After serving the entire war, the Guards Captain Alexei Alekseyevich Ivanov departs from the army for demobilization. At the station, long waiting for the train, he gets acquainted with the girl Masha, the daughter of the spaceman, who served in the dining room of their part. Two days they travel together, and for another two days, Ivanov lingers in a city where Masha was born twenty years ago. At parting Ivanov kisses Masha, remembering forever that her hair smells like “autumn fallen leaves in the forest.”
A day later, at the station of his native city Ivanov meets his son Petrushka. He has already gone the twelfth year, and the father does not immediately recognize his child in a serious teenager. Wife Lubov Vasilevna is waiting for them on the porch of the house. Ivanov hugs his wife, feeling the forgotten and familiar warmth of his beloved. Daughter, little Nastya, does not remember her father and cries. Petrushka pulls her back: “This is our father, he is our family!” The family begins to prepare a festive treat. Everyone commands Petrushka – Ivanov is surprised at what an adult and old-fashioned son his son is. But he likes the little meek Nastya more. Ivanov asks his wife how they lived here without him. Lyubov Vasilievna is embarrassed by her husband, like a bride: she has weaned from him. Ivanov feels with shame that something prevents his whole heart from rejoicing at the return,
The family is sitting at the table. The father sees that the children eat little. When the son indifferently explains: “And I want you to get more” – parents shuddered, exchanged glances. Nastya hides a piece of pie – “for Uncle Semyon”. Ivanov asks his wife who this uncle Semyon is. Lyubov Vasilievna explains that Semyon Yevseyevich had Germans killed his wife and children, and he asked them to go play with children, and they did not see anything bad from him, but only good… Listening to her, Ivanov smiles in an unkind way and lights up. Petrushka disposes of the household, telling his father that he will be on his allowance tomorrow, and Ivanov feels his timidity before his son.
In the evening after dinner, when the children go to bed, Ivanov tries his wife’s details of life, which she spent without him. Petrushka eavesdrops, he feels sorry for his mother. This... conversation is painful for both – Ivanov is afraid of confirming his suspicions of his wife’s infidelity, but she frankly admits that she had nothing with Semyon Evseevich. She was waiting for her husband and only loved him. Only once, “when her soul was completely dying,” one person became familiar with her, an instructor of the district committee, but she regretted allowing him to be close. She realized that only with her husband can be calm and happy. “Without you, I have nowhere to go, you can not save yourself for the children… Live with us, Alyosha, it will be good for us!” – says Lyubov Vasilyevna. Parsley hears how his father moans and crushes the glass of the lamp with a crunch. “In the heart you wounded me, and I’m also a man, not a toy… “In the morning Ivanov is going in. Petrushka utters to him everything about their hard life without him, as his mother was waiting for, and he came and his mother is crying. you understand nothing! “-” You do not understand. We have a case, we have to live, and you swear, like silly ones… “And Petrushka tells a story about Uncle Khariton, whom his wife cheated on, and they also cursed, and then Khariton said that he also had a lot of things at the front, and he and his wife laughed and reconciled, although Khariton invented all his treason… Ivanov listens to this story with astonishment.
He leaves in the morning to the station, drinks vodka and sits on the train to go to Masha, whose hair smells of nature. At home, Petrushka, waking up, sees only Nastya – her mother went to work. Having asked Nastya how his father left, he thinks for a moment, dresses his sister and leads her along.
Ivanov stands in the train vestibule, which passes near his house. At the crossing, he sees the children’s figures – the one who has more, drags quickly behind him a smaller one, not having time to touch his legs. Ivanov already knows that these are his children. They are far behind, and Petrushka is still dragging behind him the unsuccessful Nastya. Ivanov throws a duffel bag on the ground, descends to the lower stage of the car and departs from the train “on that sandy path along which the children ran after him.”