LITTLE BROTHER

(a short story by Vladimir Kozlov)

They screamed at each other for a long time; then she ran out of the room, grabbed her coat from the hall-stand, jammed her feet into her boots hurriedly and darted out the door.I went into the entryway and put on my jacket and boots.

Igor looked out from behind the door:

"Where are you going?"

"For a walk."

She was sitting on the little bench by the front door and crying.  In the sky, clouds were moving and airplane trails were dissolving.

What's the matter with you? I asked.

Her face was red from crying, and mascara was streaming across it.

"He said that hes dumping me."

I was surprised that she could cry so much because of that, and I promised myself that I would never make a girl cry.  I came closer, and she nestled her cheek against my stomach.  When she drew back, damp blotches with mascara stains on my coat remained.

Our family lived in a two-room apartment in one of Khrushchevs prefabs, and only Igor had his own room.  Or rather, it wasn't exactly his room it was the living room, but he slept in it and was almost always in there.  And we - Mama, Papa and I - slept in the second room, the bedroom, and my desk was also in there.

At night, we would all watch TV together in his room sometimes, but mostly Igor was in there with the door bolted shutalone or with his friends.  Papa got home from work late, almost always drunk, and lay down right away.  Mama first made supper in the kitchen and then would also lay down, but with a book.  She didn't like the television.

Girls only came to see Igor during the day, when our parents weren't home.  On these occasions, they would not only lock themselves in, but also turn the music on full blast.  For all of ninth grade, five or six girls came to himat different times, of course.  Several said "hi" to me while passing through the bedroom where I was sitting at the table doing my homework.

In that year, I was in fourth grade and got all top marks just like Igor had until ninth grade.  In ninth grade, he stopped studying and regularly got failing grades, but he always managed to end up with average grades for the quarter.

The girl that he dumped was named Natasha.  That was a trendy name then.  In my class there were also Natashas - four in all.

One day she left the living room, went to the toilet room and bathroom and then came up to me.  I was solving algebra equations with multiple variables.  For the first time, I had gotten a lower grade, because the equations weren't working out.

What are you doing?

Equations.

Do you need any help?

Yeah, go ahead and help.

She started laughing:
I was joking.  I forgot all this stuff a long time ago.

How could you forget something you never knew!

Igor emerged from his room.  He had a smudged blotch of lipstick on his cheek.  He hugged Natasha around the waist and pulled her back toward the room.

Ciao, little brother, she said.

Igor's friends, Anton and Vova, came over.  Before, they were in the same class with him, but after eighth grade, they went to a technical school. Our parents still weren't home.  Igor went to the kitchen and brought back some bread and jam. After about an hour and a half, Vova left the room, went to the toilet and then called to me.

I peeked inside the room.  On the big table, which was dragged out into the middle of the room on family holidays, but at which on regular days Igor sat pretending to study, an empty bottle of wine stood, and next to it stood a second bottle with a little wine left in the bottom.  The window was open and Igor and Anton were hanging out of it, smoking.

Do you want to drink? asked Vova and poured some wine from the bottle into a random glass for me.

Don't hurt my little brother, said Igor.

No one is hurting him.

Hey, kid, did he hurt you? asked Igor.

No, I replied.

So get away from him.  Let him go to his own room.

And what if he wants to sit here for awhile?  What, did you buy this room?

Ok, let him sit.

I sat down on the edge of the bed. Music was coming from the "Radiotekhnika" record-player, something not Russian.  Vova poured out the wine into their glassesit turned out to be only a littleand they drank. I was sorry that Igor interfered, and that they didn't give me any wine.  I wanted to try it.

Not long ago, I saw Natasha when I went to visit my parents.She had transformed into a heavy-set middle-aged woman that worked as a cashier in the grocery store where I went for beer.  Thenfifteen years agoshe had seemed fashionable and beautiful to me.

One day Natasha came to see Igor, and they shut themselves in his room and bolted the door.  I took the little mirror from the kitchen that Papa used for shaving in the morning, and tried to stick it through the two-centimeter crack between the door and the floor, in order to see what they were doing.  It didn't work, though. Then, they came out of the room about an hour and a half later, put on their coats and left for somewhere together, and I stepped into the room and looked for traces of what they were doing there.  I guessed that they were "fucking."  

I didn't find anything interesting, only a crumpled handkerchief under the divan, which was smeared with something that looked like snot, but had a different smell. I held it in my hands, sniffed it and then threw it back under the bed.

In the evening, Igor came home drunk, or rather, his friends brought him home, and then he was sick at his stomach for a long time.

Igor died at the end of ninth grade, in May.  He and his friends were drinking on the banks of small river, and he went for a swim and drowned.

Translated by Allison Gianneschi