The school board does not allow graduates to drink vodka and wine. We can only have champagne and we’ll be limited to strictly one glass per person. Antonov, Knyazeva, Bocharovich and me wanted the head teacher in charge of our grade to loosen up a bit on this point, but she held firm. “You may be leaving school and all, but we still have to work here,” she said.
So, we all chipped in for three bottles of port wine. We also offered it to the Twigs, but they predictably refused.
The first time we drink, we chug the wine in the boy's bathroom on the first floor – all four of us, right from the bottle. Then, Antonov and I slip two other bottles under our jackets and take them with us to the cafeteria.
"A" class and our class are sitting together at one table, and the teachers and relatives are sitting together at a second. On the tables, there are cakes, champagne and lemonade. I take a bottle of champagne, brake the foil and untwist the wire. The cork hits the ceiling, women squeal, and the champagne spills, but only a little. I grab the wine glasses and pour it out.
At the second table, the principal is pouring the champagne. Then he gets up, takes a glass and gives a toast:
"We are happy to congratulate you kids on finishing school and entering adult life. We are both sad and happy today. Sad, because you are leaving our school forever, and happy, because we are confident about your prospects and believe that you can find your own road in life. To you!"
"The Redhead is bullshitting without notes - totally like Gorbachev," I whisper to Antonov.
He laughs. We clink glasses, spilling foam onto the table, and then we drink. Everything is going fine, but the main thing now is not to stop. I open a bottle, and I pour it out under a table into cups. Let them think that it's lemonade in our cups. Our parents take away the rest of the champagne from our table, saying "you've had one drink - that's enough, the school board doesn't permit any more. But we can still have some more!" I don’t give a fuck about that. What is your bubbly to us, when we have booze?
We clink glasses as we could already care less about all that. The girls don't entirely know what we've poured for ourselves. They stick to clinking glasses with lemonade. We finish drinking, get up from the table and go to the assembly hall to dance. We leave the last bottle of wine under the table.
I go over to the tape player and turn it on, not looking at what the cassette is. "Tender May." Well, whatever. Everything is already great to me; I'm happy as fuck.
There are still only four of us in the whole hall - me, Antonov, Knyazeva and Bocharovich. The rest are still in the cafeteria. In the corner, inflated balloons are lolling about in an attempt at decoration. I walk up to them and give them a good kick, sending them flying off in every direction, and we kick them like soccer balls around the room, like little kids.
"A" class comes in, along with several of the girls from our class. Whether or not they had been drinking, I don't know, I didn't see. I say:
"Let's go finish off the wine."
"Isn't it too early?" asks Bocharovich. "What will we do then? There's still time until morning, and plenty of it."
"We'll find more, don't worry. The guys will bring booze."
"And they'll let us have some?"
"I'll make sure you get some."
This is all showing off. The guys would not bring any booze, on the contrary, they'd be looking for a handout from us, but that doesn't worry me now.
Our parents and teachers are still at the table. The principal is pouring out vodka for them. What the fuck? So, our parents can bring vodka. But we can't.
The head teacher is embarrassed that we spotted them. She gets all red and begins to speak glibly:
"And why aren't you dancing, guys?"
"We already danced, and now we're getting some lemonade and going back," says Knyazeva.
Unnoticed, I take the bottle from under the table and slip it under my jacket.
We drink the wine in the boy's bathroom on the second floor - again from the bottle. I stand the bottle on the toilet, and take out a pack of “Kosmos” cigarettes.
"Give me one too," says Knyazeva.
I thrust a cigarette at her, and flicking the lighter, I light her cigarette and then mine.
"Well, you do what you want, but we are dancing," said Bocharovich. She and Antonov leave. Knyazeva and I stay behind together.
"Have you decided where you're going yet?" she asks.
"Probably to an engineering college. And you?"
"To Moscow, to the Department of Geography at Moscow State. There's not a lot of competition for that department, so it's possible to get in. After a school like ours, you're not going to get in anywhere special. I have a tutor, only, it's probably already too late to really help. "Knyazeva looks great - she was wearing a blue dress that skimmed her knees, black stockings, and makeup.
I open the window, throwing out the cigarette butt. Below are three guys. They are all a year younger than me, they finished eighth grade last year and went to a technical school.
"Oh, cool! Burii!" they yell. Open the door, let us in."
"It's still too early. Come back later. Now they'll notice you right away and throw you out."
"Don’t fucking bullshit us! We'll just sit there quietly."
"I said - later."
I close the window. Knyazeva flicks the cigarette butt into the toilet and looks at me. Let her look as long as she likes, I don’t care.
We go to the assembly hall to dance, sliding our way into someone's circle. I see the head teacher, the math teacher and the principal standing nearby. Everyone is dancing, spinning around like assholes, waving their hands. What the fuck is going on?
Between songs the principal leans over to my ear. He is reeking of vodka.
"Sergei, you should know where you can buy vodka close by here."
"Yes, of course."
"Here, take this." He pulls out a fifty from his pocket. "Is that enough for three bottles?"
"Should be enough. It's usually about 15."
I leave the assembly hall, go downstairs and open the latch. About five guys - also a year younger than me -are crowded on the porch.
"Hi, Burii. We're going in, right?"
"Go ahead in, just don't call any special attention to yourself, ok?"
"Ok, don't piss your pants..."
I go to a guy I know in my apartment building and buy three flasks off of him. I slip them under my belt, get five roubles in change and go back. It's already dark - 11 o'clock or later.
I return to the school, but find the door closed. I hadn't thought about this. I pound on the door, but no one opens it. I go to the corner where the cafeteria windows are. Maybe someone will see me from there. I wave my hands, shout, and go again to the door. For some reason my dad opens it.
"Hi. I decided to take a walk around the school, and I heard someone knocking. Where did you go?"
"The principal sent me out for some vodka."
"Ah, a drop of vodka - a holy mission." Dad is already quite drunk. "I think that he wouldn't mind if we started off by pouring a little dribble of it for ourselves...for your graduation, right?"
We go into the bathroom, and I take out one of the bottles and give it to dad. He opens it.
"Well, to your graduation, son!"
He gulps it down, and I do the same.
"And now, go back on in where everyone else is," dad says, "It's bad to be away from the group on a day like today."
I find the principal, and give him the vodka and the five roubles change.
"I drank a tiny bit of it with my father..."
"Don't worry about it. Let's go to the cafeteria and have some."
The principal, the chemistry teacher, the military instructor, Antonov and Knyazeva are at the table.
The principal pours out the vodka.
"To you, kids! To our best pupils."
Holy shit!?! I pass for one of the "best pupils?"
We drink and eat the cake.
I push myself up from the table and go to the assembly hall. The light show is flashing and a crowd of all kinds of people is dancing - local guys, girls, ninth graders, somebody's friends. I feel too lazy to dance, but I feel good anyway. I sit in a chair in the corner.
Mom comes up to me.
"And where were you? I was looking for you. Your father and I are leaving. I have to go to work early tomorrow, and it's not good for him to stay either: someone has brought vodka. Will you be ok?
She leaves. I pass out.
When I open my eyes, “Baton” is sleeping next to me on a chair. I didn't know that he had come. The crowd has thinned; it is clear that people had already begun to take off.
I go out into the hall and up to the third floor. It's dark. The desks from the classrooms under renovation have been put out in the hall. Sitting on desks near the history classroom are Knyazeva and Zhura, who had finished eighth grade last year and was going to construction school. They're making out. I turn back.
In the end of the corridor Antonov is hanging out the window. I slap his ass.
"How's it going?"
He turns around - his face is white. Clearly, he is sick.
"I'm all right."
"Well that's good."
The head teacher - drunk and happy - comes up to us.
"You don't know how I worried, guys. This was my very first graduation," she looks at Antonov, but doesn't see that he's fucked. "Are you going out to meet the dawn?"
"Yes, we're going."
We go to watch the sunrise on the river Dniepr. It's just our class, except for two or three girls, the head teacher and the principal. "A" class didn't go. A bottle of vodka, stopped up with a napkin, is sticking out of the principal's pocket.
The girls are holding hands and singing "White Roses" as they walk. Antonov and I are the last of the group. He is already better. We descend down towards the Dniepr and seat ourselves on the grass. I spread out my jacket, and Knyazeva and I sit on it. The Twigs and Antonov also seat the girls on their jackets.
The principal gets the bottle and some plastic cups. He pours some for the head teacher, Antonov and I.
"Who else wants some? Today is a red letter day, so to drink today is not a sin."
No one else wanted some.
"Well, as you know," says the principal. "To your bright future. I sincerely believe that it will be bright. Many changes are happening in the country; you have so many more opportunities."
We drink up and the principal immediately pours the remaining vodka for us. It comes to all of three drops.
The sun has just risen and hangs above the Dniepr, over the apartment blocks, over the port and the new bridge. Knyazeva snuggles up to me, and I put my arm around her shoulders.
"It's probably time for you to be going home, guys," says the head teacher. "Sleep it off today, but tomorrow come in for your documents. I'll prepare your final report cards."
by Allison Gianneschi