Posted in 1920s, Historical fiction, Katrin, Katya Chernomyrdina, Naina, Russian novel sequel, Secondary characters, Writing

Naina and Katya Arrive at the Penthouse

This was originally one of twenty posts I put together on 24 June 2012 for future installments of the now-defunct Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop. It differs slightly from the published version in The Twelfth Time. E.g., the final version doesn’t pedantically use accents, and Katrin wisely leaves out the very personal information about Matryona’s painful past. Instead, she just says “If not for the Civil War, both might’ve been married years ago.” The birthdate I created for Sandro (not Sandros) also makes him already 29 as of June 1927.

***

“We’re on the top floor,” Katrin says. “It’s a penthouse suite, which is sort of like a luxury apartment. My husband and I are going to a wedding tomorrow, so we’ll have to trust you to mind yourselves while we’re gone. A friend of mine has a stepsister who’s getting married at the high age of thirty-five. Her husband-to-be is a few years younger. The bride-to-be isn’t a physical virgin, but her betrothed is modern and enlightened, and understands some terrible things happened to good people during the Civil War.”

“We lost everybody to the Revolution and Civil War, except maybe my aunt,” Naína nods. “I used to have two cousins, but the older one was beaten to death by some grotesque orphanage warden in St. Petersburg. The little suitcase we brought with us belongs to my younger cousin. She disappeared on the train taking us from our Kiyev orphanage to Cherkasi last January, and we never found a trace of her after that. We hope she’s alright, if she were found before the worst happened, or if she only got lost instead of being kidnapped.”

“Well, you’re in a free country now. I have to warn you, there are a lot of discrepancies between rich and poor, and a lot of government-sponsored censorship, both of ideas and speech, but at least this is a far better place to be than the Soviet Union. I was a Bolshevik once, but I discovered they weren’t being true to the real ideals of Socialism. Now I’m involved with real Socialists, not people who only espouse one way of thinking.”

Oliivia timidly walks up to the visitors, dragging her doll Aurelia behind her. “Eesti, vene, või inglise keel?”

“These nice girls speak Russian. Right now they have to unpack their things and get settled in a bit, but I’m sure they’d love to play with you, your sisters, and your godbrother when they’re more relaxed.” Katrin turns back to Naína and Kátya. “I don’t suppose you ladies know any Estonian. This one’s Oliivia, my oldest. She’s smart. She’s fluent in Estonian, Russian, and English, and she’s only three and a half.”

“The only other language we know is Ukrainian,” Kátya says. “But we’re not stupid. We’ll work very hard to learn English. Does your maid ever speak her African language?”

Katrin laughs. “Mrs. Samson was born in this country, and her family’s been here for quite some time. Most Negroes don’t speak African languages unless they’re recent immigrants. As far as I know, she doesn’t know where in Africa her ancestors came from, and she has no desire to learn any of the African languages. But she will teach you the latest jazz dances, if you’re interested.”

“Are your other female servants English?” Naína asks. “Their names sounded English to me. I assumed your butler is Greek.”

“Greek? Does he look Greek to you? He doesn’t even have dark hair or eyes!”

“But isn’t Rhodes one of the Greek islands?”

“Who knows how the name of the island came to be an English name. No, all of my servants are of English descent except Mrs. Samson. They were all enlightened enough to work for an Estonian, and we enjoy a good working relationship. Many people in this country are very racist against anyone not originally from Western Europe.”

“But this entire country is made of immigrants,” Kátya protests. “Even the Indians had to come here from Siberia.”

“Don’t ask me to explain why so many people are so hypocritically racist in a nation of immigrants. I never understood such a strange attitude myself. By the way, will you be going to church? My family goes to a Unitarian church, and Stásya goes downtown to a Russian Orthodox church. She goes with Mrs. Whitmore and Dmítriy, but makes them ride on another level of the bus or a respectable distance from her on the subway. Her reputation would be ruined if it were found out by the wider public that she’s got a bastard son.”

“She actually kept a bastard?” Naína asks.

“She moved back with my family after I discovered she was pregnant, and made up a story about a long illness to explain away all the months she missed at work. I also made her give birth at home, since God knows what would’ve happened to her in the hospital.”

“It’s normal to give birth in hospitals here? I thought only very sick people went there.”

“You’ve got a lot to learn about American life. But right now, all you need to do is unpack.”

“We haven’t gone to church since 1919,” Kátya says. “I don’t think either of us remembers how to behave.”

“What’s a Unitarian church?” Naína asks.

“It’s a very progressive Protestant denomination. If you go with Stásya, you can just copy what other people do. They’ve got some benches there, since it used to be a Roman Catholic church. A lot of the people stand or walk around during services anyway, since they’re so used to having done that back home. I’m sure we can find some scarves for you to cover your hair with if you go there.”

“Can we ask how old you are?”

“Twenty-seven. Stásya just turned twenty-eight, and Sándros is going to be twenty-nine in a few months.”

“Wow, you look very good for having had five kids at your age. I can only imagine how many you’ll have within the next ten years!”

“None. I was fixed in January, when my youngest Viivela was a month old. I wanted five, and I got five. Now I’m medically assured of remaining at five forever.”

“You’re allowed to be sterilized in this country without a medical emergency?” Kátya asks. “This is like a science fiction story come to life!”

“I went underground, but yes, there are doctors out there willing to secretly perform the procedure on women who know they’re done having kids. In public, only prisoners and morons are generally sterilized. You can learn more about my views by perusing the articles I’ve written for the various left-wing Russian, Estonian, English, Latvian, and Lithuanian publications when you’re done unpacking.”

Posted in 1920s, Historical fiction, Katrin, Katya Chernomyrdina, Naina, Russian novel sequel, Secondary characters, Writing

Naina and Katya Meet Katrin

This was originally one of twenty posts I put together on 24 June 2012 for future installments of the now-defunct Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop. It differs slightly from the published version in The Twelfth Time. I now no longer pedantically use accent marks, and Katrin’s husband Sandros became Sandro.

***

It’s now Naina and Katya’s second day in America, and they’re being picked up by Katrin, who’s agreed to let them stay with her and Sandros until they leave for vacation. The two teen girls, who barely remember life before orphanages, are in constant marvel at everything they see in America.

***

On Friday morning, after having breakfast in the communal dining room, Kátya and Naína are approached by one of the Ellis Island officials and a Russian translator. They obligingly follow the officials after being told their sponsor’s wife is waiting for them at the Kissing Post with two of her servants. Kátya and Naína’s eyes widen in delight at the thought of someone who started out as an immigrant already being rich enough to afford servants.

They stand and gape when they see a woman with blonde hair cut as short as a man’s. They’ve known bobbed hair is in fashion for women, but not that women in North America are allowed to get away with cutting it even shorter. The second thing they notice is the woman with dark brown skin. Neither of them has ever seen anyone with such dark skin before, except in pictures. Naína represses the urge to wonder out loud if she and Kátya might be suffering from consumption, since their skin is so pale in comparison to the servant’s healthy dark skin.

“Hello. My name is Katariina Kalvik-Nikonova. You met my husband Sándros yesterday. I’m Estonian too, but Russian is my second language. You may call me Katrin, though I also go by Kati and Kadri. The Negress is my maid Mrs. Samson and the man is my butler Mr. Rhodes. Mrs. Samson came to help me with my baby Viivela, and Mr. Rhodes came as our male escort. Unfortunately, women travelling alone still run the risk of being assaulted, particularly in a place like this.

“We live in a very nice neighborhood called the Upper West Side, in a penthouse suite. You’ll find plenty of room to put yourselves up till we go on vacation. I hope my husband’s instincts were right and that you’re on the level. We live with my best friend Anastásiya, who runs a very successful bridal salon; her bastard son Dmítriy, a year and a half old; my five little girls, Oliivia, Mireena, Milena, Ilme, and Viivela here; my nanny, Mrs. Woodward; Stásya’s nanny, Mrs. Whitmore; my twenty-year-old sister Viktóriya; my cook, Mrs. Oswald; and Mrs. Samson and Mr. Rhodes here.”

“Is it true all Americans are rich like you?” Kátya asks.

“Unfortunately, no. I can tell you more about that in private. For now, we should get on the next ferry into the city.”

“I can’t believe you have a real butler!” Naína says. “Just like in all the old British books!”

“You may be sharing your living quarters on vacation with the youngest stepsisters of one of my friends. They’re twenty-two, eighteen, and going on thirteen. We all know many people in the Russian immigrant community, so we may be able to help you find anyone you’re looking for. We also know some people in Canada who might be of help.”

Naína and Kátya follow them out of the building and onto the next departing ferry. The entire way over to the penthouse, as they’re riding on the top level of a bus, they take in the city sights with wide eyes. Even the beautiful historic landmarks they saw in the Ukraine and Varna don’t compare to the amazing tall buildings, movie palaces, and beautiful architectural styles of the houses and apartments they’re passing. They hope they’re not gaping at the foreigners on the bus. If they knew any English, they’d tell them they’re not staring to be rude, but because they’ve never seen dark skin, turbans, or Asians in person before.

Upon their arrival in front of the building, they stand and take it in with the same voraciously wide eyes. They know America is a lot younger than Russia or the Ukraine, and that the buildings they’ve seen so far are probably mostly only a hundred years old or younger, but that doesn’t detract from their sense of awe and wonder. They know if they went to other places in the world, the local landmarks and architecture would make Russia and the Ukraine look like babies. Back in the orphanage, Sarah sometimes told them how there are buildings thousands of years old in Palestine, and Ohanna told them about the ancient buildings and ruins in Armenia.

Posted in 1920s, Historical fiction, Katya Chernomyrdina, Naina, Russian novel sequel, Secondary characters, Writing

Naina and Katya Arrive in America

This was originally one of a batch of twenty posts I put together on 24 June 2012 for future installments of the now-defunct Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop. It differs slightly from the published version, such as in the pedantic use of accent marks and the name of Katrin’s husband. His name is now Sandro, not Sandros.

***

So begins Chapter 29 of The Twelfth Time, “Naina and Katya in North America,” and the linking-up of their story with the story arc of the main characters. Katrin’s husband Sandros, an Ellis Island worker, notices the girls as they’re unboarding, and is moved to helping them remain in the country by sponsoring them.

***

Sándros watches the people unboarding a ship from Varna, Bulgaria on Thursday, June 16. He knows how lucky these people are to be allowed entry to the United States, given the racist quotas limiting Eastern European immigration. At first he wondered why some of the people unboarding look more like tourists than immigrants, and was told by one of his superiors that the passengers include a young dance troupe who’ll be performing in the city and several other locales. At least the dancers will be easier to process than the people who are coming to stay, he thinks as his eyes are drawn to two young ladies who seem a bit out of place in the crowd.

“Do you speak Russian?” the younger one asks nervously.

“It’s my native language, though I’m actually Estonian. But aren’t you young ladies Bulgarian? Are you some of the White Russians who escaped to Bulgaria and are only now coming to the United States?”

“We’re coming from the Ukraine,” the older one says. “I was born there, though I’m an ethnic Russian. Both of us were living in Russia till sometime in late 1919, when we were shipped to an orphanage in Belarus and then to an orphanage in the Ukraine, where we remained till last January. We went to Bulgaria this April, on the pretense of taking a cruise, and were met by a man who put us up in a hotel until this ship was due to take off. We’re not really in the dance troupe. Our good man who arranged to put us on the ship to Bulgaria said we could declare political asylum once we got here.”

“We’re not going to be sent back, are we? My younger cousin disappeared on the train taking us from the orphanage to Cherkasi last January, and I hate to imagine what her fate might be if she’s still alive and well. For all I know she’s being taught we’re enemies of the people for wanting to get out of there. I was already concerned at how the orphanage teachers got her to adopt a quasi-worshipful attitude towards Lénin.”

“Do you girls have a place to stay, jobs, or any money?” Sándros asks. “I’m sure they’ll grant you political asylum, since this country hates the Soviet Union and Socialism in general, but customs have been known to send people back if they can’t produce any proof of waiting work, a place to stay, or people sponsoring them. For the last three years, the only people coming through here are war refugees and displaced people. The peak immigration days are over. In fact, this serves as more of a detention and deportation center than immigration station now.”

“But that’s not fair!” the older girl protests. “This is supposed to be the richest and best country in the world! Why are they turning away deserving people who’ve been through a lot to get here?”

“In 1924, a racist immigration act was passed, severely limiting immigrants from places that make the establishment uncomfortable. That includes Eastern and Southern Europe, as well as Asia. There’s a lot of hostility towards foreigners in this country, sadly, particularly if you’re not from Western Europe. Do you have anybody you know who’d come to get you?”

“I have a feeling my aunt is alive and escaped Russia,” the younger one says. “Though I have no idea where she is, or if she came to Canada instead of the United States. I did hear some things about how Canada was more welcoming to immigrants these days.”

Sándros looks around as the arrivals continue entering the building. “I may be Estonian, but I have connections to the Russian immigrant community because my wife is friends with a lot of Russians. She lived in Russia from April of 1917 to February 1921 and came here with a number of her Russian friends. We also know some Russians who settled in Toronto, Canada. One of our friends might be able to find some information for you. In the meantime, I’ll offer myself as your sponsor. When they ask you who’s sponsoring you or where you’re going to stay, you provide my name and address.” He writes it down on a notepad and rips the sheet out. “What are your names, by the way?”

“I’m Kátya Chernomyrdina and I’m nineteen, and that’s my best friend Naína Yezhova. She’s fifteen. Her aunt and my mother were best friends too. That’s how we met each other when we were tiny.” Kátya looks at the information he’s written down in Cyrillic. “Your name doesn’t look very Russian or Estonian to me.”

“Well, my surname had to come from somewhere, and not all Russians or Russified Balts have names reflecting that. I think my parents were trying to give me a Greek-sounding name, since we’re Eastern Orthodox. Anyway, I’ll come to get you either later today or tomorrow morning. My wife and I have to go to a wedding on Saturday, so you can get settled into our penthouse while we’re gone. My wife has a lot of money, and every summer she finances a trip for us and our friends to Coney Island and Long Island. There are a lot of other Russians in the hotel we stay at on Coney Island, and there are also a fair number of Russians at the place we stay at on Long Island.

“Would you like to come as our guests? It doesn’t sound like you really had a childhood, and it might be nice to enjoy amusement parks and beaches instead of spending your first months here worrying about making a living, finding housing, or tracking down friends and relatives. We can put you in a room adjoining one of our hotel rooms on Coney Island, and then let you have one of the floors of the house we rent on Long Island. There are five stories, and one of them has been free for the last couple of years. My wife’s friends had a falling-out with two women who were staying with us that first year.”

“You’re an angel!” Naína says. “What a nice way to come to North America!”

Posted in 1920s, Historical fiction, Katya Chernomyrdina, Naina, Russian novel sequel, Secondary characters, Writing

Naina and Katya Get Permission to Leave

This is one of a batch of 20 posts I originally put together on 24 June 2012 for the now-shelved Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop. It differs slightly from the published version, for reasons including the pedantic accent marks.

***

Chapter 24 of The Twelfth Time, “More Tales Out of Kiyev,” continues the subplot of Naina, Karla, and Katya, and the separate trajectory their lives took after Karla became separated from her cousin and their best friend on their way towards freedom. Naina’s blood great-grandmother, who is alluded to here, has already been briefly introduced in an earlier chapter, but it won’t be till the third book that Naina and her aunt Sonya figure out that this woman is the birth mother of Sonya’s father.

***

Naína and Kátya know the immigration quotas to the United States have become dismally low, particularly for people from Eastern Europe, and that the Soviet Union isn’t exactly handing out exit visas like candy, but they’re bound and determined to find some way to leave legally. There are still limited openings, and they intend to find one of those openings while there’s still time. Paying a smuggler and having to fend off potential rapists and thieves aren’t things they’re willing to do to leave the country.

“I think they’ll be more lenient with us because we’re young,” Kátya says as they wait outside the latest agency on their list. “They might want to get rid of us before we become adults they’ll have to waste resources on sending to prison.”

“This time I want to try playing up the fact that my grandfather was half French. I know that doesn’t give me French citizenship, but it could give us a slight advantage. They could let us go to France, and then we can have an easier time going to America.”

“It could work. Even if your grandfather was adopted and sired by a rapist, you can’t change having French blood.”

“Where do you think we might get permission to go to? I know there are big White communities in Turkey and Bulgaria, which are very close by. And even if we get permission, I don’t want to travel in the winter. Do you mind waiting till the ocean isn’t so frozen? God willing, they won’t rescind our exit visas if we don’t leave immediately.”

“If we’re going to stay here for the winter, I want to stay in Yalta. The weather there is so nice, and there are so many things to see and do. If we’re going to be leaving, we might as well have our final memories of this place be happy ones. As happy as can be, anyway, without Kárla.”

They go into the office when the people ahead of them leave and the immigration officer calls their names.

“My name is Geórgiy Yakovlevich Dovzhenko, and I’m responsible for approving select trips abroad. I know and you know that most of these trips abroad turn into permanent stays, but the people above me don’t have to know that. Understood?”

“Yes, Comrade Dovzhenko,” Kátya nods. “I’m an ethnic Russian, but I was born in your country.  I’m from L’viv.”

He smiles at her. “Most of your compatriots don’t know the proper names of Ukrainian cities and force their Russianized spellings and pronunciations on them. Which one are you, Yekaterína or Naína?”

“I’m Kátya.  I’m nineteen, and she’s fifteen.”

“How long have you been living in the Ukraine, or did you just come here so you’d be closer to an exit port?”

“We arrived here in February of 1920, and until this January were at an orphanage run by a Comrade Brézhneva. After I turned eighteen, I received permission to leave and take Naína with me. We had another girl with us at the time, Naína’s younger cousin Kárla, but she disappeared while we were taking the train from Kiyev to Cherkasi. We haven’t found a trace of her since. We know Ukrainian very well because we were schooled in that orphanage for so long.”

“I appreciate that you can talk to me in my own language. A lot of the people coming through here only know Russian.”

“We think my Tyotya Sónya survived the Civil War and went to North American,” Naína says. “I’m not sure how hereditary citizenship works if you’re not born somewhere and you’re not the first generation, but my mother was a quarter French. Her father had French citizenship, even though he was born and lived his whole life here. He too was born in the Ukraine. Could you write us out an exit visa to France, and we can go to North America from there?”

“I think the authorities would find that a tenuous connection at best. Would you really prefer to go to France? That’s an awfully long trip, whereas a little trip abroad to a place like Bulgaria is much shorter, and puts you in a country also on the ocean. You might even find some ships sailing to North America on the Bulgarian coast, and you won’t have to make up any stories or grasp at straws there. There’s also a big Russian ex-patriot community there.”

“You’re sending us to Bulgaria?” Kátya asks. “But that’s still Eastern Europe. North America isn’t letting in too many Slavs anymore.”

“And we don’t want to travel in the winter,” Naína adds. “We’re going to stay in Yalta till the weather improves, maybe April. Is an exit visa good for that long?”

He consults some of the notebooks and papers on his desk. “There’s a little cruise departing from Yalta in April. It’s going to make a stop in Bulgaria. When the passengers are allowed a chance to get off and stroll, you simply don’t get back on the ship. Got that? I know a man who works in immigration in Varna, Branimir Mladenov Draganov. I’ll arrange to have him waiting for you at seven in the evening on the date you’re due to arrive there. He’ll take care of you from that point and put you in a hotel till the next ship leaves for North America. If anyone asks, you’re members of a young dance troupe going on tour in the United States. Once you’re on American soil, you’ll claim political asylum. Given how much the Americans hate the Soviets, I’m sure they’ll believe you and won’t send you back home.”

“You’re an angel!” Kátya proclaims. “I hope the authorities never catch you and you can go on getting people out of this cesspool while there are still opportunities!”

“I wish we could find Kárla before we have to leave,” Naína says. “What day does the ship leave?”

“April 8, 1927, Friday,” Mr. Dovzhenko says. “I expect it won’t be too long a wait in Varna for the next ship to America. I know it’s a longer sea voyage than if you were sailing straight from France, but at least you’ll be spared a long rail journey.”

“We’ll do anything to get out of here! And maybe we can still find Kárla before it’s time to leave. Then all three of us will be going to America together, and we can start forgetting we ever went through the half of what we did here.”

“We still have her little suitcase,” Kátya says. “It’s untouched, just waiting for her to come back and use the clothes and other things in there. We have to hope she’ll somehow turn up somewhere before it’s too late.”

Posted in 1920s, Historical fiction, Karla, Katya Chernomyrdina, Naina, Russian novel sequel, Secondary characters, Writing

Karla’s Disappearance Is Discovered

This was one of a batch of 20 posts I put together on 24 June 2012 and indefinitely put into my drafts folder, planned as future installments for the now-cancelled Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop. It differs a bit from the published version in The Twelfth Time, such as not using the pedantic accent marks.

In the last installment, Karla fell off the roof of a train taking her, her cousin Naina, and their friend Katya away from the orphanage they grew up in.

***

“Why hasn’t Kárla come back to join us?” Naína asks as she and Kátya take their seats in the dining car. “Do you see her anywhere?”

“She’s only eight. I suppose she lost track of time while she was exploring.” Kátya scans the length of the dining car. “I’m sure her growling stomach will bring her in here soon.”

“I don’t want her getting lost in this big train. I’m sure she’s overcome with excitement to finally be the hell out of Mrs. Brézhneva’s asylum, but it’s important for her to eat good food. This food looks even better than the stuff that old ape finally agreed to bring in in place of that garbage she’d been feeding us.” Naína gets up and sashays through the train, calling Kárla’s name.

Kátya feels somewhat alarmed when Naína returns twenty minutes later without Kárla, visibly shaking and her face looking very gray. When she sits back down at her place, she picks at her food and almost drops her glass of water when she picks it up.

“What happened?”

“I didn’t find her in any of the cars, and she didn’t come running when I kept calling for her. This train is big, but it’s not ocean liner big. I tried the water closets too, and she wasn’t in there either. And I described her to a number of people, and no one had seen her. How could she have disappeared without us knowing it? Where could she have gone to when she was on a moving train and not the type to run away?”

“Do you think she fell asleep under a seat or climbed into an empty sleeping car?”

“It’s possible. She is only eight. I suppose the lure of a sleeping car could’ve been too much to bear, and she trespassed into someone else’s area for a nap. Still, we’re not leaving this train without her. We’ve been through too much and have come too far to lose her on our first step to freedom.”

When the train pulls into Cherkasi at 2:00 in the afternoon, Naína and Kátya gather up their luggage and go through the entire train five times, calling for Kárla and describing her to everyone they see. They can’t imagine what in the world happened to her, and why she never came back to them. Surely Kárla’s too smart and loyal to have gone with a kidnapper who got off at one of the previous stops, and they surely would’ve heard her screams had such an awful thing happened.

“It’s entirely possible your cousin stood outside on the end of the caboose and fell off,” the conductor says after everyone has unboarded and several policemen at the depot have been called in to search the empty train. “And some kids try to imitate what they see in movies, people walking on top of the train.  Perhaps she slipped and fell on some ice or snow. If one of those things did happen, there’s no telling when it happened. This train was going over a mile a minute, and there are one hundred ninety kilometers between here and Kiyev. Even if you went right back on the same route, on another train, you might not find her. Someone could’ve seen her and taken her in, or bad people could’ve gotten to her first.”

“My aunt will have my head on a platter if she’s still alive and in North America!” Naína howls. “It’s bad enough my other cousin, her older sister, was beaten to death by some sadistic orphanage warden when I was seven years old and unable to do anything to stop it!”

“Is this your final destination?”

“No, we’re going to get on another train going to Odessa,” Kátya says, stroking Kárla’s little suitcase.

“I’ll have one of the policemen take you to the newspaper office so you can put out a missing person notice, and when you get to Odessa, you can ask a policeman to take you to that city’s newspaper office. We can also put up missing person flyers here in the depot, and anyone who’s seen her can get in touch with you, or with the correct authorities, if you don’t know your new permanent address yet. Would you girls like to go back to the dining car? The cook will give you some treats for your ordeal.”

“Baked goods can’t replace my cousin,” Naína mourns.

“No, but they can help you feel better in the meantime and take your mind off the situation. Think on the bright side. Maybe a good person found her and gave her some sweets too. You could be reunited with your cousin before the month is up.”