Ben is flying back home today. Back to what, Anna doesn't know. What can she offer him anymore? In the beginning she offered him exotic tales of growing up in the Flatbush projects, tales of a homely little Polish immigrant. She offered him daily blow jobs and Thai take-out every night. She offered him her world, a world of small but incomparable measure, a world where tanks rolled in the streets, where armed milicja jailed idealistic young men who fought for their freedom as their fathers and grandfathers had before them. She offered romance; it was all so incredibly romanticthe turmoil of a foreign country recounted by a Slavic-looking Marilyn Monroe.
In turn, Ben offered her a version of the New World, the uncomplicated pleasure of a boy who came from the average middle class. "I've got four brothers," he told her that first night, as the sun was coming up. "Jonah, Jefferson, Simon, and Samuel." Anna swooned over the Midwestern musicality of their names. She repeated the names in her melodious voice, tinged with the slightest trace of an Eastern European accent, as if reciting a stanza of an Emerson poem.
"Anna Baran ain't bad either."
"Well, it could have been Zdzis?awa." Anna laughed when Ben tried to repeat the word, his tongue twisting in on itself, his jaw clenched.
Last Monday, Anna had locked the door behind Ben and prepared for total isolation till his return. There would be no Thanksgiving in New York, but then again, there never had been. Her parents didn't partake in the turkey. Her father was firm in that regard. "I steal land from the Indian, I rob his everything and put him on casino war camps and now I eat like pig to celebrate? No fuck way!" So there was no one to bother her and she was free to smoke 147 cigarettes, take one shower, and come to the realization that Ben's absence has not brought fondness or longing, just dread.
At four-twenty a.m., the phone rings. The ashtray balancing on Anna's lap flies in the air and spills all over the couch. She scrambles to the table on the other side of the room. A phone call at four in the morning can mean only a few things. Dad, Anna thinks, it's Tato.
"Ania! Oh, Ania . . . !" Her mother, Paulina, is wailing on the other end, and Anna's heart explodes upon direct contact with the sound, a sound that pierces the silence of the room and has no business infiltrating the hush of night in such a sudden, earsplitting manner.
"What is it? Oh God, Mamo, what is it?"
"He's dead! O mój Boz?e, Anna, he's dead." This is the phone call that Anna's been waiting for since she was thirteen, waiting for on subways, in school halls, while playing Chinese jump rope, or taking a bath, or biting her nails like a zombie in front of the TV while her mother paced the dining room waiting for her father, Rados?aw, to turn up.
"How did he do it?" she hears herself asking before it all has sunk in.
"He didn't do it. Filip did it!" Anna's breath slows down and the walls stop closing in.
"Who's Filip?" Her mother is still crying, loudly, incessantlyand right now, in the midst of obvious confusion, it's infuriating Anna.
"Filip, Elwira's boyfriend! Anna, who do you think I'm talking about?" Anna doesn't answer but her mother thankfully plows on. "Justyna's husband is dead, he was murdered last night, in his own house. By his sister-in-law's boyfriend. Can you believe it?"
"Poczekaj! Wait. Just wait a fucking second, Mother! Just hold on, okay?" Anna breathes slowly, rearranging her thoughts, smoothing down the tabletop with her hand as she does. "Justyna? From Kielce?"
"Yes! Jesus, how many Justynas do you know? Her husband was stabbed in the middle of the night. Justyna's a widow. A twenty-six-year-old widow . . ." And now her mother is whimpering, mewling like an injured cat.
Excerpted from The Lullaby of Polish Girls by Dagmara Dominczyk. Copyright © 2013 by Dagmara Dominczyk. Excerpted by permission of Spiegel & Grau. 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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