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I was sick a lot and, according to Grandma’s projections, I was supposed to rot away by about sixteen and move on to a better world. I pictured this better world as something akin to the kitchen garbage chute, which served as the threshold beyond which things ceased to exist. Whatever ended up in its receptacle disappeared with terrifying finality. What was broken could be fixed, what was lost could be found, but what ended up in the garbage chute could only be either remembered or forgotten. If Grandma took something away from me, I knew that until the lid shut, the item still existed, and there was hope to beg for its return or at least to catch a glimpse of it; but once the lid shut, the confiscated item ceased to exist.

My Mom once gave me a tool set, which among other things contained a little hammer. I banged the back of Grandpa’s couch with it, leaving a few dents; consequently, Grandpa took the hammer away and carried it to the kitchen. And then I heard the banging of the chute’s lid. Realizing that’s Mom’s hammer was gone and that I’d never see it again, I cried harder than I had ever cried in my life. The lid shut... Mom’s gift... never again! Never!

Never. The word flashed in front of my eyes and burned them with its terrible implication; the rivers of tears were unstoppable. The word “never” was overwhelming. The moment I would calm down a bit, that “never” would insistently rise inside my chest, fill all of me, and bring on new rivers of tears which, one would have thought, should have run dry a long time ago. There was no consolation for “never”, and I didn’t even want to look at what Grandpa was thrusting into my hands. It was the hammer. It turned out that he had simply put it away into his drawer, while the chute had banged because Grandma was throwing out some garbage. I barely managed to calm down and, even though I was holding the hammer in my hands, I still couldn’t believe that I was seeing it again, and that the dreadful “never” had retreated and wouldn’t torture me anymore.

That “never” was the scariest part of how I pictured death. I had a clear image of how I would have to lie alone in the ground, at the cemetery, under a cross, never getting up, seeing only the darkness, and hearing the rustling of the worms that would eat me and that I wouldn’t be able to shoo away. It was so scary that I constantly tried to figure out how to escape it.

“I’ll ask Mom to bury me behind the baseboard at her place,” occurred to me once. “There would be no worms and no darkness. Mom would walk past me, and I’d watch her through a crack, and it wouldn’t be nearly as scary as being buried in the cemetery.”

So when I had this brilliant idea - to be buried behind Mom’s baseboard - my only concern was that Grandma might not let Mom have me. Watching Grandma from under the baseboard didn’t appeal to me somehow. To resolve this, I asked Grandma directly, “When I die, can I be buried at Mom’s place behind the baseboard?” Grandma replied that I was a hopeless imbecile and that I could only be buried in the backyard of the psychiatric ward. It also turned out that Grandma couldn’t wait until Mom herself would be buried behind the baseboard, and the sooner the better. She scared me with the psychiatric ward, so I decided to put the issue of my burial aside until I was about sixteen and had rotted away almost completely, at which point I would tackle it head on: the last will of the dearly departing, end of story. Grandma wouldn’t be able to weasel her way out of it, and Mom would only be happy to have me buried so close to her.

Thoughts of impending death bothered me quite often. I was afraid to draw crosses, to crisscross pencils, even to write out the letter x. If I encountered the word death in a book I was reading, I tried to black it out, but, having skipped the line with the word, I would return to it again and again and see it anyway. And then it would become clear to me that the baseboard was inescapable.

I was often sick and received treatments even more often. I wondered why I was still sick despite all the treatments. When I’d pose this question to Grandma, she’d answer, “Without the treatments, you’d have croaked a long time ago” - and hand me some pill to take.

I got treatments for everything, but I wasn’t sick all over. I did have a few healthy parts - my eyesight, for example. So when the eye doctor found something even there, I told Grandma, “Granny, my eyes were my only good thing!” - and burst into tears. Grandma kept repeating these words affectionately to everyone.

I was terribly jealous, especially of people who could do something that I couldn’t. And since I couldn’t do anything, my reasons for jealousy were many. I couldn’t climb trees, play soccer, fight, or swim. When I was reading Alice in Wonderland and came to the part where it mentioned that a character could swim, I became breathless with jealousy. I took a pen and scribbled in not after could. It helped me breathe, but not for long: the same day on TV they showed babies who learned to swim before they could walk. I watched them with fiery eyes, secretly wishing that they would never learn to walk at all.

But most of all I was jealous of the polar bear swimmers.

“People swim in ice-holes, and I’m sick all the time, and I wear three scarves,” I thought, watching angrily the TV show about strengthening your body. “And maybe Grandma shouldn’t bundle me up like this, maybe I, too, can be a polar bear?”

My patience snapped when I saw a three-year old toddler run out of a sauna onto the snow. I was so mad! My only consolation was that I was older and hence could give the toddler a good thrashing. The thought didn’t comfort me for long. I recalled that I’d rot away by sixteen, and realized that age was working against me. Meanwhile the toddler gave a scanty-toothed smile and briskly ran away over the snow. He had no intention of rotting away.

“Keep smirking, you little stinker!” I thought to myself. “Hope you freeze your butt off!”

The toddler laughed in reply and started burying himself in the snow. Now that was too much to take!

The wind swooshed behind the window. The door to the balcony creaked. Grandma wasn’t home. I pulled off my woolen sweater and the shirt, opened the door, and stepped out to face the blowing snow.

It was January, and it was as cold as it’s supposed to be in mid-winter. The wind spun the snow dust around me, and a deep breath froze in my chest like a chunk of ice. “I’m frozen!” was the only thought left in my head; all other thoughts blew away with the wind, swirled with the driving snow, and were gone. Returning from the clutches of the ringing frost into the bug-smelling warmth of the room, I closed the door to the balcony, pulled my clothes on with my stiff hands, and went to the kitchen to warm myself up with some hot tea.

I poured water into the kettle, put it on the burner, and tried to light the gas. I was still frozen, so the matches kept breaking in my fingers. I lit it on the fourth try, sat down on a stool near the kettle, and held my hands over the little blue flames. The small kettle boiled quickly, and the spout started gurgling with little bubbles that burst into spray and painfully bit at my hands which were stretched out to the fire. I turned the heat off, found some loose tea on the table and prepared myself a strong, hot brew.

The tea carried its warmth throughout my entire body. I felt like crawling under a blanket and lying down for a while. I did, and felt as if I was cloaked in a warm cloud. Soon I fell asleep.

I was awakened by a cold touch to my forehead and saw Grandma leaning over me.

“Sasha dear, you’re not feeling well?” asked Grandma, removing her hand. “Something hurts?”

“No, nothing.”

“Then what? Maybe you feel that weakness, when everything sort-of aches, you know?”

“I don’t feel any weakness. I just lay down and dozed off.”

“All right, get up then,” said Grandma and left the room.

I didn’t feel like getting up. I had warmed up in bed and did indeed feel weak - Grandma guessed right. “Maybe something does ache?” I thought, closing my eyes and trying to figure out what exactly I was feeling.

It aches really bad under my armpit! As if someone is drilling a hole there. And worse, and worse...

I opened my eyes. Grandma was trying to stick a thermometer under my armpit, twisting it back and forth to better position it. Apparently, I had dozed off again.

“Let’s take your tempie,” Grandma said, finally settling the thermometer the way she wanted. “When you were little, you used to say “tempie”. And also, you used to say “didiwot” instead of “idiot”. You’d sit in your crib, all covered in piss. You’d flail your arms and yell, “I’m a didiwot! I’m a didiwot!” I’d come up, change your sheets, and I’d correct you gently, “It’s not a didiwot, sweetheart, it’s an idiot.” And you’d go again, “Didiwot! Didiwot!” You were so cute...”

Grandma’s hand that was gently stroking my hair suddenly wavered.

“Oh my God, a fever! Your forehead is burning. Why does this poor child have to suffer like this? Lord, please let me suffer for him. I’m old, I’ve got nothing to lose. God have mercy! It’s true that children pay for their parents’ sins. You, sweetheart, are suffering for your mother, who only knew how to run around. And I washed your diapers, and carried groceries - with my bad legs, and cleaned up the place.”

A salty drop fell on my lips. Grandma continued speaking, but now her words were muted by the noise that I’d been hearing for a while and that grew stronger now. Louder, louder... I could no longer hear Grandma, only the noise...

The surf. So the sea is nearby. No, it’s not the sea, I’m in a bathtub. I wonder if there’s surf in the bathtub? Of course, because I can hear it. Ouch, the water is so hot, how can the fish live here? Let me dive and take a look... Aha, there’s a fish! It’s swimming right at me. I’ll ask it how they live here, isn’t it too hot. How should I address it politely?..”

But the fish didn’t reach me. It made a turn and swam through the door that suddenly opened before it in the bathroom wall.

“Where have you been?” a voice came from inside.

“Running around,” said the fish.

The door slammed shut.

The surf grew louder. “A storm is coming,” I thought. “Where can I hide? Follow the fish? Will they let me in?”

While I was wondering whether they’d let me in or not, a sponge sailed up to me. Its hatch opened, and Grandma stuck her head out.

“The spineless end their days in prison,” she said. “Now surface!”

I did.

Above the water it was all darkness, broken only by the dim red light of a space heater in the distance.

“Password?” I heard from above.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Then you’ll need some tests. How old are you, Sir?”

“A hundred and three,” Grandma answered for me.

“That’s not true!” I shouted, worried that an incorrect answer about my age would result in administering the wrong kind of test.

The dim light of the space heater started getting stronger, then flashed brightly and turned into a desk lamp, lighting up everything around it.

I was lying in bed. Grandma was sitting next to me, putting the thermometer back into its case. Her eyes were red and puffy.

“How are you feeling, sweetheart?”

“Not well, Grandma,” I replied.

I could see that I was in the room, but my body felt as if it was still in the hot bathtub, and somebody was occasionally dousing it with a stream of cold water from the hand-held shower head that they put into the same tub.

“So the sound is from the shower, not the surf. Why didn’t I figure it out right away? There is a shower in the bathroom, but surf? Surf in a bathroom - that’s a silly thought. And what’s one to do with a silly thought? Replace it with a smart one, fast. And where’s my smart thought? Where the hell did it go, I just had it...”

“It bought a train ticket and left,” said a little crooked-legged man dressed in green, sticking his head out from behind a church bell.

“Where’s the bell from?” I thought.

“Treasures of the Moscow Kremlin,” replied the little man, picked up a sledgehammer and started banging on the bell really hard.

“Easy,” the sledgehammer said to him. “A procession with a big drum is about to pass through here, don’t forget to give a salute.”

The little man set the sledgehammer aside, pulled a steam thresher out of his pocket and started threshing the salute so that it would be easier to give it.

The procession with the big drum appeared in the distance. The drum wasn’t just big. It was so huge that its approach was horrifying. It was clear that when it got closer, its sheer size would consume everything. There was no sign of the procession. The drum had consumed it and now floated through the air on its own. Closer and closer. Bo-o-om. The drum is approaching, it beats itself from within, as if all the things it had consumed were thrashing inside it. Bo-o-om. It’s really close now, soon it will consume me, too. What am I to do? Looks like I should give it a salute. But what can I grind the salute with? The drum’s massive bulk towered above me. Now it will beat itself. There’s no escape. I sense that in a few moments, I’ll disappear and will become a small part of it. The drum lingers. It waits to see if it’s given a salute. But why should I be the first? Let the little green man be the first!

What’s that? The thud of his thresher grew louder. The thresher itself suddenly started growing in size. It’s getting bigger and bigger, but it’s still tiny compared to the drum. Its thud turns into deafening thunder, but compared to the drumbeat it’s just a faint buzz.

Bo-o-om, bo-o-om - the huge drum started beating above my head and rolled straight toward the thresher.

Pow! Pow! - its thunder grew tenfold, muffling the drumbeat; the thresher instantly became twice as big as the drum and rushed toward it.

“They’re going to collide! They’ll collide right above me!” I realized this and opened my eyes with a groan.

“He’s like a furnace, Galina Sergeyevna. Looks like he’s not wheezing, but he will, it never happens without the asthma component. He can’t take aspirin... or metamizole. You do know that with his weak kidneys, antipyretics are poison.”

Grandma was sitting on the bed next to me, talking on the phone.

“Fine, I’ll try to give him an enema. I don’t even know how this freak managed to catch a cold... Yes, a freak! A freak, because normal kids don’t catch colds in the three hours that they stay home alone. He was fine when I left. Well, to be precise, he hasn’t been fine since birth, but at least he was on his feet and didn’t have a fever, and now he can’t even raise his head... Okay, I’ll be waiting for you tomorrow at ten. Oh, Galina Sergeyevna, dear, would you pick up some ephedrine just in case, I’ll pay you back... Absolutely! Take care of the pennies, you know... Doctors aren’t getting raises yet. I’ll see you at ten. Thank you, goodbye.”

Grandma hung up.

“So how are you feeling?” she asked me.

“I saw a horrible drum,” I replied.

“I wish they would make a drum out of your skin. I’m so sick of you! I can’t take it anymore, watching you rot away.”

“A huge drum, Grandma. Really huge.”

“Well, if it’s that huge, then your skin and bones won’t be enough for it. Galina Sergeyevna is coming tomorrow at ten to take a look at you.”

Galina Sergeyevna was my regular doctor, and whenever I got sick, it meant three or four visits by her. And if you multiply the number of those visits by the number of times I was sick, the result was that I saw her very, very often.

“I’m starting to feel bad about it,” I thought. “There’s probably no one else she sees so often. The moment she writes me a note for school and says, “Okay, Sasha, that’s it, stay well,” she has to turn around and come back to see me again. Now it’s tomorrow...”

Grandma went to the kitchen and came back about five minutes later with a cup that smelled like a corn broom doused with boiling water.

“Drink this.” Grandma brought the cup to my lips.

It was some new herbal concoction. Grandma was a big expert on organic brews and used the modest assortment of herbs available at the nearest pharmacy to prepare potions that varied greatly in their odor and flavor. She assured me that their medicinal properties were varied, too, strictly defined for each specific case. I believed her, so I drank the new brew and leaned back on my pillow.

“Keep lying down, honey,” said Grandma. “And in half an hour I’ll give you a little antipyretic enemette.”

“What enemette?”

“The usual. For your silhouette. You’ll get one, the toxins will come out, and the fever will drop a degree or two. I’ll give you one with daisies.”

Grandma stepped out but soon returned with a rather substantial “enemette”, whose size reminded me of the sanitarium and the cotton candy.

“Lay down on your side, open wide, with daisies you’ll be plied - and your fever will drop. How do you like your grandmother gabbing in verse? All right, turn around.” With that, Grandma lubricated the tip with something from a narrow shiny tube.

While the daisies were purging the toxins, I pondered the issue of fate. “Take flowers,” I thought, delighting in the depth of my own thoughts. “Daisies. They could be growing in fields, people could be playing “she loves me - she loves me not” with them - and look where they are instead! That’s the fate that Grandma talks about so much. And what fate could be awaiting me?”

At this point, the enemette came to an end, and my ruminations about fate were interrupted by a more urgent pursuit, after which my fever did indeed drop.

“Granny, can I have an apple to munch on,” I asked.

Grandma went into another room to get an apple, while I started thinking about what else I could ask for. When I was sick, I often asked Grandma for something I didn’t really need, or just made up stories about my congested nose or sore throat. I liked it when Grandma puttered around me with drops and gargles, called me sweetheart instead of goddamn bastard, asked Grandpa to lower his voice, and tried to step lightly herself. Sickness gave me something that even flawless homework couldn’t provide: Grandma’s approval. Of course she didn’t praise me for getting sick, but she acted as if I was a good boy, did really well, and finally deserved to be treated nicely. Although sometimes I wouldn’t escape her wrath even when sick...

“Bastard, son of a bitch!” yelled Grandma, returning without any apples. “Here I’m racking my brains over why you got sick, and you got sick because you’re an idiot!”

“Grandma, don’t yell. I’m sick,” I reminded, urging her to respect the rules.

“You’re sick in the head, gravely and terminally! Why the hell did you go to the balcony?”

“I didn’t...”

“You’re the worst moron the world has ever seen! You just got better - and you had to barge out into the cold. Without dressing properly, of course...”

“What makes you think I went to the balcony? I didn’t go anywhere near it.”

“Oh yeah? And where did the footprints come from? Left over from last winter?”

“Damn!” I thought. “Look at him, he just had to have an apple! The apples were on the window sill, Grandma went up to it and saw footprints not yet covered with snow. What could I tell her?”

“Granny, those footprints are not mine,” I said.

“And whose are they?”

“It’s all very simple! Just don’t get upset. You see, a pair of slippers fell to our balcony from the one above...”


“...and they left footprints.”

“May you wear those slippers to your grave! You could have left them there until I came home. Why did you have to pick them up?”

“I didn’t! I told you I didn’t go to the balcony.”

“Don’t think your Grandma is an idiot! I’m not completely out of my mind yet, while you must have been brainless since birth. If they fell, and you didn’t pick them up, then where are they?”

“Where... Crows took them away. They like shiny things, you know, and the slippers were shiny, silvery... With pompoms...”

“Pompoms.. You’re lying like a rug. Well, just wait, Grandpa is coming soon, we’ll sort it out together.”

Grandpa didn’t take long to appear and was appraised of the situation on the spot.

“Senya dear, this stupid bastard got sick again. I left him alone, and he barged out to the balcony to get some slippers. He says he didn’t go out and that the crows took them away, but I think he’s just covering his ass. Most likely, he went out himself and tossed them at someone.”

“Where are the slippers?” asked Grandpa.

“What’s with your ears, dumb ass?! I just told you. He says the crows took them...”

“Why are you screaming? I asked you where my slippers were.”

“I bet you the bastard tossed those, too! Why did you, asshole, toss Grandpa’s slippers?” Grandma yelled from the hallway.

“Ah, there they are.” Grandpa found his slippers, sat down, and asked Grandma to tell the whole story from the start.

“No repeating for the deaf, Senya. Anyway, the slippers fell to the balcony from above. This moron went out to get them, but he’s lying that he didn’t and that the crows took them.”

“Of course he’s lying,” Grandpa agreed. “Were they good slippers?”

“Lord, why do I have to suffer such idiots? I told you he tossed them!”

“To hell with them, Nina. Don’t you have your own?”

“Boy, are you slow, God help us! The problem is not that he tossed them, but that he went to the balcony, undressed, and got sick.”

“He got sick? I see...”

Grandpa came into the room where I was lying.

“Why did you do that?” he asked.

“He always does,” Grandma entered the room and answered the question for me. “He’s not a normal child. One day he runs around and gets sweaty, the next day he falls into cement. Now he crawled out onto the balcony. And how about those bastards upstairs? Who throws slippers from the balcony knowing that a feeble-minded child lives downstairs? What if he jumped off the balcony to get them?”

“Yes, they’re so self-centered. Only think of themselves, yes, only of themselves,” said Grandpa and sat down on the edge of my bed. “Want to hear a joke?”


“The husband comes back from a business trip, and the wife is with a lover...”

“Nobody’s interested in your filthy jokes,” Grandma interrupted and, apparently deciding that it was her job to make me laugh, pointed out the window and started chirping: “Look, Sasha, a sparrow! It pooped and didn’t wipe his bum!” And she burst out laughing.

“You’re funny,” Grandpa approved. “What sparrow at eleven at night?”

“So what? Maybe he really had to go,” said Grandma and left the room somewhat embarrassed, muttering that with us, one could lose track of time just like that.

I took advantage of Grandma’s departure and asked Grandpa to finish telling the joke that got interrupted.

“I’ll tell you another one,” Grandpa perked up. “Clench your teeth and say: “I don’t eat meat.”

I clenched and, to my surprise, informed Grandpa quite intelligibly that I didn’t eat meat.

“Then eat shit!” Grandpa laughed, happy that the joke worked out so well. “All right, I suppose you should get some sleep...”

Very pleased with himself, Grandpa went to the kitchen. A minute later, I heard a scream, “Eat dirt from your grave!”, which suggested to me that he had tested his wisecrack on Grandma, too.

I would have gladly taken Grandpa’s advice to get some sleep. But it was unbearably hot under the blanket, and without it, I had cold shivers. On top of that, I had a hard time breathing, as if someone invisible and heavy sat down on my chest, stuck his hands between my ribs, and squeezed my lungs with cold, sticky fingers. High-pitched wheezing was coming from my chest. Grandma heard it and came over.

“What, honey, is it hard to breathe?” she said and touched my soles. “Your dear little feet are cold. Let me get you a hot-water bottle.”

The bottle, wrapped in a towel, was placed against my feet.

“You’re whistling so hard, baby. What can I use to relieve the asthma component? Galina Sergeyevna is not bringing ephedrine until tomorrow. Call an ambulance, maybe? They’ll take care of the asthma attack. Is it very hard to breathe?”

“It’s okay, Grandma. Turn out the lights, maybe I’ll get some sleep. Let’s wait until tomorrow.”

“The light is bothering you, honey? Just a moment.”

“How is he?” asked Grandpa, peeking into the room.

“Go, Senya, go to bed. You’re no help anyway, you’ll just disturb him - and me too.”

Grandpa left. Grandma turned the light off and lay down beside me.

“Sleep, sweetheart,” she whispered, stroking my hair. “Galina Sergeyevna is coming tomorrow, she’ll take care of the attack, she’ll do cupping for you. But for now, sleep. The illness retreats while you sleep. Whenever I was sick, I always tried to sleep it off. You want some valerian, perhaps? Or should I add some hot water to the bottle...”

Grandma’s voice grew distant. Slowly but surely sleep was engulfing me.

It would be nice to wake up tomorrow, was my last thought...

I was awakened by Galina Sergeyevna’s loud and businesslike voice. Although it felt like I had dozed off for just a few minutes, sleep was releasing me slowly, as if removing its many tentacles one by one.

“Good morning, Sasha,” said Galina Sergeyevna, entering the room briskly. The knocking of the heels of her boots echoed in my head rather unpleasantly. “How come you’re sick again?”

“Don’t say it, Galina Sergeyevna,” said Grandma. “This child has suffered so much. There’s this wise saying: children pay for their parents’ sins. He’s paying for the sins of his whore of a mother...”

Grandma started telling her about my mother’s sins, choosing the ones that Galina Sergeyevna hadn’t heard of on her previous visits, and adding new details to the old ones. Galina Sergeyevna cut her off and started listening to my lungs.

“So what is it this time?” asked Grandma. “Bronchitis again?”

“Yes, Nina Antonovna. By now you know him like a physician would.”

“If not better,” Grandma smiled bitterly. “I observe him every day.”

Galina Sergeyevna started telling her how to treat me. I couldn’t make any sense of her words. Headache wouldn’t let me grasp the connections between them, but I knew that she wasn’t saying anything new, and that Grandma, who had long known about all the treatments, was dying to continue reciting Mom’s sins. She did so the moment Galina Sergeyevna paused.

“...And she dumped the boy on my bad back” - those few words I was able to connect.

“Nina Antonovna, here’s the ephedrine, give it to him right now. And bactrim after a meal,” said Galina Sergeyevna and started preparing glasses for cupping.

The cupping left bruises swollen with dark purple blood on my back. The room smelled of ether, burned cotton, and body cream. The icy fingers that were squeezing my lungs grew warmer and eased up a bit. Grandma rubbed my back and covered me with a blanket. Then she pulled a shiny elongated object out of the nightstand, took Galina Sergeyevna by the elbow, and whispered in her ear:

“Galina Sergeyevna, dear, please accept this. You’re our savior, you always get us out of trouble. Please take it, it will only make me happy.”

Grandma firmly held in front of embarrassed Galina Sergeyevna a shiny tube which looked oddly familiar to me. I saw it in Grandma’s hands yesterday. What was it? Suddenly I had a revelation...

“Grandma, didn’t you use it yesterday to lubricate the tip of the enema?” I said, surprised.

Galina Sergeyevna, who was just about to accept the tube, waved it off and started leaving in a hurry:

“Goodbye, Nina Antonovna. Sasha, goodbye.”

The door banged shut behind her.

“You’re a total moron, you know,” Grandma said, putting the tube away. “Did you really think that I would lubricate the enema with lipstick and then give it to the doctor as a gift?”

“What, the enema?”

“The lipstick, you idiot! Oh well, I’ll give it to Yelena Mikhailovna then. I’ll have to show her your test results, that’ll be a good moment... Are you feeling any better?”

“Breathing is easier, but I have a headache.”

“Let me get you another hot water bottle, and after a while you’ll need to eat so that you can take some bactrim. You can’t do it on an empty stomach.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“You have to eat. When people are sick, they’re not hungry, but they have to eat something. I’ll make some hot millet for you.”

My lungs were slowly recovering, the wheezing had eased up, and that someone with cold fingers got off my chest. I dozed off again.

“Sasha honey, have some cereal,” said Grandma, putting a bowl of hot millet on the nightstand next to me. “Let’s first wipe your little hands and your cute face with a wet towel. Come on, raise up a bit.”

I wiped my hands and face with a wet towel, then with a dry one.

“Come on, sweetheart, a spoonful for Grandma... For Grandpa... For your Mom - may the devils gobble tar by the ladleful for her. For Galina Sergeyevna. The poor thing got mad because of the little idiot here. Okay, one more spoonful for her, so that she won’t be mad.”

I finished my cereal and leaned back on the pillow, exhausted. Cold sweat appeared on my forehead, but it felt nice. Grandma gave me the pills, straightened up my pillow, and asked:

“What else would you like?”

“Read to me,” I came up with an idea.

A few minutes later, Grandma was sitting on my bed with a book in her hands. She wiped my forehead and started reading. I didn’t care which book she brought. I wasn’t grasping the meaning of the words, but I liked listening to Grandma’s quiet voice. I had no idea she had such a nice voice when she wasn’t screaming. It soothed me and relieved my headache. I wanted to listen to her for as long as I could, so I kept listening and listening...

A month later, Galina Sergeyevna came for her fourth visit, examined me and said:

“In a couple of days, he can go to school. I’ll fill out the note. Release him from phys ed - for how long? I’m putting down two weeks, is that enough?”

“He’s still two weeks behind on his homework, and he doesn’t do phys ed anyway. But do put down two, you have to write something...” Grandma smiled.

Galina Sergeyevna left a rectangular sheet of paper on the table and hurried for the door.

“Goodbye, Nina Antonovna. Sasha, all the best. Hope you stay well from now on.”

“From your mouth to God’s ears”, said Grandma, went out to the stairwell with Galina Sergeyevna and closed the apartment door behind them.

“From the bottom of my heart, Galina Sergeyevna... I’ll be happy... as a token...” were the chunks of sentences that I was able to hear.

One last thing: I doubt that anything from the doctor’s mouth actually made it to God’s ears. Two weeks later, just as I caught up with my homework, I got my boots full of snow in the yard, and I was back to waiting for her with a runny nose and a cough.

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