Zenya was just two-and-a-half when two very strange people came to visit her orphanage. They talked funny, she thought, as if almost able to speak properly, but with such horrible accents it was difficult to understand them. She assumed they were stupid. Gloopy, in Russian. They were there to see her, though – just her! – so she let it go.
She was devastated when they stopped coming after one week. It was not fair! They had been coming every day, and she had bows in her hair and wore a pretty dress every time! She thought they were The Ones! Guess not.
After a couple months – forever at that age – the memory of her visitors faded as that infamous Russian winter approached and she blended back into daily life at Dome Rebyenka (Baby Home) No. 1 on the outskirts of town. Someday, she knew, she would have her very own grown-ups to take care of her. She just knew it! They needed to hurry up, though.
Sure enough, one day as she and a dozen other children sat in kid-sized chairs along the back wall, those same two wonderful strangers reappeared.
Smiles all around lit up the playroom. Zenya's exuberance then collapsed into a withering pout as she remembered the abandonment last time. They better not do that again!
She waited to see their reaction to this pout. And, satisfied that her point had been made, she allowed one of the caregivers to walk her across the room to her visitors.
Her gray eyes looked deep into those of her visitors, and she allowed herself a controlled smile. She was still unsure about them. Spying a stuffed toy on a shelf to her right, she tried to reach it. The strange man smiled as he grabbed it for her. She had already lost interest, but found a colorful book behind him on another shelf and tried to reach that. This time, it was the woman who got it for her.
Zenya took the book, turned a couple of pages as if studying its contents, then dropped it on the floor for the woman to pick up. It was the grown-ups' job to put things back on the shelves.
Her eyes twinkled with delight upon realizing all she had to do was point at various items beyond her reach – even the ones she didn't care for – and her visitors would dutifully give them to her.
The power she had over these people was intoxicating! She would remember this. Always. Especially the part about letting them clean up after her.
When the man asked in that strange accent, "Tee hoachesh eegrut?" (You want to play?), she of course said, "Da!" (Yes!) And that was when she knew she had found her forever parents.
Her world – the world – was once again as it should be!
Halfway into the long drive back from Louisville to Saint Louis, Clay Desno is looking forward to a hot shower and cold beer. He has just bought a brand new Chevy Silverado pickup, fully loaded, and is following the dealer's advice to keep his speed down until the odometer reaches at least 500 miles.
He's never had a brand new car before. Always used. Then again, he's never done so well playing the ponies before.