Mila, the favorite granddaughter of the old Venneta, sat down on the floor by the armchair, and asked:
'And have you loved granddaddy all the time, granny?'
'Certainly, dear, how can it be otherwise?' the old woman caressed her cheek.
'And you didn't get tired?' said the girl, amazed, ensconcing herself at her granny's feet.
The old Zlati had drifted into his usual sweet doze on the rocking chair by the window, his face covered with the unfinished newspaper. At his side stretched Rudi, the Germen shepherd, whether sleeping or keeping watch, however, the girl suddenly wasn't certain.
'Well, he did make me mad sometimes. We had our quarrels.' the old Venneta became thoughtful for a moment, casting a glance at where her husband snored peacefully, then laughed quietly. 'Can you ever love one man for fifty years?' her eyes screwed up cunningly, 'I've taken some rest. I have given myself a break.'
'A break!', the girl felt bewildered and exclaimed, 'You must be kidding me, granny!'
'The marriage is a job, my dear' the old woman shook her head, 'You need a time off. After the holiday, you work better, isn't that right . . . ?' the old Venetta was smiling cunningly, somehow mischievously and playfully, but honestly all the same.
'And during the break, what?' the girl gave her a conspiratorial wink.
'Ah, me . . . should people share all their secrets?' the old woman shook her head and gave the old man the same mischievous, childish look, 'Besides, you are still very little, the time hasn't come yet for you to listen to these sorts of things . . . '
'Nonsense! Once women at thirteen already had children of their own! Tell me, please!' demanded the girl and pressed her cheek upon her granny's knees.
'Well, all right, all right!' the old woman waved her hand, bowed her head and started her tale, in a very low voice, seemingly in the girl's ear, but actually her voice was echoing in the room.
'Once, I too had got myself a certain 'friend', as you call it now, but at the time we used to call it simply' lover' and this is the truer word, I think. His name was Radko, a colleague of your granddad. I hated the long-drawn unfaithfulness: I wanted to be with the man I liked one, two, three days and then everyone on his own path! So, I breathe the word to my sister over the phone and a wire comes from her at once and I still can see its preposterous contents:
'Mother seriously ill. Come immediately.'
Mother lived with my sister so there was nothing suspicious it was exactly like her to send me such a telegram. So, I left immediately, the very same night after receiving it. Your granddaddy harps on coming, too, but I said to him: 'No, no, you shouldn't leave your work just like that, you have just been promoted, you have to prove yourself now!' He agreed to let me go alone, and of course I didn't want him with me, because you understand I had other things on my mind.
There was nothing wrong with my mother,you understand, it was just an excuse for him', she beckoned towards her husband who was snoring on and off under the newspaper. Now the dog was taking part in the snoring, too. The old woman pursed her lips and exclaimed:
'However, the moment I showed up, mother got ill! What a wonder! I, of course, had fixed it so that my new friend was coming, too, and he stayed at the local hotel. The first day, anyway, - we spent it locked in the hotel room.'
'A whole day!' Mila exclaimed, admiringly.
And a whole night, too!' the old woman smiled mischievously and suddenly sighed. - But my mother gets worse and worse! My sister, frightened out of her senses, runs out, gets the doctor, and he says:
'She must be taken to hospital, her life is in danger!'
What's wrong with her, ask I, but he mumbles and one can't make anything of his chattering. At the same time, my sister, God forgive her, pulls me aside and tells me right to my face:
'God is punishing Mother because of your unfaithfulness! Go away, don't kill mother!'
What could I do? I left. When I came back home, my first thought was to phone the doctor - sudden improving, says he! And again, all over me with his Latin gibberish! God sees all and punishes us, mark me, dear child . . . yes, it is true . . . ! Since then I hadn't taken time off from your granddad! Here, honest to God!' and the old woman crossed herself, her gaze fixed on the icon of the Virgin Mary, placed in the corner of the living room.
'Yea-a . . . ' the girl agreed, stunned by her grandmother's story.
'That's why one shouldn't be unfaithful.Until that time, I was easy-going, taking my fancy to one man, then another, I didn't care a cent that I've vowed before God to be faithful to this here man!' The old woman pointed at her snoring husband and caressed her granddaughter's hair, 'However, I understood, you can hide no secret from God! He sees all!' and the old woman again hastily crossed herself.
'My God, what a horror you've been through!' Mila exclaimed, taking both her grandmother's withered hands between her palms, kissing them.
'Nonsense, Venneta! How can you fill the child's head with such drivel?!!' thundered old Zlati noisily removing the newspaper from his face. 'I called your mother and she decided to play that nice little trick on you! Even your sister took part! He-he! Aren't you stupid?'
'Oh! But he's been eavesdropping!' said old Venneta, startled.
'Granddaddy! Shame on you!' said Mila resentfully, but the old man gave her a cheerful wink and said:
'And when you talk behind my back, doesn't that, by any chance, make you feel ashamed, my dear girls?
Venneta abruptly turned towards the old man, and snapped, but bewilderment tinged in her angry voice:
'Can this be the truth you speak, Zlati?'
'What do you think?' he smiled and slowly folded the newspaper.
'I don't think, I ask!' said the old Venneta, sternly.
'The marriage is a competition between two people, Mila!' explained the old Slavi to his granddaughter, waving his finger mischievously, ' The smarter, the more ingenious, is the one who always wins, as is with life, my dear child!'
' Wait - are you serious, or you thought it up while listening in on us?' asked the old woman suspiciously.
'Yeah-!' the old Slavi nodded, 'I'm quite serious. I had decided never to admit that, but - here - stupid of me! I made a deal with your mother at the time. For a mother-in-law she showed much love for me!'
'Really?!' the old woman couldn't believe her ears.
'And how!' giggled the old man.
'What a villain!' the old Venneta half-rose from the arm-chair, outraged, then sat down again, grown extremely weak with the overcoming agitation. Her hands began to tremble in her lap, and clumsily, she tried to hide them away, but couldn't - her hands fluttered in her lap.
'Well, all right', said the old man 'You tell me, Mila, if I had acted like a villain, hadn't I been provoked enough by her?'
Mila sighed - the case was too difficult to solve. She only shrugged helplessly.
'Women, for some reason, always imagine themselves very sly and smart. But I won't have that.' Obviously contented, the old man started caressing the dog and the dog growled with pleasure.
'But, granddaddy!' exclaimed Mila and broke off. Actually, he was right.
'So, be a winner in this competition, my child! Don't believe your granny, nobody supervises us, life is in your own hands but love most of all. Win or somebody will win instead of you. There's no equality in marriage - there's a winner, or a loser! Take that from me!'
'I will' nodded the girl and suddenly, she saw her granddad in a completely different light: strong, clever, ingenious. . . .
'Come on, Rudi, my dear friend . . . Time for a walk!' the old man was laughing while the dog scurried towards the door, then came back with the lead and bent his head.' No, you don't need a lead, dear friend, you are a man!'
'Take care, you hear, old boy!' called the old Venneta after him, mischievously, as always, though her voice was trembling with agitation.
'I will. I have learned to take care after half a century spent with you, sweetheart!' grinned the old Zlati, 'Would I manage to keep such a beautiful and loved woman like you, if it were otherwise?'
'Crazy man!' the old Venneta started shaking her head. She absently caressed Mila's neck, after the girl had lain her blond head on her granny's lap again, 'Well . . .so goes the world, my girl. So many years have I been with this man and I still don't know what goes around in his mind.'
'Well, he took you in, what's so hard to understand?' Mila smiled.
'No, you are wrong, you are wrong . . . 'uttered the old woman thoughtfully and then exclaimed:' But I must have loved him for that; for this strangeness and mystery of his!' A quick smile crept upon her lips and again, she shook her head ironically, with disbelief, Although - who knows?
From outside, came the barking of the dog.
'Someone must have come,' said the old woman, surprised, she rose with a sudden liveliness then went up to the window and looked through it.
'Do you know who's here?' she asked her excited granddaughter 'Radko, the same man I told you of. . .'
'That one, from the hotel?' asked the girl, surprised and quickly joined her granny at the window.
'The very same!' nodded the grandmother fervently and her hot breath dimmed the glass in front of her eyes.
'But how come . . . how come they are still friends? I thought granddaddy knew!' Mila stared astonished at her grandmother's face.
'He knew, of course, and I didn't have the slightest suspicion! Radko - least of all! But, who knows, they might have settled the things between them . . . who can ever understand these cursed men . . . 'the old Venetta crossed herself while she kept watching the two old men, who strolled down the wide lawn spread before them. Against the dim light of the sunset, Radko and Zlati merged into one great single figure, while the dog was racing along before them.
Suddenly, the two men parted, withdrew from one another and stood exactly opposite each other.
'As if they are going to fight a duel for their lady of the heart!' Mila whispered, pressing her forehead on the glass.
The old Venneta only sighed and laid both her hands on the sill. The two men started throwing a flying disk.
'Frisbee!' declared Mila ironically, surprised.' Look at them, old men, what a game they have decided to play!'
The dog was running from Zlati to Radko, shuttling between them, barking in exaltation, following the disk flying over his head. And the men seemed completely absorbed in throwing the plastic toy.
Is it possible that I, like the dog, have been running between the two of them all my life, the old woman asked herself silently, terrified and weakened and trembling again with agitation, this time feeling a sudden rage rising inside her, totally confused and helpless.
She made two uncertain steps and slumped in the armchair, sobbing with terror, her face hidden in her arms.
Her granddaughter Mila was watching her as much with pain as with unexpected contempt. The girl half-closed her eyes and vowed that in love and marriage she would always be the winner, just like her grandfather Zlati!