WeWriWa—Not backing down

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. I’m now sharing from Chapter 45, “Imre’s Revenge,” of my hiatused WIP The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees.

It’s November 1945, and Imre has stayed behind in Budapest instead of being smuggled into Italy with his girlfriend Csilla and their friends. He’s on a mission to perform some modern Herculean labors, starting with going to Csilla’s hometown Abony to recover important possessions she hid last year.

The gendarme who now owns Csilla’s house, Mr. Mészáros, has discovered Imre in the cellar, and demanded he leave behind the unearthed treasure. Imre insists he’s taking it with him, since it belongs to his girlfriend, but Mr. Mészáros is just as determined to keep the valuables.

Soldier! Peasant! Worker! Intelligentsia! Together for the future of Hungary! Fight on! Produce! Work! Educate!
Courtesy FOTO:Fortepan/Lissák Tivadar

“Look, if you won’t get the hell out of my house and leave my belongings, I’m going to call the police. Thank God there are still some real Hungarians on the police force, in spite of these damned Russians swarming all around.”

“They’re my girlfriend’s belongings. If you try to take them, I’ll tell the Russians, and I bet they’ll be really interested in learning there’s a former Arrow Cross officer lurking about.”

“You expect them to believe you over me? All I have to do is say a young hoodlum broke into my home and robbed me, and is now trying to cover his tracks by lying about my past. Did your girlfriend really send you here to do her dirty work? I’d expect a mannish girl like that would do this herself, instead of hiding behind a man.”

Livia’s Jewelry Box

Write…Edit…Publish holds a flash fiction contest the third Wednesday of every second month. This month, the theme is jewel box. Click the button for the full list of participants.

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve worked in flash, so I know this might not be my strongest work. I edited a lot of dialogue out of this story to keep the focus on the theme.

Wordcount 925: MPA

Livia Rachel Kovács gazed into a large jewelry store window on Fifth Avenue as cold air whipped at her face. There, on display among the dazzling diamonds, sparkling sapphires, radiant rubies, enticing emeralds, gorgeous garnets, and amazing amethysts were a dozen jewelry boxes, each one more ornate than the next. The most simple were made of fine woods, while the fanciest were gold and encrusted with gemstones. Some had miniature pictures on the sides or tops. The richness of the choice overwhelmed Livia, who couldn’t decide which one she wanted most.

Livia transferred her fancy Jumeau doll Ambrózia to her other arm. “Miri, can I have a jewelry box for a Chanukah present, or a belated bat mitzvah present?  My twelfth birthday came and went without any special ceremony or acknowledgment, and that little bag isn’t good enough anymore. I’m too old to be happy with that.”

Livia’s oldest surviving sister, Mirjam, looked away from the windows of a bookstore several buildings down. “You want a jewelry box more than actual jewelry?  I’ll be happy to buy you anything you want for the rest of your life, but a meaningful purchase is never impulsive. For all you know, you might find another jewelry box you like even more on another day, or something else entirely.”

“We might not come back across the river to New York for a long time, and these jewelry boxes could all be gone by then. You promised to buy me a jewelry box if I grew up. That bag isn’t big enough for all the earrings I want.” Livia pulled the door open. “If it’s too expensive, we can ask to reserve it or arrange to pay a little at a time.”

Mirjam followed her into the store, where an even wider selection of jewelry boxes awaited.

“Madame, my sister should like to buy jewelry box,” Mirjam called to the nearest salesgirl. “Not most expensive, but not most cheap either.”

“I want big.” Livia held her hands apart both lengthwise and widthwise.

“Nothing too plain. My sister deserves more than a basic wooden box.”

The salesgirl brought Livia an increasingly fancy array of jewelry boxes. Livia looked longingly at the most upscale, with gold she assumed must be a very high carat, expensive gemstones, luxurious metals like platinum, and intricate miniature artworks. Working-class girls, let alone new immigrants living on the charity of distant cousins, could only look at such treasures and wish to own them. The jewelry her family had buried during the war and recovered afterwards might be worth a few hundred dollars, not thousands. Their lack of jewelry boxes also spoke to how these treasures were regarded. Kovács women had never had the kinds of extensive jewelry collections high-society matrons boasted, and thus could realistically expect to only need simple cloth bags to store it.

“I want this.” Livia pointed to a cherrywood jewelry box with two doors which opened up to reveal four doors on each side, like a miniature bureau. Each knob was a small pearl, in a rainbow of colors instead of the expected, standard white, ivory, or cream, ringed by tiny diamonds. The outside doors were stained glass, calling to mind the pretty windows of the Esperantist Carmelite church where Livia and her little brother Daniel had attended school during the most precarious year of their lives.

“Nothing fancier?” the salesgirl asked.

“This one. Please excuse me for not knowing good enough English to explain every reason I want this.”

“We just came to America last month,” Mirjam said. “We’re learning fast. I already know eleven other languages fluently. After I master English, I want to learn perhaps ten other languages.”

The salesgirl took the jewelry box to the counter and wrapped it in white tissue paper. While Mirjam counted out the $5 pricetag, the salesgirl noticed Livia’s teardrop-shaped azurite-malachite French hook earrings.

“Girls in Europe have real pierced ears?”

“They certainly do,” Mirjam said. “These earrings have at least two hundred years. Our grandmother gave them to Rahi before she and our baby brother miraculously escaped a terrible train.”

“My name is Livia now,” Livia reminded her. “My first and middle names changed places. I stopped being Rahi four and a half years ago.”

“I remember you as Rahi,” Mirjam told her in Hungarian. “I can’t magically adjust to your new identity overnight, though I’ll happily call you whatever you want. It’s a miracle you survived, no matter what name you prefer.”

The salesgirl put the wrapped jewelry box into a white bag stamped with the store’s blue logo, and Livia carried it out of the building. After years of waiting, Livia finally had a pretty box to store her jewelry collection, which hopefully would get larger and larger as she continued growing older.

***

That night, when she was back in Newark, Livia opened her top bureau drawer and took out the cloth bag embroidered with her birth initials, R.L.K. She shook out the emerald French hook earrings her ears had been pierced with, a parrot brooch, several costume rings, a charm bracelet, a necklace with a frog pendant, and the amethyst ring her grandmother had wanted Daniel to give his future bride.

All the jewelry but the amethyst ring had been buried in a metal container in the Kovács backyard the first night of Passover 1944. So many people had lost irreplaceable possessions, but these pieces of jewelry had survived intact and now had a safe place to call home, just like the girl who’d started life as Ráhel Lívia.

WeWriWa—The confrontation intensifies

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. I’m now sharing from Chapter 45, “Imre’s Revenge,” of my hiatused WIP The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees.

It’s November 1945, and Imre has stayed behind in Budapest instead of being smuggled into Italy with his girlfriend Csilla and their friends. He’s on a mission to perform some modern Herculean labors, starting with going to Csilla’s hometown Abony to recover important possessions she hid last year.

The gendarme who now owns Csilla’s house has come upon Imre after the unearthing of the treasure, and Imre asked if his name were Botond Mészáros. He admits this, but refuses to tell a complete stranger who broke into his home if he were in the Arrow Cross as well. Imre is becoming more and more furious, and refuses to back down.

This has been slightly tweaked to fit ten lines.

Courtesy FOTO:Fortepan/Lissák Tivadar

“So what if my family got upgraded to a new house? The former owners were gone so long, someone had to claim it in their absence. The oldest daughter tried to look around a few months ago, but she ran away like a coward when I opened the door.”

“You admit to torturing my girlfriend last May, treating her like a dangerous criminal and common whore, flogging her feet, putting live electrical wires into her body, and doing other things I don’t even want to say out loud?”

Mr. Mészáros spat on the floor. “If it’ll get you the hell out of my house, yes, I did help with interrogating Bergman Csilla and other people we had reason to believe knew more than they were letting on about the location of hidden treasure and names of more enemies. Since she wasn’t a rich girl, and didn’t have any power beyond a minor ghetto leadership position, we didn’t press the matter. Now get the hell out of my house, and leave those things behind. Thanks for digging up my floor to look for treasure. Had I known the former owners buried anything, I would’ve been down here months ago.”

WeWriWa—The encounter begins

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. I’m now sharing from Chapter 45, “Imre’s Revenge,” of my hiatused WIP The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees.

It’s November 1945, and Imre has stayed behind in Budapest instead of being smuggled into Italy with his girlfriend Csilla and their friends. As badly as he wants to be with Csilla, Imre wants even more to prove his love and commitment by performing some modern Herculean labors.

Imre’s first labor is going to Csilla’s hometown Abony to recover important possessions she hid last year. Matters are complicated by Csilla’s old house now being owned by a gendarme who tortured her. Imre has found the hidden treasure, but won’t be able to carry it off as easily as he found it.

Poster advertising the fascist Arrow Cross organization: “Hungarian soldiers! We stand! Your fight protects your ancient land!”

As he was deciding how to carry the other things, sharp light and a creaking sound broke his train of thought.

“Who the hell are you, and what are you doing in my family’s home? If you’re a Russian soldier, I’ll have you know my wife and daughters aren’t home now. You’re out of luck if you’re looking for a good time.”

Imre looked over and saw a thin, tall man with a pinched face, greying brown hair, an almost comical handlebar moustache reminiscent of an old cowboy movie villain, and very hard, sharp brown eyes. He knew this could only be the gendarme, but he still had to demand the fiend reveal himself.

“Are you by any chance Mészáros Botond?” He could barely believe he remembered the name Csilla had provided only once.

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

Hungarians follow the East Asian naming style, putting the surname first. Botond means “mace; stick,” and Mészáros means “butcher.”

IWSG—Regaining passion

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The Insecure Writer’s Support Group virtually meets the first Wednesday of each month, and gives participants a chance to share struggles, triumphs, quandaries, and fears. This month’s question is:

If you could use a wish to help you write just ONE scene/chapter of your book, which one would it be?

That’s an easy answer in light of what happened in August 2017. I’d wish for help in recreating the lost 2,000–5,000 words of The Strongest Branches of Uprooted Trees, which weren’t in the near-complete backup I thankfully had.

This section comes near the long mostly-flashback Part II, where Eszter and her boyfriend Jakób are interrogated in SS headquarters in Zakopane, Poland. They refuse to confess their true identity or betray anyone in the Hungarian underground, and are sent to Majdanek.

I’m still 100% committed to finishing A Dream Deferred, esp. after how many times I put it on hiatus since starting it in November 2015, but now I have such a regained passion for Branches. I’ve fallen in love with the story all over again, and am so eager to get back to it.

I fully accept blame for losing that file. I went into panic mode when I kept getting the error message about the computer being unable to save the file (for just one little correction of a typo!), and assumed it’d still be there after restarting. I should’ve duplicated it and saved that new file, or put it on my flash drive.

I learnt yet another hard, painful lesson: Always have separate chapter files before C&Ping everything into a master file. Don’t make exceptions for books you’re fleshing out from novella-length stories vs. creating from scratch. C&P the pertinent sections into each chapter file and work from there.

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I suspect part of the reason I neglected to back up that file every day was because of my depression and other mental health issues in the first half of 2017. I had almost no motivation to do anything, rarely left my bed or put on day clothes, didn’t do laundry for months, had an inverted sleep cycle, and ballooned up to almost 220 pounds on a frame just under 5’2. Even my now-19-year-old spider plant Kalanit was dying.

I’m in a much better mental state now. My weight is back in the 150s for the first time in probably 5+ years, and Kalanit is the healthiest and most vibrant she’s been in years.

On another very pleasant note, recent genealogical research has revealed some amazing surprises. In a future post, I’ll introduce you to my illustrious ancestors, who ranks include knights (one of whom is now a saint); a Comptroller of the Household of Queen Elizabeth I; the judge who presided over the trial of Mary, Queen of Scots; and Oliver Cromwell’s uncle. I’m also distantly related to two U.S. presidents.

Have you learnt any painful lessons about saving your work? Are you doing Camp NaNo? Has your writing ever suffered due to depression and mental health struggles?