Leonid Brings Karla Home

This was one of a batch of 20 posts I put together on 24 June 2012 as future installments for the now-shelved Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop. It differs slightly from the published version in The Twelfth Time, for reasons including the pedantic use of accent marks and Leonid’s family name being Stalin instead of Savvin.

While on holiday in Bila Tserkva, Ukraine, 31-year-old Leonid Savvin found 8-year-old Karla Gorbachëva unconscious in the snow and decided to adopt her. However, he hasn’t informed anyone else about his plans. Because the Savvins are local bigwigs and longtime Bolsheviks, they’ve been allowed to maintain their ancestral estate and wealthy lifestyle.

***

Leoníd stumbles through the doors of his family’s mansion the next night, carrying the still-unconscious Kárla while a shocked servant carries in Leoníd’s luggage. His parents, Geórgiya, and four-year-old Nélya stare at him in amazement, while eighteen-month-old Ínga stands back shyly and takes in the sight with her azure eyes.

“This is the first I’ve heard of bringing back a child as a souvenir from a trip out of the country,” eighteen-year-old Geórgiya gapes.

“Liar. What do you think Ínga is if not the ultimate souvenir from your trip abroad?”

“Where did this child come from?” Mr. Stálin asks. “Do you have permission to adopt her? Or are you keeping her while her parents are away?”

“I was going snowshoeing my last day of my trip, and I found her lying unconscious in the snow along some railroad tracks. She’s got an orphanage ID with her name, place of birth, and birthdate on it. None of the local orphanages could find her in their records, so it was safe to assume she came from somewhere else. It’s the perfect plan to win greater political acclaim, adopting a child and becoming a family man. My constituents will finally have an image of me as a father, not some overgrown bachelor who only cares about politics. Besides, we’ve got enough money to take care of her. She’ll lack for nothing growing up here. Her name’s Kárla Maksímovna Gorbachëva, and she turned eight years old in October. When she wakes up, she’ll find herself in a dream come true. Her leg’s broken and she’s temporarily unconscious after a concussion, but other than that she’s going to be fine. A doctor at my hotel set her break and put a splint on her, but he told me to have another doctor put a real cast on her once I got home.”

“But you’re at work most of the day, and you travel a lot for business, politics, and vacations,” Mrs. Stálina protests. “Now I’ll be the primary caregiver to three young girls at my age.”

“That’s your job, yes. And it would only be two if you and Father had put your feet down and not let Geórgiya bring Ínga in here.”

Geórgiya glares at him. “Ínga’s your blood, which is a hell of a lot more than you can say about this strange girl you found in an entirely different republic.”

“These things happen,” Mr. Stálin says in resignation. “Better your mother take the brunt of her caregiving initially than have our blood turned over to be raised by the state. And since you’ve made no moves towards marriage and fatherhood until this bizarre adoption idea just now, it’s nice to enjoy a grandchild while we’re still relatively young grandparents.”

“See? You are desperate for grandkids. She’s already eight years old, and I’m thirty-one. It’s not unreasonable for me to raise her as my own daughter. I’m going to adopt her, and before long it’ll be as though she was always a member of our happy little household. And Nélya can play with her.”

“I’m only four,” Nélya says. “She’s eight.”

“Before you know it, you’ll be best friends. Think of her as a new big sister for you, a sister who’s not a grownup like Geórgiya.”

His parents look at one another for awhile, then turn back to Leoníd looking defeated.

“Fine, we’ll put her up in our house and raise her as our grandchild,” Mr. Stálin says. “But since it was your crazy idea to adopt her, you’re going to do your fair share of raising her and acting like her father. Parenting, be it adoptive or natural, is serious business, not something you just take on to curry favor with constituents or for a publicity stunt.”

“Death of Valentino”

In honor of my beautiful Rudy Valentino’s 93rd Jahrzeit, here’s the third section of Chapter 26, “Death of Valentino,” of The Twelfth Time.

***

On Monday, shortly after noon, an official comes out of the hospital where Anastasiya has been standing vigil with a group of other fans since Saturday. She wonders if Lyuba would still make fun of her for doing this if she knew her stepsisters Vera and Natalya are among the women and teenage girls gathered to pray for their favorite actor and watch for any glimpse of him through the open window on the eighth floor.

Anastasiya sees his lips moving and hears words coming out, but can’t process anything after the word “died.” Like a chain reaction, many of the people in the crowd start screaming and fainting. She grows numb as she utters a loud scream and falls to the ground in the August heat. Everything starts spinning around her, and she hears a ringing in her ears and sees a bright light in her eyes. She’s barely cognizant of the weeping and screaming surrounding her.

“Would you like me to help you get home?” she hears someone asking after she comes back to herself, by which time some of the crowd has dispersed. “Surely our presence here isn’t needed anymore. God must’ve wanted Rudy more than we wanted him here on Earth.”

“I don’t live nearby,” Anastasiya hears herself choking out. “I live on the Upper West Side. I’ll give you directions and money for a cab.”

The young woman helps pull her to her feet and supports her as they walk away from the Polyclinic and towards a line of cabs heading north. “I’m Dorothea Hasenkamp. What’s your name?”

“Anastasiya Voroshilova.”

“The lady who runs the uptown salon and makes all those pretty wedding and bridal party dresses? I love your designs, and I’m also smitten by the gorgeous gowns your second-in-command Dagnija makes. Can I get a sneak peek at some of your upcoming creations in your apartment?”

“Perhaps you will,” Anastasiya mutters as they climb into a cab.

As if the shock of learning her favorite actor was just taken away by the Angel of Death at the young age of thirty-one weren’t already enough, another shock awaits Anastasiya when Dorothea helps her into Katrin’s penthouse after they step off of the elevator when it reaches the top floor. Dagnija, Mrs. Whitmore, Mr. Rhodes, and Dmitriy are all there in the living room. Anastasiya faints again.

“Are these servants?” Dorothea asks.

“Hello,” Dagnija says. “I am Miss Voroshilova’s second-in-command at our salon, and these are her best friend’s butler and Miss Voroshilova’s nanny. The baby is her son Dmitriy. He is going to be nine months old in five days.”

Anastasiya comes back to herself when she hears Dagnija revealing this secret to a complete stranger. “Mrs. Whitmore, Mr. Rhodes, what are you doing here? If Mitya took ill, you should’ve called me instead of going to all the trouble to bring him here! He’ll recover sooner at the shore, where they’re not having a heat wave.”

“I let Miss Liepaitē in about an hour ago,” Mrs. Whitmore says. “She heard you were back in town, and wanted to discuss some of her new designs. As for myself and Mr. Rhodes, we figured you must really miss Dmitriy, and decided to surprise you by coming back with your darling little baby. It’s not right for a precious little boy to be looked after only by a nanny and a wetnurse. Now you can do the majority of his caretaking before you return to Long Island. Mr. Rhodes came as my male escort, in case anything untoward happened on the train and subway, or if anyone broke into the penthouse.”

“You have a baby?” Dorothea asks. “What’s his full name? I assume you kept your single name if you’re not a Mrs. but have a baby.”

“Dmitriy Rudolf Voroshilov,” Dagnija says. “He’s named after Rudolph Valentino and Grand Duke Dmitriy Romanov.”

Anastasiya wants to die of shame, and almost forgets about her grief over her son’s second namesake passing away after such a horrible illness.

“Are you divorced or a widow?” Dorothea asks.

“The father of Dmitriy is a Frenchman. He abandoned Stasya after their brief courtship and secret marriage in Paris last February,” Dagnija says, valuing her budding career enough to tell some white lies. “Now she is a chained woman, unable to remarry because her husband and baby’s father left them and can’t be found to have an annulment or divorce. If you ever wondered why an attractive, successful woman in her twenties is unmarried and doesn’t have any public suitors, now you know the tragic truth. We trust you not to spread around such an upsetting story.”

“How awful! What a scoundrel, to abandon a beautiful wife and his unborn son! Don’t you worry, Miss Voroshilova, I’ll keep your secret. I’d love to wear one of your wedding dresses when I get married, and I can’t very well do that if the rumor mill drives you out of business.”

“There’s a jug of milk in the refrigerator,” Mrs. Whitmore says. “Mrs. Kalvik-Nikonova used that new-fangled electric device to pump her milk so you could feed Dmitriy properly while she’s not here.”

“Couldn’t you buy artificial milk? It won’t kill him to drink infant formula for a few days, and Katrin’s milk won’t dry up, since she’s nursing her own baby.” Anastasiya wants to believe this entire day has been a nightmare, and any moment she’ll wake up, back on Long Island, Valentino making a full recovery from pleurisy, Dmitriy being cared for by anyone other than herself, her secret still confined to her inner circle and Dagnija.

“He’s used to drinking real mother’s milk. It won’t kill you to pour some of your best friend’s milk into a bottle and feed your son.”

Anastasiya curses her life as Dorothea and Dagnija help her onto a couch and Mrs. Whitmore hands her Dmitriy and an already-filled bottle. As she disinterestedly feeds him and drifts in and out of full awareness, she hears Dagnija excitedly talking to Dorothea about some of the secret upcoming designs at Voroshilova’s Weddingland Creations. If Dagnija didn’t know her shameful secret, she’d want to strangle her when she leads Dorothea into the room where some of these secret designs are displayed on mannequins. She can only hope someone with a good enough heart to help a stranger in need can keep her mouth shut about Dmitriy’s existence.

Leonid Saves Karla

This was one of a batch of 20 posts I prepared on 24 June 2012 and indefinitely put into my drafts folder for future installments of the now-cancelled Sweet Saturday Samples bloghop. It differs somewhat from the published version in The Twelfth Time, including the pedantic accent marks and Leonid’s surname. I changed it from Stalin to Savvin after realizing only THE Stalin would’ve had that name.

In Journey Through a Dark Forest, Leonid does something even more heroic than what he does here, making the ultimate sacrifice to save Karla, his elderly parents, his baby sister Nelya, and his niece Inga from being arrested as enemies of the people.

***

Eight-year-old Karla, who fell off the top of a moving train, broke her leg, and fell unconscious in the snow, has been found by the unlikeliest of rescuers. Leonid is the annoying much-older brother of Lyuba’s cousin Ginny (real name Mikhail)’s long-distance sweetheart Georgiya. His rescue of Karla is probably the best thing he ever does in his life.

***

Leoníd Yuriyevich Stálin, the annoying, conceited much-older brother of Ginny’s long-distance girlfriend Geórgiya, has been spending the last two weeks on holiday in Bila Tserkva. His parents and Geórgiya are still after to him get married already and start his own household. He’s heavily involved in local politics and has a good reputation in the world of politics and influence, making up for his lacking reputation in the world of social graces and humility. Now thirty-one years old, Leoníd still has no interest in finding a wife and having kids, and continues to claim Comrade Lénin was against everyone needing to get married and reproduce. If he finds a woman who’ll have someone with his less than sought-after personality, he might consider it, but he’s not going to force himself into marriage just to increase his reputation and say he has blood heirs.

Tonight is his last night in Bila Tserkva before heading home to Moskvá. As he goes snowshoeing near the railroad tracks in the gathering twilight, his eyes catch on a bright patch of blue in the thick snow. Drawing closer, he sees a young girl in a blue coat partially buried in the lightly falling snow, her long black hair splayed out behind her.

When she doesn’t respond to him, he grabs her wrist and finds a pulse. When he pulls her out of the snowbank, he sees something glinting around her neck. He pulls on it and finds her orphanage ID on the end of the chain, listing her name as Kárla Maksímovna Gorbachëva, her place of origin as Yaroslavl, and her date of birth as October 9, 1917.

Leoníd picks her up and walks the short distance back to his hotel, knowing from the ID that she wouldn’t be a local child who’d have been reported missing. Once at the hotel, he asks the man working the security desk to put out a call to any orphanages in the city to ask if they have a girl by that name and age. While the man is placing the calls, one of the physician guests is called down to the lobby and diagnoses Kárla with a broken leg and a concussion.

“I’m thirty-one and still a childless bachelor,” he thinks out loud. “And I’d probably have a better shot at a longer-term career in local politics if my constituents saw I’m a family man like everyone else. I’ll look like a hero for adopting a lost orphanage child. Since no one is claiming her, it looks like it’s up to me. If I were a kid, I’d jump at the chance to grow up in a prominent, well-off Muscovite family instead of an orphanage. And she is pretty cute. She’s got no future if her orphanage of origin reclaims her. What are orphanages for if not to offer children for adoption? Perhaps her father died in the Civil War, or her parents were jailed enemies of the people. It’s doubly-important for her to be raised right. Do you think I’d be legally cleared to adopt this kid?”

“I wouldn’t wish an orphanage upbringing on anyone,” the doctor says as he finishes setting the break and putting it in a makeshift splint. “And it probably is a smart idea to adopt a child to increase your political reputation. Everyone loves a family man. And you might find a wife soon if you’re known to be raising a child who’s not even yours. I’m sure plenty of women will love the chance to be a mother to this poor orphan.”

“Does she need any other medical attention?”

“I think she’ll be fine. She’s not bleeding from her concussion site, and the break isn’t a compound fracture. Once you get home, you’ll probably want another doctor to replace her splint with an actual cast, but other than that, all she needs is a lot of care and rest. Hers is the type of concussion where consciousness is typically regained within twenty-four hours. When she comes to herself, she’ll be safely ensconced in her new home.”

“And she’ll have an aunt who’s only four years younger than she is, a built-in best friend. My parents had an accident, and in December of ’21 my sister and I got a surprise baby sister, Nélya. There’s another little girl in the house too, Ínga, but she’s a bit too young to be friends with an eight-year-old.”

“Then it seems like it’s settled. You’ll take the next train home, and once there go through all the proper channels to adopt her. She’ll be grateful to you for the rest of her life.”

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.”

Karla Gets Lost

This is one of a batch of 20 posts I put together on 24 June 2012 and shuttled into my drafts folder for future installments of the now-permanently-cancelled hop Sweet Saturday Samples. It’s slightly different from the published version in The Twelfth Time, including regarding the absence of the pedantic accent marks.

***

So begins Naina, Katya, and Karla’s journey away from Mrs. Brezhneva’s orphanage, where they’ve lived since February 1920. When I was pulling together the various storylines for the sequel in my head over a decade ago, the unexpected turn of events was envisioned a little bit differently. The basic element that remains is the image of little Karla lost in the snow.

***

The last time Naína, Kátya, and Kárla boarded a train, it was to take them to an orphanage. Today, January 5, 1926, is the first day of the rest of their lives, the first time they’ll be taking a train bringing them one step closer towards freedom. After being seen off at the depot by Mrs. Brézhneva and a delegation consisting of Ínna, Alína, Ohanna, Izabella and her mother, Irína, and Sarah, the three of them check their luggage and board a train heading towards Cherkasi, an old Ukrainian city on the right bank of the Dnipro River. When they reach Cherkasi, the plan is to get another train going to Odessa.

Kárla wishes they had time to stay and take in some of the sights of the famous city, but Naína and Kátya tell her they don’t have that kind of time or money. They’re on a mission to leave the Soviet Union for either Canada or America, whichever accepts them. Acting like tourists would slow down that mission. After they’ve arrived in Odessa and are starting to petition for permission to immigrate, they can look around a bit.

“Don’t get too comfortable,” Naína tells Kárla. “This trip isn’t long enough to merit a sleeping cabin. It’s not like we’re taking a leisurely trip from Kiyev to Paris.”

“Can I still look around while we’re here? I haven’t left the grounds of the orphanage in almost six whole years, and I don’t remember what life was like before we were in orphanages. All I remember is being transported from one orphanage to another, and being kept on orphanage grounds.”

“Go ahead, but make sure to be back by lunch,” Kátya says. “The distance between Kiyev and Cherkasi is about a hundred ninety kilometers and takes a bit under three hours, but that’s not taking into account stopping at other depots along the way. We’ve got a few stops coming. Probably we’ll be in Cherkasi within five hours.”

Naína smiles as Kárla trots off to explore the train. “See you soon,” she waves.

While Naína and Kátya are reading the newspaper and discussing current events, Kárla walks the entire length of the train. Even though this is just an ordinary train and not one transporting first-class passengers, it seems like a paradise on rails after all the cattlecars and goods wagons that took her from orphanage to orphanage. When she gets to the exit door on the caboose, she steps outside and watches the snow-covered Ukrainian landscape going backwards.

After boring of watching the scenery going by in reverse, Kárla climbs up the ladder and starts walking on top of the cars. She’s heard about people walking on top of moving trains, and wants to see if it’s as exciting as it sounds. No one else is walking around on top, so she’s not forced to step aside for anyone else.

Kárla sees a sign indicating the kilometers to Bila Tserkva. She remembers hearing about the history and sights of this historic city in some of the Ukrainian history classes she was forced to take in the orphanage. Perhaps they’ll be able to come back here after they’ve gotten settled into Odessa and are at liberty to explore the land while they’re waiting for their visas.

As the “Welcome to Bila Tserkva” sign comes into view, Kárla loses her balance and slips on a patch on ice on one of the car roofs. No one can hear the screams of an eight-year-old girl falling off the roof of a train going over a mile a minute. She tries to get up after she lands, but she screams again, this time in pain, when she stands on her right leg. Then her throbbing head overtakes her and she falls back down, lapsing into unconsciousness.