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Read excerpt: 'The Boy From Baby House 10'

Read the first chapter of The Boy From Baby House 10, by Alan Philps and John Lahutzky (courtesy of St. Martin's Press Publicity).  For more information about the book, visit the website below:

This story will be featured in a special Dateline report airing Sunday, April 10th, at 7pm/6c.
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The Boy From Baby House 10
Chapter 1: 'The Half-Open Door'

“Can I have a toy, please?”

Vanya’s request hung in the air unanswered. The room was full of children, but there was no movement except for Nastya the caregiver, who was noiselessly wiping the surfaces with a damp cloth. Vanya followed her every move, desperate for a response. But she kept her back turned to him as she shuffl ed to the ledge where tiny Valeria was lying immobile in a bouncing chair that never bounced. Valeria was staring but not seeing anything, and there was no contact— not a touch, not a word, not a glance— between caregiver and child as Nastya wiped around her, as if she were one of the wooden toys on the shelf. When the cloth came close to her foot, the little girl fl inched and a look of fear passed over her face.

Vanya hoped Nastya would turn around after she had finished dusting the ledge and he could catch her eye. But no, she moved to the playpen where blind Tolya was feeling his way around for toys that were not there. She tut- tutted as she noticed the rail had been gnawed by the children. Nastya bent down to wipe the tray of the baby walker in which Igor spent his days, unable to move around because the baby walker was tethered to the playpen with a knotted rag. Igor arched his back and started banging his head against the bars of the playpen behind him, and Vanya could see the boy was trying to attract Nastya’s attention. But she ignored
him too.

Vanya did not dare ask Nastya for a toy a second time. He was afraid of what she might do. When she began her shift, she was silent and grumpy; but then after her break, she would start shouting at the children, or worse. Once she had thrown Igor from the changing table into the playpen. Afterward, Vanya had noticed a great big bruise growing on his head.

Vanya was alarmed to see the blank expression on the face of his friend Andrei, who was sitting opposite him at their little table. Even more alarming, he was rocking backward and forward like the children in the baby walkers did. This could go on all day, but Vanya needed a friend to talk to— he was the only other child in the room who could speak. Vanya had to do something. He could not wait any longer for Nastya to turn round. She was folding clothes in the opposite corner of the room, “Can we have our toy, please, Nastya?” he said to her back.

His question was met with silence. Vanya braced himself for one of her outbursts. He held his breath as he watched her turn slowly from the pile of clothes. She shuffled a few steps toward a high shelf and took down a battered matryoshka, a nest of Russian dolls. He could barely contain his excitement as she carried the toy toward him.

“Have this one. Share it with Andrei.” She slammed the wooden toy down on the table between the two boys. Andrei stopped rocking, but his expression remained blank.

Vanya quickly discovered that some parts of the matryoshka were missing or broken. But having any toy, even a broken one, was better than nothing. Taking his time, he lined all the dolls up in order of size in front of Andrei. Then he took them apart and put the pieces back inside one another. He repeated the process, but still there was no response from Andrei.

“Come on, Andrei. It’s your turn now,” he said in an urgent whisper. Andrei continued staring in front of him. But Vanya refused to
give up.

“I’ll roll one toward you and you catch it.” The doll wobbled across the table, bumped into Andrei’s chest, and fell on the linoleum floor. Andrei made no attempt to catch it.

Vanya looked anxiously to see if Nastya had heard the doll crashing to the ground. But no, she was still busy folding pairs of tights.

“Andrei, you didn’t even try. Now this time really try.”

He held up the doll in front of his friend’s face. Andrei turned his head slightly and gazed with dull eyes at the doll. “That’s better. Now I’m going to roll it to you again.”

Once again Andrei remained immobile and let the doll roll off the table. This time Nastya did hear it.

“So you’re throwing your toy on the fl oor? I told them you weren’t fit to have toys.” With an angry swipe, she took away the remains of the doll, and Vanya watched in shock as she placed it back on the high shelf. She sat down at her desk to fi ll out forms.

Vanya stared at the tabletop, now as barren as the rest of the room.He looked up at Andrei, who refused to meet his gaze. He had started rocking again. Igor was crashing his head against the bars of the playpen with ever increasing ferocity. Between the crashes, Vanya could hear the sound of little Valeria mewing on the ledge.

His eyes alighted on the radiator under the window. He smiled at its chunky shape and the memory of the rough surface of the metal and the comforting warmth it gave off. He longed to slide off his chair and crawl over and touch it, but only his favorite caregiver, the one he called Auntie Valentina, allowed him to move around the room. Nastya would shout and scream if she saw him crawling on the floor. He remembered the wonderful morning when the door had opened and a man came in with a big box. He announced he had come to mend the radiator. Vanya managed to attract the man’s attention by asking who he was, and he was allowed to sit and watch. The man told him he was the plumber, and he opened his box to reveal tools of different shapes and sizes.

In all his four years, Vanya had never seen so many fascinating objects. The plumber noticed his interest and gave him a lug wrench to hold. Then he took a wrench and started unscrewing the radiator. Vanya watched his every move and asked the name of each tool, repeating the word so he could remember it. The plumber smiled, and when he had finished with the wrench, he gave it to Vanya to hold. Luckily, Valentina was on duty that day, and she did not pull Vanya away. He smiled to himself as he recalled a really exciting moment. Water was flowing from the pipe and there was a big pool on the floor. Valentina was sent to fetch a rag. Then the plumber asked him to hand back the wrench, as he needed it urgently.

Vanya closed his eyes and replayed the whole scene in his mind. Now he was the plumber, and Andrei was his helper and held the wrench for him. He would say, “Andrei, quick. Hand me the wrench. The water’s leaking!” And Andrei would pass him the wrench, and he would use all his strength to tighten the nut. And the water would stop dripping and Valentina would clear up the mess. He would pack up his tools in the shiny metal box and go off to mend another leaky radiator. How wonderful that would be!

Nastya’s chair scraped backward and she stood up abruptly. Vanya had spent so many days watching her every move that he knew her sudden sense of purpose meant she was about to go on her break. She went to her bag, which was hanging on a hook on the wall, and took out a pack of cigarettes. She hunted for a lighter in the pocket of her coat. She did not look in the mirror; not like Tanya, who put on lipstick before she went out.

As he watched her, Vanya’s heart was beating fast. He had noticed that the connecting door to the next room was ajar. It was normally closed. What a stroke of luck— Nastya was going out and she hadn’t noticed. Suddenly all his senses came alive with the possibility of adventure. With Nastya out of the way, he could crawl over to the door and peep into the next room, the one the caregivers called Group 1. He knew there were other children there. Perhaps there would be a child like him he could speak to. He looked at Andrei, who had his blank face on again. Even if there were no children, there might be a friendly caregiver he had never met before. She might say a kind word to him that he could save up to remember later during the long nap.

Cigarettes in hand, Nastya hesitated before leaving and scanned the room. Vanya lowered his gaze and held his breath. Maybe she could read his thoughts and had guessed his plan. What was she doing? Why was she hanging about? Now she was going toward the interconnecting door. Vanya’s heart was in his mouth. She was going to notice that the door was open and she would close it and there would be no chance of adventure. To his relief, he saw Nastya take her bag off the hook. Miraculously, she had not noticed that the interconnecting door was open.

Vanya’s eyes followed her as she went out into the corridor, and he heard the key turn in the lock.

Now the children were on their own, there was no time to waste. Vanya slid off his chair, landing with a thump on the floor. He was not allowed to crawl; they told him the floor was dirty and he could get sick from it. He shut his mind to the thought he might get hit if Nastya caught him. Using all the strength in his arms, he pulled himself along the shiny floor. Halfway across the room, he heard a beautiful sound coming from the direction of the open door. Someone was singing. He speeded up.

He reached the door, and pushed it a fraction so that he could see inside. Dazzled by the midday sun streaming though the net curtains, he could just make out a tall silhouette framed in light. He screwed his eyes up. The silhouette bent down and resolved itself into the figure of a young woman who was putting a baby gently back in a crib. What tenderness she showed to the baby, what infinite care she lavished, all the while singing her haunting melody. She picked up another child, and Vanya noticed she was dressed differently from all the other women in the baby house. She was not wearing a white coat but had jeans on her long legs, and her hair was loose, not tied back.

For once Vanya lost his tongue. He watched the scene silently, unwilling to break the spell. He wanted to remember every detail, so that he could recall it as he lay restless in his crib in the afternoon. The young woman was walking around the room, cradling the baby, and suddenly her eyes met his. She did not break off her singing, but flashed a smile at him. Vanya had been expecting to be shouted at and told to get back to his room, but not a word was said between them. Emboldened, he crawled an inch farther in to the babies’ room. He wished he could live in there. It was so different: Could it be a dream? he wondered, until a harsh voice barked behind him. “Get back in here, Vanya. You’re not allowed in there.” Vanya recognized the voice Nastya had after her break. He shuffled back into Group 2. Nastya pulled shut the interconnecting door, grabbed him under his armpits, dragged him across the fl oor, and plunked him back on his chair.

“Don’t try that again,” she snarled into his face, forcing Vanya to breathe in the sickly smell from her mouth. It was time for the midday feed. Women from the kitchen brought in two large aluminum saucepans and a tray piled high with bowls and feeding bottles full of brown soup, and set them out on a table by the door. Vanya scrutinized the tray to see if there was a special treat for
him— a piece of bread. None of the other children had bread, but his favorite caregiver, Auntie Valentina, always brought him a hunk of bread when it was her shift. Today was Nastya’s day, and she had never given him bread. But perhaps the cook had remembered him and slipped a slice among the bottles.

Nastya doled out ten portions of thin potato puree and vegetable soup into a line of bowls. Vanya and Andrei were always served first, and they were expecting their bowls at any moment. Andrei had even stopped rocking. But Nastya turned to Vanya and snapped, “After your disgraceful behavior this morning, you will be served last. And your friend can wait too.”

Crestfallen, Vanya watched as Nastya took a bowl, squatted down beside Igor’s baby walker, pushed the bowl against his chin to force his head back, and shoveled in food with a big spoon. At his first gulp, Igor let out a yelp. Vanya knew that the hot food was burning his mouth. But Nastya continued without saying a word, tipping big spoonfuls of potato puree down his throat. Igor squirmed, trying to turn his head away. “So you’re not hungry today,” said Nastya. She stood up and returned the bowl to the table.

She picked up Tolya from the playpen, dumped him in a chair, and fetched another bowl. Vanya watched as the blind boy felt his new surroundings, trying to get his bearings. As his fingers explored the chair, Nastya pushed his head back and started loading the mixture into his mouth. Vanya watched the spoon move faster and faster while all the time Tolya was struggling to get the food down. Whenever he turned his head away to give himself time to swallow, Nastya jerked it back and continued shoveling the food down. Almost as fast as she could push it in, it welled out of his mouth and down his chin onto a piece of rag. The bowl was soon emptied and she moved on to the next child.

Next she took one of the bottles of brown soup and shuffl ed over to the ledge where Valeria was lying. She shoved the nipple into the tiny girl’s mouth and upended the bottle. Valeria was so weak that Vanya could barely hear her sucks. “Hurry up,” Nastya said, turning away from the girl as she surveyed the room. The rhythm of Valeria’s sucks slowed and died away, with the bottle still almost full. Nastya removed it impatiently and moved on to the next child.

Vanya watched with growing hunger as Nastya rushed through the lunch routine. He really needed a hunk of bread today. Perhaps if he asked nicely . . . No, today was not the day to ask for treats. Sure enough, when she slammed two bowls down on the table in front of the boys, along with two big spoons, there was no bread. “Don’t make a mess,” she warned. In silence Vanya and Andrei spooned the cold slop into their mouths, without even the comfort of something to chew.

While the boys were still eating, Nastya took the children one by one to the changing table and, without making eye contact or saying anything, stripped the children of their wet tights and soiled rags, and replaced them with dry ones. Then she walked past Vanya and Andrei as she deposited each one in a crib in the adjoining room. This was the beginning of the afternoon nap.

Vanya dreaded the boredom of the long afternoons confined to his crib. As his turn loomed, he racked his brains in search of a way to delay the inevitable. When Auntie Valentina was on duty she would let him sit with her for a while when she had put the others down for their nap. She would teach him a song or a poem. But today was Nastya’s day. She had already whisked Andrei off. As he made a big show of not having finished his lunch, scraping every last drop of puree from his bowl, he thought of a way to start a conversation with her. As she bent down to pick him up, he asked, “Did you buy your carpet?”

Nastya looked stunned. “How do you know about my carpet?”

“I heard you talking about it with the doctor. You said you’d seen a carpet in the market and you were going to buy it after your shift.”

“Yes, I did go and buy it. I did.”

“Is it beautiful?”

“Yes, it is.” There was pause as she picked him up.

“What’s a market, Nastya?”

“A place where you buy things. But now it’s your nap time.”

“But I’m not sleepy.” Nastya did not respond. She was in too much of a hurry to get him into his crib. As she shut the door behind her, Vanya was left staring at the cracks in the wall through the bars in his crib. With his finger he traced the lines in the paintwork, hopping over the bars as he followed each crack to the end of the crib. He felt crushed by the great expanse of time stretching ahead of him. He knew it would be dark before he was rescued. The other children were restless and moaning in cribs placed against the four walls of the room.

He shut his ears to the unhappy sounds of the other children and concentrated on going over in his mind his big adventure from the moment Nastya had left the room and he had slid off the chair. He conjured up an image of the young woman with her long hair tenderly holding the baby and singing to it. He remembered her smiling at him and imagined her singing to him now. He asked himself again, Who was she? Why was she dressed differently from the other caregivers? Why hadn’t she shouted at him or hit him for leaving his group? He turned over in his mind what had happened but remained just as puzzled as when he started.

When he had replayed the scene in his head several times, he searched for something else to think about. He conjured up an image of the nest of dolls. He was playing with them again, but this time they were not broken and cracked and no pieces were missing. He imagined lining them up on the table, from the tiniest one as small as his finger to the largest, which was as big as Valeria in her bouncing chair. There were so many they could barely fi t on the tabletop. They formed a great wall at his end of the table, and he was hiding behind them from Andrei. That made Andrei laugh.

Then he started rolling them down the table. But this time Andrei did not have his blank face on. He was lunging left and right to catch the dolls— all of them, the little ones that skittered along the tabletop and the big ones that wobbled and meandered from side to side. Andrei caught each one and sent them back up the table, where Vanya let them fall dangerously off the edge and then caught them before they crashed to the floor. And Nastya never heard a thing!

There was no chance of Nastya’s letting him have the matryoshka again today. But what about tomorrow? Tomorrow was Tanya’s day. He was not sure about Tanya, but he could ask her. And then the day after that would be Auntie Valentina’s day. She would be sure to let him have the dolls. That was something to look forward to.

Two days later, Vanya was sitting at his little table, eagerly waiting for his favorite caregiver to come on duty. Tanya had already taken off her white coat and was looking at her watch, eager to be off. The door opened and in came the beloved figure of Auntie Valentina in her shabby coat, carrying an umbrella and a bulging plastic bag in her hand. Vanya watched as Valentina hung up her coat and started to rummage in her plastic bag. She took out a paper package and placed it in front of him. Trembling with anticipation, he peeled back the greaseproof paper. It was a thick slice of salami.

She whispered to him, “I have a banana for you later.” His face lit up.

“Auntie Valentina, you’re my favorite caregiver, you know,” he said, his mouth full of meat.

“Get on with you, Vanya,” she said as she went to the bedroom. She came back carrying Kiril, the boy who was always hanging in the baby bouncer. She held him on her lap and dressed him slowly, first in T-shirt and tights, and then pants and sweater. Her face was preoccupied.

“Auntie Valentina, why are you sad today?” Vanya asked.

“Kiril is leaving us. He’s off to the internat.”

Vanya had heard this word but wanted to fi nd out what it meant.

“What’s an internat?” he asked. Valentina did not answer. Just then the door opened and in bustled Svetlana, the woman who was always carrying papers. There was a brief exchange during which Valentina slid Kiril’s arms into an outdoor coat, kissed him tenderly on the top of his head, and handed him over to Svetlana. The door slammed and he was gone. Vanya remembered this had happened before. Svetlana had come for a child and never brought him back. Maybe she would come for Andrei next, and he’d be left without a friend. He pushed that thought out of his mind. He looked around to ask Valentina to tell him what this internat was. But she was busy changing another child, and her look said, Don’t ask me that question.

Minutes later, the interconnecting door to the babies’ room opened and the deputy head doctor came in carrying a little blond girl. “You’ve got a spare crib now. This one’s for you,” she told Valentina, consulting a brown card. “Kurdyaeva is her name. Born premature. Her mother gave her up at birth. She’s fifteen months old now and still can’t sit unaided.
Obviously very retarded. Definitely one for you.”

Valentina settled the girl in one of the walkers tethered to the playpen on Vanya’s side of the room, and went to sort out the paperwork.

“Hello. I’m Vanya. What’s your name?” The girl fixed him with an intelligent gaze and burbled, straining to say something, but all that came out was a strangled m-m- m sound. Vanya could see she was desperate to join him and Andrei at their table.

“And this is Andrei,” he said. “Look, Auntie Valentina has given us a toy each today.”

He started demonstrating his toy— half of a broken plastic telephone. Vanya had the base and Andrei was holding the receiver, which was missing its cord. The girl got excited as Vanya’s fingers rotated the dial, which made a chirruping sound. Her look said, Let me play. With an attentive audience, Vanya demonstrated how the dial turned and showed her the face on the front of the toy. He was so engrossed that he did not notice a figure standing over them.

“Oh, Masha, you like that, do you?” said an unknown voice. A hand reached down, snatched the telephone from him, and gave it to the girl. Vanya was left with his jaw hanging open. The person now had her back to him and was crouching down, fussing over the new arrival. “Now, Masha we must practice your speaking. Say Mama. M-m- m-m.” Masha obediently repeated m-m- m.

Vanya was enthralled at the spectacle. His eyes followed the young woman as she stood up and bounced over to Valentina. “Please forgive my rudeness. I’m Vika. I’m a volunteer. I’ve been helping my friend who works in the baby room. I’ve become very close to Masha. Is it okay if I come to visit her now that she’s moved to Group 2? I can help you as well.”

“Oh, I can always do with help here. As you see, I’m all on my own with a dozen children to feed and change for twenty- four hours at a stretch. And I’m not as young as I was,” said Valentina, laughing. “You can stay and help me give them lunch if you like.”

As they talked, Vanya realized that this was the young woman he had gazed at through the interconnecting door while she was singing to the babies— the one he had not stopped thinking about ever since the day of his adventure. And now that she was in his room, he could barely contain his excitement. As he watched her clumsily spooning slops into Masha’s mouth, with half of it falling on the floor, he was glad just to have her nearby. He practiced saying her name to himself— Vika, Vika.

“We’ve never had a volunteer before,” said Valentina as they shared the work of feeding the children. “Outsiders aren’t usually allowed in here.”

“I’m not sure I’m really wanted. In fact, some of the staff think I get in the way.”

Valentina smiled kindly. “Surely not, dear.”

As the young woman and Auntie Valentina chattered away, Vanya watched and listened with rapt attention. He was being ignored and all the attention was being lavished on Masha, the new arrival, but he did not mind. He had resolved to make Vika his friend.

When Vanya woke up the next day, it took him a while to recall why he felt happy. It was not because Auntie Valentina was coming on duty. Her shift was yesterday. Then he remembered Vika. She was not like the women in white coats whose shift patterns he had memorized. Vika could appear any day. He had first seen her on Nastya’s day, and then she had appeared on Valentina’s day, so it seemed to him as he lay in his crib that she might easily appear today. All day he looked up every time the door opened, hoping to see her sweet face; but each time, he was disappointed, until it got dark and he knew for sure she was not coming.

The next day she did not come. He found comfort in whispering her name to himself. Then suddenly he heard himself crying, “Vika, Vika,” as he saw her head poking around the door. “Have you come to see Masha?”

“You’ve remembered my name. Remind me— what’s yours?”

“I’m Vanya.”

“Oh, yes. You were showing Masha the telephone. And yes, I have come to see her.” She strode across the room, swooped down on Masha, pulled her out of the baby walker, and held her in her arms. Masha’s face, normally so sad, broke into a smile.

“Who are you? Who gave you permission to come here?” Vanya’s heart skipped a beat as Nastya emerged from the bedroom. In all the excitement, he had forgotten she was the one on duty. Vika turned to face the caregiver, still holding the girl in her arms.

“Sorry. I should have introduced myself. I’ve come to see Masha.”

“Do you work here?”

“N-n- no.”

“Then you shouldn’t be here.”

“But I’ve been helping with the babies in Group 1. I’ve been coming for months.”

Nastya’s officious attitude softened as she saw an opportunity. “Well, I could do with a break. You can look after the children for ten minutes.”

The door shut, and then to Vanya’s delight, Vika sat down on a little chair at his table with Masha on her knee. She turned the girl to face her, looked her in the eyes, and started making the sound m-m- m. “Come on, Masha, you can do it.” Masha was silent. Vika put her lips against the child’s cheek and repeated the sound. Still she was silent.

“Come, Masha, you used to do this so well when you were with the babies.” Masha continued to gaze happily at her, but no sound came out.

Vika sighed. She tugged off Masha’s socks, planted her bare feet on the floor, and put her hands on the tabletop, while supporting the child under the shoulders. “You must make your legs strong,” she said. The girl sagged.

Vika looked desperate. Vanya’s face took on a similar expression as Vika scoured the room for anything that could stimulate Masha.

Her eye alighted on a baby chair with a horse’s head in front and a pair of handlebars. She dragged it from the corner to Vanya’s table, placed Masha on the seat, and put her hands on the bars. In this position, she could hold herself upright. “Clever girl! You’re riding a horse.” Masha’s eyes brightened. For the first time, she looked alert as she gripped the handles.

Vika made a galloping- horse noise. She encouraged Vanya to join in.

Then she started clapping her hands and clicking her tongue. He hadn’t had so much fun for ages.

“What’s all this noise? You’ve stirred them up. I’ll never get them to sleep this afternoon.” Nastya was back from her break and determined to end the party. “And why have you taken her socks off?” she demanded.

“She’ll catch cold.”

“Look how happy she is. This chair really helps her. Maybe you could sit her in it from time to time . . .”

“As though I haven’t got enough to do with all the changing, washing, and feeding.”

With that, Nastya pulled Masha out of the horse chair and put her back in her assigned place in the tethered baby walker. Masha let out a terrible howl.

“Anyway, why are you wasting your time on her?” She tapped her finger twice on her head, in a crude gesture meaning imbecile.

Vika realized she might not be allowed back to see Masha and made a last attempt to get on good terms with the caregiver. “I could help you serve lunch if you like,” she offered.

“No. I can manage on my own. Isn’t it time you were going? And don’t bother to come again.”

Vika kissed the top of Masha’s head, picked up her bag, gave a little wave to Vanya, and was gone. Once again Vanya was surrounded by silence.

All afternoon, as he lay awake in his crib, he thought about Vika. Nastya had told her not to come back. He was never going to see her again. He felt his loss like a great weight on his chest, making it hard to breathe. Then he imagined himself leaping out of his crib and striding into the dayroom and standing in front of Nastya and declaring, “Isn’t it time you were going? And don’t bother to come back!” Then Auntie Valentina would come on Nastya’s days. How wonderful that would be.

He tensed up when Nastya came to take him out of his crib. He kept his eyes shut when she changed him. When he was sitting at his table again, he stared at her with hatred when her back was turned. He was feeling so upset that when the door opened, he did not react in his usual way and turn to see who was coming in. Too late, out of the corner of his eye, he saw someone go past in jeans and a sweater. His heart leaped as he thought it must be Vika. He turned on his chair and was disappointed to see there were two women not wearing white coats, but neither was Vika. One had long hair like Vika’s, but it was blond; the other was talking in a funny- sounding voice.

They had come in with a caregiver he had only seen twice before in Group 2, but he remembered she was called Zhanna. She seemed uncomfortable, and he sensed she wanted the visitors to leave. But the woman with the short hair kept asking questions. Finally Zhanna ushered the two women toward the door, saying the children were about to have supper. Vanya was surprised by this, as supper only happened after Nastya had her afternoon break, and she had not had it yet. As they approached the door, Vanya seized his opportunity.

“Please come again,” he said to the woman with short hair. To his delight she turned back and came over to him. She gave him a car and, when he asked if she had one for Andrei, she put her hand in her bag and took out another one. He had never played with a toy car before, and neither had Andrei. They both moved their cars around the tabletop, smiling at each other. They were so engrossed with the cars that he almost forgot to ask the woman her name— Sarah—and to make her promise to come again. She said she would.

Before supper was served, Nastya whisked the cars away and put them on a high shelf. The next morning when Vanya awoke, the first thing he thought of was his car. He sat up, stretched out his hand, and imagined moving his car along the rail of the crib. Then he imagined it moving in a great arc along the wall.

“Nastya, can I have my car now?” he asked when she entered the bedroom.

“Car? What car?”

Vanya started to feel uneasy. He grabbed the bars and pulled himself up. “You know, the car Sarah gave me.”

“Sarah? I don’t know any Sarah.”

Now Vanya started to panic. “You know, the one with the funny voice who gave me a car. And she gave one to Andrei too.”

Nastya stooped to pick up a child. “I don’t remember any cars,” she said casually. “You must have dreamed it.”