ELKOST International Literary Agency

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Excerpts from KIDS AND KIDS in English, translated from the Russian by Daniel M. Jaffe

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“Prickles on the Neck, Daughter on the Roof, Bomb in the Pocket”

 

After clambering onto the small bench beneath the hallway coat rack, a certain daughter wrapped a warm, new, woolen scarf around her dad’s neck.

Dad grabbed himself by the throat, cried, “It’s prickling me.”

“That’s not so terrible,” said the daughter.  “Nobody’s died from that yet.  This way you won’t catch cold.”

“I’m warm enough as it is.”

“Do you want to lie in bed with a fever again like last week? Don’t be difficult.  If it prickles, just be patient.”

“It’s puncturing my neck.  I’m not wearing the scarf,” said Dad, and he pulled the scarf off.

The daughter stood up on the bench, wrapped him in the scarf once more.  “If you don’t wear the scarf, you’re not going to Yalta on vacation with Mom.  Mom will go alone.  She’ll swim in the sea by herself.  Without you.  On the beach, other dads will meet her and invite her to take walks.  But you’ll remain home.  You’ll sit around for the whole vacation, staring out the window at the rainy weather.  Go, you’ll be late for work.”

Dad went out into their building’s courtyard, took off the scarf, crammed it into his pants pocket.  The scarf was long, didn’t fit in his pocket, so half the scarf hung out, and the end crawled behind Dad on the sidewalk.  Through the window, the daughter saw Dad leaving the courtyard, the scarf dragging along behind him, and called Dad on his cell phone.

“Why did you take the scarf off?”

“I didn’t take it off.”

“Stop it.  I can see everything from the window.  Put it on right away.”

Dad put the scarf on, stepped out of the courtyard, walked a bit down the street, turned the corner, and took it off again.  The instant he took it off, his daughter called.

“Put on the scarf.”

“How did you know I took it off? Where are you watching from?”

“I’m sitting on the roof.”

“That’s not true.  You’re joking.”

“I’m not joking.  If you don’t put the scarf on this very minute, you’re definitely not going to Yalta.  I’ll rip up your ticket right now.”

“I’m putting it right on.  There.  It’s on.”

“I don’t believe you.  Photograph yourself and show me in a text message.”

Dad stretched out his arm, held up his cell phone with its camera, took a picture of himself in the scarf, and sent it to his daughter.  And right after he did so, he figured out:  if his daughter was demanding a photograph as proof, then she wasn’t sitting on the roof at all, and couldn’t see him.

Dad took off the scarf, began shoving it into his coat pocket.  The scarf went in, but the pocket really bulged.  With a bulging pocket, Dad ran toward the subway.  To get to work, he’d have to go three stops.  When he was just a few steps from the subway entrance, his daughter called once more.

“You took off the scarf again.”

“I didn’t.”

“You did.  It’s in your coat pocket.  I feel it.”

“That’s not true,” Dad lied in an insulted tone.  “Feel around in there yourself.  A completely empty pocket.”

But some policemen were standing by the subway entrance.  They were watching that no terrorists brought bombs into the subway.  They saw Dad’s bulging pocket and heard him trying to play a trick by saying the pocket was empty.  That struck the policemen as suspicious.

“What’s in your pocket?” the policemen asked Dad, stopping him.  “A bomb, most likely?”

“I don’t have a bomb.  I have a scarf in my coat pocket,” said Dad.

“Ahah!” The daughter heard through the phone.  “So, you really do have the scarf in your pocket?”

“So, you claim,” the policemen stepped toward Dad, “that you have a scarf in your pocket?”

“I don’t have a scarf in my pocket,” Dad lied to his daughter.

“Yes, I have a scarf in my pocket,” he told the policemen truthfully.

“You’re trying to trick me,” said the daughter, growing angry.  “You have the scarf in your pocket.”

“You’re not telling the truth,” said the policemen, frowning.  “You have a bomb in your pocket.”

Dad got completely confused and no longer knew what to answer to whom.

“There’s no scarf,” Dad said, “only a bomb in my pocket.”

The policemen started to arrest Dad.  Dad resisted.

“Who are you arguing with?” the daughter asked on the phone.

“With the police.  They won’t let me into the subway.  They’re arresting me.  They think I have a bomb in my pocket.”

“But you have a scarf in there,” the daughter reasoned.
“Yes,” Dad admitted.

“Please give the phone to the policemen,” the daughter ordered Dad.

“For good?” said Dad, upset.

“Give it for a minute.  I’ll patch everything up.”

The daughter explained to the policemen that in his pocket, Dad didn’t have a bomb, but a scarf; and that they shouldn’t arrest him, but let him into the subway.

“We can’t,” declared the policemen.  “We already reported to our captain that we discovered a bomb in the form of a scarf.”

“And,” said the daughter, “I’m friends with your captain’s children.  I’ll call and complain that you’re not letting my Dad into the subway.”

The policemen thought and thought, then let Dad into the subway.  And they reported to their captain that the scarf had been defused.

 

“Under Lock and Key”

A certain daughter reminded her dad many times that he shouldn’t talk on the street to children he didn’t know.  Especially to little girls.  But Dad kept forgetting this all the time.  One evening Dad was returning from work when a girl he didn’t know came up to him and asked if Dad would like a beer.

“I would like a beer,” Dad said happily.

The girl took Dad by the hand, brought him to her place.  At her place, of course, she didn’t give Dad any beer whatsoever.  Quite the opposite.  She got Dad to hand over all the money in his pockets, for ice cream, and then she forced him to inflate her bicycle tires and repair her broken toys.

Fortunately, his daughter, who was waiting the whole time for Dad to return from work, figured that she should call him on his cell phone.

“Where are you?” asked the daughter.

“I don’t know,” answered Dad in a trembling voice.  “In some room.”

“How’d you get there?”

“I talked to a girl I didn’t know, and she brought me to her place.”

“Stay calm,” said the daughter.  “Don’t worry.  Is the girl watching you now?”

“No.  She went out for ice cream, and locked me in all alone.  With a key.”

“Go over to the window,” the daughter told Dad.  “Look out.  Only, be careful.  Maybe you’re on the first floor and can climb out and run away.”

Dad looked out, said, “It won’t work.  I’m very high up.”

“Okay.  There’s nothing to be afraid of.  We’ll think of something else.”

The daughter, of course, was worried about her dad; but, so as to calm him, she spoke on the phone in a steady, confident voice.

“Now,” she said, “leave the room and go into the hallway.  Try to find the front door, and take a look at the kind of lock it has.  You know, certain locks have bolts and open from the inside without a key.”

“I know,” said Dad, “we have that kind of lock at home.”

Over the phone, the daughter heard her Dad look for the front door, and suddenly heard a clicking sound.  And a tinkling.  The daughter’s heart raced because she thought: the girl with the ice cream is opening the lock with a key.

But it turned out not to be the girl.  Dad’s phone was clicking because its battery had nearly run out.  The daughter’s heart raced harder.  If the battery ran out completely, Dad would be unreachable, and then nobody would be able to help him at all.

“We don’t have much time,” the daughter told Dad.  “Did you find the door?”

“Found it.”

“Do you see a bolt?”

“No, there’s only a handle.”

That’s bad, thought the daughter.  But she said to her father, “All right.  Try pressing down on the handle.  And pull.  Or push.”

“Should I pull or push?” Dad didn’t understand.

“First pull.  If it doesn’t open—push.”

Dad pressed down, pulled, pushed, and stepped through the doorway.

“Where are you?” asked the daughter.

“Here.”

“What do you see?”

“Soap.  A shower.”

“Get out of there fast!” cried the daughter.  “That’s the wrong door.  Look for another.”

Dad walked around the apartment, opened each door in turn, told his daughter what he saw.  First he opened the door to the bedroom and the narrow wardrobe door, then the door to the kitchen and the wide refrigerator door.  Then Dad opened the long pantry door.  Enormous plates sat on shelves in there, and razor-sharp knives hung on hooks.  Large ones and small ones.

Just then, the girl with the ice cream arrived home.  She entered the building’s lobby, pushed the button to summon the elevator.  Fortunately, the elevator cabin turned out to be on the very top floor.  It gave a jolt, started to drone, reluctantly moved from its spot and slowly descended.  Toward the girl.

And Dad still couldn’t find the front door at all.  But suddenly he found his prickly woolen scarf.  Dad recognized it immediately.  The scarf and his coat were hanging on a coat rack in the hallway.  The girl had ordered him to hang them there when she brought Dad to her place.

“The door,” said the daughter on the phone, “must be somewhere near the coat.  Look around really carefully and you’ll find it.”

Dad looked around and found it.  The door.

“Do you see the bolt?” asked the daughter.
“I do.”

“Turn it!”

Dad turned it.  The lock clicked.  The door swung open, Dad grabbed his scarf and leapt out of the girl’s apartment.  He forgot his coat.

At that very moment, the elevator arrived on the landing.  The girl with the ice cream stepped out.  But she and Dad missed each other, and he darted down the stairs, ran all the way home.  To his daughter.  Without his coat, but wearing his scarf.  Safe and sound.  And he never again forgot how dangerous it was to talk on the street to children he didn’t know.  Especially to little girls.

 

“Seven Red-Headed Schoolgirls”

Some talented, energetic, enterprising children attended a certain kindergarten.  One day, the most imaginative, a red-headed girl with curly hair said, “Aren’t you sick of zooming cars on the floor day after day, diapering dolls, and marching in pairs while holding hands? Let’s go into business. We’ll turn our kindergarten into a bank.  We’ll get rich quick.”

The children agreed.  Over the kindergarten door, they put up a plaque with big letters: BANK.  They became bankers.  And they did, in fact, get rich very quickly.  The teacher’s salary increased a hundred times.  They showed up at kindergarten in luxurious cars with chauffeurs.  They didn’t deny their moms and dads anything.  The children bought them whatever they asked for.  And they gave the parents pocket money.  The red-headed girl with curly hair gave more than anyone.  She gave her parents so much pocket money, that they couldn’t even fit it all in their pockets.  It spilled out onto the floor.

At first, the rich girl’s parents simply went around squandering money everywhere, but they gradually grew spoiled.  Every day, Dad became more and more persnickety and Mom—more and more willful.  Both stopped saying hello to people.  They wouldn’t say ‘thank you’ or ‘please’ or ‘excuse me’ or ‘may I?’ to anyone.  They didn’t show up at work anymore, sat in front of the television, didn’t do anything.  And when they went out of the house, they behaved rudely to everyone right away.  In restaurants, they were rude to waitresses; in clinics—to doctors; in stores—to saleswomen.  In theaters—to ushers.  In hotels—to maids.  In trains—to engineers.  In airplanes they were rude to stewardesses, and if they managed to get into the cockpit, they acted like wise guys and were rude to the pilots.

And they didn’t observe any rules anywhere.  They broke one rule after another. They even crossed the street at a red light.  And if you asked—‘Why are doing that? Someone might run you over’—they replied:

“Just let somebody try!  All kinds of unpleasant things will start happening to him right away.  Do you know who our daughter is? A banker.  All we have to do is call, and she’ll show up in three cars with her bodyguards and will take care of everything immediately.”

The red-headed girl with curly hair was rarely seen with her parents, was extremely busy at kindergarten; that is—at the bank.  But she sometimes asked about them.  She asked her bodyguards.  And they told the girl that her Mom and Dad had become terribly spoiled.

“I’ve got to have a chat with them,” decided the girl.  “Bring them to me at the bank.”

And so, one morning the girl’s Mom and Dad were brought to her office.

“What’s happening to you?” asked the girl.  “Why have you gotten like this?  Weren’t you always good, kind, and polite?”

Mom turned aside, began to cry.  And Dad said, “do you know why we’re angry all the time, are mean to everyone and rude to everybody?  Because we’re unhappy ourselves.  We don’t get enough of you.”

“Not enough? Of me?” said the girl in surprise.  “My swim coach at the pool says I’ve gained a little weight.  Do you think I need to get heavier?”

“You shouldn’t gain any weight,” said Dad, taking a deep breath.

“And you shouldn’t lose any weight, either,” sobbed Mom.  “We simply want to have breakfast.”

“By all means,” said the girl.  “They’ll take you to the best restaurant right away.”

“What’s a restaurant got to do with anything?” said Mom and Dad hopelessly.  “We want to have breakfast with  you.  Together.  Every day.  And lunch.  And supper.  And to tuck you in at night.  We want to be involved in raising you.  To take you to the zoo.  To the barber if necessary.”

“The barber,” said the girl, “will come to me.  If I need him.”

“But we would like to take you.  After all, we’re your Mom and Dad.  When parents can’t be involved in raising their children, they get all sad.  They become unhappy.”

“How about,” suggested the girl, “if I get you another schoolgirl who looks like me, a red-head too.  Five would be even better.  No.  Seven red-headed schoolgirls.  They’ll come to you every day, and you can be involved in raising them to your heart’s content.  Take them wherever you want.  I’ll offer them such a big salary that they’ll come running.  Whether to the zoo, to the barber, to the dentist.”

“No schoolgirls like that,” said her parents, “can replace you for us.  Not red-heads, not brunettes.  You don’t need us.”

“But Mom, Dad, I’ve got a business.  A bank.  If I sit around with you half the day, I’ll earn much less money.  Profit will shrink.  In half.”

“Then,” said Mom and Dad, “we’ve got a situation with no solution.  Forgive us, daughter, but we’re going to keep being rude to everyone.  Not on purpose.  It’s just that we’re always in an unhappy mood.  After all, money can’t buy happiness.”

The situation did, indeed, seem to have no solution, but this story finally ended well.  The red-headed girl with curly hair was, after all, highly imaginative.  She found a solution.  She sacrificed half her profit.  She began spending time with Mom and Dad, made them happy.  This is what the girl decided:

“In order for my Mom and Dad to be happy, I’ll give up part of my profit—that is, the money that would have been mine if I hadn’t given it up.  So, it’ll be like I’m paying that money for Mom and Dad’s happiness.  That’s the solution:  I’ll buy them happiness with money.  And they say money can’t buy happiness.  They’re wrong.”