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

Day of All Days

To mark the 78th anniversary of D-Day, I decided to post the full text of Chapter 80, “Day of All Days,” of Vol. III of Journey Through a Dark Forest. My sources for researching this chapter included:

World War II Chronicle, David J.A. Stone et al.
World War II Day by Day, Antony Shaw
D-Day: Minute by Minute, Jonathan Mayo
http://www.military.com/Content/MoreContent1/?file=dday_main
http://www.americandday.org/
http://normandy.secondworldwar.nl/index.html
The Juno Beach Centre
Juno Beach – The Canadians On D-Day
“No Ambush, No Defeat”
“Canadian Participation in the Operations in North-West Europe, 1944: Part 1”
Valour on Juno Beach, T.R. Fowler
D-Day: Juno Beach, Canada’s 24 Hours of Destiny, Lance Goddard

Fedya’s hand is clenched around St. Vladimir so tightly his fingers have turned white, while his other hand rests against one of his prized pictures of his little family of three. On his right, Vasya numbly recites all the most important prayers like a broken record, and on his left, Osyenka stands on his tiptoes and cranes his neck, staring out at the wide expanse of ocean in the dim light. Behind them, Leontiy reads from a pocket-sized prayerbook, softly muttering the Church Slavonic words.

“We’re closer to Dasha and Liivi than we’ve been in years,” Fedya says, his voice shaking. “I hope to God we’re invading in time to save them.”

“You’d better keep low to the ground,” Osyenka says. “You’re taller than most guys, and will probably be a moving target.”

Fedya briefly lets go of the ikon to cross himself, ignoring the odd looks from fellow soldiers. Like his father and little brothers, he’s always crossed himself left-handed. It never made any sense to insist upon the right hand for crossing oneself when it doesn’t come naturally to use that hand. God surely must have better things to do than get upset about what hand people use for praying, particularly since there’s a worldwide war on.

“I hope we’re not gunned down as soon as we start moving towards the shore,” Osyenka continues. “My parents would have several strokes and heart attacks if this is another Tarawa. At least we’re not facing off against the Japanese like those unfortunate Marines.”

“The Germans have no idea we’re coming, as far as we know. The Army, unlike the Marines, knows how to plan a surprise invasion and send out false information. Our people also know more about weather and tides.”

“I’m glad we’re not airborne. I’d panic to death if I had to parachute right into a warzone, no idea what I’d be landing in.”

As they get closer to the shore, the sound of artillery slowly gets louder and louder. Leontiy shoves his prayerbook into his rucksack, while Vasya starts reciting the prayers even louder and faster.

“We had Last Rites yesterday,” Fedya says. “If we’re going to be killed, no amount of prayers in the world can change our fate. But I’d like to think—”

A loud blast tears through the air, and the Higgins boat is knocked slightly off-course. A few minutes later, a second blast reverberates, and the boat is knocked about again. This time, Fedya feels cold water rapidly swirling underfoot. The next thing he knows, the boat has come to a standstill on the sandbar, and the ramp goes down. He has no time to react or say anything before he instinctively begins moving as fast as he can through the knee-deep water, through the sand, and towards the nearby hill. It’s not easy with so much weight strapped to his person, but he makes pace to the best of his ability. Many times, he has to step over dead bodies from the earlier first wave of the invasion. He loses sight of the other three as bullets whiz around him, the sky lit up like the Fourth of July. For the first time, he fires his rifle at real combatants, though the enemy’s too distant for hand-to-hand combat. Most of the gunfire seems to be coming from the looming cliffs. He hopes he’s aiming at the right people and not accidentally shooting his own. He can’t afford to stop or turn away every time someone nearby goes down, though he has to stifle his overwhelming urge to vomit when he sees all the blood, guts, and gore, particularly from exploded body parts. All these guys were so alive and hopeful just moments ago, and suddenly they’re no more. If he were in a different spot, or had been in their position a moment earlier or later, he might’ve been the one blown to smithereens by a mine or shot down like a sitting duck.

“We made it so far,” Vasya whispers to him as they take shelter and assemble their weapons at the foot of the hill, throngs of other soldiers around them. “Let’s hope the landing was the worst part.”

“I knew I’d make it,” Osyenka says as he loads his rifle. “I’m the most special only son and child of old age who ever lived. God wouldn’t give me to my parents if I were meant to be taken away after only twenty years.”

“I don’t think we’re with the right group or in the right place,” Leontiy confesses. “I don’t recognize any of these other guys, and this location doesn’t seem like it matches the place on the map.”

“Join the club,” another G.I. says. “My buddies and I got lost too.”

“My surviving company seems to be all here, but this isn’t the place we were told to fight,” a lieutenant agrees. “I don’t think anyone will get in trouble for getting lost, considering almost everyone seems to be very confused and didn’t land in the right places. They’d have to court-martial everyone, and that wouldn’t help us win the war.”

The several commanding officers who’ve landed among this crazy quilt of different units, companies, divisions, and regiments eventually give orders to start up the bluffs. Fedya hates having to go back into the direct line of fire again so soon, but he’ll be off this damned beach and closer to the center of action. From this distance, his rifle can’t reach most of the enemy forces. He keeps as low to the ground as possible as he crawls up the bluff, no time to give thanks when bullets whiz off his helmet instead of striking the unguarded parts of his body. It’s maddening to be unable to see exactly who’s firing at him, and to fire back.

2

“I don’t want to go back to England so soon after I finally got into combat. Just patch me up and send me back out there.”

Yuriy pours saline over the wounded soldier’s shoulder, where a fairly large piece of shrapnel is lodged. “If you insist, we won’t send you to England, but you should rest up for at least a day. You can’t defend Canada very well if you’re too injured to fire a gun or throw a grenade properly.”

Another medic pulls a sheet over a badly maimed soldier. “It’s too bad we can’t save them all. These boys waited so long to get into combat, only to be killed before they could really start fighting.”

“Why aren’t you removing the bullet?” a soldier demands of the third medic. “Do you want to kill me?”

“It’s usually a bad idea to remove anything that punctures the skin unless there’s a real, known emergency, contrary to what the movies show, and what a lot of otherwise intelligent doctors think. It could make the bleeding even worse if you pull out a foreign object. That foreign object could be the only thing keeping you from immediately bleeding out and hemorrhaging.”

Yuriy ties a makeshift tourniquet over the arm of the next wounded soldier carried to him. “Don’t try to move your arm until we know for sure the bleeding stopped.” He injects morphine, and then the soldier is carried to the recovery area.

“You’re lucky you got up here without a scratch,” the next patient says. “Medics should be allowed to carry guns. If you’re wounded, you can’t do much to help us.”

Yuriy pours saline into the patient’s right knee. “I have a pretty penpal to survive for. She could never be more than my friend, but I’m looking forward to seeing her in person again. She writes such nice letters, and is prettier in every picture.”

“What, does she have another fellow?” the second medic asks. “I wouldn’t let my girl exchange letters with another guy, unless he were a lifelong friend who truly didn’t see her as anything more.”

“No, she’s a single co-ed. She’s too young for me. She’ll only be twenty this month, and I’m twenty-five. We met when she was barely eighteen. I’ve never told her I fell for her. Plus, she’s in New York, and just went to live with her father’s family two years ago. I doubt they’d be happy if she left them to live in Toronto after barely having any time to get to know her.”

“That’s not so much younger,” one of the patients says. “This life is so fragile. Why not tell her as soon as you see her again? Maybe she’s meant to be your wife, and you’ll never find a woman you like so much again. We all deserve pretty girls to come home to.”

Yuriy dives to the ground as a loud blast reverberates and shakes the tent. He curses his red hair as orders are given to evacuate and move to a somewhat safer location. These damned snipers probably can’t see his armband from this distance, but they will see that red hair, even under the helmet he’s mercifully been permitted. The wounded soldiers able to walk evacuate with the medics, though they move much slower. Yuriy wonders why he bothered to try to help them when surely at least a few will be killed anyway. If this invasion goes even more badly, there might not be any Allies left alive by the end of the day.

3

From the ditch on top of the bluff, amid continued fire raining down from the cliffs, Fedya can see Omaha Beach laid out like a horrific panorama. The beach and water are littered with dead soldiers; abandoned, destroyed tanks and weapons; Higgins boats and Navy boats, many also blown apart; and fresh waves of soldiers continually coming ashore, only to be met with the same unabated, intense German gunfire. If he makes it to a safe place and there’s enough of a break in hostilities, he’d like to draw this scene and others from memory with the set of seventy-two colored pencils he got from the Derwent company while he was stationed in England. If he has to take several years off from university to fight, he might as well keep his artistic talent nurtured when he can.

“Turn around,” Vasya whispers. “The Germans are up there, not down on the beach.”

Fedya maneuvers his way around and mutely accepts an order to load a machine gun, then goes back to lying low and waiting. When Wehrmacht soldiers approach, he grabs his rifle and aims, while many other soldiers nearby do the same. He smiles when he sees each Wehrmacht man falling to the ground. They surely have families who’ll miss them, but these are the same people who let Darya and Oliivia be taken away. No further Germans approach, and he goes back to blindly firing up at the cliffs, almost numb to the constant barrage of noise.

Fedya is too relieved to have the cognizance to erupt into cheers like most of the other soldiers when several American tanks drive by, unscathed from the barrage on the beach. Without waiting for an invitation, he, Vasya, and Osyenka volunteer to ride on one of the tanks, their rifles still at the ready. He feels like a great conquering hero as he climbs up, and infinitely more protected than he was in the ditch or on the beach. Every time he sees a Wehrmacht soldier, he immediately shoots.

“Aren’t we supposed to secure the beach and nearby bridgeheads?” Fedya asks as the tanks start moving again, the rest of the crazy quilt marching in formation alongside them.

“We’re probably not going out of this immediate vicinity,” the soldier commanding the tank says. “It’s easier to sweep through the area like this. Maybe tomorrow we can start going through houses and businesses to root out any Nazis. If only we could swiftly beat a path to Berlin. This war will probably still be on for at least a few more months.”

Osyenka grins from ear to ear as he fires a rifle grenade in the direction of every pillbox he sees, while Leontiy is put to work assembling Bangalore torpedoes and cutting through barbed wire. Fedya and Vasya continue throwing grenades and firing their rifles. Gradually, the cacophony from the cliffs starts to taper off.

“The bastards must be running out of ammo,” Vasya says. “Had to happen sometime. This beachhead will be ours soon.”

Fedya smiles at the sight of dead and wounded Germans littering the ground. “I can’t wait till every single Nazi is dead and cold. I wonder if Dasha and Liivi know such a big invasion has been launched to rescue them.”

“They’re not the only people we’re saving. I bet the French will be really happy to see us, and might help us. Once we root the Nazis out, it might be easy sailing to go from town to town.”

“We’re not taking any POWs, are we?” Osyenka asks. “These Krauts don’t deserve to live after what they’ve done. We should kill them all while we’ve got them in our sights.”

“Not on our watch,” the tank commander says. “Even if they pretend to surrender and want peace, we can’t be sure they’ll keep that promise. I don’t want to find myself and everyone else murdered by Krauts we took pity on.”

Fedya smiles even wider and continues firing at every single pillbox and German in his line of vision. “That’s for kidnapping my sister and her best friend, you worthless wastes of oxygen.”

4

Yuriy’s commander storms into a house pointed out by several teenagers in the French Resistance, while the medics and twelve other soldiers follow him, carting the wounded. The wounded who survived the earlier bombardment in the hospital tent have mostly crawled and been dragged here.

“We have it on good authority this is a Nazi house,” the commander shouts in German. “You’re going to leave right now and give up your beds to the Canadian wounded, or you’re all getting a bullet to the brain.”

The husband begins to babble in German-accented French, which makes the armed soldiers pull their guns on him. One of them paces up to him and rips off his left sleeve, revealing a Gothic A in black ink.

“Imagine that. A dirty Kraut was lying to us. You can’t lie your way out of a damn SS tattoo. Who the hell else gets this kind of tattoo in exactly that spot?”

The commander pulls his trigger, and Yuriy flinches at the sight of the blood and brain fluid splattering out of the maimed head. The three children run screaming, while another soldier shoots the wife.

“Good riddance. If only every Kraut were this easy to dispose of, we could get to Berlin in a month.” The commander kicks the dead man. “I want people posted as snipers and lookouts from every window and door while someone moves these bodies outside. Then we can start moving the wounded inside.”

Yuriy is slightly jealous of the soldiers who get to have guns, while he’s stuck as a medic. Even if he’s training to be a veterinarian and actively volunteered himself as a medic when he enlisted, it’s not as fun and exciting as killing Germans, leading charges, and shouting orders. The soldiers he’s treating are the real heroes, the ones who’ll have the exciting war stories to bring home. He’ll have to make do with telling his family about pouring saline in wounds, injecting morphine, dispensing pain relief pills, tying tourniquets, setting bones, plastering casts, and amputating extremities. But for Inga, he’ll tell the infinitely more exciting story of how he survived the onslaught of carnage at Juno Beach.

After all the wounded are toted inside, Yuriy is assigned to a patient with a gaping, bloody wound in the lower right leg, with bits of shrapnel riddled throughout. He looks off to the side as he pours saline over it.

“Did you already have morphine?”

“Yes, but I’d like some more.”

“I’d love to give you extra pain relief, but we have to be careful about how much we give each man. We have so many wounded, we can’t afford to give extra doses to every single guy.”

The next patient has four fingers on his left hand blown off, the stumps oozing sickening, constant blood. Yuriy is queasy as he ties a miniature tourniquet on each stump. Even after each stump is tied off, he still feels queasy looking at the mutilated hand.

“Am I a pansy for not continuing to fight? I still have one good hand.”

“It depends on the injury and your personality. Some soldiers continue to lead charges and fight after they’re shot several times, but this isn’t a minor flesh wound. Depending upon your prognosis, you might have to go home, or back to England. The Army might be so desperate for guys in uniform they’d still have you, provided you can get along with only one complete hand.”

Once all the wounded have been brought inside and treated, and no further patients seem immediately forthcoming, Yuriy walks around to each one, on all three floors, to check on their progress. Several have since had the ominous white sheet pulled over their faces. Yuriy makes the sign of the cross over each dead man.

“Should I go back out there to help the latest wounded? I don’t want to feel useless just sitting here twiddling my thumbs while more guys are getting wounded.”

“If you’d like. Just remember, lay low to the ground and don’t get too close to the front lines. You’re a combat medic, not an active duty soldier. Let the other guys be heroes fighting the Nazis, while you focus on being their hero by helping them.”

The moment Yuriy crawls outside, the thunderous roar of gunfire becomes even louder. The Germans are finally running out of ammo, so the Allies will soon have control of Normandy. Fifty feet away from the house, he comes across several fresh corpses and one wounded soldier by a Bangalore torpedo. The vicinity is strewn with other dying and dead soldiers, too many of them to do much to help. Yuriy feels the bile rising in his stomach at the sight of bloody, dismembered hands, fingers, arms, feet, and legs. He hopes he never, ever has to see a decapitated head or half a body. He was uncomfortable enough when he saw the movie Freaks at thirteen, though he’d far prefer to be confronted with dwarves, conjoined twins, living torsos, and other sideshow performers than these maimed remains and wounded soldiers. Sideshow performers are otherwise healthy and able-bodied.

“Will the war be over soon?” a soldier asks as Yuriy rips open his shirt to put pressure on a gunshot wound in the stomach.

“After today, I really doubt it.” Yuriy injects morphine, his hand violently trembling. “All we can do is hope the rest of this battle is as swift as possible, and that we won’t be fighting next year at this time.”

5

Lyuba lights five candles in church, then has a seat in one of the relative few chairs available. She misses having a church which used to be Catholic and thus came with plenty of pews.

“Fedka and the rest of our boys have to be fine,” Ivan says numbly, taking the chair next to her. “Fedya was our miracle baby, my first blood child, our firstborn son. God wouldn’t give him to us only to take him away so soon. Mira needs a husband, and Felya needs a father. He has to come home. God wouldn’t have given Vasya to my aunt as her second chance at motherhood only to take him away either, and Osyenka’s one of the most special only sons who ever was created. Lyonya needs to come home to Dora and Olik, and Yura has a lovely family who can’t wait to have him back. All five of them will be fine.”

“You don’t know that! Our beautiful little boy could be lying dead on the beach right now, and Vasya, Osyenka, Lyonya, and Yura along with him! Yura isn’t allowed to have a gun, and can’t defend himself!”

“I should be over there too, being useful,” Nikolay rants as he lights his own candles. “Are you sure my stupid draft deferment can’t be lifted now that the invasion’s finally begun? They’ll need lots of replacements to take the place of all the guys getting killed. Everyone will look at me suspiciously since I wasn’t there.”

“You’re a farmer, not a soldier,” Tatyana reminds him. “We’re helping to feed the military and the people working in war industry jobs. We wouldn’t be expecting our second baby if you’d enlisted.”

“There are plenty of other farmers who can help with providing food. We can have children any time, but the war won’t be on forever.”

“Yes, but we wouldn’t have this particular child. We’d have a different child, just as I wouldn’t be here if Boris hadn’t manipulated and forced my mother into what he did.”

“You’re lucky you’re at home,” Novomira says. “I hate having my husband away at war, never knowing what’s going to happen to him. Maybe this makes me ungrateful and unpatriotic, but I don’t agree with all these people who are so happy and excited to send their husbands and sons off. If he wants to enlist, fine, but I won’t pretend it’s a wonderful, beautiful sacrifice I’m making. If he’s killed, I won’t consider him a martyr and hero. He’ll just be another soldier who was killed, a soldier who happens to be my husband.”

“You know how it is during wars,” Lyuba says. “The jingoistic majority drowns out the people against war, or who don’t paint war as a wonderful, glorious adventure and noble, manly sacrifice. Thank God my Vanya wasn’t taken for the last war when he turned eighteen, since he was still in gymnasium.”

Edik wrinkles his nose. “I can’t believe how unpatriotic and ungrateful you people are. If the war’s still on when Marik and I graduate, we’re enlisting immediately. I can’t live down the shame of my older brother refusing to serve and getting a grotesque deferment to go to university. University can wait, but the war can’t.”

“Keep your voice down,” Kat warns him. “There are other people here who don’t want to hear our personal business, and it’s rude to talk too loudly in church. Andryusha’s doing his part by helping at USO events.”

“How, by serving drinks and cookies, clearing tables, and playing records? The real men, the guys going off to war, must be so disgusted when they find out he’s a pansy who won’t serve. The WACs, SPARS, WASPs, WAVES, and lady Marines are more manly than Andrey.”

Pozhaluysta, watch what you say about Andryusha. He’s always been such a good big brother to you and Marik, and would never dream of speaking so meanly of you, particularly not behind your backs.”

“At least some men in our family are doing the right thing,” Nikolay says. “Those five guys over there are heroes, alive or dead, and the sooner they help to end the war, the sooner Dasha and Liivi can come home. Someone has to fight, unless you like the idea of never seeing Dasha and Liivi again.”

Lyuba crosses herself. “It’s been almost five years since I saw our zaychik, and since Katrin saw her Liivi. If God is just, we won’t have to wait even one more year to see them again.”

6

Darya grips Oliivia’s right hand and Halina’s left hand as the Kumiegas’ secret radio broadcasts the news from the Polish government-in-exile in London. Over the last year with the Kumiegas, she’s picked up a rather serviceable command of Polish. It also doesn’t hurt that Polish is rather similar to Russian.

“The Allies are finally here,” Halina breathes. “They’re on their way to save us. We won’t be Nazi prisoners forever.”

“How long will it take them to get to Berlin?” Maja asks. “I hope they have quick, successful battles in every single town along the way, so the war can be over by autumn. Maybe we can be home for Christmas.”

“We’ve been so lucky so far.” Darya runs a hand through her hair, which has been allowed to grow back since she’s an indoor laborer. “Our luck has to continue to hold long enough for the Americans to get here. I hope the Nazis don’t murder everyone first.”

“I won’t let anyone murder you,” Oliivia declares. “You have to live long enough to go home with me. Maybe they’ll have a cure for tuberculosis in the near future, and you can go to the best American hospital for drugs or surgery.”

“I am cured. When was the last time I showed any symptoms?”

“You’re not cured. All your skin tests show up positive. I’m glad it’s latent instead of active, but don’t kid yourself about being completely better. God knows if it’ll come back eventually, worse than last year.”

“Pani and Pan Kumiega, can we stay at your farm till the war’s over?” Maja asks. “I don’t want the Nazis to get mad about losing the war and take us somewhere else.”

Pani Kumiega crosses herself. “Only God can decide that. We can only hope the occupiers won’t decide to murder everyone as punishment and revenge. If we stay as relatively lucky and safe as we have so far, the war will end well, and we can resume our lives like nothing happened.”

Darya nods. “I’m not telling my parents I had tuberculosis or was in a death camp. They’ll never see the ugly number on my arm if I only wear long sleeves, and if my tuberculosis stops being latent, I can pretend I’m only getting it then.”

“It’s a very long way from Normandy to Poland,” Matviyko says. “So many innocent servicemen will have to die before they get anywhere close to us, and possibly the Soviets will get here before the Americans and British. It’ll be a miracle if anyone’s left alive by the end.”

7

The day after the invasion, Yuriy picks his way among the reeking, disfigured corpses and dying strewn over Juno Beach. It’ll take forever to catalogue and bury all these soldiers who were so alive and hopeful just yesterday morning. The relative few who haven’t succumbed to their wounds yet are probably too far gone to be helped. He smiles each time he sees a German body mixed in among the brave Canadian dead. The entire beach is pervaded by an eerie, unnatural silence, as though yesterday never happened. He still hears gunfire, but it’s slightly farther away. The Allies now have a toehold in occupied Europe.

Copyright Jebulon

“Am I in trouble for not trying to join back up with my company?” one of the wounded asks as Yuriy unwraps a leg tourniquet made from the soldier’s torn trousers fabric. “I was too confused and scared, so I played dead and stopped the bleeding myself.”

“A lot of guys got lost yesterday and ended up with the wrong companies, or in the wrong places. They’d have to court-martial almost everyone. A lot of companies lost so many men, they’ll have to bring in replacements immediately.”

The soldier winces as Yuriy pours saline over the wound. “Is there a way to tell if it’s infected?”

“I assume you had a tetanus shot after you enlisted. The worst is probably avoided. But I’ll give you an ointment just in case, and to help with healing regardless. I’m not looking forward to going back into the line of fire.”

“Are you a doctor from before, or just an Army medic?”

“I’m actually studying to be a veterinarian. I have a bachelor’s degree in biology, and took one year of vet school before I enlisted. My parents wanted me to have at least one year instead of enlisting straight out of university.”

The soldier faintly smiles. “I don’t really care your normal patients are dogs and cats instead of humans. All that matters is you’re helping me.”

“Oh, I had a very nice human patient two years ago.” Yuriy looks up and gazes across the ocean, still swamped with empty Higgins boats and destroyed tanks. “I might not be getting all the glory like you, but I’m fighting to stay alive for her.”

“You need luck more than me. It’s too bad medics can’t carry guns.”

After Yuriy finishes with this soldier and finds several others to treat, he picks his way over to the sandbar and wades in, averting his eyes from a Higgins boat piled with maimed corpses. On one side, an entire ocean separates him from Inga, while on the other side, the Germans are waiting to kill everyone. There’s no easy way to get home from here. Even if he makes it home alive, there’s still the battle to decide whether to let Inga know his real feelings, or keep it secret and watch her marry someone else.

But first things first. First the war has to be won, and that means defeating an enemy refusing to go down easily and peacefully.

Posted in Fourth Russian novel, New York City, Writing

How a poorly-planned storyline fell apart

When a storyline never advances past a vague idea, or you can’t decide which way exactly to take it, that’s a very strong sign it’s not meant to be. That was precisely what happened with my aborted storyline of the Konevs moving back to NYC in June 1952.

How did it fall apart, and why did I realize it? Let me count the ways.

1. They spend way more time talking about their exciting upcoming move, or in Ivan’s case resisting it, than actively planning it! Who the bloody hell commits to moving 1,000 miles away and enrolling in grad school without guaranteed housing lined up?

2. I kept going back and forth re: which neighborhood they should live in, and getting lost in rabbit holes of research. The West Village? The Upper West Side? Hamilton Heights? Morningside Heights? One of the districts within Victorian Flatbush? Staten Island?

3. Likewise with housing type. A penthouse? A luxury apartment? The mother-in-law suite in Katrin’s penthouse? A townhouse? A rowhouse? Sharing a townhouse with relatives? An estate in Victorian Flatbush?

4. I also kept going back and forth re: which schools everyone should attend. For the adults, should it be Columbia, City College, Brooklyn College, Columbia Teachers College, the Pratt Institute, NYU, Hunter, or Sarah Lawrence? For Sonyechka and Tamara, is Walden or New Lincoln a better fit?

5. Even if Lyuba sometimes said, well before this storyline, she wished the family still lived in New York, that wasn’t a true, active wish. Doesn’t everyone sometimes wonder about the path not taken? Deep down, she knows her life is in Minnesota now.

6. Speaking of, why would Tatyana and Nikolay uproot their six kids to move 1,000 miles away because they miss their friends? It’s like Plinio in Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game (his only novel I found a slog instead of a joy to read), whining to his former best friend Joseph Knecht about how they grew apart. This bothered him for 20 years?! Move on, dude!

You can never really go home again. People and places change, even if everyone’s still there and the cityscape is the same on the surface. We acquire different lifestyles as we age. Raising a family and working take priority over carefree fun.

7. It played right into the overly romanticized view of New York as the best of all possible cities, the only city worth anything.

8. Though it was rather subtle, the city was entering the first stages of its tragic decline in this era. Where would the Konevs go after the city began noticeably deteriorating?

9. The severe housing crisis created during the Depression only got worse after WWII. They would not have had first priority on one of the precious units available, and a detached house in the outer boroughs would’ve resulted in a long commute.

10. It felt like a preachy polemic about the superiority of urban apartment life over farm country and traditional houses.

11. It necessitated too many convenient plot twists and cluttery storylines justifying almost the entire Minnesota cast relocating en masse!

12. Everyone began talking like they were never really happy in Firebird Fields and couldn’t wait to wash their hands of farming. Despite the difficulties, they were so happy to finally be out of the congested city and have large houses, fresh air, clear skies, open spaces, and sunlight again!

13. Katya points out Lyuba substituted one daydream for another. Yes, it sucks that her life was turned upside-down by the Revolution, but in her early fifties, she can only do so much towards returning to the path her life otherwise would’ve taken. Who’s to say her New York life would automatically be so much more awesome the second time around?

14. Their New York friends and family have missed living close by, but never expressed such severe longing to be together again before! All of a sudden it’s a huge hardship and heartache.

15. Deep down, I couldn’t picture the Konevs as apartment people, even in a sprawling penthouse with two stories, a big terrace, great amenities, and a gorgeous courtyard. They only lived in communal housing when they had no choice.

16. Ditto living in a multi-story, fairly narrow townhouse sharing walls with other homes. Just not who they’ve ever been, despite staying in relatives’ townhouses when they visit.

17. Where would they put their dear horse Branimir, another Long Island stable?

18. On the flip side of the NYC lovefest was a Minnesota hatefest. Everyone talks like it’s a cultural and intellectual desert!

19. Can’t these people think outside the familiar? There’s no reason everyone needs to either stay in Minnesota or return to NYC if there’s truly a pressing need to move.

20. Though Nikolay resents how farming gave him an automatic draft exemption in WWII, he and Tatyana truly do love that simpler lifestyle.

21. The main plotlines of the future sixth book are based around Sonyechka and Tamara NOT living in the same city as their parents!

To be continued.

Posted in Fourth Russian novel, New York City, Writing

Why I wanted the Konevs to move back to NYC

During the writing of Part III of my WIP, A Dream Deferred: Lyuba and Ivan at University, I latched onto what I thought was an awesome plot development, the Konevs deciding to leave Minnesota and return to NYC near the end of the book. While it did inject a needed boost of conflict for the last half of the story, it quickly became unfocused and never came together well.

Why did I come up with this idea and hold onto it for so long?

1. Their entire extended family lives in NYC. All these years, they’ve been by themselves in Minnesota.

2. They miss the convenience of living in the same city as so many loved ones. Celebrations either have to be missed or scheduled in chunks.

3. Lyuba’s mother and stepfather, and Ivan’s aunt and uncle whom he feels much closer to than his parents, are now elderly. It would give them comfort to be nearby in these twilight years.

4. Ivan latched onto the daydream of starting a farm in the Midwest not out of genuine passion for that lifestyle and area, but to escape into a remote place where he believed his abusive father would never find him and hurt him again. His true passion has always been art, a love his father beat out of him as a boy and which he only reclaimed at pushing fifty.

5. Lyuba and Ivan also moved to rural Minnesota in 1929 to save their marriage and give their kids a real house to grow up in, with wide-open spaces to play in, sunlight, and fresh air. But had their personal circumstances been less desperate and strained, they would’ve found a more rural location nearby instead of 1,000 miles away.

6. They were raised in cities, and finally belatedly realize rural life isn’t who they are deep down at all. They miss everything cities offer so copiously.

7. Lyuba has often said she misses living in New York. Even before moving, she felt twinges of regret at leaving so many wonderful things behind.

8. Their friends Eliisabet, Aleksey, and Kat, who moved to Minnesota with them, are inspired to go to university in their fifties too, and since they long ago promised to always stay together, they must return to New York too.

9. Nikolas, Kat’s husband, has decided to stay in the city after Katrin’s retrial to start a law firm in the tradition of Clarence Darrow.

10. Tatyana and Nikolay return home to start their own farm after graduating Barnard and Columbia not only because they feel they have to, but as an unrealized overreaction to the drama with Boris. Like their parents, they see Firebird Fields as a safe haven from the ugly real world. Now they’ve keenly grown to miss their friends, and are afraid their kids aren’t being exposed to enough of the outside world.

11. Fedya likewise returns to Minnesota out of blind duty and not wanting to disappoint his parents, and Novomira is severely guilted and pressured into it by her parents. Now they want to take charge of their own lives.

12. Darya’s husband Andrey wants to specialize in psychotherapy for Shoah survivors, veterans, and other people with traumatic wartime experiences. Per capita, there are far more of them in NYC than all of Minnesota.

13. What better city for Lyuba and Ivan to get master’s degrees in and realize their full academic potential?

14. Mr. Konev will be leaving his townhouse in Greenwich Village’s Gold Coast, and everything inside, to Igor, so why shouldn’t Igor and Violetta stay there longterm instead of only while they’re in graduate school?

15. People from upper-middle-class families who went to gymnasium never grow up to live in farm country! They long for the company of other intellectuals besides their three families.

16. Why wouldn’t Ivan and his sons want to live in New York? It’s the country’s largest Mecca of artists.

17. They all feel like they’re wasting their potential in rural Minnesota. Next-youngest child Sonyechka, the most brilliant by far, particularly feels she could do so much more with her brain in New York.

18. Sonyechka also wants to live near her new friends Pravdina and Zikatra, who encourage her to convince her parents to move. They’re so much more sophisticated, intellectual, political, and exciting than her friend Kleopatra.

19. Nonconformists were safer in big cities in this era.

20. Why would anyone want to live in the Midwest?!

21. An apartment suits them much better than a big ole farmhouse. To sweeten the deal, let’s make it a penthouse Ivan buys with the ample money his father leaves him.

22. Lyuba and Ivan must redo their New York experience “properly.”

23. Katya shouldn’t be alone in California while Dmitriy’s deployed.

24. Youngest child Tamara will have ample opportunities for baking classes.

25. Who wouldn’t want to live in New York?!

And then all my reasons fell apart like a flimsy house of cards. To be continued.

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

July 4th, 1938

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In case anyone is reading blogs today, here’s a holiday-themed excerpt. This is the third section of Chapter 43, “Tempting Fate,” of Journey Through a Dark Forest. Nineteen-year-old Tatyana has been living with her blood father Boris for the past year in Harlem, and hasn’t abated in the surly attitude she’s been copping towards her family since discovering the truth of her paternity. This is extremely hurtful to her little brother Fedya, but her attitude is staying put.

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On the Fourth of July, just as promised, Fedya and Novomira tag along to Rockaway Beach and Rockaways’ Playland.  Even if they had the sense not to stay at Boris’s house, they’re still doing a damn good job of being a thorn in Tatyana’s side during this weekend she was looking forward to so much.  The only moment of peace she’s gotten so far was yesterday at Gavrik’s baptism, and then Fedya and Novomira began tagging along with her friends all over again.  They’re even younger than Vasya and don’t belong in a group consisting of mostly university students.  Worse yet, her friends seem to like both of them, and Valentina, Rodya, and Vladlena in particular are fascinated by Fedya’s left-handedness.  Tatyana has been shown up by her own brother.

“I’d like to watch the local parade before we head to the beach or amusement park,” Novomira says as they board the subway.

“What for?” Tatyana snaps. “If you’ve seen one parade, you’ve seen them all.  Parades stopped being interesting after I passed the age of twelve.  They’re boring, hot, and require too much standing in a crowd.  And there are all the whining, screaming children.”

“Don’t you work with children?” Fedya asks. “And I presume you’d like your own kids someday.”

“Our children at camp are well-behaved, and know not to throw tantrums or do whatever they want.  I don’t like dealing with other people’s brats.”

“We can always find a stoop to sit on, or I can rent some folding chairs,” Nikolay suggests. “It’s been awhile since Mira and Fedya have seen a really big parade.  Minnesota can’t compare with the big city.  Valya and Vladka have never seen a Fourth of July parade.  I’d hate to have them miss out during their first July Fourth.”

Tatyana has a seat and crosses her arms tightly, keeping a firm hold on her ocelots’ leashes.

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“I’m most looking forward to the fireworks tonight,” Valentina says. “We didn’t have them very often in Minsk.”

“What’s a Fourth of July parade like?” Vladlena asks. “We had lots of parades back home, but they were more like political inspiration than entertainment.  They were held in honor of important national holidays and heroes.  I don’t know if many civilians could take part other than for something like music or a special exhibit a school made.”

“They’re kind of boring once you’ve seen a few,” Tatyana repeats. “A bunch of floats, loud brass music, people in costumes, flags, balloons, that sort of thing.  Some of the people marching or on the floats toss candy and other trinkets.  It’s a little like Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, only now the weather is nice enough to watch it in person instead of hearing the radio broadcast.  I think July Fourth is best if you’re a little kid and don’t have the sense to be annoyed by mosquitoes, heat, crowds, and noise.”

“Not everyone feels the same way as you,” Nikolay warns. “You were behaving so well until our families came here.  I thought being away from them for so long would get you to see things differently and go back to your old sweet self.”

“I’d prefer if they’d continued leaving me alone.  I just know my stepfather planned his birthday party for New York just to irritate me and try to guilt me through these two.”

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Fedya struggles to contain his hurt in front of these sophisticated older people. “You were always such a great big sister to me, and you liked Mira as well.  I had nothing to do with this coverup of your true paternity.  I didn’t even know about it until you did.  How can some one-sided letter from a known scoundrel magically erase all your love for your family and the man who raised you?”

“You’d feel the same way if you were the one who were lied to your entire life.  Thank God my real father is a modern, sensible person who approves of young ladies shaving their legs, wearing makeup, staying out late within reason, being alone with their steady beaux, and using perfume.  He’s not some overly moral plaster saint like your father.  That man needs to grow up and enter the twentieth century.  His rigid ideas of right and wrong are so Medieval.”

Nikolay is by now strongly convinced Tatyana’s rejection of Ivan and rather haughty, uncharacteristic behavior were caused by some petty teenage grievance against an old-world father with an admittedly very black and white view of the world.  She’s more dissatisfied with some of Boris’s behavior than she let onto their families.  He just needs to figure out a way to push her towards investigating their dubious benefactor’s past, coupled with some serious reflection on how she just gave up the loving father-daughter relationship she and Ivan enjoyed for eighteen years.  Tatyana surely realizes how rare it is for any man to raise another man’s baby as his own and marry a fallen woman with an illegitimate child.  Boris couldn’t even marry Lyuba after he got her in trouble.

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Instead of heading right to the beach when the subway reaches Queens, their group sets off towards the main thoroughfare in search of a parade.  After a resident provides directions, Tatyana lags behind everyone and kicks at pebbles, refusing to talk to anyone.  Fedya and Novomira have a seat on the sidewalk, and Valentina and Vladlena find room on the cement stairs outside a bright green apartment.  Tatyana is the last one in their group to find a place to sit.

For the entire parade, Tatyana stares off into space and barely notices the loud music and cacophony of voices.  She barely even cares when some of the candy being thrown from floats lands near her.  Nikolay has to collect it for her.  After probably a good three hours, when the parade ends and the crowd breaks up, they finally start for the amusement park.

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“Don’t be disappointed,” Rodya tells Valentina. “This place isn’t as big as Coney Island, but it’s still got some nice rides.  We’ll probably have fewer crowds, even if today’s a big holiday.  Everyone always heads for Coney Island.  Mostly only locals come here.”

“I like amusement parks no matter how small they are,” Valentina proclaims. “We’ll be back to work tomorrow, so we should enjoy the long vacation.”

“I wish I could enjoy the long weekend too,” Tatyana mumbles.

“Why are you acting like this?” Nikolay asks. “What have Mira and Fedya ever done to you to make you hate or resent them?  They’re just trying to have some fun in the big city, away from adults and children they don’t have much in common with.  We’re not that much older than they are.”

A sour feeling is in the pit of Tatyana’s stomach the entire time at the amusement park.  She doesn’t even snuggle up next to Nikolay in the rides, as the other three couples do.  The presence of her brother and his girlfriend has so perturbed her, she can’t relax and think of anything but how much she deeply resents their unwanted company.  Their time on the beach isn’t much better, though at least she has more privacy there and is able to sit and swim as far away from them as possible.

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“She’s really not like this normally,” Nikolay says in embarrassment on the subway home. “I don’t know why she’s acting like some spoilt child again all of a sudden.  She was doing so well this entire past year.”

“Does she really think we’re too young and stupid to buddy around with?” Novomira asks. “We used to be buddies.  I’m only two and a half years her junior, and Fedya’s not quite three and a half years her junior.  That’s not a really big age difference, since we grew up together.  It’s not like I’m some babyish ten-year-old tagging along with the sophisticated older kids.”

“It’s not that.  She’s just sorting out some confusion and annoyance with Dyadya Vanya.  I really think she’ll return to normal with a little more time, but I can’t force her to feel differently.  She probably does still love you deep down.  I’ve studied situations like this in some of my psychology and sociology classes.”

“Are you coming back to Minnesota when you graduate?” Fedya asks. “I don’t want to be joined at the hip with my family, but I always thought we’d have our own little farms on the same property.  It won’t feel right if you and Tanya stay in New York.  It still feels strange that my big sister isn’t around anymore.  Now she doesn’t even like me anymore, after how good she always was with me.”

“I’m going to start my own farm, even if I like big city life.  I doubt I could live here long-term.  It’s just not the type of life I could see for myself forever.  Tanya’s a farm girl at heart, even if she likes to give the impression of this important, modern, fashionable big city girl.  This is probably just a form of rebellion and trying on a new persona.  All perfectly normal.  So long as she figures out the right path before Malenkov reverts back to scoundrelhood, no one is really hurt that deeply.”

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Once they’ve reached Central Park, Tatyana flings her blanket down and rubs lemongrass on her arms and legs to repel any mosquitoes.  She takes Nikolay’s hand and smiles at him, grateful Fedya and Novomira have the good sense to sit far away from them.

Fedya throws his arm around Novomira and stares up at the fireworks as they start. “What crawled down her throat and died?  She’s never had this kind of rude attitude as long as I can remember.  How can someone just go from nice to mean overnight?  Is she using drugs?”

“Kolya was saying something about her just rebelling to get some kind of taste of a different personality.  It’s some kind of concept from psychology.  Maybe she really did resent Dyadya Vanya for a long time, and then just went off on everyone after she found out another man’s her blood father.  I’ve never had much interest in copying moviestar fashions and modern American fads, but I’m sure my father would be understanding and accommodating of things like reasonable makeup and shorter skirts.  She does have a point about your father being pretty old-fashioned and having these really outdated ideas of how women should look and act.  Who knows why he picked Tyotya Lyuba, with her very modern views and tomboyish past.”

“I never really thought about that.  I just thought my father was really old-fashioned in some ways but modern and sensible in others.  He thinks girls should have a higher education, even if he’s horrified by things like women wearing pants and my mother working outside the house.  My mother, for all her modern ideas, still doesn’t wear makeup, high heels, or some of these modern fashions, and she only shaved her legs when she was working our last year in New York.  I wonder if my younger sisters will act like Tanya too, wanting to be these modern American girls.”

“My mother says I’m a nice blend of two worlds.  I like being a modern American, but I also like the Russian and Estonian parts of myself.  Maybe Tanya’s embarrassed because we’re not as modern or American as she’d like to be.”

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During the fireworks, Novomira leans against Fedya and occasionally runs her fingers along his left hand.  Though the bruises and rope burn left by Miss Cavendish disappeared years ago, she still remembers them, and wonders if his hand might have some invisible trauma still left in it.  Surely invisible wounds need tender loving care as much as physical wounds.  He needs all the love and affection possible, particularly now when he’s been rebuffed by the sister he always worshipped.

During the finale of green, silver, white, orange, and blue fireworks, Fedya leans over and kisses her.  Novomira smiles up at him and giggles.

“What was that for?”

“Just because I like you so much.  Now was as good a time as any.” He does it again, this time putting his hands around her shoulders.

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One blanket away, Valentina looks away jealously and ever so slightly edges away from Rodya.  As the fireworks die down, Rodya becomes aware of her muffled noises and quivering shoulders.

“Did something happen to you?” Rodya puts his hand on her shoulder. “You can tell me what’s wrong.  Are you worried about getting accepted to Barnard with less than perfect English?  That’s not the measure of your worth.”

“Do you really consider me your girlfriend, or am I more like a friend who just happens to be a woman?  Or are you just extremely old-fashioned?”

“Of course you’re my sweetheart.  Just because we’ve never had a private date doesn’t mean we’re not official.  It’s just easier to triple-date and go out as an octet.”

“Well, right now I don’t exactly feel like your real girlfriend.  Those two have only been going steady for about a month and a half, and they’re already doing more than just holding hands.  They’re younger than we are.  I thought everyone did that at our age and after five and a half months.”

Rodya looks quickly at Fedya and Novomira, then looks away in embarrassment. “Is that all you’re upset about?  I thought you liked that I respect you enough to not make unsolicited advances so soon.  You’re the sweetest girl I ever dated, not like some fast, loose woman who expects certain things by the third or even first date.”

“I’m not that old-fashioned.  I’m not some Victorian woman who expects a chaste courtship.  Why can’t we have a few private dates every now and then?  Just because Tanya doesn’t trust herself alone with her boyfriend doesn’t mean I’m that old-fashioned or incapable of self-control.”

Rodya slips his arm around her. “Didn’t you tell me you’d never had a boyfriend or even gone on a date before me?”

“That doesn’t mean I can’t make up for lost time now.  If you’ve already done that with previous dates and girlfriends, you shouldn’t be afraid to do it with me.”

“I like you more than any of the other girls I’ve ever dated.  I think I might even love you.” Rodya pulls her towards him and kisses her.

Valentina gazes up at him afterwards. “Was that so difficult?  You’re pretty good.”

“You taste sweet, like strawberries.  I’m glad you don’t wear makeup.  I don’t want lipstick rubbing off on me.”

“Can we practice doing that again?”

“You don’t have to ask me twice.”

Valentina is only just starting to get the hang of it when she hears footsteps.  She abruptly pulls away from Rodya and hides her face in embarrassment at the sight of Patya and Vladlena.

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“All good things must come to an end,” Patya chides affectionately. “You can have your own private date on your own time.  We need to get home now.  Work starts at eight-thirty tomorrow.”

Rodya pulls Valentina up and walks her out to the Rochet-Schneider.  After the all-too-short drive home, he walks her up to the apartment via the fire escape and kisses her goodnight.  Valentina’s heart beats a little faster when she feels his hands wandering, though at least he’s keeping them above her clothes and not going below her waist.  Just as she’s tentatively starting to pet him back, the fire escape door swings open.

“I wondered what was taking you so long,” Inessa says. “You do know what that causes, don’t you?”

“He’s fine.” Valentina smoothes her blouse down, her heart still racing. “We were just making up for lost time.”

Rodya smiles at her as Inessa shuts the door in his face.

“Remember, self-control is very important for a woman,” Inessa says. “If you want to do more than neck and pet, you have to get married.  It’s too dangerous to risk going further without marriage.  These things happen, but you don’t want to get caught in a scandal unawares.  Make sure you set limits with him the next time that happens.  I don’t like the double standard and delayed gratification, but it is what it is.” She smiles devilishly. “But in the meantime, you’ve got two perfectly good hands.  No woman ever got pregnant by her own hand before.”

Posted in 1930s, Couples, Nikolay, Tatyana, Third Russian novel, Writing

Horny Hump Day—Tatyana and Nikolay

My What’s Up Wednesday post is here.

Warning:  Not safe for work or appropriate for those under 18!

Welcome back to Horny Hump Day, a weekly hop where writers share three erotic sentences of a book or WIP. I’m skipping a few lines ahead from last week’s, so I can finish the scene in time to put all my blogging focus and attention on the April A to Z Challenge.

Young newlyweds Tatyana and Nikolay are honeymooning by the 1939 World’s Fair in Queens, and on the last night of their honeymoon, thanks to advice from Tatyana’s friends, they finally have a mutually pleasurable coupling. Once Tatyana took the time to explore her own body and discover what she likes, she gained a lot of sexual self-confidence and is no longer afraid to take charge.

This has been edited somewhat to fit three lines.

***

The unbearable pressure building up finally, mercifully washes away, and her breathing slowly returns to normal after one final primal, guttural utterance.  For the first time since their wedding night, Nikoláy feels like a real, complete man after they finish coupling.  He doesn’t even care that Tatyana apparently finished before he did; all that matters is that he finally knows how to satisfy his woman.

***

I’ll be back in May, after the A to Z Challenge. For anyone interested in stopping by during April, the theme on my main blog is cities I’ve written about or otherwise mentioned, and my names blog will focus on the invented names so popular in the early Soviet Union.