WeWriWa—A place where there’s no suffering

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes a few lines after last week’s, when young widower Mr. Lebedev was reunited with his three youngest daughters in February 1921. He now has five of his ten daughters back.

Next-youngest sister Natalya asked oldest sister Galya why she’s stumbling around, and Galya revealed she’s now blind (though hoping to get a sight-restoration operation in America). Mr. Lebedev has promised Fyodora, who’s not quite seven, he’ll spend the rest of his life giving her all the love and protection she was denied in the orphanage system.

Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig of Hesse and by Rhine with his belovèd daughter Elisabeth

“Where’s Mama?” Fyodora asks.

“She’s in a very nice place where there’s no more suffering,” Mr. Lebedev tells her, holding back tears. “We’ll see her again someday.”

“Where are my other five sisters?”

“I don’t know.  Some of them may be with your mother.”

“Now, please, Papa, we have to go to America.  Take us to a place where there’s no suffering,” Natalya pleads.

“So then Mama went to America?” Fyodora asks.

“She went to a magical place with angels, harps, fountains, gold, eternal youth, and love,” Mr. Lebedev elucidates.

When Mr. Lebedev remarries a bit over two years later, to female protagonist Lyuba’s mother, Fyodora realizes her mother must be dead, and what her father meant when he said her mother went to a magical place with things like golden water and harps. Her Machekha (Stepmother) Katya is the only mother she ever really knows, having been separated from her blood mother shortly after her third birthday.

Father and child reunion

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week, to mark Father’s Day, I’m featuring a snippet from my first Russian historical, You Cannot Kill a Swan. I wrote the scene of Mr. Lebedev reuniting with his three youngest daughters back in 1998 or 1999, and it still chokes me up every time, particularly the section with little Fyodora.

Mr. Lebedev, who later becomes female protagonist Lyuba’s stepfather, had ten daughters in his first marriage. They were all taken away by the Bolsheviks, the older ones to Siberia and the youngest ones to the orphanage system. He eventually was reunited with oldest daughter Galya, and then seventh-born Alla.

In 1920, Alla got a job in the orphanage where the three youngest had been taken, and the four of them plus a brother and sister they’re friends with eventually escaped and began making their way out of the USSR. (The boy later becomes Fyodora’s husband.) It’s now February 1921, and they’ve reached their family’s old city, Pskov.

Mr. Lebedev has just said he can’t believe four of his daughters are still alive.

“Five, Papa, five,” Natalya says. “Dora’s on the mattress over there.  She’s got whooping cough.”

Mr. Lebedev strides over on shaking legs and picks his youngest daughter up.  Fyodora stops her coughing and recognizes the father she hasn’t seen in almost four years.  She only vaguely remembers what he looks like, but she’s never forgotten he has two different-colored eyes.

“Papa, you finally came back.”

“Praise God we’re together again,” he says, his voice shaking. “Now that our family’s back together, we’re never going to be separated ever again, and I’ll spend the rest of my life smothering you with all the love and protection you were denied while we were apart.  No one will ever hurt a hair on your head again.”

Mr. Lebedev is eventually reunited with four of his other missing daughters, and finally gets a boy after he remarries Lyuba’s mother. He’s always been a good sport about being a father to so many daughters in a row.

Sweet Saturday Samples—Lyuba Meets Lyolya

This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples is the conclusion of Chapter 39 of The Twelfth Time. Lyuba meets her new stepsister Lyolya after she comes home from Minnesota, and then everyone has a welcoming party for Lyolya at the Lebedev home in Greenwich Village. Little Kroshka is especially delighted to see this missing member of their family. (Zaychik, Darya’s nickname, is Russian for bunny.)

***

When Lyuba and Dárya get off at Penn Station, Mr. Lebedev, Mrs. Lebedeva, Katrin, and a strange woman are waiting.  Dárya looks uncertainly at her mother as they draw closer to the welcoming party.

“I’m sure she’s a good person.  You can’t distrust all strangers, záychik.”

“Welcome home,” Mr. Lebedev says. “This is your stepsister Lyolya.  We’re going right home to my house for her welcoming party.”

Lyolya hugs Lyuba. “So this is the stepsister I’ve been told I have.  I guess it’s a bit late to welcome you to my family, since our parents have been married for six years.”

“Are you my new aunt?” Dárya asks.

“Yes I am, darling.  What a cute little girl you are.”

“I hope you weren’t postponing your party till I got back,” Lyuba says. “You didn’t have to put yourselves out like that.”

“I was committed to finishing the run of my show before I had much free time.  And then my father just wanted to wait a few more days for you to be here.  We’re all going to enjoy a nice supper at his house.”

“Don’t even think of going home first to unpack and settle in,” Mr. Lebedev says. “There will be plenty of time for that later.”

“We just got a new Model A while you were away,” Mrs. Lebedeva says proudly as they walk away from the station. “Unlike Iván, your stepfather actually spends his time making sales instead of making friends.  It’s so nice to have your own car.”

“I think it’s so touching how you changed your patronymic to Ilyínichna,” Lyolya says. “Even if Serafima is never found, my father gained a new daughter in you.  He still has ten daughters, even if one of them isn’t blood.”

“He’s been more of a father to me in the last nine years than my blood father ever was,” Lyuba says. “Though my evil parents-in-law are always calling me by my old patronymic.  I think they’re doing it on purpose.”

“We see them sometimes,” Mrs. Lebedeva says. “Várya is rather cute.  It’s too bad she has those two for parents.”

During the ride down to Greenwich Village, Lyuba tells her company about her second visit to Minnesota and how nice life is there.  As she’s narrating, she watches the tall buildings and busy streets going by, and can’t help feeling she’ll miss big city life.  Even if the long-term reality is anything but idyllic, it’s nice to at least be located in such a metropolis and have access to so many things.  In a small Minnesota farming town, she won’t have the option of regularly going to the movies, museums, the ballet, a large library, or anything Manhattan has to offer.

“It’s only a one-story house?” Lyolya asks. “Our houses back in Russia had two stories and were bigger.”

“We’re lucky we even found a real house,” Mr. Lebedev says. “Most people here, even the rich ones, live in apartments.  I was living in Lyuba’s tenement with five of your sisters till I remarried.  Then your stepmother and I moved with your youngest sisters to our own house and let her sister’s family keep the first house.”

Ósyenka gets the door and stands back shyly at the sight of the stranger.  Fyodora gently pushes him forward.

“Is this little one really Fyodora?” Lyolya asks. “She’s so big!”

“I don’t recognize you,” Fyodora says. “I haven’t seen you since I was three.”

“This is your brother, Ósip,” Mr. Lebedev says. “He’s got heterochromia just like I do.  Your oldest blood niece Zhényushka also has it.”

In the living room, twenty-one-year-old Króshka starts barking hysterically and leaps off of Svetlána’s lap, running into the entryway.  She jumps at Lyolya’s feet and continues barking and panting until Lyolya picks her up.  Once she’s in her arms, she starts licking Lyolya’s face.

“Welcome home,” Svetlána says. “Thank God you’re alive.  As you can see, my dog is alive and well too.  She hasn’t been so animated for awhile.  I think she recognized your smell and wanted to welcome you home.  She gave me a similar reception too, when we were reunited after five years.”

“She must be an old lady by now,” Lyolya says. “Wasn’t she born in 1908?”

“She’s very old in dog years.  I always thought she was holding on longer than most Pomeranians because she knew you were alive somewhere.  She wanted to see you one last time before God took her to the other world.”

“Does this mean Króshka will be going away soon?” Ósyenka asks. “I don’t want to lose her.”

“Dogs age a lot faster than people,” Véra says. “She’s a hundred in people years.  I think if she could talk, she’d ask you why you were gone for so long.”

“Now only Serafima and our cousin Nádya have to come to America, and our family will be complete!  I can’t wait to meet them too!” Ósyenka goes back to playing with a model aeroplane.

“Yes, it’s nice to have a completed family,” Lyuba says. “One day my own little family will be back in the same place too.”

“Be thankful you know everyone in your own family is alive,” Svetlána whispers. “There’s no guarantee Serafima and Nádya are still out there.”

“You never know.  Nobody thought Lyolya could still be alive, and here she is.  Miracles happen to those who deserve them.”

Sweet Saturday Samples—Reunion with Lyolya

This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples continues where last week’s left off. After the ballet, Mr. Lebedev is allowed backstage to see a dancer he suspects to be his missing daughter Yelena (Lyolya), whom he hasn’t seen since 1917 and has given up for dead along with his other missing daughter Serafima. Lyolya recognizes him because of his heterochromia, one blue eye and one brown eye.

Króshka is the family dog, a little Pomeranian. Her name means “crumb” in Russian, since she was as tiny as a little crumb when she was a puppy.

***

“Papa?” she whispers. “Ilya Nikoláyevich Lebedev of Pskov and Moskvá, husband of Yevgéniya Yermoláyevna, father of ten daughters?”

He nods, tears welling up in his eyes and his face contorted by a mixture of grief, joy, and relief.  He puts his hands over his face and starts sobbing uncontrollably, falling onto his knees.

“My father is still alive!” Lyolya shrieks. “My father still lives!”

Mr. Lebedev slowly pulls himself back up to his feet and stumbles towards Lyolya, his eyes so clouded he can barely see straight.  Lyolya throws her arms around him and feels him violently shaking.

“Thank God you’re alive,” she sobs. “I thought I was the only one left.  Praise God.  Praise God.  I thought I wouldn’t be reunited with anyone till the next life.”

“We’re not the only ones,” he chokes out. “Eight of your sisters are here, and you have five beautiful little nieces now, and a little brother.  Even little Króshka is still alive.”

Lyolya feels as though she’s dreaming. “God has been good to me.  This is an even bigger miracle than learning to walk and dance again.”

“You’ll be the guest of honor at my house as soon as your stepsister comes back from Minnesota next week.  You’re going to love your stepsister and stepmother.  I’ve known my stepdaughter for nine years, long before I ever dreamt I’d remarry her mother.  She’ll be like another sister to you.  Thank God nine of my daughters are still on this earth.  I’d given up hope for all of you to be found.”

Lyolya leads him over to a spare chair and helps him sit down. “If I make nine, then who’s the only one left missing?”

“Serafima.  I don’t suppose you know anything about her whereabouts.”

“No, I don’t.  I haven’t seen anyone from our family for nine years.  Are they all here in the city?  When can I see them again?”

“Yes, they all live here.  Gálya, Mótya, Dína, and Állochka are married now, Vérushka has graduated from college, and Natáshka will graduate college soon.  Fyodora is in high school now, and Svéta is an infant nurse.  They’re all going to be so happy to see you’re alive.  Your little brother is named Ósip, after your uncle.  He’s five and a half, and starting school in the fall.”

“I wish I could cancel the rest of my shows and spend the next week and a half getting reacquainted with everyone!”

“No, don’t do that.  This was your dream since childhood, and you’re not going to do anything to jeopardize it.  You should do whatever you can to earn money and build your name.”

Lyolya goes over to get the door and finds Rostislav with two people she doesn’t recognize. “Rostik, my father is alive!  Can you believe my good luck?”

“My girlfriend and I figured it out yesterday.  This is one of your sisters, Natálya Ilyínichna Lebedeva.  The other woman is your stepmother, Yekaterína Iósifovna.”

Mr. Lebedev sizes up Rostislav. “So you’re the young man my Natálya has been seeing and not bothered to introduce to me.”

Rostislav puts out his hand. “I am very honored to meet you, Ilya Nikoláyevich.  I’m Rostislav Vlásiyevich Smírnov, and I’m from Bulun, Siberia.  My brother and sisters and I found Lyolya unconscious on top of some rocks in the Léna River nine years ago and carried her back to our house.  She’s been my big sister ever since.  We live together in the city.  I had to come with her when the ballet talent scout took her to America.  She needed a reminder of home and a male escort.”

Mr. Lebedev shakes his hand. “You and your family are angels for rescuing my daughter and taking care of her as your own for so long.  Ask me for anything you want, and I’ll give it to you as a reward for your righteousness.  No price is too high to express my gratitude for saving the life of my child.”

“Could I have Natásha’s hand in marriage?”

“What!” Natálya gasps. “We haven’t even been going out for two months!”

Mr. Lebedev smiles at him. “At least some young men know how to ask a girl’s father for permission.  I’d be glad to give you my blessing, but Natálya herself has to agree or nothing can happen.”

“I don’t want to be married at my age.  I just want to continue dating.  But it’s nice to know Rostik thinks so highly of me.  Maybe I’ll say yes if he asks again in a year or so.”

Sweet Saturday Samples—At the Ballet

This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples also come from Chapter 39 of The Twelfth Time. Though the reader has known since the first book what exactly happened to Yelena (Lyolya) Lebedeva and that she was discovered by a visiting émigré ballet talent scout and taken to America by a circuitous route through Eastern Siberia and Alaska Territory in the second book, her father has no idea she’s still alive and well. To his great joy, he discovers nine of the ten daughters he had with his late first wife are still alive.

***

On Friday at 7:00, Rostislav and Natálya take their seats just before the curtain rises.  Natálya looks around and sees her father and stepmother sitting a number of rows behind them and to their right.

“They’ve got programs,” she reports. “I’m sure my father will see the name and start to wonder.  I really hope your adoptive sister is my sister.  Then we’ll only have one missing sister left to find.  Perhaps all ten of us really are still alive.”

All during the ballet, Mr. Lebedev’s eyes are riveted to the green-eyed dancer playing the lead.  He wonders how long she’s been dancing to achieve such effortless-looking grace, poise, and realistic emotion.  He’s also struck by how Russian she looks, perhaps one of the émigrée dancers who came from France in recent years.

“I was unsure when Natálya gave us the tickets and said we had to go tonight, but now I’m glad we came,” Mrs. Lebedeva whispers during the intermission. “It’s been quite awhile since we’ve been to the ballet or opera.”

“She says her gentleman friend has an older adoptive sister in the ballet, so she was able to get a pair of free tickets for us.  I wish she’d introduce this young man to us.  It’s been a month and a half.  In our day, decent people always involved their parents in their courting decisions.”

“Well, Lyuba was off doing all those things with all those men while I was away in America.  I don’t know if she still would’ve done so many scandalous things had she had parental control.”

“That was all your first husband’s doing, not your fault.  And we all know he had you under his spell for quite some time too.  Now let’s enjoy the rest of the show.”

As the curtain rises, Mr. Lebedev continues staring at the lead.  The more he looks at her, the more he thinks he’s seen her somewhere before, a long time ago.  One of his former boarders?  A neighbor from Pskov?  Someone he’d bumped elbows with on the ship?  He glances down at the program and his eyes almost fall out of his head.

“What’s wrong, Ilyushka?” Mrs. Lebedeva asks. “You look like you’re seeing a ghost.”

“The lead ballerina.  I thought she looked familiar, and then I looked at her name.  Do you think it’s possible my missing Lyolya is one and the same as this Yeléna I. Lebedeva playing Giselle?”

“Oh, what an imagination.  That’s not such a rare name combination.  And it’s been almost nine years now that anyone we know has seen her.  Lyolya and Serafima probably died long ago.  It’s just a coincidence that this Yeléna I. Lebedeva and yours are both ballerinas.”

Mr. Lebedev continues to closely watch her for the remainder of the show.  As soon as the final encore is over and the curtain is down, he gets up and rushes towards the dressing rooms.  He scans the group of dancers heading backstage to try to make her out.

“May I help you, Sir?  We don’t normally have meet and greets with the dancers and the audience.  If you know one of the dancers, I can give her a message.”

“Za lead dancer, Yeléna Lebedeva.  I zink she may be my daughter.  May I please have a chance to see her?  I had ten daughters in my first marriage, and two are still missing.  My Lyolya vas also a ballerina.  Can you please tell her a Mr. Ilya Nikoláyevich Lebedev vants to see her?”

“You’re probably just imagining things, but I guess I don’t see the harm.  You do share the same name, so it might not just be wishful thinking or a coincidence.”

Lyolya is taking her hair down and removing her makeup when a knock sounds on her door.  She slowly gets up and goes to the door of her private dressing room, half-expecting it to be a fellow dancer wanting to borrow something.  Instead she finds one of the backstage workers.

“Sorry to disturb you, Miss Lebedeva, but some fellow was rather insistent about meeting you.  He’s one of those ‘I knew you when’ types.  He says his name’s Ilya Lebedev.”

“What!  That couldn’t possibly be!”

Mr. Lebedev appears next to the worker and peers into the room.  The worker walks away to give them some privacy.  Lyolya scans him quickly, not sure she’d even recognize any potential friends or relatives after so many years of separation.  Then she looks him over again and her eyes lock on his.  Heterochromia.  One blue eye, one brown eye.  She feels a shortness of breath.