Everywhere Van

By Serge Skudaev

Alexei was awakened by the smell of fresh paint flowing through his open window. It was bright in the bedroom. Sunspots played on the wall. Blinking, he screwed his eyes open, then groped for and found his watch on the bedside table. It was 7 AM! The cloying paint smell began to annoy him and he wondered "what nut arranged to paint something so early in the morning?" He got out of bed and lurched toward the window.

"Wow," he exclaimed in amazement. "What the H - - - is that?" An unrecognizable object was shining like a rainbow in his neighbor Fyodor's back yard. Alexei briefly considered the possibility of an alien visitation, but discarded it as Fyodor emerged from behind the object, smiling broadly.

"Hi, Alexei, how are you? What do you think? I just finished painting it," he said excitedly.

"Hi, Fyodor, it looks nice!" Alexei decided he should at least be polite. He'd only moved in two months ago, but had already realized his neighbor was weird. Once, when they passed by each other on the sidewalk, Fyodor was talking to himself and didn't even respond to Alexei's greeting. There were rumors going around that he was insane.

"What is it?" asked Alexei. As the words came out, he suddenly recognized Fyodor's old van. It had been stored in Fyodor's back yard, where he was supposedly working on it, for years. No one could remember Fyodor actually driving it. Now, it was painted in a gaudy, almost bizarre way. It was yellow in front and blue in back, with an orange roof and red wheels. The one door he could see, on the right side, was painted green.

"It's my invention, the everywhere-van," Fyodor stated matter-of-factly.

"Why is it painted like that, in so many bright colors?" Alexei asked.

"I really can't explain it exactly, but the essential thing is that each part must be the proper color, or it won't work right."

"I see," Alexei said. Now, he was absolutely convinced the rumors were right and he was talking to an insane man. He wasn't a psychiatrist, but Alexei was an engineer. "Right," he thought, "color affects the way a car works. . . . What a crazy idea." Aloud, though, he simply asked, "what is your invention for?"

"It's simple," Fyodor declared. "At first, my van had only two doors for passengers, so I could drive it in only two directions. Now, it has four doors and I can drive it in four directions."

"Four?" said Alexei faintly, more than a little puzzled.

"Yeah, there are two doors you can't see, on the left side."

"Well, that's very interesting!" Alexei was amused. He could scarcely suppress his laughter. "Good luck!" he said.

Just then, Alexei's wife Natalia called out from the kitchen, where she had been fixing breakfast. "Who are you talking with, Alexei?"

"Look out the window," he said, laughing.

"Oh, my" she exclaimed. "Who would paint a van so hideously? He really is crazy! Well, leave it now and come on in. Let's eat in the kitchen. Everything is ready."

It was a sunny Sunday and they were planning a trip to the beach. As they left their home, Fyodor's van stood conspicuously in his front yard. Right next to it, Fyodor was talking to Anna Ivanovna, an energetic older woman who lived nearby. She talked incessantly about health foods, but in looking at her one could easily imagine that she liked not only talking about food, but food itself. Next to her, short, clumsy Fyodor looked like an awkward son.

"Good morning, Anna Ivanovna," Alexei and Natalia chimed in unison.

"Good morning," she answered. "I see you are going to the beach. Such a beautiful couple," she told Fyodor. Then, turning to Natalia, she said, "I'm going to a market in Cheryomushki--you know, it's a new neighborhood of Moscow where farmers come to sell their produce every Sunday. Fyodor has kindly offered to drive me there."

"If you don't mind, I could drive you two to the beach. I want to show you how my invention works," Fyodor said shyly.

"We really don't want to disturb you," Natalia said.

"Why not?" Fyodor insisted. "I'll be glad to take you." His face showed such disappointment that Alexei murmured to Natalia, "Let's make him happy. Besides, I'm sure his van won't get very far."

They got into the van. Though it had no windows, it was still comfortable inside. All the seats were in green artificial leather. The doors on one side were red and yellow, while on the other they were blue and green.

"OK," Fyodor said to his passengers, "remember that Alexei and Natalia get out through the blue door and Anna gets out through the yellow door. Don't forget!"

Fyodor cranked the engine and the van started up. While they were riding, the two women chatted about the advantages of different diets. Alexei just watched Natalia, admiring her every movement. He liked her ironic smile, the way she bent her head slightly to one side while pondering something, and the way she wrinkled her nose when she laughed. Married only a year, the two were not yet bored with each other.

Finally, Fyodor stopped the van and announced, "You've arrived."

Alexei opened the blue door and they saw the river. Anna, catching a glimpse of the scene, yelled, "But I don't want the beach! I need the market! I want to buy health food!"

"You have to go out through the yellow door," Alexei laughed. As he spoke, he opened the yellow door, then gasped. Outside, there was a red brick wall, a cobbled plaza, and an instantly recognizable scene.

"It's Red Sqaure," he shouted. "This isn't possible."

"I don't want the beach or Red Square," cried Anna. "Drive me home."

Looking back and forth between the two open doors, Alexei tried to gather his wits. He interrupted Anna's plaintive cries. "Don't you understand? We are simultaneously in two places that are twenty miles apart!" Her failure to comprehend stunned him. She kept insisting on either going home or to the market.

Fyodor spoke up, "I'm sorry, Anna Ivanovna, I made a mistake. You must go through the red door." He opened the red door on a vista of new buildings and a small plaza crowded with farmers and shoppers.

"This is amazing," exclaimed Alexei. "Fyodor, you're a genius."

"No, " said Fyodor, "I just invented the everywhere van."

Finally recognizing the Cheryomushki market, Anna Ivanovna said, "this is just what I want," and left through the red door.

"We forgot the fourth door," Natalia said. Opening it revealed a vista of Vnukovo Airport.

"Listen to me, Fyodor," Alexei demanded. "How did you do that? All our knowledge of time and space, our knowledge of the Universe, must be changed! How did you do it?"

"I just know that the parts of the van must each be their proper color or it won't work," said Fyodor.

"Wait a minute, Alexei," Natalia interrupted her husband. "Fyodor, you're our friend, aren't you? Couldn't we get together and establish a new Transit Cooperative? Instead of using 50 buses, we'd need only one! Think of the gas we'd save!'

"Fyodor," she said enthusiatically, "you can make such a bus, can't you?"

"No," he said, "It's impossible."

"But why,?" asked Natalia impatiently.

"It's simple," Fyodor declared, "You can't make a bus with that many doors."


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