“The red berry is still better than the black one!” I heard an ear-piercing scream and woke up.
The screaming was so awful that I jumped up in my bed and looked around in horror, trying to determine its source, until I realized that it was me screaming in my sleep. Realizing that, I calmed down, dressed, and came out of the bedroom.
“Why are you up so early?” Grandma asked with surprise, standing in the kitchen doorway with a porcelain teapot in her hands.
“I woke up.”
“Hope you never wake up again!” Grandma was clearly not in a good mood. “Wash your hands, sit down and stuff your face.”
I washed my hands thoroughly, using the soap twice, and started wiping them with a plush towel decorated with bunnies. Grandma peeked into the bathroom.
“Wash your hands again! The stinky geezer used that towel yesterday, and he’s got athlete’s foot!”
I washed my hands once more and no longer had any doubt that Grandma wasn’t in a good mood today. It was all on account of the “stinky geezer”, which in Grandma’s parlance meant Grandpa. Grandpa was sitting on a stool in the kitchen, thoughtfully poking his fork at the beet salad made with vegetables from the farmers’ market. His crime against Grandma was that he had found that porcelain teapot. Two weeks earlier, Grandma used the teapot to make a coltsfoot-based herbal brew, put it in a prominent place, and couldn’t find it ever since - the kitchen was so full of jars, bottles, little boxes, and packages that any prominent place disappeared from view the moment you took your hand off whatever you put there. The teapot surfaced on top of the fridge, surrounded by three boxes of loose tea, a jar of buckwheat groats, two bags of prunes, and a dead alarm-clock from the city of Tula, with two blacksmith bears forever frozen over its bell, their hammers broken off. Grandma opened the lid, found a moldy goo instead of the healthful brew, and started yelling that Grandpa had turned her once-brilliant brain into the same kind of goo.
“I was a straight-A student, witty, the life of any party,’ lamented Grandma, cleaning the mold out of the teapot, “guys adored me. “Where’s Nina? Is Nina coming?” They invited me to every hike, every event... And then I met this dumbbell - God, what are you punishing me for? And I turned into an idiot myself”.
I asked impatiently when she was going to serve me breakfast, and immediately regretted it.
“You smelly, stinky, lousy, stupid bastard!’ screamed Grandma. “You’ll stuff your face when you’re told! There are no flunkies here!”
I hunched up on my stool and glanced at Grandpa - he dropped his fork and choked on the beet salad.
“No lackeys for oldsters,” added Grandma and suddenly dropped the teapot.
The handle slowly separated from the teapot. It tinkled quietly and plaintively, as if drawing its last breath, and broke into several pieces. Its red lid, as if sensing exactly what was about to happen, prudently rolled away underneath the fridge and, apparently finding a good, comfortable spot there, clinked with satisfaction. I was jealous of the lid, thinking it was very sneaky of it, and fearfully looked up at Grandma... She was crying.
Without looking at the shards, Grandma quietly left the kitchen and lay down on the bed. Grandpa went to console her, and I followed him, not without reservations.
“Nina, what’s the matter?” asked Grandpa softly.
“Really, Grandma, don’t you have enough teapots? We’ll buy you another one, even better,” I tried to cheer her up.
“Leave me alone. Let me die in peace.”
“Nina, what’s gotten into you?’ said Grandpa and added something about some screw or other. “Over a teapot... It’s not right.”
“Leave me alone, Senya dear... Leave me alone, I’m not bothering you, am I? My life is ruined, the teapot has nothing to do with it... Go. Get today’s paper. Sasha, go get yourself some buckwheat... Well, just wait!”
Grandma’s voice suddenly started growing stronger.
“Just you wait!” - Her voice regained its full force, and I backed away from her. “Life will break you just like it broke this teapot! You’ll be really sorry!”
I whimpered something to the effect that it wasn’t me or Grandpa who broke the teapot, and looked back at him for support. But Grandpa had sensibly taken off in search of the paper.
“Shut up!” thundered Grandma. “You messed up my brain, my poor, sick brain! Because of you, I can’t remember anything, I can’t find anything, I can’t do anything right! You can’t crap into a person’s brain all day long!”
Having yelled all this out, Grandma got off the bed and headed for the kitchen. I thought it better not to follow her and wanted to stay in the room, but a commanding bark and a promise to split me in two if I didn’t come right away broke my will. On my way to the kitchen, I was thinking that it wouldn’t be so bad if I were split in two. One of me would have been able to take a break from Grandma, and then the two of me would have traded places. Unfortunately, the impossible is unattainable, and so I moved from the world of sweet dreams back into reality.
When I returned to the place where the teapot met its tragic end, Grandma had already scooped up the shards and thrown them down the garbage chute. Then she washed her hands and started grating into a platter the apples from the farmers’ market that I was supposed to eat every morning. Only then did Grandpa return with the paper. I looked at him like he was a deserter.
Grandma was grating the apples with gusto; her cheeks became rosy, as if she was skating. Grandpa looked at her admiringly.
“See how hard your grandmother is working. Not for just anybody, for you, silly,” he said, and looked at her admiringly again.
“What are you staring at?” Grandma said, embarrassed, like a nice girl on her first date.
“No, nothing...” Grandpa sighed and turned his eyes to the smudged window, where a large fly was crawling around in search of something to eat.
“Here,” Grandma put a platter of grated apples in front of me. As they were coming out of the grater, they looked like a yummy light-green mash, but then they immediately turned brown and became rather unappealing.
“Why do I have to eat these apples every day?” I asked.
Grandpa tore his eyes away from the fly and said:
“Come on, silly, you need it. It cleanses out the toxins.”
“What toxins?” I didn’t understand.
“All kinds. You should be thankful that you get it.”
“And why grate them?”
“Because you don’t chew a damn thing!’ exclaimed Grandma. ’You wolf it down in such huge chunks that nothing gets digested! Ah, Senya dear, what are you talking about, he’s such an ungrateful little shit! I work so hard, I just wish he wasn’t torturing me like this... Oh, please, kill that fly, it’s getting on my nerves!”
Grandpa rolled up the paper he had just brought in and swatted the fly straight on. It fell on the windowsill and raised a leg in warning that the same fate awaited anyone who gets on Grandma’s nerves.
“Look, Nina, Spartacus lost the game yesterday,” Grandpa said all of a sudden, looking into the paper that he had just used to kill the fly.
“I don’t give a damn about your Spartacus or the game they lost! May they all drop dead, and you with them.”
Grandma’s glance fell to the floor, on the leftover porcelain slivers from the broken teapot, and her mood soured again.
“Now stuff your faces!”
She put on the table some cooked buckwheat and steamed meat patties made with cracker crumbs. Steamed because anything fried is poison, suitable only for the hulks who’d be fine even if you bang their heads against the pavement, and crackers because bread contains yeast that causes excessive fermentation in the body.
Grandpa set his eyes firmly on his plate, muttering something about Spartacus, while I looked wearily at the meat patties that I was really tired of and the green enzyme pills that I was supposed to take in the morning.
“Did you take your enzyme pill?”
I was sick of the enzyme pills, and while saying, “Yes, I did,” I tried to hide mine under a little package of flour that sat on the table, not noticing that Grandma was right behind me.
“You bastard... This sick old man runs around trying to get hold of it so that you’re able to drag yourself along somehow, and you waste it! Have some respect! Is this how decent people behave? You don’t feel sorry for this sick old man, do you?”
The “sick old man” thoughtfully uttered “yes” and went back to his meat patty.
“Yeah, right, keep on with your yesses! We already raised a bitch, now we have a bastard on our backs.” - By the bitch Grandma meant my mother. - “All your life you kept saying “yes” - and went running around. “Senya, dear, let’s do this, let’s do that.” And you’d go: “Sure... Later...” You had just one word for whatever I asked - “later!”
Staring at his plate, Grandpa focused on chewing his meat patty.
“Oh well... Gorky said that life’s big blows come without warning. You’ll get your comeuppance. Betrayal never goes unpunished! It’s the deadliest of sins, betrayal... Get me some cabbage today, I’m going to make cabbage soup. Go to Nature’s Gifts, don’t buy it at The Young Communist. Their cabbage is swine feed, and I’m making soup for the kid, not just for you, you fat hog. Will you get it?”
“Yeah, right, I know what your “yes” is worth...”
I finished my kasha, said thank you to Grandma and got up from the table.
“You could at least say thank you!” came from behind me.
Before I move on to my next story, I’d like to clarify something. I’m sure there are people out there who’d say: “Grandma couldn’t yell and curse like that! It can’t be true! Well, maybe she did curse, but not as viciously and as often!” Believe me, even if it doesn’t sound real, Grandma cursed exactly the way I described it. Her cursing may seem excessive or unnecessary, but that’s what I heard every day and almost every hour. I could have cut it in half in the book, of course, but then I myself wouldn’t have recognized my life on these pages, the same way someone who lives in the desert wouldn’t recognize the familiar sand dunes if they suddenly lost half of their sand. I’m already cutting from Grandma’s speech anything that is normally considered unprintable. My friend’s mother banned him from seeing me after I mentioned what exactly Grandma called me when I spilled a carton of kefir on the table. Dima Chugunov, a fifth-grader, had a long talk with me explaining why Grandma’s word combinations were not to be repeated in front of adults. Actually, I taught Dima many of Grandma’s expressions, and he especially liked the curt “fucktee-do”, used in response to any request that was to be rejected. I hope you now believe me that I didn’t exaggerate anything at all about Grandma’s language, and that you understand that all the cursing here is due not to my lack of moderation, but rather to my desire to describe my life as accurately as I can. With that in mind, the next story is called...