“That’s just an old system my cousin was getting rid of,” Melanie said. “It doesn’t have any of the features a stereo has to have these days.”
After lunch we went back into her spotless room. She turned on the stereo. I found a stack of old teen magazines and started reading them. Melanie spun herself around on her desk chair and chatted on the phone with another friend. Considering we didn’t have anything to say to each other, we made good use of the time. That evening Melanie’s mother drove me home. When we got there she looked around, unsettled, and insisted on taking me to the door to make sure I got home to my mother.
But my mother wasn’t home. I had a key.
“You should come over again,” said Melanie’s mother, patting my cheek.
“Thanks,” I said, thinking to myself, Not until there’s a new stack of magazines.
After that I looked at our apartment in a different light.I pictured spotless Melanie in her pressed jean jacket taking the elevator with me. I pictured the way she would look around, fidgeting, like her mother. The way the scent of her soap would fight with the smell of urine in the hallway—and lose. I pictured her coming through the door of our apartment, catching sight of the couch we’d found discarded by a dumpster and the little table in front of it that would collapse if you even looked at it too hard. Books on the floor. The little TV and stack of videocassettes—even back then nobody had VHS tapes anymore. The cabinet with no door. My stepfather’s socks drying on the radiator. My brother’s sweatpants draped over a chair. We had five chairs, each one different because we’d found them separately, each left out on the street the night before a heavy garbage pickup.
We always ate in the kitchen, except when we had guests over for a party—in which case we had to clear out the main room to be able to fit extra chairs borrowed from neighbors. Our kitchen table was usually covered with jars of jam, letters, postcards, half-empty bottles, and old newspapers. We had twenty plates; none matched any of the others. My mother had bought them all individually at the flea market.
We didn’t have a dishwasher back then, and sometimes all twenty plates would stack up in the sink before my mother washed them up. Sometimes I did it, but not very often. And never when Vadim told me to—the same Vadim who left the frying pan crusted with the remains of his fried eggs. Though when his foul mouth started muttering my mother’s name menacingly, I cleaned up real fast.
I hate men.
Anna says good men do exist. Nice, friendly men who cook and help clean up and who earn money. Men who want to have children and give gifts and plan vacations. Who wear clean clothes, don’t drink, and even look halfway decent. Where on earth are they, I ask. She says they’re out there—if not in our town then in Frankfurt. But she doesn’t know any personally, unless you count people she’s seen on TV.
That’s why I always repeat the words my mother used to say: I don’t need a man.
Of course, though she always said that, she never stuck to it. Ever since I decided to kill Vadim, I’ve felt a lot better. I also promised Anton, my nine-year-old little brother, that I’d do it. And I think he feels better now, too. When I told him, he opened his eyes wide and asked, breathless, “How are you going to do it?”
I acted as if I had everything under control. “There’s a thousand ways I could do it,” I told him. “I could poison him, suffocate him, strangle him, stab him, push him off a balcony,
run him over in a car.”
“You don’t have a car,” said my brother Anton—and he was right.
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