Marija Grybauskė takes up a lot of space, in more ways than one. No matter where Vasara stands to do her filing, she never seems far from her superior’s presence. So, when Marija lumbers into her side room this morning and bends over the uneven pile of cardboard files cluttering the corner desk, Vasara draws a breath, wondering whether she is doomed to spend the morning tripping over Marija’s outsized shoes and dodging her catty remarks.

“Listen up. These files must be arranged neatly on one of these shelves.”

“Yes, but…” Vasara turns her chin pointedly at the bookshelves already crammed to bursting with groaning files.

“No buts, you dolt. You go through the files and remove any from before 2010. Take those off to the archives. Put these on the shelves instead. Understood?”

Vasara wills herself to ignore the barb, but she feels its sting nonetheless.


Marija rolls her eyes.

“Don’t you know nothing? Out there, across the patio, in the old wing.” And she gestures toward the large arched window, half-covered by a blind. All Vasara can see through the lower pane of glass is a small stretch of grass, a weathered brown bench, and a crooked garbage bin.

Vasara waits until Marija leaves before approaching the window and raising the blind. There, across the patio, is an old brick building. Vasara passes it every day on her way out of work. Its upper windows are shuttered, the roof is half-crumbling, and she has never seen anyone going in or out. Is that the old wing?!

With shaking hands, Vasara pats her back pocket. A smoke. If she is already stepping out, she will use the time, once done, to nab a smoke. Staying off vodka, as she has lately, is one of the hardest things she has ever done. Lighting up a Marlboro takes off the edge. Just a little.

Vasara lifts as many bulging files as she can carry and bends her neck sideways to see her way forward. Her mind strays back to the vodka. Years ago, getting dry had been easier. Perhaps Zenia’s support had made the difference. But then again, today there’s Daina. Scratch that. There’s the notion of Daina.

Daina is so far she would hardly know if Vasara were here or on a park bench. Vasara clenches her teeth. She has not yet managed to wangle a smartphone, and calling her daughter on a public payphone is a headache, with the payphone a whole bus ride away. Things will need to change — and for that to happen, vodka is never going to be an option.

The paint on the archive’s door is flaky and cracked, like the rest of the building. Vasara gives it a push with her elbow. It doesn’t open. She leans in with as much force as her shoulder can give, but still, the door won’t budge.

Finally, she heads back across the patio and places the heavy files on the bench. She rubs the small of her back and returns to try the brass doorknob again with both her hands. It is unequivocally, undeniably locked. Of course. She should have thought. Or Marija could have thought to tell her.

(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 626)