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SCI: Exhibit A - Week 5 - What the heck WAS that?

I am three. My mother, brother and I are spending the summer with my father’s parents and his brother, my uncle Kolya. We are staying in a sunny room in their Vladimir apartment that seems huge because of its high ceilings, 3 metres is very different from 2.6 back home. On the wall of the room hangs an unusual carpet, black with large multi-coloured flowers, which we later learn was hand-woven by granddad’s mum and given to granny as a wedding present. Also in the room is a sturdy old wardrobe and a similar desk with many drawers and leathery black padding on top. All three, we sleep on the green sofa which needs to be unfolded at night and put back together in the morning. It is unusual, for our parents’ bed at home is the same all the time. Mother sleeps along the sofa with one of us, and brother and I take turns sleeping across the foot of the sofa. During the days, we play in the sandbox in the yard and on the swing at the other side of the house. Father works in Moscow and visits on weekends, and I often fall the day before he comes, scrape my knees hard, and have them all bandaged up upon his arrival. I almost never fall when he is not there.

I am five. We still spend the summers at my grandparents’ house, but we now stay on the sofa in the other room, together with granddad and granny. The room where we used to stay turns out to be uncle Kolya’s, who used to cede it to us for the summer when we were younger. We are invited there to play cards sometimes, and begin to learn Preference. The room is still sunny, but now feels mysterious with its musky smells and the deck of dog-eared cards with unusual pictures. During the day, we play in the yard, or on a playground up the hill, which can be reached though a “hole” in a row of garages. A pavilion is set up in the corner of the playground where it is fun to hide from rain and have mum tell stories.

I am nine. We do not spend entire summers at my grandparents’ anymore, but with my parents’ friends who have a country house in the Vladimir region. We visit our grandparents on weekends, and sometimes spend the week “to wash up” as mum calls it, for there is no hot water in the country house. Sometimes, my brother and I are told to go play outside after the heat of the day diminishes. Sometimes when we are on the swing outside, mother comes out and takes us on spontaneous sleepovers at our cousin Olga’s house. She is ten years older, comes to stay with us in Moscow from time to time with her adult friends, and is “cool”. Her mum has long ago divorced uncle Kolya and married another, and we are not supposed to call uncle Olga’s dad in her presence. It is strange, because she also calls our granny, granny.

I am ten, and I have just lost my granddad. He has lived the last year of his life with us in Moscow, after having had his leg amputated because of gangrene caused by his drinking. He did not move around much during that year or play with us, like he used to in Vladimir. His crutches still remain in the corner of the room and his wheelchair is stashed under his bed. After the funeral granny, who had moved in with us to help take care of him, stays with us and only goes to Vladimir occasionally to see how her son Kolya is doing.

I am fourteen. It is the beginning of a month and granny is gone to Vladimir again after receiving her retirement money. My parents are tense. Uncle Kolya is a drunk, and she goes to see him almost every month, and leaves him some more money. He is a violent drunk, but he does not remember what he has done drunk when sober.

I am sixteen. It’s winter, and our neighbours have just called from Vladimir and said there was a fire in granny’s flat, and uncle Kolya is dead. He has suffocated in the smoke. I cry a little for my uncle, whom I have never seen drunk and who was fun when we saw him. Granny is devastated. Mother goes to Vladimir at once to organize the funeral and start cleaning the apartment of the soot that has covered every surface. Ten days later, granny, father, brother and I follow, for the Easter holiday has just started. We go to the funeral and help clean the flat. We are told that uncle Kolya himself was the one to cause the fire. He had this hand-made cigarette lighter that worked from electricity and set the bed afire after passing out drunk. It is strange, we are also warned not to say a thing in case a stranger asks about the cause of the fire.


Uncle Kolya was my father’s younger brother and granny’s favourite son. Where my father is introverted and quiet, he was very easy-going and a charmer, and also quite gifted with writing: I have seen his old notebooks and letters. The two brothers were so different. Father went to college after finishing high school, served in the army, then worked and eventually married mum and had us. Uncle Kolya went to technical school instead of high school, and upon finishing it decided he did not want to go to the army (not wanting to was a disgrace back then unlike today), and he and his idiot friends decided to go to jail instead, to be exempt. So they did. Soon after being released, he married a girl, having to get special permission do so, for she was underage and pregnant. He was drinking then already and his wife soon left him to marry the other man who had been waiting for her all along and who then adopted her daughter.

Uncle Kolya was drinking heavier and heavier, likely together with grandfather, and the late play days and sleepovers were days he could not be confined to his room. Our parents did not want us to see it. They and granny also managed to conceal whatever bruises he left her with later, so that we knew what he was, but were never confronted with the reality of it. Granny is now buried in the same grave as he, like she would have wanted.

Thank you captivebird for looking this over for me!


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 27th, 2013 09:13 pm (UTC)
ConCrit is welcome.

You may read more about my grandparents in a previous LJ Idol entry.
Mar. 3rd, 2013 10:38 pm (UTC)
A very touching story. I enjoyed the telling of your uncle very much. Well done.
Mar. 4th, 2013 01:39 pm (UTC)
Thank you. I am very grateful to my parents for not letting us understand what was really going on then.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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