"She is very beautiful," the Pigeon said, and he brought the milk pail of Sunday dinner into the sheep hut and set it down on the bench. His brother followed.
". . . maybe a book, sometimes she reads to me, yes, she is very beautiful, isnt she, more beautiful than mama, dont tell mama that, but do tell mama that I like the socks she knitted me, it is very cold up here this summer, not during the day but at night, and Pan Hetmanski brought extra blankets up last week, he is very nice, and they have two dozen sheep, but it is strange that they do not live in a nicer house, it is just a hut over in Half-Village, nothing special, our house is much nicer, I think . . ."
Sometimes the talking could go on forever.
The thing was to act, and the Pigeon knew just what to do.
Throughout history, from medieval workshops to loft rehabs in the E.U., we Poles have always been known by our zlote raczki, our golden hands. The ability to fix wagons and computers, to construct Enigma machines and homemade wedding cakes, to erect village churches and American skyscrapers all without ever opening a book or applying for permits or drafting a blueprint. And since courting a beautiful girl by using a full range of body parts has only recently become acceptable, in the spring of 1939 the Pigeon made the solemn decision to court Anielica through his hands. Specifically, he vowed to turn her parents modest hut into the envy of the twenty-seven other inhabitants of Half-Village, into a dwelling that would elicit hosannas-in-the-highest every time they passed.
Besides Jakub, the Pigeon had eight sisters, who had taught him the importance of a clean shirt and a shave, and so the next morning before dawn, he donned his church clothes, borrowed his fathers wedding shoes, and made the long walk over two hills and three valleys to the Hetmanski family door. He knocked and waited patiently on the modest path, overgrown with weeds and muddy with the runoff from the mountain, until Pan Hetmanski finally appeared at the door.
"Excuse me for bothering you so early in the morning, Pan, but I was wondering if Pan wouldnt mind if I made some improvements to Pans house. For free, of course."
"You want to make improvements to my house?"
"And what did you say your name was?"
"Everyone calls me the Pigeon."
Pan Hetmanski stood in his substantial nightshirt and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "And exactly what improvements did you have in mind?"
"Well, take this path for one, it could be paved . . . and there could be a garden wall to keep out the Gypsies . . . and glass could be put in these windows . . . and a new tin roof, perhaps."
Pan Hetmanski suppressed a smirk. "For free, you say." Another man might have been offended rather than amused, but Pan Hetmanski was a highlander and not a farmer, and thus more concerned with enjoying his plot of land than with working it. Besides, there had been enough young men lurking around lately to make him aware of what the Pigeon was up to, that the request was not to work on the hut, but to work somewhere in the vicinity of his fifteen-year-old daughter, Anielica. At least this one had the decency to come to the door and offer something useful.
"And how do I know you will not make rubble of my house?"
"If you would like to see my work, I can take you to my parents house. I did a complete remont last summer."
"And you will work for free."
"And would this have anything to do with my daughter?"
"I will leave that up to Pan. In time, of course."
"Im not going to help you with any of the work."
"Of course not, Pan."
"And if you touch her I will throw you off the mountain and let the wild boars gnaw your bones."
"Of course, Pan."
"And if you make up stories about touching her, I will cut out your tongue and my wife will use it as a pincushion for her embroidery needles."
Excerpted from A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka. Copyright © 2009 by Brigid Pasulka. Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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