Anatoly Aleksin: Ivashov

Everyone in our class knew that Lyalya Ivashova’s father was a “big boss”. Sometimes, he was referred to as “great man”. As years went by, I realized it didn’t always mean the same.
Even back then, before the war, the Ivashovs had a separate apartment. It made my mom excited, as we had to co-exist with eight neighbors. Jealousy just wasn’t in my mom’s nature. If a person possessed something that we couldn’t afford, it meant he had earned it. And if he earned it, she respected him. “The only people I am jealous of are healthy old people,” she would say. “If an eighty-year-old is walking along the street, without any assistance, asking for no favors, having a vigorous memory – this is what I dream about.”
Visiting Ivashov’s place always gave that holiday spirit, I got at Christmas parties. Although I visited them every day, that feeling never went away. And absence of neighbors in his apartment was one of the reasons. And the radio Ivashov had brought from one of his business trips. And a personal driver, who always showed up in the doorway with the same words, “I am here!” All of it was no less an entertainment for me than a Christmas pageant. But on the whole, it wasn’t about the radio and the driver: I, like all of my girl friends, was in love with Ivashov.
One does not only inherit a certain quality from his parents; he also inherits the absence of one: I am also totally immune to jealousy. Feeling this exhausting feeling to Ivashov’s wife was moot: she was gone the day his daughter was born. Mom said, “There’s always one person going to the maternity ward, and there are always two, or even three or four, coming back! In the case of Ivashov, he took one there, and he brought one back. A different one, though, the one we didn’t get to know yet: Lyalya.”
Mom was friends with Ivashov’s wife and claimed she was beautiful. How could that be different! It wasn’t just because, to mom’s way of thinking, all women were in a sense beautiful. It’s Ivashov’s wife we were talking about!
“If you want to know what she looked like,” she would say, “Take a look at Lyalya. This is what she was. And the name is the same. We went to school together.”
So, our friendship with Lyalya was a “family tradition”.
Lyalya-senior didn’t leave a will: in her note-book which mom had hidden from Ivashov (“I had to protect him!”), there was a list of 11 urgent errands, which she intended to run, once back from the hospital. She wasn’t going to die… Mom took care of all of them. They concerned Lyalya-junior and Ivashov.
“I have to protect him!” she always said.
Translated by Ekaterina Shubnaya, RT

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