Posted in 1920s, Historical fiction, Katya Chernomyrdina, Lebedeva sisters, Naina, Russian novel sequel, Secondary characters, Writing

Unexpected Reunion at Church

This was originally one of a batch of twenty posts I put together on 24 June 2012, as future installments of the now-permanently shelved Sweet Saturday Samples hop. It differs slightly from the published version in The Twelfth Time. E.g., I no longer pedantically use accent marks, and the infodumpy dialogue has been cleaned up quite a bit.

***

For the remainder of the service, they walk around looking at the paintings and ikons, feeling slightly embarrassed they don’t remember enough to know who most of these saints are or what many of the scenes depict. They can’t even figure out the Old Church Slavonic script on most of the paintings. If their reaction time is quick enough, they copy the congregation when they see people kneeling or crossing themselves. At least they remember the correct way to cross oneself and don’t do it backwards like the Catholics. They remember Zofia crossing herself sometimes, and she always did it in the opposite direction from the way they were taught.

After services, while most of the people are standing around socializing, they notice a very pretty young woman in a wheelchair, her leg elevated and in some type of metal brace, thick gauze wrapped around the flesh inside the confines of the brace. A handsome man with very light brown hair stands on one side of her, and a woman with green eyes and the same russet hair stands on the other side. The woman in the wheelchair looks vaguely familiar to them.

“What happened to you?” Naína asks.

“Some jerk driving a Bugatti ran me over in April when I was rescuing my baby niece from the oncoming car. I was burnt very badly and might’ve lost my leg to amputation had I not had one young doctor among the team assigned to me. He argued for a radical new bone surgery instead of the old method. My fiancé here is busy looking for a house or apartment I can easily access, and that means no stairs. I hope our home hunt isn’t delayed too much longer, since my twenty-seventh birthday is coming up in September, and that’s awfully old for a woman to be unmarried.”

“You look kind of familiar,” Kátya says. “Is it possible we met you back in the motherland? We spent the last seven years in the Ukraine, and before that we lived in Russia.”

“My name is Álla Ilyínichna Lebedeva. I’ve been here since May of ’21.”

Kátya smiles at her. “Of course we remember you! You used to work at our orphanage in Kiyev, until you snuck out with three of your sisters and a brother and sister pair in early ’21! Mrs. Brézhneva was going crazy for a long time trying to figure out what’d happened to you all!”

“There were so many girls there, and it’s been over six years since I left. You’ll have to tell me your names to refresh my memory.”

“I’m Yekaterína Kárlovna Chernomyrdina, and she’s Naína Antónovna Yezhova. Naína’s cousin Kárla disappeared on our train to freedom.”

“Now I remember you! From what I heard, you were rabble-rousers right till the very end of your stay at that place. My sisters Véra and Natálya are penpals with Inéssa Zyuganova in Minsk, and Inéssa’s penpals with Ínna. Sometimes Inéssa tells them what Ínna tells her, so we heard the sad news about Kárla. This is my older sister Svetlána, by the way. She’s an infant nurse, but she’s also been my nurse since I got injured. I live with her and our oldest sister Gálya. We were also living with our next-oldest sister Matryona till she got married yesterday. And this handsome fellow is my fiancé Daniíl Karmov.”

Véra, Natálya, and Fyodora make their way to Álla and Svetlána and look curiously at Naína and Kátya. Anastásiya is already on her way out of the church, taking off her hair covering as Mrs. Whitmore trails forty feet behind with Dmítriy.

“You girls can follow me out to the bus stop, unless you have an invitation to someone’s house for lunch. I wish someone would invite me to Sunday lunch once in awhile. They’ve known me for ten years now, and they’ve just met you.”

“You never get invites because you’re an insufferable pain,” Véra laughs. “I take it these are the girls Sándros sponsored?”

“They’re old friends of yours too,” Álla smiles. “Do you recognize Naína Yezhova and Kátya Chernomyrdina after over six years?”

“Are you kidding?” Natálya asks. “They’re one and the same as the girls Sándros sponsored?”

“This is incredible!” Véra says. “We thought we’d probably never see any of our orphanage friends ever again!”

“Look how tall you got! You were so young last time we saw you!”

“Are you staying in the city, or going right to Toronto?”

“What’s in Toronto?” Naína asks. “We were looking forward to having a nice vacation at the beach and amusement parks. We’ve never had a vacation before.”

“If your aunt and Kárla’s mother is the same Sófya Mitrofanovna Gorbachëva we’re acquainted with, she lives in Toronto,” Véra says. “She lives with the younger two daughters of the woman whose hotel was suggested to you as a hub of Russian immigrants. She also lives with the best friend, husband, and son of the older of those two girls. They come down to visit us every so often, and we’ve been up there a few times, time and finances permitting. This woman doesn’t talk about her pre-Revolution life too often, but we know she had two daughters named Mikhaíla and Kárla. She knows Mikhaíla is dead. One of the ladies she lives with was a witness, and broke the news to her on their ship to Canada.”

“My aunt really is alive, and you know her? I’d love to see her! But after eight years, I guess a few more months won’t make a big deal. Would it still be okay to go on vacation with you? I don’t know anything about Toronto, but I’m pretty sure Canada isn’t known for its beaches and warm climate. We might not get another chance to have a long beach vacation for awhile if we have to move there.”

“I was looking forward to going on the long vacation too, since I haven’t had much of a break from schoolwork, my job, and my family since I came here. Now that I know who our companions are going to be, I want to go even more. I think your aunt will understand. Katrin probably will pay for you to make a long-distance call when you get back to her penthouse. In the meantime, we’d love to have you for lunch.”

“We’ve got a cute baby halfbrother now,” Natálya says. “Fyodora is his godmother. Besides Svéta here, we’ll also be having our other three sisters, and our stepsister’s family.”

Posted in 1920s, Historical fiction, Ivan, Katya Chernomyrdina, Naina, Names, Religion, Russian culture, Russian novel sequel, Secondary characters, Writing

Naina and Katya at Church

This was originally one of a batch of twenty posts I put together on 24 June 2012 for future installments of the now permanently shelved Sweet Saturday Samples hop. It differs slightly from the published version in The Twelfth Time.

***

On Sunday morning, Naína and Kátya put on their nicest clothes and try to copy Anastásiya when she ties a fancy scarf over her hair. They know not all girls and women cover their hair in church, but they don’t want to call attention to themselves when they’re going to be new and haven’t had the chance to go to church in eight years. Even though Katrin said the church has pews, unlike Orthodox churches back home, they feel they’ll call less attention to themselves if they walk around during the service instead of sitting or standing in one place. Since they don’t even remember what happens or how to behave during a typical Divine Liturgy, they think they’ll feel more at home lighting candles and taking in the ikons and artwork.

Just as Katrin said, Anastásiya makes Mrs. Whitmore and Dmítriy ride on the upper level of the bus, while she takes a seat with Naína and Kátya on the lower level. Mrs. Whitmore gets off several blocks before their stop and walks the rest of the way to the church, so no one will suspect she’s with Anastásiya. Naína and Kátya think she’s as ridiculous as Katrin and Viktóriya told them, and hope this woman isn’t around them very much during the vacation they were promised. They’re more looking forward to spending time playing with the children, which seems a natural activity after so many years in orphanages, and getting to know Viktóriya and the other three young girls they were told might be coming. They left all their friends behind and can’t wait to make some new ones.

Anastásiya doesn’t even introduce them and goes to sit on one of the pews nearest the altar. Naína and Kátya are shocked to see a healthy young person taking a seat when they remember only the old, infirm, pregnant women, and people with small children taking seats back home. They try to follow along in the prayerbook for awhile, then give up on following along with the Old Church Slavonic, both printed and spoken. While they’re waiting for an ample space to open up so they can light some candles, they notice a very handsome, tall man holding a young girl in the crook of one arm and holding a little boy with his other hand. The young girl is venerating an ikon in a baby’s way. Next to him is a very tall woman holding a somewhat older girl who’s lighting a candle.

“Welcome to our church,” the man smiles. “I don’t think we’ve ever seen you. We’re the Konevs.”

“We just came here a few days ago.  I’m Naína Yezhova, and that’s my best friend Kátya Chernomyrdina. I’m fifteen and she’s nineteen.”

“Oh, you’re the girls my wife’s crazy radical friend Katrin’s husband sponsored. I was told you’re going on vacation with us this summer. I’m Iván, and that’s my wife Lyuba. Our baby here is also named Kátya, after her maternal grandmother. The other little girl is Dárya, and the boy is our son Fyodor. Our firstborn Tatyana is somewhere over there with her godparents and their kids.”

“We promise we’ll be very good on vacation and prove we deserve to be sponsored. We’ll do chores, childcare, and whatever else you ask us to do. And we won’t bother you anymore after September. Sándros told us we could go to some hotel run by an older Russian woman, and possibly get information about my aunt there. We’ve never had a real vacation, and barely remember when life was normal.”

“We were all immigrants ourselves not too many years ago. We’d never exploit one of our own. I assume you came here with that light-headed Anastásiya. She usually minds her own business when we vacation together. Other than that, we’re pretty nice people. Even that crazy Katrin seems like a nice person beneath her radical politics.”

“Her little boy is so cute,” Kátya says. “I can understand not wanting to draw attention to their relationship in public, since she’s an unwed mother, but she doesn’t even act loving or motherly in private.”

“She was never the smartest person or possessed of very sympathetic feelings. God forgive me for saying this in church, but she’s been self-centered and oblivious since I’ve known her. She only kept her son instead of placing him for adoption so she could have an heir to her family name and successful business. And she once was against having kids for fear her figure would be destroyed and she’d have her precious personal time disrupted and a potential competitor for her beauty, if she’d had a girl. The woman’s got as much sense as God gave a brick.”

“Ványa, that’s quite enough gossip in church,” Lyuba warns.

“Of course. Well, I guess we’ll see you girls again tomorrow, when we all leave for Coney Island. I hate most of the rides and sideshows, but the beach is nice.”

Posted in 1920s, Historical fiction, Katya Chernomyrdina, Naina, Russian novel sequel, Secondary characters, Writing

Naina and Katya Start to Settle In

This was originally one of a batch of twenty posts I put together on 24 June 2012 for future installments of the now-shelved Sweet Saturday Samples hop. It’s unusually short, at all of 399 words. This differs slightly from the published version in The Twelfth Time, for reasons including the pedantic presence of accent marks and Katrin’s husband’s name. He went from Sandros to Sandro.

***

Naína and Kátya go into one of the spare rooms with their suitcases and commence unpacking. The majority contents of their suitcases are clothes, but they also have some books, magazines, and pictures. For the first time since she went into the orphanage system, Naína feels confident no one is going to steal the necklace her mother gave her when she was four. She usually wore it under her blouse to guard against thieves, but now she’s unafraid to publicly wear it. She knows she won’t have to pull out the gun she always hid under her dress to defend her property or her life. Kárla’s little suitcase remains unpacked, set in a corner of the room, waiting, however delusionally, for its young owner to come along and unpack it.

With six small children in the house, Naína knows she shouldn’t have a gun lying around, so she puts it on a high shelf in their closet. She doesn’t want to unload it and keep the ammunition in a separate place in case she ever needs to use it at a moment’s notice. She wonders why an otherwise modern, enlightened woman like Katrin felt the need to bring along a male escort instead of just carrying a gun.

When Sándros comes home at 6:00, he gives Naína and Kátya large chocolate bars and big bags of jellybeans. For the umpteenth time since their arrival, their eyes widen at all the riches this country has to offer. No one ever got sweets in the orphanages unless they stole them from the kitchen or intercepted a care package before the warden got to it. And when they were staying in Odessa and Yalta, they cared more about trying to find Kárla, getting clearance to immigrate, and just surviving than having anything extra like chocolate.

They try not to gobble the stuffed mushrooms, almond-encrusted salmon, lemony green beans, chocolate mousse, and fruit salad Mrs. Oswald has made for dinner and dessert. Even the better food they successfully campaigned for at Mrs. Brézhneva’s orphanage doesn’t hold a candle to this. Naína hopes her Tyotya Sónya has food this wonderful, if she indeed lives somewhere in North America. It would be too horrible if she were the only member of her entire family left alive, with only Kátya as surrogate family and someone who remembers her family and what life was like before the Revolution.

Posted in 1920s, Historical fiction, Katrin, Katya Chernomyrdina, Naina, Russian novel sequel, Secondary characters, Writing

Naina and Katya Arrive at the Penthouse

This was originally one of twenty posts I put together on 24 June 2012 for future installments of the now-defunct Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop. It differs slightly from the published version in The Twelfth Time. E.g., the final version doesn’t pedantically use accents, and Katrin wisely leaves out the very personal information about Matryona’s painful past. Instead, she just says “If not for the Civil War, both might’ve been married years ago.” The birthdate I created for Sandro (not Sandros) also makes him already 29 as of June 1927.

***

“We’re on the top floor,” Katrin says. “It’s a penthouse suite, which is sort of like a luxury apartment. My husband and I are going to a wedding tomorrow, so we’ll have to trust you to mind yourselves while we’re gone. A friend of mine has a stepsister who’s getting married at the high age of thirty-five. Her husband-to-be is a few years younger. The bride-to-be isn’t a physical virgin, but her betrothed is modern and enlightened, and understands some terrible things happened to good people during the Civil War.”

“We lost everybody to the Revolution and Civil War, except maybe my aunt,” Naína nods. “I used to have two cousins, but the older one was beaten to death by some grotesque orphanage warden in St. Petersburg. The little suitcase we brought with us belongs to my younger cousin. She disappeared on the train taking us from our Kiyev orphanage to Cherkasi last January, and we never found a trace of her after that. We hope she’s alright, if she were found before the worst happened, or if she only got lost instead of being kidnapped.”

“Well, you’re in a free country now. I have to warn you, there are a lot of discrepancies between rich and poor, and a lot of government-sponsored censorship, both of ideas and speech, but at least this is a far better place to be than the Soviet Union. I was a Bolshevik once, but I discovered they weren’t being true to the real ideals of Socialism. Now I’m involved with real Socialists, not people who only espouse one way of thinking.”

Oliivia timidly walks up to the visitors, dragging her doll Aurelia behind her. “Eesti, vene, või inglise keel?”

“These nice girls speak Russian. Right now they have to unpack their things and get settled in a bit, but I’m sure they’d love to play with you, your sisters, and your godbrother when they’re more relaxed.” Katrin turns back to Naína and Kátya. “I don’t suppose you ladies know any Estonian. This one’s Oliivia, my oldest. She’s smart. She’s fluent in Estonian, Russian, and English, and she’s only three and a half.”

“The only other language we know is Ukrainian,” Kátya says. “But we’re not stupid. We’ll work very hard to learn English. Does your maid ever speak her African language?”

Katrin laughs. “Mrs. Samson was born in this country, and her family’s been here for quite some time. Most Negroes don’t speak African languages unless they’re recent immigrants. As far as I know, she doesn’t know where in Africa her ancestors came from, and she has no desire to learn any of the African languages. But she will teach you the latest jazz dances, if you’re interested.”

“Are your other female servants English?” Naína asks. “Their names sounded English to me. I assumed your butler is Greek.”

“Greek? Does he look Greek to you? He doesn’t even have dark hair or eyes!”

“But isn’t Rhodes one of the Greek islands?”

“Who knows how the name of the island came to be an English name. No, all of my servants are of English descent except Mrs. Samson. They were all enlightened enough to work for an Estonian, and we enjoy a good working relationship. Many people in this country are very racist against anyone not originally from Western Europe.”

“But this entire country is made of immigrants,” Kátya protests. “Even the Indians had to come here from Siberia.”

“Don’t ask me to explain why so many people are so hypocritically racist in a nation of immigrants. I never understood such a strange attitude myself. By the way, will you be going to church? My family goes to a Unitarian church, and Stásya goes downtown to a Russian Orthodox church. She goes with Mrs. Whitmore and Dmítriy, but makes them ride on another level of the bus or a respectable distance from her on the subway. Her reputation would be ruined if it were found out by the wider public that she’s got a bastard son.”

“She actually kept a bastard?” Naína asks.

“She moved back with my family after I discovered she was pregnant, and made up a story about a long illness to explain away all the months she missed at work. I also made her give birth at home, since God knows what would’ve happened to her in the hospital.”

“It’s normal to give birth in hospitals here? I thought only very sick people went there.”

“You’ve got a lot to learn about American life. But right now, all you need to do is unpack.”

“We haven’t gone to church since 1919,” Kátya says. “I don’t think either of us remembers how to behave.”

“What’s a Unitarian church?” Naína asks.

“It’s a very progressive Protestant denomination. If you go with Stásya, you can just copy what other people do. They’ve got some benches there, since it used to be a Roman Catholic church. A lot of the people stand or walk around during services anyway, since they’re so used to having done that back home. I’m sure we can find some scarves for you to cover your hair with if you go there.”

“Can we ask how old you are?”

“Twenty-seven. Stásya just turned twenty-eight, and Sándros is going to be twenty-nine in a few months.”

“Wow, you look very good for having had five kids at your age. I can only imagine how many you’ll have within the next ten years!”

“None. I was fixed in January, when my youngest Viivela was a month old. I wanted five, and I got five. Now I’m medically assured of remaining at five forever.”

“You’re allowed to be sterilized in this country without a medical emergency?” Kátya asks. “This is like a science fiction story come to life!”

“I went underground, but yes, there are doctors out there willing to secretly perform the procedure on women who know they’re done having kids. In public, only prisoners and morons are generally sterilized. You can learn more about my views by perusing the articles I’ve written for the various left-wing Russian, Estonian, English, Latvian, and Lithuanian publications when you’re done unpacking.”

Posted in 1920s, Historical fiction, Katrin, Katya Chernomyrdina, Naina, Russian novel sequel, Secondary characters, Writing

Naina and Katya Meet Katrin

This was originally one of twenty posts I put together on 24 June 2012 for future installments of the now-defunct Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop. It differs slightly from the published version in The Twelfth Time. I now no longer pedantically use accent marks, and Katrin’s husband Sandros became Sandro.

***

It’s now Naina and Katya’s second day in America, and they’re being picked up by Katrin, who’s agreed to let them stay with her and Sandros until they leave for vacation. The two teen girls, who barely remember life before orphanages, are in constant marvel at everything they see in America.

***

On Friday morning, after having breakfast in the communal dining room, Kátya and Naína are approached by one of the Ellis Island officials and a Russian translator. They obligingly follow the officials after being told their sponsor’s wife is waiting for them at the Kissing Post with two of her servants. Kátya and Naína’s eyes widen in delight at the thought of someone who started out as an immigrant already being rich enough to afford servants.

They stand and gape when they see a woman with blonde hair cut as short as a man’s. They’ve known bobbed hair is in fashion for women, but not that women in North America are allowed to get away with cutting it even shorter. The second thing they notice is the woman with dark brown skin. Neither of them has ever seen anyone with such dark skin before, except in pictures. Naína represses the urge to wonder out loud if she and Kátya might be suffering from consumption, since their skin is so pale in comparison to the servant’s healthy dark skin.

“Hello. My name is Katariina Kalvik-Nikonova. You met my husband Sándros yesterday. I’m Estonian too, but Russian is my second language. You may call me Katrin, though I also go by Kati and Kadri. The Negress is my maid Mrs. Samson and the man is my butler Mr. Rhodes. Mrs. Samson came to help me with my baby Viivela, and Mr. Rhodes came as our male escort. Unfortunately, women travelling alone still run the risk of being assaulted, particularly in a place like this.

“We live in a very nice neighborhood called the Upper West Side, in a penthouse suite. You’ll find plenty of room to put yourselves up till we go on vacation. I hope my husband’s instincts were right and that you’re on the level. We live with my best friend Anastásiya, who runs a very successful bridal salon; her bastard son Dmítriy, a year and a half old; my five little girls, Oliivia, Mireena, Milena, Ilme, and Viivela here; my nanny, Mrs. Woodward; Stásya’s nanny, Mrs. Whitmore; my twenty-year-old sister Viktóriya; my cook, Mrs. Oswald; and Mrs. Samson and Mr. Rhodes here.”

“Is it true all Americans are rich like you?” Kátya asks.

“Unfortunately, no. I can tell you more about that in private. For now, we should get on the next ferry into the city.”

“I can’t believe you have a real butler!” Naína says. “Just like in all the old British books!”

“You may be sharing your living quarters on vacation with the youngest stepsisters of one of my friends. They’re twenty-two, eighteen, and going on thirteen. We all know many people in the Russian immigrant community, so we may be able to help you find anyone you’re looking for. We also know some people in Canada who might be of help.”

Naína and Kátya follow them out of the building and onto the next departing ferry. The entire way over to the penthouse, as they’re riding on the top level of a bus, they take in the city sights with wide eyes. Even the beautiful historic landmarks they saw in the Ukraine and Varna don’t compare to the amazing tall buildings, movie palaces, and beautiful architectural styles of the houses and apartments they’re passing. They hope they’re not gaping at the foreigners on the bus. If they knew any English, they’d tell them they’re not staring to be rude, but because they’ve never seen dark skin, turbans, or Asians in person before.

Upon their arrival in front of the building, they stand and take it in with the same voraciously wide eyes. They know America is a lot younger than Russia or the Ukraine, and that the buildings they’ve seen so far are probably mostly only a hundred years old or younger, but that doesn’t detract from their sense of awe and wonder. They know if they went to other places in the world, the local landmarks and architecture would make Russia and the Ukraine look like babies. Back in the orphanage, Sarah sometimes told them how there are buildings thousands of years old in Palestine, and Ohanna told them about the ancient buildings and ruins in Armenia.