“Death of Valentino”

In honor of my beautiful Rudy Valentino’s 93rd Jahrzeit, here’s the third section of Chapter 26, “Death of Valentino,” of The Twelfth Time.

***

On Monday, shortly after noon, an official comes out of the hospital where Anastasiya has been standing vigil with a group of other fans since Saturday. She wonders if Lyuba would still make fun of her for doing this if she knew her stepsisters Vera and Natalya are among the women and teenage girls gathered to pray for their favorite actor and watch for any glimpse of him through the open window on the eighth floor.

Anastasiya sees his lips moving and hears words coming out, but can’t process anything after the word “died.” Like a chain reaction, many of the people in the crowd start screaming and fainting. She grows numb as she utters a loud scream and falls to the ground in the August heat. Everything starts spinning around her, and she hears a ringing in her ears and sees a bright light in her eyes. She’s barely cognizant of the weeping and screaming surrounding her.

“Would you like me to help you get home?” she hears someone asking after she comes back to herself, by which time some of the crowd has dispersed. “Surely our presence here isn’t needed anymore. God must’ve wanted Rudy more than we wanted him here on Earth.”

“I don’t live nearby,” Anastasiya hears herself choking out. “I live on the Upper West Side. I’ll give you directions and money for a cab.”

The young woman helps pull her to her feet and supports her as they walk away from the Polyclinic and towards a line of cabs heading north. “I’m Dorothea Hasenkamp. What’s your name?”

“Anastasiya Voroshilova.”

“The lady who runs the uptown salon and makes all those pretty wedding and bridal party dresses? I love your designs, and I’m also smitten by the gorgeous gowns your second-in-command Dagnija makes. Can I get a sneak peek at some of your upcoming creations in your apartment?”

“Perhaps you will,” Anastasiya mutters as they climb into a cab.

As if the shock of learning her favorite actor was just taken away by the Angel of Death at the young age of thirty-one weren’t already enough, another shock awaits Anastasiya when Dorothea helps her into Katrin’s penthouse after they step off of the elevator when it reaches the top floor. Dagnija, Mrs. Whitmore, Mr. Rhodes, and Dmitriy are all there in the living room. Anastasiya faints again.

“Are these servants?” Dorothea asks.

“Hello,” Dagnija says. “I am Miss Voroshilova’s second-in-command at our salon, and these are her best friend’s butler and Miss Voroshilova’s nanny. The baby is her son Dmitriy. He is going to be nine months old in five days.”

Anastasiya comes back to herself when she hears Dagnija revealing this secret to a complete stranger. “Mrs. Whitmore, Mr. Rhodes, what are you doing here? If Mitya took ill, you should’ve called me instead of going to all the trouble to bring him here! He’ll recover sooner at the shore, where they’re not having a heat wave.”

“I let Miss Liepaitē in about an hour ago,” Mrs. Whitmore says. “She heard you were back in town, and wanted to discuss some of her new designs. As for myself and Mr. Rhodes, we figured you must really miss Dmitriy, and decided to surprise you by coming back with your darling little baby. It’s not right for a precious little boy to be looked after only by a nanny and a wetnurse. Now you can do the majority of his caretaking before you return to Long Island. Mr. Rhodes came as my male escort, in case anything untoward happened on the train and subway, or if anyone broke into the penthouse.”

“You have a baby?” Dorothea asks. “What’s his full name? I assume you kept your single name if you’re not a Mrs. but have a baby.”

“Dmitriy Rudolf Voroshilov,” Dagnija says. “He’s named after Rudolph Valentino and Grand Duke Dmitriy Romanov.”

Anastasiya wants to die of shame, and almost forgets about her grief over her son’s second namesake passing away after such a horrible illness.

“Are you divorced or a widow?” Dorothea asks.

“The father of Dmitriy is a Frenchman. He abandoned Stasya after their brief courtship and secret marriage in Paris last February,” Dagnija says, valuing her budding career enough to tell some white lies. “Now she is a chained woman, unable to remarry because her husband and baby’s father left them and can’t be found to have an annulment or divorce. If you ever wondered why an attractive, successful woman in her twenties is unmarried and doesn’t have any public suitors, now you know the tragic truth. We trust you not to spread around such an upsetting story.”

“How awful! What a scoundrel, to abandon a beautiful wife and his unborn son! Don’t you worry, Miss Voroshilova, I’ll keep your secret. I’d love to wear one of your wedding dresses when I get married, and I can’t very well do that if the rumor mill drives you out of business.”

“There’s a jug of milk in the refrigerator,” Mrs. Whitmore says. “Mrs. Kalvik-Nikonova used that new-fangled electric device to pump her milk so you could feed Dmitriy properly while she’s not here.”

“Couldn’t you buy artificial milk? It won’t kill him to drink infant formula for a few days, and Katrin’s milk won’t dry up, since she’s nursing her own baby.” Anastasiya wants to believe this entire day has been a nightmare, and any moment she’ll wake up, back on Long Island, Valentino making a full recovery from pleurisy, Dmitriy being cared for by anyone other than herself, her secret still confined to her inner circle and Dagnija.

“He’s used to drinking real mother’s milk. It won’t kill you to pour some of your best friend’s milk into a bottle and feed your son.”

Anastasiya curses her life as Dorothea and Dagnija help her onto a couch and Mrs. Whitmore hands her Dmitriy and an already-filled bottle. As she disinterestedly feeds him and drifts in and out of full awareness, she hears Dagnija excitedly talking to Dorothea about some of the secret upcoming designs at Voroshilova’s Weddingland Creations. If Dagnija didn’t know her shameful secret, she’d want to strangle her when she leads Dorothea into the room where some of these secret designs are displayed on mannequins. She can only hope someone with a good enough heart to help a stranger in need can keep her mouth shut about Dmitriy’s existence.

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.

WeWriWa—All citizens of Planet Earth

Warning: Contains a few racial epithets, though this time they’re used to speak against racism. I don’t like writing or reading certain words (the K-word in particular), but sometimes they have to be used for the sake of being true to a certain character or historical era.


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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 two of Darya Koneva’s friends expressed some very unpopular opinions about the humanity of the Japanese civilians killed in Hiroshima.

The soda jerk responded with more racist comments, and said all the Japanese needed exterminated before they produced more “vermin.” This strikes a very raw note with Darya, after her experiences in occupied Europe.

“That’s exactly how the Nazis described Jews, Gypsies, and Slavs,” Darya says, her voice shaking. “And by the way, they’re called Japanese, not Japs.  That word is as ugly as nigger, kike, or Papist.  We’re all children of God and citizens of Planet Earth, even if we don’t all look, speak, or believe the same way.”

“You should be arrested and executed for treason,” the soda jerk calls as Dmitriy turns to leave and holds the door open for his dates.

Darya rolls up her left sleeve as the Kalviks are filtering out. “I already have been arrested and tortured for supposed treason.  This is what happens when ugly racial prejudice gets out of control.  My American citizenship and Christian identity didn’t save me.  I suffered alongside many good people whose only crime was to be born Jewish or Gypsy in a land controlled by people convinced of their sub-human status.”

*************************

Darya and her best friend Oliivia, the oldest of the five Kalvik sisters, were supposed to only spend a year abroad at a lycée in Paris, but they were trapped by the Nazi invasion and occupation, and ended up finishing their secondary education in France. Upon graduation, they were accepted to the Sorbonne, but Fate intervened again and kept them away from university degrees.

Darya and Oliivia were arrested for participating in an anti-Nazi protest in October 1942 and taken to the holding camp Drancy. They volunteered for transport to the mythical Pitchipoi as soon as they could, little realizing the journey of horrors that awaited them. Several days after they were deported, one of their friends in the French Resistance came to Drancy to try to secure their release.

More than a few American (and British) citizens ended up in concentration-camps, not just Jewish POWs. Their stories aren’t well-known, in large part because the powers that be were loath to publicly admit they’d failed to rescue their own citizens.