You are the one who was with me, who loved me in memories, that’s why you are helping me now. We were together, my friend, but then you were not my friend. You need me, just like I need you. You can’t leave me, just as I can’t leave you, right?

— Right. — His voice — a whisper, low, rough, almost muffled. — It’s all like that. You don’t understand what you are doing now.

— For sure, it is better to do something than to stay here in this very place where we have to be! — I cried out in anger: it is difficult to take as a given something that cannot be changed. — It’s better to let something change, albeit for the worse, but that there would no longer be what exists now. I need you here!

— Anna, calm down. — His voice teetered on the edge, a little more, and he could flare up himself.

— Why, what’s wrong with you! As if your invisible brain has been washed!

— I will soon change everything myself, don’t do anything and say nothing. The conversation is over. At least from my side.

No, my friend is still a die-hard, he didn’t fly off the handle.

I raised my palms up with the words: “I love you, my dear, and sweet dreams. If you are able to have dreams at all”, — waved off and, before entering the bathroom, threw the bottle with the remnants of whiskey in the waste-bin.

Taking the shower alone, standing under the thin jets of water that pleasantly warmed my skin, I relaxed and only then realized how chilled I was.

For the recent few months I’ve been desperately chasing the money, considering it the last value in life, it seemed more real, more tangible than the feelings that many creative people have sung. I managed to earn a lot of papers with indelible paint, but these earnings still did not bring proper satisfaction, and I lived like a squirrel running along the wheel in my small cage. The squirrel — a fur machine that spins the wheel according to the course of events. The faster she paws over the perches of the wheel, the faster things change. She can do it indefinitely, there will be no right end, she won’t reach it. The end will only appear to be the “end”, and there’s no “end” … in its wheel.

Misha interfered, or rather, burst into my circulation, making me believe in the existence of a “praised feeling” (after realizing who my “invisible friend” is, I finally lost faith in the fact that this would happen to me), he managed to change the world surrounding me, I don’t know, whether it is good or bad, I understand only one thing: it won’t be the same. With Misha, I didn’t have any pangs, because I’m betraying someone, being in the same bed with a person, on whose expense I try to satisfy the need while the other is absent

Could I know that everything would turn out the way that Misha would be for me not just a guy in a red T-shirt? I could know it at that moment when he first approached me on the beach, but my “invisible friend”, who decided not to talk about anything, made an interesting move. After all, he said that I myself should feel everything and understand that I must enjoy what I have. And I was angry with him and indignant because of his absence. There are only two options. Either my “invisible friend” started a new game, or…

The ringtone of the phone call interrupted the music and brought me back to reality. Misha’s phone was connected to the speakerphone. I opened my eyes and, raising my head, saw how he swiped across the telephone screen attached to the panel.

— Well, where are you? — Dima’s familiar voice sounded from the speakers.

— We’ll have arrived by the evening. We are in a loudspeaker mode, — Misha answered him.

— Yes, I’ve got it. We have already rented the houses. By the way, our friends from Eilat also promised to come. Anna, you are no longer taking offence at me, aren’t you?

— Of course not, it’s your wife’s duty, — I told him jokingly.

— Do you know that I have many wives? — he asked in a voice full of pride and laughed slightly audibly.

— I didn’t even doubt it. I feel sorry for you.

— Did you hear that, mormon, that’s all, see you in the evening, — said Misha sharply and hung up, once again he didn’t let me finish the talk to his friend, who he wanted to introduce me to. — We are approaching the mall now, shall we pop in?

If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s shopping. All this fuss of people in pursuit of newfangled things or discounts on them put me out of temper. But I had to buy the things necessary for rest, and Misha wanted to give me pleasure, as well as for himself so, I willingly agreed demonstrating him my joy.

I often purchased expensive dresses, shoes, bags and accessories, because I had to decorate myself, the “goods”, in beautiful packaging. Actually, I didn’t need all this junk, from which my wardrobe was bursting (we accumulate a pile of junk, respectively, we buy an even bigger wardrobe, an even bigger pile of junk — and here we already need a dressing room, and so on), the less you fill your apartment with it, the easier it is. And the fewer expensive trinkets you hang on you — too. Minimalism is so practical, why bother. For me, life without the junk is much easier.

***

Misha and I went around the many shops in the mall. He bought a bunch of necessary and unnecessary things. He found pleasure in planking up large sums for unpretentiously stitched pieces of fabric and labels with the names of famous fashion designers, he swiped his card and signed his checks with such importance as if he had been a poor man all his life and has just recently won a large money prize. He easily managed to lure me to McDonald’s, where he devoured a couple of large hamburgers with French fries. I limited myself to nuggets only — the chicken is still the chicken. It’s not so fattening, albeit roasted in oil. Misha said that I was faffing around and hamburgers with potatoes, if included in the diet at least a couple of times a month, would only do me good — they would be deposited on my buttocks, which would be nice to add in volume. Thin strips of potatoes flew in his direction with the remark “at night you didn’t complain, but only caught hold of the very buttocks without cholesterol deposits.”

Israeli kids, lovers of “Happymeal”, who were sitting at the tables nearby, laughed at us, although they had no idea what our playful argument was about, and their parents, fixated on the rules of conduct, threw condemning glances at us.

We didn’t make much of what was happening around — two laughing adults, who were not in a hurry, as if they had become children again, living in their own world. Children grow up, and the world that was once so simple, without prejudice, seems to be incredibly difficult, with a bunch of problems that fall on your head over and over again (as from the shelves of a closet — you open the door, and the things stocked — bang! And fall). It was easy with Misha. It was possible to throw potato at him and start the morning with a blowjob, not an omelet, and be crazy psychic, “Anna, the perfect girl, don’t understand why”, “Anna the shy”, “Anna the jealous”, “Anna the whatever you want” and not become obsessed with the pieces of paper with indelible paint. In fact, with Misha it was not necessary to become obsessed. He had long ago thought it all for the two of us.

— You know, food has become much tastier over the recent years, — said Misha, leaning back in his chair, relaxed and laid his hands on his belly. — Chemical progress.

I shrugged, being completely unaware of what he was telling me about, and continued picking up thin slices of potatoes from the table, chewing them with the hope that my butt had already begun to grow.

A girl with a tightly tied dark chestnut oblique matching the color of her eyes approached our table. She looked like she was about eight years old. Her blue dress reached to the knees uncovered by white trouser socks. Filled with joy, she shyly patted her eyelashes, hesitated a little, and then nevertheless made up her mind and put the drawing, which she was holding in her hand, on our table. She looked at Misha with the hope for his decency.

— When you come back, tell him that I remember him, — she said, her voice was no less hopeful than her eyes. — Deal? As I don’t hear him any longer.

In the drawing, made with pencils, I saw a male figure. The pictured character was sitting under a crescent, dangling his legs from the roof of a panel house. On his pajamas, I noticed stars that were not in the sky.

Misha answered the girl with an understanding smile and lifted his thumb up, but he showed me with all his appearance — she is just a soul lost in the world, but still it is necessary to treat the child with compassion. He leaned over to her face, winked and whispered a few words in her ear so that I couldn’t hear them (later Misha would tell me exactly what he’d told her).

The girl spellbound hang on every word:

— He is with you, and those poems that lie under your bed, refine them, creativity must be developed. He will tell you to listen to yourself and you will hear him. You’re growing up, so you can no longer talk to him as before. And don’t tell anyone about what you can see. You’d better draw or write about it in your verses.

The girl’s eyes became glassy, filled with tears, they swept along the round cheeks with thin paths, but, despite the tears, she was smiling, jumped for joy and opened her arms wide to embrace Misha, reached for him.

— Elinor! — A tall Russian woman in a colored sundress who ran up to us picked up the girl in her arms and held her close not letting her embrace Misha. — What did you tell her? — She demanded bitterly, threw up her head to throw away a strand of bleached hair from her eyes, and briefly glanced at Misha and me.

Actually, watching what was happening, I was in a state of utter bewilderment, so I could not quickly find my way with the answer. I was still holding a half bitten piece of French fries between my pinched fingers.

Smiling enthusiastically, the girl wiped away her tears with her palm and buried her head in the neck of her frozen mother. As soon as Misha looked at her, she suddenly became embarrassed and said in an excusing manner:

— I’m sorry, my daughter is so irrepressible, she can easily address strangers.

The girl’s drawing was lying on the table, the girl herself, just like the women in the bright sundress, was no longer there, relaxed Misha was sipping Cola from a paper cup painted with bright colors, and I… yes, I actually realized that the guesses, involuntarily originating in my head, are beginning to prove to have a basis. However, it is impossible to explain this, if you rely on common sense. But here, everything contradicts the common sense.

I can’t hear him anymore.

— How strange, — I finally spoke, and having thrown the piece of potato on the table, wiped my hands with a paper napkin, — I, can’t hear him any more either.

To which Misha answered me:

— Do not worry, now you have me, — he smiled, put the bright cup on the table and added: — Come on, we’ve driven only a part of the way.

***

As we were driving along a winding narrow mountain road, going down meter by meter to the lowest land area on Earth, the sun was already drooping. Here and there along the way we happened to see road signs with figures engraved on rocks, they indicated which mark below sea level we had crossed. Having passing the last one, with the inscription “422”, and leaving behind the mountain road, a panoramic view of the Dead Sea opened to us. The huge lake, called the sea, surrounded by mountains, which got bright burgundy color because of rays of the setting sun. The sea was fascinating for its unspoilt beauty. In the distance, on the opposite shore, the buildings of neighboring Jordan were disappearing into the hilly massifs.

I was looking at this huge picture with admiration — eye could not take it all — and felt a sense of insane joy from the fact that at last everything happened like this.

Leaving the Dead Sea behind, we drove to a flat road separating the desert. On the sides of the road lifeless trees with twisted bare branches dried by the scorching sun stuck from the dark orange ground. The touch screen of the car above the speed sensors displayed figures showing the temperature outside, namely 43 degrees above zero.

— So who did you see in the kitchen today? — Misha decided to inquire once again.

— You won’t leave me alone so easy, right? — I took out a pack of cigarettes with a lighter from the side pocket of the car door and opened the window. Hot desert air flooded into my face.

— No, so tell me.

— It was the guy from my dream, in the dream he pointed his finger at the angel standing behind me. And in the morning in the kitchen, he pointed to you. Aren’t you an angel? — I didn’t want to mention the crazy kid. Who knows, he might suddenly appear again from nowhere and will be sitting in the backseat, giggling. To my delight, he did not appear there.

— No, baby, I’m not an angel, but many people believe in angels.

I thoughtfully looked at the straight road, narrowing into the distance, to the horizon, where the orange strip of sunset was slowly fading and said, exhaling cigarette smoke:

— My doctor says that all of this doesn’t exist — it’s just sick imagination of a sick brain.

— But, unlike the doctor, you don’t think so?

— What do you think yourself? — I asked a counterquestion.

— I think our world is not limited to what is in front of our eyes. For example, I believe in a God that no one can see.

I would like to make a note here. The majority of the population of our planet believes in God. They believe in someone who wasn’t seen by anyone, in someone who doesn’t speak at all, but despite this, they listen to him, and my dear doctor Sammy thinks that I’m crazy just because I can find out what only God alone knows. It turns out that even if we don’t see something, but are confident in its existence, it means that it actually exists. As well as my “invisible friend.”

Let it be so, even if I was convinced of the existence of the creator, but I don’t know why, I had a grudge against him and his team. On the subconscious level.

— You know, if I were you, I would definitely lose faith in him completely. — I threw my cigarette out of the window, there was nothing interesting outside — still the same type of landscapes of a desert plain with sparse vegetation, lifted the glass letting air flow from the air conditioner cool me. And only then did I realize what I had blurted out. Definitely I shouldn’t have uttered these words. To anybody but him.

— But you are not me, — Misha replied with cold calmness.

An awkward silence.

He was looking at the monotonous sequence of the road, thinking about something unknown to me, and I was looking at him, restrained and thoughtful.

— Misha, I’m sorry, — I said, feeling sincere regret. I leaned toward him, laid my head on his shoulder and my hand on his knee, raising my eyes, looked at his face.

— Apologies are accepted. Don’t sweat it. Maybe now you will drive the car?

— Do you entrust this beauty to me? — I quickly raised my head from his shoulder being delighted. I immediately bought into his tempting offer.

— It’s you, who is a beauty, and this is just an expensive piece of metal. — He pulled to the side of the road, slowly decelerating, stopped the car, opened the door and got out. Standing on the road, he stretched and swayed to the sides, flexing his back.

I climbed into the front seat and put my hands on the bulky steering wheel, covered with a leather case; it still kept the heat left by Misha’s fingers. I have already imagined how I push the gas pedal sharply, and this expensive construction would rush off.

Misha got in my former seat, pressed one of the buttons near the seat I was in, and it automatically moved closer to the steering wheel, the back gradually raised. Turning the steering wheel to the right, as I had planned, I sharply pressed the gas. There was a sound of sand particles hitting against the rear bumper, a few short seconds — and the car immediately raced off, the needle of the speedometer began to climb quickly, and my heart pounded in my chest.

— You even manage to drive a car in an incredibly sexy way, — Misha noted, trying to get a pack of cigarettes from under the seat, it fell out of his hands at the time of my quick start.

— I’ve never been in the driver’s seat of such a car. What a sportive one! — I exclaimed, holding the wheel firmly.

— The road is straight and empty, speed it up, — suggested Misha.

Following his advice, I stepped on the gas pedal, pressing it into the floor. When the needle of the speedometer reached the mark of two hundred kilometers, the car began to shake. The dizzying feeling of speed swept over me, the images of trees along the sides of the road rushing on both sides began to merge, turning into dark walls.

— Are you scared? — I addressed my question to Misha, smiling defiantly.

He reached for a transparent bag, which lay in the back seat, putting it on his knees, took out a bottle of beer and, pulling the bottle ring, said:

— If only for you.

— You haven’t even asked if I have the driver’s license.

— And don’t you do not have it? — there was not a drop of surprise in his question.

— No, I failed the exam.

— Well done, — he took a sip of beer from a bottle in big gulps, lit a cigarette and threw the pack into the empty compartment near the gearshift lever. — Apparently, your examiner decided that you feel too confident on the road. If you want to, we’ll change back before entering Eilat.

— What, did you get scared?

In response, he quietly grinned, moved the seat back and relaxed continuing drinking beer. I slowly released the gas pedal, returning to the speed acceptable by all the rules.

***

The Bedouin settlements flashing on the sides of the road slightly changed the dullness of the landscape. Their little houses are made of galvanized iron sheets which already looks crazy. Perhaps I don’t understand the principle in the basis of their construction, but I can definitely say that iron is heated up by the scorching sun, and it’s a scary thought even to imagine how unbearably hot it gets inside. The genes of dark-skinned Bedouins are endowed with a distinctive feature — the ability to endure the heat with ease, it’s a well-known fact. But why should it be artificially maximized in your own house, in theory, it should be the other way around? Everyone in our country, including the government with the police under their command knows, what the Bedouins live on. They might be creating a new kind of drug in their houses, which requires a certain temperature. Nomads-chemists, who cut themselves off from society, kind of living according to the obsolete traditions of their ancestors, but they manage to make money regularly. They can definitely be a necessary link in a long chain of drug trafficking, and not to attract the public’s attention by their meager lifestyle.

The young guys, who said that they come from these desert places, often went to our strip club and, being not embarrassed at all, pulled out weighty bundles of money from their pockets, showing them to girls. And they hedged them with due attention and care. I asked my “invisible friend” not to tell me anything about the real thoughts and intentions of the representatives of the Bedouin youth. I didn’t want to deal with them. It only happened once that I asked the one who I danced for while sitting on his lap:

— Aren’t you afraid of going around with such a sum of money? — He pulled a wad of money out of his front pocket and put it in the back. It separated us from contact with each other. That is, prevented me from fidgeting on his manhood.

— It won’t be there by the morning anyway, — he answered, slightly rising, drawing the bill out of his back pocket. He was smiling broadly, waiting for me to take off my bra, and when he saw my bare breasts, he thrust a piece of paper under the elastic band of my panties.

What did Misha say, “everyone has his own philosophy of life”, right? So, that’s the whole philosophy of the Bedouins.

Near their quaint houses with a number of parked brand new jeeps, they built curved wooden fences for livestock. Apparently, from the branches of those trees that flashed along the road. Donkeys and camels grazed behind them, eating food scattered on the ground, and goats of both sexes were slowly wandered along the track, looking for remains of dry bushes. The Bedouins themselves could not be seen, apparently they were busy with their important business.

I glanced at Misha: lounging on his seat, holding the almost empty bottle of beer between his knees and holding it with his hand, he was sleeping peacefully (so beautiful and tangible), with his head back, under scraps of light from roadside lanterns, causing me to feel tenderness.

There was no more than half an hour before arriving in Eilat. The night finally asserted itself, benighting the desert plains and sandy mountains: and the sky, believe me, it is something incredible. It is strewn with billions of stars. Bright, large, small, slightly visible, randomly scattered, making up the constellations known and unknown to me. They glittered as brightly as diamonds scattered on a black tablecloth. It’s understandable why tourists who like to admire the starry sky are brought to these places. Fascinating spectacle, but somebody fascinated me much more.

I patted Misha on the shoulder, pressed the button on the steering wheel, which turned off the volume of the music, and said:

— When you sleep peacefully and do not twitch, you look very nice.

He slowly opened his eyes and raised himself up.

— C’mon, — he murmured in a sleepy voice, stretched his neck and looked around. — I didn’t even notice how I had fallen asleep. I won’t call you a girl who lost her way to the bedroom anymore. Have we arrived yet?

— Almost, and I don’t know where to go next.

***

Eilat met us with the fullness of its nightly beauty. Clean and well-groomed streets with palm trees illuminated by colored lights among them. Luxury hotels, hiding a lot of intoxicated people behind their rooms’ windows. The silver smooth surface of the Red Sea with yachts sailing on it. Passenger aircrafts, flying airspace approaching the landing at the local airport. And these neon signs around — very bright, making you feel dazzled sometimes.

I parked the car in a spacious parking lot near a small hotel complex consisting of wooden houses surrounded by a massive high fence of natural stone. Despite the late evening, dry desert air still kept the heat of the midday sun. In this southern city in the summer you can feel the night coolness only a couple of hours before sunrise.

At the entrance of the complex we were met by an elderly man. He was standing beside a perfectly trimmed shrub and hosing the lawn, divided by paths of paved with flat concrete tiles. Having put the hose on the lawn, he approached us.

— Good evening, — he greeted us in Hebrew (then goes, the word for word translation, as the Israelis greet each other). — How are you, Michael? I have not seen you for a long time.

— Everything’s fine. How are you? I’ve just been swamped with work. — Misha cordially handed him a free hand, not busy with packages.

— Me, too, thank God, everything’s fine (greeting and exchange of information how well everything ended). And you are not so gloomy today, as usually — the man said with kindness of a person who had seen lot of people in recent years; he shook Misha’s hand and added, looking at me: — And I think I can guess why.

— My name is Anna.

— Daniel, — he said to me. — Your friends are already having fun by the pool.” He took a key on a wooden tag with the number from the pocket of shabby jeans and handed it to me. — Feel yourself at home.

— Should I get you something? Or maybe I can send you a girl to visit? — Misha asked him, smiling.

— I’m just too old for such things, — Daniel laughed hoarsely.

— Well, you’ll recall your youth than.

— No, with such a fun my old age might suddenly come to end, — he patted Misha on his shoulder with a trembling, sinewy hand. — But still thanks for the concern. I didn’t expect it from you, to be honest. Good night to you both.

— Have a good night too, Daniel, — Misha wished him goodbye.

Misha’s friends rented the entire hotel complex, which included twelve small, but tastefully furnished, wooden houses. They formed a circle with a large pool with a bar in the center.

The house rented for us turned out to be very cozy, divided into three zones. A bedroom with a massive double bed and a wardrobe built into the wall, a living room with a small beige sofa and a wooden tea table to match the color of the walls, as well as a separate small kitchen located right behind the entrance door.

Having left the bags with the purchased items unpacked and thrown on the floor, we went to Misha’s friends, who were sitting at a bar with the roof made of palm branches. The party atmosphere was created by loud music and half-naked girls having fun dancing around the pool.

— I’ll pour you a drink, — Max said happily as we approached the bar, and got up from the chair.

He was once again fortunate enough to “break free of the gym,” and, proudly showing off his skillfully worked out massive body, covered only with bathing shorts, he walked around the bar counter.

Misha sat on the vacated chair, drew me to him and sat me on his lap. Max put the shots on the counter, took a bottle of Dalmore whiskey from the fridge.

— How was your trip? — Dima, who was standing next to him and who had already managed to get drunk, but stood firmly on his feet, decided to inquire. Leaning on the bar, he held a half-empty cocktail glass in his hand.

Heat, stuffiness, intoxicated twist in his sobriety, even the apocalypse is not a hindrance for stylish guys like him. His hairstyle has not lost its impeccability, the T-shirt with the imprinted letters of a well-known brand fell freely on its thin, dried torso, skinny jeans perfectly fit the model figure, dark glasses were also present, even if not used for their intended purpose — they were hanging on the shirt’s collar. And in addition to this was his haughty look.

— We’ve arrived perfectly well, I even managed to sleep while Anna was driving, — Misha answered, keeping his hands on my waist.

— Let’s drink to success and let our efforts always bring profits! — exclaimed Max, raising a shot of whiskey.

The chorus of men’s voices shouted: “To the success!” — and they began clinking glasses making sounds of glasses and shots.

— Have you brought your wives today? — I asked Dima.

He broke into a blissful smile, putting his glass on the bar counter. It seems that apart from the upcoming night, filled with the caresses of the charming girls who are under the influence of cocaine, nothing more worried him. Anyway, what can worry a young, prominent guy who is well-heeled for the rest of his life? Who, if not him, can fully afford to take any liberty today?

— Of course, I’ve got everyone together, — he replied proudly, and headed, dancing, toward the girls by the pool.

— Let’s sit a little more for the company, — Misha said in my ear. — OK?

— Just don’t forget to take a bottle of whiskey with you, — I agreed, filling our empty shots.

Misha sighed sadly and looked at the shot held forth by me with hostility:

— I want you to know, I’ve already got tired of boozing.

***

Having returned to the house, I felt the long-awaited coolness (a working air conditioner had created the necessary climate) and silence. Misha sat down on the bed, gave me a bottle of whiskey and put a plate with small sandwiches strung on cocktail sticks on his lap. Of course, he couldn’t help grabbing a snack with him.

— I’ll bring the glasses, — throwing the bottle on the bed, I took off my dress and headed towards the kitchen.

— Come here, — Misha stopped me in a commanding tone; obeying him, I returned and sat opposite him. — Shall you eat something?

— Oh, no, I’ve already eaten a lot of them at the bar.

He put the half-empty plate away from his lap and pulled me to him. He hugged me, put my head on his chest and buried his nose in my hair, which still smelt of his shampoo. Immediately I felt good and comfortable in his arms.

— Misha, thank you for taking me with you, and generally for being here and now, for these moments. I missed this, missed you, — I said swept away by emotions overwhelming me.

— If I could, I would spend all my time with you.

Lifting my head from his shoulder, I reached out to his lips and kissed them.

Misha’s hand slipped along my back, his fingers felt the knot tying the straps of the bathing bra, which he then deftly and quickly untied it (I had put on this swimsuit in the dressing room in the shopping center, as I liked it so much that I didn’t want to take it off). Pressing my bare breasts on Misha’s chest, I enjoyed the warmth of his body that had become so familiar, his hugs that seemed kindred. His movements, well, I could foresee them. Hastily, he will take off the bottom of the swimsuit, and his bright eyes will become clouded after a glance at my naked body. Then, spreading my hips, he will lay down on me, press me to the bed, resting on elbows, as if covering me from the outside world. He will surely say a few pleasant words in his voice wistful with anticipation.

— Anna, you are my darling, my baby, — and at the same time he will be kissing every part of my face, cheeks, chin, nose tip, forehead…

He will lay back on one side, squeeze my breast with one hand, bend down and, sliding his nose on the skin, take a deep breath from the smell coming from it, touch my hardened nipple with his lips, and then begin to kiss my belly, hips, knees… He will look at my excited face with the look of a man who has known me for many years, he will smile so mysteriously in his own manner, clasping my face with his hands, and I will smile back at him. We will make love, losing the sense of time and space, feeling only how our bodies merge into one. He will stop for a while, resting his forehead on my forehead in order to prolong the pleasure. I will only feel him my big and strong bear.

***

I had to wait a few minutes to make sure that Misha had finally fallen asleep. By this time, the dawn rising was penetrating the rays of the sun through the white and transparent curtains of the house window, illuminating the space of the room. A round stained-glass clock on the log wall showed seven in the morning. I got out of bed and turned around, it was impossible not to hold my look at sleeping Misha, I was tempted by this feeling of tenderness that he caused in me. Throwing his hand behind his head, he kicked the blanket and muttered something in addition.

I grinned and went to the kitchen, on the fridge there lay the bag I had left. In its inner pocket there was a blister with pills. So not found by anyone, they were found in the right place. I took out one pill, filled a plastic cup with water from the tap and swallowed it, washed it down with big gulps. I threw the empty cup into the sink and returned to sleeping Misha.

He had already managed to push the blanket off the bed, it was lying on the floor. I lifted it, carefully covered Misha, trying not to wake him up. Then I sat on the edge of the bed opposite the wall cabinet with mirrors on the sliding doors. I began to peer into the reflection. In the background I saw a window covered with long transparent curtains, and the wooden walls of our temporary house. Continuing to peer at the mirror reflection of me sitting on the bed, I looked at sleeping Misha, noticed how he turned on his side and began to fidget on the bed, as if he was looking for something. When he stumbled on my side, he grabbed my waist and pressed to it.

I felt how my eyelids began to grow heavy as effected by the pill, but still could not tear myself away from the reflection, because I wasn’t alone in it, Misha followed me, rested his head on my thigh, hugging. I continued staring at the reflection created by the mirror, until the verges of understanding began to slip away, becoming blurred.

***

At first, the foggy mist before my eyes prevented me from seeing clearly, but very quickly the images were no longer blurred, and I was able to see my mother’s face, it looked younger, just like in old photos from my baby album so diligently made by her. With her head tilted slightly, she smiled sweetly and swayed. Her big hand touched my head, and she began to whisper the lullaby about the wolf, the edge of the bed, and something else, I don’t understand what it is all connected with. Her singing stopped suddenly, and she said in surprise:

— My God, what big and smart eyes you have. What are you constantly looking at?

— You are back. — My “invisible friend”, that’s what he’s like.

Mom turned around, she did not see him, but he was standing there, near the old wardrobe, in the room that later became mine. Sadness froze on his face with recognizable features, sadness could be read in familiar light-colored eyes as blue as the sky. How could I fail to recognize these eyes before? He was near, he was so close, he had been talking to me for several days. My “invisible friend” has not disappeared anywhere. He became real. My recent guesses were confirmed.

— Forgive me, Anna, forgive me for being lonely and for your feeling that something important is missing in your life. At least in a way, but I managed to become the one who will always be with you. I will help, I will take care of you, baby, and I will also come to you in dreams.

I saw the outlines of his tall and strong figure there, behind my mom’s back, and the light came from him. Light — the crazy lad spoke about it, my miniature children’s little hands rose and reached for my “invisible friend.”

— I will do everything to return, I will definitely find a way out.

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