Mikhail stood near the fresh grave and could not bring himself to leave. A car was waiting for him nearby, his wife Polina, who was shivering and crying her eyes out, was sitting quietly in it.
But it wasn’t himself or her that the man was feeling sorry for now. The most dear and beloved person has passed away. The day before yesterday, they brought the corpse of the couple’s youngest son, Egor, who only this fall left to study in the capital.
All three days she and Pavel, the eldest son, were thinking how could this happen? Why did a young, smart, successful guy with girls end up committing suicide? What happened to him that caused the decision to cross the window sill of the 8th floor window? Egor understood that he would not survive. He himself took a step towards oblivion. Out of love, a life of plenty to the darkness and emptiness of the grave.
* * *
Surveys of friends, acquaintances, classmates did not give anything. Everyone said with one voice that his behavior had not changed recently. Like six months ago, the guy was cheerful, sociable. I met with Kristina, my classmate.
There were no major quarrels or even minor quarrels between them. Studying was easy for the medalist of the village school, there was no shortage of money.
Egor’s girlfriend could remember only one disturbing case. One day the guy woke up covered in sweat and tears. He said that he saw a woman in mourning robes leading a boy by the hand. When the couple got close to him, the woman handed the child’s hand to him. Touching the small palm, Egor suddenly realized that it was icy. He wanted to throw, but the brush did not want to fall out of his hand. The fright caused hysterical sobs, and he woke up.
The investigators did not find any more troubles in the guy’s life. There were no reasons for the teenager’s suicide. Moreover, the mother was talking to her son on a mobile phone literally an hour before the police call. The child was talking about plans for the evening. There was no sadness, confusion or indifference to one’s own life. The usual conversation, of which there have been hundreds of thousands since the departure of his son to study.
* * *
Mikhail and Polina raised two guys to adulthood and were confident in their future well-being. The eldest of the sons, Pavel got married a year ago, moved out of a small apartment in the capital to a new country house bought by his parents, and the “odnushka” became the property of Egor along with an old foreign car. As they say, live and rejoice. But it turned out the opposite.
Misha always thought that crows should circle around the cemetery. Birds of grief, ruin, devastation and death. But there were no crows in sight. About three hundred meters away, the forest was green with needles, and a mean winter sun peeked through the gray clouds in the sky. If it weren’t for the graves surrounding the man, he would have experienced a sense of joy. Fine days are so rare in winter, he and his wife have learned to appreciate sudden, even small gifts of fate.
As the autopsy showed, there were psychotropic substances in the blood of the young man. Apparently, for the last step over the edge, the boy needed “helpers”. Upon learning about this, Mikhail restrained a sigh of relief. After all, his son could not kill himself in a sober mind. The family immediately decided not to tell anyone about it. The village is small, there are enough envious and just evil people.
Rumors will immediately spread about the allegedly drug-addicted life in big cities. About the permissiveness that money generates. About careless parents who gave their sons unlimited sums uncontrollably. Although, this was not even close. Egor always told his mother where he was spending and how much. Mikhail’s busy schedule recently forced him to hand over the reins of caring for the younger heir to Polina.
Before that, during the period from birth to graduation, the father was responsible for the boy’s upbringing. The second child has occupied all the place in the man’s heart since he was born. The first steps, school, graduation – 18 years flew by in caring for business and family. One did not interfere with the second, as at the very beginning of his career. Egor got all the love and attention of his father without a trace.
Parental affection for two children should be the same. Everyone agrees with the theory, but practice shows no docking. The younger ones are always loved more, pitied more, punished more gently and almost never give out slaps like the older ones. A similar thing happened in the family of Misha and Polina. Perhaps the illness of the second son played a role. Until the age of 6, he was on the “D” register with a suspected heart defect.
Of course, he was taken to all the famous cardiology centers of the country. They listened with stethoscopes, studied cardiograms, examined the state of the body in all available ways. The excitement was in vain. Growing up and medical treatment have borne fruit. Egor’s heart wall strengthened, the boy began to grow at a double rate. But love, reinforced by the fear of loss and pity, has not disappeared anywhere.
* * *
Looking at the hill of land hidden behind a pile of wreaths, Mikhail began to remember his life and look for the causes of the tragedy. What was the son responsible for? What sin formed the basis of the overwhelming grief that overtook him and his wife? Why, instead of a seat on the bus that always brought Egor home, the guy took a piece of land in the village cemetery?
Like every young man, Mikhail began life as the ruler of the world. Somewhere I went over my heads, got rid of negligent employees, calculated for violation of discipline and laziness. A large bribe had to be given for opening pharmacies. But there were no stronger sins behind him. Thank God, the cool mores of the 90s that reigned throughout the country bypassed the distant village. Competitors are alive and well, with some they managed to make friends over time.
The soul was troubled by only one case. It was in the summer, before the last school year. A group of classmates, including Misha, took a group of girls from the disco and went to the pond. As usual, they took a drink and a snack with them.
The girls refused at first, but then joined the fun with pleasure. In the morning Mikhail found himself lying next to Lena.
He never even liked his classmate. Why he was suddenly drawn to adventures, the guy did not know. Apparently, the booze is to blame for everything, awakening base instincts. Looking around, Misha found his jeans hanging on a tree. He dressed quickly and left the ill-fated clearing before Lena woke up. For several days he tried to go to the girl and explain himself, but he did not dare.
Over the past two summer months, conscience has completely fallen silent.
The boys continued to have fun, go to neighboring villages to discos. In one of these outings, Mikhail met Polina, and disappeared. Love broke out immediately, mutually, seriously. There was no need to look after and seek the chosen one. The girl did not hide that she was ready to give herself to her beloved soul and body. At the end of the last class, the parents sent matchmakers to the bride.
The wedding was modest, student-like. The dormitories of the young were nearby, we saw each other every day. Even then, Polina knew about contraception, drank birth control pills. Thanks to this, the lovers successfully graduated from the institute, returned to the village. Mikhail hadn’t heard much about Lena, he wasn’t interested in it. In the 11th grade, they no longer studied together. It was rumored that the girl went to her relatives in another city to finish her studies and attend preparatory courses.
Hand on heart, then Misha breathed a sigh of relief. Though quite rarely, but his memory threw him memories of that summer night. Still just a boy, he had no idea how he would look into the eyes of a classmate on September 1. What he would say, how he would behave in her company. A blush of shame covered his cheeks, which had begun to grow with youthful stubble, at the very thought of it. But fate saved the guy from torment. Lena is gone, and thank God.
* * *
Having gained knowledge and experience in the city, Misha and Polina started doing business in their native village. First they opened one store, then the second. We borrowed money for development from friends and acquaintances. Then they gave it back, borrowed it again. Eventually, the outlets began to make a profit.
The couple’s life was happy in everything. Mikhail sincerely loved and appreciated his wife, she reciprocated. Only occasionally, several times in all 30 years of living together, a man woke up in fear for his family. He was dreaming of a summer night. The full moon was shining, and my heart was pounding in my head. Misha understood that he wasn’t kissing Polina, but he couldn’t stop. Only burrowed his face deeper into the hair smelling of fine perfume and continued what he had started.
The birth of Pavel’s firstborn found the family in their old parents’ house, but a large apartment was already waiting for them nearby. It remained to finish the repairs in the bathroom and insert a new front door. It was for her that Mikhail went when he suddenly met the same Lena at the construction base. The girl was wearing a black scarf, all in tears. The man assumed that one of her relatives had died.
It didn’t work out to pass by, former classmates started talking to each other:
– Hi, Lena. Did someone die at your place?
– Hello, Misha. Yes, I lost my son a week ago.
– Accept my condolences. Very sorry. I didn’t know you were married. But it’s good to have a loving man next to you in such grief.
– Well, yes, — Lena said, wiped a tear that had rolled down the tip of her nose and walked away.
The chance encounter alarmed Mikhail. He asked around classmates and found out that Lena really was the mother of a wonderful boy. He was 7 years old at the time of his death. The child’s life was taken by brain cancer. Later diagnosis and the rapid course of the disease accelerated the demise. There was no limit to the mother’s grief. It was said that she only went home from the cemetery to spend the night.
At that moment, Misha sympathized with Lena. The idea that it could be his child did not creep into my head. In his opinion, one night could not end in pregnancy. And if she had, she would have told him about the baby. In a word, it turned out to calm yourself right away and for a long time. The move that followed this case, business affairs began to spin in a circle, leaving no time for meaningless thoughts.
* * *
Having gone through all possible sins in front of people, Mikhail, who had aged ten years from great grief, stopped precisely on the case of Lena. Suddenly the heart ached, the realization came that it had been understood for a long time — he was the father of the deceased boy of a classmate.
Forcing himself to leave his native grave, which became instantly, the man decided to find the woman who gave him her virginity. To ask if her curses caused the death of another boy, already his and his wife?
Lena’s mother lived in the same apartment as many years ago. In the village, little has changed dramatically. People grew skin to their native walls of houses, worked in the same places for decades. Having learned the address of his daughter from the woman, Mikhail went to her instead of the child’s wake in the central cafe. Excitement made it difficult to drive, drops of sweat, despite the cold outside the window, rolled down on a silk tie. The man drove to the address in two hours.
The door opened almost immediately after the bell rang. The woman seemed to be standing near the door, waiting for the signal. The old grief aged, but did not disfigure Lena. In the features of her face, one could guess the little girl whom Misha passionately kissed on a heady summer night and forgot as quickly as she left the village.
With difficulty and long pauses, a difficult dialogue began between the two bereaved parents.
The woman spoke first:
– You know, I was expecting your arrival, Misha. Mom told me about what happened to your son. But I didn’t expect to meet today, on the day of the funeral.
– Yes, I didn’t know about the upcoming trip either, but I couldn’t live without an immediate showdown. It was hard for me to realize my own guilt in front of you. After all, then, 25 years ago, my son died?
The woman looked at the interlocutor with tearful eyes and immediately transferred him to the tulle covering the window of the hall. It took her a couple of breaths to catch her breath. Her hands, lying on top of her skirt, were trembling slightly. When she spoke the next minute, her voice was filled with remorse:
– Yes, you guessed right. Seryozha was my dearest and most beloved son, and I gave birth to him from you. After that night, I was ashamed until I found out about the pregnancy. Then the role of a single mother captured me, I wanted to have a child from a loved one. I knew about your indifference to me, I did not have empty hopes about marriage. I wanted to give my whole heart to the baby.
I decided never to tell you about Seryozha. The move was on hand. No one understood from whom and when I got pregnant. The birth went well, we lived a small family amicably and cheerfully. The cursed illness and the imminent loss overshadowed my mind. I began to pray to God for retribution for you. She asked me to take away my most beloved, dear, without which life would seem like hell. It took the Lord so many years for my prayers to come true…
– What does it have to do with me? What is my fault and why am I responsible for your sorrows, Lena?
“You’re right there. In the first year after my son’s death, I was not myself, I did a lot of bad things. I prayed about something that I couldn’t even think about. Now I realize this and regret it. Of course, then I heard rumors about the birth of your child. I thought you and your wife took away my happiness. All the following years I tried to beg the requests back, but it didn’t help. I’m really sorry, Misha. Forgive me, fool.
Enraged by the conversation, the man ran out onto the playground without outerwear. He jumped into the car and drove back home to his wife and another son, daughter-in-law, his own life. The retreating anger caused tears of despair, but Misha was unable to change anything. Now he saw the consequences of what he had heard and did not believe: the prayers of mothers always reach the ears of the Almighty.
Somewhere deep inside, the man admitted his own guilt. Apparently, it was necessary to meet with the girl before leaving, to have a heart-to-heart talk. Don’t leave her so rudely, but try to end the relationship amicably. But you can’t undo what you’ve done. The son more than paid for the mistake of his father’s youth.