– Well, why do you need this headache? Aunt Glasha, the neighbor, was indignant. – You are city people, you don’t know what a house in the village is! Carry water, firewood, heat the stove.
– Aunt Glasha…
– Clean the snow in winter, clean the dirt in spring…
Ira just smiled. Aunt Glasha was a simple and straightforward woman. She spent most of her life in the country, she knew in every detail the delights of rural, hard life. Having moved to her daughter after her husband’s death, she could not get enough of the ease of city life. Here hot water flowed directly from the tap, the batteries were properly heated, even the floor was warm! And how much easier it is to clean up the apartment! This is not a house where cleaning was delayed for the whole day. And it’s easier with repairs: you don’t have to patch up the roof, then fix the sagging porch. Grace!
Well, how can you explain to such a person that a country house is a dream? From the very early childhood, from the moment Ira could remember herself, she and her brother wanted to have a home. Large, cozy, certainly with a fireplace and a huge library. They imagined him so clearly, down to the smallest detail! Every evening, new details were thought out, plans were made for the arrangement…
– And in the attic, – said Vadik, wrapping his three–year-old sister in a blanket, — we will put a telescope so that you can look at the stars.
«And you’ll be carpentry,– Ira promised sleepily.
After these conversations, she fell asleep sweetly, and dreamed of a huge starry sky, heard the crackling of wood in the fireplace, and inhaled the aromas of old favorite books with pleasure.
Autumn this year turned out to be wonderful: blue and gold. The high sky was so piercingly clear, azure that it seemed that look into it a little longer and your eyes would start to water. And the trees have changed their summer green attire for luxurious red and gold outfits.
Ira wandered through the multicolored carpet of leaf fall and could not believe that her and her brother’s childhood dream had finally come true. They bought a country house! He was exactly the way they had invented him when they were children! With a fireplace, a spiral staircase to the second floor, with a spacious veranda, and apple trees in the garden. Vadim found this miracle by pure chance: at work, one of the employees moved to another country, and hastily sold all the real estate.
– I came to see, – Vadik told his sister, – and I just couldn’t believe my eyes! Well, this does not happen! It’s not just some similar house, but exactly the one from our dreams! I didn’t even bargain. Why, Ir, I would also give money from above, just so that it was ours. He was already, right away, ours, you know? He was just waiting for us.
Ira laughed: Vadik, her dear, most beloved older brother, remained the same romantic as he was in childhood! Nothing changed him: neither the harsh service in the army, nor the need to master a new profession, instead of the one he received at the institute. Neither an early marriage, nor a traumatic, terrible divorce that ended in lack of money and prolonged disappointment in family life. Maybe the romance of the soul is something like DNA? For life…
Whatever it was, but the delight of finding a dream was incredible! Vadim, as usual, rushed to the city and back, bringing a new rocking chair, then huge boxes filled with books, then patchwork blankets and fluffy rugs.
Ira suddenly discovered that more than anything else in the world she likes to bake pies with fragrant apple filling, make jam, and dry fragrant herbs for evening tea.
«You know,» she confessed to her brother one day, «I’m thinking more and more about moving here when I retire. I feel so good here! Here… I don’t even know how to say it…
– Is life clear? Vadim prompted.
— Yes. Although I understand that well, where is there to think about retirement at twenty-five, but I think. Because of the opportunity not to leave here.
My brother winked cheerfully. He understood Ira perfectly. And how could I not understand? All his life, he and his sister were the closest friends.
«I brought you a telescope,» Vadim said casually at dinner.
– Come on! – in surprise, Ira dropped her fork. – Are you really… Vadik!
– Well, I promised you from childhood, – the brother smiled, – and you thought that I forgot about it? Nooo. Let’s have some tea now, and let’s go install, okay?
Ira nodded happily, and ran to warm the kettle.
– Vadya, I dried Melissa in tea. I’ll get it now! She’s in my bright room, wait.
Ira’s bedroom was located on the second floor. There was a huge window with a view of the chamomile field. Ira immediately fell in love with this room. There, on a large oak table, she laid out herbs to dry. Oregano, lemon balm, mint, currant leaves. Ira broke off a sprig of mint and listened: it seemed to her that some rustling was coming from the attic.
«Maybe mice live there? No, from where… Vadik checked everything.»
She listened again, more carefully. The rustling most of all resembled someone’s light footsteps, and some other sounds were mixed with them. Quiet, but also distinct…
– Vadik! – she ran down the stairs faster than the wind.
Vadim, without waiting for the promised Melissa, was already finishing his tea. Glancing at his out-of-breath sister, he frowned:
– What is it? Why are you so pale?
– Vadya, I think we have someone in the attic! It’s like someone is walking there, and you can still hear voices. Well, they sort of talk in a low voice…
– So, – Vadim got up from the table. «Didn’t you think so?»
– No, that’s right! It definitely didn’t seem like it! I’m telling you, voices and footsteps, and…
– Stay here. I’ll go up and check it myself.
He quickly climbed the stairs, and soon Ira heard the heavy attic hatch creak open.
It was not possible to sit still for more than two minutes. Concern for her brother made her forget about her own fear, and Ira, armed, just in case, with a rolling pin, went to the attic. The hatch was open. Vadim’s voice, quiet and calm, with interrogative intonations, calmed down a little. So, everything is fine. There is no danger.
– Ira! Come down, we have guests!
Vadim entered the kitchen, leading two little girls, about five or six years old, by the hands.
– Sit down, – he invited the guests, and turned to the stunned sister, – Ira, do we still have your pie there?
– We didn’t want to scare you, – the older one hurriedly explained, – it’s just that the house used to be empty, no one lived here. And the attic here is good, the wind does not blow at all. And there are apples in the garden…
The girls turned out to be sisters: the eldest was named Anya, the youngest Nina. Ira, looking at how quickly the children finished the pie, realized that they had not eaten their fill for a long time. Vadim, without saying anything, brought bread, sausage, cheese, and cut sandwiches.
– And where is your mother? Ira asked.
The younger girl’s eyes immediately filled with tears. Anya patted her sister on the shoulder.
– Mom drowned in the river. I went swimming and didn’t come back. Dad found her later.
– So you have a dad? – Vadim was delighted. «Where is he?»
– Dad’s home. He’s very good, only when he drinks it’s scary,» Anya answered quietly.
«Does he drink often?» You eat, eat,» Ira pushed a plate of sandwiches towards the sisters.
«Not often,» little Nina said, «only if she starts…
–That’s for three days,– Anya finished.
Vadim looked at his sister.
«I’m going to check on their dad,» he said gloomily.
Ira gently touched his sleeve:
– Don’t. If you break down again, it will come to a fight. Let me do it better, and you wait at the gate. If something happens, you’ll hear it.
– Okay, – Vadim agreed, after a short thought. – We’ll just go in the morning. Let»–here he lowered his voice to a whisper–»at least let their dad sleep it off.
The door was unlocked, but Ira knocked anyway. I was afraid to go in, not knowing what kind of picture I would find in the house. There was no response. I had to pluck up the courage and knock harder. Finally, shuffling footsteps were heard, and a minute later, Ira saw the owner: he turned out to be a gloomy, sleepy middle-aged man. He stared blankly at his feet, and even the appearance of a strange woman did not attract his attention.
–Hello,» Ira said loudly.
The man, without answering, turned his back and walked into the room. Ira went into the house, following him. The owner was already sitting on the sofa, staring at the wall.
– I came to tell you that we have your children… if you are suddenly worried.
After these words, some meaning appeared in the man’s eyes.
– Children? My children are sleeping. It’s still early in the morning.. What are you talking nonsense about, woman? Who are you, anyway?
– Your daughters Anya and Nina were hiding in the attic of my house, – Ira began to get angry and it was difficult to restrain angry reproaches, – they were hiding from your drunkenness. My brother found the children, and they spent the night with us. And now they are not sleeping, but sitting in my kitchen, drinking cocoa and eating. Because they are cold and hungry while you, their father, are drinking.
– A woman…
The man stood up. He swayed, but he stayed on his feet. He rubbed his forehead wearily.
«Come with me, woman.
– Where to? I’m going nowhere with you…
– To the nursery. Now you will see that the children are at home and they are sleeping.
Ira obediently followed the owner. She couldn’t help noticing that the house had been tidied up, only in the kitchen there were fragments of broken dishes scattered on the floor. In general, comfort and cleanliness reigned everywhere.
«He must have been a good host… Until I started drinking.» — Thought Ira.
The man opened the door to the nursery, and froze on the threshold of the room, seeing the neatly made beds. Ira, looking over his shoulder, noticed that the room was large and bright. Soft toys were lying on the girls’ beds. There were also children’s tables, and a large shelf, obviously made by the hands of his father, on which books, sets of colored pencils, albums and paints were located. The man, horrified, turned to the guest.
– Where are my children? «What is it?» he asked, his voice hoarse with fear. «Did you kidnap them?» What do you need? Take everything, just bring the kids back!
– Calm down you! Shame on you! You are an adult, a father of two children, have descended to a piggy state. What are you doing? You pour out your grief, and the children, your own daughters, are hiding in the attics!
– Oh, my God…
The owner clutched his head. A stifled groan came from behind the tightly compressed lips.
– Stop it, – Ira said softening, – come to us, you’ll see the girls.
– Anyuta! Ninochka! The father hugged both girls and burst into tears.
– Dad, don’t cry! Don’t cry!
«I’m sorry to you,» the man said, pulling himself together.
– I promise, I will never take a drop of alcohol in my mouth again in my life. Never! And we will live happily again.
Vadim, who was silently watching this scene, approached the man and gave him his hand.
– If you need help, contact us, – he said shortly.
.. The city met Ira with rain and cloudy weather. All this greyness and slush had been going on for a week, and Ira envied her brother, who had remained in the village for the time being. Vadim had a vacation, and he decided to devote it to the arrangement of the dream house.
– I’ll come for the weekend, – Ira promised, – I’ll take a week for my maintenance. I’ll help you there.
For some reason, she didn’t want to say that besides helping her brother, she was attracted to the village for another reason: the neighbor’s babies. How do they live now?
On Saturday, loaded with shopping, she got out of the car to meet her brother.
– What do you have here? Vadim was surprised, taking the heavy bags from his sister.
– Yes, you know, Vadik, I decided to bring the girls some goodies. Well, Anya and Nina. I keep thinking about how they are there.
– Yes, they are all right. Oleg turned out to be a normal man. It’s just, apparently, ripped him out of grief… now he’s not drinking, the girls are full, dressed. They come running often, waiting for you.
– Are you sure? Ira asked suspiciously. My brother smiled:
– Well, if you want, go to them right now. They’ll be happy. This time the door was opened to her immediately.
– Aunt Ira, you’ve arrived!
Nina and Anya were already running towards her, getting ready to hug her. Behind him walked the embarrassed father.
– Hello, Irina, – he greeted.
Today he was completely sober, and it was noticeable that he no longer touches alcohol. Ira noticed the neatness of his clothes, his recent haircut, and even caught a pleasant scent of cologne.
– Hello, Oleg. I brought something for your daughters.
– Maybe you’ll come in? We were just about to have lunch. Will you join us?
– With pleasure! – Irina answered sincerely.
– Oleg, where did you learn to cook so delicious? – Ira asked when the girls, having enjoyed the visit of a kind aunt and gifts, ran away to play in the nursery.
«And I’m a cook,» the man laughed. – I work in a restaurant.
– In a restaurant? But in the village…
– So we are urban, – Oleg explained, – it’s just that the apartment is being renovated, so I temporarily brought my family here. But we’ll be back in town soon.
Ira, with pleasure absorbed the atmosphere of calm and kindness surrounding her. Oleg, indeed, cooked perfectly. There was a vase with a bouquet of fresh wildflowers on the table. The girls looked peaceful and happy.
– You can’t imagine, – admitted Ira, – how glad I am that everything is fine with you! How incredibly strong you are that you were able to start a normal life! Your girls are happy, it shows!
– Thank you for your kind word, – the man replied modestly. – That’s just if it wasn’t for you…
– Let’s not talk about it, please, – Ira’s voice was soft, but resolute. – You survived the grief, but after seeing the consequences, you managed to pull yourself together. I have nothing to do with it. If it were enough to just talk to everyone… no, Oleg, this is yours, and only your merit.
All week, Anya and Nina came running in the morning. Vadim left for the city, having redone all the work left in the house. Ira had plenty of free time that she could spend with the girls: they read books together, drew, Ira taught them how to bake cheesecakes and apple pie. Closer to lunch, Oleg came for his daughters. He took the children, and with them Ira. The afternoon was spent at their house. Together they played board games, looked at family photos. Ira returned home only after dinner.
Vadim came for his sister in the evening. She had already managed to say goodbye to her neighbors and now, getting into the car, she looked at Oleg’s house for the last time. The windows were brightly lit. Probably now they were all cooking something fun together in the kitchen, or sitting at the table and drinking tea. Or maybe they were getting ready for bed, and Oleg, sitting on the floor between the cots, read aloud his favorite Moomins. Oleg…
And Oleg himself, and his baby daughters, became so close to her, almost family…
I didn’t want to leave at all.
– See you again, – Vadim consoled, noticing his sister’s sadness.
«Yes,» she sighed. «I just think I’m going to miss you.»
Vadim did not answer. He knew his sister, and he saw that it wasn’t just about neighborly friendship. She became attached to the little ones, and to Oleg too.
«Let them decide what’s next.»
He didn’t know what to advise Ira. And even if I knew, I wouldn’t have dared to advise anyway. After all, other people’s children are a huge responsibility: it’s one thing to spend a week with them, having fun and playing, and quite another to accept them as your own, raise and educate.
«Let them decide for themselves.»
«Autumn is gold, and winter is silver,» Ira thought, looking at the snow–covered garden.
… Important changes took place in Vadim’s life: he met a girl he was going to marry soon. The lively, cheerful Yana suited him very well. Ira was sure that now her brother’s family life would turn out well. Now the happy lovers were engaged in pleasant chores: decorated the house for the New Year.
Vadim brought a Christmas tree from the forest, and Yana wove beautiful wreaths of spruce branches and mountain ash.
– It seems to me, – Vadim said confidentially to his sister, – if Yanka and I celebrate the New Year here, then everything will be fine with us. But just, Ir, don’t think you’re going to interfere with us! We’ll celebrate together, period.
And Ira had no choice but to agree. It was a little sad. She really hoped to see Oleg and his girls, but there was a big lock on the door of the house, and judging by the fact that the path was covered with snow, they had left a long time ago. Probably, the renovation in the city apartment is over. Where are they now? Ira imagined Oleg, together with his daughters, decorating a Christmas tree. Gifts «from Santa Claus», of course, are bought in advance and are waiting in the wings. The girls are happy about the upcoming holiday, and Oleg admires his daughters.
«I hope everything is fine with them.»
There was a heavy knock on the door. Ira hurried to open it.
– Who is this, Ir? – shouted Vadim from the kitchen.
– Aunt Ira, it’s us!
Anya and Nina, noisy, rosy-cheeked from the cold, ran into the house. Oleg, holding a huge bag of gifts in his hands, smiling, stepped onto the threshold.
– Will you accept Santa Claus with two Snow Maidens? — he asked.
– With a New Go-home! – the girls shouted.
Vadim dragged them with him to the garden to launch fireworks. Yana stood nearby and clapped her hands. Oleg and Ira watched the general fun from the window. They had a lot to say to each other. Although, everything important has already been said without words. Oleg, Ira, children… family.
«We’re family, aren’t we?» Oleg asked, handing the velvet box to Irina.
— Yes, she answered with a smile.
Hugging each other, they watched the girls rejoice at the fireworks, on this happy New Year’s Eve, everyone was happy. Each in his own way.