They had left at dawn. Yelena and the children waved goodbye and joined the other families on the road – mostly women and children like themselves. Fedir and Larysa’s raincoats shone solid yellow in the wan light of early spring.
Igor had decided that she and the children should go and he would stay. Anyway, they wouldn’t be away longer than a fortnight and it always did the children so much good to have a holiday at babushka and dedushka’s place in the countryside. Fresh milk and eggs.
Every time Igor thought about their departure, wetness trickled down his face and dripped off his jaw. Anyway, the fortnight was almost over now. The previous evening he’d checked the calendar on his bedside table and counted the days: one, two and then the date in a red circle and a note in his fowl scratch, ‘Yelena + children return’.
“Bortsch and cabbage rolls for dinner”, he told Yelena when she’d called out from the kitchen and asked him what he’d like her to prepare and freeze. She did it so well. Packets and boxes with instructions printed on neat labels.
“They’ll be marked DINNER”, she called back, “I’ve also made deruni and there’s sour cream in the fridge. I’ve laid in a stock of everything, so that you don’t need to make a trip to Sasha’s.”
Now Yulia, whoever she was, plumped up his pillows and threw open a window, “For a bit of God’s air.” Yulia could smooth away the creases of pain. But she wasn’t Yelena. So, he resented her.
“The car needs to be serviced. I really didn’t expect to be away like this”, Yelena had remarked as she laid out his night suits, underwear, shirts and trousers, all fresh and crisp as a laundered sky. He watched her lovely hands as they worked unhurriedly; the hands that had first made him fall in love with her.
He only had to run the pharmacy while she ran the home, the children and the rest of their lives.
Her goodbye was between loving and brisk. She put on her coat, insisted on carrying the suitcase down to the street, then came back up the stairs with the children, kissed him and whispered, “My darling, life is about the survival of the sensible.” She regarded him for a long minute. Fedir solemnly hugged his papa and, when Igor held her up in his arms, Larysa spanked him with futile, infant hands to show her resentment about his staying behind.
“In a fortnight”, Yelena called out over her shoulder as the three of them set out.
He saw Boryslav, their neighbour across the street staring as though his memory were slurred. Fedir was still turning back and waving. Igor pressed his head against the door frame and cursed softly. When he could see them no longer, he went inside.
The rest of the day he assembled Molotovs in the garage and oiled the old hunting rifle inherited from his father.
Two days later and early morning. Yulia wheeled him to the window.
“Yelena and the children should be back anytime now”, he told Yulia. She walked up to the calendar and looked at the date that Igor had encircled. She turned around and studied him.
He was looking out of the window. The street was an unfamiliar one, all blackened and full of holes like rotten teeth. But he was sure Yelena and the children would find their way back.
When winter fog settled like goose down on the sill, he was still waiting.
Geralyn Pinto lives in Mangalore, a coastal city in south India, where she served as Associate Professor and Head of the P.G. Department of English at St Agnes College. She is a short story writer and an occasional poet who has been published and won prizes in India and abroad. Among her pursuits are a privately undertaken study of mathematics, singing, and cooking with a special emphasis on baking rich chocolate cake.