When I married Olya, her eldest daughter was three years old, and the youngest was one and a half. I have always perceived them as my own children… After the death of my beloved wife, her flighty sister wanted to take my girls away from me…
— Hello, Olenka… — I brushed the birch earrings from the tombstone and put flowers. — Here are your favorite daffodils…
I sat down on the bench, took a cigarette out of the pack and immediately hid it back: my wife was so happy when I quit smoking… But after her death, he snapped.
— Olya, honestly, I’ll quit again! — I promised guiltily, hiding the pack in my pocket.
She smiled at me from the photo, and when a loved one smiles like that, he simply cannot be deceived.
— Right today… And no more puffs in life!
When I brought Olin’s photo to the master, he turned it over in his hands for a long time.
«Isn’t there another one?» — he asked.
— There is, of course. But I want this one… What’s wrong with her?
— The dead woman on it is too cheerful. In fact, it is not customary to put such photos on monuments.
— There are certain requirements and restrictions for passport photos, but here… let it remain as it was during life.
«It’s your business,» the master surrendered. — What kind of epitaph will we fill?
— We love and remember…
«We’re grieving,» the man added, nodding understandingly.
«There’s no need to ‘mourn,'» I objected. — Only «we love and remember.»
The master looked at me contemptuously — probably decided that he was a greedy man who decided to save on the inscription. I didn’t explain to him that it wasn’t about saving at all. The pain that I have in my soul, it is not necessary to flaunt, and Gala and Valyusha at their age do not need to grieve. It’s enough if they just love and remember Mom.
The girls still haven’t recovered from the shock after Olina’s death, even though a year has passed. They cry often, fall asleep only when the night light is on, they don’t let me go a step away from myself. And they keep asking:
— Daddy, are you feeling all right? Does anything hurt? They won’t take you to the hospital?
I assure them that I am as healthy as a bull and will live to be a hundred years old, but they don’t believe me. If their cheerful and cheerful mom burned down from lymphoma in just four months, then something similar can happen to me. Children should not be interested in the topic of death, but mine have a morbid interest in it.
— Daddy, do all people die? — asks the seven-year-old Valyusha.
And I want to lie, but I can’t. Impossible!
«That’s it,» I admit.
— And if you die too, will Galya and I be sent to an orphanage? — the chin of the youngest daughter begins to tremble.
A little more and she will cry.
— What are you, what kind of orphanage? — I pull Valenka to me, kiss the top of her fair head. — Firstly, you have a grandparent, and secondly, I promised your mother that I would die only after I married you, wait for my grandchildren, and help raise them. But then I’ll be quite old, and you can easily do without me.
— Really?! — my daughter is not smiling yet, but her lips are no longer curled downwards, she calms down.
— Are we going to the zoo tomorrow? — she turns the conversation to the usual children’s topic.
— It’s better to go to the attraction, — Galinka declares.
She just entered the living room with a notebook in her hands — probably, the problem is not solved again.
— To the zoo! Valya insists.
— No! We’re going to ride the Ferris wheel!
— And I don’t want to!
— It’s because you’re a coward and afraid of heights!
— Lady, don’t quarrel, — I intervene in their argument. — We have two options for solving the problem. The first is to cast lots, the second is to combine the zoo with swings and carousels.
— Combine! Of course, combine! — the girls shout in chorus and start jumping around me like two goats.
The heart shrinks: how much they both look like their mother! Especially when they smile.
I looked at my watch and got up from the bench:
— Olya, I have to go… The girls have to be picked up from school in forty minutes. They are clever, and the teachers praise them. Valya has her first rhythmic gymnastics competition in a week, so there will be another medalist in the family. And Galyusha got an A in math yesterday. Don’t worry, we’re fine…
I waved my hand, saying goodbye to the photo of my wife, as if to a living person.
«Yes, now we really have everything more or less normal,» I thought, heading for the exit from the cemetery. — But how much Yulia drank my blood until everything settled down!»
Yulia is my Olenka’s sister. I don’t understand how two such different daughters could grow up in the same family. One is kind, positive, sincere, and the other… I don’t even have decent words in my vocabulary to describe my sister-in-law. During my wife’s lifetime, I didn’t really know Yulia — during all the years of marriage I saw only a few times when she came to borrow money. Of course, I was surprised that my aunt was so indifferent to her nieces — she would never take them for a walk, even for birthdays and New Year’s, she would not make a modest gift… Olya, in her habit of defending and justifying everyone, explained:
— When Yulia gives birth, learns to love her children, then it will come to others. In the meantime, she just doesn’t know how to do it.
I was silent so as not to upset my wife, but I thought to myself that Yulia could not love anyone at all except her own person. And he calmed down: «In the end, I don’t care about her!»
Even in a terrible dream, I could not imagine that after three goals, my sister-in-law would care about me. Yes, what a deal!
Yulia didn’t give a penny for the funeral, it’s good to say goodbye to her sister at the cemetery. When the ninth day was celebrated, she had urgent business, and on the fortieth day she appeared. I waited until everyone who came to remember Olenka said goodbye, and went into the kitchen, where I was washing dishes. I thought he wanted to offer his help, but he was mistaken…
— Valera, pack the girls’ things. So far, the most necessary, and Tolik will come for the rest later (Tolik is her husband’s name, whom I have never seen in my eyes at all).
— Why things? — I didn’t understand.
— Galya and Valya will now live with me.
— What kind of fright?
— Because I am their own aunt, and you are nobody!
— Come on, Aunt, move to the exit! — I grabbed her by the shoulders and almost forcibly pushed her out of the apartment.
Yes, I was rude. Probably, you can’t do that with women. But at that moment, I went crazy with indignation — I almost didn’t think anything. It’s necessary to blurt out this: I’m nobody to the girls!
— Cattle! Julia shouted, calling the elevator. — I should have come with Tolik to deal with you like a man! Never mind, he’ll knock you on the bugger like that — he’ll put his brains in quickly!
— Hello Tolik! I barked and slammed the door.
For a while I avoided going to deserted places. One on one, maybe I could cope with Julia’s husband, but what if he takes his friends with him?.. And I can’t go to the hospital in any way — now, more than ever, my daughters need me.
However, Yulia decided to achieve her goal in a different way. Soon I received a summons to the court in the case of establishing custody of the minors Galina and Valentina. Yulia prepared for the war properly — she appeared at the meeting with a lawyer who very professionally outlined the essence of the claims. He spoke long and beautifully, but, in short, his monologue boiled down to the following: it would certainly be better for children to live in a full family of their aunt, and not with a lonely stepfather who went on a long binge after his wife’s death.
The judge (a middle-aged woman) looked at me intently and appraisingly. I didn’t look my best: I had lost weight lately, looked haggard, dark circles appeared under my eyes. But he did not look like a drunken «bruise», and the judge understood this (it was obvious from her eyes). Meanwhile, Yulia’s lawyer handed over some documents to the court through the bailiff.
— There is only an act of examination of housing conditions, a certificate of your income, a medical certificate from a narcologist and a psychiatrist and a description from the place of work, — the judge addressed Yulia. — And where are your husband’s certificates?
— It’s me who will be the guardian of the nieces, not the husband. Besides, my Tolik… temporarily not working.
— How long has he been out of work?
— Third year. But he’s looking!
— Your monthly salary is… — the judge looked at one of the pieces of paper, — fifteen thousand rubles. Do you think this money is enough to support two children?
— For children, the main thing is not money, but love and care! — Yulia answered with pathos.
And then she added:
— Besides, as a guardian, I will receive an allowance for my nieces, and in total, four people can live normally on such money.
The lawyer grimaced and pulled his client’s sleeve, saying, don’t say too much. But that one has already suffered:
— It’s even good that my husband doesn’t work. There will be someone to look after the little ones. And this one… the defendant… She gave me a hateful look. — He sits in the office from morning to evening, and the children are left to themselves!
— It’s not true! I blurted out.
The judge, calling for order, knocked with a hammer, but still gave the word:
— Specify what exactly is untrue.
— I am a computer designer by profession. After the death of my wife, I agreed at the publishing house that I would work at home — remotely.
— How much do you get?
— The salary is forty-five thousand rubles and I earn about twenty thousand more monthly as a freelancer.
— You can’t give him the children! Julia screamed, jumping up from her seat.
The judge’s hammer swung down on a round piece of wood.
— Plaintiff, if you allow yourself such behavior again, I will order you to be taken out of the courtroom, — the judge said harshly and turned to me:
— Go ahead…
— After all, I married their mother when Valya was only a year and a half old, and Galinka was three. And almost immediately adopted them.
— Yes, officially. But my wife did not change her surname after our painting, neither to herself nor to her daughters. I didn’t insist. I’m not very euphonious, I don’t want them to be teased at school. Here they will receive a passport, they will decide for themselves whether to take mine or not.
— Why is there nothing in the adoption case?
I shrugged my shoulders:
— I don’t know. You would ask Gali and Valyusha who they want to live with more.
«I object, Your Honor,» the lawyer said, «Children can only start at the age of ten…
«I know the law,» the judge interrupted him, «but I’d still like to talk to the girls.
«They’re sitting in the hallway right now-with their godmother and a psychologist,» I prompted.
— Half an hour break.
I went out to smoke on the porch. Yulia and the lawyer were talking nearby (they didn’t see me). — Why didn’t you tell me that your nieces were adopted by your stepfather? — the lawyer muttered with displeasure. — I would give up this case.
— But I didn’t know myself!
— You can consider that we have already lost it. Oh, and one more thing. I think you were going to sue over your sister’s inheritance? I warn you, you have no chance of success here either.
Immediately after the break, the court’s decision was announced: to refuse to satisfy the claim of citizen G..
I drove up to the school just at the moment when my «sweet couple» went outside. When my daughters saw me, they jumped towards me with joyful cries, hung on both sides of my neck, dangling their legs in the air. My beloved, dear ones… I won’t give you to anyone!!!