On this warm summer night she was to be found plucking morbidly at her balalaika and watching the stars and the moon rest upon the quiet waters of the river, as if they preferred those waters to sky. Mama Temkin was widely known for the scowl that most often creased her face and made her look like a vile forest witch. Today, however, her scowl was softened, and she looked merely like a pruned fingertip.
Approaching her porch, Doctor Galashnikov removed his hat and reminded himself that here was a woman who had been mourning since morning. A thoughtful physician, Galashnikov would have asked Mama how she was coping, and if she needed a blanket, or some tea, or perhaps a bracing toss in the river.
Mama Temkin preempted his well-wishing. “Have you a diagnosis?”
“At the moment, I’ve only conjecture.”
“Conjecture! Doctor, did you not graduate from the top of the Academy?”
“Yes, but I had to go to the bottom to leave the building. Madame, was your son a kind man?”
“Only to strangers. He was capricious, of late.”
“And had his ears been smoking long?”
“Since he was as tall as my balalaika is wide.”
“Would it be too much to ask to peruse your son’s room?”