Commingled pandemonium and sadness at Rudy’s wake

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To mark Rudy Valentino’s 95th Jahrzeit (death anniversary), I’m sharing the fourth section of Chapter 23, “Death of Valentino,” from The Twelfth Time: Lyuba and Ivan on the Rocks.

“Why again are we returning to the city during a heat wave to go to a wake for someone we never met?” Ivan pesters as they get off the subway on Tuesday. “I hate crowds, and I can already hear all those loony women screaming and weeping.”

“Because our grandkids will love to hear the story of how we went to the viewing of a famous moviestar who died in our adopted hometown,” Lyuba says. “And Kittey and Viktoriya were fans, though not crazy and obsessed like Anastasiya.”

“Do I see a riot in progress?” Eliisabet asks. “I’m sure he’d be so proud of his so-called fans for turning his wake and funeral into a three-ring circus.”

When they join up with Alla, Vera, Natalya, Fyodora, and Anya Godimova, they notice smashed windows in the approaching Frank Campbell Funeral Home and a number of police on horseback. Ivan wishes he hadn’t been talked into leaving their happy shore vacation to witness this madness.

“I don’t like seeing so many police in one place,” he says. “It brings back bad memories.”

“I’ve seen those uniforms in newsreels.” Vera points. “They’re Italian Blackshirts. What are they doing here?”

“There’s still time to turn around and go back to the shore. Who knows what all these police might do to us if they think we’re among the crazy people smashing windows and fainting. I wonder how many coffin-climbers they’ve had to restrain so far.”

“Police in this country only arrest you or use physical force if they have a good reason,” Eliisabet says. “They’ll see we’re normal people not causing trouble.”

“Clearly you haven’t seen many movies,” Viktoriya says. “A lot of cops arrest or follow people who haven’t done anything. They have God complexes like doctors.”

“That’s meant to be funny!” Kittey protests.

“I don’t think it’s very funny to see people, even in fictional situations, having their basic civil liberties violated.”

As they get closer to the funeral home, they see several policemen hauling a screaming, weeping, hysterical Anastasiya out the door and through the street. Anastasiya is fighting against the cops and trying to climb over them to get back into the funeral home, loudly protesting she’s a very important woman. Dagnija, who came as her companion, looks extremely embarrassed for her.

“Why does this not surprise me?” Katrin asks. “I just knew Nastya would be among the crazy, hysterical fans rioting and fainting.”

“How come dead people have to be displayed before they’re buried?” Tatyana asks. “It’s nicer to remember them alive, not lying in a coffin.”

“It gives people one last memory and chance to say goodbye,” Lyuba says.

“If that bad guy had killed Papa before you killed him with the fire poker, I wouldn’t have wanted to see him dead in a coffin.”

“Mama killed a guy with a fire poker?” Fedya asks. “When did it happen?”

“Our last day in Russia, a man from the secret police came into our house in Pskov and made his case for me being the escaped criminal everyone was looking for,” Ivan says. “Before he could fire his gun, your mother crept up behind him and hit him on the head with a fire poker. When he started to move, she stabbed him in the heart.”

“Wow, you’re really brave,” Fedya says proudly, smiling up at her. “If you hadn’t killed that bad guy to protect him, I never would’ve been born. Babushka and Dedushka think you don’t love Papa, but if you hated him, you wouldn’t have done that.”

“Yes, your mother’s the best life partner I ever could’ve asked for.”

A phalanx of police are assembled around the funeral home, and only allow Lyuba’s party to go in a few at a time. First Kittey, Vera, and Natalya go in, having been the biggest fans, followed by Viktoriya, Alla, and Fyodora, then Katrin and Sandro, then Eliisabet and Nikolay, then Kat, and finally the Konevs. Lyuba starts sobbing hysterically at the sight of the pale, emaciated body in the coffin.

“Can we go back to Long Island now?” Ivan asks, looking uncomfortably at the dead actor before shifting his gaze back to his children.

“Can you promise you’ll never take sick and will always look after your health, Vanyushka? He was only three years older than you, and might’ve lived if he’d gone to a doctor sooner.”

“Of course I’ll take care of myself for you and the kids. Hopefully I don’t have any longterm effects from breathing in all that iron residue and lifting all that iron. My cough is slowly going away too.”

“I never want to lose you so young. He must’ve gone through such agony before God finally put him out of his misery. Promise me you’ll die on the same day and hour as I do, when we’re old, not in the prime of life.”

“I’ll try my best.”

Someone calls to them that their time is up. Lyuba takes Katya from Ivan and walks out with Tatyana, while Ivan takes Fedya and Darya by the hands.

“Bye-bye, Mr. Moviestar.” Fedya waves. “I hope you have a good time with the angels.”

WeWriWa—The need for peace

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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.

In honor of the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki today, and the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima on the sixth, I’m sharing something from my WIP, A Dream Deferred. One of the main storylines is radical journalist Katrin spending eight months in Japan in 1950 investigating the aftermath of the bombings, along with modern Japanese culture and politics. As soon as she returns to New York, she’s arrested by local HUAC officials, and eventually goes through two trials.

Sadly, the fifth anniversary memorials were cancelled by the Allied occupiers, so Katrin and her hosts have to hold a private ceremony.

hibakusha is an atomic bomb survivor. There are at least 165 known njiu hibakusha, people who survived both blasts.

As the clock strikes the fateful hour of remembrance of 8:15, Hidemi, Umina, and Katrin take a hammer in each hand and strike six large bronze meditation bells, on which are embossed messages of love, hope, and peace. Clear, sharp tones ring through the house, followed by higher-pitched, dirge-like reverberations rumbling through the house. The final resonance, as the vibrations slowly ebb away, lasts for a full minute.

As these sounds envelope the air, Katrin closes her eyes and thinks about the countless innocents who lost their lives five years ago at this very moment, throughout the course of that terrible day, and in the days, weeks, and months afterwards. Long after the fire of a million Suns rained down from the sky, that moment of 8:15 AM on August 6, 1945 is frozen in time for eternity, in the phantom shadows all over the city. The eerie spaces throughout Hiroshima also tell the story of the absence of presence and the presence of absence.

After the last vestige of sound has vanished into thin air, Katrin goes to a window with the Nakamuras and looks out at the wounded city. Allied soldiers are walking through the rubble-cluttered streets, alongside hibakusha, children born since the bombing, and native Hiroshimans who were elsewhere at the time of the bombing. Dogs, cats, raccoon dogs, birds, trees, plants, and flowers also occupy the landscape.

“As far as our city has fallen, it’s not in the totally decimated state it was five years ago,” Hidemi says.

The ten lines end here. The scene concludes below:

“In five more years, it may be almost completely rebuilt. Those red canna flowers were the first to bloom after the cataclysm. They gave all Hiroshimans hope, and represented regeneration of new life even in rubble and ashes. No plants had been expected to grow for seventy-five years, yet these beautiful flowers began blooming a month later, and burst into more and more life. The red canna flowers meant so much to us as we began the painful work of rebuilding our city. They reach full bloom around the anniversary, always reminding us of the power of regeneration against all odds. So much of life is like that, even if it’s usually not that extreme. We go through a series of highs and lows, always hoping the lows won’t be too bad or last too long, and that the highs will fill us with joy and remind us of why life is worth living and soldiering through, no matter what.”

Walking through more second edition edits

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My second edition edits for The Twelfth Time were even less extensive than the ones for Journey Through a Dark Forest, but noteworthy enough to make mention of. Most, however, entailed tightening kerning to remove unsightly gaps, or slightly rephrasing things or removing words when kerning tightening failed. A few times, I also excised lines that suddenly came across as overly wordy or unnecessary.

1. A contradictory line from Rostislav, shortly after he and Lyolya arrive in San Francisco, about never seeing a moving picture or automobile in person, then pondering whether any of his fave actors are still making films. WHAT! Perhaps I intended it to mean actors he liked reading about and seeing photos of in newspapers, but that still seems off. I changed it to Lyolya wondering this.

2. Again, more accurate descriptions of housing. E.g., Lyuba’s mother and stepfather move to a four-story townhouse (which is still humble by townhouse standards); Boris lives in a two-story former carriage house; Alla and Daniil live in a three-story (including the garden level) mews house on a private lane. Despite seeing many photos of NYC houses, I nevertheless persisted in a mental image of shrunken-down bungalows or detached houses!

3. Adding a few lines to say Lyuba and Katrin’s bank has the very progressive, highly unusual policy of letting women do business without a man’s permission or co-signature.

4. For the first time, going into more detail about Katrin’s building. She and most of her friends always use the service entrance and lift, eschewing the grand courtyard and lobby on the other side. The building is called The Fourier, after esteemed Utopian Socialist Charles Fourier, and a very early cooperative. Very rarely for the era, the manager lets women buy apartments without a male co-signature.

Though there are many luxury units, there are also apartments for normal people. Even the rich residents are the type rejected by the UES, and many other UWS luxury buildings—Blacks, Jews, Catholics, nouveau riche, political radicals, atheists, Asians, Eastern and Southern Europeans, women living alone.

5. After Katrin invites Lyuba to attend her weekly Socialist meetings in the penthouse, Viktoriya extends an additional invitation to the daily discussions and film screenings on the first and second floors. The lobby has schedules of the many community events.

6. When Naina and Katya arrive at the penthouse, Katrin says there are amenities like a pool, restaurants, and a hairdressing salon, which she rarely takes advantage of but which they’re welcome to explore while her family’s away at Matryona’s wedding tomorrow.

7. Replacing references to scholarships and tuition at Hunter College and Soviet universities to gratitude they’re free. Marvellously, CUNY schools were free until the city very narrowly escaped bankruptcy in the 1970s, and the USSR’s constitution guaranteed free education. However, I did retain the detail of six of Inessa’s cousins being at a private Communist boarding school which her uncle hasn’t enough money to send all of his kids to. There were a rare few Soviet schools which cost money, which doubtless would’ve included a fancy private academy.

8. Since coming to the realisation it was a mistake for the Konevs to leave NY for rural Minnesota, I added in a few lines here and there making it even more obvious this isn’t who they, or their closest friends, really are. Katrin says she would’ve recommended getting their feet wet with small-scale farming first, and then, if they truly liked it, moving to a more rural area locally. Not blindly committing themselves to something they’ve never done before, a thousand miles away.

9. Katya’s big stuffed parrot is now named Pesto.

10. Fixing the grades Inessa’s youngest cousins and little adoptive sister Valentina are in. For some reason, I had them a year ahead of the grades lining up with their birthdays.

Emotional reunion

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This was originally put together on 10 January 2012 for a future installment of the now-shelved Sweet Saturday Samples hop, as part of Naina, Katya, and Karla’s story. It differs slightly from the published version; e.g., I no longer use accent marks, Katrin’s husband is now called Sandro, and some passive voice is eliminated.

***

This week’s excerpt is the conclusion of Chapter 29 of The Twelfth Time. Lyuba’s friend Sonya, who lives in Toronto, comes down to Long Island on the last day of summer vacation to pick up her niece Naina and her best friend’s daughter Katya. Naina and Katya were friends with Lyuba’s youngest stepsisters in the Soviet orphanage system, and were delighted to be reunited several months earlier. Sonya, who’s been away on vacation with her three surrogate daughters all summer, has only recently found out Naina and Katya are not only still alive but safe in North America. (The reader knows what happened to Sonya’s surviving daughter Karla, but Sonya won’t know for several more chapters.)

***

While they’re eating breakfast, the doorbell rings. Mrs. Samson gets up from a game of Mahjong with Mrs. Whitmore and pulls open the door to find Sónya.

Naína looks up from her waffles and dimly recognizes her aunt from the old family pictures she hid under her clothes at the orphanages. Kátya, four years Naína’s senior, only recognizes her a little bit better. Sónya, who hasn’t seen them since they were young girls, can only pick them out because they’re the only people at the table she doesn’t recognize.

Naína runs into her sobbing aunt’s arms, Kátya following and joining the embrace from the side. All three of them are invoking God and proclaiming their love, while the people at the table look away politely. Katrin kicks Anastásiya under the table when she catches her gaping at them.

“We’re going to go right to the depot and get on the next train heading for Toronto. I came here last night and stayed in a hotel, so don’t think I’m going right from one train to another. My dear sister Zinoviya, my brother-in-law Antón, my best friend Yuliana, and her husband Karl have been watching over you the entire time!”

“And I had a gun,” Naína smiles through her tears. “Papa handed me one of his handguns before we were taken away, and I hid it under my dress all through our years in the orphanages. It’s waiting to be packed up in my suitcase now.”

“I brought some thank-you presents for Sándros and Katrin for sponsoring you and putting you up in their home, and for the Konevs, Eliisabet, Kat, and Álla for taking care of you for an entire summer. I won’t hear of your refusing them. I also brought down our anniversary gift for Iván and Lyuba.”

“Do I get anything?” Anastásiya whines.

Everyone around the table laughs.

“Have you taken any active part in taking care of my niece and my best friend’s daughter, or have you just sat around thinking only of yourself as usual?”

“She doesn’t even take care of her own little boy, Tyotya Sónya,” Naína says. “He thinks Katrin is more his mother than she is, and he’s only twenty-one months old.”

“We got you and Iván an anniversary gift, Lyubochka,” Kátya says. “We’ll give it to you before we leave. And we got a little something for Tatyana and Fédya’s baptismal anniversary.”

Sónya goes into her suitcase and hands out the gifts. Anastásiya whines again when Sónya also gives some money to Mrs. Samson, Mrs. Oswald, and Mr. Rhodes, as well as small trinkets to Viktóriya, Véra, Natálya, and Fyodora.

“We’ll see you again sometime next year,” Sónya says. “As soon as you girls finish breakfast, you can finish packing your things and we’ll go to the depot. I can’t believe my little niece Náyechka carries a gun.”

“It came in handy when I encountered wardens who wanted to steal my necklace. It was the last thing my mother ever gave me, and damned if I’d let some overgrown bully steal it.”

“It belonged to my mother, your grandmother, before you. She gave it to you because citrine is your birthstone too. And look how well it matches your dark blonde hair.”

“My birthstone used to be citrine too,” Lyuba says. “Naína’s corrected birthday is the same day my birthday used to be before we switched to the Gregorian calendar, November twenty-ninth. She’s a fellow Sagittarius.”

“I bought my Lyuba a beautiful citrine bracelet ten years ago,” Iván says as he pours more maple syrup on his plate. “For the life of me I can’t remember what became of it. Someone must’ve stolen it, and it was too late by the time I remembered it and was free to give it to her after she was no longer with Borís and I wasn’t in that phony relationship with Voroshilova.”

“It may still turn up somewhere when you least expect it,” Sónya says encouragingly. “I found my dear sister’s only child and my best friend’s only child after assuming they were lost forever. Don’t give up hope too soon.”

***

At 9:00 at night, Kátya and Naína stagger into their new house with Sónya. After the eight-hour ride from Long Island to Toronto, all they want to do is sleep.

“Are these my new aunts you told me about?” Yuriy asks.

“Yes they are, and they can’t wait to play with you,” Sónya smiles. “But right now, they most want to be shown to their new room so they can sleep.”

Natálya steps forward. “I can’t wait to get to know you and have two new sisters. I’m Natálya Yeltsina and I’m thirteen, and those are my sister Léna, who’ll be twenty-one at the end of the month, her husband of a year, Karl Tsvetkov, also twenty-one, and Léna’s best friend Antonína Petróva, who’s twenty.”

“We’ve met Antonína before, a long time ago,” Kátya says. “We didn’t know her for very long, but we remembered her since she was the one who wrote the paper epitaph for poor little Mikhaíla.”

“I remember you too,” Antonína nods. “I’m looking forward to getting to know you a lot better. I honestly never thought I’d see you again after you left Mrs. Voznesenskaya’s orphanage, and never dreamt I’d end up with Naína’s aunt for my surrogate mother.”

“Follow me,” Léna says. “I’ll take you to your new room. It’s the last available room in this house big enough to be converted into a bedroom. Now we’re up to five bedrooms. When Kárlik, Yura, and I move out within the next few years, we plan to build a house next door so we can always be together.”

Kátya and Naína drop their suitcases as soon as they’re shown into the room, putting Kárla’s little suitcase into the closet. After throwing their travel clothes on the floor and pulling on their new nightgowns Katrin bought to replace their ugly orphanage-regulation ones, they climb into bed and look up at the stars through their window.

“It’s been a long way from Russia to Toronto,” Kátya says. “Perhaps somewhere out there, our Kárlochka is looking up at the same stars and being looked after by decent people.”

“Perhaps. We found Sónya and our old friends the Lebedevas after so many years. I guess some miracles aren’t supposed to happen overnight, since we might not appreciate them as much.”

“We’ll see her again someday. We have to believe that. Even if we’ll never see our parents or other relatives ever again, we know Kárla could be out there somewhere.K It’s only a matter of time till we’re happily reunited with her the same way we were reunited with Sónya.”

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

Phoning Sonya

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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.”