Chapter 1 (Ten years later)
“Vat are you doubting about this product, Mr. Kramer?”
“I’m just thinking if it’s a good deal or not.”
“Where else are you going to find a pain killer?”
Huffing loudly at the lack of concentration, I swiveled around in the counter stool and turned to examine the argument. One of my father’s clients, one that was new to the business, stood rubbing the wrinkles on his young face, a face that exhibited stress and a strong sense of conflict. The sunlight that emitted from the restaurant’s nearby window bounced off the client’s shaved head as the thin man turned to his young wife. She was an attractive woman with long, bleached-blonde hair tied in a high ponytail, eyes the color of chocolate gleaming in the light. She clutched the tiny hand of a daughter who resembled her to a T.
Setting down my copy of Frankenstein, I took a step off of the stool and stood next to my father. “Vat my father means to tell you is that you are in pain, no?”
The woman nodded a bit and her husband rubbed her nearest shoulder. “I’ve had terrible headaches since my second child was born, my one-year-old. The doctor told me to just sit it out; the only time they can give me anything is if I’m dying.”
My head nodded in response. “Yes,” I said hoarsely, my thick accent ringing through the room. “And you are not going to get medicine like this anywhere else, especially not like this.”
The couple turned to look at each other before the man shook my father’s coarse hand. “We have a deal, Mr. Novikov.”
It was a few minutes past nine when the couple left the restaurant that was only a block north of our apartment. The bright sunset exploding in the colors pink and orange changing to a dark backdrop that was sprayed with fog and a late spring chill. Back home, I stopped in front of my bathroom mirror and ran a hand through my shagged blonde hair, bangs laying just above my light eyebrows. I took a sip of my father’s homemade vodka, the sharp taste deciding it would linger in my throat for awhile. Fixing my v-neck that was an olive-green color and grabbing my glass of vodka, I shut off the light in the bathroom.
“Where are you planning on going tonight, Andrei?”
I jumped at the sound of my mother’s gentle voice speaking English, probably to practice. I spun around to find her cleaning one of the counters in the kitchen. Her curled blonde hair flowed down her back lightly as she looked at me with warm eyes of a hazel color. She wrapped her slender arms around her waist.
“Out with Vincent.”
“Where?” her accent was light and calm. I shrugged. “Vell, do not be out too late, okay?”
I nodded and cracked a smile, wrapping a burly arm around to squeeze slightly, kissing her on the cheek before setting the vodka glass down and stepping out the door.
The Novikov family restaurant in Engels went out of business in the year 2020, months after I reached twelve years of age. The customers began to diminish into less and less until almost all of them left due to problems with the Russian economy.
My father paced around the corridor of the grimy establishment, hands covered in calluses rubbing together from being frustrated. His boots equipped with steel toes clicked against the old linoleum as he waited for my mother to emerge from the apartment above.
“It will be good for us,” he mumbled in his native tongue before giving me a weak kind of smile. The wrinkles on his weathered face deepened as his blue eyes began to settle on the floor. A burly man resembling a brick wall, he ran a hand through his short hair that was colored a crisp shade of grey. “You will have many opportunities in America that you cannot have here.”
I nodded as a response.
My mother and sister Ilia, just six years of age at the time, led the walk to the train station that took us into the heart of Moscow. Little European automobiles racing down the city streets, the streets crowded and congested with people going to work or heading home. Coming from a much smaller port city, my family did not venture into the country’s capital all that often.
The flight from Moscow to New York City felt as it it would not end. My mother and Ilia took the two seats in front of where my father and I were to sit, myself by the window.
“Hmm?” I responded when my father asked me something in English, something I had only been studying since the age of nine.
“Your English?” he said, this time in Russian. “Obviously it is not going as well.”
I shook my head and threw it back onto the cushioned chair.
Reaching down into my carry-on, he pulled out one of my books, a Russian and English poetry book. “Study.” he said sternly, still in his native tongue.
Huffing loudly, I turned to the place where I had last been reading, a poem printed twice in the two different languages.
We opened up the second Novikov Restaurant later that month, a shop that mainly served about ten different Russian meals. No alcohol though, since the substance ban had been going strong for five years. However, after the shop was to close at seven in the evening, if one knew their sources and their needs, they could smoke, drink, pop pills or do whatever else they so wished.
I put my hands in the pockets of my black jeans as I walked down to the nearest Starbuck’s, moving swiftly past the fellow pedestrians. The bright lights of Manhattan shone directly into my eyes as I made my way down the block, and the noise in the background made it impossible to think. As I was almost at the end of the block, I saw a figure waving his hands up and down over the mass of people. Craning my neck up, I saw Vincent hopping up and down next to one of the coffee shop’s green umbrellas.
“Hey there!” he shouted when I got closer to him. His nearly shoulder-length hair the color of fresh blood blew in the evening breeze as he slapped my back, and even in the darkness I could see his eyes like emeralds lighting up with specks of yellow. My best friend ever since moving to New York was a tall, two or so inches taller than me, and lanky seventeen-year-old with pallid skin that almost seemed to glow in the dark sky. “It’s about time you showed up.”
“I am sorry about that,” I said, turning the corner at his side. “I had to finish Frankenstein.”
Vincent flipped his hair a bit so it was messy in several directions, laughing. “You’re such a nerd.”
“I may be,” I laughed as well with a shrug. “But I have good grades.”
“And I’m a dumbass, I know.” The resident slacker, as I referred to him, pointed across the way at a sign lit up in neon. “That’s our destination.”
“Vat?” I responded hoarsely. “Vat is it?”
I stared up ahead to see a curvy woman with stringy black hair and eye makeup that was extremely heavy standing outside the door. Her entire body was covered in the permanent art. “I thought you had been joking about the tattoo thing.”
He gave me a sly smile and nudged my shoulder. “Come on, Andrei, lighten up.”
“Your mother said it vas fine?”
“Dude,” he groaned, dragging out the single word. “My mom’s never home; she doesn’t care. And didn’t you say your folks would let you get tattoos once you turned seventeen?”
“You’ve been seventeen for six months, so let’s go!”
“Vinny,” I groaned. Before I was aware of it, we were steps away from the parlor. I had been asking my mother and father if I could be permanently inked for the past few months, and they did not seem to mind.
“Okay,” I finally sighed, turning my voice to more of a whisper. “But I am not making vodka for you for quite some time now.”
Vincent simply pumped his fist in the air and led me into the tiny building.