Cat, night at the cemetery and other stories

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How our headmaster changed

How I loved my classmates! Of course, they were all far from being angels, but there was such a great variety of actions and emotions in them that allowed us all to feel the brightness of life. I don’t think I was somehow unknowingly lucky with my classmates. Guys are like guys, but I think the thing was that my opinion very often coincided with that of the majority. And that was to my liking, as you can imagine. I mean, probably yes, I got lucky with them!

Not all actions and emotions had a positive connotation. We, like all pupils, used to scold the school at every opportunity. For its rules, for the way it often seemed to us to be taking up our time.

And now, one such negative emotion was our dislike of the principal. I mean, I don’t think that a school principal is the kind of profession which is supposed to give birth to love in students. But our headmaster had one peculiarity which made us very uncomfortable. No, it was not that we, as all pupils should be, were afraid of him. And it was not that he was very strict; on the contrary, in our opinion, he was too kind.

His most important quality, which made us shudder, was that he liked to write down all his remarks in a school diary. Like that, you’d be running around at recess and bumping into the headmaster. Do you think he would scold us in a fierce voice, shame us in front of everyone, or take us to the class teacher for a showdown? I wish! Instead of all the things we thought the headmaster should do, he would simply ask us to bring the diary, and when he got it, he would silently write something in it and return it to us with a smile.

As you can imagine, all of these records were later disclosed to my parents, after which the obvious things happened: various punishments. Some were forbidden to go out for a week, some were deprived of sweets, but I was more often forbidden to see my friend Lesha, and sadness and sadness set in. Besides, the principal’s notes spoilt the whole diary. Yuri Konstantinovich made no exception for anyone.

Whether you were an «A» student, a «C» student, or even a hooligan, all our diaries looked the same — like an unpublished book of our director’s thoughts. And Yuri Konstantinovich had, oh, so many thoughts, and his handwriting was Wow, what a widespread! Yes, yes, sometimes his records occupied all pages of the week, leaving no hope of how to erase them, or how to eradicate. There was a sin in all of us, we often erased or tore out the pages of the diary with the formidable, but tiny, in comparison with the principal’s notes, lines of teachers.

In short, it was a nuisance and a nuisance to us. Yes, so we thought that Yuri Konstantinovich’s behaviour and detrimental habit of our diaries prevented us from enjoying life to the full. As you understand, this is why every pupil of our school, so it seemed to me, and every classmate of mine, undoubtedly had at least one deepest dream — that we should have a new headmaster. And if you want something badly enough, it sometimes comes true.

It was a «holiday» at our school, too. I was sitting in the history room, frantically trying to memorize the chapter on primitive people. I could never figure out how our ancestors could make spears out of stone that could kill an entire mammoth.

We boys in the woods often tried to carve something from stone, even broke stones, as described in the history book, but we failed to produce such a formidable weapon. No matter how hard we tried. The best we got was a stick, a digger, with which we could only dig a small hole. It could not even be called a spear. The first root on the way of our spear was an insuperable obstacle and it broke with a sad snap. What a mammoth! And in the chapter about prehistoric man it was written that Cro-Magnons could get a mammoth with the help of their primitive spears with stone tips. That’s why I couldn’t believe it. «Well, no, it just can’t be,» I thought. Check it out! They blamed everything on primitive man, made him an engineer, a graduate of the university. A primitive and grimy ancestor could not have been smarter than us progressive schoolchildren. At most, I was ready to believe that our ancient ancestor was sitting in his cave and eating the very roots which were struggling to be torn out of the ground by that same stone tip.

Behind these thoughts I did not immediately notice the commotion that was starting around me. It took some time for the scraps of phrase to form into meaningful sentences for me!

— Oh, really?

— Who told you that?

— What luck!!!

— Who, Yuri Konstantinovich?!

— He’s leaving?!

I torn myself away from the textbook, looked at the guys around me, and I finally began to make sense of what was happening around me.

— What are you guys talking about?! Who left? The director? Where, what happened? — I asked.

— Yuri Konstantinovich left!!! — shouted all together.

— Dimasik, you can’t imagine! We’re going to have another principal,» Natasha said and started dancing. She took my diary from my desk and threw it up to the ceiling and almost shouted:

— Freedom!!!

Everyone around me was running around and wouldn’t shut up. I could not yet comprehend all the joy that surrounded me and remained serious. These ancestors with their stone tip had settled so tightly in my brain that they did not allow me to start having unrestrained fun like everyone else around me. For that I once again hated these stone-tipped ancestors that did not fit into my picture of the ancient world.

— Goddamn it! — I said.

— What are you swearing for? — Seryozha asked.

— No, no! I don’t mean you, it’s just a story to answer soon.

— Ahh… — said Sergei, but I don’t think he understood anything, because he also grabbed his diary and threw it at the picture, where primitive people were throwing spears at a poor mammoth, which had fallen into a deep hole. And I thought, «Wow, a hole, it had to be dug with something, too.» But my thoughts were interrupted.

At that moment, our history teacher entered the classroom. She probably thought that instead of her students looked at the class Neanderthals or Cro-Magnons — such chaos was in our class. Or maybe she thought nothing of the sort, but was very surprised.

— What’s going on here! — she said loudly. — Quickly pick up your school diaries and sit down at your desks!

— Elena Mikhailovna, it’s five minutes to class and we have a break! — Alyosha begged.

— Recess is for the teacher, — said Elena Mikhailovna dryly. — Get to your desks! Quickly!

Reluctantly, picking up our diaries and notebooks from the floor, we sat down at our desks.

— Even on our way out, our principal keeps disturbing us,» Natasha whispered to me and laughed softly.

So we sat there till the very beginning of the lesson. We didn’t like it to the extent that when the bell rang for class we all breathed a sigh of relief. Soon after the bell rang, Elena Mikhailovna entered the classroom again. This time a tall, bogatyr-looking man entered the classroom with her. «Wow, a giant,» I thought. — And who is he?

— Children,» the teacher started without preparation. — I would like to introduce you to our new headmaster. Please love and welcome — Pavel Viktorovich. — Elena pointed with both hands at the man. He silently nodded his head in greeting.

An extraordinary silence fell into the classroom. I could see their lips moving in what seemed to me to be a silent cry for help.

— I forgot,» our teacher continued. — One more piece of news, Pavel Viktorovich will be teaching your class history instead of me. And I will teach 9th and 10th grades,» she added and smiled happily.

There was a murmur in the classroom. Everyone looked at each other. They looked as if they were drowning, staring hopelessly at the ship that was sailing away.

— Elena Mikhailovna,» Ira started right from the spot. — How come?

As for me, I realised at that moment how primitive people had dealt with a mammoth with an ordinary spear with that very stone tip. The whole secret was that they were the size of our new headmaster and by a sad coincidence the new history teacher. «Yeah, he’d tear a mammoth with his bare hands,» I thought.

— Ira, Pavel is a good teacher, I’m sure you’ll be happy! — with feigned joy on her face Elena Mikhailovna turned to the principal as if hinting that something should be said to confirm her words. But no one said anything. Pavel Viktorovich nodded once more and left.

— So, guys, where were we at in the last lesson? — fidgetily asked Elena Mikhailovna and added, «It’s early to say goodbye, today I will give you the last history lesson.

«The last lesson in history — I thought. — I wish I had said so, why all these hopes and delusions? — I whispered aloud.»

After the lesson my friend Alyosha came up to me.

— Well, what do you think, how will it be now? — He asked.

— Oh no, I don’t even want to think,» I waved. — But I don’t like all this. The new headmaster is really big,» I added. — Have you seen his hands?

— Yes, yes, his arms,» agreed Alyosha and imitated someone strangling him. — And he is like a mountain, just looking at him makes you want to run away, — Alyosha finished and rubbed his cheek, on which there was a mark of an old bruise he got in a small fight a week ago. I thought it was very symbolic.

— What are you secretly talking about? — Natasha came running up and with one look of positive energy stopped our tragic conversation.

— About the new director,» automatically replied Lesha.

— Pfft, nothing to grieve about,» Natasha curled her fingers and made a funny face.

I looked at Natasha. There was something about girls that we couldn’t understand. One minute they were squealing at the sight of a small spider, and the next, huge as a rock, the headmaster didn’t scare her at all.

— Don’t you care who our headmaster is? — asked Alyosha. — He’ll swat any one of us like a fly.

— And, and you may not have noticed, — I started making the atmosphere of inevitability in my voice, — he will be not just the director, but, attention, our history teacher! — I finished and looked at Natasha, hoping to see the horror in her eyes. But there was no look of horror in her eyes.

— You guys are so funny! — Natasha laughed. — Are you invited to fight with him? They’ll get them whacked! Calm down, he won’t fight you… Why do boys measure everything by strength, eh? We are not Cro-Magnons, we are homo sapiens! — Natasha said proudly, raising her head.

— Well, we’ll see, but I wouldn’t be so optimistic if I were you,» Alyosha continued in a dramatic tone.

— Alright, I’m going to the canteen! — Natasha laughed again and ran off.

For the next two days nothing happened. Here and there a group of boys gathered spontaneously to discuss the new headmaster and all the rumours connected with him. They shared the little bits of information they had managed to get. Everyone realised that most of the information was, to put it mildly, not entirely reliable. There was even talk about Pavel’s eating. It was Seryozha who managed to spot the director in the canteen. But there was no specific information that would help us to reduce the eyes of our fears.

Moreover, incomprehensible metamorphoses were taking place with our fear. We were struck by the fear of Friday! Actually, we loved Fridays. Everyone loves Fridays. Friday has always meant one thing to us — the weekend is near! Sit in class and be happy! But this Friday, we weren’t happy. This Friday we had a history lesson on the timetable.

Which meant that we would have to face Anatoly Viktorovich and all our fears. For most of the boys, this did not bode well for us. The girls, for the most part, didn’t seem to care. The girls, for the most part, didn’t seem to care.

Why is it like this? When you try to make time go by as slowly as possible, it flies like a bird, and when you want it to go by faster, it crawls like a caterpillar. Friday came too fast for us.

And here we are, just like in the old days, sitting in the history room. The girls continue to chat cheerfully. The boys sit with stony faces and each one is concentrated, like a hero about to cover a machine gun embrasure with his body. From the outside it probably looked very funny. The girls having fun and running around, and the boys sitting at their desks. Usually it was the other way around.

— Are you pissing your trousers? — Natasha shouted loudly in my and Alyosha’s direction.

— Oh, wait!» Alyosha shook his fist at her. — You’re my…

What else Alyosha wanted to threaten Natasha with, we never knew, when the door opened and Pavel Viktorovich came in. And as soon as he entered, the bell rang.

— Did you see how he is? — Alesha almost hissed.

I only brushed it aside, fear prevented me from more than speaking, I could not turn my head in my friend’s direction. I was fascinated by the way our new headmaster walked through the classroom.

Pavel Viktorovich came to the table, opened his briefcase, silently took out a magazine, a textbook and some other papers. Then he looked at us with interest.

— Hello children! Why so serious, did you miss history? — said Pavel with a smile.

Such a booming voice I probably had never heard before. Many of the boys even ducked at the sound of his voice, as if they were in the trenches and a machine gun went off at them. I didn’t understand the director’s joke, because of the bass voice, and continued to sit like a statue, looking straight ahead. Lesha pushed me with his elbow and I looked at him. Leshka, as if continuing the theme of the war in the trenches, where there was the rumble of battle and it was useless to say anything, faintly shook his head in the direction of the Headmaster. I knew this gesture of his head well. It was a gesture Lesha often used when we faced strong opponents in football. Nine times out of ten, it meant that the game was going to be very hard, and it was a gesture that warned me to concentrate and pay attention. But what he was getting at now, I didn’t work out. I wondered, because I wanted to understand what Alyosha meant, but then Pavel continued his speech.

— So, you’ve settled on Cro-Magnons, right? On how and with what primitive people hunted mammoths. Right? — But without waiting for an answer, Pavel continued. — To refresh the material, I will ask Dima Rybakov to the blackboard, Dima will tell us in detail what the previous topic was about.

I shuddered and could not believe my ears. «Я? I told Elena Viktorovna everything in the last lesson! She even gave me an A for this topic in the magazine. Wait, that’s not fair! Me, me, me,» was all that went through my head. After looking at Natasha with a look of confusion,

I stood up and, with my head down, went to the blackboard. I was silently escorted to this «war» by 29 pairs of eyes. I reached the blackboard, turned to the class and… And then I froze. I couldn’t say a word, I was panting like a steam engine and flushed like a tomato. What’s the matter with me? I knew the subject perfectly well. But I remained silent and couldn’t say anything. The mere fact that Pavel Viktorovich was looking at me paralyzed me.

— We’re listening to you, said Pavel Viktorovich. — Courage.

— We… No… Fifteen thousand years… Not that… Ninety years ago it was cold on Earth and people covered themselves with animal skins…» I wheezed. «What kind of nonsense am I talking? — I said to myself. — What are you, what skins, what people, why 90?». Everyone in the class looked at me sympathetically.

Finally, I pulled myself together and in a ringing voice continued.

— Cro-Magnons lived 30,000 years ago all over Europe. The number of achievements of Cro-Magnon man was so great that several times exceeded the number of achievements of Pithecanthropus and Neanderthal combined.

— Well done, Dmitry, go on,» Pavel told me in a calm voice.

— Cro-Magnons inherited from their ancestors a large active brain and hunting technology, — I continued. — They made spearheads of stone. These spearheads allowed them to hunt any beast, including mammoth.

— Thank you, Dima, sit down,» Pavel Viktorovich suddenly said.

I looked at him incredulously and went to my desk. Everyone who could reach me poked me with their hands in a friendly manner. Someone gave me a thumbs-up. I had not yet reached my seat when Pavel continued.

— You know, guys, I was in a real archaeological expedition. We were excavating the site of an ancient man’s camp,» Pavel looked around at us all.

I saw Ira, our pride of the school, who had won all the history Olympiads, straighten up and listen when she heard the principal’s words about the real expedition. Pavel, noticing the surprise on our faces, continued.

— Yes, yes, guys, ten years ago I was an archaeologist. And I am lucky, that now I can share my historical knowledge and findings with you. With these words he took a stone out of his briefcase. I thought so at first, but after a closer look I realised that it was nothing less than a genuine stone spearhead! — This spearhead,“ he held it up so we could see it better, „is over 30,000 years old, can you imagine? I took this spearhead on my word of honour from the archaeological warehouse of our museum. Yeah, guys, our museum. There’s a new exhibit opening soon. It’s going to be dedicated to primitive people. You know why? Because this spearhead was found not far from our neighborhood! Can you believe it? There was a Cro-Magnon site right next door to us. And, moreover, it was always believed that Cro-Magnons lived 20 to 30 thousand years ago. And this, — Pavel put the tip on the table, — is the proof that they lived 35 thousand years ago! Can you imagine?!

I saw a light in Pavel Viktorovich’s eyes, and his face immediately brightened, and even his voice seemed to soften. I looked at him differently. He didn’t seem scary to me anymore. On the contrary, in a flash, he was no longer my nightmare. I looked around and realized that most of the boys were staring at Pavel Viktorovich with unblinking, interested eyes.

All our fears about Pavel Viktorovich vanished, evaporated, as we liked to say, in an instant.

— Is it really true,“ Leshka whispered to me, „I wish I could hold that tip!

Maybe Pavel Viktorovich heard him, or maybe it was just coincidence, but in the next moment he suggested, -Who wants to hold the tip?

Everyone in the class raised their hands.

— Stand up, come up, don’t be shy,“ said Pavel Viktorovich, „just don’t push.

But seeing how the boys began to push, and tried to be the first to grab the spike, he suggested:

— Guys! Let me pass the stone spike by the desks, first the first desk, then the second and so on.

That lesson was not only the most interesting history lesson for us, it was a very enlightening lesson on how we should not judge a person by his or her appearance. I learned that only actions matter. We boys also learned that girls can sometimes know things that are impossible to know, things that can only be felt.

Pavel still surprised and delighted us many times with interesting stories. And in high school he began to teach us physics as well. Always when he started a lesson for us, we knew it was going to be very interesting!

You may ask me what kind of director he was. He was a fair director and he helped us out a number of times, that’s a fact.

Cat love

This tramp came to us out of nowhere. More accurately, we found him in the street. Or met him. Or maybe we didn’t meet him, but he chose us. Anyway, one day, when I was five years old, we were walking from kindergarten. It was winter, and it was dark outside. I don’t remember much, but I definitely remember a lonely, swinging lantern. At that time, such lanterns could be found in every city and on every street in our country. This lantern, which is so imprinted in my memory, was swaying in the wind. The spot of light, in the rhythm of the movement of the bulb under the iron, ungainly lampshade, swayed and illuminated one side of the street, then the other. It should be noted that apart from the darkness and cold, there was a strong wind blowing outside. Perhaps it was a blizzard, because the wind was howling in the surrounding chimneys. But I did not realise it at the time.

According to my mother’s words, a street lamp at some point illuminated a lonely figure of a black cat. This cat was sitting next to the fence and was humming softly as soon as it realised it had been spotted. Adding to the image of the unhappy cat was the fact that it was clutching one and then the other paw. Frozen. Mum and I stopped to get a better look at him. It wasn’t that we had never seen a cat before. It was just that in the midst of all that dark and cold evening,

the cat under the lantern didn’t look quite natural or particularly pitiful.

— Hey you, what are you doing here, go home, you’ll freeze! — said Mum to the cat.

But the cat didn’t move. Instead of going home, he raised his head, looked at us with a sad look and meowed. That’s when we noticed that the cat was missing a piece of his ear, and the remaining ear was bleeding a little.

— You’re hurt, mate, who did that to you? — Mum sighed — Come here!

Strangely enough, this time the cat got up and came towards us. This cat wasn’t exactly black, it had a very small white tassel of wool on the end of its tail. In the dark it looked like a mysterious third eye. This was especially noticeable when the cat wagged its tail. It didn’t wag its tail the way other cats usually wag when they were angry. His wagging was like a flinch. It was as if he was being shaken by a special kind of feline silent sobbing.

— Here, have some,» Mum handed the cat a piece of sausage. She bought some sausage on her way to day care.

The cat came close to me, hesitantly sniffed the outstretched piece. I could see his whiskers flinch, his eyes light up bright green. Very carefully, looking around, the cat took the outstretched piece and quickly, almost instantly, disappeared behind the gate of our kindergarten.

— Hey, where are you going, silly boy, are you scared? — Mum shouted after him, «Don’t be afraid, we don’t bite! We stood for a while, peering into the hole under the fence.

But the cat did not appear again. All we could hear was the howling of the wind and the creaking of a swinging lamp on an iron hook. Sharp snowflakes stabbed my face. I shivered and said to my mother:

— Mama, I’m cold, where did the kitty go, why did he leave?

My mother took my hand in hers.

— Well, Dima, our kitty’s gone. He must have a home there. And we should probably go, because it’s getting really cold.

My mother and I walked home down the dark street.

— Mum, will the kitty come back? — for some reason I asked.

— Dima, kitty is sleeping, he ate and now sleeps in his house, I told you, — mum reassured me.

— And where has he got a house? — I persisted with childish questions. Mum was about to say something, but then we saw the cat again. This time it just sat in our way and looked at us with its green eyes. It was like the cat was saying, «Where are you going?»

— Mum, you said he was sleeping at home,» I said again.

— Look at him,» Mum said with a wave of her hands. — He doesn’t want to leave us!

And, turning to the cat, she added:

— Why are you so lonely? Where did you come from?

But the cat did not answer. Though I, by my childish nature, was ready for this cat to talk. He just sat there looking at us. And then he raised his front paw and began to wash diligently.

— You’ve got a good time to wash,» said Mama. — You’ll freeze your tongue off!

We walked past the cat and the cat stopped washing and, as if on cue, got up and skittered after us. Mum turned round.

— Baby, we have nothing else to please you, — said Mom. — We are all out of sausage for you, go home!

But, either the cat didn’t understand what mum said, or it decided that the offer to go home meant following us home. Simply put, the cat continued to run easily in our footsteps. At times he lagged behind, distracted by some smells. He sniffed and twitched his tail as if he smelled something dangerous. And at times the cat would run ahead.

At such moments he would stop and look at us, as if to say: «How long do I have to wait for you, you’re freezing my paws off!

I liked the way the cat ran around us. There was something nice and kind about it. Pretty soon it was all over. But not because the cat ran away, but because we reached home. Mum opened the gate of our yard.

— Hey, Painka, why didn’t you go home?» Mum knelt down in front of the cat. — Let’s call you Winky!

Mama got up.

— Well, what else are we going to do with you? You’ll freeze in the street, you’re just a kitten. And then I noticed that the cat wasn’t really a cat, it was a big cat, but still a kitten. And though it was the size of an adult cat, but the cute face, with characteristic sharpness of all kittens nose, left no doubt — this is a real kitten.

From that day on, a new tenant appeared in our house Pajinka, and I added — «big-eared. That’s what I called him — «Pansy the big-eared one.

But what kind of cat was it? To say that a hurricane had settled in the house is not to say anything. It seemed that our cat lived to deny his innocent name by all his actions. Yes, he wasn’t a goody-goody for a single day. Since this vagabond moved in, the animal world of our house has undergone serious changes.

All the mice that, before the arrival of this cat, had felt quite at ease and not only in the cellar but also in the two sheds of our house, suddenly disappeared in an instant. Along with them disappeared the nightly fights of the mice in my room. I, of course, like all children, loved animals, but the mice fighting and squealing in the night was annoying, even to me, a five-year-old child. Therefore, the disappearance of these shows at night is a relief to all of us. And in spite of other, not innocent pranks of Painka, we were still very pleased with him.

Winky had grown into a big cat with incredibly fluffy feet. And he was so heavy that when he sat on my lap, it seemed to me that I was holding at least my school bag full of textbooks, and even a weight from the gym. But it was his soft paws that changed everything. I really liked stroking them. I was very fond of stroking them, but I didn’t always understand that people other than Daddy liked his paws. Mum and Dad loved the cat too and often spoiled him with all sorts of goodies. In a word, we all loved him.

But the cat, as it seemed to us at the time, had no special affection for us. We did not see much tenderness from him. He was more of a proud loner by nature. Very often he would disappear for a week or two, confirming his unsociable status. The first times we thought he was gone for good or lost. The very first time he disappeared, we thought he had been hit by a car and got very worried. But all our assumptions were wrong. Every time Painka came home unharmed, except sometimes with his sides scraped off. And there was a reason for that. In the course of time we learned that this cat was rampaging and pranking not only in our house, but also in the houses of our neighbours. There were countless complaints about the cat’s shenanigans, and by a certain point we stopped noticing them. Of course, in the beginning my father reacted to these complaints in some way, he would threaten the cat with his fist, he would not let him into the house at night.

But what is repeated day after day for many years, over time, becomes routine. Having accepted our Painka’s restless nature, even Papa has come to terms with his hooliganism. At a time like this, he would only throw up his hands in conversation with the neighbours.

— Yes, I punished him, what can I do, he is a cat, he does not want to understand anything, it is his nature, — Daddy lamented.

— Such a nature? Can’t you do anything, eh? — Another neighbour, this time Aunt Nina, waved her hands. — And by the way, yesterday he ran over five of my chickens, who will pay for it if not the cat? — she went on.

On such occasions daddy would sigh and take out his wallet and say: «Yes, the cat certainly won’t pay, how much do we owe for the chickens?

After such occasions, Dad would give our black prankster a sullen look. But he, with his white-pointed tail up proudly, would just walk out of the house.

It seemed to me that the cat understood that he was being scolded, but he did not want to do anything to improve himself. The incidents of robbery continued unabated, here and there our cat would make more and more forays. Not only poor chickens and pesky mice suffered from his teeth and claws, but also neighborhood rabbits and even dogs. Yes, yes, dogs, they, too, became victims in the fights with our cat.

The pooch was fearless. He would lunge at dogs of any size and would not let them come closer than 50 metres to our yard. Until the dogs knew our cat’s temperament and felt the sharpness of his claws, they hung around all day long. They would rush carelessly into our yard, where they often, before the arrival of Painka, frightened our chickens and chased the grazing goat Milla. With the appearance of this cat everything changed. The former heroes have seriously tempered their fervour. Some dogs, realizing they were no longer allowed in our yard, had to have deep scratches on their noses and scraped sides. But most of the dogs, most likely the smarter ones, raced away, flashing their paws, and in no way allowed a close encounter with Painka.

Of course, there were also more difficult situations. There was a small village shop two houses away from us. Our Painka, unable to think of anything better, made a dig underneath it and learned to climb into the shop’s storeroom. After that we used to find sausages, wieners, fish and even bits of bread on our porch. We couldn’t understand why Painka was doing this. Maybe Painka was deliberately sharing his loot with us, or maybe he just couldn’t eat it all. We didn’t know that.

Every time the salesgirl came to see us, the cat had the foresight to hide somewhere. Away from our eyes. And Dad, with a sigh, would open his wallet again. I was always afraid that Dad would run out of patience, and one day he would chase Painka out of our house. But, to my surprise, he did not run out of patience, which I was very glad of.

I think it was the fact that the cat was so zealously defending our yard that saved the cat from Dad’s intense wrath. There was something subtly noble about Painka, something that bribed Daddy and kept him from chasing the cat away. There was something subtly right about Pawnee. Clearly, that very right thing was hidden somewhere deep in his incomprehensible feline soul. Anyway, we all felt that the cat was quite extraordinary, maybe he even loved us. It’s just that his feline love is not really understood by us humans. And one day we became convinced of that.

It had been seven years since we had had our cat, Painka. I had already turned 12 and our Cot was, most probably (we didn’t know the exact age), about 8. It was a hot summer day, and we gathered with Lesha in my barn, to make a birthday present for my dad, he has at the very end of June.

— Let’s make him a toolbox? — Lyosha suggested

— A toolbox? Are you serious? Four planks and a nail in the middle? — I made a joke.

— The carnation is not in the middle,» Lesha replied seriously. — Besides, it won’t just be a box!

— What’s it going to be, a box? — I didn’t let up.

— You’re always joking, Dima,» Leshka retorted. — We’ll make a box, burn a pattern on it, and varnish the whole thing, you know how cool it will be! — Leshik looked at me with enthusiastic eyes.

— Oh, that’s a good idea,» I agreed. — But I get to choose the pattern, because it’s my dad! When it’s your dad’s birthday, you choose,» I said in an insistent tone. I assumed that Lesha would make most of the box, but the present was from me. So I clung to this drawing.

— Deal!» said Lesha.

That’s why I respected my friend, he never took a stand or stubbed over nothing. Unlike me. I could have fought and stubbornly argued about anything. Leshka didn’t insist on things that didn’t mean much to him. This little character trait was the key feature that cemented the foundation of our friendship. Who else could tolerate my arguments over the trivialities? For example, I spent half a day arguing with Seryozha about how many feathers a chicken has. I often argued with Natasha about whether or not it was dangerous to eat the middle of an apple and the seeds inside. And with Sveta, we almost got into a fight. And all because I said that the sun has mountains, with which she strongly disagreed and called me stupid ignoramus. It was different with Leshka. An argument with him ended, at most, after the third line. It wasn’t because Lesha was weak-willed and cowardly; on the contrary. He quickly realised that I was only arguing over trivial matters that had nothing to do with our friendship.

And about serious disagreements I never argued, but preferred, on the contrary, to give the decision to him.

So we decided to make a toolbox with a pattern that we would make with a wood burner. I had one of these, the Smoke, and I knew how to use it a bit. But the problem was that I was burning at home, on my comfortable table. Here in the barn, I had to do everything standing up, and that thought did not give me confidence.

— Lesh, let’s do it this way: you assemble the box, sand the boards for it, and give me the right side, i.e. the board on the right side, and I’ll burn my drawing at home. I think it’s more convenient that way than burning it on the finished box,» I suggested.

— You’re smart,“ Leshik winked, „I was about to suggest it myself.

— Well, that’s great, you get that board ready and I’ll be off,» I concluded.

Lesha was a master in carpentry. I was even a little jealous of his handy work with the planer and the saw. Not that I had the wrong hands, as they say. But his hands were not just in the right place, they were golden too. Quite quickly he handed me the finished board.

— Go burn it, while I work on the other sides,» he said and handed me a perfectly sanded board.

I took it in my hands and ran my hand over it.

— Well, how do you do it? Not a rustle in it!

— Go, go, or while you scorch, the night will come! — Lesya said and turned back to the workbench, as if to say with all his appearance that he had no time.

I ran home, entered my room, sat at the table and started thinking. Still, which picture to choose? I flipped through the magazine «Science and Life», then took a stack of «Technics of Youth» magazines from the shelf. I leafed and leafed, but I didn’t like anything. «Spaceship of the future, no, not that one. Maybe that tiger? It’s not the same, plus I don’t think I can do it,

it’s a bit complicated for me. Maybe I should have had Lesha do the burning, it’s harder than sawing planks,» I didn’t notice Cute jumped into my lap.

— Oh, it’s you,» I stroked the cat lightly.

— Maybe you know what pattern to choose? — I said without much hope.

At that moment the cat jumped from my lap on the table. The pooch slipped on the magazine, and the magazine fell to the floor, crumpling up some pages. I picked up the magazine and began to straighten the jammed pages.

— You’d better help, you’re all too good at stirring,» I threw into the empty space with a grudging grin, for there was no sign of Cotswold any more. He must have been frightened when the magazine fell to the floor with a loud pop. Then my gaze fell on the contents of the page I was unfolding. On it was a picture of a fox. «Now that’s a thought,» I thought. — Why don’t I start churning out a fox!».

It was said and done. I enthusiastically set to work. It took me almost three hours for the fox to come to life on my board. My burner was so hot that it was already burning my hands. Even when I grabbed it by the plastic handle, I wanted to put it back on the iron stand as quickly as possible. Finally, I was finished. I couldn’t wait to show Lesha how good it was.

In a hurry, I grabbed the board and ran outside to show off my work to my friend.

— Lekha, it’s done! The main side of the box is ready! Look! That’s what I invented to burn! — I ran and was more pleased with myself than ever. I reached the barn, and on its very entrance I tripped, so that my plank was ripped out of my hands and flew like a helicopter to the ceiling. Then I flopped down with a resounding thud, and the board landed on my head like a downed aeroplane with a very funny ringing sound.

— Oops,» I said loudly, «stupid,» I tapped the board and rubbed my bruised head.

— Are you all right? — Lesha asked.

In my heart I was grateful that he hadn’t laughed and joked about my hurricane-like appearance. «A real friend!» — rushed through my head.

Lesha helped me up and handed me the fallen board.

— Be careful,“ he said, „it’s better to be safe in the workshops.

— Safety for what? — I asked again, shaking after the fall.

— Safety precautions,» he repeated. — My brother, if you remember, works at the factory.

— I remember, I remember, — I confirmed.

— Well, when the accident happened there, my brother Andrei told me that the worker didn’t follow the safety rules. We are almost in the factory too, — Lesha put his hands around the workbench with the vice and saws hanging on the wall.

— So you have to be careful here, too,» with these words he picked up a box, which was missing one side.

— Be careful, one side is missing, and it’s still a bit flimsy,» said Lesha and handed the box to me.

I took it carefully and looked at it. «Yes, that’s something,» I thought.

The walls of the box were smooth, like the surface of a river, and the sunlight shone through the gaps in the wall of the barn. The box turned out just fine and had a separate handle at the top.

— Leha, well, you’re a master! Thank you! — I said admiringly.

— And what about you? You were shouting something about a fox before you fell down.

— Oh, yes, yes. I decided to scorch the fox. Well, you know, the box is made of wood, which means it’s made of wood. And the wood is a fox, so that’s it,» I mumbled.

— Iron logic, Dima, — at last, Lesha smiled. — I wouldn’t have thought of that, — he said, and began to examine my work.

At this time, or maybe a little later, Winky came running up to us and wiggled at his feet.

— What are you doing here? — I gingerly shooed the cat away from the street,

— No strangers are allowed to stay here, it’s safety measures, — I said to the cat in a moral tone.

But my cat did not resist. On top of that, he meows like he has never meow before. Because we have not heard this very simple meow from Puinka for all eight years, I was unspeakably surprised.

— Wow, so you know how to meow, why didn’t you say something? — I laughed. — Anyway, will not let! What if a board falls on you, I got it, — I said, and again I rubbed his bruised head.

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