BURY ME BEHIND THE BASEBOARD

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GORKY PARK OF CULTURE AND REST

GORKY PARK OF CULTURE AND REST

Grandma considered herself a highly cultured person and told me so quite often. And then, whether I was wearing shoes or not, she’d call me a barefoot hick, with a regal expression on her face. I believed her, but then I couldn’t understand why, if she was such a cultured person, we never once went to the Park of Culture. Surely, I thought, the park was full of cultured people. Grandma would have a chat with them, tell them about the staph, and I’d go on a few rides.

I had long been dreaming about going on the rides. How many times did I see on TV all those smiling people flying in circles on the enormous swinger in their tiny, colorful seats! How many times did I envy the riders who whizzed up and down the intricate laces of the roller coaster in their little cars, whooping and screaming! How long did I watch the small, sparking electric cars with long antenna-like thingies bump each other and then part ways on their square floor!

I was trying to figure out exactly who would be thrown where if the chains on the swinger snapped, or a roller-coaster car derailed, and how strong the electric shock from the sparking bumper cars would be, but despite all these thoughts, I was desperate to try them out myself and begged Grandma to take me to the Park of Culture. She, on the other hand, had no interest in going there, and only once, when we were returning from the homeopathist, did I manage to drag her inside.

“ Granny, let’s go to the park, just for a little bit! I’ve never been there!” I begged her, with audacity that suddenly appeared out of nowhere.

“It’s just as well. Only alcoholics go there, to do their drinking.”

“No, not only... Grandma, please! Let’s go in. For half an hour!”

“It’s not the place for you.”

“Just ten minutes! I’ll take a peek, that’s all!”

“Okay, fine...”

I was so thrilled when Grandma agreed! I already pictured myself at the wheel of a bumper car, I salivated at the thought of getting my thrills on some kind of man-spinning machine to the tune of upbeat music, and so the moment we passed the gates of the park, I dragged Grandma forward, expecting to see the rides. But there weren’t any. I thought that the park would be filled with carousels and roller coasters decorated with colorful lights, but all I saw around me were fountains and pretty-looking trails covered with red sand.

“It’s nice in here,” said Grandma, strutting down the tree-lined path. “Good for you for dragging your grandmother out. Why should she sit at home in that awful mess all the time?”

It wasn’t often that Grandma was so affable, and I always savored the peace and quiet of such moments. I would have savored it now, but I couldn’t take my mind off the rides. I looked around desperately, fearing that I’d brought Grandma to the wrong park while the one that I wanted we had somehow missed, and that we’d never ever make it there, because talking Grandma into it for the second time would be out of the question. In despair, I raised my eyes way up and saw something that for some reason I hadn’t noticed before: an enormous wheel that looked like it came from a bicycle towered beyond the trees. It was turning slowly, and the little cabins along its rim moved in circles, raising the riders high and then lowering them down. A plywood arrow that read The Great Ferris Observation Wheel was nailed to a tree and pointed toward the wheel. Naturally, I immediately wanted to observe everything from above, and although the cabins that rose seemingly all the way to the sky looked a bit scary, I said to Grandma,

“Let’s go on it right now! It’s an observation wheel. You can see everything from it.”

Grandma glanced at me with trepidation and declared firmly:

“You go upside down in there, you moron. You’d need a doctor’s permission, and no doctor will give it to you with your intracranial hypertension. Understand?”

And we moved on.

It was very beautiful in the park, but only Grandma was enjoying the beauty; me, I didn’t see anything besides the roller coaster that appeared in the distance. The riders’ cheerful whooping and the rumble of the cars at the twists and turns deafened us as we approached the roller coaster, but before telling Grandma that I was dying to ride it I looked very carefully to make sure that there weren’t any fancy curves that turned the riders upside down. There weren’t any. Nobody was showing doctor’s certificates at the entrance either, so with the thought of “Let’s ride!” I said to Grandma daringly:

“Let’s take this one!”

“Forget it!” retorted Grandma.

“But here, you don’t go upside down.”

“Yeah, but from here - feet first!”

A man with eyeglasses and a goatee who stood with his back to us turned around and said to Grandma jovially, almost as if he was flirting with her:

“Not to worry, Ma’am! Put your grandson in, get in yourself - and off you go! Lots of people ride it, and no one has ever left feet first!”

“Well, I hope the trend starts with you. Let’s go, Sasha.”

The man was startled. He lost his cheer like a tree looses leaves in the wind, and when we walked away, I turned around and thought I saw him scalping his ticket.

The next thing that made me think “Let’s ride!” was the bumper cars. That’s what I wanted to do most of all! And even though it would have taken quite an effort to “go upside down” in them, while for the life of me I couldn’t think of any other contraindications, I didn’t get to ride in a bumper car either.

“You moron,” said Grandma, “they bump so hard that people’s insides get bruised all over. See that geezer woman bawling? She had her kidneys bruised.”

“The poor thing,” I thought.

I didn’t get to go on the swinger either. In Grandma’s opinion, I could have slipped from under the chains and flown all the way to God’s mother. I wasn’t sure why I couldn’t fly to my own mother instead.

Dejected, I continued to walk with Grandma along the park’s trails. We ended up in a remote section of the park. There were no rides here, only glass-walled establishments with names like Forget-Me-Not, Surprises, or The Carpathian Maiden, as well as other similar structures with attractive-sounding names. Outside, the alcoholics were doing their drinking.

“We didn’t get to go on any of the rides...” I summed up disappointedly. “I really wanted to... Not even once... On any of them... Then why did we come here, Grandma?”

“I told you it wasn’t the place for you! But you, stubborn jackass that you are, you kept going: “pa-a-ark, pa-a-ark!” Just look around. What kind of people do come here?”

“Dear park visitors,” a whiny, monotonous voice came mumbling out of the loudspeaker, “you are invited to take a trip in a rental row boat. The rate is 30 kopecks an hour.”

A sparkle of hope flared in my heart.

“Grandma, let’s do it!”

“We’ll drown; let’s just get the hell out of here.”

This time, I didn’t even get a chance to think, “Let’s ride!”

“This is it! I’m in the park, I dreamed about it so much, I waited for so long, and now... yeah, I “rode” this, I “rode” that,” I thought in despair.

“You want some ice cream?” Grandma’s voice interrupted my unhappy contemplation.

“Yes!”

I cheered up. I’d never had ice cream. Grandma would often buy herself an Eskimo or a Foodie ice cream bar, but she wouldn’t even let me lick it, just taste the brittle chocolate coating, and only on the condition that I’d immediately follow it up with hot tea. Is it possible that I, like everyone else, was about to sit down on a bench, cross my legs, and eat a whole ice cream bar? I must be dreaming! I’d eat it, wipe my lips, and throw the wrapper into a garbage can. How wonderful!

Grandma bought two ice cream bars. I had already stretched my hand out, but she put one into her bag, unwrapped the other and bit into it.

“You’ll get yours at home, with tea, or else you’ll be rotting away again for the whole month,” she said, then sat down on a bench, crossed her legs, ate her ice cream, wiped her lips, and threw the wrapper into a garbage can.

“That was good!” she said approvingly of the ice cream that she had just eaten. “Let’s go.”

“Okay,’ I said and trudged after her. ’But are you sure you’ll give it to me at home?”

“And why am I hauling it in my bag?’ Grandma replied, as if her bag contained not an ice cream bar but a couple of bricks. ’Of course I will!”

“Oh well, I guess it’s okay...” I assessed my life, and when I saw a video game arcade, heard the “beep-beep-kaboom” streaming out of it, and learned that Grandma was prepared to go inside and give me some coins to play, I decided that this life of mine was once again wonderful.

Thrilled, I ran up the stairs into the arcade, promptly stumbled over the top step, fell flat on the floor, and butted Underwater Hunt with my head.

“Look at this cripple!’ Grandma’s voice came from behind. ’His legs are growing from the wrong place,” she added, stumbled over the same step and, trying not to fall down, hugged Sea Battle. “They put a bad threshold here, those bastards; I hope they stumble for the rest of their lives! Sasha dear, let’s get out of here.”

“What? Get out of the park just like that? Not a single ride, not even a single game? Grandma, please!” I begged.

Okay, go play. But quick. The old gitsel will be back from fishing soon, hungry as hell. Play one game - and we’re off.”

One game - that was frustrating, but better than nothing. I took a coin, went up to the Sea Rescue machine and started figuring out the rules written on the square metal plate. The rules were simple: using the “up-down” and “speed” levers, the player had to use the helicopter to rescue people in peril at sea. Take someone off a floating log, someone else from a lighthouse, and so on. One point for each rescue. Between the two levers was a counter. I inserted a coin and started playing, but since I was short, I couldn’t see the screen with the helicopter and the people waiting for my help, so I decided that in order to make the game more challenging, the rescuing had to be done by guessing, blindly. Chilling howls and loud booms kept coming from the machine.

“You’re flying into the cliffs!’ shouted Grandma, looking over my head. “Pick up that guy from the ice floe! Lower, lower, you moron!”

“Why do you keep telling me? I know what to do,” I retorted, thinking that I’m better than Grandma at sea rescue and pulling the levers busily. But the straight zeroes on the counter and the shouts that as a helicopter pilot, I’m as good as shit is for bullet-making, finally made me wonder. I followed Grandma’s gaze, and then I knew...

Next to the machine, there was a small step stool for shorties like me. When I got up on it, I saw the sea, the cliffs, the helicopter, and those in peril. I pulled the lever, and the helicopter started speeding up obediently. But suddenly the screen went dark - my time was up.

“That’s it, let’s go,” Grandma said.

“One more time, please! I didn’t really get to play! I didn’t even rescue anybody!” I begged her.

“That’s enough. Let’s go.”

“Just one more time, and that’s it! I’ll just rescue somebody!”

“Let’s go, or I’ll hit you so hard you’ll be beyond rescue!”

And so I had to go. We were now headed straight for the exit, without stopping. My dream of going to the park had come true, but so what... I was in a terrible mood. Smiling people walked past me, looked at me and wondered - there wasn’t another gloomy mug like mine in the entire park.

On the way home I was like a sad zombie, but just as we approached our doorway, I suddenly remembered the ice cream that Grandma bought for me, and my mood improved greatly. Looking at Grandma’s bag impatiently, I stepped into our apartment.

“As long as she doesn’t change her mind!’ I thought momentarily. ’But she promised!”

And keep her promise she did.

“Sasha!’ I heard her voice from the kitchen. “Come get your ice cream.”

I ran into the kitchen. Grandma opened her bag, looked inside, and said:

“Go to hell along with your ice cream, you goddamn bastard...”

I looked in the bag too, saw a big white puddle, and burst into tears.

That evening, Grandpa came back from his fishing trip, opened the door with his key, quietly entered the apartment, and, very pleased, placed a wire basket with three carp in it on the floor. Screaming was coming from the kitchen. Grandpa started listening.

“...all my ID’s got wet, all my money! Half an hour - yeah, right! A pampered little beast! Little Sasha wants this, little Sasha wants that! Little Sasha has one foot in the grave, but no, he doesn’t slow down! I saw your tests; the cemetery - that’s the park for you!”

“What’s the matter, Nina?” Grandpa asked from the hallway.

“Go to hell!”

Grandpa closed the door, slid his backpack off his shoulder and, without undressing, lay face down on the couch.

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