At the sight of the number Rita let out a low animal moan and steadied herself against Tapka's little bed. My parents exchanged a glance. I looked at the floor. Misha said, "My dear God." The Nahumovskys and my parents each took in less than five hundred dollars a month. We had arrived in Canada with almost nothing, a few hundred dollars, but that had all but disappeared on furniture. There were no savings. Fifteen hundred dollars. The doctor could just as well have written a million.
In the middle of the intensive care ward, Rita slid down to the floor. Her head thrown back, she appealed to the fluorescent lights: "Nu, Tapkachka, what is going to become of us?" I looked up from my feet and saw horror and bewilderment on the doctor's face. She tried to put a hand on Rita's shoulder but Rita violently shrugged it off.
My father attempted to intercede.
- Nu, Rita Borisovna, I understand that it is painful, but it is not the end of the world.
- And what do you know about it?
- I know that it must be hard, but soon you will see . . . Even tomorrow we could go and help you find a new one.
My father looked to my mother for approval, to ensure that he had not promised too much.
- A new one? What do you mean a new one? I don't want a new one. Why don't you get yourself a new son? A new little liar? How about that? New. Everything we have now is new. On the linoleum floor, Rita keened, rocking back and forth. She hiccuped, as though hyperventilating. Pausing for a moment, she looked up at my mother and told her to translate to the doctor. To tell her that she would not let Tapka die.
- I will sit here on this floor forever. And if the police come to drag me out I will bite them.
- Ritachka, this is crazy.
- Why is it crazy? My Tapka's life is worth more than fifteen hundred dollars. Because we don't have the money she should die here? It's not her fault.
Seeking rationality, my mother turned to Misha. Misha, who had said nothing all this time except "My dear God."
- Misha, do you want me to tell the doctor what Rita said?
Misha shrugged philosophically.
- Tell her or don't tell her, you see my wife has made up her mind. The doctor will figure it out soon enough.
- And you think this is reasonable?
- Sure. Why not? I'll sit on the floor too. The police can take us both to jail. Besides Tapka, what else do we have? Misha sat on the floor beside his wife.
I watched as my mother struggled to explain to the doctor what was happening. With a mixture of words and gesticulations she got the point across. The doctor, after considering her options, sat down on the floor beside Rita and Misha. Once again she tried to put her hand on Rita's shoulder. This time, Rita, who was still rocking back and forth, allowed it. Misha rocked in time to his wife's rhythm. So did the doctor. The three of them sat in a line, swaying together like campers at a campfire. Nobody said anything. We looked at each other. I watched Rita, Misha, and the doctor swaying and swaying. I became mesmerized by the swaying. I wanted to know what would happen to Tapka; the swaying answered me.
The swaying said: Listen, shithead, Tapka will live. The doctor will perform the operation. Either money will be found or money will not be necessary.
I said to the swaying: This is very good. I love Tapka. I meant her no harm. I want to be forgiven.
The swaying replied: There is reality and then there is truth. The reality is that Tapka will live. But let's be honest, the truth is you killed Tapka. Look at Rita; look at Misha. You see, who are you kidding? You killed Tapka and you will never be forgiven.
From Natasha and Other Stories. Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. Copyright © 2004 by Nada Films Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.
Follow us on Twitter: