I am drinking mushroom vodka. My friend H is drinking the spicy tomato. N drinks a beer.
“In Moscow,” H says, “I had a friend, he played music on the side of the road–Cl–”
She frowns–holds up her hands, miming an instrument.
“Clarinet?” I ask.
“Clarinet,” she thinks, aloud. “Hm,” she adds, “maybe clarinet. Anyways, he was very bad.”
“He was bad?”
She nods. “Yes, at playing–hm?”
“Yes,” he was bad at playing clarinet. But he played outside, it was late and we all danced. We laughed and we danced.” H takes a sip of her spicy-tomato vodka, the last one. She orders a new one; a savory one called, simply, ‘Beard’.
“So,” she continues, “we were all dancing and we were laughing–there were these two old men. They were drunk like old men get drunk. One of them left, the other crouched down to watch, like this.”
H gets down off her stool and crouches, fist-to-cheek. She looks thoughtful.
“Well,” she says, standing, “the men were makers of those boxes in graveyards.”
“Coffins?” I help.
She nods, “yes, coffins–they were coffin makers. Well, and they’d been up all day making coffins and then they went and got drunk, like you do when you work long. They got drunk and watched my friend play his clarinet, badly. Then, one left. We were there for only thirty minutes and when we finished, well–the man gave our friend one-thousand rubles!”
“I know, one-thousand rubles for only thirty minutes. Well, but when we leave, he follows us.”
I nod, “ah,” I say, expecting the worst.
But H shakes her head. “No–no, well see, he was a coffin maker, and he’d been at work all day. He had only those thousand rubles with him. He realized after he gave it to my friend, the one playing. He realized he was trapped and he lived far from the city center. He could not get home”
“That sucks,” I say, taking down the last of my mushroomy-drink. H holds out her glass of Beard.
“Try,” she says. I do. It is sweet.
“Thanks, it’s harsh. So, what did he say?” I ask, handing back her glass.
H shrugs, “He said that, he told us that–that he couldn’t get home. So, we gave him his thousand rubles back, and the other money we’d made. Because, well, you see my friend was really bad a clarinet, everyone knew.”
H smiles, serious.
“Well– anyways, you see, that is the Russian soul, I think. “