A Missing Person

A Missing Person


A Missing Person

by Fannie Tsurakova


The old lady withdrew her hand and barely the tip of her finger she managed to skim slightly a bit of the white cream of the cake. She lapped it up and smacked her lips.

“You should blow out the candles first,” said her great granddaughter and started swaying her legs from the high-backed chair.

“I have no diabetes, there are no contraindications,” the old lady replied.

“Just wait minute,” the daughter placed saucers at the end of the table, bent her head and counted them.

“A new fad, candles,” the old lady went on. “I have never placed candles in my cake.”

“You fill your cheeks with air and blow on them,” the little girl took a deep breath and blew on the two candles. The one was in the shape of the figure 8 the other, 0.

“The child will catch cold in these socks,” the old lady said. “Bronchopneumonia claims most victims among aldolescents up to the age of twelve,” she went on. “Aetiology is either bacterial or viral.”

“Come and help me will you,” the daughter had opened the glass case of the drawing-room sideboard and was holding champagne glasses.

The little girl slid off the chair.

“Is this the neighbours’child?” inquired the old lady.

“This is Magda, your great granddaughter. The granddaughter of me brother Peter,” the daughter explained slowly and distinctly.

“You have sclerosis,” the little girl climbed on to a chair at some distance from the old lady. “You’ll get a CD as a birthday present,” she informed her, swaying to and fro with her elbows on the table. “From someone you were very much in love with when you were young.”

“Come on, go home now, this get-together is for relatives only,” the old lady urged the child with an impatient gesture.

“This is Magda!” The man approaching his 50’s chose where to place the ice bucket with a bottle of champagne in it. “She is not the neighbours’ child. She’s my granddaughter.”

“Oh!” The old lady looked up, trying to interpret the information. “Sorry!” she added. “I’m only a burden for you,” tears welled up in her eyes. “Where’s my husband?”

“He’s dead,” the daughter stopped arranging the table napkins. “Father died five years ago.”

“That’s exactly what I thought!” Frightened, the old lady pressed her hands to her lips. “I guess I knew it somehow! Men have lower life expectancy. That’s why more boys are born,” she reached out towards the cake with a finger. “Even when children, their mortality rate is higher. Heaving two peaks: up to the age of one, and -”

“She’s skimming off the cream again!” yelled Magdalena.


The old lady withdrew her hand.

“Shall we prescribe and injection to this girl-twirl?”

“They’ve brought her!” A boy about twelve pushed open the balcony door and entered the drawing room.

“Maria is coming,” the daughter checked whether there was enough in the lighter next to the cake. “You remember Maria, don’t you?”

The old lady looked vacantly.

“Don’t you remember Maria?” her daughter sighed. “Maria your friend, your fellow student.”

“You haven’t cut down the lilac tree, have you?” the old lady asked slowly and distinctly. “Why can’t I smell it?”

“You don’t remember even Maria?”

“I remember her. She married at twenty,” the old lady laughed, “it’s not those who marry early that are real flirts! Your father has cut dawn the lilac, hasn’t he?”

“Let my father rest in peace! He’s dead.”

Steps and congratulations could be heard from the hall.

“Ha! He had been plotting it for a long time!”

Someone knocked on the door.

“Come on in, Auntie Maria!” the daughter cried out.

“He was not the first to die on purpose before his partner!” the old lady went on. “To leave the spouse behind helpless. That’s what it’s done for!”

In the doorway there appeared an elderly woman of small constitution, very alert. Her cane tapped on the parquet floor.

“Goodness, what children!” she exclaimed. “My Goodness, we are still around, we’ve lived to be eighty! Haw are you going, Elena?”

“Nothing serious really. Atherosclerosis or the brain.”

“And one dies only of bronchial pneumonia,” the great granddaughter smeared a black dot on the tablecloth.

“Compensated form,” specified the old lady.

“What a cake! It must be the most gorgeous and most expensive cake in the town!” the newcomer hung her cane on the back of the chair beside the old lady. Hematologie has quoted an article of mine from twenty years ago! I’m so delighted, I can’t help boasting straight-away,” she addressed the others at the table.

“Has the lilac blossomed jet?” the old lady asked in a whisper.

“Pardon!?” Maria failed to hear and leaned towards her friend.

“You’ve been watching the lilac fixedly ever since yesterday?! Yes, it is in blossom!” the son said. “Peter, go and pick a few blossoms from the lilac for your Granny!”

“I am a nuisance,” remarked the old lady. “However, today’s work can’t be done tomorrow.”

“The expression is ‘Don’t pull off till tomorrow what you can do today’,” the little girl corrected her. “Now blow!” she pointed at the lit candles on top of the cake.

The old lady fumbled.

“Within a year sclerosis has devastated her,” the daughter explained to the guest. “Magda, help your Granny!”

The girl slid of the chair, trotted towards the cake, looked at the elderly lady, a sly flame flickered in her eyes and she suddenly blew out the two candles.

Everybody clapped their hands.

“ You had to wait for the two of you to blow them out,” the daughter pulled Magda closer to herself and kissed her on the ear.

“When will the girl’s parents come to take her away?” asked the old lady watching her son cup up the cake. “I wont a piece of that!”, she pointed at the white rose upon the cream.

The great grandson entered and left some lilac twigs on the table.

“It gives off a lovely fragrance,” Maria put her nose close to one of the violet blossoms and then gave it to her friend.

“I prefer white,” said the old lady curtly. “Do please excuse us, my husband is a bit late,” she went on. “We needn’t wait for him. Let’s have a drink,” she raised the glass of champagne in front of her.

“Oh!” her friend was watching her with compassion.

“He’s supposed to be finishing something in the studio,” the old lady ironically added.

“Mother!” the son said.

“Temperamental differences in the family are an important theoretical issue,” the old lady help her ground.

“There’s nothing wrong with them, given today’s mores,” giggled Maria who raised her glass of the champagne but seeing that the others had not yet had a sip, placed it back on the table with some hesitation.

“Marie and I will go out for a cup of coffee,” the old lady rose from her chair.

“We’ll have coffee here,” the son put back the half-empty bottle in the ice bucket. “I have bought a special brand of coffee.”

The daughter took her mother by the hand and gently pushed her back her into her chair. The old lady sat dawn.

“It you go out, you’ll get lost again,” added Magda, then she dipped her index finger into the champagne in front of her and licked it.

“Cheers! To the anniversary,” the daughter raised her glass.

“O, God! Nobody has ever made such a birthday celebration for me!”, tears welled up in Maria’s eyes.

“You don’t think, do you, that all bridges behind me have been burnt?!, the old lady asked her friend.

The twelve-wear-old boy giggled, took the piece of cake he had started eating and went out.

“Happy birthday to you!” the daughter started singing and stood up, glass in hand.

The others stood up too.

“I have to go to the toilet,” the old lady rose again from her chair.

“She goes there every fifteen minutes,” the daughter informed Maria

The old lady minced towards the door, and once in the hall, carefully closed the door behind her.

“God! What a woman she used to be!” Maria drank up her champagne. “Beautiful, intelligent, house-proud. Everything! I’ve known her for sixty-two years: since the first day at the university.”

“She even forgets father is dead,” the daughter noticed Maria’s empty glass and refilled it.

In the hall the old lady slipped her hand into the inside pocket of the man’s jacket hanging on the peg, took out a wallet from in and emptied in of all the banknotes. Then she tucked the wallet under a pair of shoes and quietly stole out of the apartment door.

In the street a warm gust of wind swayed the skirt of her well-pressed, though a big old-fashioned, suit and she face turned her in the direction it was coming from. She went as far as the end of the pavement, let the next warm wave engulf her face, and started walking against in with mincing, hurried steps as if hindered by something invisible. She took the first turning and then the next. A colder wave made the old lady look up at the sky and slow down her pace as if to sniff it and then again turned. She reached a small park planted with acacia trees, turned about this way and that in anxiety and finally chose a bench in the sun. She tried to stretch her head backwards but the esostoses in her neck prevented her movement and she turned her face to one side. She closed her eyes. Her cheeks and hands felt warm; the warmth enveloped her thighs and all of a sudden something touched her knee. She opened her eyes. It was a black dog of indeterminate breed with a neckpiece. A man appeared at the bottom of the alley.

“It’s quite harmless, madam!” he cried out.

The old lady had slipped somewhat from the bench and now regained her posture.

“Dog tapeworm afflicts scores of children every year,” she replied.

The man passed by in silence with averted eyes. The old lady looked under the seat as if in search of something, put her hand into the pocket of her suit, took out the banknotes in her clasped palm and glancing around to make sure nobody was watching, she counted them. She stood up, shoved the money back into her pocket, chose a sunny alley and in two or three minutes reached a tram stop. She approached a kiosk for newspapers and cigarettes.

“Mint drops, please,” she said.

The saleswoman passed her a box of candies.

“But I have no money,” the old lady sighed. “I was robed at home.”

The saleswoman shrugged her shoulders and reached out to take back the box of candies.

“They don’t give me anything to eat,” the old lady went on, bent down her head and stamped her feet.

The saleswoman looked with disbelief at her once expensive and still well-kept suit, at her hairdo and her hands.

“They dress me well only when I meet people,” the old lady continued monotonously, raised her head suddenly and looked searchingly and sharply.

The candies rattled in the saleswoman’s hands.

“Don’t I know that hunger is the cruelest torture,” groaned the old lady. “There is medication for that. Cheap, painless effective... if somebody is in your way. But they’re stingy about that, too.”

The saleswoman again shook the box and was about to put in back in its place.

“Herbs would to too. Preferably the ones that cause no vomiting. Otherwise everyone would guess. Vomiting, poison, crime.”

The box froze in the saleswoman’s hand.

“I have discovered only one such herb in our geographical latitude,” the old lady wend on.

Air whizzed through the saleswoman’s nostrils and for a moment deflected the old lad’s attention.

“... ’Graveyard grass’, that’s what it’s called. Ha! Mogilnik* in Russian. Isn’t it amazing ideas and observation move about the world! Eh?” she tilted her hand ambiguously to one side. They get around like that, no need of newspapers, magazines or space satellites.”


*From Russian ’mogila’ = tomb (Translator’s note)


The candies rattled again in the hands of the saleswoman.

“I adopted the twins of someone, who had been executed. He had slain his wife...” the old lady shrugged her shoulders helplessly. “And now they work for a security firm.”

“God save us!” the saleswoman made the sing or the cross. “Here you are!” she put the candies on the tray for coins and pushed them forward. “Take them, please,” she again shoved the tray away from herself.

The old lady grabbed the mint drops, as if started off but halted again.

“And my granddaughter is a flighty woman,” she said. “For money... Genetic predisposition.”

“Where are... you...?!” the saleswoman exclaimed.

The old lady looked back condescendingly.

“The ending - tomorrow evening,” she said sternly and moved away. “Tales of horror are a kind of ethnographic psychoanalysis,” she added moving away.

The saleswoman sat back in her chair:

“Oh, God, how much grief there is in the world!” she was about to make the sing of the cross but stopped in mid-air, reached out, took from the shelf another box of mint drops, opened it and put into her mouth three or four candies together. She rolled them in her mouth, got up, stuck her head out of the opening of the kiosk and gazed after the old lady.

Still hurrying, on the move, the old lady opened the candies, several of them fell on the ground, she bend down to collect them, staggered, sat down on the pavement and could not get up. Two fifteen-year-old boys came to her assistance, help her on both sides and began lifting her to her feet.

“Are you feeling sick?” the thinner boy asked.

“Collect my mint drops!” the old lady begged.

The bigger boy continued to support her while the other bent down to the ground.

“They are soiled,” he remarked and straightened up.

“It doesn’t matter ,” the old lady insisted.

The boy shrugged his shoulders, collected several candies, the old lady opened the pocket of her jacket and he dropped them in it.

“There are still more there,” she noticed something green under the tree.

“It’s glass,” the thinner one turned, “glass from a beer bottle.”

“It’s drops!” the old lady started walking in that direction and drew with her the boy who was supporting her.

The thinner one bend down, took the piece of glass and passed in to her. She felt in slowly between her dry fingers.

“O.K.,” she agreed, gave back the piece of glass to the boy and with the other hand clutched more tightly the box with the mint drops. “Sucking candies spoils children’s teeth,” she declared. “Whoever gives them candies as presents is not doing them a favour.”

“O, three’s no need,” the boy replied. The other one laughed.

“I’m not a skinflint,” the old lady felt offended. “Peppermint has a soothing effect,” she added after they had already moved off. “It is recommended in mild cases of tension and insomnia.”

The street took the old lady on to a boulevard, at the corner of which there was a big store for fashionable ready-to-wear. As she walked she fixed her eyes on the clothes and passed near the shopwindow. She carefully put the box into her pocket, took out yet another bonbon, gobbled it and smacked with relish. A white silk velvet cress draw her attention. Wishing to have a better look at it, she came too close to the shopwindow and knocked her spectacles against the window glass. She pulled back startled, felt for the box and the money in her pocket, raised her head to read the company signboard, and started walking along the shopwindow in search of the entrance to the store. The boulevard wend uphill towards the higher parts of the town; the entrance turned to be considerably further up from the corner where the small street joined the boulevard. The old lady found it too much uphill, stopped and began to examine the tips of her shoes inquisitively. After a minute she sighed, turned back and retraced her steps. She stopped once more in front of the white silk velvet dress, sighed again and continued with a firm step.

At one of the crossing she saw a large cinema signboard and hurried towards it with double effort. She looked for stills from the current film on the display board but on it there was only a large poster, so she murmured her displeasure, tripped over the aluminum threshold of the entrance and went into the empty dusky foyer.