Sunday, April 24, 2011

Issue Twelve, Volume One

From the Editor's Desk,
     Hello and welcome to the twelfth issue of Larks Fiction Magazine. For this Sunday we are featuring women writers with uplifting tales of life, death, and family.
     We would like to thank Terri Rochenski for sending us a link to Steady Pen ~ Wandering Mind which recently ran a blog entry about Larks Fiction. We appreciated the review.
     To all of you who are awaiting replies to your submissions, I will be reviewing them in mass on Tuesday (April 26th) and you should be getting e-mails by then. I am ecstatic about what I have already read and eager to read the rest.
     Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy this issue of Larks Fiction!
Daniel J. Pool

My Second Death
By Farida Samerkhanova

Steve was sitting on the bench in the park and did not seem to notice anything around. All suicidal people are like this. Separation with his girlfriend felt like the end of the world. I was sitting beside him. He neither saw nor felt me.

People should not want to die. I died in the fall of 1974 in the Soviet Union. Now they call it Russia. I was a student and lived in the campus. The campus was ten minutes away from the University. I could make it in five minutes if I ran.

In Ukraine he used to be Stepan. His girlfriend has just been deported after her refugee claim failed. First they took her to jail. Then they put her on the plane. They sent her back to Israel after ten years in Canada. He could not stop the removal. No money to hire a lawyer. He would have followed her, but he was not eligible for travel. He was desperate, like only very young people could be.

When I died, I had just finished school. I came to study in a big city from a small remote village. I did not speak Russian. I only knew the language of my fathers. It was so hard for me to study, but I was doing my best.

The sun touched the horizon. Steve headed to the subway station. What was in his mind? The best thing for him was to have a good drink. I had never had alcohol in my life, but I saw in the movies that people drink when they are upset. They say it helps.

The deputy dean was very obsessed with discipline issues. His people searched students’ rooms for vodka. We did not have drugs at that time, but students liked wine and vodka.

Steve was a handsome man. His girlfriend was lucky. I had never had a boyfriend. I was seventeen. I never kissed. I thought that maybe I could fall in love with Steve. He stood on the platform looking at the rails. Trains kept coming. He was thinking. I can get human thoughts, but not always.

Only big cities, like Moscow and Leningrad have subways. We had buses and streetcars. There was a streetcar line on my way from home to the University. If I ran, it was two and a half minutes from home to the line and two and a half minutes from the line to the University, or vice versa.

Steve’s hands were shaking. He was scared. He was sweating. I knew what he was up to. He was standing at the edge of the platform. The trains emerged from the arch, moving very fast. Streetcars in my city also ran very fast.

All of a sudden Steve saw me. I knew he did. His eyes were wide open with surprise. I know I looked funny in my old-fashioned clothes. No one else could see me. Others passed through me, as if I was made of air. He knew I was dead.

The subway trains rattle like streetcars. Metal against metal makes a screaming sound. I was running my two and a half and two and a half minutes’ distance. I knew the deputy dean was at the entrance with his notebook, registering those who were late. Afterwards the notes would go to the students’ council. If I were late for classed, I would not get my scholarship. The screaming sound was softened with my flesh.

I threw myself between the wheels and the rails. It felt exactly like thirty five years ago. Before I died again I looked at Steve. Now that he saw me disfigured he would not jump.

He would go home and Skype to his girlfriend. They would figure out what to do. When I was alive, we did not have Skype. And computers were as big as a wardrobe.

About the Author:  
     Farida Samerkhanova lives in Toronto, Ontario. She is a graduate of Bashkir State University (Russia). English is her third language after Tatarian and Russian. Her work has been translated into Russian, Tatar and Serbian languages. Her letters to the editor have appeared in Elle Canada, Canadian Stories and Canadian Immigrant. Her poems, short stories and essays have been published by more than 50 literary magazines in UK, USA, Canada and Turkey--and Larks Fiction.
      She is participating in a documentary film titled “Her Choice – Hijab and Beyond the Dress Code”, which is currently in production. 

The Secret Chest
By Claire Englewood
    I am a teller of tales, guardian of my stories.  They are the jewels I hold dear, the treasure that entices the generations.  With each retelling, they gleam brighter in the sunshine of truth.  With each visit of my family, I open the chest to share the treasure and in the sharing, the wealth multiplies.  It was not always like this.  I kept the chest was locked tight, secured with a heavy chain of pride and reluctance.  Let me tell you how that chain was cast off.  

    All I expected from that day in 1947 was to redeem my bond coupons at the bank, when suddenly there were two strangers at my door. She was like a ghost from the past, with the broken English and an accent singing of Austria, and he had the bearing of a military man with a mission.  On my step I looked at Mr. American Husband and his war-bride, a proud peacock with his dull peahen.  I could see she was my grand-daughter; she carried the face of my Janika on her, the same look her mother had worn of a creature caught between two worlds.  She would throw him a furtive glance when she spoke, expecting to have her English corrected yet still holding herself tight within, hardly daring to breathe the American freedom. 

    “Gnadige Frau, Honored Lady, I am Thomas Marshall and this is my wife, your grand-daughter, Ella.  When you last saw her, she was a child of three years old on her way to Austria with her parents, Janika and Hannes Perliner.  We are here to ask for your help to bring Janika back to America.” he said.  His voice was mild, respectful, but his unflinching eyes told me he would be persistent in getting whatever he came for. 

    I drew in an agonized breath.  I could not let these strangers see my surprise to hear that Janika was still alive after the war.  I shook my head, crossed my arms, lifted my chin slightly.

    “There is little I can do to help you.  Do you know that I have already done this once before, bringing Janika to America? How do you know she wants to return?   Janika and Hannes believed they would be better off in Austria.  My husband, God rest his soul, claimed her as his daughter so that she could became a citizen through his naturalization. When she met and married Hannes, they returned to Austria despite my wishes.  Matthias’ good will, the good name of Planck, our money, was nothing to her.  Why should I pay to bring her to America once again?”  I replied. 

    “Grossmutter, Grandmother, please let us in.  We do not come asking for money.  We only need information for the American consul in Vienna to allow Mama to leave.” Ella stood a little taller now.  “Mama has lost her papers to say she is an American.”  Yet another surprise, they didn’t want my charity.  What was wanted though, questions about the past, steeled my heart against her. But I could not let them stand outside my home for neighbors to see, to wonder about or whisper behind their damask curtains.  Once America had joined the war in Europe, merely the hint of my Austrian accent had led my neighbors to pass me by in the shops, eyes looking elsewhere. 

    “Perhaps so, yes, come in.  We’ll have some coffee and see what it is you want.”  After all, I was now a lady of wealth and knew the correct manners to go with it.  There was a curious new little glow ignited in the corner of my heart at the news of my long gone, war gone daughter.  

    “So, Ella – that is how you make an American name from your birth name?  When I held you at your christening it was Elsabe.  How is it you have returned to America without your mother?”  I poured the strong Turkish coffee, one of the few remnants of Austrian life I kept in my house.   

    “Grossmutter, there is perhaps much to tell you.  Elsabe is too German, there is much bad feeling for Germans in America.  The way I speak is bad enough.  No one here knows that Austrian is not the same as German.”  Her gaze remained on the carpet and her shoulders dropped as she considered her new beginning in America and the world she had left behind.   “I was in arbeitsdienst, Hitler’s youth camp in Burgenland when the Russians liberated us.  Mama was in Graz, in the American sector.  But because I was born here, I was turned over to the Americans and they brought me back.  Tom’s last duty as a soldier was to escort a group of women with American citizenship back – that’s how we met.”

    “My commanding officer is still in Vienna, and he is trying to help us with Janika’s case.  But he cannot find any birth records for Janika Planck.  How is that possible?”  Tom put the coffee back down, too strong for his taste I supposed.  I was mesmerized by him, much as I had been by Matthias.       

    “You with your grey eyes remind me of my Matthias, and you may be as persistent as he had been in getting citizenship for Janika just to please me. I had been forced to leave my daughter in her father’s home when I immigrated.  What we went through to bring her here, endless letters to persuade her to come, months of meeting with government officials, the bribe money to make sure she was accepted as his daughter.  I did not know how it would go, if she would accept me as her mother after nearly a lifetime of separation.”  I did not realize I had spoken aloud, remembering that sorrow. 

    Janika had been as unlike me as it could have been possible.  Where I worked to earn and build security, she laughed and lived for the pleasure of each moment. As I lived my life here as an American widow, she never became more than an Austrian immigrant.

    “Your mother left my home not long after she arrived here, she could not leave behind the  German culture.   She met your father at an Austrian Social Club and they were two of a kind, always out at dances, drinking and laughing. But he developed zuckerkrankheit, sugar disease, started to lose his toes and could no longer stand all day as a butcher. In 1927 he decided to take his family back to Graz to claim his mother’s estate, for better doctors and the life of a vineyard owner.  According to her letters, things became as hard for them as they had been for me at the turn of the century, much hard work and little to gain. The letters stopped coming just after the crash. So life continues to repeat itself; here you are, attempting to begin again a dance with government officials who ask for papers to bring Janika to America.”  The blank stares, the silence we sat through, told me they did not see any difficulty ahead.   

    “Here you can see the number and the date of naturalization papers for me and Matthias, written here in the Bible. But you begin a chain of events you do not understand.   We swore many oaths and paid bribes to claim her as Matthias’ daughter.  What will happen when your army friends tell immigration officials find out our deception?  They must only know about her naturalization, not her birth.”  I laid the Bible in front of them and sat back, arms crossed over my chest. 

    Then just like Janika, she sat up taller, tsked through her teeth twice, and finally looked into my eyes.  “Grossmutter, I can see this upsets you.  But it must be so, tell me please who is my grandfather?  Mama would never speak of her childhood, and father’s family would have nothing to do with us after he died.  Do you not know who was Mama’s father?”  My spine stiffened as I heard the implied accusation.

    “Please understand, Frau Planck,” interrupted Tom, “My family has trouble accepting Ella with no family background to speak of.  They fear there may be inherited illnesses, money troubles, criminal charges, other problems they can only imagine.  No one in our family has ever been born without knowing their grandfather or who their family was.  As a soldier, I know what many women did to try to become war-brides.  Ella is so worried, she cannot sleep at night.”

    At first, I could not speak for the rage within; how dare they demand to know my secrets, disturb my thoughts.  It was a typical American assumption, to suppose I had been a whore, a prostitute like the woman in that song the GI’s brought home to America, Lili Marlene.  

    But what’s done is done.  I took a long breath, poured myself another cup of coffee.  Isn’t this what Matthias would do, help with Janika’s return to America?  He had been the one to teach me kindness and forgiveness, what I had never known in my life before.  I thought, perhaps it is Ella’s right to hear this story.  Perhaps in knowing the truth of Janika’s birth, my grand-daughter will understand her good fortune to be an American wife.  Perhaps by telling stories of my life in Austria, any children they have will know to live well and be content here in America.

    “As I tell you, you must understand that it was a different time, my girlhood days in Emperor Josef’s Austria happened in a much different place.  You cannot expect that people in Austria then could live like people in America today.  There had been many food shortages; there was so little work for anyone. We were very poor; all of Austria was poor then, unless you were part of the nobility.  I left home at 14 to work at Castle Eggenburg in Graz as a servant.  There I slept on a real bed, had a warm room in winter; I ate better and had more than my mother could provide.  As I grew into womanhood I came to realize I had only traded being a farm slave for being a house slave.  I must every day keep my eyes on the ground, obey the Housekeeper, the Countess, and the Count.  But I also listened and watched well.  The Countess taught me how to stand, how to walk, how to speak the language of the city.  I remember her ways as I walk today among my American neighbors with my head held high.” 

    “In a year or so, I came to the attention of Ernst Krinner, who schooled and bred the famous lineage of Lipizzaner horses.  He was not a servant like me; he owned land and was paid to come in each week to oversee the workmen of the stable.  I thought if I could be his wife, I could become like the Countess, a lady with land and servants.  I had known from watching my mother who raised her family alone in poverty, that the key to a better life was owning land.  So when Ernst paid attention to me, I paid attention to him.  I did what any woman would do for a better life.  When I knew I was about to have a child, I went with him to meet his family with visions of taking my place in the new gentry.” 

    “Wait, you said Ernst Krinner?  I know this name.  Mama once took me to meet a woman named Marie Krinner … were they related?”  questioned Ella. 

    “Yes, Maria is his sister.  But he had lied about his holdings; his land was just a small patch, nothing to speak of, and his mother was as worn and tired as mine had been. She was cooking over an open fire in a 3 room hut with chickens running through it.  I had left this same life for the castle and I was not about to return to it!  So I returned that day and resumed my slavery – hiding my belly and not eating much, so as not to change dresses as my belly grew with your mother.  Ernst wanted me to marry him but I was determined I would not return to that life.  In the end, I had the baby at his house and gave my baby up to live with him and his mother.  She only knew that like many other children, she was fostered on a farm by a family who needed the help, and that her mother had to work elsewhere.”

    “You gave up your child?  Why would any mother do that?”  Tom sounded angry.

    “You see, you cannot understand.  I could not keep my child at the castle, and by then I had no home other than the castle. A mother alone with a child would be in poverty for the rest of her life.  And I had fallen in love with another man whose dreams of a better life matched my own.  There were only three directions for my life:  to be a single female servant at the castle, marry Ernst and live a peasant’s life, or join with Matthias to seek a new life.

     Here is a picture of my lovely Matthias.  He worked at the castle as a gardener and he wanted to be more than just another servant.  Matthias told me about America, where together we could live in a home of our own, where life was not dictated by the nobility who could tell you where you live or who you can be.  I wanted that kind of life so much, and I knew it was possible with Matthias.  My head and heart were filled with the desire to have for myself the kind of life only nobility live in Austria.  My child would bind me to the life I wished to escape, and so I left her with her father.  That is why Janika was born under my name, Janika Koniger.”  It was finally done; I had opened up that chest and handed someone else one of the jewels hidden inside, this one perhaps more like a piece of coal than a jewel.  I had finally told someone about my decision to put my own life ahead of the life of my child, and that decision still brought a lump to my throat.

    “Grossmutter, be calm.  This is not something only you had to do.”  Ella’s look at me was a look of acceptance, understanding and affection.  What for me had seemed a piece of coal, she smiled to accept a diamond.  “Mama had to do the same thing.  When my Papa died…”

    I interrupted, unwilling to hear what I had suspected.  “Did Hannes die in the War?  Did he join the Nazi Party? What happened?”      

    There were tears in Ella’s eyes as she remembered her joyful Papa and she had to resort to speaking in German.  “No Grossmutter, he died before the war from the blood disease after losing his leg. I was just a young child.  Mama lost the vineyard when he died and she could not keep us.  My two sisters were given up as fosters just after the Anschluss; one went to stay with Uncle Anton and one had to be hidden in a convent.  Mama is trying to find them again, to bring them with her.  I understand what you had to do; as you said, life repeats itself.   I can only pray it will never happen to my children.  Thank you.  Now that we know this, we can help them return to America.”

     I sat there, drinking coffee with my grand-daughter and her husband and that small glow began to grow larger.  I began to imagine a new dream, becoming once again part of a family and telling my stories to Ella and her sisters, perhaps in the years to come their children.  This bright shining diamond sat between us, reflecting our faces and giving a glimpse of other faces hidden within.  As Austria was now trying to rebuild with American help, my stories could help the Perliner family rebuild in America.     

    “So, now you know.  Do you want to know more?  Come back another day, grand-daughter, I will tell you about the rest of your family in Austria.  It was not all heartache and sorrow.  You carry the blood of artists, of hopeful and educated men and women who lived well in the old days.  But first, together we must bring my Janika back home.”

The End for Now

About the Author:
     Samantha Jubilee has been a working mother, a human resources consultant, and a reflexologist.  She has been obsessed with genealogy and historical fiction for a very long time, and has now begun to give voice to the characters that have been speaking to her.  She has had one poem published in Mused, and this is her first short story to be published.

     Thank you again for reading. I hope you will join us in our next issue on May 8th. We will be reposting an issue whose run was cut short on accident and then on May 22th we will be featuring works of Post-Modernism. We hope to see you there!

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