Posted in 1940s, Darya, Historical fiction, holidays, Third Russian novel, Writing

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween! This year’s Halloween-themed excerpt for the holiday comes from Chapter 95, “Andrey Opens the Door,” from Vol. IV of Journey Through a Dark Forest. It’s set in 1945.

Lyuba frets as Darya shuts her suitcase on Halloween morning and heads downstairs. “Are you absolutely sure you want to go a co-ed party Lika’s throwing instead of enjoying Halloween with your family? Look how nicely we decorated the house! You don’t have anything in common with those co-eds, and don’t know them. If you’re worried about men at an unchaperoned party, I’m sure Andryusha will be the only fellow there. Men are really hard to find on campuses these days.”

“It’ll be nice to meet other people my age and get out to do more things. I have to see what campus is like eventually, since I hope to resume my studies, and I want the school closest to home.”

“What will you do with yourself on Thursday and Friday while Lika’s at class? Walk around a strange, large city you don’t know, or wander around a strange campus? What if you get lost, or someone assaults my darling miracle baby?”

“The worst has already happened. A change of scenery will do me good.”

“Since when do you want to go to university so soon? You insisted you couldn’t bear to do that, and now you’re envisioning a near future as a co-ed?”

“It’s not healthy to only interact with family and close friends. I need more outside interests and friends. Whoever heard of a well-adjusted twenty-one-year old still living at home, without a real outside life? Even if I never marry, I deserve my own life.”

Lyuba gently smiles. “Don’t discount the thought of marriage. I once spurned the thought of marriage and motherhood myself, as a reaction against what happened to me, but the right man healed my heart. Perhaps your own future husband is closer than you realize, and he’ll wash away those disgusting memories of that degenerate on the train. After what you went through, you deserve a loving husband, a beautiful wedding, and darling children.”

“No, I’m quite sure I never want any man touching my body.”

“If it’s the right man, you’ll want him to touch you. Trust me on this.”

Darya shakes her head and continues out the door to the waiting wagon. She smiles at her father, and doesn’t attempt to contradict him when he goes on and on about how she’ll miss their family while she’s away for five days, and that she’s not cut out for campus life, or life away from her family period. Once his mind is made up, it’s very hard to convince him otherwise. If he happens to be right, the worst that can happen is Darya will decide campus life isn’t for her, and return home none the worst for wear.

***

Darya pulls into the depot at 3:00, on-edge from travelling by herself on a train for the first time since that incident with the degenerate. She’s shaking as she grabs her suitcase and rushes off the train in search of Andrey and Anzhelika.

“Over here, zaychik,” Andrey calls. “How do you like me in uniform?”

Darya smiles when she sees Andrey in an old Army dress blue uniform. Anzhelika is dressed as a milkmaid. A lot of people are smiling at Andrey and saluting him, blissfully unaware this is a Halloween costume and that he got out of the war without a scratch.

“I got it at a consignment shop the other day. It’s from between the wars, when uniforms were a bit more fancy. I really feel bad for not serving and doing my part to save you and Liivi.”

“You look very nice in uniform, though I hope you don’t wear it everywhere to trick people into giving you better service and more respect. Eventually, decent people will have to realize not everyone was meant to be a soldier.”

Darya follows them onto a streetcar and lets Andrey carry her suitcase when they unboard near campus. She looks around in wonder, absorbing all the sights and sounds. This is nothing next to the Sorbonne, but it’s a big university.

“This is my home, Sanford Hall,” Anzhelika says, indicating a Colonial-style building. “Andryusha lives in Pioneer Hall. I suspect we’ll have to find an off-campus apartment when we’re graduate students. Andryusha will be safer from mean comments in his own home, and for all the new students will know, he’s a returning GI.”

“Lika’s house mother knows you’ll be staying here for a few days,” Andrey says. “She doesn’t know you have tuberculosis.”

“Good. Someday that damned disease will disappear.” Darya steps into the building and identifies herself to the house mother sitting behind a desk, then signs herself in as a guest.

“You’re friends with the draft-dodger?” the house mother asks disdainfully.

“Of course. We’ve been neighbors our entire lives, and I’m only three months younger than Andryusha and Lika. He’s too much of an intellectual to survive the military. It’s a marvel his father survived seven months in a Siberian labor camp, since they’re so similar.”

The house mother makes a dismissive face as they continue on to Anzhelika’s room.

“I hope you’re not too disappointed there won’t be any guys but Andrey at this party,” Anzhelika says as Darya looks around and starts unpacking. “Men are hard to come by here. I’m sure Andryusha isn’t the only fellow with a student deferment, but the only other guys I know of are 4-Fs, much-older students, fellows with families or important jobs, medical students, and guys in the V-12 Navy program.”

“Oh, no, I’m not interested in men. Just between us, as much as I want children, I’ll probably be an old maid, or have a celibate marriage and adopt kids.”

“You’re not interested in marriage?” Andrey tries to put on his best poker face. “Perhaps we can talk about this in psychotherapy. I hope you’re not scared off marriage because someone hurt you worse than we already know about.”

“It’s not important. Something bad happened to me a long time ago, which I don’t want to discuss. It’s too personal and upsetting.”

“Of course. I hope eventually you feel safe enough to bring it up when I’m counseling you. I hate the idea of our zaychik being hurt like that.”

After Andrey is gone, Darya takes out her Halloween costume, a dark blue Victorian-style gown sweeping the floor, with long sleeves, a high neckline, a four-tiered skirt, buttons up the back, and a wide sash. Only a serious, modest costume will do.

“I can’t believe I have the body to wear this,” Darya says as Anzhelika helps her into the dress. “Six months ago, I was a bag of bones, an ageless, sexless hag. Now I look like a woman again.”

“Are you sure you don’t want a boyfriend? It’s been so long since you were abused on that train, and the right man won’t force anything on you.”

“Even if that hadn’t happened to me, there’s still the last few years. Who’d want such damaged merchandise? Normal men want normal women. Don’t try to use the example of my parents. They were both scarred inside.”

“You never know. The right man might surprise you and appear when you least expect it.”

***

Darya holds Anzhelika’s hand as they set out for the campus center that evening. As they’re walking, she keeps imagining this campus becoming her campus and starting her university education all over again, better late than never. She has no illusions about her Sorbonne classes transferring, since she never completed that first semester. True to Anzhelika’s word, there are very few men apart from professors and employees. This could almost be Tatyana’s alma mater Barnard.

The room in the campus center is decorated with die-cut skeletons, lanterns shaped like devils, black cats, jack-o-lanterns, and skulls, candy containers in the shape of scarecrows and jack-o-lanterns, cut-out bats and spiders on the walls, a display of Halloween greeting cards, a die-cut orange moon with owls and leaves in the forefront, and streamers with black cats, pumpkins, and skeletons. Anzhelika’s friends include a clown, witch, American Indian, pirate, Renaissance princess, Pilgrim, fairy, and Bohemian. Darya lets Anzhelika introduce her to everyone, grateful Anzhelika isn’t telling them her true story. All these women know is Darya was in Paris during the war, studied at the Sorbonne briefly, and had her education interrupted by the Nazis.

“What would you like to do first?” Anzhelika asks. “We have bobbing for apples, fortunetelling, cutting a fortune cake, floating a walnut boat, telling ghost stories, and a Ouija board.”

“Cake, please.”

Darya grabs the knife and cuts into a cake with raspberry icing, trying not to cut an overly large piece so she won’t make a bad first impression. She plunges her fork into the cake until she hits the baked-in charm, a ring.

“Marriage within a year!” Anzhelika proclaims. “Before long, you’ll have your pick of eligible bachelors. All the men will be coming home soon, and it won’t take much to turn their heads after being deprived of women for so long.”

Andrey stands back as his sister and the other guests cut into the cake and discover a horseshoe, penny, bells, fleur de lis, anchor, castle, crown, heart, and kite. He’s left with the last slice, which contains a flower.

“New love is blossoming,” Anzhelika interprets.

“With whom?” the fairy laughs. “Maybe your brother will find a college widow or a sad old maid who can’t get any other man. How damn emasculating, to have to marry a much-older woman. The only younger guy I ever dated was just six months younger, and even that felt odd and unnatural.”

The clown hands out dry crusts of bread, giving none to Andrey. “If you eat this at night, any wish you make on it will come true. And if you sleep with your pajamas inside-out, you’ll dream of your future husband. That’s easier than walking backwards out the door at night, picking grass, and putting it under your pillow.”

Andrey stands back as the ladies proceed with fortunetelling and bobbing for apples. He represses his urge to lecture them on how the Ouija board isn’t scientific, knowing full well they won’t care. He’s only here as a sympathy guest because he’s Anzhelika’s twin. At the end of the party, he hangs off in the shadows as Anzhelika’s friends go off to their various dormitories before curfew.

“Now I see what you meant,” Darya whispers. “It was easy for me to condemn you in the abstract, but not after I saw how all this criticism really affects you. You’re a good person, even if you haven’t served.” She hands him her bread. “You deserve to make a really nice wish and have it come true. I don’t know what I’d wish for other than to be normal again.”

“No, you deserve a nice wish too. Maybe you can wish you’ll find a sweetheart soon. I don’t believe in fortunetelling, but you never know if something might come true. I really hope your fortune in the cake comes true.” Andrey tears the crust in half and gives the other piece to Darya. “Sweet dreams. I hope you get whatever you wish for, and maybe even dream of your future husband.”

Posted in 1940s, Historical fiction, holidays, Inessa, Third Russian novel, Writing

WeWriWa—Halloween decorating in quarantine

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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. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

This week’s Halloween snippet comes from Chapter 56, “Creating a New Family,” from Volume III of Journey Through a Dark Forest. It’s mid-October 1940, and the Zyuganov apartment has been under quarantine since September on account of all six of the children getting whooping cough.

Inessa’s two older children suggest they decorate for the upcoming holiday to lift their moods, and Inessa agrees. While Inessa is hanging up decorations with her cousin Rustam and his wife Olga (Inessa’s adoptive sister), she discovers a very surprising letter.

Aphrodite is an Aegean cat whom Inessa’s daughter Veronika found in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, while they were waiting for the boat to America. Tyotya means Aunt.

“Can we decorate for Halloween?” Veronika asks in between spasms. “I’d feel happier if we had our pretty decorations hanging up.”

“Yes, maybe Seva will be extra-nice and deliver us Halloween candy,” Andrey jumps in. “You could dress us up in costumes so we could pretend to be normal for one day.”

“What’s Halloween?” Velira asks, snuggling against Aphrodite.

“An American holiday that came from the ancient Irish,” Inessa says. “Modern people celebrate by dressing up in costumes, going door-to-door for candy, carving faces in pumpkins, displaying American seasonal vegetables like squash and gourds, and putting up spooky decorations. There are also party games like bobbing for apples and telling fortunes.”

The children resume coughing, and Inessa goes back to rubbing Velira and Veronika’s backs as Vitya soothes Romek and Damir. When their coughing finally settles down and they’ve tired themselves out enough to sleep, Inessa hauls out the Halloween decorations her family has accumulated over the last three years.

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to finish the scene.

Rustam and Olga help her with hanging them up. As they’re stringing a chain of little paper skeletons along the living room, Inessa notices a pile of unread airmail on the coffeetable. She has a seat and thumbs through it, her eyes catching on something addressed to Velira from Inna. As wrong as it is to read other people’s mail, Velira’s only six, and can’t have that personal and secret of a letter. Inna probably sent it for her niece’s recent birthday, and it’s only arrived now.

14 September 1940

My dear sweet little Lirochka,

Hopefully this letter will arrive not too long after your birthday, and you’ll be able to feel as though I’m celebrating it there with you. We all miss you very much in Isfahan, and can’t wait to have you and your father home where you belong. You won’t believe how big my little Omid has gotten. There’s such a big difference between a newborn and a three-month-old. He’ll be even bigger and older by the time you return. I really hope you bring your baby brother with you, but we’ll understand if your father decides it’s best to leave him with his foster mother. Even Mrs. Brezhneva misses you, believe it or not. I think deep down she really does think of you as the grandchild she’ll never have.

I know you’re enjoying Veronika’s company and getting very close to Inessa, but you won’t be able to live there forever. The plan you mentioned in your recent letter doesn’t sound like a very good idea at all. Why would you want to be sick for a long time, not leave the house, and get other kids sick? Perhaps someday your father will find you a new mother in Persia, and she’ll have a daughter your age too. But you can’t force your father and Inessa to love each other and get married so you’ll have a new family.

Write back soon and let me know how you’re doing. I love reading your little handwriting, even if you’re a little too young for cursive.

All my love,

Tyotya Innushka

Posted in 1930s, Historical fiction, holidays, Tatyana, Third Russian novel, Writing

WeWriWa—The boys arrive at the party

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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. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

My Halloween snippets this year come from Chapter 44, “Martian Panic,” from Volume II of Journey Through a Dark Forest. It’s Halloween 1938, and Barnard students Valentina, Vladlena, Tatyana, and Dusya are at a party held in the home of Tatyana’s great-aunt and great-uncle (a prince by birth).

This week’s snippet comes a bit after last week’s. Valentina and Rodya were among the few people genuinely frightened by the radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds (which was never a mass panic, contrary to urban legends), and crossed the point of no return because they believed they were about to die. They felt they had to break up after “compromising” themselves.

Next week I’ll switch to Halloween snippets from something else, since this effectively ends the Halloween-themed portion of this material.

Valentina seats herself in a corner of the living room and doesn’t look up when Nikolay comes in, dressed as a jester, followed shortly by Patya, dressed as an old-fashioned clown. She hides her face when she hears Rodya’s voice, which normally sounds so sweet and soothing. Valeriya went upstairs to give them privacy for their party, so she has no one to turn to for mature, modern advice.

Tatyana nudges her. “Didn’t you see Rodya coming in? He’s got an American Colonial costume that looks handmade. You’re lucky your fellow knows how to sew.”

“He’s not my fellow anymore,” Valentina mutters.

“What? Are you having a spat, or did you break up?”

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to finish the scene.

“We had to break up. It’s too personal to explain.”

“Don’t tell me he cheated on you. That’s so out of character.”

“No, something else happened. I can’t discuss it with anyone. Only Vladka, Nesya, and Patya know, and it’s safest to keep it top-secret.”

“I won’t tell anyone. It’s not right for some of you to know and leave the rest of us in the dark. There shouldn’t be any secrets between friends.”

Valentina lowers her voice even further. “Last we night we sort of made love. It only happened because we thought we were about to die. Patya and Vladka went down to the basement, and we were alone in the apartment. I’ll be living in dread till I menstruate.”

Tatyana looks at her, then over at Rodya. “You really did that? Out of all of us, I never pegged you as the couple who’d do that before marriage, or be the first to do that.”

Posted in 1930s, Historical fiction, holidays, Third Russian novel, Writing

WeWriWa—Arriving at the party

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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. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

My Halloween snippets this year come from Chapter 44, “Martian Panic,” from Volume II of Journey Through a Dark Forest. It’s Halloween 1938, and Barnard students Valentina, Vladlena, Tatyana, and Dusya have arrived at their party, held in the home of Tatyana’s great-aunt and great-uncle (a prince by birth). Dusya and her little sister also live with them, having been disowned by their parents for pursuing a real education.

This week’s snippet comes a bit after last week’s. Vasya, Tatyana’s cousin and a member of their octet, is a high school senior.

Valeriya looks up from carving a jack-o-lantern when the female half of the octet comes in. “Would you girls like to join in? We’ve probably still got a little time before the other three arrive.”

“Kolya should be here shortly,” Tatyana says as she starts carving a small pumpkin. “I’ll save one for him, though we already made a few for our house. Batya’s very modern and sensible, and believes in celebrating Halloween like a normal American. My stepfather wasn’t against the holiday itself, but didn’t think we should go guising or decorate the house.”

Dusya smiles at Vasya when he comes downstairs dressed as a toreador, though her eyes narrow when Asya comes after him, fixing the train on her Medieval gown. Valeriya surveys the scene and beckons to Dusya, speaking to her in a whisper.

The nine lines end here. A few more follow to finish the scene.

“I may be sixty-one, but I’m not senile or delusional. I’ve had a pretty good idea for most of the time I’ve known you that you have eyes for Vasya.”

Dusya turns white. “Oh, no, Princess—Madame Golitsyna—I’d never do anything inappropriate with your teenage son. I don’t like the idea of my little sister possibly having a clandestine romance with him under your roof. We’re here on your charity, and shouldn’t repay you by seducing your underage son.”

“You’re not seducing Vasya. It’d be pretty hard to hide that when you both live here. You don’t have to deny you’re interested in him. You’re not the first woman to like a younger man. One of my heroes, Eleanor of Aquitaine, married a man eleven years her junior, and Prophet Mohammad’s first wife Khadijah was a quarter-century his elder. You’re only two years older than my son in comparison.”

“Do you think he knows about it?”

“He might suspect it, but he’s never told me or Grisha if he does. He graduates high school in June, so you needn’t feel wrong about dating a younger man anymore then. You’ll both be in university and on the same experience level. Most men would never admit this, but they can be very flattered by older women propositioning them. It takes a special kind of woman to prefer younger men instead of choosing an older partner like most women.”

Posted in 1930s, Historical fiction, holidays, Third Russian novel, Writing

WeWriWa—Changing into costumes

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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. The rules have now been relaxed to allow a few more sentences if merited, so long as they’re clearly indicated, to avoid the creative punctuation many of us have used to stay within the limit.

Every October, I feature Halloween excerpts. I’m so disappointed and upset that WordPress quietly removed all retired themes in late 2021, my yearly October template Monster among them! It really set the mood for all my Halloween and horror film posts.

We’re starting off with Chapter 44, “Martian Panic,” from Volume II of Journey Through a Dark Forest. It’s Halloween 1938, and Barnard students Valentina, Vladlena, Tatyana, and Dusya are changing into their costumes after classes. Valentina can’t bring herself to feel any happiness for this holiday after she and her boyfriend Rodya just broke up. Neither of them wanted to break up, but they jumped to the rash conclusion that they had to do this after “compromising” themselves by going all the way outside of marriage.

Valentina and Rodya were among the tiny minority of people genuinely terrified by the radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds (which was never a mass panic, contrary to urban legends), and they wanted to have that experience before their believed deaths.

Valentina spends Halloween in a daze, not paying much attention in her three classes, and crying in the library between classes and during lunch. When she runs into Tatyana and Dusya on campus grounds, she lies that she’s still rattled from the Martian scare. At the end of the day, when she changes into her boring, low-budget Gypsy costume in a powder room, she feels anything but Halloween joy and merriment. Rodya will be at the Halloween party at Vasya’s house, and she won’t be able to touch him or sit near him. At most, she expects an embarrassed apology.

“Was it really that scary?” Tatyana asks as she puts on a maid’s costume. “Kolya and I listened from the start and thought it was a wonderful drama. Very realistic. It’s important to come in at the beginning. If you tune in late, you’ll miss important information.”

The ten lines end here. A few more follow to finish the scene.

“Exactly,” Dusya says, adjusting the homemade blue fairy wings on her back. “We tuned in late too, but Vasya’s father called the police and was told there were no disturbances they knew of. We changed the dial a few times, and the other stations didn’t have any such breaking news broadcasts. If it were real, it would’ve been news on every station, not just the one.”

“We thought it was real,” Vladlena defends her. “How were we supposed to know radio programs would lie? It was surprising enough to discover our native country regularly lies in the media and doesn’t report things. We’re used to believing what authorities say.” She throws a cheap pink feather boa around her neck, a finishing touch to her generic glamour girl costume.