Chapter 5 continues

The story so far: Katka is “home sweet home” on the Range.

 

Looking at this aunt’s fleshy complexion made Katka feel even skinnier than she was. She was wearing her good dress from the old country, but she had been wearing it for three days. It was filthy. She did not need a picture glass to know that her face was covered with bronze dust and grime. Seeing this ruddy-cheeked aunt made her miss her own mother. She bit her lip to keep her emotions in check.

“Katka?” The aunt raised one eyebrow.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“You speak English. Impressive.”

“Some.”

“What a little thing you are! Like a little matchka! In English, the word is ‘cat.’ Like your name.”

“My mother, she called me matchka,” Katka said, smiling slightly.

“How could she not?” the aunt asked. “Well, my little matchka, I am Lilianna Kovich, your long lost teta. You are a most welcome sight! You have no idea! I have been praying to the Virgin to send me some help. And what did she send? This!” The aunt pointed to her stomach. “This little anarchist, rolling around all day long, kicking me in the back. But now my faith is restored, for here you are. I think we will be grand friends.” She leaned over and kissed Katka’s cheek, then grabbed her hand and started walking her toward the house. “We must get you some food. I made a cottage cheese strudel! And, I think, a good bath. I’m dying to hear your stories. You must have many to tell. I was born here, you know, so life for me holds no adventure. I envy those who do, even if it stems from tragedy.” Lily hugged her close. “I am sorry about your folks. So sorry,” she whispered.

“Enough, I tell you,” said Anton, coming up behind them. “Your constant chatter will scare the girl away, it will. You’re a gobec.” He put down Katka’s trunk and wrapped his arms around Lily, patting her stomach and kissing her several times on the side of her neck. Like her own parents, her aunt and uncle were as affectionate inside the house as they were reserved outside of it. “Like a magpie, my wife.”

“Shush, you.” Lily said, laughing. “Now that Katka’s here, you are outnumbered, Anton. Might as well wave the white flag.”

“Never!” Anton said. “Besides, soon, there will be two Kovich men in this house.”

“It’s a girl. Trust me.”

Anton carried Katka’s trunk up the two flights of stairs and to the end of the hall. Then he pulled the rope that released the passageway to the attic. He lumbered up, struggling with the trunk. She followed him and looked around at her sleeping quarters. A pine bed, a small writing desk and a lantern. “Will this do?” Anton asked.

“It is good,” Katka said. “More than good.”

“If you like, you can remove your things from the trunk now and I will take it somewhere so I can repair the lock. And I have a good place to store it, if you do not mind.”

Katka knew her lock was not broken. Another one of Paul’s mysteries. “That would be fine,” she said. She opened the cedar chest and removed the contents. She had her father’s Bible. There were two dresses and some undergarments, a tin cup, silverware and a plate she had needed on the voyage. The photograph of her with her brothers and parents when she was a baby, the coffin photos, a few letters and a rock she had impulsively stashed in the trunk. The picture of her and Paul was carefully hidden in her coat pocket. She had one more possession.

Katka removed the typewriter from Father Leo, which she had wrapped in a wool blanket. It was heavy, but she had grown used to carrying it and she placed it easily on the desk.

“You are a writer?”

“No,” Katka said. “But perhaps one day.”

Anton smiled. “I don’t like to think about one day,” he said. “If it is possible one day, it is possible today. Don’t you think?”

“I suppose,” Katka said. She liked this man. He had her father’s same sunken, coal-black eyes. But unlike her father, Anton’s eyes were alive. Her father’s eyes had always looked dull and weathered, even when he was laughing.

“I’ll leave you to explore. Lily will come get you when your bath is ready.”

She sat at the edge of the pine bed. The mattress was soft, and covered by fresh linen and two quilts stuffed with goose feathers. “I’ll just test the pillow,” she thought. Within minutes she was dreaming. Of Paul.

 

Tomorrow: Chapter 6 begins.