The Right One
Translated from the Russian by Peter Golub
Looking at her back, he said he’d caught a leprechaun and had tied him in the garden behind the house. She turned around so fast that she almost fell over. She was kneeling, searching under the shoe-stand. She said that she couldn’t find her lavender shoe, and he asked, “the right or the left one?” and in response to her irritated glance he clarified that they prefer the left one.
“Who?” she asked.
“Leprechauns. They are shoemakers and carry around the left one and stitch it.”
She began to nervously traverse the room, looking under the furniture; he followed her and watched how her vertebrae showed through when she bent over and how they disappeared when she stood up.
“I’m afraid he’ll free himself and escape.” Here she turned and walked toward him, causing the boy to retreat a couple of steps. Trying to refrain from yelling she said:
“If. This. Is. Again. One. Of. Your. Stupid. Games. Please. This. Instant. Return. My. Shoe!” Her phone rang.
She began describing where to turn off after the freeway and how to best pull in, and then sticking the phone into her pocket said that Pavel was going to arrive any minute and that perhaps he could, out of pity for her, behave. He said that he was trying, and that it would only take two minutes to go into the garden.
“Why?” she said defeated. And he patiently answered:
“I caught a leprechaun. If you catch a leprechaun you can ask for his pot of gold or for three wishes. I turned down the gold. He’s tied in the garden. So please come with me; I don’t think we have a lot of time. He’s probably yelling with all his might, and someone is going to run over and take our wishes.”
She snapped back that she didn’t have three wishes. She only had one wish, to find that damn shoe. He notified her of the fact that he’d actually already used one wish, so there were only two, and that no it hadn’t come true yet.
“But,” he said, “we could try to take his shoe, only…” Here she interrupted him and screamed:
“Quiet! Quiet! Please be quiet!”
She pulled the zipper on her suitcase, took out a white pair of shoes, pulled them on, stumbled over the high heel, cursed, and ran out onto the porch. He followed her, and she waved to the car, suddenly she spun around and poked him in the chest with the frayed fingernail of her forefinger:
“Go to your leprechaun, take his damn gold, and leave, go somewhere. You understand? It’ll be good for you.” And he answered:
“It’s only two minutes, it’s only around the corner in the garden, the leprechaun is only…” With a groan she ran downstairs, leaving Pavel to deal with the suitcase. And he thought:
“As soon as they leave, I’ll go into the bathroom, and read and smoke on the toilet. Solitude in the bathroom is entirely complete, much more so than anywhere else.”
The car door slammed shut—he quickly walked to the bathroom. He forced himself to concentrate and realized that the shoe was standing on top of the water tank, bright lilac with a slightly worn tip. He looked at it for a minute or two and then opened the window, aimed the best he could and with a clumsy gesture tossed the shoe into the garden.
Drop by Drop
She threw the towel he handed her over her shoulders, dried one arm then the other, quickly between her thighs, stepped out of the shower onto the mushy rug and began to energetically dry her hair.
“I thought everyone used them,” he said.
She tossed back her wet hair, almost hitting him in the face, hung the towel on the hook, and took the blue box of tampons from his hands; standing on tip toe, she carefully put it on the highest shelf of the cabinet and covered it with the bag containing bath salts.
“No,” she said, “not everyone uses them. They are used by your wife. Please go back and buy the same, but only with three drops in the circle instead of two.”
The last rooster was shot by Yoni. The incredibly stupid bird didn’t even think to hide, just sat on the fence and screamed bloody murder, like come on come on fucker shoot! Then it clucked and wheezed on the other side of the fence. They couldn’t really see. Guy came up to it, looked, listened to the wheezing of the dying rooster, and said that it was the last. They all listened—it was true. The tiny village bordering the two countries, from which all the inhabitants had been evacuated, beat with the sound of abandoned laundry in the wind, buzzed with a forgotten air conditioner, the chickens hysterically clucked in nearly every shed, but the roosters were silent. Then Yoni and Guy returned to their company, to the small central plaza, where all but those who went to deal with the roosters were loafing under the palm trees, washing down their dry rations with the cool water from the drinking fountains—wonderful, fresh water that could be drunk endlessly after living for three weeks on the warm piss they had in their canteens, dressed in full combat gear in the heat. For a long time Yoni and Guy also drank the water, and then lay down in the grass and stared up at the sky.
“So your dream come true, eh?” asked Yoni, “Has it?”
“Who fucking knows,” said one of the boys, “They could send us back tomorrow.”
“Shit,” said Yoni, “Wasn’t it you who first started screaming about the roosters after every hit: ‘again the fucking roosters! When we cross over I’m going to shoot every single last one!’ And now you could give two shits.”
“The silence is strange,” said Guy.
“We could make them into a soup,” said Yoni. But of course nobody got up.
He sat at the edge of the couch and worked with the doll face to face. One of the doll’s faces was chubby and had a big smile; between its shiny pink lips protruded two shiny teeth, also pink. The second face was boney and very unpleasant—it seemed to be on the verge of tears, the nose scrunched, the lip raised—a stinky little bitch. Here the doll’s teeth were white, but spread apart. Several times he turned the doll’s head—back and forth, back and forth, and quickly established that it was much more interesting to look at this doll not from the front but from the back: the mean, capricious face above the snap holding up the dress, and just below the elbows pointing out, one of which still had the price tag. He wanted to tear it off, but mom wouldn’t let him. She said it had to be cut off with scissors. And he was not allowed to use scissors by himself; last time it ended badly, even though scissors caused him great pleasure; they produced a kind of rustle in his stomach. Now he had to wait for mom and dad to come out of the kitchen, so that she would cut the tag, and once the tag was removed he could give the doll a bath.
He waited and waited, and then went up to the kitchen door. They were whispering very loudly while he stood and listened. “Don’t yell!” said a woman’s whisper. “Don’t yell! Don’t you dare yell at me!” The man’s whisper sounded agitated as well: “I’m yelling because you’re ruining him! Ru-in-ing! Why did you bring that thing here?!” “Because he’s interested in them. Because dolls bring out a sense of curiosity in him.” “Lena,” said the man’s whisper very calmly, “Lena, you’re ruining him. He is retarded, and must…” “Don’t you dare talk that way about my child!” the woman screamed at the top of her voice. (They did this often and he grew bored; he sat down next to the kitchen door and turned the doll’s head sideways, so that he could see both faces.) “I can call him that because it is the truth! He’s eleven years old! He needs to be working with a specialist; he needs a special school! You aren’t giving him any chances; you’re bringing him dolls!”
Finally he was sick of waiting, and went to the bathroom and searched under the laundry basket for the scissors. First, he carefully cut off the price tag, and then dragged the thin pale blade across one arm then the other. It turned out very pretty.