Sixth and the girl
Dedicated to my godchild Sashka
I was sitting on a bench next to the Collonade in Karlovy Vary drinking water from a special cup with a long spout. While doing so I was exchanging glances with two female Russian tourists who made themselves comfortable on the bench nearby. They were also drinking water and chuckling. In the very moment when I wanted to stand up and offer them to pop some Becherovka a phone started to ring. It was mine.
Sipping salty water I took out the phone and looked at the display. I chocked and spilled warm mineral water on myself. The display said „Referent M“. Although I never knew her phone number. She never called me. Actually I thought that she never used phones. Referents never call angels. At least I never heard of it.
I put my cup aside, strictly casted a glance on the girls having fun and picked up the phone.
- Sixth standing by.
- Hello Sixth, - I heard from the phone.
Referent M’s voice resembled the voice of Tatiana Doronina, a Soviet actress. Her voice was just as languishing and deep. It gave me the creeps.
- Is everything alright? – I asked. – Anything urgent?
- No, nothing urgent, - Referent M replied, - but the mission is pretty delicate. Earlier, you used to pull adults out of their misery. Now, an eight-year-old girl needs your help. She’s really bad. Because her parents want to divorce. Not an easy task this time. I don’t even know why I’m sending you to help out a child. You’re a cynic and a rowdy. And we’re talking about a child. For this reason I have a personal request - be delicate with her. I've forwarded you the file on this mission to your mailbox, please check and verify.
I heard a hiss from the phone.
- You haven't brushed your hair today, have you? - I blurted out.
Referent M started to laugh and hung up the phone.
- Was it your wife? – one of the merry girls asked.
- If only, - I sighed. - Business. Urgent matters. So long, ladies. Don’t drink too much from the 13th spring. It makes bellies swell.
And I went to the airport. In the evening I was already where I belonged.
It was a quiet and cozy yard with a children’s playground. Two moms with strollers. And a girl sitting on a swing, silently swinging back and forth and looking into the sky.
I greeted the moms politely and sat down on the swing next to the girl.
- Hello Irina, - I said to her.
- Greetings, - the girl replied, - who are you?
- I’m an angel, - I replied, - The Sixth.
- You look like an author, like a taleteller for children, - the girl answered after looking at me.
- A taleteller? Why? – I was taken aback.
- I don’t know. You just look like one, - Irina replied.
- Well, you’re the first to tell me that I look like an author, - I told her, - although you’re right, I write a lot. Though it’s mostly reports.
- Oh... will you write me a fairy tale? – the girl shuddered.
- Depends on the type of it, - I answered, - in terms of creativity it’ll be a long way for me from reports to a fairy tale.
- A fairy tale about a mermaid, - Irina started, - and about the seven dwarves. Mom and dad are expecting a mermaid baby. And when she gave birth to a mermaid, she got very bad.
- I think the dwarves are neither here nor there in such a story, - I carefully stated.
- Alright, - Irina agreed, - no dwarves, let there be little mermaids.
- Maybe then not about a mermaid but about a princess? – I grew bolder.
- About a princess would do, - Irina turned out to be as easy going as me. – So, little mermaids and a princess. And when the princess was two years old, her dad found a different one. And left.
- Stop, - I said, - do you know that all fairy tales have to be merry and kind? And have a happy ending?
- Well, this one has to have a happy ending indeed, - the girl said after looking me straight in the eyes, - you can write a happy ending, can’t you?..
- Who are you? – the words sounded above my ear. – Why are you harassing my child?
I turned around. Irina’s father stood next to the swings. The moms with their strollers cautiously looked at us. One of them held tightly a phone in her hand.
- Evgeny Nechaev? – I smiled to the man. – Don’t worry. I’m from the youth welfare service.
After which I handed him my service certificate after taking it out of my bag. Evgeny took and carefully examined it.
- What kind of name is that, „Sixth“? – he asked.
- Well, you are an educated person, - I said shaking my head, - it was the sixth day when according to the Bible man was created. In the image and likeness. In honor of this memorable event I was assigned this very name.
- Wasn’t it the seventh day when man was created? – Evgeny asked.
- On the seventh day all common Gods have a day off, - I said didactically, - Gods and common people alike. It appears that you are just coming back from work. Although it’s already afterdark and it’s Sunday.
- My dad works a lot, - Irina sided with her father.
- I know, - I answered, - landscape gardening. And where is your mother?
- Mommy is with her friends in the coffee bar nearby, - Irina reported, - Aunt Sveta is looking after me.
And Irina nodded towards the mom with the phone. The latter smiled humbly.
- I’d like to talk to you, - I said, - with everyone separately and together.
- Will you write a fairy tale for me? – Irina asked, - you've already talked to me, Sixth.
- I’ll try to, - I answered, - I’m not a specialist when it comes to children’s fairy tales. I’m more into soul saving. But I’ll do my best.
I nodded towards Irina’s father and we went aside. Farther away from the ears of the two moms. I told Evgeny about the fairy tale I just heard.
- Are you going to file for divorce? – I asked point-blank.
- What? No, the word „divorce“ is under the ban in our family, - Evgeny replied, - it appears that either Lyuba talked to her friends in the child’s presence or my daughter has understood something.
- Do you have a bimbo? – I asked looking Evgeny straight in the eyes. – Did you cheat on your wife?
- No, - Evgeny got embarassed, - why would you ask me questions like these?
- Look me in the eyes, - I asked, - In the eyes. Why are you so embarassed?
- Well, at the last office party I was making out with a chick from the accounting department, - Evgeny said and finally blushed, - why am I even telling you that?
- Because you have to, - I said and kept looking at Evgeny as fixedly as before, - you have to tell everything and we'll find a way out of every situation. And office parties are pure poison. Who the hell invented them anyway?
- I don’t know, - Evgeny shrugged, - but I agree, they’re poison.
- By the way, - I interrupted him, - never ever confess that you cheated, to no one. Even when you’ve got your back against the wall. Nothing ever happened. Full stop.
- But nothing actually happened, - Evgeny said.
- Of course not, - I nodded, - but you were making out. Your wife will read into the rest of it. So don’t say a word about all of it. About the making out and about the innocent philandering.Any questions?
- No, - Evgeny replied. – Are you really from the youth welfare service? It all seems strange somehow.
- What seems strange? – I was surprised, - your child already makes up fairy tales about divorce. You’re barely home and the mother is hanging out with her friends somewhere. Is that her coming?
A chubby blonde approached Irina and asked her something. Then she looked our way and approached us.
- Hello, I’m Lyuba, - she introduced herself.
- Sixth, - I mumbled, - where have you been hanging around, mommy?
- With my friends in the karaoke bar, - Lyuba reported, - I have someone to look after my child, so it’s all right.
- What is all right? – I was boiling. – Is Irina a dog to you? Which you can just stick into a box and tell to sit quetly? Oh, and your karaoke bars are pure poison.
- You said that office parties are poison, - Evgeny gave voice.
- Both of them are, - I replied, - you have a child to raise. With your personal example in the first place, with your whole family. One is at work and the other hangs out in karaoke bars – lovely examples. Especially with a stranger looking after your kid.
- She’s no stranger, - Lyuba was visibly offended.
- Whatever, - I raised my hands with my palms up, - let’s all calm down. Evgeny, you and Irina go home. I’d like to have a chat with Lyuba for like ten minutes or so, and then I’ll come, too.
Lyuba obediently sat down on the bench. Evgeny and Irina went home. The dames with their strollers whispered something to one another and then vanished somewhere after anxiously looking around.
- Tell me, - I asked the woman, - what’s going on in your family?
- Why would I tell you anything in the first place? – she was surprised. – Who the hell are you to stick your nose in our family relationship?
- I’m an angel, - I replied without further ado, - and normally people tell me everything. This is my gift. It works like a truth serum. They look into my eyes, find comprehension there and then start to talk. Look into my eyes.
Lyuba looked at me.
- Ok, Sir. Did you talk to Evgeny? – she asked after hesitating.
- I did, - I replied, - just don’t call me „Sir“, just „Sixth“ will do.
- Alright, - Lyuba nodded, - Sixth, if you like it. Is he cheating on me? Let’s be honest with one another.
- No, he doesn‘t, - I sighed, - he loves you.
- And I love him, - Lyuba suddenly started to cry, - but he’s never at home. Hanging out at his goddamn work all the time. Maybe he already hooked up with someone. And I’m sitting at home like a goose and know nothing.
- He hooked up with nobody, - I repeated, - he’s working and not hooking up. And you know that. You just banter yourself about it for what ever reason.
- Why isn’t he hanging around at home? – Lyuba suddenly started to push. – Fathered a kid and now I’m to sit at home with her all the time. It’s all clear with him, he has his beloved work, colleagues, socialization. And I’m at home with the child like a low life mother.
- Yeah, I see how you spend time with your child, - I started to get sarcastic, - in the karaoke bar with your friends.
- That’s just today, - Lyuba attempted to justify her actions.
- And yesterday you just had coffee, and the day before that you just gossiped about your husbands, - I went on, - your petticoat parties are taking place way too often, don’t you think? By the way, your husband is rarely hanging out with his mates. Mostly he’s rushing home after work. He thinks that his home is his rock-solid castle. Just understand – if his home is his castle, then his work is his battlefield. Where is he supposed to be most of the time as a warrior? In the frontline or in his castle?
We stood up and headed to their home.
- I barely see him all the time, - Lyuba said, - he’s only at work all the time. I don’t even get any attention from him.
- At work he is working and not fucking around, - I said again, - while today it was you who wasn’t doing shit. Should’ve rather teached your girl how to cook a soup instead of yelling pop songs off pitch into the mic. What’s on the menu tonight?
Dumplings were on the menu. Bought ones, of course.
I eloquently looked at Lyuba. She instantly blushed and rushed off to make a salad with tuna and ruccola. Not exactly a culinary delight either but at least not just dumplings.
The dinner was held in silence. Only Irina asked me one question.
- Will you live with us? – she asked.
- No, - I replied, - but I'll come every day.
- What for?
- To think about how to make up a happy ending for your fairy tale, - I smiled at Irina.
We finished the dumplings and drank tea. Evgeny offered me a shot of vodka but I declined.
After that the parents brought the kid to bed, together. I sat in the kitchen and waited for them. When they came back, they sat down in front of me at the table shoulder to shoulder. For some time they were sitting in silence.
- So, let’s bottom-line today, - I began, - actually, nothing bad has happened to you guys so far. But it will if you don’t take any measures.
- Which ones? – Evgeny asked.
- You speak different languages, - I said, - you don’t hear each other. You’re talking to yourselves. But you have to talk to each other.
- I talk to him, - Lyuba started.
- No, - I interrupted her, - you don't talk but rather bug him. You say too many words most of which are garbage. „You don't give me attention“ is just garbage, not words. Actually, he’s working.. So that you have something to eat. And you say that he doesn't give you attention.
- That’s what I’m talking about, - Evgeny tried to interfere.
- Don’t interrupt, - I crushed him, - you’re up next. First, I’d like to give Lyuba some advice. Don’t talk too much. If you want to say something to your husband, a couple of sentences would be enough. What you don’t like, how you want to fix it and what you expect from your husband. That’s it. Don’t stuff his head with empty words.
- And if he doesn’t understand it? – Lyuba asked.
- Write him, - I chuckled.
- What do you mean? – Lyuba was confused. – via insured mail or what?
- Draw me a comic strip, - Evgeny laughed.
- Insured letter or just on paper, as you wish. - I said, - sometimes written words are perceived better than spoken ones. But that doesn’t mean that now you need to apply only the epistolary style. Anyways, I’d recommend you both to practice this excercise.
- You might have a point here, - Lyuba said thoughtfully, - maybe we should just SMS each other?
- No, - I replied, - SMS are not the same. SMS get deleted. After all, it’s like reading an electronic book as opposed to a physical one. The text is the same while the experience differs.
- Understood, - Lyuba said, - I’ll go to the shop and get some notebooks tomorrow. Anything else?
- Something else, - I mimiced her. – What did we have for dinner today? Why is the fridge empty as if it has just come from the department store?
- I got it, - Lyuba said and blushed, - understood. My friends and me just stayed for a little too long. I didn’t have enough time to cook anything decent.
- I've already told you about your friends, - I reminded her, - friends are great to have but you won’t live with them. You’ll live with your husband and your daughter. Happily ever after.
- I got it, - Lyuba repeated.
- Now, to you, - I turned to Evgeny.
- What about me? – he was surprised. – I work and provide my family. Instead of some appreciation I get my brains bashed out.
- Actually you’re the man of the house, not a galley slave, - I reminded Evgeny about his role, - why are you sheltering yourself with your work all the time? Take the lead in your family.
- I do lead it, - Evgeny frowned.
- I don’t see it, - I said with an iron voice, - your wife is messing around all day, didn’t even manage to cook anything. Your child doesn’t see its father. What having a child for? To work from morning to night?
- I want the best for all, - Evgeny said while pressing his lips together.
- Okay, - I agreed, - the best for all is great. However, little Irina needs her dad who will take her to the zoo or the cinema. Just understand, if your marriage fails, you’ll become a weekend dad. The irony is that only then you’ll find time for your child. Maybe you shouldn’t let it come this far but rather find some time for her now?
- Understood, - Evgeny nodded.
- Damn it, you’re so bright that it’s getting boring, - I laughed. - Alright, I’ll call it a day. You guys should chew over what I told you. Any questions?
- No questions, - both exhaled.
And I left, only to come at six in the morning.
I didn’t ring the doorbell. I entered using a key which I snatched from the table next to the door the day before.
Evgeny left the bathroom and stared at me with surprised eyes.
- Wake up your wife, - I told him, - she should make breakfast.
- Well, I'll do it on my own, - he said, - I eat porridge every morning. It’s healthy and I love it. Especially with honey and nuts.
- Wake her up, - I smiled with my trademark smile, - let her feed you and tell you goodbye,and after that she might sleep a little.
We woke up Lyuba. She stood up, brushed her teeth and cooked breakfast. After that she no longer wanted to sleep. After waving Evgeny goodbye to his work, we talked for about half an hour about different things until little Irina woke up.
Breakfast first, then Lyuba got Irina ready for school and took her there. Then she came back.
She set to clean the house: to vacuum, to dust off, to wash the dishes. But the greatest mess was Irina’s room.
- Same shit, different day, - Lyuba grumbled, - I do the room in the morning and in the evening it’s a mess again. Plus it’s dirty.
- Maybe it is easier to teach the child to clean up after itself?, - I recommended, - easier than working your ass off every day? She’s a big girl already. She surely can help herself. Don’t touch her room. When she comes back from school, you should have a chat with her, and then let her fix the mess in her room on her own.
- And if she won't do it? – Lyuba asked.
- What do you mean she won't? – I was surprised. – You’re her mother. Find the right words for your child. If she doesn't listen to you now, what will be when she comes into puberty? Teach her to love good order and discipline. If you need, you can ask your husband or me to join the parenting process. Any questions?
- Yes, - Lyuba nodded, - what do I have to do then? Can’t see my friends, am not allowed to make her room. Watch TV or what?
- TV is pure poison, - I chuckled. – You’re an adult woman and you can’t find any activity for yourself?
- I can, - Lyuba smiled, - but I’d like to hear what you have to offer.
- Write a fairy tale for your child, - I replied after reflecting, - she asked me to write a fairy tale for her.
- I heard that, - Lyuba nodded, - about the princess, her parents and the dwarves.
- Why the hell are you so fixed on those dwarves? – I grumbled, - not about dwarves but about little mermaids. Don’t even mention any dwarves. They’re small and malignant personalities.
- Your attitude towards dwarves, is it something personal? – Lyuba cautiously asked.
- Yes, - I replied, - it’s personal. And for that reason no dwarves but mermaids instead. Little ones. In the meantime I’ll take a ride to Evgeny’s work. I’d like to check what he’s doing in the frontline.
And I went to Evgeny, to his frontline. To a cozy office on the outskirts of the city. But Evgeny wasn’t there. He had lunch in the eatery across the street.
I joined him when he had finished his lunch and was about to start his capuccino as a conclusion. I ordered a cucumber lemonade.
- We need to talk, - I said lazily drafting my drink through the straw.
- My lunchbreak is almost over, - Evgeny replied as lazily.
- According to all norms you’ve got to have as little movements as possible for at least half an hour, - I replied, - your food should be absorbed, yadda yadda.
- Alright, - Evgeny agreed, - my contractor will arrive in like 40 minutes, just right. So, we should have some time.
- So, - I started, - let’s talk about your main problem in the family.
- Which one? – Evgeny shuddered.
- Have you been in the army? – I replied to his question with my own question.
- I have, - Evgeny nodded, - I was a squad commander.
- Do you remember the main principle? What does a soldier have to do? – I went on. – A soldier must be occupied with something, at all times. If a trooper is doing nothing, then he might get evil thoughts. For that reason he should rather dig up the trench from dawn until dusk than dick around.
- Do you want to say that Lyuba has nothing to do? – Evgeny asked. – But she’s taking care of the child.
- Yeah, sure, of the child, - I tapped Evgeny on the shoulder, - especially when the child’s at school. Or at the playground supervised by two klutz moms. At the same time boredom is killing your Lyuba. Think of an activity for her.
- Which one? – Evgeny asked confusedly. – I’ve enough to take care of myself and now I have to think of something that my wife should do.
- Well, you’re the head of your family, - I replied, - so it’s you who has to assign tasks and check how they are completed. By the way, talk to your child about making her room. It seems that some piggy is living there and not a little girl.
- I will, - Evgeny said.
- Regarding being busy, - I went on, - the best solution possible is to have a second child. Little Irina won’t feel so lonely then in a family with two adults. And your wife will be occupied for a couple of years.
- Yes, we thought about this, - Evgeny stated, - but it’s not the time. Too early.
- Too early? – I was surprised. – Your firstborn is eight years old. It’s the perfect time. Just make sure it’s not too late.
- I'll think about your suggestion, - Evgeny said seriously-minded, - and I'll talk to Lyuba. She doesn’t have a problem with that. Quite the contrary, she would like to.
- Yeah, think about it, - I said, - nothing bonds people as much as a child.
And I went to take care of my own business. Went out into the city, met some people, in the evening I went back to the Nechaevs.
The whole family was assembled.
- Sixth, my mommy made up a fairy tale for me, - Little Irina ran towards me across the hallway, - about a princess and her parents. But it’s not finished yet.
- I didn’t know that it would be so interesting to make up a fairy tale, - Lyuba said embarassedly.
I sat down in the kitchen and read the fairy tale with a cup of tea in my hand. Its beginning to be exact.
- Not bad, - I praised Lyuba who instantly grew red, - I’d even go as far as to say that it’s a very interesting and good one. Do you have any social network accounts?
- On Facebook and OK.ru, - Lyuba said.
- Publish it there, - I recommended her, - maybe someone could give some advice on the further course of the story. Or maybe it will be a subject to objective criticism.
- Will my mommy become an author? – Little Irina asked enthusiastically.
- Your mum will stay your mum, - I calmed her down, - and I’d like to have a talk with you, young lady. A couple of words please.
And we went to Irina’s room. The mess of today morning was already sorted out, although only superficially. The room needed a full-on cleaning and tidying.
- Tell me, - I asked Irina.
- My parents had a go at me, - she said sitting down on the bed, - first mom, then dad in the evening. They say I don’t make my room.
- They did the right thing, - I said, - it’s messy in your room. It’s enough to do the cleaning once and then just to keep it tidy and clean. Don’t throw everything around, don’t litter. I found a whole pile of candy wraps under your table today.
- I have no time to do this, - the girl said, - I go to school, after all. And then I do homework.Do you know how much homework they give us?
- I don’t know, - I answered, - I have no clue how much homework they give you and about what. All I know is that good girls, princesses among them, have perfectly made rooms. You watch cartoons, right? Their rooms are tidy and clean, aren't they?
- Yes, they are, - Irina agreed, - understood. And in mom’s fairy tale the princess also has a clean and tidy room. The mermaids help her to brush the dust away. And she helps her mom to cook lunch for her dad, the King. Do princesses even know how to cook?
- Real princesses can do anything, - I nodded, - they can go to the end of the world and beyond. Cooking they can surely master. And by the way I liked the fairy tale. It’s well written, gotta say.
- Well, my mom wrote it, - the girl smiled, - and my mom is very savvy. She had only A’s at school.
- That’s lovely, - I said, - now go to sleep. Tomorrow you have a clean-up with your mermaids. And no dwarves. Alright?
I left her room. Her parents were looking at me.
- All good, - I said, - the idea with the fairy tale is a brilliant one. Lyuba, I’m stoked about your talent and how you applied it. Keep it up.
- Thank you, - Lyuba was embarrassed again, - I’ll continue tomorrow.
Evgeny was just smiling without saying a word.
I bid them farewell and went away leaving this family to talk and to write letters to each other.
But in the morning I waltzed in again. Had to control the breakfast and everyone leaving for work and school. Having left Lyuba alone to continue writing the fairy tale I went to take care of my own stuff.
I spent the evening with them again. And this went on for a couple of weeks.
Brick by brick the family was rebuilt again, each member bonded with one another. Evgeny reserved Saturday for domestic care. Of course he was hassled by SMS and phone calls but there’s little anyone could do about that. That was the price of having such a job. According to him in winter things would get quieter.
All three sometimes argued and asked me to be their arbiter. I said: „Resolve it on your own.You’re a family. I’m just an external observer“. After that I had a one-on-one chat with everyone. Gave some advice and hints.
Going to the cinema on Saturdays became a tradition. It was done in the evenings but not too late so that the movie could be discussed at home.
The cartoon, to be more precise. As the youngest one in the family loved cartoons, we went through all of the latest cartoon releases within two months.
The fairy tale about the princess and the little mermaids was still not written. Lyuba added a chapter every day depending on what she was planning to do with her daughter. And surprisingly this fairy tale became the ultimate success on Facebook. It was reposted, people started to ask for a sequel. Moreover, Lyuba received a couple of inquiries to write stories for kids. Her style was easy, she wrote her stories in a nice and impeccable way.
I showed up early in the morning and in the evening. Sometimes also after lunch when little Irina came back from school. The rest of the time I took care of my own stuff. The task was a strange one. An important and difficult one. So important that Referent M called me because of it. At the same time it didn't consume as much time.
Actually, the family managed to get itself out of the swamp of incomprehension and imminent divorce. I only lended them a hand, just in time.
The hardest part was to wean Lyuba from her daily hangouts with her friends. In the end the agreement was that she may see them on Fridays, once a week. During this time I played chess with Irina. Gave lessons to be more precise because I always won. But Irina did not give up and with each attempt she performed better.
And during one of those unequal matches she said that she would have a brother or sister soon.
That was the moment when I understood that it was time for me to go. It was time to conclude my interrupted holidays in Karlovy Vary.
The next day, after our weekly movie, I invited all three to an eatery to have some ice cream and to bid farewell.
We finished our ice cream.
- Are you leaving us? – little sagacious Irina asked.
- Flying away, - I smiled at her, - I’m an angel, remember?
- Will you fly back to us? – she asked seriously.
- I don’t know, - I replied in an honest way. – This doesn't depend on me. But I’ll do my best.Be sure to control your parents. I don’t want them to bugger up without me.
- Will do, - Irina replied.
I stood up.
- What? Just like that? Without a warning? – Evgeny and Lyuba simultaneously said.
- Like I tumbled into your life with a notice, - I started to laugh, - don’t worry, I’ll keep an eye on you.
- Thank you, for everything, - Lyuba said, - we've already got used to you. Like you’re a member of the family already.
- Thank you, - Evgeny repeated, - for the lessons you taught us.
- You’re welcome, - I replied.
We all shook hands and I left the eatery.
I took out my tablet and sent the following message upstairs: „They’ll be okay. XXX, Sixth“.