Rivers of Milk

Марина БУРЛАКОВА | Проза


Spring is here… First thaws. The snow is slowly starting to melt and the pathways that have been covered with snow all winter long become soft and very hard to walk on. However, the early spring sun is shining warmly and you can definitely tell that the spring is manifesting itself.

Irina Vladimirovna went out for a breath of fresh spring air. Being eager to mix business with pleasure she went to the local corner grocery store to get something for her festive table. It was right before the 8th of March (International Women’s Day) and her children and grandchildren were sure to visit her with presents and kind wishes.

She was strolling down the pathway that went through some tall trees where starlings sat comfortably singing their wonderful songs. The way to the store was slippery but thankfully, a janitor appeared and started to battle the ice on the pathway. She was glad she wouldn’t have to worry about it with her groceries on the way back.

She was approaching an elderly woman that was also slowly walking towards her with a cane in one hand and a bag of groceries in the other. There was a seven or eight year old boy walking alongside her holding the hemline of her coat in his hand.

”Hold on tighter! Don’t slip! Watch your step. They just won’t clean these pathways, will they? What do they get paid for, I wonder. If only we still had Stalin!” she was telling the boy resentfully.

“Granma, let me take the bag. I can carry it myself. I will be a man someday and it is not heavy for me at all. I am old enough.”

“No. You just walk and hold on to me. It’s too early for you to carry heavy stuff. I can fall and the eggs will break. It will also be a pity if you drop the cake!” she went on grumbling barely moving forward with her cane. The grandson kept holding her coat obediently and minced along watching his step.

Irina Vladimirovna turned around and watched them go with a sympathetic smile and went on. All of a sudden childhood memories came flooding down on her.

Chapter 1

All of Irinka’s family was at home on a Saturday morning.

“Alevtina! Don’t you think we should treat ourselves with some fried meat pies today! I will grind the meat and we should send Irinka to buy dough in the store.” said Volodya to his spouse.

“It’s too early! Let her sleep for another hour. She has to get up for her preschool at 7 every morning. Fried meat pies? Then fried meat pies it is! I got the meat out of the freezer last night. It must have thawed by now.”

“Oh, your mother and I were just talking about you and here you are!” said Volodya with a smile.


Irinka was set to go to the store. It was March, but a little too cold as such. Even though there were already icicles hanging off the roofs and the snow was starting to melt on the pathways that people walked on the entire winter, the warm days were still to come in the Urals.  Irinka was slowly making her way along the slippery pathway in her favorite hare winter coat that she got from her aunt and a rabbit fur hat on her head.

She wore white felt boots with black overshoes that she could use to slide just like on a skating rink. It was about a kilometer to the store. A local dog named Sharik decided to keep her company on the way to the store. He wiggled his tale, ran ahead then stopped and waited for her till she caught up. He acted like a real watchdog as if trying to make sure if the road ahead was safe enough. Irina fed him little pieces of sugar that she got out of her pocket. There was a rather long line of people in the gastronomy. No wonder why. It was a Saturday morning. Some needed yeast dough for their meat pies, others needed dough for their buns and sweet pies, the rest wanted dough for their various types of dumplings. In the gastronomy you could also get boiled vegetables, carrots, potatoes, beets. As for the dairy there bottled milk but you could pour it into your own can if you had one, buttermilk and, if you are lucky enough, curd cheese and, the best treat you could get there, sweet curds with raisins.

Irina bought 3 litres of milk, a kilo of yeast dough, the curds had sold out already and she started heading home. Her way back was more difficult. The milk was about to splatter out of the can all over the slippery and uneven pathway. She was holding it in one hand and she had the dough in the other hand in a bag that Alevtina had handmade. It was pretty heavy so she hand to switch hands from time to time. Sharik kept several feet ahead of her.

Right in front of her house the pathway began to climb a little bit. When she was almost at the entrance door Irina fell, the milk from the can splattered all over her and the winter coat got wet. The mittens that were attached to her coat sleeves got wet too and she scratched her bare hands on the icy pathway when she fell. She was very hurt and felt so insulted. She burst into tears and went home with her empty can. Sharik acted as if he felt sorry for his new owner and even whined a little while he was walking her to the door trying to lick her hand.

What happened? Did you fall? — wondered Alevtina as she opened the door.

It was so slippery there… There on the side of the hill…. Right by our house… Aaaaaaaaaaa — she started crying again.

Alevtina calmed her daughter, changed her clothes and asked her to go and get milk again.

Chapter 2

Sharik was very happy when he saw Irina outside. He wagged his tale and rubbed his muzzle against her coat.

Well, let’s go for another walk. We will go to a different store this time. It’s a good thing it’s not that far away.

Sharik ran ahead again as if he was trying to tell her to be more careful.


In the store there was a line in the dairy department.

“Three liters of milk please” said Irina handing over her can.

In the bakery she had to get a long loaf of white bread. The fresh just out of the oven bread and buns were being laid out on the counter. The smell was incredible and Irina decided she could spare the change to buy a sweet pastry.

She opened the door of the store and Sharik had been waiting there for her outside. She put the milk can on the top of the stairs to get the pastry out of the bag and share it with her friend. Sharik jumped up to get the pastry and Irina started to worry that he might overturn the can. So she squatted but her feet slipped a step down. She fell again and hit the can with her hand. The milk came pouring out, down the stairs and Sharik started licking it up. Irina burst out crying again trying to clean her coat and pants that got dirty. She went home with the empty can and a loaf of bread.

Sharik was running along wiggling his tale and eating the pieces of the pastry she was giving him.

She slowly ascended the stairs. She rang the bell. Her mom met the little hostess surprised.

“What is going on today? I guess there will be no milk for us today at all! And I am almost done frying the meat pies. Let me take those clothes off you, poor thing!”Alevtina said.

“May I go again?”

“The fur coat is almost dry. You can put it on. Put on the boots, maybe the overshoes are indeed too slippery. Buy a dozen eggs too.”

Sharik happily met Irina outside, licked her right in the cheek and went to the store with her.

The groceries were bought. Irina carefully went down the stairs with the can of milk in one hand and a set of eggs in the other. She walked silently carefully taking small steps along the slippery pathway that no one cared to at least put some sand on. There was her building. She was almost there.

“Okay, Sharik. I made it. I am going home to eat and I’ll be back out some time after lunch and we will play!”

Irina entered the hall door, went one staircase up and there was just one more left to go. On the last step she stumbled and fell down. The can came tumbling down the stairs so loudly that Alevtina heard the sound and opened the door. Irina was lying face down near the door, the milk was flowing down the stairs and her hand was up in the air holding the bag with the eggs. On seeing this, the mother could hold back neither the tears nor the laughter. Irina burst out crying like a loud siren.

“Come on! Get up! Forget the milk! Today is just not your day! None of the eggs broke! How is that possible!?”Alevtina exclaimed laughing through tears.

At the lunch table everyone ate the tasty fried meat pies with tea.

Irina Vladimirovna almost made it to the store smiling at the memories she had.

“I guess they trained us to be ready for this long and difficult life!” she thought.
“It’s a good thing there is some sand on the icy pathways today, otherwise I could literally fall back into my childhood years.”

About the author:

Marina Burlakova, born on May 15 1961 in Orsk, the Ural region. Marina is an entrepreneur,  philanthropist and exemplary citizen. Her first verse lines emerged one sleepless night — «What a night… The candles shimmer…». Her work was published in poetry anthology issues and she took the Editor’s Choice «Poet of the year» award in 2014. Marina is also a member of the Russian Writers Union. She has chosen to commit to creative thought in poetry and prose for the rest of her life.

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