Thursday, December 23, 2010

From the Baltic (a short story by D.L. Siluk)

From the Baltic
(An Eight Part Story, based on supposition and facts)

((Part One —1901; at the Cafe) (part one of six))

He did not know it was a restaurant at first, he was only eight-years old, it was 1901, and his father had taken him to Grodno, a small town close to the boarder of Poland in Russia (or what was often referred to as Russia, but was really the Baltic region, and belonging more to Poland and Lithuania, than anyone) from his family’s countryside farm. But he’d not forget walking through those doors the first time, and his father outwardly being known by all the patrons there. All saying:
“Hi, Yulie, how’s it going?” just nice old fashion greetings, that’s all it was, but they make for lasting memories. It was his first trip to Grodno, and as I mentioned, his first in the restaurant for that matter.
Most of the folks in the restaurant were having soup, a few with a bottle of vodka hidden under their coats, pouring it into their coffee. Mostly they were older men, a few business types, no children; Anatolee was the only child he could see. His Papa pulled out a cigar, and like a few of the others in the ресторан (guesthouse or restaurant) filled it up with smoke. The tables had very solid looking wood to them—hard oak, but his papa didn’t sit at the table, he pulled out a stool for himself and one for Tony, and Tony imitated his father as they both sat down, Tony putting his elbows on the long stretched out wooden bar.
“Молоко, пирог” (“Milk and pie for the kid,”) Tony’s father told the person behind the bar (in Russian), as the barkeep told the waitress down a ways from the bar, “And for me, just coffee with a shot of vodka on the side, that’ll do.”
Tony noticed the waitress pull the milk out from under the counter, it was warm milk in a bottle; it was how they drank it normally. Then she took the top off and poured it into a glass, and cut the pie in sections, giving him no more or less than the other pieces, pulling out a fork, and then delivered it to the хозяин (the owner and barkeeper), and onto the boy. Yulie had already gotten his coffee and vodka.
All of a sudden approached a short fat little man, half balled, cigar in his mouth,
“So Yulie, is this the oldest, the one you told me about, the tailor to be?”
“Sure is Ivan,” said Yulie with a smile, and then introduced his son to him properly. Anatolee was a bit taken back, he didn’t know he was going to be a портной, -ого (tailor) someday. He thought what a good surprise, ‘Papa was thinking of me.’

It was a trying time for the country, a revolutionary spirit was in the air, and work was not plentiful, and a trade was the best way to insure the boy could make a living and Anatolee (also called Tony and Anton for short) would practice at this trade in years to come.
This day would remain in Anatolee’s head all his life for some reason it had taught him if anything, that one had to look at long term goals, instead of short term gains; that is to say, one must not grab, before he leaps, or go forward in life without a plan.

The Roof
((Part Two; 1915) (And the Lithuania Connection))

(Summer of 1915) Anatolee was born on a farm, in a cottage, in a region known as: Lithuania (part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, after WWI, it became part of Russia and now is independent again), whom would move forty miles east of Grodno, in what now is considered Belarus, in 1893, in what was then—more or less then, the wastelands, one might say, in the Baltic area. It was the first of July of his twenty-third birthday, when he leaned—nonchalantly leaned against the small three room wooden house on his parent’s farm, watching his father Yulie fix the roof. He was much like his father—like to like you might say—both working with their hands: both hard silent workers.
Consequently, his father was preparing the roof and then he slipped and fell, it would seem it knocked the senses out of him for a moment, this was somewhat of what was surmised by observation of the tragic event by Anton: in essence, Yulie had tried to secure his footing while hammering a nail into a slack board on the roof, of the farm house, and in doing so, he slipped—slipping as quickly or quicker than the eye could register the whole event: that is what took place, happened: falling onto the ground—losing his breath, and only a minute short of his death (Anatolee had never looked death in the face before; he was not prepared, but in the words of the warden of death itself: ‘…no one knows the day or hour…’ how true this was today).
Anatolee for a moment, just a short moment, stood staring, gawking with his mouth opened, wide-eyed and confused—in good earnest, he was in shock, disbelief (his mind was likened to a pile of shattered glass); then pandemonium took place, the whole family gathered around the inactive body as Anton’s mind would recall. Anatolee’s whole entire world had come crashing down on him, as he sunk to his knees, dropped to the ground screaming his father’s name.

—A year later

The year was now 1916, the area was impoverished, no jobs, little to eat, and the countryside was in the mist of war and revolution; Anton was the oldest brother of the three that lived on the farm. He had never been very far from home, but now his mother approached both Anatolee and his bother, Sergei to advise them, and give them money for a trip. Anatolee would be the one to go to North America, and his brother Sergei, to South America.

Across the Neman River

(Part three: 1916; The Escape)

Anton’s mother threw her arms around Tony’s neck, pulling him until his face was pressed tightly against her cheek (it was 1916, and WWI was in full strength, and it was winter, and the Russian Army was going from farm to farm and taking all the younger males off to war, leaving the youngest or the oldest at (depending, how young the youngest son was, and how old the oldest son was and how many sons there were) at home, or the only son if there was only one: leaving them to take care of their farms, and livelihood of the family, Anton’s father had died that fall, had fallen off the roof of the house while repairing it.)
“I’m afraid, Anton!” she whispered, unable to keep back her tears any longer, “I’m so afraid if you do not get out of here…” and then she hesitated, and said, “—I hear Grodno is occupied by Germans, you got to find your way to Warsaw and then America, or you and your brother will be stuck here, and they will simply take you anyway along with Sergei, and put you both in the front lines and be killed in this silly war, but you got to go through Grodno!”
“There’s really nothing to be afraid of, mother!” he replied, rubbing her back with the palm of his hand, tenderly.
“I’m still afraid if you don’t get going, Anton, they may come back and you’ll not be able to leave, and stuck here in the Russian Army, or taken captive by the Germans, or put into the Polish Army, and God forbid that happens—find away across the Neman River, or hop a train—go to America, and have your brother go to South America.” She continued to hug him desperately. “I’m so troubled—that I’ll never see you again, Anton, but it is better for you and your brother to go. I’ll go to Warsaw as soon as the war is over, send me mail here, and let me know where you will be, and I’ll let you know where I’ll be in Poland.”
He kissed her, “Don’t be frightened,” he said, “nothing will happen to me, and I’ll do as you ask, and I’m clever enough to handle these military rats.”
She hugged him even tighter, with all her strength, pressing her lips against his cheek, and then she pushed herself back and away from him, and went to the door. Anton’s brother who had been waiting outside heard the door open (she had already said her goodbyes to him), and before she could say another word they were nearly out of sight, far-off near the woods, she’d have to yell, and she dare not.
She stayed put, just standing there for a long moment in time trying to absorb what just took place, that she had just lost two sons—to the new world order to be; perhaps she was saying to herself: are they really gone, never coming home again, maybe looking at an empty dining room table.

Everything seemed so quiet in the cold winter outside, as she stood with the door opened looking into nothingness, face towards the woods. She didn’t know how long she stood there, a minute, or maybe ten-minutes, or longer, but all of a sudden standing in the arch of the opened doorway, her ear picked up a sound of footsteps.
A soldier came around the corner of the house, gripping his rifle in both hands. Somewhere in the far-off distance, perhaps still in the woods, between the farm and Grodno, with heavy boots on, crouching through the snow, were here two boys, Anton, twenty-four years old, his brother, twenty-two. There were no lights to guide them, and in all directions there were soldiers, and farms and the woods, and roads.
Right behind the soldier who was gripping his rifle, she heard other voices. She knew she’d have to give them a false story concerning where her two boys were, and then they’d put sentries on all sides of her farm, waiting to see if they’d return, but without waiting any longer she began slowly backing away from the door, moving silently over the wooden floor, as she left the snow outside.

The Russian soldiers were pacing back and forth with a slow but heavy gait. An officer was talking to one of the soldiers, the one who had been gripping his rifle. He was mumbling something to him, in a chilled low voice, perhaps about the cold, or snow and then took out a piece of paper, then dropping his hand with the paper gripped, to his side, he approached the door, and had sentries nearby ready to be posted, and then came the knock on the door. She wondered with a sudden rapid filch—a thought: what am I going to say. And the knock came again. She could hear the officer beating his arm against his side to keep it warm, cursing the cold. She was not certain where her boys would be by now, but she deliberated they were far enough somewhere, wherever—from the house. She was mad that these men came to enslave her boys, for a war they never started. If they had come as friends, she would have run to the door to open it. She knew this was just the beginning. The officer had been glimpsing through the window, and she knew he had already seen her, and as he reached for his pistol, she opened the door, and she was glad he had put it back into his holster.

The Homespun Lie

(Part Four: 1916; the confrontation with the Russians)

She felt no hatred in her heart for these soldiers: her Christianity compelled her to do nothing, other than, allowed them to confront her, to show little, if any resistance. She knew if they saw hatred inside of her eyes, it would have sharpened his senses and prevented her boys from accomplishing what they needed to accomplish, escaping the farm to go to the Americas. She knew they were moving step by step closer to Grodno—and that the young officer’s revolver was firmly planted back into its holster, this was some kind of reassurance. She felt sorry for them if anything. They were all young men, too young to lose a whole life in a silly war over what: another man’s self-interest, or pride, or revenge? She was angry that she would have to lie to them, or allow her boys to be kidnapped for the good of mankind, so she had read in the paper. They all had a long life left in them to live, if allowed to live it.
While she gazed at the young man’s face she felt no remorse for the lie she was about to tell, but all the same she felt sorry for him—if this war had never been started by some young fancy rich aristocrat over in Serbia with Austria, Anton might still be working in the fields, or as a tailor in Grodno, instead of saying they both had died someplace in Russia or Poland, taken earlier by soldiers, Polish soldiers (as not to blame the Russians). She said their bodies were someplace in Russia or Poland, or Germany frozen in the snow—dead, so she was informed, and until spring, she’d not know exactly where, then thawing would come about…. But of course none of this did happen, and the young soldier said in return, “Yes, I understand, but since we have come, it is best we stay a few nights in case they return from the dead.”
His face painted a terrifying picture of what could be expected if indeed they (the two Siluk boys) were captured, and her statement proven to be a lie. And she knew what to expect, first of all her home would be burnt to the ground, the fields taken away from her, and perhaps her and her youngest son sent separately to some Siberian prison or concentration camp as a political prisoner, she had read of such things in the newspapers.

The young officer searched the house carefully, but found nothing of interest, examining half a dozen jars of jam, and some fish in a frying pan ready to be cooked. He stood close to the heat of the fire in the hearth, “So where is your younger boy?” asked the Russian Officer, then he grabbed a jar of jam, and stuffed it into his pocket, didn’t wait for the second lie, and he left the house, and hurried to the back of the house to eat the jam with his fingers.

The Abandoned Barn

(Part five: 1916; The Road to Grodno)

When the two boys reached the clearing of the woods, they stopped and waited and looked about, it was getting dark, and the cold of the snow was seeping through their leather boots. They saw an abandoned silo, it was a dilapidated structure, once belonging to a farm, the farm now had been removed evidently—or blown to bits by the Germans; around the dwelling were crows, and the closer they got to the structure, rats were running to and fro—the whole silo was weather-strained.
They approached the barn cautiously, as they got to the door, finding it ajar no light or sound, just rats being disturbed, hearing their footsteps in the snow, perhaps listening to them for the last several minutes, scrabbled about, Anton stepped inside, and several rats jumped over the step, and adjacent to the slant of the door—reluctantly leaving, it was so dark inside, Anton could not even see the walls. He lit a match, found wood on the floor, piled it together and started a fire leaving the door as it was, and his brother now inside with him. Then they both sat down. The reception for the rats were clear and distinct, they didn’t come back. Sergei, his brother, as far as he was concerned, a little rest was fine, but was determined to get to the Neman River in the dark if need be that very night, and as fast as he could, because the Germans were destroying everything that looked suspicious: farms, and taking up the rails at night so the trains would not take the Polish-Russians to locations or villages, or farmers to safety, setting trees on fire to clear passageways, and they were building outposts from Grodno stretching outward into the other districts, pretty soon the whole area would be surrounded with the enemy. They could even hear some cannon-fire far-off in the distance, and the rumble sound of moving artillery, nothing nearby though.
Anton’s first thoughts were: I know there are patrols, and should they find us, we might be mistaken for traitors of one army or the other, or by the enemy the Germans, should someone spot the light that is, from the slightly opened door, but should they close it, and fall to sleep they’d get asphyxiated. So Sergei’s idea of rest and then get on the move to the river was sounder.
As the two brothers looked outside from the slightly opened door, against the pale sky, and smudged moon, there was no peculiar sounds or movement close by the silo; warm and now crouching, then standing beside the door, “Anton!” said Sergei, Anton cautiously got up, and moved out the door back into the snow, they had stayed in the silo less than an hour, and they found their way to the main road, convinced the road would lead to Grodno, and the Neman River, and perhaps to Warsaw, and then to Prague, from there they didn’t know, it was all par for the course, they’d find out then, even if they had to fight toe to toe with the Germans in the city.

Anton stopped a small truck on the road, and asked the driver what it would cost to drive them on to Grodno, “Two hundred Roubles, or one hundred and fifty Franks,” said the solo driver of the truck (Anton had been given 1000 roubles by his mother before he left, every penny she had), feeling incapable of walking a step further that evening, they had walked fifteen miles, and it was forty miles total to Grodno, consequently, twenty-five miles more to go, and first light would be soon.
“Take a loaf of bread,” said the driver to the two brothers, “you both look tired and hungry,” and Anton took one of the several out of the basket on the floor and between the three in the seat of the small truck, he ripped a piece off for each of them. Then the driver introduced himself as Mordecai.
After a half hour’s traveling it was necessary for the two boys to get out of the truck and push the truck out of a ditch, filled with ice snow and slush. Then once back in the truck Anton’s strength had gone, and he fell to sleep out of exhaustion.
“Where you boys from?” asked Mordecai.
“A farm some twenty miles back or more,” said Sergei, then he hesitated for a moment, unconvinced that if he should say anything more, and the driver noticed his reluctance.
“What is your work?” asked Sergei.
“A farmer and political instructor!” he replied.
“What is that?” asked Sergei.
“I’m part of the partisan task force for the Baltic region.”
“Can you help my brother and me?” asked Sergei.
“Well,” said Mordecai, “there’s a train that you can catch in Grodno that crosses the Neman, it goes to Warsaw with a stop at Bialystok, and from there westward—if that’s what you mean. You’ve got to make people believe you are from the Baltic Mining Company, and you are on vacation to see your loved ones in Warsaw, if asked. I should not ask anymore questions lest I get questioned about you two boys, and have to tell the officials what I know—although I don’t know much, and they have ways to make you tell, just get on that train one way or the other, and figure out what to do when you get in Warsaw.”
Then Mordecai shifted to a lower gear, as the truck climbed an embankment.
Once into the city of Grodno, Anton, his face wind burnt, yet smooth-shaven, a dark overcoat on of wool, buttoned tightly up to his chin, and a worn-out cap with fur inside, pulled over his ears, feeling the numbness completely out of his fingers, jumped out from the front seat of the truck, and looked about and there in front of him was the train station. He witnessed German patrols, and knew this would be dangerous. They both stood with their backs against the train station, and contemplated.

Voyage to: Ellis Island
(Part Six—concluding chapter to: “From the Baltic”; Liberty at hand)

St. Paul, Minnesota, about 1916

Slowly the ship plowed through the last part of its voyage, through the Atlantic waters of the ocean, to New York City’s harbor, whereupon, the youthful and somewhat willful Russian lad named Tony (also known as Anatolee, or Anton Siluk), saw for the first time, the most famous: Statue of Liberty, and nearby Ellis Island was at arms length, the two most celebrated pieces of gossip onboard the ship, it would be where he’d process through, he—likened to thousands of others coming to America.
As he would go through the processing at Ellis Island, he would take a physical first, at which time, to his surprise, he would find out he had a rash on his stomach, legs and upper portion of his arms. The authorities, were taken back a bit, and ready to return Anatolee back to the ship and back to Russia—dismayed, Anton yelled in what little English he knew, and had picked up on the ship from the Russian and Turkish Jews: “No, no scik, excitied, ecited, no scik, no scik! (He insisted, screeched it out, in a near panic-stricken way.)” Yet somehow he maintained a smile on his face through all this, that stretched from ear to ear, which might have been the deciding factor for the Captain, whom was the doctor in the facility. He looked suspiciously into his eyes, Anatolee almost froze when he did so, and tears filled the rim of his lower left eyelid: “Okay, O.K…hmmm,” the doctor, a bit unsure, but waved him on through to the next inspector. It was an electrifying moment to say the least.

[1916] and then Anton arrived in St. Paul, Minnesota by train, finding the weather much like Grodno’s. It had been an enduring two years for Anton, He had witnessed his father’s death a year prior (who had fallen off a roof on their farm); now Anton had endured a trip across the Atlantic, to New York City’s Ellis Island, and a train ride all the way from New York City, to St. Paul, Minnesota. He would never, ever move again, and would never return to Russia again (but he would send money to his mother occasionally, who now lived in Warsaw). Matter-of-fact, he would never leave Minnesota other than going back to Europe, to fight in WWI in France, in 1917-1918, with the American Army. He would marry twice, divorce his first wife for being an alcoholic, and have nine children with his second—Ella, whom would die at the young age of thirty-three years old (the same age Christ and Alexander the Great died at). He’d live his days out in Minnesota (never driving a car, never leaving the state, never complaining about the hardships in America, he was so very proud to be an American). At the age of sixty-three-years old he’d help raise two grandchildren, Mike and Dennis, to carry on his last name, and from this bloodline, would come his great-great grandchild Cody Jr., to take if from there; he died in 1976.

Note: Everything changes in time, Grodno, is now called: Hrodna, and it now resides in what is called the country of: Belarus (at one time it was a part of Poland, and at another time Independent, and another time, it belonged to Russia. It is considered a part of the Baltic, and at one time, a part of Lithuania). No: 612 “Across the Neman River” /No: 613 “The Homespun Lie” (May 1, 2010); Dedicated to the youngest Siluk, Cody Jr. Anton, being his Great, Great Grandfather (The story is about Anton Siluk) EC “The Abandoned Barn,” written on 5-2-2010, No: 614. “-Grodno,” part of the five part story “From the Baltic” written, July, 2006 (reedited for publication, 9-2009); also “From the Baltic” and “Voyage to: Ellis Island” No: 301. “The Lithuania Connection,” was written in 2006, No. 299. “Asylum and the Voyage” No: 298, 2006. Part seven, “Unbreakable Men,” No: 297, written in 2006. Part Two: “From the Baltic,” consist of two middle chapters, “Asylum and the Voyage” and “Unbreakable Men” deleted here within this episodic short story.