- The Bride from the Village of Deaf-Mute
Mamye, how many times do I have to ask you to get rid of those chickens?" Shrubek set the bags of groceries on the windowsill and stood to watch the five scrawny chickens scratching and pecking at the balcony, trying to unearth imaginary kernels from the concrete.
"Throw them a handful of feed, son, will you?" Shrubek's mother was chopping cabbage, flinging it into a pot on the stove.
Shrubek groaned. He reached into the shoebox on the windowsill, forced the door open, the glass rattling in the frame, and threw a careless handful onto the balcony. Rivulets of seed trickled over the side, and one of the chickens cautiously stretched its neck to feel the warm breeze from the kitchen.
"Oh, no you don't." Shrubek shut the door quickly and latched it. He snatched a pinch of crimped cabbage shreds from the table and popped them into his mouth.
"Mamye, I have a steady income now. I can buy you a thousand eggs a week if you need them."
His mother shook her head. "You never know. What if I get rid of them and the next day you lose your job?"
"If I lose my job I'll find another one. I mean, it's ridiculous. A sixteenth-floor balcony in the middle of Moscow, a son with a good job, and chickens scratching around like it's the middle of the village! I'll bet even the villagers buy their eggs at the market now."
Shrubek's mother shook her head vigorously. "It's wasteful to pay for eggs. Besides, if I get rid of my chickens, the neighbors will think I'm a show-off. An arrogant, haughty old woman who hoards money and is too good to keep her own chickens."
Shrubek sighed. "Honestly, who cares what the neighbors think?"
"Don't tell me your own wife doesn't." His mother went over to the windowsill and began unpacking the groceries Shrubek had brought. She held a tomato up to the light. "Would you look at this? They practically have to use floor wax to cover up the bruises."
"At least now you can get them year-round." Shrubek kissed his mother on the forehead. "Do you have any laundry I can take?"
"Shrubek, love, I'm sure Nastya has better things to do than wash her mother-in-law's underwear." [End Page 70]
"She won't mind. She has more time now that she's quit her job at the ministry. And with the machine, all she has to do is throw it in and press a button."
"She says she won't mind, Shrubek."
Shrubek went into the bedroom. He stripped the cover off the duvet and collected the towels from the end of the bed. He stood in the kitchen doorway, the pile in his arms. "I've only taken the linens," he said. "I'll leave you to hang your own underwear over the chicken coop."
"Aren't you staying for dinner?" His mother was scooping flour into a mound.
"Nastya is expecting me at home."
"Yes, Mamye, she cooks."
"If you can call it that."
"Mamye, stop. Nastya is a good woman."
Shrubek's mother pursed her lips, and Shrubek pressed his cheek against them.
"You're a good boy," his mother said.
Shrubek smiled. "I'll see you next Sunday."
Shrubek dropped the pile of laundry in the corner of the front hall and kissed Nastya on the cheek.
"What's this?" she asked, poking at the pile of linens with the toe of her slipper.
"What's it doing here?"
"I thought that since you're not working anymore . . ."
Nastya stared at him.
"I mean, with the machine, it's just a matter of pushing a button. Isn't it?"
"You want me to do your mother's laundry?" Nastya folded her arms across her chest.
"Well, you're not working. In an office, that is. I mean, of course you work. At home. Of course."
"And I would have kept my job at the ministry had I...