Same As Yesterday

Drinking House (3 1)

It's coming on evening in the city of Stalingrad, so this place is filling up. The workers relieving their stresses of the day with a bit of vodka. Sokolof is here. Which is not unusual. He's staked out a table by a window and is already nursing some vodka. A government newsletter is on the table in front of him, though the way he's skimming it doesn't suggest he's particularly immersed.

There were closer places to the hospital to drink. Really, it's not like any doctor even has to leave the premises to come across an ample store of alcohol. But Maschenko is not an unusual face here either, for all the drab city blocks he has to cross to get here. His battered jacket slung over his arm, he edges through the crowd and foggy din of noise and liquor stink towards that table, the one he can so often be found at. Chair legs scrape against the floor as he pulls it out, settling with a dull thump. "Why the fuck do we come here again, Efim?"

Sokolof's cracks a grin, not looking up directly, though Maschenko's voice is certainly recognized. He chuckles. "Why the fuck not? All the drinking holes in this city are the same. This gets away from the central quarter for a bit, at least. See the sights, eh?" Such as they are. He looks up. "How does the day find you, Luka?"

"They're not all the same." Maschenko tosses his jacket over the back of his chair and leans back, scratching his fingers through his dark brown hair. "Some are closer." He says this every time, nearly verbatim. As if the their lives weren't routine enough, complaints about it were routine too. "The day? Same as yesterday. Ten percent people who are ill, ninety percent people who think they are. How is it the latter are always the more miserable?" His hands pat down his pockets until he finds his cigarettes, tossing them on the table for communal enjoyment. "What about you?"

Sokolof holds out a hand expectantly for a cigarette. Bumming is part of his routine. He doesn't even ask anymore. "It is the way of humanity, my friends. Real problems are too serious to complain about. The meaningless miscellany, one can afford to waste one's time on." A shrug at the question. "As you say. Every day, it is the same. The faces of my students blur together. Except for the idiots. They ever require the most attention. Most have no real touch for electrical work but…" Another shrug. "…it is a path to something useful. I hope they can make themselves vaguely competent at it, or I fear this city will be dark if left up to them."

Maschenko sticks two filterless white sticks into his mouth and strikes a match, passing the flame back and forth over the ends until both flare a deep orange, smoke pouring towards his eyes. Less a gesture of kindness than rigid phosphorus conservation, he plucks one from his lips and hands it over to Efim. Grinning at that last part, a laugh even snorts out of him. "It can't be that bad. All those wires…you've got diagrams and all that, don't you? Maybe they're not idiots. Maybe they're just colorblind."

Sokolof laughs a short laugh at that, taking the cigarette and taking a few swift puffs off of it. An idle thanks is muttered around the cigarette, as much a part of the routine as the rest of it. "Maybe that is it. I should send them to you, my friend, if the problem is entirely in their vision. But, as you say. It is mostly rote memorization. I should them how to do it per the diagrams. They do it well or do it poorly, per the diagrams. So long as those are stuck to the tekhnikum cares not." He allows boredom in his tone, but no real frustration. It's a routine he's accepted.

"As well they shouldn't. Who gives a shit?" Maschenko punctuates this with a languid movement of his hand that sends smoke spiraling towards the wall. "They're turning on fucking light bulbs, not dancing at the Mariinsky." He blows out a rush of smoke and lifts his hand towards the bar. "Pavel Nikolayevich! Hey!" His fingers raise, signaling two. Two glasses, presumably.

"I could have danced at Mariinsky, if only I had the legs for it," Sokolof jokes mildly. He's finished off his first drink, so he's more than ready for another. "We all play the parts we were made to play, Comrade Doctor." The title is used with wry fondness, but no real irony. Smoke, smoke, smoke.

Maschenko snorts, giving Sokolof a lopsided grin. "Sure, if dancing at the Mariinsky involved falling down a flight of fucking stairs." The cigarette goes back into his own mouth, puffed on. It leaves tobacco on his lip, which he turns his head to spit into his hand — a jarringly polite gesture given his vocabulary. Seven and some years in Russia haven't dimmed the Ukrainian turns of pronunciation that he has. Nothing will. "Ever seen one of those? The ballet?"

Sokolof snorts a smokey half-laugh. "As I said, I haven't the legs." A shrug at the question, and a deeper drink from his glass. "Once, long ago. You are missing very little. I took my Nadya once before we were married. I fell asleep." A smirk. "She seemed to enjoy it, though." He falls silent for a moment after that, doing some more constructive drinking. Nadya. His wife. Dead some three years now.

Maschenko grins again, though this time the expression comes off a little more muted. "She always tried to tell me you had no appreciation for those things. I defended your ass every time, so don't go telling me now that I was wrong." He looks up as Pavel Nikolayevich, the man he'd yelled at earlier, comes swinging by their table with two more shady preparations of vodka, in glasses that might not have been cleaned since the last person drank from them. "Moscow's sucked it all up lately, anyway. Beautiful bloated bastards."

Sokolof smirks, starting in on his latest drink. He's already getting vaguely blurry-eyed. He hasn't the best head for the stuff. And who knows how many ahead he was before Maschenko got there. "Keep it between the two of us. Anyhow. Let us not talk of the ballet anymore. It is a dull subject." He picks up on the mention of Moscow, pursuing that. "The papers say the Army's driving the Fascists back." Who knows how true it is, but it is what they say. He spits. "Germans have no stomach for Mother Russia."

"That so?" Maschenko raises a dark eyebrow. He reaches past his glass and drags the newsletter closer, making some pretense of glancing over the text. "No, but Mother Russia has a great stomach for them, mark my words. She'll eat them alive." His eyes stay down, his head starting to shake. "Last I heard they were trying to torch Sevastopol, beginning of this month."

"As with all things, one can only believe what is in front of one's nose," Sokolof says, smoking some more. His cynicism has no real bitterness to it. Just a sort of fatalism. There's little he can do for the way of the world but accept it. "I still get letters from Pyatigorsk. My family is still well, last I heard. For the rest…" A shrug. "I shall leave it until it comes before my nose, as it were."

"The fucking Fascists will never get that far, Efim," Maschenko gives this opinion as though the very sound of it made it true. "Made their beds when they marched into Poland — now Europe's coming together to fold over the blankets and light them ablaze." He sniffs, his nose wrinkling with obvious distaste. "That, you can believe. The kids'll be fine."

"Europe? Phah. I trust not to Europe, either. I trust to Siberian weather. Mother is a cold woman, and she's what shall make an end of the Fascists." Sokolof spits again. Though those last words meet with a nod. "So I believe. There is little more I can do for them here than to trust to that." Does he sound guilty? Perhaps. He's deep enough into the vodka to show it now.

Maschenko picks up his glass, making short work of the rest of the vodka in it. His tolerance has always been far higher than Efim's, and it's his first glass of the night. He won't even feel that. "Come on, Efim." He leans forward, tapping his knuckles against the tabletop. "You've done everything in your power. They and Russia will keep each other safe. I would have done the same thing and been proud to say it. Any man should. 'I've done what I can for my family'."

"Have I, now?" It's a rhetorical question, and Sokolof clearly thinks the answer is 'No.' So he just finishes off his drink and does not encourage further discussion along that line. "Well, time will tell what it tells, what it tells." Such is philosophy after four or so glasses of vodka. He's smoked his cigarette pretty much out right now, and he regards it's failing stub mournfully. "I am tired, Luka. If I do not sleep soon, I shall not have the will to do this again tomorrow." And one must preserve the routine.

"You're fucking useless." The epithet is, nevertheless, accompanied by an incredibly endearing grin. Maschenko pulls the last little bit of drag off his cigarette and crushes the tip between his fingers onto the floor. A few coins are tossed on the table, enough to cover his liquor and what he's estimated Efim has drunk — he knows the man's tilting sobriety levels far too well — and he scrapes the chair legs on the floor as he stands up. "Come, I should get on with it myself. I'll walk you back home."

Sokolof pushes himself to his feet, using the table as leverage. Assistance may be required for the long walk home where he's concerned. "Fuck you," he says. Fondly. Reaching out to clap the other man on the shoulder. He notices the coins, nodding his head in thanks. "You're a good man, Luka. A good man." He's quite drunk.

"Shut up and walk." Maschenko smiles, returning the clap on the shoulder. It masks the fact that his arm is really there just to keep Sokolof from falling over, something no doubt needed as they start to file through this loud, droning crush of people. The reek of cigarette smoke, vodka, and another day under Stalin's eye.

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