WeWriWa—A place where there’s no suffering

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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 lines after last week’s, when young widower Mr. Lebedev was reunited with his three youngest daughters in February 1921. He now has five of his ten daughters back.

Next-youngest sister Natalya asked oldest sister Galya why she’s stumbling around, and Galya revealed she’s now blind (though hoping to get a sight-restoration operation in America). Mr. Lebedev has promised Fyodora, who’s not quite seven, he’ll spend the rest of his life giving her all the love and protection she was denied in the orphanage system.

Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig of Hesse and by Rhine with his belovèd daughter Elisabeth

“Where’s Mama?” Fyodora asks.

“She’s in a very nice place where there’s no more suffering,” Mr. Lebedev tells her, holding back tears. “We’ll see her again someday.”

“Where are my other five sisters?”

“I don’t know.  Some of them may be with your mother.”

“Now, please, Papa, we have to go to America.  Take us to a place where there’s no suffering,” Natalya pleads.

“So then Mama went to America?” Fyodora asks.

“She went to a magical place with angels, harps, fountains, gold, eternal youth, and love,” Mr. Lebedev elucidates.

When Mr. Lebedev remarries a bit over two years later, to female protagonist Lyuba’s mother, Fyodora realizes her mother must be dead, and what her father meant when he said her mother went to a magical place with things like golden water and harps. Her Machekha (Stepmother) Katya is the only mother she ever really knows, having been separated from her blood mother shortly after her third birthday.

Father and child reunion

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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, to mark Father’s Day, I’m featuring a snippet from my first Russian historical, You Cannot Kill a Swan. I wrote the scene of Mr. Lebedev reuniting with his three youngest daughters back in 1998 or 1999, and it still chokes me up every time, particularly the section with little Fyodora.

Mr. Lebedev, who later becomes female protagonist Lyuba’s stepfather, had ten daughters in his first marriage. They were all taken away by the Bolsheviks, the older ones to Siberia and the youngest ones to the orphanage system. He eventually was reunited with oldest daughter Galya, and then seventh-born Alla.

In 1920, Alla got a job in the orphanage where the three youngest had been taken, and the four of them plus a brother and sister they’re friends with eventually escaped and began making their way out of the USSR. (The boy later becomes Fyodora’s husband.) It’s now February 1921, and they’ve reached their family’s old city, Pskov.

Mr. Lebedev has just said he can’t believe four of his daughters are still alive.

“Five, Papa, five,” Natalya says. “Dora’s on the mattress over there.  She’s got whooping cough.”

Mr. Lebedev strides over on shaking legs and picks his youngest daughter up.  Fyodora stops her coughing and recognizes the father she hasn’t seen in almost four years.  She only vaguely remembers what he looks like, but she’s never forgotten he has two different-colored eyes.

“Papa, you finally came back.”

“Praise God we’re together again,” he says, his voice shaking. “Now that our family’s back together, we’re never going to be separated ever again, and I’ll spend the rest of my life smothering you with all the love and protection you were denied while we were apart.  No one will ever hurt a hair on your head again.”

Mr. Lebedev is eventually reunited with four of his other missing daughters, and finally gets a boy after he remarries Lyuba’s mother. He’s always been a good sport about being a father to so many daughters in a row.

Sweet Saturday Samples—Lyuba Meets Lyolya

This week’s excerpt for Sweet Saturday Samples is the conclusion of Chapter 39 of The Twelfth Time. Lyuba meets her new stepsister Lyolya after she comes home from Minnesota, and then everyone has a welcoming party for Lyolya at the Lebedev home in Greenwich Village. Little Kroshka is especially delighted to see this missing member of their family. (Zaychik, Darya’s nickname, is Russian for bunny.)

***

When Lyuba and Dárya get off at Penn Station, Mr. Lebedev, Mrs. Lebedeva, Katrin, and a strange woman are waiting.  Dárya looks uncertainly at her mother as they draw closer to the welcoming party.

“I’m sure she’s a good person.  You can’t distrust all strangers, záychik.”

“Welcome home,” Mr. Lebedev says. “This is your stepsister Lyolya.  We’re going right home to my house for her welcoming party.”

Lyolya hugs Lyuba. “So this is the stepsister I’ve been told I have.  I guess it’s a bit late to welcome you to my family, since our parents have been married for six years.”

“Are you my new aunt?” Dárya asks.

“Yes I am, darling.  What a cute little girl you are.”

“I hope you weren’t postponing your party till I got back,” Lyuba says. “You didn’t have to put yourselves out like that.”

“I was committed to finishing the run of my show before I had much free time.  And then my father just wanted to wait a few more days for you to be here.  We’re all going to enjoy a nice supper at his house.”

“Don’t even think of going home first to unpack and settle in,” Mr. Lebedev says. “There will be plenty of time for that later.”

“We just got a new Model A while you were away,” Mrs. Lebedeva says proudly as they walk away from the station. “Unlike Iván, your stepfather actually spends his time making sales instead of making friends.  It’s so nice to have your own car.”

“I think it’s so touching how you changed your patronymic to Ilyínichna,” Lyolya says. “Even if Serafima is never found, my father gained a new daughter in you.  He still has ten daughters, even if one of them isn’t blood.”

“He’s been more of a father to me in the last nine years than my blood father ever was,” Lyuba says. “Though my evil parents-in-law are always calling me by my old patronymic.  I think they’re doing it on purpose.”

“We see them sometimes,” Mrs. Lebedeva says. “Várya is rather cute.  It’s too bad she has those two for parents.”

During the ride down to Greenwich Village, Lyuba tells her company about her second visit to Minnesota and how nice life is there.  As she’s narrating, she watches the tall buildings and busy streets going by, and can’t help feeling she’ll miss big city life.  Even if the long-term reality is anything but idyllic, it’s nice to at least be located in such a metropolis and have access to so many things.  In a small Minnesota farming town, she won’t have the option of regularly going to the movies, museums, the ballet, a large library, or anything Manhattan has to offer.

“It’s only a one-story house?” Lyolya asks. “Our houses back in Russia had two stories and were bigger.”

“We’re lucky we even found a real house,” Mr. Lebedev says. “Most people here, even the rich ones, live in apartments.  I was living in Lyuba’s tenement with five of your sisters till I remarried.  Then your stepmother and I moved with your youngest sisters to our own house and let her sister’s family keep the first house.”

Ósyenka gets the door and stands back shyly at the sight of the stranger.  Fyodora gently pushes him forward.

“Is this little one really Fyodora?” Lyolya asks. “She’s so big!”

“I don’t recognize you,” Fyodora says. “I haven’t seen you since I was three.”

“This is your brother, Ósip,” Mr. Lebedev says. “He’s got heterochromia just like I do.  Your oldest blood niece Zhényushka also has it.”

In the living room, twenty-one-year-old Króshka starts barking hysterically and leaps off of Svetlána’s lap, running into the entryway.  She jumps at Lyolya’s feet and continues barking and panting until Lyolya picks her up.  Once she’s in her arms, she starts licking Lyolya’s face.

“Welcome home,” Svetlána says. “Thank God you’re alive.  As you can see, my dog is alive and well too.  She hasn’t been so animated for awhile.  I think she recognized your smell and wanted to welcome you home.  She gave me a similar reception too, when we were reunited after five years.”

“She must be an old lady by now,” Lyolya says. “Wasn’t she born in 1908?”

“She’s very old in dog years.  I always thought she was holding on longer than most Pomeranians because she knew you were alive somewhere.  She wanted to see you one last time before God took her to the other world.”

“Does this mean Króshka will be going away soon?” Ósyenka asks. “I don’t want to lose her.”

“Dogs age a lot faster than people,” Véra says. “She’s a hundred in people years.  I think if she could talk, she’d ask you why you were gone for so long.”

“Now only Serafima and our cousin Nádya have to come to America, and our family will be complete!  I can’t wait to meet them too!” Ósyenka goes back to playing with a model aeroplane.

“Yes, it’s nice to have a completed family,” Lyuba says. “One day my own little family will be back in the same place too.”

“Be thankful you know everyone in your own family is alive,” Svetlána whispers. “There’s no guarantee Serafima and Nádya are still out there.”

“You never know.  Nobody thought Lyolya could still be alive, and here she is.  Miracles happen to those who deserve them.”