A Short Novel
© Linor Goralik, text, 2005-2013
© Maya Vinokour, translation from Russian, 2014-2015
I wanted to go look for the cat right away, but Mom said to have dinner. I had two red cards and one green one, so I had to eat meat, and I’ll have to tomorrow, too, but then right after tea I took a piece of chocolate, put it in my mouth, and sucked on it. I asked if I could go look for the cat. Mom let me go and I went to look for the cat.
First, I walked around the house. It’s pointless to call the cat, cats aren’t dogs. I took his bowl with dry food in it with me and was rustling with it because the cat always came when he heard that sound. That’s how I’d looked for him in the house before dinner, but he hadn’t come. I started to walk around the house and shook the bowl. The cat didn’t appear, but I did see Old Lady Accident. Old Lady Accident was sitting in the backyard on the swings and pulling on her fingers. She comes out really early and gets on the swings, probably so that no one can swing, and sits there until everyone is called to dinner. She herself swings rarely. Normally she just twists the chains right or left so tightly that she has to bend over and then tuck in her stubby legs to make the chains unwind super fast. Old Lady Accident sits in the backyard all day, spins around on the swings and pulls on her fingers to make them crack.
I didn’t see the cat, but Old Lady Accident saw me and started shouting that I shouldn’t feed the strays. She said that those cats would attack me at night and rip out my throat. I said politely that I’m not feeding the strays but looking for my own cat. Then old lady Accident jerked on her finger and said she hopes that shithead goes straight to hell.
I thought that this was actually quite possible. My cat is in fact a real shithead. If I hadn’t told myself that the cat’s behavior would count toward my behavior cards, Mom would have thrown him out long ago. He wrecks everything when, at some point every day, he starts to tear through the house like crazy all of a sudden. He tears the wallpaper. Sometimes he yowls for hours at a time — out of spite or just because, because he likes to. He eats off the table, you can’t even turn around. Because of the cat I always have red cards for behavior. I myself am forced to be really disciplined and good — it’s because of the cat. The cat is doing me good.
While I was walking around shaking the bowl, I was thinking, do I need to take a red card because the cat ran away. If I decide yes, then I’ll have three cards for the week already, and I won’t be able to go to Mega, to the skating rink. I give myself cards for the cat because it’s my own fault he’s such a shithead. When I asked for a kitten, I promised I’d train him. Wouldn’t let him eat off the table or rip up the sofa or bite. But when the cat would behave badly, I never wanted to train him. I liked that he did whatever came into his head. Like he howls and howls and wrecks everything whenever he wants. I decided that I would give myself cards for the cat. And since then, for a whole year already, I always have red cards, and I punish myself. It’s not easy, but then again I like the cat. I think he’s grateful to me.
So when Old Lady Accident said that my cat most likely was headed straight to hell, I thought that it really was quite likely. I walked around a little more and shook the bowl, but the cat, of course, didn’t appear. I went back in the house and took a red card, then thought about it and took another two for the thing I would have to do now. I hid them well because Mom gets really upset when she sees me giving myself red cards. Then I opened the hall closet and got out a shovel and went to the backyard again. Mom was watching TV and I had said I was going to look for the cat, so it was like I just wasn’t back yet.
Old Lady Accident was gone already, it was totally dark, but I started walking, lifting my legs real high so I wouldn’t trip, over to the sandbox. And I started to dig. At first I kept getting sand on myself, but then I sorted it out. I’m really strong, I can lift Mom easily when she needs to get something from the top cabinet, and she’s not small, my mom. But it still turned out to be hard to dig, especially when I got as far as the dirt under the sand. I probably dug for like two hours until the shovel began to pierce the dirt completely. Heat poured from under the ground, but not as much as I had feared. I lay down and looked down. I couldn’t see anything, but I thought that it wasn’t too far to jump. Then I went into the house, got the bowl of food again, came back, made the hole wider (I’m really big so this took some time), poured the food into my pockets and jumped down.
It wasn’t so hot there, but completely dark. I felt around and found some sort of wall. Then I poured all the food back into the bowl and started walking, one hand on the wall, the other shaking the bowl. Cats aren’t dogs, it’s stupid to call them, but I wanted to go back as soon as I could, so I called the cat a couple of times. The wall was long and curved sometimes. I walked along it until I got to a lighted empty space like a stairwell, but with no stairs. There was some kind of door in front of me, I pushed it and went inside. Here it was actually hellishly hot with blinding flames, and I got crazy scared. I covered my eyes with my hands and started to yell, I really regretted climbing down here. Someone else yelled nearby and I figured we were all done for and started yelling even louder. Someone jumped on me from behind, I started to beat them off, I managed to throw the creature off of me. I’m really big and strong. When people see that my hair is all gray, they think it’s easy to run away from me, especially children. But I’m much stronger than they think. So I managed to throw off the one attacking me, and with my eyes closed I started waving my arms and legs as hard as I could. There was shrieking all around me. In my terror I forgot about the flames, came too close to them and stuck my arm inside. The pain was so bad that I fell on the floor and howled. Someone started to whale on my hurt arm, I howled and kicked them, but whoever was whaling on me started to cuss me out and I understood that I had caught fire and they were trying to put it out. Then I froze and they put out my sleeve.
They demanded I open my eyes but I refused and at first talked to them with eyes closed. I explained to them that I had come for the cat, that it wasn’t the cat’s fault but mine. I had trained the cat badly. I told them that in the last year I had taken almost two hundred cards for the cat and so hadn’t been to the movies for a year already. I said that I’m responsible for the cat, right? Otherwise I wouldn’t take cards for him. And that if they let the cat go, I’ll take him back up to the surface and retrain him properly. And when I die, they can take me. And when the cat dies again, he’ll go to some good place.
Then they started to laugh. This made me horribly angry, I even opened my eyes. I was afraid that it would happen to me: when I go blind from rage and start to wreck everything. Last time this happened when Mom took me on the subway to go to the doctor and someone tried to grab my mp3 player out of my hands. My hair is gray already and they think it’s easy, but my eyes darkened from rage and I almost killed one of them. I ran away from the police and gave myself ten red cards when I got home. I was afraid that that same thing would start now, I can’t stand getting laughed at. But I had to get the cat, so I contained myself and opened my eyes. My arm really hurt and I didn’t want them to make it hurt even more.
When I was fighting with my eyes closed, I thought there were a hundred people there, but there were only two. They were very dirty and small, wearing ugly thick jackets. I was surprised that there wasn’t any fire around; it turned out that the fire was burning behind a glass shutter in a huge round thing. Probably the shutter was open when I hit the fire with my arm. These two people made me repeat myself about the cat. I repeated that it was my responsibility. Then they asked how I had gotten there and I told them that I dug a pit in the sandbox, went home for the bowl, and then jumped down into hell. Then they went with me to where I had jumped down and spent a long time looking into the hole, you could see the stars really well through it. I asked if I could get my cat back. Then they said that the cat wasn’t there. I felt much better because the cat hadn’t ended up in hell. I told them that they have to let me go because there are still four more days until the end of the month. I’ll still have time to work off my red cards, which means I won’t have any sins that would make it so I have to go to hell. I had honestly come down to get my cat, and they have no right to keep me here. I asked them to give me a boost so I could climb out. I was starting to think that the cat had escaped for good since he hadn’t gone to hell and hadn’t come for his bowl.
They said to follow them, they would show me the way out. I didn’t know if I should trust them or not, but they were both much smaller than me, if younger, and one of them was bleeding a lot from the nose because I had hit him. I thought I could take them if I had to. I didn’t feel quite as scared, though I was still pretty scared. I thought that when I return to earth from hell, I’ll tell Old Lady Accident that you can make it in hell. Sometimes she and I really got each other quite well.
I followed these people past some pipes and faucets and cauldrons. It was horribly hot there, but at every turn there would be a cold draft from somewhere all of a sudden. And it was really dark. Fear made me want to start running but I didn’t want to make them mad. We went up some ladder into a tiny dirty closet. They opened the door with a key, released me from hell and came out after me themselves. I didn’t see where we were right away. It was the backyard, not of my house, but number twenty.
They told me not to be so stupid as to start filling in the hole in the sand box and pouring sand on them. Then all of a sudden I remembered that I had left the bowl in hell. I said that I need the bowl, otherwise there’d be nothing to rustle with, and I need to go look for the cat. They cursed, but one of them went back to hell and brought me the bowl with the rest of the food. I said: “Thanks.” They looked me over and returned to hell. In the cold air my arm started to hurt less, though it still hurt pretty bad. I tried not to move it. I started walking around this yard with the bowl, rustling and calling the cat like he was a dog because I didn’t have any more energy. When the cat ran up and started to yowl and jump, trying to reach the bowl, I was so out of energy that I just sat down on the ground and put the bowl in front of him. He ate what was left of the food and ran home after me. I lifted my feet high so I wouldn’t trip in the dark, and the cat jumped over all the fences. That was how we got home.
I opened the door with my own key, it hangs around my neck on a little orange plastic spring that I like to wrap around my finger and then let go. The cat slipped inside and didn’t even yowl, but instead jumped into his shoebox and fell asleep. I don’t understand clocks, but it was definitely really late already. I called out to Mom, but it looked like she was asleep. I went to my room and gave myself the green card I had earned. I started to shiver for some reason. It had in fact turned out to be unbearably scary in hell. I couldn’t have even explained why. I thought that everything was different there, a lot worse, but it turned out that everything was even worse there than I had thought. I went to Mom’s room. I come to her room to sleep on the rug if I feel bad or scared, or just if I’m thinking about something that makes it so I can’t fall asleep. Mom says to wake her up and tell her why I’m feeling bad or scared or what I’m thinking about it and only then go to bed. But today I was so tired that I decided not to wake Mom up and lay down on the rug right away. I decided to complain to her tomorrow.
When Mom and I got to the ЕR, the nurse gave me a piece of candy right away. That made me think and I missed the moment when they brought Alik to the ER. Alik is a horrible crybaby: if you take away his toy or food or hit him even really lightly, he starts to cry. That’s why I never hit Alik hard, he starts to cry right away, and I hug him, you feel sorry for him right away. But this time I got very angry, and when I get angry, it happens to me — my eyes feel like they’ve been poured full of milk, and I can pack a real wallop, I could even kill someone. I probably would have killed Alik, I got so angry at him, but Grandpa Syoma and Grandpa Pasha wrestled me to the ground. On the weekends Grandpa Syoma and Grandpa Pasha always watch us when we’re out behind house number twenty, where Alik lives. I hit Grandpa Pasha in the stomach — not on purpose, I just wasn’t thinking straight. Then Grandpa Syoma sat on me and kept sitting on me until I calmed down. I got horribly upset that I had hit Grandpa Pasha, he’s old already, he’s much older than me. That’s why I started crying and asking for forgiveness, and Grandpa Syoma ran to get my mom, and she took me to the ER. I cried the whole way there and assigned myself twenty red cards for bad behavior: fifteen for Alik and five for Grandpa Pasha.
On the day I beat up Alik and Grandpa Pasha, I had twenty-one green cards taped up to the wall at home. It had taken me almost two months to earn them, because in general I try to behave well and help Mom. When I have that many green cards, I can do whatever: eat ice cream and candy, go to the movies and the skating rink, and sometimes I can even shout and clap when I watch TV. These were two very good months. But when we got to the ER it was like I only had one green card left. One card is one piece of candy (in general I’m barely allowed any sweets). But if I bumped myself or got sick, Mom would give me a piece of candy before bed. That’s why when the nurse in the ER gave me a piece of candy, I had to think hard about it. It was good candy, all marmalade with a chocolate outside. But I couldn’t remember what kind of candy we had at home and couldn’t guess if it’s better or worse. I really wanted to eat this candy, especially since my head hurt horribly where I had hit it on the pavement. But I thought that I could not eat it now but take it home and compare it to Mom’s candy. That’s how I started thinking and didn’t notice how they brought Alik.
Even though it’s really not far at all from our house to the ER, they brought Alik in a car, because he cried and started screaming, and they gave him the same shot they gave me the second time my cat ran away and got hit by a car. After that shot I slept for a really long time, and now Alik was asleep too. I saw them wheeling him inside, his whole face was swollen. I asked Mom: “Did I do that?” She told me not to worry but I asked again: “Did I do that?” She said it wasn’t important, what was important was for them to sew up my head and check for a concussion, but I asked again: “Did I do that?” When I need to find something out I can concentrate really well, even though usually I get distracted easily. I was asking Mom: “Did I do that?” even when the doctor came, and when they were shining a really pretty sharp little flashlight in my eyes, and when they were giving me a shot, and when we were walking home, and when we got home, and when Mom was rubbing my forehead clean with alcohol, and when my forehead starting hurting again, and when Mom gave me a pill, and when she came to give me a kiss before bed. I kept asking Mom: “Did I do that?” “Did I do that?” “Did I do that?” Finally Mom jumped up and shouted that I should leave her alone, аnd I got scared. Mom shouts at me really rarely. I said that I was very sorry, I didn’t want to make her mad and I’m taking three red cards. That made Mom cry, she hates my cards, but there was nothing I could do to help her. She said that she wasn’t mad at all, she was just very worried for me. She also said that I had broken Alik’s nose but that it would heal quickly. Then I also started crying, and Mom brought me a piece of candy, but I couldn’t eat it because it turned out I had two red cards but not a single green one, because the red ones cancel out the green ones. I was just glad that I had forgotten the piece of candy the nurse had given me on the table in the room where they had stitched up my forehead. I was glad that the nurse almost certainly ate it. She was a good nurse.
I lay in the dark and kept thinking. I’m not scared of the dark, I’m not scared of almost anything at all, I’m really strong. Alik, on the other hand, is scared of everything, he’s really weak even though he’s even bigger than me and his hair is all black, not one gray hair. Alik and I are best friends, I protect him. We’re allowed to visit each other and take walks together in the yard if Grandpa Pasha and Grandpa Syoma are there to look after us. It’s very bad to hit the person you protect. I felt really ashamed. But then I thought that I had beat up Alik in a good way, not in a bad way. I hadn’t beat up Alik the way other people, the ones I protect him from, sometimes beat him: for fun or to take away his jacket — but just because because I missed him. At first that’s how I tried to explain it to Alik with words: I had missed him like in those three and a half weeks when they took him to the seaside. I tried to explain to Alik that even though he’s here and they hadn’t taken him to the seaside, it’s like he hasn’t been here these last few days. In general Alik isn’t a good listener, but I know how to talk to him: you just have to not let him look away, you have to constantly make him look you in the eye. Marina, who does physical therapy with both of us at our clinic, praises me for being able to make Alik listen. Marina says I’m a good boy. But this time I couldn’t make it happen: I held Alik’s head, but he still kept looking away — crossed his eyes, rolled them back almost under his forehead. It didn’t matter how much I shook him, I couldn’t make him look me in the eye. And that’s why he wouldn’t listen to anything, wouldn’t listen to how much I miss him.
That was the whole thing these last few days: it was kind of like Alik wasn’t there at all. At first I was just worried for him because Alik looked really tired and would often fall asleep right in the middle of a game or conversation. One time he fell asleep and almost fell off the bench. Also I saw that Alik kept holding his stomach. Alik doesn’t know how to say that he’s sick, he doesn’t even understand that he’s sick. But I protect Alik and that’s why I always watch to see if he isn’t limping or holding on to himself somewhere, and does he have a cold or a temperature. When Alik is holding his stomach it means he hasn’t eaten in a long time. That means his grandma fell asleep and didn’t make him eat, and by himself Alik might forget and go out for a walk, that’s why his stomach starts to hurt. And these last few days Alik often held his stomach, I even said so to his grandma on Saturday. I said: “Please don’t fall asleep and don’t forget to feed Alik, you’re responsible for him, after all, you should be ashamed.” Alik grandma said that I’m a good person and took Alik home. I really am a good person. I can tell by the cards. Alik can’t give himself cards, he doesn’t understand when he’s behaving well or badly. I’m responsible for that too.
So that’s why it happened that I accidentally beat up Alik on Sunday. I just wanted him to explain to me what’s going on with him, because if I don’t know what I have to protect him from, then I can’t protect him. One after another, I started naming all the reasons I could think of. There are a lot of them, because Alik can’t protect himself. I asked, maybe they gave you beer again? One time some men by the beer stand gave Alik some beer, he got really sick, he cried and almost jumped off the balcony. I asked about beer, but Alik wouldn’t look at me even though I was holding his head. Then I asked: “Is this because of Vera the Dummy?” Vera the Dummy is in our physical therapy group, she also lives really close by, across the park. At the drop of a hat, Vera the Dummy takes off her pants, tights, and underpants and shows everyone what she has down there. For my part, I know well enough what she has down there, Vera and I are friends, though not as good friends as Alik and I. But Alik is scared of Vera the Dummy, and I scold her if she shows it in front of Alik. I asked Alik about Vera the Dummy, he tried to get away when I was holding his head, and squeezed his stomach with his hand, but I understood that it wasn’t Vera. I started to ask about everything I could think of because otherwise I wouldn’t know what I have to protect him from. I asked about the construction site, the rabbits, the stick, the blue whale, the chewing gum, but Alik kept crossing his eyes and trying to get away. I didn’t know what to ask about anymore. Then I tried to explain to Alik that I miss him. Then Alik started to roll back his eyes so as not to look me in the eye. I told Alik that I love him. Then he looked me in the eye really normally somehow, and I thought he was about to explain everything. “Well?” I said. “Well?” And grabbed Alik by the cheeks so he couldn’t turn away. But Alik started to roll back his eyes again, shake his head, and bellow. That’s when it happened to me. That’s how Alik and I ended up at the ER.
In the morning my forehead almost didn’t hurt at all anymore. Mom and I went to physical therapy and to the clinic. When we were crossing the yard of house number twenty, I saw Alik on a walk with his grandma. His nose was taped with something or other. I ran toward Alik even though Mom shouted after me, and tried to talk to him, but Alik dodged me, and his grandma kept shoving me away and saying: “Later, later.” Then I pulled it together and asked politely how Alik was feeling. Alik’s grandma said that he was feeling a little better. Then my mom walked up and also asked how Alik was feeling. Alik’s grandma said that I should go for a stroll and I started to walk around Alik in the hope that he would look me in the eye, but Alik kept dodging me. That’s why I went back and heard Alik’s grandma saying that last night Alik locked himself in his room and was screaming something, but it was impossible to tell what. And that tonight Alik tried to run away through the window, and his grandma and dad searched through all the yards and almost went insane, but then Alik came home himself — all in tears, though. That’s when they noticed me and I didn’t get a chance to hear where Alik had been. I asked, but Alik’s grandma said that they didn’t know. Then I asked if Alik was coming to physical therapy and to the clinic today, and Alik’s grandma said no, for now Alik can’t move around a lot or bend over. Then I gifted her the piece of candy that Mom had given me the night before and that I couldn’t eat because of the red cards. I explained to Alik’s grandma that if it weren’t for the cards, I would eat the candy myself, but I asked Mom for it even though I couldn’t eat it so I could give it to Alik at physical therapy. So she should give it to Alik. Alik can eat as many sweets as he wants, he doesn’t need any cards for that. Alik’s grandma told me again that I’m a good person. I really am a good person.
I was really broken up that Alik doesn’t want to be friends with me anymore and won’t even listen to my apologies. I was really afraid that he would never make up with me. I got a little distracted at therapy because I let everyone touch my scar but then our coach Marina came and said that touching the scar isn’t allowed. I don’t give myself red cards for things I didn’t know weren’t allowed, otherwise I’d be in real trouble. But when Vera the Dummy and I went to smoke after the session, she asked to touch my scar. I already knew it wasn’t allowed and said: “No.” Then Vera started to grab me by the pants between my legs. I shoved her away, but not seriously, as a joke. Then Vera the Dummy laughed and said that she loves me. Vera the Dummy always says she loves me. She says she’ll love me her whole life. That’s why, when Vera the Dummy smokes, she always gives me a cigarette, even though I don’t smoke. I keep the cigarettes at home even though I don’t need them at all because it’s impolite to throw away gifts. On top of my wardrobe there’s a whole shoebox that Mom’s boots came in, full of Vera’s cigarettes.
That night I called Alik and politely asked his grandma if Alik could come over. His grandma went to ask Alik, returned and said that Alik wanted to rest. I politely asked what mood he was in, and his grandma said — “a good one.” That made me happy, but I was still really hurt because I figured that Alik is scared of me now. But I was still really happy that his mood had become good. It’s been a long time since he was in a good mood. That’s what I told Mom when she came to put me to bed, and Mom said that everything would be fine and that Alik and I would make up. But that night I dreamed that Alik was crying. Not even crying, but kind of moaning piteously from pain. I got horribly scared and woke up. I listened closely and actually did hear Alik moaning from pain.
I ran to the window and started looking at house number twenty, even though Alik’s windows face the other way, they face the yard. That’s when I understood that Alik wasn’t moaning at his house, but really close by, behind me. I turned around quickly, but didn’t see any Alik there. I felt really afraid and wanted to call Mom, but couldn’t move from fear. That’s how I heard that the soft moans weren’t coming from the house across the way, but from under my bed. I decided that Alik had run away from home again, climbed through the open window, and gone under my bed. I lay down on the floor and looked under the bed, but the nightlight didn’t shed any light there, and I didn’t see anything. Then I felt around under the bed with my hand and brought out a monster.
It was really dirty and sticky somehow, and it was lying on an unfamiliar old blue sweater, also dirty. It wasn’t really possible to see the monster clearly by nightlight, but I could still see that it was covered in a lot of spiderwebs from under the bed and all kinds of other dirt. I shook the monster a little, but either it was deeply asleep or it was in really bad shape. In fact it looked like it was in really bad shape and moaned really piteously without opening its eyes. The monster seemed not very scary to me. I stood over it and thought about what to do. I thought that if I showed it to Mom she would get really scared and demand that I take the monster outside. But you could tell right away from looking at it that the monster would die outside. I shook it a little more and it moaned again but didn’t wake up. Then very quietly, so Mom wouldn’t hear, I took it to the bathroom.
I washed the monster in the sink. With its fur wet it became somehow really small. It never woke up and kept breathing really hard. On one of its sides, the monster had lots of little round wounds, they were bleeding and the fur around them was matted. Afterward I carried the monster back to my room just as quietly. I crammed the dirty sweater it had been lying on into the closet under the suitcases and put down an old t-shirt for it. There was iodine and q-tips for my forehead on the bedside table. I put iodine on all the monster’s little wounds. It whimpered, but I whispered to it: “Hold on, hold on,” and it held on all the way through. While I was putting iodine on its little wounds, I saw that it was all starved — all its ribs were sticking out. I didn’t know what it liked to eat, and brought it some bread, a piece of salami, and a tomato from the kitchen. I held the bread to the monster’s nose, it sniffed the air and began to eat right away. I thought it would wake up from that, but it didn’t wake up, but its breathing became more even. It ate the salami and tomato too. It seemed to me that the monster was doing a little better. It clearly could have eaten a lot more, but I was afraid to walk past Mom’s room to the kitchen again. The monster’s whole face was now covered in breadcrumbs and tomato. I wiped its face with the sleeve of the t-shirt it was lying on. I realized I couldn’t take it outside because it would perish. The smartest thing would be to hide the monster under the bed again. That’s what I did — I lay down on the floor and shoved the monster under the bed again, covering it with the t-shirt a little. The monster never woke up, but I thought that maybe that’s even good, because when you’re sick, sleep is the best medicine.
I can’t figure it by the clock, but probably not much time had passed while I was taking care of the monster, because I had to lie there for a really long time until it became morning. I couldn’t fall asleep — I kept straining my ears, listening for the monster. I was afraid that it would die when I fell asleep and went under the bed a few times and took it out and then shoved it back, but it kept sleeping. Also I was afraid that its moans would give it away to Mom, but it stopped moaning, it would just whimper sometimes in its sleep. A couple of times I got out of bed, left the room, closed the door and tried to see whether you could hear the monster’s whimpering from the hall. Sometimes it seemed like yes, and sometimes like no, and I really ran myself ragged. The exhaustion and nerves made me think I’d never fall asleep. But close to morning I did in fact fall asleep.
When Mom came to wake me, I remembered about the monster right away and got really scared that Mom would hear him. I jumped out of bed and started to hug Mom and tell her how much I loved her. I spoke really loudly on purpose and hugged Mom really thoroughly, I almost knocked her over, because I’m over a foot taller than her and really strong. I said that I want to go to the kitchen and help her make breakfast. Then I sat with her until it was time for her to go to work. I talked really loudly the whole time, so much so that Mom even checked my pulse. Because of my loud talking I couldn’t even hear how the monster was doing up there. As soon as Mom left, I dashed to my room to check. I pulled on the edge of the t-shirt and took the monster out from under the bed. It was asleep. For the first time I saw it in the light. It looked really pitiful, but a little better than it had seemed at night. I looked closer and touched its little wounds; really thin scabs had formed over them. Then I went to the bathroom and looked at my sewed-up forehead: it had a very similar scab. I touched my forehead: it was clearly healing, so I decided that the monster’s little wounds were also healing. Before she left, Mom had put iodine on my forehead, because you had to do it in the morning and at night, so I also put iodine on the monster’s little wounds again and pushed it back under the bed. I felt like I had worried myself sick and was dead on my feet. While Mom was at work I would usually watch TV or listen to records, or sculpt or draw. During the day I would eat the sandwiches Mom left for me, and when she came back, I would eat dinner with her. Now I didn’t have the energy even to watch TV, I just collapsed onto the bed. But I didn’t have time to fall asleep for real because I heard the monster moaning piteously. I got horribly scared that it was dying, threw myself on the floor and took it out from under the bed. The monster breathed evenly in its sleep, it definitely wasn’t dying, but drool had gathered in the corners of its mouth, which sometimes happens to Alik, and I realized that it was hungry again. I had to give it my sandwiches. At first I wanted to give it just one, but the monster ate it without waking up and started to whimper again so piteously that I had to give it the second one too. Then it was quiet, I wiped its face again and put it under the bed. I got to sleep a little but then Mom called to check that I was doing OK. I said yes, and she asked why my voice was like that, and I said that I’m just watching a sad show on TV, and she asked “Which one?” But I couldn’t think of anything. I said that I had to go to the bathroom and hung up the phone. My head really hurt, I lay down again, but through sleep kept thinking that tonight Mom was going to clean house and might find the monster, and was super nervous.
When Mom came home, my head hurt even worse. Mom gave me a pill and said that I might have a concussion after all, and that I should go lie down. I went and lay down, but first I went under the bed and made sure that the monster was sleeping soundly. But then Mom started to vacuum in the next room and I got scared that the noise would make it start whimpering, and instead began to moan myself and pretend like my head hurts horribly, much more than it really did. I was really ashamed, because Mom got very worried and even wanted to call Dr. Racine, who is my regular doctor, but I said quickly that my head was already better, only that she shouldn’t vacuum. Lying to Mom is two red cards. I understood how much more I’d have to endure from the monster and got really scared. Before my cat got hit by a car and died, I took red cards for both his bad behavior and mine. I would end up with a lot of red cards, but I loved the cat and had just trained him badly, so everything was fair. But this was totally different: I didn’t love the monster, I just felt sorry for it, and I took cards not for its bad behavior, but for my own. Because of the monster I myself became bad: lied to Mom, didn’t do physical therapy today, and didn’t help clean up. Besides, I hadn’t eaten anything today except breakfast because I gave my sandwiches to the monster, and I couldn’t eat dinner because my head hurt so much. So on top of everything I was really hungry. And I was constantly freaking out, that was the worst thing. I was already losing my mind.
When Mom was putting me to bed, she asked if my head hurt, and I lied that it didn’t. Mom wanted to give me a piece of candy, but I said I can’t because of the cards. As soon as Mom left, I got under the bed and took the monster out. I decided that I have to wake it up and send it packing. The monster still looked pretty bad. Its little wounds were clearly healing slower than my forehead, and it still seemed really underfed. As soon as I got the monster out from under the bed, it started to whimper. Spit glistened in a corner of its mouth. I already knew that it was asking for food but decided that it would wake up even faster from hunger. I started to shake the monster, but it just whined, because I was probably hurting it, even though I was trying not to. Then I started to blow in its ears. It started to switch its ears quickly, but it didn’t wake up, just whimpered piteously because I was preventing it from sleeping. I could have yelled at the monster or started clapping loudly (I clap really loudly when I feel happy because I’m really strong and I have really big hands), or banging on the table with something. But in fact I couldn’t do any of this because then Mom would have woken up. I couldn’t do anything, and that was making me unbearably enraged. I stuffed the monster back under the bed and lay down. I was so hungry I was practically nauseous. I barely managed to fall asleep and kept dreaming that the monster under the bead had expired from hunger. I kept waking up and trying to stand up and go to the kitchen to bring it some milk and bread, but I couldn't wake up all the way I was so tired.
In the morning I could barely get Mom to leave my room, I said that I really needed to go to the bathroom. I wanted to stop myself and not finish my omelette so that, when Mom left, I could take the rest out of the garbage and give it to the monster, but I couldn't stop myself and ate all of it. That's why, after Mom left, I had to feed it my sandwiches with the good cheese Unlce Vitya had brought for my birthday. There was no more of it in the fridge. I went under the bed and got out the monster. I shook it a little in the hope that it would wake up, but it didn't wake up, just started to moan piteously from pain. Then I fed the monster the cheese piece by piece, wiped its face and put it back under the bed. It seemed to me like it was having trouble swallowing, like Alik when he forgets to drink with his food. I brought a glass of water from the kitchen, took out the monster and poured a little water into its mouth. It was obviously pleased, so bit by bit I poured the whole glass into its mouth, but got a bunch on myself in the meantime. I put the monster back under the bed. The constant trips under the bed made my back really hurt, and in general I felt horrible. I wanted to lie down on the sofa and think about what to do, but I couldn't think, because I fell asleep. I was really tired.
I woke up so abruptly, it was like someone had started screaming at me. I sat up on the sofa, all sweaty. I got scared that while I was sleeping Mom had come home and found the monster, or that it had woken up, made its way out the window and gotten hit by a car like my cat. I made myself listen closely and heard horrible sounds coming from my room. I dashed over there. The monster's whole face was covered in drool, it was wheezing and jerking around, I saw its big yellow fangs, because it was opening its mouth really wide. I started to shake it but it wheezed even louder. I got really scared. Mom and I watch a show about doctors and I knew that when someone wheezes and jerks around like that, they're going to die if the doctors don't come running quickly. I even started to run around the room, yelling: “Doctors! Doctors!” and clapping my hands (I clap my hands when I get really agitated, there’s nothing I can do about it). But then I made myself breathe in and out three times. I sat down on the floor next to the monster, my hands were shaking, I didn’t know what to do. Suddenly I saw a little piece of the good cheese right next to the monster’s face. It was somehow wet. Then I understood that I had dropped a piece of cheese when I was feeding it to the monster. The monster had eaten this piece in its sleep and choked on it. Part of the cheese had come back up, but part of it hadn’t. Then I stuck my fingers into the monster’s mouth, took out the piece of cheese and wiped my fingers on the t-shirt. The monster wheezed a little longer, and then started to breathe normally. I couldn’t take it anymore, I lay down on the floor and started to cry. I knew that Mom would throw the monster out, but now I wanted to throw it out myself, I couldn’t do it anymore. If I hadn’t been a good person, I would have thrown the monster out right now.
The next day I had physical therapy at our clinic. I was so nervous because of the monster that I didn’t want to go. I imagined it waking up, climbing out from under the bed, and the neighbors hearing it — or, the opposite, it dying in its sleep. I really wanted to play sick and stay home. I actually felt sick, everything hurt from fatigue. Also my eyes hurt because I had slept badly, and my stomach. But then Mom definitely wouldn’t go to work but instead would stay home with me and call Dr. Racine, and then I would have to give myself five or even six red cards, and on the weekend I definitely wouldn’t go to the movies or to the skating rink. Although, honestly, now I didn’t even want to think about the movies or the rink. All I wanted was to make the monster disappear. I was hoping that Alik would be at therapy and I’d be able to tell him that I love him, but Alik was still not allowed to move around much. Marina, who leads physical therapy at our clinic, looked at me very seriously and asked if everything was OK. I said that everything is OK, because if I had told her about the monster, she would have told Mom everything. I could barely do the therapy, but Marina, would always makes everyone try hard, didn’t make me try today. I must really have looked unwell.
After therapy Marina asked me again if everything was OK, and I said everything was excellent, that I was just in a bad mood. Marina always drove me home in her car because Mom took me there and had to go to work right away. I changed into dry clothes in the locker room and ran to find Marina because I had to get home as soon as possible. Vera the Dummy was walking toward me in the hall. I wanted to run by her, but she stood in my way on purpose and started to grab me by the pants between my legs and laugh. I politely told her that I had urgent business and had to go. But Vera the Dummy started to climb on me, meaning get up on her tiptoes and rub up against me from above. She was laughing really loudly. There was no one but us in the hall. Generally I like when Vera the Dummy rubs up against me and does the things she does. She and I are friends, although not as good friends as Alik and I. But now I was thinking only of the monster. I could feel myself getting angry and got really scared that it woud happen to me, and then everything would be really bad. I pushed Vera the Dummy away and did what Marina taught me: breathe in and breathe out three times slowly. I felt better, even though Vera the Dummy constantly kept trying to climb on me, I kept having to almost shove her away from me. All of a sudden Vera the Dummy calmed down and said: “I’ve missed you.” I said politely again that I have to go and it’s very urgent. Then Vera the Dummy started smoking right in the clinic hallway. This was absolutely not allowed, and whoever did it got horribly yelled at and could be expelled from physical therapy. I got scared that I would be caught with Vera the Dummy, that they would scold and expel me, and ran away from her fast. Vera the Dummy yelled after me that she loves me and also she yelled at me to turn around, but I didn’t turn around because I knew what she wanted to show me, and now was not the time.
In the car I kept bouncing my knee, I was in such a hurry to get home. That’s very bad, because I’m taught not to bounce my knee or clap my hands when I get worried. But I couldn’t take it anymore and clapped a couple of times anyway. When I clap, Marina usually says something annoyed to me, but today she didn’t say anything. She just asked me if I had been doing my exercises these past days, and I lied that I had, because otherwise I would have had to explain why not. That was one more red card. When I thought of all the red cards that I had gotten because of the monster, I couldn’t take it anymore, bounced my knee and started to cry. Then Marina stopped the car and began to console me. She said that I looked really tired. She asked if I was well, and I said that I just really need to get home. Then Marina asked if everything was OK, and I said that I just really need to get home. Then Marina asked if anyone was hurting me, and I said that I just really need to get home. Marina said that no one was mad at me about the thing with Alik, and Alik wasn’t mad either. She, Marina, called Alik’s grandma and asked for permission to take me to visit Alik now, if I want to, but I said that I just really need to get home. I was starting to get angry again, really badly, it was like my eyes were filling up with milk. I tried to keep it together and breathed slowly, but everything was shaking, and I got scared. Marina must have gotten scared too. She asked if I was OK and if I needed to get out of the car, and I said politely that I just really need to get home. Then Marina drove me home.
I dashed to my room, fell on the floor and took out the monster. It was whimpering quite a bit, and when I got it out, tears were pouring from its eyes even though it never woke up. My heart ached with pity for it. While I was feeding the monster my sandwiches, pouring milk into its mouth and wiping its face afterward, I couldn’t take it anymore and started to cry from fatigue and bewilderment. The monster’s little wounds, which I constantly put iodine on, had almost healed, but the monster was still really weak. I was crying because I truly didn’t know what to do. If I had taken the monster out to the street right now, as it slept, it would definitely perish. And I wasn’t at all sure that it wouldn’t perish if I managed to wake it up and it could find its own food. But I didn’t have a choice. I heard the show about the king starting on the living room TV and I understood that Mom would come home really soon. I couldn’t delay anymore, and I started trying to wake the monster up for real.
I didn’t want to shake it again so as not to hurt it. So I started to stamp my feet and shout in its ears. The monster started to whimper and wriggle its paws, but it didn’t wake up. I galloped and jumped and clapped my hands but it wouldn’t wake up. I stopped to rest and heard the show about the king ending. That meant Mom could come home any minute. My knee started bouncing all by itself. I started screaming even louder, now I had forgotten about the neighbors, I just wanted this beast to wake up but it slept anyway. The milk started to rise in my eyes, I stopped and tried to breathe, but it didn’t really help. On TV the news had already begun. I grabbed a big book about dinosaurs and started to pound it on the table, I bellowed all the most terrible words I knew at the beast, but it still wouldn’t wake up. I chucked the dinosaur book at the wall and grabbed the dumbbells I used to do my exercises. I started pounding on the wall with the dumbbells and screaming. The neighbors started to bang and scream in response, but I couldn’t pay attention to them. I just hated that sleeping beast, my heart was in my throat from hatred. I hated it for making me a bad person, and because this attempt to wake it up would cost me so many red cards. I pounded the wall with the dumbbells like crazy but it wouldn’t wake up, just whimpered and howled in its sleep. I threw the dumbbells on the table and started to kick the beast. I didn’t care anymore if I hurt it or not, I could think only about Mom coming home now. I just couldn’t be a good person anymore. Also I was thinking about the red cards and the movie “Bedtime Stories,” which I wouldn’t get to see now because of these cards, and about how shameful it was to lie to Mom, and about Alik, whom I hadn’t seen for a whole week because of this sleeping beast, and about Vera the Dummy, and how insultingly I had shoved her away. I kept kicking and kicking the beast, it was howling at full volume, but it wouldn’t wake up. I felt that if it didn’t wake up right now, it would happen to me. That thought made me hate it even more. I kicked and kicked the beast, it was screaming in a voice that was almost human somehow, but still wouldn’t wake up. Then I grabbed a red pen from the desk, the one I used to give myself grades for exercises, and poked the beast in the side. It didn’t wake up. I started to poke more, I poked and poked and poked, I screamed and poked, and screamed, and poked again, until the pen leaked with its red ink onto my palm. I was sitting next to the monster on the floor, screaming and poking, screaming and poking. I wasn’t thinking about anything anymore, I just wanted the beast to wake up, and I would have shoved it through the window into the yard, but then I heard Mom’s voice. I hadn’t noticed her opening the door and coming into the apartment.
I only had a second until Mom ran to my room from the hallway, and during that second I managed to shove the monster under the bed. I had to keep screaming, otherwise Mom would have heard the monster crying. I screamed to Mom that my favorite red pen had leaked, and I showed her my red palm. Mom told me that we would buy a new red pen, and I saw that she felt much better. My screams had probably really scared her, she thought that it was happening to me or that I had gotten sick. Mom hugged me with all her strength and told me she loved me.
And then, all of a sudden, I understood everything. It’s an amazing feeling, I can never understand how it happens: you don’t get something for a long time and then all of a sudden you understand everything. Anyway, I understood everything. I went to the bathroom to wash the ink off my hands. I was shaking all over, but on the other hand now I knew what to do. I went to my room, stuck a pillow under the bed and covered the monster’s face with it so you couldn’t hear its whimpering so well. Then I closed the door to my room and Mom and I watched a funny show about a nanny. Sometimes I would listen closely, it seemed to me that I could hear the monster whimpering and crying, but maybe I was just hearing things. After the show Mom asked me if I wanted a shower or a bath. I said I wanted a bath. All this time I had been washing hastily because I couldn’t hear the monster over the noise of the water and was scared that it would make trouble. But today I sat in the bath for real. It was really nice. Then I went to my room and put on the music I like to fall asleep to sometimes. The pillow and the music drowned out the monster and Mom didn’t hear anything. She kissed me and said again that she loved me. I said I loved her too and would do anything for her. And she said that all she needed from me was for me to be healthy and happy. Mom asked if she could give me a piece of candy, and I said “of course.” Then Mom was glad and brought me the prettiest candy of all, the one in gold foil from that box the Uncle Vitya had brought for my birthday. I said that I would eat it in the dark, it’s more interesting that way. Mom kissed me and left, and I got under the bed and took out the monster.
It was breathing really quietly now. Its protruding ribs rose and fell. By the light of the nightlight the monster looked pretty bad. The little round wounds from where I had poked it with the pen were bleeding. I unwrapped the candy and fed it to the monster, little by little. It swallowed with difficulty but ate anyway. The t-shirt I had put out for it was now horribly dirty. I wrapped the monster in the t-shirt, pressed it close, and sat with it for a little bit. Then I stood up, placed the monster on the windowsill, put my sneakers right on my bare feet, took the monster in my arms and climbed out the window into the yard with it. I was wearing only my pajamas, snow was flying at me, but I was still as wet as if I were hot. The monster in my arms moaned very softly, but I whispered to it, “Hold on, hold on.” I started walking in the direction of the park, then turned off into the second side street and climbed up the fire escape to the second floor, pressing the monster close with one hand. The palm of that hand got all red again. I looked in the window. Vera the Dummy was sleeping on her stomach, butt sticking up, in a nightgown that went all the way down to her feet. I climbed over the windowsill. The monster was moaning almost inaudibly in my arms. I carefully got on my knees next to the bed and put the monster on the floor. I made sure that it was completely contained to the t-shirt, covered it with a free end and a sleeve, and then pushed it under Vera the Dummy’s bed, very quietly. Something bonged under the bed, there were pans or pots of some kind under there. I froze, but Vera the Dummy didn’t even move.
Then I climbed back out the window, came down the fire escape and went straight home. I decided to first walk home, climb back in my room and lie down in bed, and only then start crying. That would get me five green cards.
My mom doesn’t like butchers — she says that there’s nothing good about being used to the sight of blood. That’s why I usually go to our butcher’s alone — I’m not afraid of blood. I’m not afraid of anything at all because I’m really tall, burly, and strong, I think I’m even stronger than the butcher. The butcher likes me, he lets me ask a lot of questions and answers me if he can find the time, and if he can’t, I don’t get offended because when he’s busy with other customers I can look at the fishies.
The fishies make me feel so good that I can’t go home, I just keep on standing there. They’re just little gray fishies with little black stripes, but if you look at them for a while they become unbearably beautiful. I try not to do that because the butcher says right away: “Get out!” And I know that if you’re told to go then you have to go right away, and then I have to leave the fishies. But I really want the fishies to look at me. I can’t have fishies at home because my cat is deranged. One time I even had to go down to hell for him and ask that he be released because that time I was the one to blame for his bad behavior, not him, because I had trained him badly. Or rather, I hadn’t trained him at all because I liked that the cat could just do whatever came into his head. I myself can’t just do whatever comes into my head: I don’t know how to stop and can maim or even kill someone, especially if I’m angry, and I get angry often. When they let the cat out of hell, I took charge of his upbringing so that the next time he died he could answer for his deeds himself. When I’m training the cat, very often I get horribly angry at him, like until my eyes turn white (that’s when I stop even being able to see what I’m doing). I know that at times like that the most important thing is to have time to put my hands behind my back. Dina taught me that. That was the first thing Dina taught me. Dina also taught me never to yell at anyone, but I can’t not yell at the cat. I yell at the cat and stamp my feet with all my might, and Mom sits in the next room and worries that I’m going to kill the cat, so afterward I always feel really ashamed. But the cat is totally deranged, so you can’t scare him with anything. That’s why it’s so hard for me to train him so that he doesn’t eat every single thing. The cat eats cockroaches, ants, worms, and one big beetle that he choked on so badly that we had to take him to the doctor. I cried the whole way there because the cat was breathing in a really scary, loud way and I was scared he would die un-re-trained and would end up in hell again, but everything turned out OK, and the cat learned to kill beetles and tear them to pieces first and only then eat them. I think that’s an achievement of my training. I try to teach the cat everything Dina taught me before she went away, but I can’t tell him to put his paws behind his back when he wants to kill someone, because then the cat would fall over. It’s because of the cat that I can’t have fishies, that’s why I like to go to the butcher’s so much. It used to be that I could look at the fishies for as long as I wanted to in Dina’s room, but Dina went away.
I go to the butcher’s every Tuesday. This Tuesday I also went to the butcher’s, and he didn’t have any visitors except me. I was really glad and said that I’m really glad that lately the butcher hasn’t had as many visitors because now he can talk to me and answer my questions, and also I said that I’m grateful to him for answering my questions. Dina always told me that if you think good things about a person, you should definitely tell them about it right away, but when you do it you shouldn’t hug or lift them up into the air because not everyone likes that. When I like someone, I always want to grab them with my hands and hug them and spin them around, but Dina says that you can only do that to the cat, but for everyone else, words are enough to get across that I like them. Even Mom doesn’t really like me to pick her up and spin her around. Dina I tried to hug the very first time I came to her room. I would see her every week, like the butcher, before she went away. Dina talked to me and also answered my questions, but we agreed that we’d play a game: first she would ask me questions and I would answer them, but before leaving I could ask her about something. I don’t really like being asked questions, and Dina’s questions were sometimes totally unpleasant, and they made me want to scream and stamp my feet, but Dina taught me not to stamp or scream but to look at the fishies until I stop feeling mad, and only answer after that. Sometimes I would even forget to ask her my question at the end, and sometimes I wouldn’t know what to ask and would ask what she had for breakfast or if she has a cat. We would often talk about my cat, but Dina didn’t have her own cat, so she was interested in hearing how I trained mine. And sometimes I would really want to ask a question and could barely make it to the end of our meeting, and when the clock would read three minutes to six, it would be my turn. One time I asked who she loves the most. She said, her mom and dad. That made me love Dina even more.
Sometimes I would have to look at the fishies for five or even ten minutes right after coming into her room, because it would happen that Mom would get me there on time, I would go down the hall past other doors to Dina’s room and knock like you’re supposed to, but Dina would say through the door: “Wait, please,” and then I would know that Baldie was there with her and didn’t want to leave. I hate Baldie, and if he visits Dina on the same day as me, then I think he’s doing it on purpose. I picture Dina smiling at him like she smiles at me and teaching him to look at the fishies, too, and telling him that he’s a good person, too, like she says to me. Sometimes I hear him crying in her room even though you’re not supposed to eavesdrop, but I can’t help myself, and Dina consoles him and talks to him like she’s his friend, and that makes me feel really sick because Dina is my friend. I know that you’re supposed to share your friends, for example I don’t get upset that in our arts and crafts group, Vera the Dummy isn’t just my friend, and Alik doesn’t get upset that I’m not just his friend, although maybe Alik doesn’t understand anything. But Dina is a completely different story. One time I even started to yell and tried to grab Baldie but Dina yelled right back at me and got really mad, and said that I’m not the only one who needs her, her other patients need her too, and that she’ll try to make it so I don’t see Baldie anymore. But sometimes Baldie would cry and I knew that Dina couldn’t throw him out, so I had to wait. Baldie would come out all puffy from tears and run quickly past me, I knew he was afraid of me, and serves him right too. On days like that I would come right into the room and start looking at the fishies while Dina put on her kerchief and only then would we start to play the question game. On days like that it was much harder for me to play, but I tried.
I didn’t hug the butcher, I just told him that I would be very happy even if I ended up being his only customer, because then we could talk all the live-long day and look at the fishies. The butcher said to me that I’m a good person. That’s true, I’m a really good person, because I train myself all the time and try really hard. I hope my cat also becomes a good person someday. I said that to the butcher, but then some man in a suit with a briefcase came in and started to look around. The butcher seemed to get scared and came out from behind the counter to meet him. I saw the butcher get scared and purposely asked the man in a loud voice if he was a gangster. He was quite small, this man, especially by comparison to me, I could have easily beaten him up, but the butcher quickly said that the man wasn’t a gangster and apologized to him. They went somewhere inside the shop and I started to look at the fishies. One of them was swimming really slowly today and lay on the bottom almost all the time. I couldn’t help myself and shouted a couple of times, “Hey! Hey!” but then scolded myself in my mind right away. The fishies made me feel awfully good, so good that I can’t even talk about it. Maybe it was because they swam around so slowly and were so indifferent or because they weren’t afraid of me at all or because they would start to glow when sunlight shone on the aquarium and I could see their little bones, so teeny-tiny and soft, like little hairs. When sunlight fell on Dina’s hair it would also start to glow and the hairs looked teenty-tiny, like the little bones of the fishies, though not gray but bright and orange. My hair is all gray and very smooth, but Dina’s grows in ringlets and shines above her head. The sight of her hair always made me agitated and after I visited her for the second time and asked to touch her hair before I left and told her that it made me agitated, she started to put on a kerchief before I my arrival. Dina always knew how to make me stop being agitated.
Also Dina taught me to imagine that I’m looking at the fishies swimming around beautifully and moving their lips even if there aren’t any fishies around. That actually makes me feel much less mad. It really helps me because I’m really burly and strong and when I get seriously mad my eyes go all white and it’s really hard for me not to attack others. I put my hands behind my back, close my eyes, and start to imagine the fishies looking at me and moving their lips. When I would open my eyes, the person I was mad at would have had time to run off, or Mom would have had time to take me away. I get really mad when I think about how Dina went away and didn’t even say goodbye to me, but that doesn’t make my eyes go white at all, instead it makes me want to cry. I think that if I saw Dina again, I wouldn’t want to yell at her, I’d want to hug her and spin her around. Of course, I wouldn’t do that, I’m just saying that I would definitely want to, even though I’m really mad at her. I asked Mom what happened to Dina’s fishies. Mom said that Dina took them with her. That was very good because I couldn’t have taken them home because of my crazy cat. Also I asked Mom what happened to Baldie. Mom said she didn’t know. I asked if Dina had taken him with her. Mom said no, she didn’t. That made me feel a little better because Baldie is probably even sadder about Dina than me. At any rate I almost never cried in her room, and it seemed like Baldie cried every time. I’m really strong and cry really rarely.
I listened to the butcher talking to the man in the suit in the back room. The butcher was really mad and I thought that probably this man couldn’t pay for his meat, but he didn’t seem at all poor, and plus that wasn’t important to the butcher, when Mom and I or old Nadya came to get meat at the end of the month, the butcher would always tell us not to give him money right then, adding, “No big deal, we’ll settle up next time.” Mom would always insist that the butcher take the money, and say that we’re all in the same boat. I think that was her joke because of the fishies swimming in the butcher’s shop. I always felt happy when Mom said that, it was a very funny joke. I really wanted the butcher to tell me today, too: “We’ll settle up next time,” I would put the money on the counter and say “We’re all in the same boat,” but the butcher kept not coming out. He and the man kept slapping something on the table like they were throwing down magazines or papers, the butcher was talking really loudly, but the man either didn’t talk at all or talked really quietly, I couldn’t hear him. When someone is yelling and fighting nearby, I start to get agitated, and right away I also start to want to yell, so I plugged my ears and started looking at the fishies.
Dina had amazing fishies, I had never seen ones like that before. I hadn’t seen them even when Mom would take me to the special store where you could come and look at the fishies for fifty rubles even if you weren’t going to buy any. There were such lovely fishies there, such amazing and beautiful ones, that I couldn’t help myself and quickly hugged one aquarium because if I hadn’t done that I would probably have gone crazy. I’m not allowed to go to that store that often because afterward I start to hate the cat and yell at him even harder if he doesn’t get trained. But even in that store there weren’t fishies like the ones Dina had. One time we made an appointment for ten after five and I came on time, and knocked, but Dina yelled, “Wait, please.” I had had a bad day because that morning I had gone to the class and they told us that Vera the Dummy had gotten sick and wouldn’t do arts and crafts with us anymore, but instead would go to the sanatorium to get better. I felt sad because Vera the Dummy was my friend and also because I was worried for her, and also because she and I would do that thing sometimes and I knew that I would miss her. The other women in our class don’t do that thing even though they sometimes glance at me because I’m really big and strong and burly, even though I’m all gray, and Lyolya constantly, loudly says all kinds of dirty things when she looks at me and gets scolded for it, and in fact you can’t do that thing there because some of us don’t understand responsibility. We also aren’t allowed to do it because someone like me could get agitated and kill someone. And people like Alik always start crying if Lyolya or Vera the Dummy try to grab them. If anyone grabs anyone, we get scolded. But Vera the Dummy couldn’t care less about any of it, she always laughed and showed everyone what she had under her skirt whenever and wherever she wanted, and that day Lyalya started to tell everyone that Vera the Dummy didn’t get sick but instead ran away from home and tried to grab at a policeman and now she’s been arrested and put in the Institute. The Institute is really scary, I could end up at the Institute too if I yell at someone besides the cat and I got really scared for Vera the Dummy and for myself too, and I really needed to look at the fishies and tell Dina everything because Dina would have calmed me down, but Baldie kept not leaving, just not leaving. I felt worse and worse and Baldie just cried and cried in there, behind the door, and then I knocked again, but Dina yelled again, “Please wait!” and all of a sudden I really wanted to scratch my feet, which always means that everything has gone all wrong and in a second I’m going to start yelling and running in circles and won’t know what I’m doing anymore.
Then I put my hands behind my back and started to picture the fishies. My feet itched horribly and something was shivering in my throat and so I didn’t succeed at picturing the fishies for a long time, I kept seeing these red spots. Then they thinned out a little and I noticed that the door to Dina’s room was all see-through, which I hadn’t even noticed before. My hands became really heavy and my fingers started to hurt. Because of the red spots my head was going all around in circles but on the other hand through the see-through door I saw the aquarium and started to watch the fishies like Dina had taught me. It was hard to breathe but bit by bit the red spots disappeared and I saw the aquarium. It turned out to be really big, I complimented Dina and said that I really liked her new aquarium, but Dina didn’t answer me — she was probably tucking her hair into the kerchief just then and couldn’t hear me. I had already calmed down a little and was ready to play the question game but she still hadn’t come back to the room. All of a sudden I noticed that there was a person lying at the bottom of the aquarium; the aquarium was so huge that that person’s whole body fit in there. I jumped in the aquarium right away and tried to take them out of the water but all of a sudden it turned out that there wasn’t much water in there, it wasn’t even knee-high. It was just spilled all over the bottom, everything was wet, the rug and even the walls, I think — I wasn’t sure because I was still seeing the red spots, but they weren’t swimming in front of my eyes anymore, they were just sitting obediently in their places, and that was good. The shards of the old aquarium were lying around the floor and I thought that probably Dina hadn’t thrown them out on purpose because the fishies had gotten used to them. Dina had a lot of really nice toys and things in her room, I really liked the red truck with the real folding ladder, like actual firemen have, and had asked if I could take it home, but Dina would say that it was important not to change anything in this room because sometimes patients come, me included, and see what they’re used to seeing, and that makes them feel calmer. So I wasn’t surprised when I saw the shards of the old aquarium. All the fishies had hidden somewhere — they were probably getting used to the new aquarium — but one fishie was in the person’s mouth, a really pretty one, red-haired and fuzzy. Its lips moved in such a pretty way that I just stood there and looked at it, I couldn’t look away. The fishie said something to me but I couldn’t make it out because fishies rarely talk and it was probably hard for it to pronounce the words. I was awfully glad that the fishie was looking at me, they almost never look at me. I asked it to swim a little closer, but it said that I should come closer because it can’t walk. I realized that, after all, it doesn’t have legs, I had evidently gotten tired that day and was thinking really slowly. I came closer to the fishie and saw that what I thought was a person wasn’t actually, but really just a second fishie, very white and smooth. I thought it would talk to me too, but it was just lying there and looking at the ceiling. I didn’t get offended because that’s just how fishies are. The little red-haired fishie was so warm-looking, its fur was so nice and soft that I asked if I could touch it, I had never touched a fishie before, but it told me that first I have to do something for it. It said that on the far side of the aquarium is a little table and that I should go there, get the notebook and come back. I went but it was really hard to walk even though there wasn’t that much water, but I had evidently gotten really tired, plus all my clothes were wet. I returned with the notebook. The fishie was talking really quietly, but meanwhile someone had begun to bang on the walls of the aquarium from outside and I heard shouts and thought: “Serves you right.” I knew that they wanted me to look at them, but the fishies never looked at me when I banged and shouted, so I decided that they could wait. The little red-haired fishie was talking really quietly now, it probably didn’t want anyone to hear us. It said that I should open the notepad where the pencil is and tear out that page. On the page was my name and in front of it “5:10,” and nothing else. I asked why, because Dina had always taught me not to do what others tell me if I don’t understand and they don’t want to explain. The fishie said: “That’s how it has to be.” I thought about it and decided this was like if Dina herself had said “that’s how it has to be,” and tore out the page with my name and the numbers. Then the fishie said that Dina said that I should eat this page. I asked the fishie where Dina was and she said that Dina had to go and urgently tend to important business, but she greatly desired for me to eat this page. I started to get angry because I’m also important business, I had come and waited, waited, waited, and now she left, and I asked the fishie if Dina had left with that bald jerk, but but the fishie said no, Dina was really looking forward to my visit but something really urgent had come up and Dina needs me to help her, and to do that, I have to eat the page with my name on it. I chewed it up and ate it. Outside they were yelling and banging with all their might, but I didn’t care about that. Fishies never care when there’s banging and shouting. The fishie talked slower and slower, I think it was really not easy for it to get used to this new aquarium. The fishie said that Dina asked that I put the notepad back on the table and then leave and run home and that I should try to make sure no one saw me. I had never climbed out a window before, I knew it was dangerous to climb out of windows, and Mom would be really mad and so would Dina, but the fishie told me, that was how it had to be. I asked: “Is that what Dina said?” And the fishie nodded. I asked if I could touch it and the fishie nodded. I touched its red fur, it was so soft and lovely that all of a sudden I felt unbearably sad, I don’t know why. The fishie whispered that it was time for me to go. I said that Dina and I always made our next appointment before I left. I said that it’s three minutes to six and that I have the right to ask one question. The fishie said that this time I have to just go. I said it wasn’t fair, I ate the page like Dina asked, and now the fishie has to answer my question, and that Dina always played fair with me. The fishie closed its eyes, but I understood that I could ask a question. I asked why the white smooth fish was lying on its back, but the red-haired fishie was silent. I said: “Did it die?” because one time I saw a fishie in the butcher’s aquarium lying on its back and the butcher explained to me that fishies only lie on their backs when they’re dead. The red-haired fishie said: “No.” I was surprised, but Dina never lied to me, so I believed it. I asked if I could take the red truck with me to play with. The fishie said quickly, “No, absolutely not, don’t take anything from here, Valera, nothing at all! Go!” I asked why the old aquarium had shattered. The fishie didn’t say anything, it was breathing very hard, but I asked: “Did my cat do that?” The fishie nodded. I said that I’m awfully sorry and I’m really trying to train him but he’s totally deranged. I felt awfully ashamed that the cat had shattered Dina’s aquarium, I kept apologizing and apologizing, but then one wall of the aquarium started to crack because someone outside was trying to break it, and the fishie gave me such a look that I put the notepad back on the table, climbed out the window and went home. I was so angry at my cat, I could have killed him if he had pulled any more tricks that day, but it was like the cat sensed how angry I was at him and was very well mannered. For some reason I couldn’t even yell at him about Dina’s aquarium. Every day I asked Mom if Dina had called, and finally Mom told me that Dina had gone away on important business. So now I could look at fishies only at the butcher’s. When the butcher and the man in the suit had finally left the back room and the man had gone, the butcher came up to me and started looking at the fishies too. I said that I like red-haired fishies and not white ones, but that all his fishies are pretty.
The butcher handed me my bag of meat, and I held out some money. I waited for him to say: “We’ll settle up next time,” and then I would have said: “We’re all in the same boat,” but he said that he has nothing to give me change with because today I was the only customer. I thought about it and said: “We’ll settle up next time.” That sounded very nice but the butcher said there wouldn’t be a next time, because tomorrow his shop would close. I got really upset and asked, “Why?” and the butcher said that it was because of some papers. I didn’t understand and asked again and the butcher didn’t say, “That’s how it has to be,” but instead explained that the shop had stopped making money and he had “created a couple of extra papers” so they wouldn’t close the shop, but the man in the suit had figured it out, and now the shop would be closed anyway, so today he wouldn’t take my money, and I should say hello to Mom. I told the butcher that if he wanted to he could give the papers he had created to me and I would eat them, I already ate papers one time and I was totally fine, I’m really burly and strong. The butcher told me again that I’m a good person. That felt really nice. I asked him what would happen to his fishies and he said he’d take them home. I told him that that’s very good because I won’t be able to take them home: my cat is deranged and God only knows how that would end.
To Masha and Ilya
When my mom died, I behaved myself really well. Aunt Nonna and her son Nolik, my cousin, came and told me that Mom wasn’t coming back from the hospital because she died. I behaved myself really well: I asked them to sit down and asked if they wanted tea, but they didn’t want any. I offered them coffee, juice, and cookies, there was still some of the borscht Mom had made, I didn’t know if I should offer it, but they didn’t want anything. I sat there and felt like I did that day when my friend Dina went away and also when I thought that my cat had died and gone to hell, and went down to hell to get him back. I asked Aunt Nonna if Mom really died and she said: yes, really. I asked a couple more times just to make sure because when I feel the way I did then, I’m prone to not understanding things, sometimes I understand something totally different from what I’m being told while thinking that I’m understanding that exact thing. I asked a couple of times to make sure I understood correctly that Mom died. Then I politely warned Aunt Nonna and Nolik that now I would go to my room and scream. Mom and Dina always taught me that if I feel like something is overwhelming me and I have to run around or hit something with my fists or scream, like now, it’s best to warn people before it starts so they don’t get scared and try to tie me up or call the police, or something else, because I’m really strong and at times like that I don’t even know what I’m doing and might kill the person trying to tie me up. So very politely I warned Aunt Nonna and Nolik that I’m about to start screaming and also I had time to ask them to warn the neighbors, the way Mom always had. I went to my room and started screaming. I screamed and screamed, my mouth even started to hurt, but I just couldn’t stop screaming. Evidently Aunt Nonna and Nolik had warned only the right- and left-hand neighbors because the downstairs neighbors started to bang on the radiator, but by then I had almost finished screaming and didn’t attack the radiator with my fists like on the day when Dina went away and didn’t even say goodbye to me. I had injured my hand badly on the radiator that day, but now I was almost done screaming. My mouth and throat really hurt, but it hurt less in my chest. I got the cat, who always hides when I’m screaming, out from under the bed and told him that Mom died. My cat is really stupid and totally deranged, so I explained to him several times that Mom died so that he could understand it properly. I think he understood, even though he’s really stupid, because I explained it to him very thoroughly. Then I got up from the floor and went to the kitchen. Aunt Nonna and Nolik were sitting at the table, Aunt Nonna looked really scared and was crying, I offered them borscht just in case, because it was time to eat lunch, but they didn’t want any, and I warmed the borscht up myself, got out some bread and stewed fruit and ate my lunch, and then I put some food in the cat’s bowl. I always took care of the cat myself, Mom let me get a cat so that I could take care of him myself.
Aunt Nonna and Nolik said that today I’d be spending the night at their house. I asked them why, and they said that they didn’t want to leave me alone. I said that I had been alone for two days while Mom was in the hospital and had behaved myself and fed the cat. I showed them that I had gone for fresh bread every morning, so my bread was from today, and I said that yesterday I went to arts and crafts even though usually Mom took me and I’m not allowed to go down to the subway without Mom, so I went to arts and crafts on foot and was late, but Anya, who teaches us arts and crafts, said it was OK, and then she walked me home. I told Aunt Nonna and Nolik that I could be left alone until I finish the borscht. Then I can eat bread and what I always buy for Mom and me on my own — herring, cheese, butter, salami, tomatoes, watermelon, candy, and jam, but not in glass. I’m not allowed to buy things in glass because I might break them and cut myself on the way home. Also I’m not allowed to turn the stove off without Mom but I can eat the cheese and bread raw and I don’t need to turn anything on for the cat.
But Aunt Nonna and Nolik said that tonight I’d be spending the night at their house. Dina taught me that only she, Mom, the doctor and the policeman have the right to tell me what to do without explaining anything, and that I have the right to ask all other people “Why?” as many times as I need to understand. I was going to start asking “Why?” but all of a sudden I realized that I was awfully tired and almost asleep and that I don’t care where I spend the night. We went downstairs and got into Nolik’s car. As it turned out, Nolik’s wife, Lena, had been waiting for us there the whole time. I greeted her and asked politely how she was, and she said she was good. When we got to Aunt Nonna’s house, I asked where I would sleep and was told it would be in the room where Nolik had lived back when he was little. Aunt Nonna made up a bed for me there while I sat in the kitchen with Nolik and his wife. They offered me tea and cake, and I said I wouldn’t say no, and ate two pieces of cake and drank tea and nearly fell completely asleep. Aunt Nonna took me to my room and asked if I needed help getting undressed and that Nolik, if need be, could come and help me, but I said no thanks, I could get undressed by myself, and got undressed to show her that I can manage on my own. Aunt Nonna said I was a good boy and turned off the light. I lay down in bed and started to wait for Mom to come kiss me, but then I remembered that Mom had died and all of a sudden I started to scream again even though I wasn’t intending to and hadn’t had time to warn anyone. Nolik ran over but I didn’t bother talking to him, I needed to scream so that it would stop hurting in my chest and I could fall asleep. Nolik is much smaller than me even though he’s a year older, I could have hit him and chased him away if I had felt like it but it hurt so much that I didn’t even feel like it, I just wanted to scream and not to hit anyone. This was new and scary: I always knew who was hurting me and even wanted to kill them, but now I didn’t want to kill anyone. Nolik left, I screamed some more, it stopped hurting in my chest and I fell asleep.
When I woke up and Aunt Nonna gave me breakfast, Nolik showed up again, this time without his wife, and they told me to go to my room because they need to talk. I said that I had to go home and feed the cat, and Nolik said he would drive me. I went to my room and saw what I hadn’t noticed the night before, out of tiredness: Aunt Nonna was remodeling her apartment. Way back when, Mom and I had remodeled our apartment too, and I was allowed to tear the old wallpaper off the walls. I went to the kitchen to ask if I could tear the old wallpaper off the walls. Aunt Nonna and Nolik were talking about me just then, I got worried and asked if I was behaving myself and Aunt Nonna said that I was behaving really well. I asked why they were talking about me, and Nolik said: “Valera, go to your room,” and Aunt Nonna asked if I wanted to live with her. Nolik said: “Mom!” and I saw that he was very annoyed. I was also annoyed and said I didn’t want to live with her, I wanted to live at home because that’s where all my books, and games, and medicines are, and I have to feed the cat. Aunt Nonna said she didn’t know if I could live by myself and I said that I wouldn’t be living alone, I would be living with the cat, and again Nolik said, “Mom!” And Aunt Nonna started to cry and said that she doesn’t know what to do. I remember about the wallpaper and asked if I could tear it off in Nolik’s old room and Nolik said: “No!” and Aunt Nonna said, “Yes,” and I thought that since Aunt Nonna was older than Nolik, I should listen to her, and went to tear off the wallpaper.
I was already a little agitated that my cat was unfed at home. I tore the wallpaper off one wall and went to the kitchen to ask Nolik if he would drive me home soon. They were still talking about me, Aunt Nonna was crying, and Nolik said that it would be soon and that I should go tear off the wallpaper. I went and tore it off a second wall and saw a big red button under the wallpaper. It said “Launch” on it. I wasn’t allowed to turn on any appliances without asking Mom, but Mom died, so I went to the kitchen again and asked if I could press the red button under the wallpaper. Aunt Nonna and Nolik got scared and ran to my room with me. I thought they would press it right away, but they started pacing around it and worrying. Nolik said that they should call the workers and figure out what the button was connected to. At that time the workers were putting new wallpaper in Aunt Nonna’s bedroom, they had already torn off the old wallpaper, and I was really sorry that they had done it without me. Nolik went to get the workers, and Aunt Nonna followed him, and I heard them talking about something through the wall. I thought that neither Nolik nor Aunt Nonna had told me “No” when I had asked if I could press the button. If other people couldn’t give me an answer, I was supposed to ask Mom, but Mom died and when I couldn’t ask anyone I knew how to make my own decision. First I had to ask myself what I was going to do. I asked myself and answered: “Press the red button.” Then I had to ask myself if this could harm me or others. I asked myself and answered: “No.” Then I had to ask myself if afterward I would be able to put everything back how it was before. I wasn’t going move anything around or break anything, so I answered: “Yes.” That’s how I made my own decision and pressed down on the button with my finger.
That made a memory appear in my head, which I didn’t even know was there: I remembered Mom holding me in her arms and lifting me up to the light switch so I could turn the light off by myself. In that memory I wasn’t gray-haired like now, but red-haired. My hair went gray when I was three, after what happened happened. On the plus side, after what happened happened, I started to grow really quickly and get strong, whereas before what happened happened, I had been ordinary. In the memory the button showed me, I saw myself pushing the button and the light turning off. Mom wants to put me down but I quickly press the button again and the light comes one, and I laugh. Then Mom tells me to stop fooling around because it’s hard for her to keep holding me, she’s going to put me down, but I quickly press the switch again and the light turns on again, and I laugh again. I could really feel how fun it was to trick Mom in that memory and I felt ashamed. Mom always said that I grew up to be a really good person, but all of a sudden I understood that when I was ordinary, I wasn’t a very good person. It’s really hard to be a good person, and sometimes I have to give myself green and red cards for good and bad deeds to make myself be good when I don’t want to be. I thought that now I’m going to have to start using red and green cards on myself and on the cat because it’s going to be way harder for me to be a good person now that Mom is dead and won’t scold me when I do something bad.
I was standing there and looking at the red button, trying to figure out if I should press it again or if I had already discovered everything. Then the workers came with Nolik and Aunt Nonna and started to examine the button. They were afraid to press it and said that they would call an electrician and check if the button is connected to the electricity. I was told to get away from the button and go to the kitchen and ask Lena for more tea. In the kitchen Lena and Nolik were fighting about me, Lena was saying that if I didn’t live with Aunt Nonna but lived by myself then every day Nolik would have to go check on me, and Nolik was saying that he couldn’t leave me with Aunt Nonna because I’m a crazy thug. Then Lena said that there was a third option, but Nolik said to her: “God forbid.” That’s when they noticed me. I told Lena that I really am a crazy thug but I try to be a good person and as long as I’m a good person I have to live at home so I can train the cat. Also I said that now I would try even harder to be a good person because now Mom isn’t around so the responsibility for the cat’s and my behavior falls on me, and I’ll start using the red and green cards again to force myself. I got super scared. I knew well what the third option was. Lena looked at Nolik, and Nolik told me to go back to my room.
I went to my room. I was really scared, which is rare because I’m really big and strong, but that’s the third option for you. Also I was getting more and more nervous about the cat because the cat is stupid and rowdy and you can’t leave him alone for long, especially if he’s unfed. There was no one in my room. I thought for a long time and decided to press on the button again after all, though I really didn’t want to. I pressed the button. At first I thought it wasn’t working, but I kept holding it down and remembered how I’m standing with Mom and Mom wants to call the elevator, and it starts to happen and I begin to scream and try to hit Mom. In that memory my head wasn’t red-haired but bandaged in white because that was right after the hospital, after what happened happened. Within that memory, there’s another memory inside my bandaged head, about the elevator, and I try to hit Mom so she doesn’t make me go into the elevator. My hand quickly shot back from the red button but it was like a little part of me had stayed in that memory, even in the memory inside the memory, because I was in a lot of pain and really wanted to scream. I closed my eyes and started to repeat, loudly, “Blue, blue, blue, blue!” and picturing blue because I recently figured out that blue calms me down when it it just about to happen. I didn’t even know that there was a time when I was capable of hitting Mom, however small I may have been then. I realized that being a good person was going to be ever harder for me that I thought because now that Mom died I will have to know things about myself that she used to know about me and I didn’t use have to know them, and now there’s no way out. I really didn’t like these things, I was awfully mad at the button and wanted to hit it, so I kept repeating, “Blue, blue, blue, blue!” really loudly. Aunt Nonna and Lena came running at the sound of my voice, and Nolik shouted from the kitchen, “Oh leave him alone, he’s fine!” And I really was fine already, I pictured blue a little more, though, then opened my eyes and told Aunt Nonna and Lena that I’m fine. Lena looked at Aunt Nonna the way she had looked at Nolik before, and Aunt Nonna asked me if I wanted food or tea. I politely said that I didn’t, but that I was really worried about the cat, the cat is definitely hungry. I asked when Nolik would drive me home. The electrician arrived and started to look at the button and touch it with a little metal pencil, and then said that the button is connected to the electricity, but he doesn’t know what it does. I didn’t want to be next to the button anymore and was actually awfully agitated about the cat. I said that I had a big responsibility now, and asked again when Nolik would drive me home. Aunt Nonna called Nolik in from the kitchen, where Lena was feeding him lunch along with the workers, but didn’t talk to him about me, and instead talked to him about the button. Aunt Nonna said that we should leave the button alone, out of harm’s way, and Nolik said that we should press it and everything would make sense and we’d figure out what the button does, and Aunt Nonna started to grab Nolik by the hand and say, “Son, I’m begging you, don’t touch it.” Then Lena came in from the kitchen and asked what was going on. The electrician explained, and Lena told him to just disconnect the button from the electricity. Then Aunt Nonna started shouting that there would be a fire, or that the whole house would end up without power, and Lena said something and went to the kitchen, and the electrician said that we needed to figure it out, he can sit and wait, it’s all the same to him, and Nolik said that he was on the point of killing someone, and I said that my cat is crazy and that I have to feed him and that I have to be a good person, even better than before, and that’s why I don’t have the right to leave him hungry, and that I’m really agitated about the cat. I asked politely when Nolik would drive me home. Then Nolik hurled the fork he had brought from the kitchen really loudly onto the table and told me to get ready, go to the hallway and put on my shoes, he’ll drive me to the cat now. I ran to the hallway and bumped into the electrician who was walking back from the kitchen and asked what they had decided about the button and I said I didn’t know but that I wouldn’t recommend he press on it unless he wants to become a really good person. The electrician told me that I’m probably related to all these people and I said that I can’t explain to him in detail about the button because my mom died and I’m really agitated about the cat. Then the electrician said that he was probably going to go, and left. I put on my shoes, then Nolik and Lena came, Nolik also put on his shoes, and Lena said that he has no pity for her and that there’s a third option, but it was like Nolik hadn’t heard her and he went out to the stairwell and I followed him. Nolik went to the elevator, I got scared and started to say quickly, “Blue, blue, blue, blue, blue!” and then Nolik remembered that I couldn’t ride the elevator and ran down the stairs. I ran after him, screaming, “Blue, blue, blue, blue, blue!” because I was really scared that Nolik would leave without me and then the cat would definitely go crazy in the time it took to walk home. Then all of a sudden Nolik also started screaming “Blue, blue, blue, blue, blue!” and on the last floor we caught up to the electrician, Nolik pushed past him because he was probably also really agitated about the cat and for some reason the electrician threw his metal pencil after us. I was really scared that Nolik would leave without me and ran almost all the way to the foyer but then remembered that now I have to try even harder than before to be a good person and ran back up the stairs, picked up the metal pencil and tried to return it to the electrician, but he screamed and ran away from me up the stairs. I decided that he had figured out what to do about the button and had just thrown the pencil away, since he didn’t need it anymore.
When I ran out of the foyer, Nolik had already started the car and we drove off really fast. I said to Nolik, “Thank you,” and he said, “Don’t mention it.” When I asked him if I had hit him when I was ordinary, Nolik said, “No.” Then I asked if I had ever hit him after what happened happened. Nolik was quiet for a bit and again said: “No.” I was happy that I had become a good person so quickly. I said “Thank you” to Nolik and told him I loved him and he said that we were there already and asked if I could get to the apartment on my own. I said that yes, I can get the bread, herring, cheese, bread, salami, meat, fish, tomatoes, watermelons, candy, and jam, not in glass, by myself. Nolik said I was a good boy. I said I would try. Nolik said, “OK, go on, Third Option,” but I understood that he was joking. I don’t always understand jokes but I know Nolik and understand his jokes or, at any rate, that’s how it seems to me. I really wanted to hug Nolik but it was really cramped in the car, and besides, I’m really strong, so I’m only allowed to hug Mom and the cat and now that Mom is dead I’m only allowed to hug the cat.
The cat came to meet me in the entryway, he was yowling so hard from hunger that the right-hand neighbors were banging on the radiator, they had probably been banging for an hour. I picked up and hugged the cat and that made me want to scream again, horribly. I knew that I would have to give myself five or six red cards for that, because it will be even worse for the neighbors, but I couldn’t do anything about it: I kept screaming, and screaming, and screaming, but it kept hurting hurting inside my chest, hurting, and hurting. I even forgot about the cat. I only remembered about him when I had gotten completely tired of screaming. For some reason neighbors had stopped whaling on the radiator, and even the cat had quieted all the way down. I even got scared that I had accidentally strangled the cat as I was screaming, but the cat was OK, just really smushed. I let him down on the floor, he stood there a little, staggered a bit and ran to his bowl. I gave him some water and poured out so much food that it spilled over the rim of the bowl, but I decided that was fine. I got out some bread, herring, cheese, butter, and jam out of the fridge for myself, made tea and ate dinner, and then put everything back into the fridge except the herring jar, which had become empty, so I threw it out. The cat kept eating and eating and drinking water, and then eating again. I realized that now I would have to wash the dishes by myself and washed them. I was so tired that I just washed them with my hand, I decided that I would learn how to wash dishes with soap and sponge tomorrow. Also I wrote down on the notepad on the fridge that we needed more herring. I could remember anyway about the bread, that had always been my responsibility. I thought that I should give myself a green card for washing the dishes and a red one for doing it without soap, so I might as well not give myself any cards.
I lay down on the bed and told myself not to wait for anything but to go to sleep right away. I wanted to scream but not as badly as the night before and I restrained myself so as not to wake the neighbors. Then it seemed to me that I was, in fact, screaming, but it turned out that it wasn’t me but the cat. I had fallen asleep and the cat woke me. I went to where he was screaming and saw that the cat was lying on Mom’s bed and screaming — not yowling but screaming, just like me. I had never heard him scream in that way — just like me. I started to console him but he kept screaming and screaming. I tried to take him to my room and put him to bed next to me, even though usually I don’t let him sleep in my bed because that’s ill mannered, but the cat dug his claws so deeply into Mom’s mattress that I couldn’t tear him away, even though I’m really strong. I started saying to the cat: “Blue, blue, blue!” but he kept screaming, I started saying “Blue, blue, blue!” even louder, but he kept screaming and screaming, just like me, and then I finally tore him off the mattress, put on my shoes and started walking, with the cat, to Aunt Nonna’s. I was very tired and walked really slowly, but I made it even so and went up the stairs. Lena opened the door for me, she was in her bathrobe and sleepy, and, I think, frightened, but I told her politely that I didn’t want coffee or tea or food, that I had come by just for a second. I carried the cat to the room where Nolik had slept when he was little, but there was no red button on the wall. I stood there and looked at the empty wall and couldn’t understand anything, but then I realized that the workers had had time to tape it over with wallpaper. I got horribly scared and started to ask if they had disconnected the button or not, but Aunt Nonna couldn’t understand anything, and Lena was yelling at Nolik. Then I quickly tore off the wallpaper where the button had been. It turned out to be in its place, it was obvious no one had touched it, they had just taped over it, and now it was like it wasn’t there, just like it hadn’t been there before I tore off the wallpaper the first time. I brought the cat up to the button as Aunt Nonna lamented and pressed on it with his paw. The cat tried to get away but I held his paw and the cat himself very firmly. I told the cat that now he’s seeing a memory of how he used to be before I took charge of his training and started to make him a good cat. I told him that he’s a crazy and deranged insane thug, but that now he’s trying really hard and is already a lot better than before. And I said that now that Mom died, I answer for him and for me and that he has to start trying way harder because I will have to wash the dishes with soap and I won’t have the energy to train him so much. I told the cat that now I will have to give him red and green cards for his behavior, but that his cards would count as my cards, and that if his behavior was going to earn red cards, then I would have to answer for them. Also I said that there was always the Third Option and that the cat shouldn’t forget it. My cat is really stupid, but I think he understood me. Then I let him release the button and asked everyone politely if Nolik would drive us home. I’m really tired and will take a really long time to walk back, and that would be OK except the cat has gotten really quiet and now I’m starting to worry for him.
If the rain goes on for a long time, then I can’t take it anymore and start to howl. I howl really quietly so I don’t scare Mom. I’m really scared of the rain itself and also because I can never count how many days it’s been raining for. I’m really good at counting, but it’s different with the rain. Even if it only rained today, right away I start to think that there was a little rain yesterday too. I try to think that it stopped yesterday and started again today, so that yesterday doesn’t count. But then I start to think that maybe it didn’t stop yesterday, but just got so fine that I couldn’t tell it was there. And that makes me start to think that the day before yesterday that same invisible rain was falling, even if before that I thought that the day before yesterday was sunny. And right away it follows that it’s been raining for three straight days. That’s when my ears go numb from fright, because I know that if the Lord decides to cause a Flood again, then it will rain for three days without stopping. In general I’m a really good person, I’m really responsible and polite and I watch the cat’s discipline and my own. But sometimes I do really bad things, I just can’t help myself. On Wednesday I did a really bad thing, such a bad thing that it was pointless even to give myself red cards for it, there wouldn’t have been enough of them even if I had cut more red cards out of the scraps of the red coat. I was lying there and counting how many red cards I would have to give myself for bad behavior after the mess I had made of things on Wednesday and I was not even sure that all the coat scraps would be enough to make that number of cards. So that night the Lord had good reason to cause a Flood, and I was really scared.
Before, when the rain would start and I knew that I had done something bad, I would begin by howling quietly from fear, and then I wouldn’t be able to take it and would go to Mom to cry. Mom would turn on the TV, because if something awful happens — an earthquake, or Flood, or a war — they would say so on the TV right away. We would go through all the channels and I would calm down a little, since they would just be showing all the regular programs. Then Mom would take me to the window and we would pick out a spot on the ground not covered by water. When I saw a spot like that I would realize that the earth hadn’t been flooded yet. I would realize that the Lord is probably still thinking about it, and start apologizing as hard as I could for what I had done. I would tell the Lord about how I was going to punish myself (for example, one time as punishment I slept under the bed for a whole week, even though it’s really unpleasant and cramped there, because I’m really big, much bigger than most people, even the butcher. Afterward my shoulder blades and knees hurt awfully, but on the plus side, I had saved everyone from the flood, and in general until now the Lord and I had always been able to come to an agreement). After that I would calm down a little and remember that in fact yesterday and the day before it hadn’t rained. It followed that even if the Lord had actually decided to cause a Flood, then today was the first day and we’d all drown only the day after tomorrow. I’m not really good with the “day after tomorrow” and other faraway days: I know that they exist but it has never happened that I woke up and understood that “the day after tomorrow” had arrived. So I would stop feeling scared and go sleep under the bed or subject myself to a different punishment. Mom would turn off the TV and urge me not to punish myself too hard, and then would go to bed herself.
But now Mom was dead so I had to turn on the TV myself. I carefully looked through all the channels. Each one was showing its regular programs. But on Wednesday I had made such a mess of things that the Lord could have gotten truly angry this time and not warned anyone through the TV. When I remembered about Wednesday, right away I started to think that it had already been raining yesterday, and the day before, so it didn’t make sense to count on any kind of “day after tomorrow.” I started howling quietly and ran to the window to see if there was a spot on the ground not covered by water. I looked and didn’t see any ground like that. Everything was covered in water. Right away my ears went so numb that I even grabbed them to make sure they were still there. I opened the window and leaned out to see better, but I couldn’t see anything because my eyes got wet right away.
Then I went and woke up the cat. That is, I went to try to wake up the cat but he wouldn’t wake up, he never wakes up unless it’s strictly necessary because he’s a rascal with all the bad qualities. His training has honestly been really tough on me, and sometimes he just about drives me to the edge. I committed my horrible deed from Wednesday precisely because of the cat, who had just about driven me to the edge that morning with his bad qualities, but I know that it’s my responsibility anyway and I shouldn’t blame the cat, because the cat is also my responsibility. Laziness and indifference are two of my cat’s really bad qualities, and when he sleeps then, first of all, he is too lazy to wake up, and secondly, he is indifferent to the person waking him up, that is, to me. I was too agitated to wake up the cat properly, that is to force him to wake up and then explain to him that when he expresses indifference to me, he is behaving badly. I know that it’s pointless to scream at whoever you’re training, you have to explain to him what he did wrong. I’m really impatient, that’s my really bad quality. Plus this time I was hideously scared. That’s why I just took the sleeping cat to the window and lay him on the windowsill, so that water would pour on him from the open window and he would wake up faster. The cat woke up and right away became deranged. He’s deranged in general, but here I had to hold him down with both hands while he kept trying to sink his claws into my stomach, even though I had asked him politely and ahead of time not to be upset with me. I had nothing to tie to the cat so I tied one pantleg of my spare pajama pants around his middle and held the other one firmly in my fist. I decided I would lower the cat out of the window and if the whole earth was covered in water, he’d swim, and if it’s not, he’d run.
I was afraid the cat would be carried off by the current, so I held the second pant leg really tight. I figured the pants with the cat tied to them would reach all the way down to the ground from our first floor. I knew the mess I had made of things on Wednesday, so I was sure that the cat would start swimming right away. But the cat didn’t start to swim, but instead fell on something soft and started to yowl. Down there someone was also bellowing furiously in a man’s voice. All of a sudden I realized that the last two thunders weren’t thunders at all but moans in a man’s voice. I pulled the cat back but he had caught on something. I started to scream at him and jerk hard on the pant leg, but the cat yowled and someone kept moaning in a man’s voice. I decided that someone down there was holding my cat and not letting go. I didn’t know why that was necessary, but I wasn’t scared anymore because the cat didn’t float. So I tied the pant leg to the radiator and ran outside.
I ran down and saw a policeman lying under the window. He wasn’t holding the cat, the cat was holding on to him on his own. This policeman had drawn his legs up to his stomach, closed his eyes and was rocking back and forth slightly as he lay there. He was shivering hard and was covered in water, even his ear was full of water. I yelled at the cat for knocking down the policeman and not letting him up. I really respect policemen. Mom and my friend Dina used to say that besides the two of them, only the doctor and the policeman have the right to tell me what to do and I have to obey them right away. Everyone else, I’m allowed to ask “What for?” or “Why?” and I’m not obligated to do what they say if it doesn’t seem right to me. When Dina went away and didn’t even say goodbye to me, and Mom died, I started respecting doctors and policemen even more, because now only they could tell me what to do. So I politely told the policeman that I really respect him and that he shouldn’t arrest the cat because it’s my own fault that he is poorly trained. I told the policeman that he has the right to arrest me so that I could be punished for the cat’s poor training. But the policeman just shivered and moaned. He was not a very large policeman at all. I tried to stand him up but he moaned even louder and clutched his stomach even harder and folded his knees. Then I picked him up and carried him home with the cat.
I didn’t know where to put the wet policeman, besides which, he was really dirty because that day the good Tajik was the one to clean up by our house. Sometimes it’s the good Tajik who cleans there, and sometimes it’s the bad one. The good Tajik is always talking tenderly on the phone to someone and at the same time drawing figures in the dirt with the broom, as though he were dancing. After he’s gone the dirt is arranged in lovely circles and rainbows. Whereas the bad Tajik sweeps the dirt into a dustpan and leaves. So the policeman was really dirty. Also he was moaning and felt very hot to the touch. He said his stomach hurt awfully and he vomited yellow and red on me. I lay him down in the living room on the rug in front of the TV. Then I undressed him and dumped his stuff into the tub, including his policeman’s hat, nightstick, and gun. The gun and nightstick were also dirty and I thought that Lena, my cousin Nolik’s wife, who comes to my house to clean, would probably get really mad that she has to wash the dirty tub, plus the nightstick and gun. I gave the policeman my blanket, but he kept shivering. I told him that I would call Nolik. When I get sick or the cat does, I’m supposed to call Nolik. In general, if something bad happens, I’m supposed to call Nolik, and the wet sick policeman was definitely something bad. But then the policeman started grabbing me by the legs and saying that I shouldn’t call Nolik. He said that I couldn’t tell anyone that he’s here. I’m supposed to listen to policemen and not ask “Why,” so I didn’t call Nolik. The policeman was probably in a really bad way because he kept holding his stomach and howling quietly. Suddenly I felt tired of this and sat down on the rug next to him. I started to flip through the channels again to see if there was any information about the Flood, and all of a sudden I saw my policeman. He was black-and-white and a little blurry, and plus it was like I was looking at him and the other people in the store from on top of a cabinet or right under the ceiling, but I recognized my policeman right away anyway. I told the policeman that he was on TV. One time my mom was on TV, she was answering a question in the street: “What salt do you normally buy?” I don’t remember what Mom answered, but she probably answered correctly because that night she was on TV, and it made her feel really good, and then Mom and I ate jam before bed, and the cat ate cheese before bed, even though it’s bad for you to eat before bed. I thought the policeman would also be glad, but he suddenly started to cry. Probably his stomach was hurting really badly. The TV said that my policeman was really drunk and started shooting the store customers. I saw the black-and-white cashier fall somewhere off to the side, and all the people screamed and ducked, and one girl didn’t duck, just stood there looking at my policeman, and he shot at her too, she sat down somehow and you couldn’t see her anymore behind a shelf. Then my policeman suddenly bent in half, grabbed his stomach and ran to the door. No one chased him and the TV said that no one could catch him and that he disappeared in an unknown direction. Of course, I knew well what that direction was.
I didn’t know what to do. Then I started thinking logically, like Dina taught me to. I said to myself that if I see someone doing something bad or dangerous, I should call a policeman and then do whatever he says. So if I saw a policeman doing something bad and dangerous, I should have called a policeman and then done whatever he said. But if that policeman is lying right here in front of me by the TV, holding his stomach and howling quietly in his sleep, then I don’t need to call him, I should just do what he says. And my policeman told me not to say anything about him to anyone — so I shouldn’t say anything to anyone. That meant only one thing: I would have to deal with the policeman myself. That thought almost made me cry, as though it wasn’t enough with the Flood and the deranged cat.
I went to the kitchen and, before the water had risen too high, packed herring, cheese, butter, salami, tomatoes, watermelon, candy, and jam into a bag. Also I packed my red and green cards. Also I packed bread and two cans of wet food for the cat. It wasn’t really necessary to bring the cat food because the cat would catch fish to subsist on, but I thought that it might take him some time to learn how to catch it. My cat isn’t very smart. I brought the bag back to the living room and carefully sat down on the carpet to avoid getting water on it. The rug was rocking but not tipping over. It was time to deal with my policeman. I woke him up and gave him some bread and jam. It seemed like his stomach hurt less now, but his head hurt a lot, he kept holding on to it. He asked me if I had any beer, but I told him sternly that he would never drink beer again. I listed all the things I’m not allowed to drink because they make me go crazy and possibly kill someone, I’m really strong and I don’t even need a gun. I told my policeman that he would never drink beer again, or vodka, or liqueur, or what they sell in cans instead of Pepsi, or vodka (even though I had already said about the vodka), or wine, or cognac. I told the policeman to wrap himself up in the blanket and sit quietly and I conducted a Conversation with him. I often conduct Conversations with myself or the cat if I can tell that one of us has started on a bad path. Wednesday night I conducted an awful Conversation with myself after which I cried a lot, but it’s no use crying over spilt milk. At that time I apologized to the Lord with all my strength and laid out all my red cards on the bed, but after the mess I had made of things there couldn’t have been enough of them even if I had used up all the scraps from my childhood coat. I tried to think of a punishment for myself but I couldn’t think of a punishment awful enough to fit, I slept under the bed for two nights and didn’t eat any jam even though I really like jam, but I ended up earning myself a Flood anyway. I told this to my policeman and said that because of me we would probably all drown. But until we all drowned, I told my policeman, I would have to take responsibility for him, too. I told my policeman that he was, by all appearances, my punishment for the mess I had made on Wednesday. I said that this was my second time bringing someone deranged home — first the cat, and now him, and if you bring home someone deranged, then their behavior becomes your responsibility and you have to train them and take red cards for their behavior if it’s bad. I told my policeman that he had behaved himself really, really, really badly. My policeman started to cry but I told him it was no use crying over spilt milk. I said that I had already made one mistake and trained my cat really poorly and when the cat died I had to go down to hell for him and tell them to let him go because his bad behavior was my fault and that now I’d train him much better so that the next time he died he could go to heaven. I told my policeman that now if he died I would have to go down to hell for him, too, and I just don’t have it in me to climb into that hole, especially since I had burned my arm horribly down there. Then I asked the policeman if he could swim and he said no. He was definitely my punishment.
Then I woke up the cat and conducted a Conversation with him, too. I told him that now I answered not only for him, but also for the policeman, and that it was time for him to get ahold of himself because I’ve been training him for devil knows how long. I told the cat that now I would have to take red cards for him and for the policeman too and if the cat would keep behaving himself in a deranged way I would just not be able to deal with that many red cards. I rolled up the sleeves of my pajamas and showed the cat the bite marks on my shoulders, where that woman was biting me on Wednesday. I told the cat that this was the worst thing of all — I couldn’t even feel her biting and beating me, that’s how deranged I was. I spent all of Thursday running around the city, trying to find her to apologize, but I couldn’t find her. I think I must have looked deranged, that’s how bad and ashamed I felt, so even if she saw me she probably hid — it’s not like she knew I wanted to apologize. I felt so bad that later I couldn’t even remember right away if it had rained Thursday or not — that’s how deranged I was. I told the cat that I wouldn’t be able to handle three deranged people. I think the cat understood me. This was not the first Conversation that I had conducted with him, but he’s so dumb and barely listens to me, but he looked at my shoulders for a really long time and I think he actually understood me.
Then I addressed the Lord and conducted a Conversation with Him, too. I said that, of course, I had made an awful mess of things, but that He was being unfair because He doesn’t want to take responsibility, the way I always take responsibility for the cat. I told the Lord that He didn’t come out looking so great in all this either, and that, at the end of the day, it’s on him He to make us kind and good, and that I always try really hard and in general until Wednesday thought that I was a really good person, but it turned out that I’m not at all a good person, and that He, the Lord, was partly at fault for this. While I was saying all this, I couldn’t see the Lord, but I think He heard me. Probably it was stupid to anger Him during the Flood, especially since our rug had already floated out the window, the same one I had thrown the cat from yesterday, and now it was unclear where it was floating to, but I decided to get all the Conversations out of the way in one go. So I told the Lord that if He has even a shred of conscience, then He answers for deranged me like I answer for the deranged cat and now also for the deranged policeman. I told the Lord that if we all drowned in His flood, then by all rights He would have to come get us in hell, to ask them to let us out and then definitely train us properly so that nothing like this would repeat itself.
I thought that in return for such a conversation the Lord would capsize our rug, but nothing like that happened. I realized that the Lord had a conscience after all and calmed down all of a sudden. The policeman and the cat were sitting quietly on the rug and looking around, and underneath us the rug was rocking very pleasantly on the waves. There were almost no people around, only the good Tajik floating very close by us in his wheelbarrow. He was sitting in the wheelbarrow, singing something and drawing circles on the water with his finger, which were turning out really lovely. I asked the good Tajik if he needed his broom and he said no and gave it to us. I started to row with the broom a little so the rug would run into trees less, their branches turned out to be right above us and it was very beautiful. All of a sudden my cat ran to the ege of the rug and began to bat at something with his paw. I was glad that he had started to catch fish to subsist on so quickly, and thought that my instructive Conversation hadn’t been in vain, but it wasn’t a fish, it was that same woman. She was swimming underwater, I shouted and waved my arms at her, I even jumped up and nearly capsized the rug, and my heart leapt up into my throat, but she swam away really quickly. I started to row with the broom with all my strength, and that’s when that woman surfaced and whacked me horribly hard on the head with her tail. My head was, like, buzzing, the blow made me tumble into the water and I started to go under. My policeman pulled me back onto the rug and shouted something at that woman, although the words he used to chew her out earned me two red cards. I picked out as many scales from my hair as I could. My head was buzzing, but it seemed to have gotten a little better. I ate a piece of bread without jam, and then thought about it and ate another one with jam.