Friday, March 31, 2006


Happy Day

"I'll get it, " she said, picking up the phone.

"Oh, hi, Ellen. Yes, he's right here. It's for you. It's your sister Ellen."


"Hello. You know I forgot to send you a card for your birthday, so I thought I'd just call. So Happy birthday. I won't even ask how many. It reminds me. How are you doing?"

"Pretty well for an old guy, and you?"

"Good. Did you do anything special for your big day?"

"Well, we went out to a fancy restaurant and paid much too much and then the kids came over for cake. Not a bad day. I can still blow out all the candles"

"Lots of presents I bet. So what's new?"

"Not much. Still pretty much the same."

"Are you still in your writing class?"

"Yeah, I still enjoy it. Though it's funny you should ask. The project this week is to write about a pleasant day when growing up."

"Oh, that should be interesting. So what are you going to write about?"

"Well, I'm sort of stuck."

"Oh, I wouldn't be. If it was me, I'd know just what to write about. I'd write about the time Miss Anna wanted to adopt me. You remember the day?"

"Yeah, I do. I still remember seeing mom waiting for Miss Anna by the club house right after school and the two of them talking and then Miss Anna getting into the back of the car and leaving. The chauffeur just glaring at me. He didn't like anybody. Probably thought I was one of the kids that pulled those pranks on him."

"What pranks were those?"

"Oh, the time we put rocks across the road and he ran into them and damaged the car. Or the time we put the old wooden dummy on the road and he ran over it and thought he had killed someone."

"I didn't know you guys did that."

"Yeah, well anyway he just glared at me and then mom chased me home so I wouldn't hear what was being said."

"I never knew that. I remember going to Miss Anna's house and she showed me the room I'd have. It was the one that I showed you, the one in the upstairs, the corner one with the fancy curtains. You remember. When we went trick-or-treating."

"Miss Anna was very generous at Halloween. I still remember looking in the door and seeing the great big piano and the wooden floors and the rugs and the couches. No linoleum. You know we were never allowed to enter her house. I still laugh that we had to stay on the porch."

"But mom finally said no. At first she said yes. And I don't think daddy cared one way or the other. But don't you remember it all sort of died out after the day Miss Anna talked to mom."

"You were excited I remember. And all of us were excited for you. We even started thinking of new names for you. But I think you were going to stay with Ellen weren't you."

"Yes I think I was."

"But it was a great day. I'll always remember what you said when we were walking home after trick-or-treat."

"Hmm, I don't remember what I said "

"It was so funny at the time. Just think, you said. It could have been you giving out the treats and would I have thrown an extra nickle or dime in your bag? I always smile when I think of that. So have a good day."

"Well, I'll have to think of something to write about. Thanks for calling."

Copyright 2006 by John Fedako

Thursday, March 30, 2006


A Crowded Bed

We all referred to him as the 'Dummy'. He was a mute and had been all his life. It may have genetic, for his sister was also a mute. He was always able to communicate, perhaps because he taught us the signs that mean words to the deaf. He also taught us the alphabet. He was handsome, small and agile, though he walked with a forward leaning of his body as though he were anxious to get to where he was going. He always wanted you to stop and say hello if you met him on the road and if you didn't he would remind. Generally at the small community club we all belonged to. He would come in and stare at you, and want to know why you didn't speak to him. You would try to explain that you didn't see him, but it was no excuse.

He would tuck his thumbs under his armpits and extend his elbows outward and strut about the room, occasionally pointing at you and telling everybody that it was you who was the arrogant one for not speaking to him. Most everyone sooner or later apologized and he would clasp them around their shoulders and say it was all in fun. And they were forgiven. Although he could not speak, he was a wonderful mime. During the war, he gave his interpretation of Hitler and Tojo. How he would sneak up on them and kill them in their sleep. We all liked his pantomimes and asked him to repeat them.

He was lonely, I always thought, for all the guys his age were in the service. Because of his problem, he was not drafted. It must have bothered him not to be in the service. He was obviously healthy and the right age.

He and my brother were good friends. Perhaps because my brother took him to the whorehouses in town. He could not get in by himself, because when the madam opened the door and saw him standing there waving his arms and grunting and making gestures, she would become frightened and slam the door. I don't really know if that's what happened, but it must have been that way or we all said it was that way. Anyway he and my brother were great friends. And he was sad when my brother, along with the other guys his age, went to war.

While my brother was away, he always wanted to know where he was and was he okay. He seemed happy that my brother was safe and told me often that he was eager for my brother to get home.

Years before, when I only knew him as the 'dummy', he had come to our house to go swimming, but my brother was not home.

It was early spring then and I was in the back yard. The sun was hot, but the air was still cool. He stood beside me for a long time, only the birds chirping broke the silence.

"Where is Joe?" he finally asked using his hands to spell the words.

"I didn't know," I told him shrugging my shoulders and using the sign language.

"Was he coming home soon?" he asked pointing to his wrist where a watch would be.

I shrugged my shoulders.

He waved goodbye. I watched him walk away and he looked like he would fall forward, he leaned so much as he walked.

The first summer my brother was gone to the war, he came often to our house to ask about Joe's whereabouts. He always spoke to me, for no one else in the house could understand him and sometimes even I had a hard time making myself understood.

But he was patient and when I finally did make him understand, he would nod his head and smile and make grunting sounds that meant he understood.

We kids used to play around the old water tower. It had huge pillars to support the large tank and places for hiding. He must have been out for a walk and was passing by the tower and noticed me and came over and talked to me. It was nearing dusk then and the day was still warm and he asked me to go for a swim. I said it was too late, but he insisted.

From the tower we passed by Mrs. Winovski's garden. I saw the tomato plants and the red ripe tomatoes hanging from them. It must have been that our minds ran in the same vein for almost without asking each other we crept silently into the garden and stole some of the ripe tomatoes. It was getting dark but there was still enough light to see the fruit and he laughed as he grabbed the ripe ones. His laugh was loud and guttural and shrill and I cautioned for him to be quiet, but he did not listen. I was frightened and did not want to be caught so I grabbed him by the arms and pulled him from the garden. We had several tomatoes each which we ate as we walked to the swimming hole, an old abandoned strip mine that had filled with water.

I remember the first time I went swimming with my brother. There had been a group of us and we tore boards from an old shack along the way to build a bonfire. It was dark then and the fire made some light and kept us warm in the cool night air.

There were three sink holes that had filled with water. They were all in a line, following the coal seam that has been mined. We only swam in one of them, even though the other two were just the same. But for some reason, we never swam in them. There were bets that night as to who would go in one of the others which we had named the 'green dam'. No one would until they dared the dummy. It took some explaining to get him to understand what the bet was about. My brother finally made it clear to him and then dared him to swim in the hole.

He said he wasn't afraid, but he did not want to go.

"You're afraid," my brother told him.

"Not me," he said shaking his head. "I'm not afraid."

My brother waved his hand, meaning that the dummy was afraid. "Then why don't you go in?"

He said he wasn't feeling good.

"Big shot, you are. But you're afraid to swim in the green dam." My brother began laughing at him.

It was then that the dummy agreed to do it. We all followed him the green dam. It was almost dark then, but a sliver of moon reflected on the water and we could see the dam, set deep in the strip mine. Its edge dotted with trees and rocks and muddy. I had fished there once for catfish, from an old rock that jutted out into the water. We all stopped near the rock and waited for the dummy to dive in. We were all nude and clustered together under the large limb that overhand the rock. No one spoke, the silence mounted.

The dummy blessed himself and grunted something we couldn't understand and dove in.

"Jesus, he did it," someone said loudly.

We watched him strike out for the far side. We cheered and shouted, but he could not hear us. He cut through the sliver of moon that reflected on the water and we could hardly see him for the rest of the swim. The shouting stopped and we all watched in the darkness, the only sound was the splashing of water as he swam.

Then came the shout, a loud guttural shout from across the dam and we knew he had made it. I wanted to congratulate him by shouting, but I knew he could not hear, so I just remained silent.

We waved for him to come back by a path along the edge, but there was another loud splash and soon we could see him cutting through the sliver of moon.

When he came to the rock where we were all waiting, my brother pulled him out and we followed him to the bonfire. He smiled at us and we all asked how the green dam was.

"Good," he said rubbing his stomach and closing one eye.

"How was the water?"

"Good," he rubbed his stomach again. "Let's go there again." He grabbed someone's arm and began pulling him toward the dam.

We stopped him for no one wanted to swim there, even though the spell was broken. No one said any more about the swim and we let the fire go out and dressed and left for home. The dummy walked with my brother, their arms thrown about each other's shoulders.

But now I was alone with the dummy. The darkness deepening, yet light enough to see the road. All the tomatoes were gone, two partially finished ones thrown in the brush surrounding the swimming hole. We undressed and placed our clothes in piles, the shoes underneath and the pants and shirt on top.

There was a raft in the water, resting against one of the banks. The edge of the hole was wet and muddy and slippery. A tower had been built by some of the older guys and aside from the raft there was nothing else in the water. Sometimes when the older guys tried to touch bottom, they would bring up old burlap sacks that had been used for drowning animals, or else they would bring up old bottles.

There was a slight chill in the air, as the sun had long since slipped over the mountains that surrounded us. The dummy stood at the edge of the dam and cautiously dipped his foot in. Then he smiled. Warm he said rubbing his stomach and forming the words with his lips.

"You first," I said.

He nodded his head, but continued to stand there.

"What's the matter? You afraid?" I asked. Though I knew he wasn't.

"You first," he said.

I dove in and swam underwater for a while. When I surfaced and wiped the water from my hair and eyes, he was still standing near the tower. I got out and motioned for him to go in. He climbed up the tower, the top level. It was dark and I could hardly see him, but he began grunting and shouting and dove in. I waited for him to surface, but he didn't come up for a long time. I was getting scared, he had not surfaced for such a long time. Finally, there came a splash of water and I saw the dummy. His dark hair made him less visible, but I could just see him. He shook his head and began swimming to the shore. He was gasping for air as he swam. When he reached the edge, I helped him out, and he slipped on the wet mud and fell to his knees.

"Shall we make a fire?" I asked when he stood up.

"No," he shook his head.

We swam for a while, playing games in the water and diving from the tower. He was a funny swimmer, staying under for as long as he possibly could, so when he surfaced he was gasping for air. I became scared at times, when he stayed under for so long, for it seemed he would never make it to shore. I was always ready to dive in and help him.

It was dark when we were ready to leave. We dressed in the darkness and started walking home. There was no bright moon this night, the darkness was everywhere enveloping us. I was still a little wet and the night air was chill but as we walked I could feel the dampness disappear. It felt strange to be walking with the dummy. I was not able to speak to him, for it took light to see the words that he and I made with our fingers and hands.

He went out of his way to walk me home. Up the railroad track and through the small patch of woods and finally I was home.

I wanted to say goodnight, but I was unable to do so. He would not have seen the fingers or the hands and not be able to know. It was strange standing in front of the house and not be able to say anything. All I could do was to wave and watch him disappear into the darkness.

I did not see him a lot after that. He got a job at the colliery picking slate and he began spending his time at the local tavern. But when he did see me, he always asked the same question: "When was Joe coming home?"

It was a warm day in July when my brother came home on a leave. I saw the bus stop near our house and Joe get off and I ran as fast as I could. I was expecting a sailors cap and was anxious to get it.

I was out of breath when I got home. My brother was at the kitchen table when I came in. I said hello and where was the cap? He had forgotten to bring one for me. He would bring one the next time he came. I was disappointed and he noticed it and assured me he would not forget the next time.

"The dummy keeps asking about you," I said.

"What does he want?"

"I don't know. But he keeps asking about you. He's slate picking now."

"I'll see him later."

Then all of us talked about the war. My brother told stories about training and we were all proud. He looked good in his uniform. We were still talking as we sat around the kitchen table when suddenly there were loud sounds, grunting and shouts. The dummy was standing in the doorway. He came in and threw his arms around my brother.

"You look good," he said rubbing his stomach. "Good, good."

"Jesus, I thought you died," my brother kidded him.

"Me. No. I'm working now. Lots of money," he said patting his pants pocket.

"Big deal."

"No. we go out tonight."

"We go to the whore house." He made gestures with his hand.

"Not here, " my brother said. "Don't do that here." He pointed to my mother and sisters who were busy at the kitchen sink and had not see him.

The dummy dropped his head as if in shame. "I won't say that again."

"Come on ," my brother said, grabbing him by his arm and pulling him outside.

They disappeared around the corner of the house and were gone. I went to the club soon after.

I did not get home until late. My sister and her boyfriend were in the kitchen and my mother was there.

"Joe is going back tomorrow," my sister said.

"He just got home," her boyfriend said.

"I know, but it was just a twenty four hour leave. He has to go back."

"For long?"

"No, he'll be back again."

I said hello to her boyfriend.

"He'll be staying here overnight, "my sister said, pointing to her boyfriend.

"Why?" I asked.

"His car is broke and there isn't any busses till tomorrow."

"Take Joe's car," I said.

"He'll need it for tomorrow. He has to leave at five o'clock. You'll have to drive him."

"That's okay," I said.

"He'll need your bed," my sister said pointing to her boyfriend.


We talked for a while, my sister and her boyfriend. It was warm in the kitchen and the door was open and the coal stove was out, its lids a dull rust color now that they were cold.

I had been sleeping alone since my brother was gone. It was a large double bed and now I knew it would be crowded with me, my brother and my sister's boyfriend. I poured a glass of milk.

My sister went up to bed and her boyfriend and I just sat there and talked. He was soon to be drafted. I could see he didn't like that.

Then suddenly the screen door opened, its hinges creaking and then the grunts and noises of the dummy and my brother trying to quiet him.

They came in and said hello and sat down. The dummy sat next to my brother and watched him, a faint smile on his face.

"You going back so soon?" I asked.

"Yes. I'll be back in a few weeks for a long leave after I change stations."

"I'll drive you in. John's staying here for the night. His car broke down."

"We better go to bed. Five o'clock comes quick."

John went up and I stayed to finish my milk. My brother stood up and the dummy stood up.

"I'm going to bed ," he told the dummy. "You go home now."

The dummy shook his head 'no'.

"Jesus Christ," my brother said. "Don't tell me I'm going to have trouble making him leave, " my brother said quietly to me.

The dummy was shaking his head. "I sleep here with you."

"There's no room. There's three of us already," my brother tried to explain.

"I sleep here. I sleep on the floor." He indicated he would sleep by folding his hands like a person praying and placed then along the side of his chin and tilted his head slightly.

"There's no room," my brother said again.

"I go in with you to the train station."

"Okay. I'll pick you up in the morning."

"Maybe I miss you. I just sleep here."

"But there isn't any room." My brother was getting a little annoyed, but he could see he was getting nowhere.

The dummy just sat down and refused to leave. "Okay, okay," my brother said.

The dummy smiled and put his arms around him. "You and me the best of buddies."

He took his wallet and opened it. "If you were broke and I had money I would give you all I had. Everything I had. You and me the best of buddies."

My brother nodded his head. "You hungry?"

The dummy extended his thumb and first finger and placed them a little distance apart. A little the fingers meant.

I went upstairs while they began getting something to eat. John was already asleep and I crawled into bed in the near darkness. It was hot and I could not sleep. I lay there for a long time, the night light in the hallway casting some light into the room. The faint sounds of someone talking keeping me awake, even when I knew it was my brother talking and the occasional grunts of the dummy.

I must have dozed off, for the next thing I remember was them standing near the bed, my brother pushing me and crawling into bed. The dummy lay down across the foot of the bed. I was cramped in the middle.

The dummy and my brother must have been to a whore house, for I could smell the odor of perfume. The smell strong and lingering. And there was the light giggling of the dummy. For I could feel his stomach moving in quick ripples with my feet. And the odor of perfume was strong when I rolled toward my brother.

Then someone was shaking me. I awoke with a start. It was my brother. "Come on, let's go. It's time," he said anxiously.

I got up and dressed. John was still asleep and the dummy was rubbing sleep from his eyes. I said hello and he waved his hand. He was still smiling.

"How did you sleep?" I asked.

"Not so good. Too many feet.' He began mimicking the way feet had been hitting him all night. 'Sore, sore, " he said holding his ribs and stomach.

We ate eggs and coffee. My mother crying as she made the breakfast. "You sleep good?" she asked the dummy.

He shook his head "No." He again mimicked the way feet hit him all night. My mother began laughing.

The dummy and I went out to the car and waited for my brother to say goodbye. He came out in a few minutes. You could see he had been crying, his eyes were red. He got in the back seat and I drove.

"When you coming home again?" the dummy asked.

"Soon. A couple weeks."

The dummy smiled. We were silent for the rest of the trip.

The train station was quiet at this time in the morning. The train was ready, steam hissing from its cylinders.

A few people were milling around. My brother got out and said goodbye. I shook his hand. The dummy got out and hugged him then came back to the car. We watched as my brother got on the train, stopping before he got on to wave to us. We waved back and he was gone.

I put the car in gear and before I could let the clutch out, the dummy pushed it out of gear.

"We wait till the train goes," he said.

"But we can't see anything," I said.

He held the gear shift handle. "We'll wait, " he repeated.

I shut the engine off and leaned back in the seat. The dummy looked straight ahead. It seemed silly to just sit there and wait. I had no idea how long before the train would leave. And the dummy just sat there. He would not answer me when I asked again, but I knew he didn't want to go because he continued to hold the gear shift handle.

Then I could hear the train start. I motioned for him to look. He turned and watched the cars banging and the steam hissing loudly as it gathered speed. We watched until it faded out of sight.

The dummy's hand slipped from the handle. I started the car and drove home. We said nothing on the way back. I stopped at his house and again there was the strange feeling of knowing I could not make him understand. It was not the darkness now, perhaps it never was the darkness. He got out and though I did not look at him, I knew he was crying.

Copyright 2006 by John Fedako


A Cold Day

The coal stove was essentially out. Except for a few slightly red coals, it gave no sign of being alive and the lids were a pale orange-rust color. Mrs. Brenski came down the stairs, lifted the lids and gave a sigh, then became angry, for she uttered a soft curse and raked the fire, carefully adding a few pieces of coal and opening the draft. She sat down at the table, her arms folded about her chest, clutching the heavy coat close to her. Her hair was still uncombed, her legs traced with large varicose veins and her dress worn in places. She just sat there for a time, as though she were afraid to move, afraid that any movement would freeze her. When she finally she got up and opened the stove a faint smile broke on her face seeing that the coals were beginning to burn.

Outside the dawn was still gray, the dry cold snow pushing against the house as though it were trying to crush the wooden frame, blown there by the strong winds that still shook the oak tree and sent the creaking noise into the house, through the many cracks in the worn window frames. The curtains rustled. Occasionally bits of snow blew against the window panes and she clutched the coat closer.

The fire was catching. It glowed in the center of the fire box, surrounded by white ashes. She closed the lids and moved the coffee pot over the hot coals. She then called Stiney after looking at the clock above the kitchen sink and seeing that she had wasted time and he might be late for school. He answered and soon came down the stairs. He was dressed in a T-shirt and trousers. He seemed older than his fifteen years. He was now the man of the house since Mr. Brenski had gone. He tried to warm himself at the stove, but there was still no heat from the fire.

"Why isn't the stove burning?" he asked.

"Was almost out when I come down."


"Go in the parlor and dress. It's warm there from the furnace. "

The parlor, was located just above the coal furnace. He dressed standing over the register, the warm heat from the furnace dry and comforting. He shivered, feeling the cold leave him.

The stove was still not hot enough to warm the pot of coffee left from the night before. She added a half shovel of coal on the fire and sat down. She did not seek the warmth of the parlor, but stayed in the kitchen, watching Stiney make himself toast, dress in a heavy coat and leave for school. She watched him as he walked down the path that led to the school bus stop, checking that the door was shut tight when he pulled it closed behind him. She could hear his shoes grinding in the cold dry snow as he walked, the sound odd like the crunching of ice. Soon Helen and Joe came down and they left after they had a meager breakfast of toast. She did not offer to make them breakfast, and they went about the task themselves. They were younger than Stiney and went to the local grammar school, as had her other seven children, who were now married and gone.

It was only after they had all gone to school, after she had scolded them for not buttoning their coats, explaining that they would catch cold and then complain to her for not watching after them, that she noticed the coal buckets were empty. She hurried to the window, but all of them were out of sight and she uttered a curse for not asking them to fill the buckets and cried to God to deliver her from this hard life.

But it was short lived, this plea to God. She checked the stove again. It was now burning brightly, the small heap of coals, surrounded by pale white ash, glowed, hungry for more fuel.

She took just one of the buckets and went down to the basement, holding the bucket in one hand and trying to keep the coat closed with the other hand. It was colder in the basement. She came down the steps one at a time, moving sideways for the steps were steep. She added coal to the furnace and was satisfied that it was burning just right. She filled the bucket slowly, pausing to let the dust settle after each shovel full, watching the small clouds rise and then descend over the coal. It was not hard work, but each time she bent over, her face reddened from the rush of blood that came to her face.

The bucket was heavy for her and she carried it with two hands, letting the heavy coat open a little. She carried the bucket in front of her, lifting it from one step to the next, her breath coming in short gasps.

Halfway up the steps, she felt the warm sensation in her nostril and upper lip, like the running of mucous, and she wiped it with the back of her hand. At the stove she again felt the warm trickle of fluid in her nostril and lip and this time when she wiped it, she saw the blood, smeared over the back of her hand. She hurried to the sink and bent her head over and let the blood drip into the sink. It came slowly, drop by drop. She felt frightened at first, then decided to let it run until it stopped, murmuring to herself that her blood was no good, having been worn out by the bearing of so many children. The blood continued, the sink turning a bright red and her standing there crying. "Oh God, take me away from this hard life...I wish I be dead."

The wind still sent gusts against the house and the mournful sound it made as it passed over the chimney echoed in the kitchen. The stove was burning, but still did not give off enough heat to warm the kitchen. She shivered each time the wind moaned at the chimney or when bits of driven snow banged against the windows. The morning was clear now. The sun peeking through the hanging clouds, like ominous symbols. She turned the cold water on and letting it run, washing the blood away. The bleeding was still slow, the splatter of each drop, turning pale pink in the running water. She decided to wait until it would stop of its one accord.

She was alone. There was no pain, just the drop, drop of blood. She did not move from her position, occasionally a tear mixed with the blood which she did not wipe away. There was a knock on the door. She remained silent until the knock came again. "Come in, " she said loudly, not turning her head. Mrs. Winovski came in carrying an empty cup. The heavy man's working coat was buttoned tightly at the neck and the felt boots were sprinkled with snow. She stopped inside the door and wiped the snow from the boots on the door mat.

"Kathy, I be like to borrow... ," she began and seeing that something was wrong, hurried to the sink. "Kathy, what's the matter?"

"Only God know. Maybe now I die and be rid of this bad life," she said not even looking at Mrs. Winovski.

Mrs. Winovski was frightened at the sight. "No talk like that Kathie. It's a big sin to talk like that."

"Blood coming, that's all. My blood no good anymore. I hope it all come out and I die. This house so cold."

Mrs. Winovski raked the stove, added some more coal and opened the draft to speed up the fire. "Every place is cold Kathie. My house cold too."

"No tell me that. I was in your house and I know it not as cold as here." The bleeding had almost stopped and she had taken an old dish rag to her nose. She still cried, the sobs choked in her throat and she sniffled, bringing back blood and mucous.

"Well you have to keep the fire going."

"It was almost out when I got up this morning. Too much wind. " She said wiping her eyes with the dish rag as she sat at the table.

"I fix the stove for you now," Mrs. Winovski said. "It should burn good now." She sat

opposite Mrs. Brenski.

"You wanted something? "Mr. Brenski asked.

"I no have coffee. You could lend me some?"

"Taken how much you want. It's there in the cupboard."

Mrs. Winovski filled the cup she had brought from the canister. The coffee was

beginning to simmer and she moved it off to the side. Mrs. Brenski still sat, hardly noticing her as she went about the small chores.

"How this happen, Katie?"

"When I coming up from the cellar with the coal."

"Why you no ask Stiney to get the coal?"

"See how my head is gone. I no can remember anything no more. Everything is worn out from this life. I forget to ask the children to get it."

"Did you lose lots of blood?"

"I no know. It come out like a river."

The plaintive wail of the wind sounded, sending little spirals of snow past the window.

The oak tree groaned, its branches creaking in the strong gusts of wind. In a previous winter one of its branches had broken during a heavy wet snow.

She rinsed the rag at the sink. The bleeding still continued. She wiped her face pressing the rag firmly to her nose. Mrs. Winovski took some cold water and patted her on the back of her neck. "That help," she asked softly.

"Nothing going to help. My blood no good."

"Oh, no talk like that, " Mrs. Winovski scolded.

"You go and lay down. Be best for you." She continued.

Now, having helped her get up and walk to the parlor, Mrs. Winovski felt a touch of pity for her. "You lay down, I call the doctor."

She buttoned her coat and on the front porch she shouted for Mrs. O'Brien. Presently, a young woman appeared from a house across the road.

"What do you want?"

"You call doctor for Kathy."

"What's the matter?"

Mrs. Winovski explained the bleeding.

"Which doctor does she want?"

"Call Ryan," she said.

She waited outside until Mrs. O'Brien went in. The snow still pilled into drifts along the wooden fence, along the house and the old oak tree. The countryside looked barren and bleak, the bare trees looked black against the clean white snow.

Mrs. Brenski looked up at them as they came in the parlor. Her eyes red from the crying and her face streaked with bits of blood.

The two women got her to lie down on the sofa.

"I'll call the school, for Helen and Joe," Mrs. O'Brien said. Stiney was in high schol which was too far away and he would have to wait for the bus. When she came back, Mrs. Brenski had quieted and they sat with her until the doctor arrived.

He was small and wiry and moved in a nervous manner. The smell of medicine surrounded him. "How are you doing, Katie?" he asked.

"I think I going to die, doctor."

"Now, now, don't talk like that. You'll be 'dobrie'," he said using the bit of Polish he had picked up from the long association with the coal miners. "You'll be better in a few days."

"No fool me, doctor. I think I going to die." She began crying.

"Now, how can I fix you if you cry, " he said trying to be stern.

"I no care anymore what happens to me. I be better if I be dead. Then I have a good rest from this life."

Mrs. Winovski stayed after the doctor and Mrs. O'Brien had gone. He had packed her nose with gauze to stop the bleeding and gave instructions for what to do until he would come back tomorrow. She waited until Helen and Joe returned and explained what had happened and what to do to look after their mother.

"I come back later."

When Stiney returned he knew something was wrong as soon as he entered the house. He could see the bloody dish rag in the sink and smell the alcohol and medicine and knew the doctor had been there.

"Oh, Stashu, I going to die," she said to him, her voice was full of fear.

"What's the matter?" he asked anxiously. He could see the bandage and her pale face and was scared.

"I going to die," she repeated.

"No you're not."

Helen and Joe repeated what Mrs. Winovski had told them.

"Was blood coming out like a river. The sink was full and still it come out."

"The doctor said not to worry. It'll be okay, " he tried to act calm.

"Look, he pushed and pushed stuff in my nose. Maybe a pound."

"You'll be okay."

"Sometimes I no care. I thinken I dead long time ago." She did not look directly at Stiney as she spoke, but there was a dreamy look in her eyes, as though she were remembering some happy past.

Stiney paused as he left the parlor and looked back at her. She did not notice him leave. He fried some eggs for supper which he and the children were eating when Mrs. Winovski returned. She still wore the man's coat and gray felt boots.

"How's mom? " she asked.

"Good," Stiney replied.

"Well, you must help her now. Help her to the bathroom and food." She sounded like the doctor.


"Give her some soup. You have soup?"


"Well, I bring some over later."

"What did the doctor say?" Stiney asked her.

"She's going to be okay. She needs some rest that's all. He will come back tomorrow."

After he and the children finished their supper, Stiney continued sitting at the table. He did not notice his mother stir and get up. She struggled getting to her feet, the loss of blood having weakened her, and using the wall for support, she slowly managed to make her way to the kitchen. She hesitated at the doorway that separated the rooms, her hands pressed firmly against the wall. Stiney jumped up when he saw her. "Don't do that. Let me help," he almost shouted at her.

She did not answer him, but smiled like a child caught doing something it should not do.

There had not been a great emotional attachment between her and the children. Maybe it was that there were too many, or maybe she was just tired. She looked after them as best she could in material things, but mostly they were on their own. They cooked their breakfasts and even sometimes washed the clothes. She did not kiss them and they had grown up without great physical contact with her. The older ones, married and gone, came home just for short visits, but very rarely.

Stiney followed after her as she walked slowly to the bathroom, and then she returned to the sofa.

"I think I going to lay here for a long time, " she said.

"Would you like something to eat?"

"I could be eat some soup. But there is none."

"Mrs. Winovski is bringing some."

"Still snowing outside?"


"When we was little kiddies, we used to have wooden sleds. My father used to make for us. Was nice then to go on the big hills and ride." She had that dreamy look.

"I hear Mrs. Winovski coming," Stiney interrupted her. He had heard the stories before.

It was beginning to darken, the gray sky cast shadows on the clean white snow and he could hear the crunching sound as Mrs. Winovski returned with a pot of soup.

He poured some into a large bowl and sat down next to the sofa, holding the bowl in his lap. She had fallen asleep, her breathing easy and rhythmic, a smile on her face. "What, what," she awoke suddenly.

"I have the soup."

"Why you wake me?"

"I have the soup."

"I was dreaming so nice. I was in this place and everything was so nice and green and warm. Was angels there and they showing me how nice this place was and they was going to leave me there, but I did not want to stay. Was on this big high mountain, and they carried me up and everything was getting nicer and I was so happy. I think I was crying, I was so happy. " She hesitated, a tear rolling down her cheek. "But I no can tell you how nice it was. I no can remember everything now, but it was so nice. Then we almost there when you waken me. " She looked straight at the ceiling, a pleasant smile on her face, as though she did not know Stiney was there.

"Don't you want the soup?" Stiney held the bowl out to her.

But she had fallen asleep again, the smile still on her face.

He could not bear to waken her again. He sat there until the soup got cold, but he could not bear to waken her, and outside the old oak tree groaned as though it were crying for the limb it lost years ago.

Copyright 2006 by John Fedako

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