My Autumn’s Harvest post is here.
This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples is from Chapter 2, “Ignored Warning,” of The Twelfth Time. It’s Tatyana’s first day of school, September 1924, and she’s walking there with her best friend Nikolay. Tatyana is just as upset as Lyuba about how Ivan has been coming home so late from work recently, and visiting his parents before he comes home.
“Remember to hold Nikoláy’s hand all the way there and back, and to look both ways before crossing streets,” Lyuba says as she washes the breakfast dishes. “And remember, you have to stay at school during your lunch break. We don’t live close enough to the school for you to come home, eat, and walk back in enough time. I hope there’s enough in your lunchpail to fill your stomach.”
“Why can’t I wear my own clothes?” Tatyana asks as she picks up her sparsely-filled schoolbag.
“Most private schools have uniforms. I never had to wear a uniform back in gymnasium, but I was at a very left-wing school.”
“But how do they tell us apart?”
“You might feel left out if some of the girls wore much prettier or more expensive clothes. With a uniform, no one knows or cares how much money you come from. It’s also cheaper than buying a whole new wardrobe every single year. Don’t worry, you can wear your old clothes on weekends and holidays, and when you come home, you can change out of the uniform.”
“When do I start school?” Fédya asks as he drinks the milk at the bottom of his cereal bowl.
“You have to wait three more years, little love.” Lyuba shudders at the image in her head, of some mean teacher hitting Fédya’s hand with a ruler or leather strap when he’s caught writing with his left hand. She almost wants to keep him home with her and tutor him herself, knowing society’s attitudes haven’t changed a bit since Iván was in school.
“Is Papa going to be late at work again when I come home?” Tatyana asks. “His boss is being mean when he makes him work so late at night.”
“Your father’s an easy target for that mudak, since he’s such a nice person and is so desperate to make money to support us. In his mind, he’s doing the right thing, and I suppose at least he’s working and bringing in some money instead of doing nothing.”
“I liked the pictures you showed me. Why doesn’t Papa want to draw and paint again? He can work at home if he’s an artist.”
“Your father’s very stubborn. When his mind is made up, there’s no swaying him. If he ever goes back to painting and drawing, it’ll have to be something he decides on his own.”
Nikoláy comes from across the hall and knocks on the door. Lyuba smiles down at her godson in his uniform, his schoolbag over his shoulders. He’ll be starting first grade this year, but he’ll still be able to sit with Tatyana at lunch and walk with her to and from school.
“Is your mother ready to bring over your sisters?”
“She’s just finishing putting the dishes away. If your new baby really is a girl, you’re going to have a lot of girls to watch during the day, and only one boy. Tyotya Kat only has one boy too.”
“I guess you don’t see it this way since you’re a boy, but little girls are easier to handle. They don’t get dirty, play roughly, or get into trouble as often as little boys.”
“Oh. Well, I hope you have another boy later, so Fédya can have a brother. I hope my parents have a little brother for me the next time they have a baby. They said they want four kids, and if the next baby is another girl, I’ll only have sisters. That won’t be fun.”
“Hopefully we will have another boy someday,” Lyuba smiles, not wanting to tell a child about her problems with getting pregnant.
Tatyana takes Nikoláy’s hand and goes down the stairs with him. Lyuba and Fédya stand at the window with Eliisabet, who has just come over with her daughters, and watch them heading up the street towards the school. Just as they were told, they keep holding hands and look both ways before crossing streets. There are also police officers directing traffic, so they know the children have an extra safety measure. Before Tatyana and Nikoláy leave their line of vision, they turn around and wave at their mothers and younger siblings.
“Kólya, can I ask you a question?”
“If we get married when we grow up, are you going to work late nights in a factory like my papa? We’re all very sad how he’s been staying so late recently.”
“I don’t want to work in a factory when I’m a grownup. I want to do something nice, like be a teacher, write for a newspaper, be a salesman, or drive a train. My papa is president of the union, and he could probably make that mean boss man put their hours back to normal.”
“My papa says we’re going to move to the Midwest and have a nice big farm someday. I wish he could make that dream come true right now. I want a backyard, a front yard, a garden, lots of cute animals to play with, and a real house to live in.”
“That sounds really fun. Maybe if our parents save up enough money, they can take us away from New York and into the Midwest before we graduate elementary school.”
“I hope you’re right. My papa says family’s the most important thing to him, and he’d do anything to make us happy. I think he’s too nice for his own good, so maybe that’s why the boss is using him as his dog. I wish he had a nice, safe job like that bad man Borís. That wasn’t nice how he was trying to take me away from my parents and pretending to be my father, but teaching church school is a lot nicer than working in an iron factory.”