Granny Xenia. Joanna's Page 5
Granny Xenia. Joanna's Page 5
Yana suddenly woke up and sat down on her bed being on the point of crying of fear. She was alone; in the room it was quiet and stuffy despite the open window. No cool and no sound came from outside, the curtains didn't move. There was something unusual and ominous in this adhesive stuffy silence. Suddenly the yard outside lighted up and appeared not like in the daytime but in ghostly, unsteady and unreal light. The yard flashed and was gone out. And immediately something faintly roared in the distance. Gradually increasing, the roar blew over the house and the glasses jingled in the window.
And mom was at work in a night shift.
Already knowing the name of this "something" and its cause, Jana always feared of thunderstorms even in later times.
"O-o, a-a," cried Yana but felt even more fear because of her grievous and alone crying.
"Yanochka, what's up? Come to me", was heard from behind the curtain.
Granny Xenia was ill. Her illness differed from other people's illnesses that came and left; it was a usual state of her health. She was almost always in bed. She didn't groan and complaint, and if she had no cough with crackling, whistling and snapping, it was not a cough but a whole orchestra, though granny vainly tried to deafen her cough by her pillow, everyone would completely forget that at the dark corner behind the bed curtain granny Xenia lived.
Granny's corner was in the living room, which was a dining room too, and the room where Yana and her mum lived - a vast bed, a wardrobe and a picture over the bed with a green pond, green moon and green bathing girls. "I think this thing can croak," mum once said. The green picture corresponded to the conception 'good furniture', and we must pay additional money for it. But granny Xenia was considered as 'discomfort', and the landlady offered a discount for this discomfort, which was equal to the cost of the picture.
Whimpering Yana went barefoot behind the bed curtain. Granny stretched out her hands, and Yana dived under a patchwork blanket and snuggled up to the dry hot body of Xenia.
"O Lord, save," granny crossed herself, "Don't frighten the child. Don't cry but say after me and everything will be over... 'Give us this day our daily bread'"
"Give us this day," sobbing Yana repeated. The thunderstorm was raging. The picture of the room wa pulsing in disorderly rhythm of blinding violet flashes. It appeared and disappeared. The roar and thunder were heard. It seemed that the house was about to crack and split like an eggshell. Yana covered her head with the blanket and held her ears with her palms.
"Why are you raging like that?" granny grumbled at God. "You have frightened a little already, and that's enough. You'd better sent a rain. You'd better watered the kitchen garden. You know how it is to water it by hand."
"Give us this day, give us this day", Yana repeated it like an invocation. Spiny and burning hot granny's palm touched her wet cheeks and eyes, and her tears immediately disappeared and dried out. It was the same as to immerse your head into hay. And it smelt of hay.
"It' raining, Yanochka, it's raining".
The room was still pulsing and rumbling; 'something' behind the window was growling and tearing the darkness by its claws but Yana understood that it's not fearful already. It seemed as if 'something' was caged and separated from the world by a wall, and that wall was a monotonous noise behind the window; there were also sudden cool, smell and other calm and unshakable 'something'.
"Yanochka, fire and water are separated from each other. Fire runs and escapes from water. What rain it falls! If only cucumbers remained whole. O Lord, save cucumbers..."
"Granny, where is He, God".
"God, He is in heaven."
"And why doesn't He fall?"
"It's late, enough of it, Yanochka, it's a sin. Go to your bed."
"Granny, what is He like?"
"We can't know it."
Granny began to cough and wave her hands.
"Go with God's help... go."
Yana went to her already cold bed, with enjoyment stretched herself after lying in granny's tight bed and yawned.
The wind filled out the wet curtain like a sail. On the floor at the window a large puddle glittered. There in the yard the rain lived. The rain walked. He walked down streets by its wavy feet, sticking in wet clay and foaming puddles. Then the rain ran. He ran faster and faster pursuing the fearful 'something', which ran away roaring faintly. Yana imagined all of that and tried to imagine granny Xenia's God but she couldn't and fell asleep.
"For the health of our soldiers Habakkuk, Averkius, Abraham, Agabus," granny Xenia prayed muttering.
She asked to pull away the bed curtain so that there could be more light, tied her clean polka dot headscarf under her chin, put on her glasses with a cracked right glass. In her hand she had a church calendar.
"For the health of Ananias, Akepsius" she sings looking into the calendar.
"Mother, you are listing wrong names. Nobody is named so now."
It was Sunday and the landlady herself was at home. The sound of the samovar was heard. The landlady put dark slices of stewed beet into dishes. Mum gave Yana a true sweet in wrapper with a butterfly for the tea. A sweet wrapper was considered as riches that were even more expensive than a sweet itself. You could play with sweet wrappers, exchange them or change for colorful glasses, penny whistles, rubber balls; a good sweet wrapper could be changed for many things. Yana was happy.
"Maybe there are people who have such names. Maybe, there is such a soldier Ananias, and I can omit him. One cannot do so. And what names are there now?"
"Pyotr, Sergei, Vladimir, Victor..."
"Remember Arkady," mom said.
The silence was hanging over the table; everyone was looking at mom. The landlady's son Kolya advantaging of the confusion grabbed a handful of beet slices and pushed them into his mouth.
For some reason the landlady asked whispering. "Sonya, do you think he is alive?"
"Kolya was stealing the beet," Yana snitched but nobody paid attention to her. Then Yana also stretched out for the desired plate.
"Pray for Arkady's health, aunt Xenia," mom repeated. Granny stopped coughing and asked carefully.
"Maybe, for the peace of his soul?"
"For his health," mom was fearlessly smiling; she couldn't bear being pitied. The landlady's son Kolya again stretched out his hand for the beet but this time got a heavy slap and cried. Yana generously broke of a piece of her sweet for him.
"For the health of the soldier Arkady," granny Xenia was imploring.
"Granny, why are you so hot?"
Granny Xenia writhed and gasped. Her cough broke her yellow dry body; it crackled like an autumn leaf in the wind.
"I have a fever, Yanochka," granny tried to smile. I feel bad, Fire, fire is in me. Maybe, I'll die, God willing..."
Granny caught her breath.
"Yes, I will. Xenia will rest forever, be put into a coffin like a fianc?e in a white dress and covered with flowers, and my soul will fly away on silver wings...
Granny's eyes shone and she happily laughed.
"Yanochka, I have everything in store already. I have a white dress and I have sewn clean underclothes."
"Open and draw it out by yourself."
Her heart missed a bit. Here was the key to the cherished chest, from which granny Xenia drew yellowish photos, clews of many-colored threads, buttons, shreds of cloth, old letters and other crisp papers with and without seals, obsolete useless money, cheap glass earrings, beads, odds and ends. All Xenia's past life was there. It was mingled at random like a pack of cards and interested for nobody except granny herself who looked through this life of hers, being at death's door. There were leavings, fragments and shreds of once sewn dresses, peoples who once lived with granny and past events.
Yana was her only thankful listener and her friend, and granny told long stories about origin of one or another paper, things or photo not to herself, not to emptiness, but to her, Yana. For granny Xenia it was meaningful and blissful in her last days.
Shreds, rags and fragments are absolutely of no worth for reasonable adult people but they draw old people and children.
Yana stretched his insatiable palm into granny's life, fearing that granny Xenia couldn't change her mind and take the key back. Before granny's past became known to Yana by small portions, and the right of choice belonged to the owner of the chest.
Now Yana could know it completely.
"The dowry is here on the top in the cheesecloth - all I have prepared for my funeral," granny said inhaling hoarsely. "Be careful and not crush it up... Put the pillow under me...
In the changeable ring of light of the oil lamp, which was rushing around the walls and the patchwork blanket, granny Xenia at every attack of coughing laid out her white 'dowry', admired, stroked, smoothed it out by her spiny fingers, inviting Yana to look and admire.
The "dowry" is for birthday, for wedding day and for funeral day - it's the same word and the same color.
Mumbling something with delight and sneezing of naphthalene smell, Yana rummaged in the chest; her arms were in the 'treasures' up to her elbows, and on the very bottom there was something round, smooth and cold... Her fingers squeezed and drew out something. Oh, it was a bottle! Yes, it was the one with a sticker from the celebration table. It belonged to the landlady and disappeared from the table when everybody had gone to the yard to dance. The landlady searched for it, shouted, was outraged and suspected everyone: guests, Yana's mom and Yana herself... But that bottle was here. And wine was splashing in it.
The 'dowry', flowers and wine... the funeral clothes were sewn, flowers could be picked up, in the last resort there were paper ones, but wine was a hard-to-get thing now, and who knew whether they would be able to get it when a time would come to bury granny Xenia? Granny could be guided by these suggestions, and also she could filch the bottle from the celebration table because of her selfish motives to take a drink from it when she felt particularly bad. With some sort of tenth sense of hers Yana understood that it was indecent to ask granny Xenia about the bottle. And she hid it on the very bottom of the chest where it was before.
The kitchen was poorly lit; a clay bowl with tomato sauce was on the table. The cleanly washed burning hot cooker, the burning hot landlady at the cooker had a ladle in her hand. And those pancakes smelt so delightfully. The landlady artfully overturned pancakes by a knife, and they already had brownish crusts.
Yana become weak in her knees; her tongue was being covered by saliva and her eyes were in tears. She desired for pancakes.
A hot pancake got into Yana's hands. She could stick her teeth into it, crack its crust and, burning her mouth, swallow it without chewing.
"Dip it into the sauce."
She forgot about the sauce but the pancake was almost eaten; only a very small piece was left. And only now when the burning crust of the pancake was being softened by sour-sweet cool of the sauce Yana at last felt its taste until its last crumb was melt in her mouth. Yana was immersed into something forgotten from pre-war time. And right before her more pancakes were again being bubbled and becoming brownish.
" I know something, I have seen it," Yana said.
Now Yana was going to betray granny Xenia. She was going to tell that she saw that bottle in granny's chest. She did it in order to get another pancake, and she got it, dipped into the sauce and ate it up while the landlady scolded granny at the top of her voice and threw about rags from her chest. At these moments Yana was again there in the sunny kitchen garden among huge and warm fruits of the pre-war summer.
Bad, incomprehensible and distressful things began not immediately but later. Yana felt that she couldn't come in to granny Xenia though nobody forbade her to do so. And she was perplexed where this 'you cannot' had come from. Again and again she approached granny's bed curtain and went back every time. That was a hard and shameful punishment, which was devised by somebody unknown.
Yana comforted herself that it was not she but granny Xenia felt bad because Yana didn't communicate with her. Yana had the yard, grass, summer, sweet wrappers, colorful glasses, the dog Tobik, a neighboring yard and a junkyard where one could find whatever you want to. But granny Xenia lay alone behind the bed curtain; it looked as if granny was punished but Yana was not.
But when Yana was ran in the yard, played with Tobik at colorful shards or sweet wrappers and found in the junkyard whatever she wanted to, all the time she knew that she couldn't come in to granny Xenia, and this knowledge was like an illness, like granny's cough, one couldn't get rid of.
Granny Xenia lay on the table, being grand and unapproachable. She was in a white dress with flowers as she dreamt. Her wrinkles smoothed; the flush on her face was not in unequal spots as it was usual, but like a girl's in all her cheeks. She had a white funeral headband on her combed hair; her closed lips were also painted.
"She was like a fianc?e... she looked as if she were sleeping," women were whispering around. They didn't go away but wait; there were more and more people, and Yana knew what everybody was waiting for, and she herself was waiting with awe. Now granny Xenia was a chief person. Yana was proud and glad to be her friend. Also she was proud of granny that everything came true as she wanted, and a misunderstanding between them, this shameful "you cannot', was a trifle in comparison with what was going to happen now.
"Mammy, how will she fly?"
"Where will she fly?"
"To heaven, to God. The ceiling won't allow her to."
She won't fly; don't worry, my little silly."
"Don't you know she will fly to God? He is high in heaven, and so you can't see Him," asserted Yana.
The women near them approvingly smiled at Yana; they were clearly on her side.
"She will fly," repeats Yana. "She said so."
"Stop talking or go to the yard!"
The threat had an effect, and Yana became silent. But from the yard she couldn't see anything. And what about the ceiling? Maybe, it was necessary to open the window or the door?"
Mother was called to come to the other room to give valerian drops to the landlady who was 'out of her mind'. It was also something strange; what did it mean "out of one's mind'? And why was the landlady crying? Recently she asked God to take away granny Xenia as soon as possible. Yana herself heard it many times.
Yana came nearer Kolya who always knew everything.
"Kolya, why is she lying and lying?"
"And what must she do? She has died and is lying now," Kolya with a wearied look chewed a piece of chewing gum and spitted through his widely spaced and curved teeth. "Now she is being driven to the graveyard and will lie in the earth."
"In what earth?"
"In an ordinary one," Kolya stamped his foot down the floor, "They will bury her into a pit, and she will be lying."
"You story!" Kolya's inventions were so absurd that they made her laugh. "Why then flowers, a dress and all beautiful things are needed? Aha, you have told lies."
"As we have funerals, flowers must be too. And music will be played, and they will drink wine. They will bury her and then drink."
But mom and other woman helped the landlady to go out of the next room taking her arms. Yana can see her swollen face with unseeing eyes and completely freeze of her terrible inhuman lament.
"My dear mother, why have you left me alone? I will follow you to mother earth!"
Women around also lamented quietly, wiped their noses and eyes with brims of their headscarves.
Now Yana was also going to cry - mother called this weeping of hers 'eruption' - with ringing in ears and hiccup, with inexhaustible stores of tears that immediately wet everything up to hair and collars. She was going to cry not because she feared for granny Xenia, the landlady, mom and women wiping their noses. This was a lament-protest against horrible absurdity of the scene played by adults in her world where even several minutes ago everything was so reasonable and reliable.
Mum took her away and even gave up her Komsomol atheism. "Of course, Xenia will fly to heaven; she will fly from the graveyard at night when stars appear. To them will she fly, and they will show the way to her."
And Yana calmed down. On the day of granny Xenia's funeral, particularly after instructive words, said by a priest at the funeral repast, that death would take everybody from the earth, and sooner or later everybody would be buried at cemeteries, and God would surely take all those who believe in Him to His place in heaven, but the others will remain to lie in the earth forever, Yana made her choice in favor of God. 'Yes, He created everything. He can do everything what nobody can; he can stop a thunderstorm, help our people to win fascists and even to find somebody playing hide-and-seek. He is Sorcerer, the head of all sorcerers. All 'where from', 'why', 'when', 'where' and 'what for' that she began to ask to herself and others was concentrated and solved only in Him. He is always and everywhere; He is all-seeing, almighty and all-knowing.' From now on, before going to sleep she inwardly repeated by heart the mysterious Xenia's prayer, and then asked in her own words for mom's and already killed father's happiness. That the war should finish as soon as possible, that she should become grown up as soon as possible, and, of course, for comrade Stalin who led us to the victory and would defend mom from fascists who killed Jews. She got used to talking to God, and He would hear her. He rejoiced together with her, sometimes was angry, resented and forgave. "And may you always do well!" she prayed to God for God.