Happy fourth anniversary

This post was originally put together on 6 October 2012 for a future installment of the now-shelved Sweet Saturday Samples hop. Though not part of the batch of twenty posts I created on 24 June 2012, it’s obviously from the same sequence. After I put those posts in my drafts folder, I went back and made a few more with important sequences I’d left out.

This differs slightly from the published version; e.g., I no longer use pedantic accent marks, and I discovered there was no “traditional” fourth anniversary gift in 1927. Lyuba and Ivan’s anniversary gifts for non-milestone years remain the same, just without references to them being traditional materials.

***

This week’s excerpt is from Chapter 29 of The Twelfth Time, “Naina and Katya in North America.” It’s 6 September 1927, Lyuba and Ivan’s fourth wedding anniversary and the last day of their annual Long Island summer vacation. In spite of their worsening marital and personal problems, they put their issues aside for their anniversary.

***

Lyuba wakes up on the morning of her fourth anniversary to the smell of chocolate waffles and sausage coming from the first floor.  She’s not looking forward to heading home later today, but she intends to savor the last gasp of summer vacation as long as it lasts.

“Happy anniversary, Mrs. Koneva.” Iván reaches under the bed and hands her a wrapped box. “I put a lot of different things in there, but they’re all part of the same present. I went out yesterday and got you something else too. Before you woke up, I snuck downstairs to retrieve it from Katrin’s kitchen. You’ll find it on our kitchen table.”

Lyuba carefully pulls the blue tissue paper off, opens the box, and starts pulling out a series of small decorative bags. “What exactly is this?”

“The traditional fourth anniversary presents are fruit and flowers. Since those aren’t very permanent things, I wanted to get you something as lasting as possible while still being traditional. They’re indoor flowering plants that can live all year. When we have our farm, you can transplant them to the garden and then move them inside during the winter.”

She snuggles her face against the curve of his neck. “You’re a good husband. As many struggles as we’ve had, I’m still glad I chose you. Can you believe we’ve been husband and wife for four years now?”

“Did you get me a present too?”

“Of course I did. You’re getting more and more overeager every year, you bad boy. You used to be able to wait till later in the day to exchange presents. Now you’re giving and demanding them first thing in the morning.” Lyuba puts the seeds back into the box and gets two wrapped parcels out of the closet.

Iván unwraps a transparent glass picture frame with dried flowers pressed between the two layers, and a light green shirt with a subtle floral pattern. “So my sweet little wifey still loves me, after everything I’ve put you through.”

“I will love you till the last breath leaves my body, Ványushka. I want to be with you through all our future lifetimes, till the world comes to an end. But you’d better get a real job once we’re back in the city, or I may have to start nagging you and starting fights with you again. You know I hate having to do that, so you’d better do the right thing.”

Lyuba smiles at the sight of the wildflowers on the vase on the kitchen table after she’s thrown on some clothes and left the bedroom. Iván has always known she’s not the type who goes for flowers, perfume, and chocolates, so the few times he does get her such trinkets, she knows it’s for a very special reason and not just a meaningless gesture he does out of some obligation to be romantic in a certain way. She appreciates how the flowers are just regular wildflowers, the type anyone could buy for cheap at a florist’s, and not some big expensive bouquet of roses or orchids. At least he’s saving his money for more important things now, while still making an effort to buy nice things for her on special occasions.

“Can we go downstairs and eat breakfast now?” Fédya asks.

“You can go right on down, my sweet little pumpkin. Then we’ll have one last day on the beach before we pack up and leave for the train. Just think, on Thursday you’ll have your first day of school!”

“I don’t want to go to school. I’m scared of the teacher hitting my hand.”

“They stop eventually,” Iván says. “After a certain point, they realize they’re not converting you and leave you alone. I must’ve been twelve or thirteen years old by the time they finally stopped hitting my hand, thumping me on the head, and threatening to beat me. You just have to be brave and let everyone know you’re carrying on a family tradition. No one switched me or my Dyadya Ígor, and no one’s going to change you either. Now why don’t we think about nicer things, like breakfast.”

Lyuba holds her son’s left hand tightly as they’re going downstairs to Katrin’s quarters, praying her sweet, sensitive only son is treated nicely in public kindergarten and not subjected to the same fate her husband and late uncle-in-law went through in primary school. Naína and Kátya have told her the policy of the new Soviet Union is right-handed writing in schools, and anyone who doesn’t fit into that majority mold doesn’t have the option of protesting. Right-handed writing is mandatory. Lyuba always figured God made certain people that way for a reason, since an all-powerful being who can do whatever he wants would’ve made everyone right-handed if that were truly the only proper way to be.

Phoning Sonya

This was originally one of a batch of twenty posts I put together on 24 June 2012 as planned future installments for the now-defunct 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 my Canadian characters’ summer home on Vancouver Island changed from Long Beach to Gonzales Beach.

***

Katrin is the only one in the beach house who has a phone on her floor. She’s also the only one with enough disposable income to make a long-distance call, and to not worry about the other party not being in when the call goes through. Not knowing exactly when Léna’s family is supposed to come back from Long Beach, Katrin has placed daily calls to their home in Toronto during the last week of August and the first few days of September. Today, September 4, Sunday, she finally gets a response.

“Hello?” Natálya asks. “We don’t usually get calls on Sunday.”

“This is Katariina Kalvik-Nikonova calling from Long Island. Can you call Sónya to the phone, please?”

“Who’s on the phone?” Naína whispers.

“That’s Natálya Yeltsina, the youngest sister in that family,” Katrin says while Natálya is fetching Sónya. “She’s thirteen now and a charming child.”

“Hello?” Sónya asks. “Is there an emergency with Léna and Natásha’s mother or older sisters?”

“Sit down, Sófya Mitrofanovna. We’ve had two special guests with us this entire summer, guests whom my husband found on Ellis Island and decided, spur of the moment, to sponsor and put up in our home to avoid deportation. Your niece Naína Yezhova and your best friend’s daughter Kátya Chernomyrdina are here in this house, in this room, alive and well.”

Sónya screams.

“Are you alright, Bábushka?” Yuriy asks.

“God is good. God is good. I’m going to see my dear sister’s child and my best friend’s child again in this lifetime. My own children were taken away from me, but I still have one blood relative alive in this world.”

“We’re returning to Manhattan the day after Labor Day, Lyuba and Iván’s fourth anniversary. How soon can you or someone in your family be at the depot to meet them? I was planning to send my husband or my butler as the male escort, and possibly my maid, to avoid scandal in sending two young ladies on a train with only a man as company.”

“Put my niece on the phone. I haven’t seen or spoken to her in eight years.”

Naína is shaking so badly she can barely hold the receiver, not only because she last saw her aunt when she was just seven years old, but also because she doesn’t want to be blamed for the loss of Kárla and Mikhaíla.

“Stay right where you are. I’ll come down on the next train and my surrogate daughters and son-in-law will get the house ready for you. We have a spare room we can convert into a bedroom. I’ll leave some money for them to buy a mattress and some modest furniture. Thank God you’re alive. Kátya can spend some time perfecting her English, and then she can join my surrogate daughters Tónya and Léna and Léna’s husband Karl at the University of Toronto. I know you’ll be sixteen soon, old enough for high school. I’ll talk to the principal and see if you can have a translator or tutor, so you won’t be too many years behind. Praise Christ for preserving your lives and bringing you to safety in the land of the free!”

“My friends the Lebedevas told me you work at a Russian bakery and haven’t remarried. I always assumed Dyadya Maksím had been murdered, and I know my parents and Kátya’s parents are no more, but I always had a special feeling you had to have survived and come to North America. Now I know the story about how Iván Konev helped you and my older friend Álla escape from prison.”

“I’m not going to rest easy till I’m standing in front of you and Kátya and able to see and touch you again. Don’t worry, I’ve known about Mikhaíla for seven years. That wasn’t your fault. That was all on that sadistic, deranged madwoman running that orphanage. My youngest surrogate daughter Natálya told me she ended up at that same orphanage two years later, and the warden’s double-crossing pet had her sent to prison.”

“Do you still love us after we lost Kárla?”

“I’ve been essentially childless for eight years. I’ve spent more years of my life without children than I had them in my life. At least I still have memories, and one photograph of my precious girls, taken shortly before I lost them to the Reds.”

Bittersweet Discovery

This was originally one of a batch of twenty posts I put together on 24 June 2012, as future installments for the now-discontinued 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 Karla’s adoptive family’s name changed from Stalin to Savvin after I realised only THE Stalin had that name.

***

While Naina and Katya are preparing to take off on their first real vacation and loving American life, back in the Soviet Union, Karla is also starting her first real vacation. When her adoptive family gets to their hotel, they discover that Naina and Katya were in the area only a few months ago, looking for Karla. By this point, Leonid is so attached to his adoptive daughter that he won’t even consider relinquishing her to so-called enemies of the people.

***

Following the end of Kárla’s third grade year at the state-run school, Nélya’s kindergarten graduation, and the conclusion of the spring semester at Geórgiya’s teaching college, the Stálins decided to take a trip down to Yalta for the summer. Kárla has never had a real vacation before, and is thrilled at the chance to spend a few months at a seaside resort with her adoptive family. Even Geórgiya and Leoníd’s constant bickering on the train from Moskvá to the Crimea didn’t put a damper on her excitement.

“Look at this,” Geórgiya says as they’re waiting to check in at the hotel. “Those girls you told us about must’ve been in this area looking for you.”

Her parents, Leoníd, Kárla, and Nélya gather around the hotel bulletin board to read a missing persons notice put together by Kátya and Naína and dated this February. Kárla doesn’t know whether to cry or be glad she wasn’t found.

“Pardon me,” Leoníd says to the clerk. “My adoptive daughter happens to be the girl described in that missing persons notice. I have no intention of surrendering her to the enemies of the people who were planning to take her out of the Soviet Union, but do you happen to know if they’re still guests at this hotel or somewhere in the city? I’d hate to lose such a charming child to people who don’t have her best interests at heart.”

“Oh, that notice. It’s been up for awhile, with no luck. The girls who got permission to put it up were never guests here. They said they were staying in Yalta for the winter and were going on a cruise to Bulgaria in April. If they come back here after their cruise, shouldn’t you do the right thing and relinquish her?”

“Of course not! And she’s told me and my entire family how her cousin and their friend were planning to go to North America! I’m sure that so-called cruise was just a pretense for defecting abroad and then getting someone to let them go to the land of our enemies! Well, good riddance, I say. We don’t need any enemies of the people weakening our glorious Soviet state. Now the girl is being raised properly, in a devout Communist home. She’ll have no reason to want to defect and find them when she’s of age.”

“How did you even find this girl? I seem to remember the young ladies saying she disappeared on a train. Did you kidnap her?”

“I found her lying unconscious in the snow last January, with a broken leg. I brought her to my family’s home, where she was nursed back to health and enrolled in a state-run school. She’d been an orphanage child prior. I’ve since adopted her, and she’s now well-ensconced in our household. My younger sisters are like her own sisters, and my bastard niece is like her niece. And just recently she started calling me Papa Lyonya, after a long time of only calling me Lyonya. If I ever marry, my wife will be her mother. I wouldn’t dream of surrendering my adoptive child to anyone.”

“Comrade, I don’t doubt your sincerity of feelings for the child, or her feelings of attachment to you and your family, but did you make no moves towards locating her real family when you found her? Didn’t you think her real friends and family must be frantic?”

“She had an orphanage ID around her neck. I never thought she had anyone looking for her. When she came to, she said she was with a cousin and their friend, and we learnt the whole story over time. Those girls are enemies of the people, and I couldn’t be happier they left our country of their own free will before we had to throw them out. At least she already had a reverential attitude towards our dearly departed Comrade Lénin when we found her. She said the other girls didn’t share her feelings. Thank God she was only born in late 1917 and can’t remember what they can, a time before the glorious Revolution.”

The clerk rolls his eyes. “Well, whatever happened or whatever their leanings are, it’s obviously too late now to reunite her with her cousin and friend. It would be like looking for a needle in a haystack at this point, and even if you wanted to, you’d still have to find someone willing to travel with her and then get permission for both of them to leave the country. If I found a missing, injured child, I’d try to search for anyone who might claim her before taking matters into my own hands and adopting her on the presumption she was abandoned or completely orphaned.”

“She’s my child now. My parents consider her their own granddaughter. I saved her from the horrible fate of leaving our motherland and being brought up on hideous lies about Socialism and our glorious heroes of the Revolution. My family has become her family.” Leoníd looks over his shoulder at Kárla interacting with three-year-old Ínga, both of them playing with dolls. “Yes, it’s without question for the better that she remain with us. Even if I were insane enough to want to turn her over to be raised by enemies of the people, it would be too traumatic for her to leave the only home she’s known for a year and a half and go back to people who must be like strangers by now.”

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.”

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.”