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A Child's Joke: A Story

The sea, warm and quiet, lay in front of me. Dusk was falling, and there was a strong smell of brine and kelp in the air.

I was sitting on a piece of a ruined ancient column on the shore of the Black Sea and couldn't quite believe that just a few hours earlier I had been in cold and wet November Moscow.

That morning I was awakened in my Moscow apartment by the sound of branches beating against my window. I opened my eyes and saw these wet, wind-tossed branches, the houses awash in torrents of rain, the passersby hunched over beneath the penetrating wind, and, suddenly, I felt so miserable that I knew I would simply die if I didn't immediately get away from there to somewhere in the sun for at least a week.

Not giving it another thought, I packed my suitcase, hailed a cab, and went to the airport.

I had decided to fly South, to Akulinsk, a small town in the Crimea, where I had never been and which, as I had often heard, was a quiet and lovely spot.

The season was over, and I had no trouble getting a room in an inexpensive hotel. Without unpacking, I threw my suitcase down in the room, rented a bicycle at the hotel, and set out for the sea.

The sun was setting. I left the town behind and rode along the shore. The road was deserted. I had been riding for about half an hour when up ahead, to the side of the road, I saw the remains of an ancient amphitheater. The stone steps,...

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