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

Naina and Katya at Church

This was originally one of a batch of twenty posts I put together on 24 June 2012 for future installments of the now permanently shelved Sweet Saturday Samples hop. It differs slightly from the published version in The Twelfth Time.

***

On Sunday morning, Naína and Kátya put on their nicest clothes and try to copy Anastásiya when she ties a fancy scarf over her hair. They know not all girls and women cover their hair in church, but they don’t want to call attention to themselves when they’re going to be new and haven’t had the chance to go to church in eight years. Even though Katrin said the church has pews, unlike Orthodox churches back home, they feel they’ll call less attention to themselves if they walk around during the service instead of sitting or standing in one place. Since they don’t even remember what happens or how to behave during a typical Divine Liturgy, they think they’ll feel more at home lighting candles and taking in the ikons and artwork.

Just as Katrin said, Anastásiya makes Mrs. Whitmore and Dmítriy ride on the upper level of the bus, while she takes a seat with Naína and Kátya on the lower level. Mrs. Whitmore gets off several blocks before their stop and walks the rest of the way to the church, so no one will suspect she’s with Anastásiya. Naína and Kátya think she’s as ridiculous as Katrin and Viktóriya told them, and hope this woman isn’t around them very much during the vacation they were promised. They’re more looking forward to spending time playing with the children, which seems a natural activity after so many years in orphanages, and getting to know Viktóriya and the other three young girls they were told might be coming. They left all their friends behind and can’t wait to make some new ones.

Anastásiya doesn’t even introduce them and goes to sit on one of the pews nearest the altar. Naína and Kátya are shocked to see a healthy young person taking a seat when they remember only the old, infirm, pregnant women, and people with small children taking seats back home. They try to follow along in the prayerbook for awhile, then give up on following along with the Old Church Slavonic, both printed and spoken. While they’re waiting for an ample space to open up so they can light some candles, they notice a very handsome, tall man holding a young girl in the crook of one arm and holding a little boy with his other hand. The young girl is venerating an ikon in a baby’s way. Next to him is a very tall woman holding a somewhat older girl who’s lighting a candle.

“Welcome to our church,” the man smiles. “I don’t think we’ve ever seen you. We’re the Konevs.”

“We just came here a few days ago.  I’m Naína Yezhova, and that’s my best friend Kátya Chernomyrdina. I’m fifteen and she’s nineteen.”

“Oh, you’re the girls my wife’s crazy radical friend Katrin’s husband sponsored. I was told you’re going on vacation with us this summer. I’m Iván, and that’s my wife Lyuba. Our baby here is also named Kátya, after her maternal grandmother. The other little girl is Dárya, and the boy is our son Fyodor. Our firstborn Tatyana is somewhere over there with her godparents and their kids.”

“We promise we’ll be very good on vacation and prove we deserve to be sponsored. We’ll do chores, childcare, and whatever else you ask us to do. And we won’t bother you anymore after September. Sándros told us we could go to some hotel run by an older Russian woman, and possibly get information about my aunt there. We’ve never had a real vacation, and barely remember when life was normal.”

“We were all immigrants ourselves not too many years ago. We’d never exploit one of our own. I assume you came here with that light-headed Anastásiya. She usually minds her own business when we vacation together. Other than that, we’re pretty nice people. Even that crazy Katrin seems like a nice person beneath her radical politics.”

“Her little boy is so cute,” Kátya says. “I can understand not wanting to draw attention to their relationship in public, since she’s an unwed mother, but she doesn’t even act loving or motherly in private.”

“She was never the smartest person or possessed of very sympathetic feelings. God forgive me for saying this in church, but she’s been self-centered and oblivious since I’ve known her. She only kept her son instead of placing him for adoption so she could have an heir to her family name and successful business. And she once was against having kids for fear her figure would be destroyed and she’d have her precious personal time disrupted and a potential competitor for her beauty, if she’d had a girl. The woman’s got as much sense as God gave a brick.”

“Ványa, that’s quite enough gossip in church,” Lyuba warns.

“Of course. Well, I guess we’ll see you girls again tomorrow, when we all leave for Coney Island. I hate most of the rides and sideshows, but the beach is nice.”

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

Naina and Katya Start to Settle In

This was originally one of a batch of twenty posts I put together on 24 June 2012 for future installments of the now-shelved Sweet Saturday Samples hop. It’s unusually short, at all of 399 words. This differs slightly from the published version in The Twelfth Time, for reasons including the pedantic presence of accent marks and Katrin’s husband’s name. He went from Sandros to Sandro.

***

Naína and Kátya go into one of the spare rooms with their suitcases and commence unpacking. The majority contents of their suitcases are clothes, but they also have some books, magazines, and pictures. For the first time since she went into the orphanage system, Naína feels confident no one is going to steal the necklace her mother gave her when she was four. She usually wore it under her blouse to guard against thieves, but now she’s unafraid to publicly wear it. She knows she won’t have to pull out the gun she always hid under her dress to defend her property or her life. Kárla’s little suitcase remains unpacked, set in a corner of the room, waiting, however delusionally, for its young owner to come along and unpack it.

With six small children in the house, Naína knows she shouldn’t have a gun lying around, so she puts it on a high shelf in their closet. She doesn’t want to unload it and keep the ammunition in a separate place in case she ever needs to use it at a moment’s notice. She wonders why an otherwise modern, enlightened woman like Katrin felt the need to bring along a male escort instead of just carrying a gun.

When Sándros comes home at 6:00, he gives Naína and Kátya large chocolate bars and big bags of jellybeans. For the umpteenth time since their arrival, their eyes widen at all the riches this country has to offer. No one ever got sweets in the orphanages unless they stole them from the kitchen or intercepted a care package before the warden got to it. And when they were staying in Odessa and Yalta, they cared more about trying to find Kárla, getting clearance to immigrate, and just surviving than having anything extra like chocolate.

They try not to gobble the stuffed mushrooms, almond-encrusted salmon, lemony green beans, chocolate mousse, and fruit salad Mrs. Oswald has made for dinner and dessert. Even the better food they successfully campaigned for at Mrs. Brézhneva’s orphanage doesn’t hold a candle to this. Naína hopes her Tyotya Sónya has food this wonderful, if she indeed lives somewhere in North America. It would be too horrible if she were the only member of her entire family left alive, with only Kátya as surrogate family and someone who remembers her family and what life was like before the Revolution.

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!”