WeWriWa—Patya’s Christmas present

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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 right after last week’s, when young couple Patya Siyanchuk and Vladlena Zyuganova headed out to their Christmas tree at the urging of their children.

Vladlena has just directed 7-year-old Karina to a present for Patya, and Karina has put it in her father’s lap. Patya, a former Marine with a below-elbow amputation, wishes Dyed Moroz (Grandfather Frost) had left him a new arm under the tree.

“Mama found this with a lot of help from some very special people.  We hope it’s your best Christmas present ever.”

Patya eyes a thin, rectangular box. “It looks like someone got me the new pastel colors I asked for.  Couldn’t I please open those first?”

“You don’t know anything I got you, you naughty boy,” Vladlena chides. “Just open this first, and then see if it’s not your best Christmas present ever.”

Patya holds it in place with his right arm while he pulls off the paper and bow with his left hand.  Three and a half years after his below-elbow amputation, he’s gotten significantly better at navigating these sorts of tasks, but he still struggles to do them as quickly as other people.  When he reaches the cardboard box, he lifts the untaped flaps and pulls out a bulky parcel wrapped in orange tissue paper.

Patya has become an artist since his amputation, particularly with pastels, the present he wanted most. His priest’s granddaughter Violetta, whom some of you may remember, visited him in hospital and let him borrow some of her pastels.

Drawing was what helped her to develop greater strength and dexterity in her left arm and hand after her right side was damaged by polio, so it was natural to suggest this to Patya. He’s now an art student in a master’s program at Queens College, hoping to become an art teacher.

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WeWriWa—Patya’s Christmas present

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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 from Part IV of Journey Through a Dark Forest, my third Russian historical, which spans 1933–48, three continents, and about 15 countries.

It’s now Russian Orthodox Christmas 1948, which falls on 7 January. Patya Siyanchuk and Vladlena Zyuganova moved from the Upper West Side to Queens Village in 1945, and are now expecting their third child.

Patya, as some of you might remember, is a former Marine who lost part of his right arm by the Battle of Saipan in June 1944. He was convinced Vladlena would leave him and couldn’t possibly still love him, but he came to realize Vladlena still sincerely loved him and didn’t care about the missing arm.

Vladlena pulls on her cherry-colored robe and steps into matching slippers while Patya maneuvers into a robe matching his dress blues.  As usual, it takes Patya longer to dress than Vladlena.  By the time he’s put on his dark blue slippers, Karina and Bruno are calling them downstairs.

“Somehow I doubt Dyed Moroz left me a new arm under the tree,” he says as they go downstairs.

“Come now.  You’re too old to believe in Dyed Moroz.  But I hope my first gift will be just as good.”

Once they’re in the living room, Vladlena sinks onto the overstuffed red davenport and directs Karina to a Prussian blue present with a bright red bow.  Karina obediently fetches it and puts it on Patya’s lap.

Dyed Moroz, Grandfather Frost, is the Russian Santa Claus.

WeWriWa—Served by the Alberighis

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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 bit after last week’s, when 20-year-old Darya Koneva and her friends entered a diner run by Italian–Americans, the Alberighis.

One of the young waitresses smiled at Dmitriy and asked how he got five dates, wondering if there were one girl from each borough to see him on leave. He admitted four of them are his godsisters, and that Darya is his oldest godsister’s best friend.

Ema means “mother” in Estonian. Dmitriy calls his godmother Katrin “Ema Kati,” and calls his blood mother Anastasiya “Ema Stasya.” For the first few years of his life, he believed Katrin was his mother, since Anastasiya was almost completely uninvolved in his caretaking.

Darya slumps against Viivela and picks at the plate of fried potato wedges brought over with a bottle of ketchup.  When the entrées come, she longingly inhales the scents of tuna melt, grilled cheese, hamburger, clam chowder, and fried haddock.  She can hardly believe she’s not rushing to wolf down so much delicious food, and that there’d ever again come a time when she’d lose her appetite for any reason.  Three months ago, she didn’t need any prompting to swallow soup with broken glass, worms, and cloth; sawdust bread; raw potatoes and turnips; or vegetables with mold.

“I bet Ema Kati’s already writing a big article about this,” Dmitriy says as he sprinkles oyster crackers into his chowder. “I’ve always been surprised how she’s never been questioned or arrested for being so openly Socialist, particularly during wartime.  She’s written so many articles criticizing Japanese internment, racist anti-Japanese propaganda, the draft, the treatment of conscientious objectors and people performing alternative service, segregation in the military, the xenophobic immigration quotas keeping out people desperately trying to escape the Nazis, and the censorship and downplaying of reports of Nazi atrocities.”

One of the waitresses sets a bowl of minestrone and a glass of cherry Italian soda before Darya. “My grandfather insisted you have something.  You’re probably hungry, even if you don’t feel like eating now.”

 In my fourth Russian historical, A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University, Katrin’s Socialist activism and decades-long career with left-wing newspapers finally catches up with her. When she arrives home from a trip to Japan in 1950, to survey the bombs’ damage firsthand, she’s arrested and put on trial.

WeWriWa—A new diner

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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 paragraphs after last week’s, when 20-year-old Darya Koneva and her friends went in search of a new place to eat lunch.

Darya said she didn’t think she could walk all the way to Central Park to find a vendor, and asked for any other nearby place, so long as it wasn’t full of racists. Ilme then told her that while she was trapped in occupied Europe with oldest Kalvik sister Oliivia, the Japanese on the West Coast were put in internment camps.

The Kalviks’ radical mother Katrin wrote about twenty essays on the internment, which also happened to a lesser extent with German– and Italian–Americans, and to many Japanese in Canada and Latin America as well. Some of her colleagues went to the camps to report back, but Katrin stayed in New York to wait for any word of Oliivia and Darya.

Dmitriy finds a small diner five blocks down, without any other patrons, and the name Alberighi painted in yellow on the left window.  Figuring an Italian-run diner will be a safe, quiet place, he opens the door and helps Darya inside.

“You don’t talk politics here, do you?” he asks as he eases Darya onto a red plastic seat against the wall. “We just came from a place with some very ugly opinions.”

“No politics here,” the old man behind the counter says. “Just food and polite conversation.”

“I don’t have much of an appetite,” Darya says. “I’ll just nibble an appetizer.”

“Are you sure, Miss?  We have good food here, enough to bring your appetite back.”

I chose the name Alberighi in honor of the protagonist of the first Decameron story I ever heard, which the table of contents summarizes: “Federigo degli Alberighi, who loves but is not loved in return, spends all the money he has in courtship and is left with only a falcon, which, since he has nothing else to give her, he offers to his lady to eat when she visits his home; then she, learning of this, changes her mind, takes him for her husband, and makes him rich.”

The lady’s brothers mock her for wanting her second husband to be this poor man, and she responds, “I would rather marry a man in need of money than money in need of a man.” He manages his money much more wisely after their marriage.

WeWriWa—Silence leads to bad things

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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 right after last week’s, when Darya Koneva told off a racist soda jerk and showed the number on her arm as evidence of what happens when ugly racial prejudice gets out of control. Being an American Christian didn’t save her.

Darya, the four younger Kalvik sisters, and their godbrother Dmitriy (who’s also Darya’s future brother-in-law) are now trying to find another place to eat. Viivela is the youngest of the sisters.

Darya is shaking as they walk back down the street, and has to be supported by Dmitriy and Ilme.  She can only imagine the full extent of this bombing will be covered deep in the back pages, in tiny stories, just as the reports of Nazi atrocities were.

“I haven’t seen you that gutsy since you came home,” Viivela says. “I’m glad you stood up to that racist bitch.  Bad things happen when too many good people stay silent.  At least this time you won’t be arrested for disagreeing with the party line.”

“Do you want a Central Park vendor, or would you prefer to try another diner and ice-cream parlor?” Dmitriy asks. “I don’t feel the same way about the Japanese as you do, but I don’t think it was right either to throw a bomb on so many women and children.  I’ve never called them Japs or Nips.  I guess you think I’m a coward for never correcting anyone using those words, particularly when one of my girls told me to kill lots of them when I’m in combat.”

Kengo Nikawa’s watch, forever stopped at 8:15 a.m. on 9 August 1945

Dmitriy recently completed the V-12 Navy College Training Program in Berkeley, which his godmother felt would buy him some time away from combat. A few days after this, he’s heading off to the U.S. Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School at Cornell for the V-7 program. By the time he completes the program and earns a commission as an ensign, the war is over.

Ilme, the fourth of the five Kalvik sisters, is only a few days older than Dmitriy, and his milk sister. Her mother nursed them together, because Dmitriy’s blood mother wanted nothing to do with raising a baby. Dmitriy considers his godparents his real parents, since they raised him while his mother was busy running her fashion business.