Топ-100
Mother

Mother

– Mom! Mom!

The woman’s head darted across the pillow to the right, to the left, as if the woman was trying to pull herself out of a nightmare by force.

– Mom!!

She moaned, still not waking up. The scream she had heard in her dream seemed to drill into her. Hands flew up to his head, covered his ears. It didn’t help.

– Mom!!!

Lisa woke up and sat up in bed, not yet fully understanding whether the dream was over or not yet. The nightmares haven’t stopped lately. Her whole old life had turned into a continuous bad dream…

Lisa got back into bed and ran her hand over her stomach. Flat. So she’s not sleeping after all…

This dream, repetitive and stuffy, haunted her night after night. The darkness in which she rushes, bumping into soft but dense walls. And always, always that scream at the end:

“Mom! Mom! Mom!”.

Lisa woke up, and the child’s voice continued to sound in her head. Mom! Who would think of calling her that? She is not a mother, but a cuckoo! For some reason, now, at night, it was easy to admit it. One could even feel some relief from this usually unbearable truth. During the day, thoughts made it painful. In order not to think, I had to look for things to do all the time: drink tea, look out the window, take myself out for walks. Sometimes Lisa started to do a general cleaning, but she only had enough strength to take off the curtains and immediately throw them, or wash half of the window. This strange weakness both angered her and surprised her: after all, once before there had been enough strength! Earlier…

***

Previously, everything was completely different. There, in the warm golden haze of this “before”, Lisa was a slender, snub-nosed girl with a pile of red curls. Huge blue eyes, naive and happy, as if illuminated by splashes of golden freckles on the cheekbones. Plump pink lips, always half-parted, as if in surprise, often smiled. Yes. She used to smile a lot. To his reflection in the mirror, to the whole world, and most of all to Nick…

He burst into her life like a hurricane, and made her forget about everything. For some reason, she used to have things to do: work, meetings with friends, she even loved to embroider. But HE appeared, and the most important thing, the most important thing, was to race with him on a motorcycle through the night, press my cheek against his back, inhale the scents of wind, sun and wormwood – the scent of his hair. She loved the smell, as she loved the warm touch of his palms, and the kisses of rough, weathered lips. She loved him so greedily, enthusiastically…and he couldn’t resist. How could he resist? Would anyone have resisted?

“You are the sea,” he whispered to her in a hoarse, low voice.

He whispered it to her right into her half–open lips, and it seemed to her that the words, like warm precious pearls, lay right in her heart. It’s like a secret box where only the most intimate things are kept.

“You’re the sea, and I don’t stand a chance against you. I want to fall into you and drown…

And he was falling. And Lisa was falling with him, and I didn’t want to think what was there at the end of it…

Flight? Falls? I didn’t want to think at all. She opened her eyes, and was surprised to find that they were alive. She looked around the room, happily recognizing familiar objects: a bookshelf, a favorite armchair in the corner, an embroidered picture above the bed. Nick, disheveled, bare-chested, sat on the windowsill and smoked. An absent-minded gaze is directed at the darkening sky. The lips move inaudibly: either in prayer, or singing a familiar song. How she loved him like that!

“You look like you’ve come back from another planet,” he stated.

Lisa sat up, clutching the sheet to her chest. Fiery curls fell on her face, she shook her head, throwing them behind her back.

“Like a flame!” he thought admiringly.

– I have returned from another world! She smiled shyly.

– And how is it there? Nick chuckled.

“It was just you and me…

Their love has always been like this: ghostly, unreal. They soared above the gray everyday life, everyday life, the need to earn their bread…over friends who called less and less often…

***

“You’re out cold, Lisa,” said Mary, who ran in for tea one evening. – Look at you! Her eyes are empty, crazy… look, she’s lost weight all over, like a torn cat.

She patted her friend’s sides.

– Look, all the ribs are being probed, you’re already glowing! Are you eating anything?

–Yes,– Lisa said absently. – Yesterday we had dinner with Nick…

– Yesterday?!

Mary’s gaze went from alarmed to frightened.

– Do you realize that almost a day has passed since last night’s dinner?!

– Well, – Lisa finally looked at her friend, – why are you nervous? I drank tea, and that’s it. I’m not hungry!

“Not hungry, you say,” Mary nodded. – All right!

She got up and walked with a determined step towards the kitchen. After a while, Lisa heard the faucet rustle, some packages rustled, and then a knife rattled on the board. Everything is clear! Mary decided to take patronage over a wayward friend. She’s probably hiding dinner there right now from what she found in the refrigerator. Well, that’s fine! Lisa stretched sweetly, moved into a chair, and curled up into a ball.

Lately, she had been overcome by some kind of drowsiness, but if you think about it, there was nothing surprising in this. He and Nick (the girl giggled in embarrassment), in general, slept very little. She did not notice how she dozed off, and woke up only when Mary returned to the room.

– Now you’re already weak from malnutrition! – Listen, love is love, but why declare a hunger strike? I can’t leave you for a minute! She slammed her plate down on the table. – Eat immediately!

Lisa, casting a sidelong glance at the food, made sure that her favorite fried potatoes were in a golden pile on the plate. Marina put a sausage on the side (from where? Did she really have time to run to the store?), and a few slices of vegetables. Cucumbers, tomatoes…

No, after all, a friend definitely drove to the store! Lisa thought confusedly about how much she had slept…after all, I only allowed myself to doze off for a minute! Marina, who interpreted her friend’s silence in her own way, picked up a plate and walked over to Lisa’s chair.

– Eat! Well! Or I will feed with a fork.

Lisa sniffed, sniffing the wonderful smell of fresh, freshly cooked food. And at the same moment I felt as if my stomach had done a triple somersault, forcing the esophagus to contract sharply and painfully. The nausea concentrated into a bitter lump that rose to the throat. The root of the tongue seemed to stiffen. The girl jumped up, pressing both hands to her mouth. Mary didn’t have time to ask what was the matter. Lisa ran past and disappeared into the bathroom.

She came out of there only fifteen minutes later. Pale, with sunken eyes, but quite lively and cheerful. Marina, sitting at the table, was melancholically chewing a slice of cucumber.

“I’m sorry,” Lisa said in a slightly hoarse voice. – I don’t know what it is…

“I know,– Mary shrugged. – You walk sleepy, there is no appetite, you feel sick from eating. Well, can you guess for yourself, or can I give you a hint?

– Come on…

Lisa uttered this word with shock, incredulity…but deep down I knew it was true. She probably knew it herself, even knew it for a long time, only to realize it to the end…afraid?

– And what will happen now? She said helplessly and sank into a chair.

His hands lay limp in his lap. Narrow hands with long, musical fingers. Now they glowed white against the blue background of Lisa’s dressing gown. Mary involuntarily noted that these beautiful fingers had not known manicure for a long time.

“Well, of course! It was obviously not up to that.”

The nail polish on her little finger had long since worn off, and Lisa hadn’t bothered to wipe it off properly. The girl has completely lost her head! Mary looked at her friend sympathetically.

– Well…at least call this biker of yours first.

– To whom?

– Yes, call your boyfriend! Marina rolled her eyes. – Let’s see what he says. Well, there…based on this, we will decide something, in short.

***
And Nick was happy. Or, in any case, he really wanted to seem happy.

Lisa expected amazement, shock from him, or, on the contrary, quiet and bright joy, but not this, almost hysterical fun. Barely glancing at the positive test, Nick squeezed the girl’s shoulders with his palms and spun around the room with her. Still holding her, but holding her at arm’s length.

“You’re going to marry me, aren’t you?” Will you come out? – he repeated feverishly, looking into Lisa’s eyes.

Into their very depths, without looking away for a second.

– Nick, wait… – she tried to interrupt him, but it didn’t work.

He didn’t stop.

– Will you marry me? Tell. Tell me!

There was something wrong with all this. Lisa tried to figure out what exactly, but the answer still could not be found. Maybe it’s because of this sudden and fussy Nick’s joy, or maybe it’s because he kept repeating his “Will you marry me?” like a spell, and at the same time glared right into her pupils. As if he wanted to hypnotize.

– Nick, what’s wrong with you? Listen to me, stop! Listen…

– Will you marry me?

“Yes!” she shouted to stop this endless patter.

He released her. He exhaled as if he had just dragged ten bags of cement on his own back. He sat down (almost fell) in Lisa’s chair. She continued to stand.

– Come to me! he held out his hands to her. – Come quickly!

Lisa came over and quietly curled up on Nick’s lap.

– Is everything going to be okay? “What is it?” she asked.

For some reason, it was important to her that he was the one who said it.

– What could be wrong? Get married…

Nick’s usual slow drawl returned to his voice. As if he hadn’t just been circling Lisa around the room, repeating the same thing.

– A baby will be born…we will live.

– Nick…

– what?

He fingered the strands of her hair: braided them into small pigtails, and unwound them back. Played.

– Where do you work?

It seemed to Lisa that his hand trembled. Just for a moment, no more.

“It doesn’t matter,” he replied lazily. – I’ll have to change my job anyway. What I earn for three is definitely not enough. And yet,” he looked around, “you will need to buy everything for the child. Stroller, crib…

“The baby can sleep with us first,” she suggested. – They say it’s even useful. And it’s much more convenient this way.

–No way,” Nick smiled. “The three of us can’t fit in the same bed. – You can buy more!

– And where will you put it? There’s not enough space…

Lisa didn’t argue. In the end, a large bed really won’t fit here. But she felt good just from this very, so ordinary and unpretentious, their conversation. Just a man and a woman preparing for the birth of a child. They plan purchases, calculate expenses, figure out where to place a baby cot…what could be better? She imperceptibly touched her stomach with her hand.

– Thank you, baby.

It was already dark outside, and the dark rectangle of the window seemed like a picture come to life: the November wind was having fun playing with the last dry leaves, and then calmed down. Slowly and solemnly, the first snowfall of the year began.

***

“You’re not supposed to have a white dress,” Nick chuckled, seeing Lisa thoughtfully examining the window of the wedding salon. “That, my dear, is the color of innocence. Did you know about this?

Lisa looked at the groom in bewilderment. His lips were twisted, some new, unfamiliar to her until now, cynical smile.

– What does this have to do with it, Nick?

– And despite the fact that a white dress and a veil are for an inexperienced, chaste girl!

– And what?

– And not for an obviously pregnant person. Come on!

He took her by the elbow and led her away from the window. Lisa didn’t object. In general, one could even say that Nick was right if one followed the customs. That’s just it…when did he manage to become such a follower of strict traditions? Not so long ago, just yesterday, he was a rebel! However… maybe this coming fatherhood affects him so much? Lisa has heard somewhere that this happens. A man who is used to being responsible only for himself suddenly becomes responsible for his pregnant wife and unborn child. From that, mood swings, and the desire to protect loved ones from the whole world, and despair that the familiar, and so sweet, freedom is in the past.

***
Something was clearly going on with Nick. He disappeared at work: he said that he wanted everything to be ready for the birth of the little one. But he often returned after midnight, and he smelled of alcohol.

“I’m very tired,” he waved off in response to Lisa’s cautious questions. – I’m trying to relieve tension like this. Don’t worry, everything is under control.

The money he brought was enough to live together, but it was definitely not enough for a baby. Lisa promised herself that as soon as she received her maternity allowance, she would immediately go to the store for a baby cot. She also had some savings left, which were supposed to be spent on bottles, diapers and clothes. But she could hardly imagine what would happen next.

Lisa was careful not to express her fears to the groom. He’s become too irritable lately. Probably the constant overwork at work had an effect. And then there were these snide jokes. For no reason at all, he would make some taunt, and then with detached curiosity he would watch the bride’s reaction. If he managed to offend a girl, then after a minute he surrounded her with attention and care, asked for forgiveness and repeated that he had just made a bad joke. It was worse if Lisa kept her cool. Then Nick seemed to be possessed by a demon, and he endlessly stung her with ridicule. This continued until the girl started crying. And if that didn’t happen, Nick would slam the door and leave for two hours. He returned a little tipsy, and affectionate.

– Sorry, Lizzy. Well, that’s the way I am: I need to see that you care about me.

“And that’s why,” Lisa asked coldly, “do you have to harass me by saying nasty things?”

– I just want to know that you care! I can’t do it any other way!

He shook his head sadly, as if lamenting Lisa’s incomprehensibility.

– You just have to remember that I’m doing this because it’s important to me how you feel about me! Because I care!

Sometimes Lisa had a very difficult time with the groom. But nevertheless Nick brought her breakfast in bed. Nick made sure that she did not lift weights. Nick bought her fruits and vitamins, and he chewed buckwheat for weeks.

“He’s good,” Lisa reassured herself, stroking her swelling belly, “it’s just not easy for him to rebuild. It takes time. We all really, really need time. And then we will cope.”

***

The registry office was very gray. Nick insisted on not applying to the Wedding Palace, and in general to abandon the extra pomp.

– Why do we need this, Lizzy? – he shrugged his shoulders. – In fact, the stamp will not change anything: we are already living together, waiting for the birth of our child. Then why do we need all this Mendelssohn?

–There’s no need,– Lisa nodded.

She herself wanted to do without too much noise, because everything is like that here…the bleak lighting and those stripped stairs…bored registry office workers, the tired face of the receptionist…

Lisa wanted to get out of this gloomy building as soon as possible. Nick sighed understandingly and took her hand.

– Soon it will all be over! – he promised in a whisper. – And in general it’s just a formality. Consider that you have come to sign some necessary documents.

Lisa smiled gratefully at her husband, and rubbed her forehead against his shoulder.

– Hurry up! – she whispered.

They were returned their already stamped passports.

– Congratulations to you! – the receptionist smiled, fighting a yawn.

The smile from this came out crooked.

– Thank you! Lisa was delighted, hiding the documents in her pocket.

– All the best!

If not for the fear of sprawling on the slippery floor, she would have rushed to the exit at a run.

– Are you upset that everything went so foolishly? Nick asked affectionately later, when they went to the nearest cafe to somehow celebrate the wedding.

Lisa took a sip of apple juice.

“Not really,” she answered after a moment’s thought. – Probably this formality…in general, a little depressing.

“And that’s true,– Nick agreed.

His fingers gently stroked his wife’s palm.

– I also somehow imagined it differently.

– How? – Lisa was interested.

She wanted to at least dream about the perfect wedding, since in reality it did not work out.

– Well … – Nick thought for a while, – for example: first of all, you and I would get married somewhere in nature. They say the registrar can be called anywhere. So, I imagine a forest. And it is imperative that there is a golden autumn: you know, so that it is warm, dry, and the foliage would already be in full bloom with bright colors!

“You’re like a poet,” the girl smiled. – And then?

– I would like to see you in a silver-green dress, with your hair down. In this dress, with a thin tiara in your hair, you would look like an elf princess… We’d get married and then have a sip of dark ale from tall carved goblets. Well, then, we would get on a motorcycle and go catch up with the setting sun! Eh? Do you like how I came up with it?

– I like it, – Lisa’s smile turned out to be a little sad.

After Nick’s story, the difference between the dream wedding and what happened half an hour ago became even more noticeable. He talked about a wonderful fairy tale, magic, streams of light and a high, clear sky…

And in life there was a dimly lit, unheated room and a sleepy aunt with roughly bleached curls.

– I really like it, Nick. But I can’t have ale, and I can’t ride a motorcycle either.

–Yeah,” he laughed. – To be honest, your pregnancy was not in my plans either. Well, as it turned out – so it turned out. Okay,” he looked at his watch, “finish your juice and let’s go home.” I have to go to work in an hour.

– Won’t you take a day off even today? Lisa was upset. – I thought…

– I can’t, – Nick gently kissed her temple, blew on a red curly lock of hair.

“We need money, you know. Don’t be angry with me.

“I won’t,” she sighed and stroked her tummy with her palm. – I won’t be angry.

Nick handed her a coat and buttoned it up himself.

– It’s windy outside, Lizun. It can blow. Do you know what we’ll do when we get home?

“I know,” she laughed. – You go to work, and I…

“I will, my dear,” he interrupted. – But first, I’ll make you and the baby a delicious tea. With lemon, honey and a little ginger. And I’ll wrap you in a blanket. It’s been an exciting day today, so you need to rest. It’s even better to take a nap. Ok?

Lisa stood on tiptoe and gently kissed her husband on warm lips.

“I love you,” she whispered.

***

Lisa woke up only at dawn, and probably would have slept on if not for the growing anxiety that drove off sleep.

– Nick?

She ran her hand over the bed. No one.

“What time is it?”.

Lisa looked at the day rising outside the window. Usually at this time Nick was already at home and fast asleep. Sometimes he even settled in a chair so as not to wake his wife. But there was no one in the chair either. The girl looked at the screen of her phone: maybe he called while she was sleeping? No, no missed ones. The husband’s number was not answered. He didn’t answer after ten minutes, and after twenty.

An hour later, Lisa, tired of listening to footsteps on the stairs, dialed her mother-in-law’s number. She knew that Nick was at odds with his mother, although he never really voiced the reasons for their conflict, and Lisa tried not to get into her soul for useless, in fact, details. It is unlikely, of course, that her husband suddenly felt filial feelings for his mother and decided to visit her in the middle of the night. In any case, there was nowhere else to call her. Somehow Lisa suddenly realized that during the whole time of their strange, crazy romance, she had not met either Nick’s friends or his family. Maybe he simply had no one but his mother? The mom he didn’t get along with…

Lisa had seen her only once, and that was purely by accident. Then he and Nick drove past her house, and his mother was just coming out of the entrance. In her hands were huge bags of construction debris. Maybe the apartment was being renovated. Nick gallantly took the garbage from his mother and carried it to the dump himself. He introduced Lisa to her briefly, without indicating her status in any way. Dropped something like, “This is Lisa.”

The mother forced a smile:

– Nice to meet you. Mrs Sleigh. Well, I’ll go.

That’s all the acquaintance.

The mother-in-law refused to come to the wedding, confining herself to a dry congratulations on the phone. Lisa didn’t understand this cold. She would have preferred not to call this strange woman, but it seemed there was no choice.

“Good morning, Mrs. Sleigh,– Lisa greeted timidly.

Her stomach ached for some reason, and she quietly began to stroke it, hoping to soothe the pain.

– This is Lisa. Sorry for the early call, but…

“What happened?” Her mother–in-law’s voice was sleepy. Lisa had obviously woken her up. – I just wanted to ask…maybe Nick came to you?

– To me? Why would I? – Mrs.Sleigh was so genuinely surprised by this question that the drowsiness left her voice instantly. “Shouldn’t he be at home?”

– In this … – the stomach ached more and more, and Lisa got up to find a no-shpu in the first–aid kit, – that’s the whole point. He’s gone to work, and he’s still not here. The phone is not answering. I thought that…

– You don’t have to continue, – the mother–in-law grinned, – everything is clear. Go to bed, take care of yourself and the baby. And Nick will come, he will not go anywhere.

“What if something happened to him?”

“Trust me, he’s fine.
Mrs. Sleigh disconnected, and Lisa stared blankly at the silent mobile phone in her hand for another minute. Then I finally found the pills, and lay
down on the bed again.

My stomach continued to ache anxiously. She stroked him gently, humming lullabies in a low voice, and she did not notice how she fell asleep again. She was awakened by the bright midday sun. Nick still hadn’t come, and the anxiety that had subsided for a while flared up with renewed vigor. But where is he?! The phone rang so unexpectedly that Lisa jumped in fright.

–Yes!” she screamed, holding the phone to her ear. – Nick! It’s you? Neither…

–This is Mrs.Sleigh,” a calm female voice answered her. – Well, has he not appeared yet?

– Who? Nick? No, he didn’t come,” the girl replied in a sinking voice.

– Bastard, – the mother-in-law said emotionlessly.

She wasn’t angry, and she didn’t even seem worried. She just gave an exhaustive description of her son’s behavior.

– What to do …, – Lisa was confused. – After all, something could have happened, maybe he needs help…Mrs.Sleigh, well, what should I do?

The mother-in-law was silent. Finally she said it slowly, separately, choosing her words carefully:

– If you’re so worried, you can call hospitals and morgues. But I doubt you’ll find him there. As for your question…How do I know what to do? Maybe you just should have thought carefully before messing with someone like him.

– But I’m…

– And now it’s too late to do something, – the mother–in-law added harshly. – Take care of yourself, take care of the child, that’s all I can advise you.

And she hung up again. Lisa looked longingly at her watch. It was time to get ready for the women’s consultation. Another appointment was scheduled today.

***

– Hypertonus! – the elderly doctor gasped, feeling Lisa’s stomach. – No, my dear, as you wish, but I’m writing you a referral to the hospital right now.

-no need! Lisa screamed, pressing her hands to her stomach. – I don’t want to, I’ll stay at home!

The gynecologist looked at her through thick glasses.

– Do you know what you’re saying? You have a hypertonic uterus, do you understand that? Contractions can start at any moment! You need to be saved, but are you going to ride home now?

– I can’t go to the hospital! – the girl pleaded almost with tears. – My husband is missing, I do not know where he is, what’s wrong with him! Well, what kind of hospital do I need now?! Let me take the medicine, will you tell me which ones are needed? The doctor looked at her with a bitter, but somehow sympathetic, smile.

–You’re a fool,” she said softly. “She is a fool. Remember: men are like buses: one has left, the other will come. And it’s always been that way. And the child is yours forever, your heart, your blood. Take care of the child! There is nothing more important in your life, and there will never be again. I’m telling you this as a doctor! I’ve seen a lot of you like that… Okay, go home. But to get up only in need! She added sternly. – Do you understand everything?

– Got it! Lisa quickly jumped up from the couch, quickly straightened her sweater. – Thank you!

– To lie down and no nerves for me!

This gynecologist shouted already in the back of Lisa.

–She’s a fool,” the nurse muttered, “she has love, you know!

The doctor sighed heavily and took off her glasses, quickly wiped them with an alcohol napkin.

“She’s still young,” she said, shrugging her shoulders, “you can’t put your brains into them. He will give birth – then he will understand that the only love is children. At least for women it is.

***

By evening, Lisa had called all the hospitals in the city. Nick, thank God, was not there, but before she could rejoice at this, a wave of fear rolled over: what if he was in the morgue?! Icy goosebumps crawled down my back. Up. Down. Up again. And down again.

Faithful Mary, who rushed to the bell, looked at Lisa sternly and with pity.

“At least lie down,” she said gently. “Have you eaten anything?”

“I don’t want to,– Lisa grimaced. – When I think about food, I immediately feel sick. Mary..

– what?

– Lisa took a deep breath, not daring to say it out loud, – you can…call the morgues? I’m afraid of something…

Mary nodded curtly.

– OK. I’ll call you. Just lie down, the doctor told you to. Think about the baby!

— no. Can’t.

She was sitting on the bed with her legs tucked under her.

– I feel calmer when I’m sitting down. Mary…

– Okay.

A friend picked up the phone and dialed the desired number.

Lisa placed icy palms on her aching stomach. Why are they so cold? She began to rub them against each other, tried to warm them with her breath, but the cold left her hands slowly, reluctantly, as if not wanting to succumb to the stubborn will of man to the last.

– That’s it! – Mary, with visible relief, put down her mobile phone. – I called the unified information service, he is not in the morgues. Will you lie down now, I hope?

– I’ll lie down…

Lisa crawled under the blanket, feeling with pleasure how her stiff back was straightening out.

– Mary…

– Well, what else? – my friend smiled. – Don’t leave yet, okay? Wait until I fall asleep…

Mary was quietly drinking cooling tea, sitting at the table. A couple of times she came up to Lisa to fix the plaid, which she kept throwing off in her sleep. Then Mary just as quietly left, closing the door behind her. Lisa didn’t wake up from her footsteps.

***

– Mrs.Sleigh! – Lisa choked with sobs, – He hasn’t been anywhere for a month! Tell me what’s wrong with him! You know something! You can’t help but
know!

– Lisa, – the mother-in-law said in a stern voice, – immediately stop the hysteria! If I knew something, I would have told you, and you know it!

Lisa, having stopped crying for a moment, sighed softly and said with resignation:

“But you’re his mother.” Who better than you to know where your son is. Mrs.Sleigh was silent for a long time. Too long to consider it just a pause, in order for the daughter-in-law to finally calm down.

“I know,” she said quietly, “that Nick is all right. You don’t know him well, Lisa…unlike me. He won’t disappear anywhere. And such disappearances are his specialty. Believe me, Nick can easily surface in six months somewhere in South America, or in Paris. And he will clap his eyes in bewilderment if they tell him that decent people don’t do that.

– Why…why are you talking about him like that?” asked Lisa. – After all, he’s your son.

“That’s not quite true,” the mother–in-law replied bitterly. – That is, the son, of course, but…his father and I divorced when Nick was a year old, and my father wouldn’t let me near the boy. Nick grew up to be his exact copy. He has already met me…already an adult. Too old to fix anything.

– And where is his father? Lisa’s voice had sunk with tears, and the question sounded abrupt and hoarse.

“He died a few years ago,” Mrs.Sleigh said dryly. – Crashed on his motorcycle.

Lisa hung up the phone and sat motionless for several minutes, looking at her hands.

How they lost weight! The skin became so thin that bluish streams of veins could be seen even on the forearms.

– Nothing surprising! the girl muttered. She hadn’t eaten much this month. Apparently from constant nervous tension, even a tiny piece of food caused immediate vomiting.

She called hospitals and morgues every day. In some places, she was even recognized, and advised to calm down and stop exhausting herself. Alas, no one could say what to do for this.

The time of childbirth was approaching, and Lisa was panicking about the day when she would leave the hospital, and no one would meet her. Well, except that
Mary…

A new trill of the phone broke the silence, and Lisa looked hopefully at the phone screen. No. It’s just Mary.

– Lisa, listen to me carefully.

Her friend’s tone was so matter-of-fact that her heart immediately contracted with forebodings.

– Nick? Is something wrong with Nick? Speak!

“I saw him,” Mary replied softly. – I wouldn’t tell you, but I can’t see you ruining yourself and the baby… Lisa, in general…I saw him at a restaurant yesterday. He wasn’t alone. With a woman. We talked.

– what? Lisa asked.

Dry lips obeyed badly.

“What did he tell you?”

– He said that he had met this lady for a long time. She’s very rich, as far as I know…a well-known person in the city. In short, they have a long-standing relationship, and now they live together. He said he was tired of responsibility and wanted to live for himself. Now calm down. I’ll come right over and bring you some food, do you hear me? We’ll have dinner, and then I’ll put you to bed. You’ll finally get some sleep. He’s alive and well, and you’ll be fine, too. Lisa, can you hear me? Lisa!!!

Lisa, still clutching the phone in her hand, sank to the floor. My stomach seemed to turn to stone, and then came the pain – piercing, hot, not allowing me to move. Lisa clung to her own hand with her teeth, and instead of a scream, a deep, animal moan escaped from her throat. The world turned off. There was nothing left around, except a terrible bursting pain and black, impenetrable darkness. She groped her way to the bed. For some reason, touching the bedspread calmed her, and she held on to it as the only anchor in this blind and deaf world. And then a child’s scream cut through the silence…

It was a girl. Lisa looked with disgust at the baby’s head covered with fiery red fuzz…

***

How disgusting! Her daughter’s crying exasperated her. Such pain, horror, fear, and what is all this for? In order for this incomprehensible screeching creature to be born? She somehow wrapped the child in a blanket and, looking around, left the house. The park was not far away, there is a bench where they once kissed Nick for the first time. Lisa could find her even blindfolded. She carefully placed her daughter on the bench. Like that. Now everything is correct. This story began here, and it will end here. Lisa didn’t look back as she left. She wanted to go home, rather home, where she could pretend that nothing had happened! Neither Nick, nor this girl. You can collapse into bed and cover your head with a blanket. If you lie like this for long enough, then everything will be forgotten and will stop hurting forever.

– Mom!!!

This anguished cry was maddening.

– Now, daughter, now! Lisa sobbed and stretched out her hands to the little helpless lump on the park bench. The bench moved away each time, and Lisa could not approach it.

– Mom!!

Lisa woke up. My daughter’s scream was still in my ears, tearing my eardrums.

–Now,” Lisa muttered, hurriedly getting dressed, getting tangled in fasteners and keys, running down the stairs.

Surely it’s been quite a bit of time, and who needs someone else’s child. She’s definitely still there, lying on the bench, crying. But the bench was empty.

–Go home, woman,” the policeman said gently, while she was trying to explain everything to him at once: about Nick, and about how he disappeared, and she was looking for him and couldn’t find him anywhere, and then she gave birth to a daughter alone, and took her to the park, and now her daughter is missing too.

“Would you like me to ask someone to escort you?”

– You have to help me! Lisa clutched at his sleeve. – It’s your duty!

He shook his head grimly…

Autumn…a wave of exacerbations in the mentally ill, so this one is rushing, delirious. Poor…

“All right,” he told her. – But I can’t accept the application until you have no documents with you. Let a doctor examine you and issue a conclusion that you really gave birth to a child. After that we will be able to give the case a go. Did you hear me?

She nodded, looking at him hopefully.

***

“Damn,” the policeman swore, looking at the CCTV footage.

The application had to be accepted: Lisa returned the next day with all the necessary certificates.

“It’s just bad luck,” he had to admit, “there are no cameras above this bench. You can only see how you entered the park with a child in your arms, and a couple of minutes later you left…empty-handed. He had been repeating these words for a week, but every morning, when he came to work, he again saw an exhausted thin woman who looked at him with insane hope.

“Go home,– he said. – You need to rest. We’ll let you know right away if we find out anything.

Lisa went outside. I wonder what time of year it is now? Autumn? Or is it spring already? Not to understand…it’s good that her house is very close, it’s only necessary to cross the road.

Funny cars, like clockwork animals, raced along the roadway. She loved to look at them. They reminded of life. Yes, these people, in the cabs of the car, had their own life. They have things to hurry about. Relatives who are waiting. Children…

The sudden screech of brakes almost deafened her, and she didn’t feel the impact–just a soft poke. As if in slow motion, she saw how she flew back, and the car stopped.

**”

– Nothing, Lisa. And it will pass.

Mike stroked the soft red hair. It’s strange, but this month Lisa has become the most important person for him. From the very moment when he knocked down a crazy old woman on the road, and then took her to the hospital, and only then, talking to the doctor, noticed that she was young and beautiful. Only so exhausted that she looks like an old woman. Maybe…maybe he just had no one to love.

***

Mike, a foundling left on the threshold of an orphanage, who grew up as if in a wolf pack, accustomed to trust no one, and by the age of forty-three had made his way into criminal authorities, somewhere in his soul he remained a boy who had no one to love.

Lisa, lost, helpless, like an abandoned kitten, aroused such acute pity in him that he could not leave her in the hospital. He took her home, not knowing what to do with her…now.

In the evening, however, everything became clear: Lisa told him the whole story, and the goal for the near future became clear.

***

– Come in!

He roughly took Nick by the shoulder and pushed him into the apartment. Lisa came out of the kitchen.

– This is…

Mike grinned:

– It’s your now ex-husband who came to apologize. Well? He looked coldly at Nick. – Come on, asshole, as taught.

Nick obediently collapsed to his knees.

– I’m sorry, Lisa. I was…

–A shameful creature,– Mike prompted.

–A shameful creature,– Nick repeated.

– Mikey, that’s enough! She cried, covering her face with her hands. – Let him go! And you… you…

She quickly walked up to her ex-husband and slapped him a resounding slap.

– Get out! Crawling. – the man briefly commanded, and Nick, without getting up from his knees, crawled out of the apartment.

– Do you want, – Mike offered thoughtfully, – I will make it so that he will always walk like this?

Lisa shook her head. A hard smile played on her lips.

“There’s nothing to get dirty about,” she said quietly, and disgustedly wiped her palm on her apron.

Mike looked at her and quietly rejoiced. The psychologist he found for Lisa said she needed some kind of shake-up. If she’s lucky, she’ll be able to get out of apathy. And now, Mike saw the grim triumph in Lisa’s eyes, saw the fury with which she hit that brat Nick, and understood: here it is, a shake-up. It worked! He hugged the young woman.

– No one will hurt you anymore. I’ll make sure. And to make it easier for me to follow – marry me!

***

Five years later, Lisa was setting the table for dinner. Mike was supposed to pick up his son from training today, and they will be home any minute. Lisa smiled tenderly, thinking about her son. She was lucky to give birth again, and this time a beautiful blue-eyed boy was born. Mike was happy! He had been dreaming of children for so long…about children…

The woman’s smile turned sad. Lisa was still trying to find her daughter. I even undertook to help orphanages for this purpose. I was still hoping, although there were very few chances. But still… still…

She remembered the red fuzz on the baby’s head. So the daughter is also red-haired, like herself. It was a tiny, but a clue. Her husband, seeing how she was suffering, offered her to head an orphanage.

“You’ll be busy with the kids,” he urged her. – You love it!

And Lisa agreed, although she was afraid of this new job. It seemed to her that she could not stand it: every day to look at the little orphans, and think about what she had doomed her own daughter to. But she agreed anyway. Lisa knew that this shelter was also her husband’s attempt to leave the criminal world, to move into the category of successful businessmen. And he needs someone he can trust. She couldn’t refuse her husband. Oddly enough, she coped.

Communication with the little inhabitants of the orphanage, which so terrified her at first, turned out to be not a torment, but a consolation. Every time, hugging an orphanage child, arranging a matinee, or taking the children on vacation to the sea, Lisa hoped that someone would also take care of her lost girl. Mike decided to go further, and organized a sports club in the shelter. Now the best trainers were engaged with the kids. They were happy: Lisa, her husband and their little Gary. More precisely, almost happy.

– Mom!

Gary, as usual, forgetting to get rid of street shoes, flew into the kitchen and hung on his mother’s neck. Lisa picked up her son in her arms, inhaled the sweet smell of his hair, and laughed.

– And who is running around in sneakers again? Go take off your shoes and wash your hands. Where’s Dad?

– Dad’s here!

Mike hugged his wife tightly.

– Vanka and I are tired and hungry. Will Mom feed us?

“Sit down at the table,” Lisa invited.

– By the way, I found out one oddity, – Leonid suddenly recalled when dinner was over and Gary went to bed. – You know Mrs. Cartwright, don’t you? She works as a babysitter at your shelter.

– I know, of course, – Lisa was surprised. “What’s wrong with her?” Are you sick?

– Yes, no…

He picked up a napkin from the table and began to thoughtlessly fold and straighten it.

– Mikey?

He sighed.

– You see, I found out that…she’s raising a child. A girl. A red-haired girl of five, Lisa. Everyone thought it was her granddaughter. They say the daughter gave birth and abandoned the child… Mrs.Cartwright recently turned to my friend…let’s just say from the past. He is engaged in forgery of documents.

– And what? Lisa hurried her husband.

– So, he said that he remembered what we were looking for…your daughter. In general, Mrs.Cartwright does not have any documents for the child. Would you talk to her…

***

– This is my granddaughter! Mrs.Cartwright cried out and burst into tears. – Why are you asking me about this? It’s not yours!

“She’s acting weird! Strange! I only asked her about the baby. Why this hysteria?”.

–Mrs.Cartwright,– Liza said softly, “please don’t cry! Drink some water. – she handed her a glass of water from the cooler. – Why are you so nervous, because I didn’t say anything offensive! I just wanted to…

– I have no one but my granddaughter! – the elderly woman burst into tears even more bitterly. – The daughter, the dissolute scoundrel, has gone somewhere…I don’t know where she is, what she is. Only Kate remained with me! I nursed her, she was born weak… and now you…

She didn’t finish. She ran out of the office, without ceasing to wail. Lisa was going to catch up with her, but a call from her husband detained her on the spot.

– Lisa! Mike said excitedly. – I found out something else. Mrs.Cartwright has no daughter! She has lived alone in the village all her life, and even recently moved into a city. I handed her over, you know! We have to go there tomorrow. She’s darkening something, I can smell it!

–Yes, Mikey,– Lisa agreed wearily. – It’s getting dark… Only you’d better go right now, honey. She ran away so abruptly now… After all, the working day is not even over yet!

– I understand you, – the husband became serious. – Wait.

***

He pressed the bell button again and again, although it was clear from the dead silence in the apartment: there was no one there. But for some reason, he couldn’t just leave. I flattered myself with the hope that maybe my grandmother and granddaughter just went to the nearest store, or for a walk. Maybe they’ll be back soon? He will leave, and they will come back…He automatically rang again.

– And they left! – the neighbor’s boy told him.

The man turned to him.

– When?

– So today! About two hours ago…

“She’s gone to the village! – Mike thought, deftly maneuvering between the flow of cars, – There is nowhere else!”.

He picked up speed. I wanted to make it before the traffic jams.

A quiet house on the outskirts of the village would look uninhabited if not for the light in the windows. Mike  approached him without thinking about what he would say. The only thing that mattered now was to make sure. The gate door swung open, and a little red-haired girl ran out to meet him, laughing.

“Did you want to make sure? – it flashed through his mind, – Well, that’s it!”.

The laughing flame-haired baby was an exact copy of his wife. Lisa came out of work tired and anxious. She was haunted by a strange conversation with Mrs.Cartwright, and now it was also impossible to reach her husband. Where is he? She was twirling her car keys in her hands, wondering whether to go straight home, or still look into Mike’s office? Why is he still not responding? It’s not like him at all…

Headlights flashed ahead. A glance caught the familiar numbers, and Lisa waved her hand happily. Her husband came straight to her place of work. But joy quickly turned to anxiety. Something’s wrong…it’s not like that at all today. She frowned: I couldn’t get through, and then I rushed over…did something happen? The car doors slammed, and Lisa saw that her husband was coming straight to her. By the hand he was leading a red-haired girl about five years old.

– Are you my mom? the little girl asked. – Will Grandma live with us?

Lisa, covered her face with her hands, and breathed quickly.

“Mrs.Cartwright,” Mike said softly, “told Masha the truth: that an evil witch hid them from Mom. But still Mom managed to find her little girl. And now, I think we will all live together.

– And Grandma? Kate asked again.

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