After the hospital closed, Mishka Sparrowlegs’ wife Nadyukha – no spring chicken but not eligible for a pension either – was out of work and therefore out of money. And her husband had been in the same boat for a while, ever since the collective farm fell apart. Mishka’s a welder, but what’s he going to weld when there’s no iron to be had? So he just lies around thinking, wondering where the money’s going to come from. Sure, a village doesn’t have everything a town has, but the kitchen garden keeps on birthing potatoes and there’s a piglet grunting away in what passes for a barn. Still, there’s no doing without money. You figure it out. You need flour, right? Matches? Soap too, and who knows what-all else? And then there’s the most important thing in a village, especially in wintertime – firewood. Without firewood, the stove won’t give you the time of day, and in a Russian village, it’s the stove that keeps everything hopping. It gives heat and cooks soup and warms water and dries socks on top of that, it offers the cats somewhere to dream about mice. And if the snow starts flying, what could be better than clambering onto the sleeping ledge, covering up with an old fur coat, and getting some shut-eye?..
Our village doesn’t have a store of its own, but a mobile store, a trailer on wheels, does come by. It carries the mail too, because what if someone writes a letter to some