The secretary walked out of the mahogany-laden office, her tiny, black heels clicking against the tile rapidly as she turned left into the hall. A minute later she emerged and stepped into the waiting room. In it was a man and a woman, sitting somewhat awkwardly next to each other on the two available chairs. She rolled her eyes.
The woman looked up expectantly.
“He’ll be seeing you now,” the secretary finished and turned to leave, but not before stealing a dirty glance at the man remaining in the chair.
He had thin, whispy hair, white hair that crowned the back of his otherwise bald head, wore a faded pair of navy blue slacks torn at the knee, brown loafers that had lost their soles long ago, and what appeared to be a pair of very dirty socks. But the most intolerable thing about him was his face: it was a face of immense suffering, pockmarked and scarred all over, wrinkled, ripped. It was just simply too…real. The eyes alone stood out, the lone perfection in the otherwise hideous face, twinkling and gentle in their sockets, dark brown against the pale flesh with the smiling thin lips.
Ignoring the secretary’s glance, he continued to sit quietly as the other woman took large, lumbering steps down the hall. He eyed his surroundings politely. On the desk across from him he noticed a small fish tank and grinned broadly, watching the fish.
Twenty minutes later when the secretary returned, he was still watching the little fish, seemingly with deep amusement; the grin had spread all over his face.
“Mr. Miller, you are wanted inside,” the secretary spat out, avoiding his glance. She turned away and vanished on her heels.
Henry got up from the chair slowly, his eyes still lingering on the fish, and began to walk down the hall.
Inside the principal’s office, Katyusha Vishnevskaya was in tears.
The woman with the lumbering steps whom we have mentioned earlier was the school lunch-lady, and her beef stroganoff was under attack.
“What I simply can’t understand, Miss Vishnevskaya, is how you managed to spoil the meat supply so quickly. It was ground beef, for God’s sake! and it cost us a pretty penny too, surely you must remember having forgotten something that day perhaps…?” he trailed off hopefully.
Katyusha said nothing, merely protested silently through her tears. She was a large woman, an exceedingly large woman, built at around six-foot-two, two-hundred pounds, and yet, here she sat, unable to say a word to defend herself.
“Do you realize the kind of damage you’ve caused here? That boy’s parents could very well threaten to sue the school, a cost which I’m sure you’re aware no one can afford to cover right now. Why, I would have to…”
After blinking back a couple of the stray tears, Katyusha steadied herself, shifting upright in her chair. She was a considerably more menacing figure in this position, and she knew it. To add to this, she clenched her jaw and her fists, resting them against the thin, wooden strips of the chair.
“I am very sorry, Mr. Lankenstein,” she leaned forward, “but I can most definitely assure you that I prepared the meat in the standard, healthy way that is good for the children,” she concluded in her thick, Russian drawl.
The principal shrank away from her square, thick-set face and shifted uncomfortably in his chair, turning it instead to face the dilapidated window.
“That seems funny to me…’good for the children’…I wonder, do you think feeding a ten year old boy poisoned meat is ‘good for the children’, do you?”
Katasya flushed, rose from her chair with fists intact, when suddenly Mr. Miller walked into the room.
“Ah, Mr. Miller, do have a seat here…my apologies Miss Katasya, I’m running a bit late and have to close up soon, so I hope you won’t mind me speaking with Mr. Miller briefly.”
Henry was already bored.
“…well well, either way, won’t you have a seat?”
He sat and turned his head to Katasya, who was determinedly trying to hide the flow of her tears, her face muffled against the sleeve of her dress. He turned again to look at Mr. Lankenstein, who had apparently been talking the entire while.
“…so all in all there’s the remainder of the second grade science week activities in room 202, the bathrooms on the first floor by the gym, the water fountain by the music room, and…” Here, he looked directly at Katsya, his stupid, accusatory glance reddening his cheeks.
“…and that one, whatever she’s done to the child, well he’s been sick all over the trophy case in the auditorium, absolute nightmare, I just can’t believe…”
Henry stood up abruptly, hands at his side.
“Sounds like I’ve got a lot of work to do, then,” he said, facing Mr. L. “I’ll just be out of your way now,” and turned to leave.
“Mr. Miller? Take Katasya with you, would you? I’ve really got to go…”
“Sure Mr. L, sure, why not?”
Katasya rose quickly, her hard, heavy eyes puffed and swollen, her bottom lip twitching slightly.
Inside the broom cupboard, Henry produced a steel thermos and handed it to Katasya.
“What is this?”
“It’s brandy, sugar. Drink up.”
Katasya smiled shyly and took a large draft of the thermos, Henry watching her, wide-eyed.
“Never seen a lady drink like that,” he said, smiling at her.
But it was clear that he had offended her. She sniffled once or twice and set the thermos down, frowning.
“Oh no no, I didn’t mean it any harm…I’m just saying…it takes a real lady to do it.”
“Zvell, good, of course I am a lady.” she said, somewhat haughtily. “In my country, this is thing of fortitude. We can handle strong drink, strong food, good spices and sharp weather. We do not break easily,” she concluded.
“I like that, Katasya. Tell me more,”
“I came to this land when I was twenty-nine, you know Henry, I had big dreams. I vanted to be a cook, a very good cook too I was, back home. I used to feed the little neighbor girl more than her mother…all people enjoy good food, but children especially. They can just eat and—” (she hiccoughed) “ —eat and eat…” (she giggled).
Henry reached across the cupboard and gently plucked the thermos from her. She didn’t seem to mind.
“…but what I loved the most was Petersburg, the colors on all the buildings! There ees nothing like that here…your buildings, your America is so dead with its streets of grey and black.”
“I’ll have to agree with you there, Kitty, it’s a real damned shame,” he began, taking a drink. “People don’t care about what colors the buildings are down the street because no one’s looking at ’em: man’s always hurrying along from once place to another, constantly doing, you know, so busy that he couldn’t care less about the damn colors, because his concern is his job and his lousy stinkin’ paycheck.”
They sat in silence for a while, sipping from the flask occasionally. Katasya looked thoughtful. Henry was excited, terribly excited. His eyes gleamed fiercely in the dark shed, riveted on her, the flask, the broom forced into the corner. Katasya hiccuped again.
“hic…so, I wanted to be chef, Meester Miller, I want to study cooking, but first I had to learn Eenglish. There was little money I had saved was enough to take some classes, so I deed…learned some Eenglish, mostly good, but I wanted to learn more. I signed up for loans, took classes enough to learn to speak, but after a while…HIC…still was not chef, had no money…it wasдо свидания, simply kaput.” she concluded sadly.
Henry shook his head in confusion. He was aware of several things: the spiders accumulating in the corner, the smell of dust wafting through, the smudged lipliner on Kasasya’s sorrowful face, but mostly he was aware of how incredibly drunk he was. He bowed his head and sat silently. Katasya looked at him and laughed, a big, hearty laugh, an honest laugh.
It seemed to fill the air, somehow.
“Aw, Henry,” she said, squirming in place slightly, “you are drunk, ha ha! so very drunk my boy!” Suddenly, she attempted to stand up, and several things happened all at once.
The toolbox above Henry’s head fell down to the floor with a crash; Katasya screamed, and Henry swooped in to kiss her, that pink, rosy mouth.
“Aaaah…Meester Miller!” she exclaimed heatedly, blushing to the very roots of her hair. “What was ‘zat for?”
“Well…” he began, staring decidedly at his shoes, “you were just so…I just find you very…cute.” His eyes remained glued to the floor.
Katasya eyed him wearily, then burst into tears.
“Oh, Henry,” she sobbed, collapsing into his arms, “eet isn’t fair, my stroganoff was good, I made it special, Henry…”
“I like your mole, Kat, I think it’s real adorable…” he began drunkenly.
“No! No! The stroganoff!” she screamed, flailing her arms wildly. “Eet was quality meat, and cooked good! I do not know why…what is happening!”
The broom cupboard grew steadily into a colorless haze as Henry and Katasya held each other, rocking in place violently until the last of the brandy was diminished.
“Kat…it’s okay…don’t cry, baby…”