It’s time to get ready for Easter, and spring was still late. There was still ice on the river, though it had darkened. And there is nothing to be surprised at here – frosts came at night, and there was no real warmth during the day.
Clutching her lower back with her hand, pregnant Olga waddled towards the shore. It was hard to walk, tired legs were buzzing. Well, at least the Bear helped to carry the laundry basket. It was not long before the birth, and her husband did not leave her. I took care and tried to help.
“That’s right, there will be another kid,” all the neighborhood women declared.
“Our Olka has a sharp tummy.”
And Mikhail listened and smiled.
“What happiness, second son! And Vanka, a five-year-old, has more fun with his brother.”
And now the mischievous Vanya was skipping forward, splashing water from dirty spring puddles in all directions.
Near the well, the family stopped. The restless village gossips were already scratching their tongues there.
– Mishka, put the laundry on the shore, and go for a walk with Vanya. I’m going to rest here a little, gain strength, and go to the rinse myself. And you come back in an hour. I can’t manage it before.
Noticing Olga, the villagers waved their hands affably. Come, they say, wait with us, let’s talk. Verka performed the most. This young cheerful woman was nicknamed Political Information for a reason. She had a ringing voice–you could hear it all over the neighborhood. Then he will loudly share gossip, then he will take up talking about politics.
– This is not a joke at all. Don’t you understand? – the restless Verka rang. – Yes, I’m telling you! What, just like that, their Korean plane took over and hit us? Haven’t you seen where they’re going? Well, no, my dears, it’s all for a reason. Baba Nadia told me yesterday at the store – there’s some kind of sign here.
– Well, that’s it, it’s off again! Stop screeching! That’s for sure, not a tongue, but a broomstick. Picked up the gossip and come on! And how it really is, it doesn’t matter anymore. We’ll go to the club in the evening. That’s where you’ll find out the news,” Andreevna growled sternly.
This elderly woman was respected in the village. And how else, because she was the widow of their former chairman of the collective farm.
The women looked approvingly at Andreevna, and Verka finally fell silent. Andreevna turned to Olga with a smile.
– Hello, honey. When are you going to give birth?
– Yes, soon already, soon, Andreevna. Only two weeks left.
At this time, Mikhail was returning from the river, Vanya was laughing next to him. Approaching the talkative women, the man said seriously.
– And the catwalks are quite damp. Vanya miraculously did not tumble into the wormwood. So be careful there.
Olga nodded and hugged her son tightly. And he still couldn’t stand still, struggled, laughed, told something. Then the Bear calmed the naughty boy, and together they left.
And the women – all as one – began to admire. That’s the luck of finding such a spouse! The man is golden! Calm, caring, artisan – what else is needed for happiness. Live for yourself and rejoice. Words of praise poured from the mouths of the village gossips. And Olga listened and smiled modestly.
A thin silhouette loomed in the distance. The women looked closely.
– Yes, this is our Valka, walking, – the Political Information screamed.
“That’s right, she is,” one of the women replied, and everyone pointedly fell silent.
Valya slowly approached, stood straight and proud. It seemed that the contemptuous glances of the villagers did not affect her at all. Surprisingly, even the laundry basket in Valentina’s fragile hands seemed almost weightless.
Olga frowned with displeasure and began to reproach herself. I stood with the women for an hour, hung my ears. Now, next to Valka, you will have to rinse your underwear. Well, it can’t be helped. Olya sighed with annoyance and slowly trudged to the shore.
Dropping the duvet cover into the cold water, the woman furtively squinted in the direction of Valentina. Look how clever you are! Valya’s job is being argued! I’ve already managed to squeeze it out.
Having neatly folded the laundry in the basket, the hardworking Valentina left. Olya gritted her teeth irritably. In the village, the “walking” was disliked, laughed at, tried to prick. But Olga had a special dislike for this woman. And there were reasons for that.
They were friends once. We went to school together, decided to enter an agricultural institute together. In general, do not spill water. At that time, the collective farm was engaged in construction with might and main. They were going to open a new farm, with the most modern equipment. It was impossible to do without city specialists. They invited a whole team and put them in a hostel. The guys were young, often went to the club, danced, talked with the girls.
Among them, Vitka stood out – a tall, charming brunette. As luck would have it, both girlfriends liked him. But they tried not to discuss it. One day, after dancing, Victor volunteered to accompany them home. Olya lived nearby, so they said goodbye to her quickly. Then Vitya and Valya went alone. And so love began to spin. And poor Olya harbored a grudge in her heart.
Former girlfriends entered the agricultural institute. However, I was going to study in absentia. There were not enough workers in the collective farm, and the chairman persuaded them to go to a new farm.
Soon the happy Valka announced her pregnancy to the groom. But Victor was not happy at all. The business trip came to an end, and the future father quickly drove off to the city. Didn’t even say goodbye. It turned out that the guy has been married for a long time, and the baby is growing up at home.
Olga did not gloat much. I felt a little sorry for the unlucky opponent. After all, if circumstances had turned out differently, she herself could have been in the place of the deceived Valka. However, the offended Olga strongly supported the general censure. Even at the Komsomol meeting she spoke, condemning the immoral behavior of Valentina. Maybe she did wrong, but women’s pride is a serious matter.
And Valka had a hard time. Even now, village gossips are not averse to gossiping about unlucky single mothers. What can we say about those times! As soon as Valya’s stomach grew, she was nicknamed the walking one. It was worth going out into the street, as curses followed. I didn’t try to talk to anyone – they would spit and turn away. She would like to go to the city, but her grandmother is sick at home. Is it possible to leave an old lady? Praskovya Nikitichna did not condemn her granddaughter. Her heart was bursting with pain, but she couldn’t protect her. The woman has become quite decrepit, so she doesn’t leave the yard. He will come out, stand on the threshold, and return to the house again – you need to lie down to rest.
Daughter Irishka became Valya’s salvation. Yes, and Baba Praskovya is a joy in her old age! However, she could not keep track of her great-granddaughter, she had to send her to a nursery. And Valentina was at work all day – she worked, not sparing herself. I tried for my beloved daughter.
So several years have passed. Praskovya Nikitichna completely weakened and died quietly. Left without moral support, Valya felt lonely. If only I could marry a good man! But who will take a walking woman as a wife?
It’s over, there were fans – from among the dissolute ladies’ men. We walked past the yard, flirted and invited ourselves to visit. But Valya rejected frivolous offers, she didn’t need it. One particularly persistent peasant, drunk, started banging on the door. So Valka hit him with a shovel – he had to go to the medical center.
The wife came to the showdown. You, they say, are walking, you give him a reason yourself. Valentina did not answer anything – silently took up the shovel. The brawler was blown away like the wind. She didn’t show up again. But gossip spread through the village again, and poor Valentina was hated even more. It got from the village women and poor Irishka. “What kind of mother, such will be the daughter.” And so they lived alone – strangers in their native village.
And Olga was lucky. She got a good, hardworking, compliant husband. Naughty Vanya was growing up, they were expecting a second child. After successfully graduating from the institute, the girl got a job as a zoo technician. Everything was smooth at work, a good house was built, we got a household. Here it is, a woman’s happiness!
But when I thought about Valentine, my heart tingled unpleasantly. It doesn’t seem to be to blame for anything? Just think, she spoke at the Komsomol meeting. The whole village condemned her! But no matter how much Olga calmed herself, this heavy feeling returned.
In the last week before Easter, it was very rainy. And right on Maundy Thursday, the river finally opened. Everyone who was not employed on the collective farm went for a walk on the shore. I wanted to see the spring ice drift. And the sight was really impressive. The river seemed to come alive and breathe. The thick ice crust heaved and collapsed with a crash. The rumble reached the village. And only along the banks still held a fragile melted edge, ready to suddenly break off, split and dissolve in the murky river water.
Olga cleaned the house, polished the floors to a shine, and cooked a lot of food for dinner. There was plenty of time left. And my son really wanted to go outside – you can’t keep him in the yard.
– Oh, and you’re smart, my son. Well, let’s go to the river.
A lot of people crowded by the river. The old men and curious kids were soon joined by milkmaids. They just had a break between milking. The adults settled down a little further away, and the kids were running right by the ice, trying to break it with sticks. The women shouted at them, and they laughed in response.
Valentina and Irishka also came. They stood on the sidelines and silently admired the frenzied river. The little girl was dressed to the nines, she was wearing a brand-new blue coat. This is a rarity in the village. And Mom, apparently, straight from the farm – in a work coat and an old vest.
Olya looked at them and thought for a minute. And Vanya was gone. “Son, where are you?” the woman muttered in confusion and suddenly froze tensely. Heart–rending screams came from the river:
– People, people, save, quickly! There’s a little boy on the ice!
“No, no, not him, not my son!”. Olya turned her head to the river, and her mother’s heart almost burst with fear. An ice floe broke off from the shore, and Vanya was standing on the ice floe. Olya abruptly rushed to the shore, it turned dark in her eyes, the ground went out from under her feet… And the woman fell down in helplessness.
She wasn’t the only one who ran. Everyone, with the exception of the old men, crowded to the water’s edge. And the ice floe was slowly floating away. And suddenly a blue shadow flashed – landed near Vanyusha. “Irochka, my daughter, wait, wait,” Valya rushed around in fright. The brave little girl grabbed the baby tightly and wanted to jump back. But it was too late, the ice floe under the children’s feet cracked and began to disintegrate.
–Don’t move, baby, just don’t move, everything will be fine, don’t move,” the woman repeated pleadingly, without taking her eyes off her daughter.
There was a jam at the turn of the river, the ice floe got stuck for a while. And Valya was resolutely walking straight towards her. The water had already reached his chest, and the ice floe was standing in place. I managed it!
– Come on, Vanyusha, don’t be afraid, your aunt will take you away, – Valya whispered softly and stretched out her hands to the boy.
Grabbed and quickly pulled back. On the shore, Vanyushka was picked up by women. “Look, girls, I’m dry, and I didn’t wet my legs. Well done, Valka!”.
And Valentina raced after Irisha.
There’s not much left. Just one step, and the daughter is saved. But suddenly there is a crack, and the little girl goes under the water. “No, daughter, no!”. The poor mother rushed after them, and both disappeared into the cold, raging mess.
No one moved on the shore. There was a tense wait. Olga hugged the crying Vanya and stared intently at the water. A few more seconds passed, and a baby’s head appeared on the surface. “Irishka, thank God! And there’s Valentina. Alive! Alive!” the people roared joyfully. Some smart guy noticed a board from the catwalk near the shore and handed it to a tired woman. Valya caught on with the last of her strength, they were quickly pulled out. The crowd breathed a sigh of relief.
Olga watched what was happening as if in a dream. Here the women are comforting Irisha, saying something to Valentina, pulling off their clothes, trying to warm them up. Then consciousness became confused, a sharp pain pierced her stomach, exhausted Olya screamed loudly. She was going into labor. Mishka arrived in time, delivered his wife to the hospital, and soon a wonderful blue-eyed girl was born. The name was chosen immediately – they called her Valentina.