Saturday, December 30, 2006
2007 will not be a year, it will be a dimension. It will be the dividing line between my career as a moderately successful writer to a journeyman hound-pounder and puppy-poker, to wit, an angry old blogger, the old flea with an erection, floating down the old Suez canal and demanding they raise the drawbridge.
One has had a terrible bang in this up-and-down year of 2006.
I had found out, finally, that to seek a high literary prize, one must have pedigree, high academic credentials and a sizeable body of distinguished work in another field, like medicine, say, or politics.. One must also have connections.
What is especially puzzling is that I had some of these things in my thirties--independently wealthy, a sexy job as head of creative writing at Seneca College, and award-winning columnist for the now-defunct TOPIC Magazine, a great "in" with the TORONTO SUN, fearless psychic researcher for the Nationl Enquirer, top-drawer humourist for The Globe and Mail. I also had a book out, whose name was The Black Icon.
The last few years have not been entirely sweet, but what a ride!
Whereas most authors seeking the Giller prize were extremely versatile and established people, I was being Ferdinand the Bull, afraid, I suppose, of success, sleeping in laudromats, writing great sprawling novels atop dumpster ledges, the poet in the gutter, which, as any cad knows, is hellishly attractive to women. As in that old Skiffle song, "he was dirty and lousy, and full of fleas,
But he had his women by twos and threes."
Flat broke? No job? Low on the self-esteem scale?
That's when the women come. Trust me.
My friend says, "You know, most of us when we leave one spouse, we go to another and the relationship becomes parmanent. With you, it's seven permanent relationships. You're right off the scale, buddy."
A bohemian lifestyle like this does not bode well for you as a tenured teacher, or, for that matter, a Giller prize winner. I had repeatedly tried for tenure or some important literary prize. They pretty well laughed in my face and slapped my back. But every time they "uncontracted" me, the other teacher was not up to his/her job and I would be hired again. When you publish, you don't perish and I'd publish a lot, even from the bars and the garbage cans.
It all came from a rent in The Important Relationship.
In the course of one year, I had earned an advanced degree, gotten my novel published, was making scads of money at the college--and I was all but insufferable. I would begin to lecture my wife over the dinner table, about oysters having eyes, feet, elaborate digestive systems. I would sally forth on any subject with convincing authority, whether I knew anything about the matter or not.
Everything was feeding ones ego and it is small wonder that the poor wife enrolled in the local nunnery they call a university, took women's studies and well, and well.
I was suddenly reduced from Top Dog to Huckleberry Hound.
"Out, damn Spot."
Fido on the front lawn.
Hit the road, Jack.
Which, I must confess, I was happy to do.
I was a duffer at dates in high school, the guy eliminated on ElimiDate, awkward with girls and now was the time fo all good men to come to the aid of the party.
Thirty years on the edge. Thirty years a dreamer with a practical bent.
Thirty years a sex maniac.
Well. This is Gillar Prize material?
So it should have been no surprise to me, that when, in my own sneaky way I tried for the Giller, I was turned down flat and pretty well called a prick.
But one can not take this lying down.
In the past I used to be pretty good at rolling with the punches, doing the old psychic karate each time to colleges and universities fired me, lying low until rehired because of some splash I'd make with the Toronto Star or the local slick magazine.
This time, this year, I'm not going to roll with the punches.
This time I'm going to be Teflon. I shall be Mylar.
And so, with the arrogance of a young fool of 68, I propose the following seven thoughts for 2007:
1) No matter how many affairs one has had, one is-- in one's own head anyway--undivorced and undivorceable.
I am carrying a torch that would gut the innards of a GO-bus and sear the ass off any suitor.
2)There comes a time to stand and fight. Set yourself up so you can write, not just blog, but write.
3) Take the professional attitude you once had about your career and stop clowning around.
4) This is the year of the promotion of the foreigner.(I thought I had this covered, being multicultural and all, but
Prime Minister Trudea is dead.) The huns are surely at the gates and the native son as achiever is reduced to a colourful oddity.
5) Our civilization is dying and only a kook, a Frank Zappa can save it. I qualify as kook.
6) This will be the year to appreciate other people's abilities--like two ladies who visit this blog, and one old pro of a writer and he knows who he is. I stand in awe of the bastard.
7) All things the medical-industrial complex deems bad for you is good for you. Drink and smoke your brains out.
Goose liver, wine and cigarettes are good for you.
So, a happy and ambitious New Year!
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
There is a spookiness in the night as the earth seems in mid-turn, not knowing for sure whether its axis is punched in properly.
Seems I made the mistake of not keeping on drinking this evening. As I awake this odd hour ,and am spooked a bit by some things that go bump in the night.
I have certainly been here before, many times.
Is it the moon or is it the balloon?
The balloon has always been a sign of love and romance to me. But the moon, as it waxes, brings thoughts of something else, another time which I tried to capture, long ago in a novel where a mad professor went over the hill.
What were the forces that blated him into "outer space"?
None of my readers could divine it.
So I'll offer you Chapter One of my old novel, LIGHT OVER NEWMARKET.
Best I can do on a spooky night. Hoo dat callin'?
The first hint of the change came in the form of a presence just behind my writing desk, where I was marking some student essays. I didn't believe in ghosts, and in any event, if this was a ghost it was hardly an original one: probably nothing more than a projection of my tired self, a doublegoer or doppelganger, as the Germans called such things (the Germans have a word for everything): a negative self image documented at least once by Percy Bysshe Shelley who saw one in his window one night and emptied two pistols into it. Then there was the fictional horror, the "Horla" of Guy de Maupassant, whose victim, terrified, tried to destroy by fire in a room room full of screaming servants. "Ghost, you are a cliché," I said out loud. "You have been identified, named and categorized. You should be ashamed of yourself." I turned around to face the thing that wasn't there only to see my wife standing before me, her face unusually sharp this evening and the curlers in her hair slicing into the light like surreal knives sticking out of a painting, hellish and disturbing and I screamed out loud seeing before me the image of Medusa.
Married to me for ten years, she was used to my fits and starts, the products of overstrain, and she was not upset by my startle and my scream. She merely smiled, and the face was again that of my wife, my pretty round-faced little girl, my comfort, hearth, home. I reached for her and drew her to me, happy for the hundreth time to be a professor of physics risen up from the slums, my father poor but never broken and my mother preoccupied with dirt and grime to the point where it finally engulfed her. I had, in my own quiet way, made it, though something seemed forever to be gaining on me. What? My children were sleeping soundly downstairs; my rambling Victorian house was making all those familiar house noises...And yet I knew that something alien, invisible and threatening lived in this house too, and the intimation was enough to convince me that I would never be the same comfortable side street citizen again.
For suddenly in my wife's face I saw an accomplice's face and in that accomplice's face the calm witness to a suicide, mine, a spiritual suicide she was helpless to prevent. If the devil did work in mysterious ways he was telling me in supernatural terms hard things I already knew and suppressed: there was the doctor's testimony to my enlarged liver; a mysterious growth where a man should have no growth at all; lungs packed full of cigarette smoke and the first sign of diabetes. At thirty-nine, I could not pass inspection as a suitable carcass in a Chicago packing house. "Your reflexes are good though," the doctor had breezed. How does it come to a man at the height of his success that death seems to gain on him more or less naturally, that the certainties and clear thoughts of young adulthood are mere illusions and that we are all bound for that great slaughterhouse in the sky?
Ragged Dick the Match Boy. Boy Wonder. The high school dropout, Dale Carnegie follower, correspondence school grinder moving from factory to university to airline piloting and finally a professorship...now a drip to my whistle, a liverish feeling from the gin, a shortness of breath and hallucinations at night, my wife a Medusa, for God's sake, and those endless dreams, rooms with fiery curtains, rooms within rooms where entire families of gorgons waited to stare me into dry ice.
Professor's got a busted prick and spotty lungs. Something equally invisible and equally powerful was gaining on the doppelganger himself. Still, no joke when the head of the household is going mad.
A hero, a fucking classical hero. Same pattern. We keep playing ourselves back. Yet it is too presumptuous to call oneself a hero. Too derivative, too Canadian for that.
Prometheus? Rebellious scientist, fire stealer? Hardly. All of my physics was second hand a priori knowledge that any Sicilian high rise construction worker of Mexican stone mason possessed--notions as ancient as the arch, as old as the intuitive knowledge that the whole is greater than the part, stuff that philosophers belaboured and a child can explain.
No, there was no fire from the gods that I could be accused of stealing, just a squirrel-like gathering of knowledge. Publish your thesis, the professors had said, and I had refused. I knew how to write a razor-edged thesis. The sane and the sensible is good for a C. You have to go beyond mere common sense, you have to couple your mind with others to undertake that grand plagiarism which is knowledge. To undertake my thesis would have been to crib again the writings of Niels Bohr and Einstein and all the others who were so instrumental at building up the artificial intelligence rising about me, under my very hands as I worked the computers and chanced upon the ghost of George Boole who so long ago had divined all the possible ways a human being could think. And quantum mechanics, the real mechanics of the universe...the vast balling up of energy, of process, of purpose before the great quantum leap.
Whatever that meant. Was there really such a thing? I was certainly in love with it. Energy. Yes. They asked for mathematics and I gave them poetry. Yet my energy is balling up. Where is it going to blast me?
I am a man, an ordinary man, not noble, not brilliant, simply a man suddenly going mad in a world that has obviously become a madhouse. Note the workings of the spy agencies, their always getting things backwards, with horrible results on countries and populations. Imagine you are a god. Is it any wonder that after creating the world that you had disappeared?
Would it not have been best for you to disappear?
What can I tell my wife, here in front of me, bringing me a drink, touching my face, telling me that it's all right, that I have been working too hard--how can I tell her that this is already the end?
Ivan's Creative Writing Home Page Back to Title Page
An almost -acquainance of mine--very almost--Marshall McLuhan, says the machine changes the person working at it. Like irrevocably.
I have been changed by the computer.
Like a character in a sci-fi pulp novel, I am enmeshed in Mr. Boole's invention and and now, robot-like, aware of
To dig out the best porn sites and see lovely young girls ingesting enormous salamis?
Ah, always the devil in the machine.
You strive for clarity, accuracy, an antidote for boredom--and you end up with girls eating from Subway.
Hey Erik, resident connoisseur of the fine arts, I need a little help with this!
Snippet of a tape running through my head. "Dr. McLuhan. I have read all your books on media. I go to school with your lovely daughter, Mary. Is it possible, is it just possible that I could interview you someday soon for The Daily Ryersonian?"
How aware that Dr. McLuhan:
"It is August now, Ivan.Wouldn't it be better to interview me in September, when school starts?"
...I had hoped to get the article done, sophomore that I was, ready to be printed in the very first issue of the Ryersonian that semester. Ah, what a bird dog one was in those days. How much fun it had been to peer through the plexiglass of the print shop and see you picture and byline cascading down the rollers.
In those days I still had the" boogie cut", the hair upswept on either side, the ducktail, a slightly older Fonz among the tweedy, neatly parted college set of kids.
I was working towards my purpose, which was greatest author in Canada, and a school like Ryerson gave you instant publishing and all that came with it. Right man in right place at the right time. And hanging with Mary McLuhan.
Actually, there is a story that goes with Mary McLuhan. For some reason, maybe because of the famous father,
we'd tease and torment her a little bit. This happens a lot with women of exquisite beauty and pedigree placed for some reason in what was then the sweathog university of Ryerson. There was this resentment of aristocracy,even meritocracy.
Fact was, the U of T boys were doing the same thing with Marshall McLuhan--they knew all the ways to torment a genius--and they would say things like "Marshall, are you going over to my place tonight to offer more of your imponderable theories? I haven't the faintest notion of what in hell you're talking about."
This to the man who knew all about media and its effects, who predicted the internet, almost down to its last detail and who invented the term "global village".
My editor at the Star:
"Yeah, Marshall came over the other night. I haven't the foggies idea of what he is talking about."
Well, now we have found out.
Marhall McLuhand was talking about right now, that the medium is the message, there is no message at all, and we are all wrapped up in this cyberspace thing and hardly any new thing is said at all.
Part of it is the switch from handwritten manuscripts and typescripts--in those days we took care, indented, made huge dummy runs at stores before setting them down in cold stone--like the old alumni of the Alexandrine Library.
Now you can ratscrabble anything at all and all the world knows it, and so what.
But what in hell is ones purpose?
Published at Ryerson was too easy (This is not the case today, where Ryerson is as hard to get into as an Ivy League university, and entrance to creative writing is by good manuscript only ); the real world is much harder, and in fact, you'd have much better luck at having gone to Old Victoria College, and not Ryerson, where all the sweathogs used to go.
So while I achieved what appeared to by solid success at Ryerson with my short stories and poems, it was a false success, guaranteed publishing on strength of ambition alone. Still, it was nice to be published in three magazines, all Ryerson-related.
Ah, and now, once again, one is out in the real world, of being published where it counts, and after forty years I am hardly at the place where I first began.
I think it was Jeff Mitchell, who often writes into this blog, who twigged me onto the Hunter S. Thompson quote:
"When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."
Well, one is definitely weird. And the going is getting weirder and weirder.
First step: Get some general purpose xerox paper.
Second step: A high quality pencil.
Third step: Scribble like a madman. You might yet winnow something out of it.
But successful people finish things.
I must put up the concluding chapters of The Black Icon, which was what the game may have been all about in the first place.
My unofficial therapist and drinking buddy after I'd left my wife to be the famous novelist--and failed miserably:
"You couldn't write a decent thing after you'd completed The Black Icon.
If you weren't any good you wouldn't have gone crazy.
Ah, well. Small comfort.
Thanks, E.A. Monroe for the insight, part of which I drew from your description of the nice man at your Christmas party, the genius who had broken down, gone off his meds and became a chain smoker.
I am not a genius. That I know. But I smoke, that I have in common at least with your friend, the genius who had broken down.
But there is always some woman (muse?) who somehow inpires me to write like a madman.
I am writing like a madman.
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
The Land of Cockayne.
No, that's not some Antique Belgian that's had a snort--more like an antique Belgian who's had too much Christmas fare, and like me, is all logey and very hard to light.
Cockayne, the sense of being stuffed too full. People want you to do things, Sing Carols, play guitar, make love.
But you can hardly go through the motions. You are stuffed too fulll, and like the man on the old Johnny Carson show who invented a one-wheel motorcycle, kick-starting the machine again and again, to no avail. There are days when you just can't get your "Wheelie" to work.
Uh. You seem to get on top all right. But the shift lever mechanism somehow fails to work. And good thing too: It's somebody else's wife!
It is difficult enough, along with Montaigne, to square the circle while perched atop your wife.
But Boolean algebra, while perched atop somebody else's wife is nigh on to impossible--especially if you plan to blog about it later, like a tattle- tale, and you hadn't yet switched to beta.
.Mathematicians do it more elegantly?
Hey, Einstein was a pretty handsome and cool dude. Riffed the Immanuel Kant off his sister-in-law.
You've got to admit that that Pieter Brueghel the Elder was some sort of cookie monster too.(I spell it Brueghel, since there are at least four versions of the spelling. What do I know? I learned my first alphabet in Polish and in fact got the "Polish" mark at Trinity College. Sixty-three in Classics. That's because I was a dummy and where students of Dr. French's class were asked to only answer Dr. French's question, I answered Dr. Golberg's as well. Why did I do that? Pre-test jitters, I suppose..
Or maybe I was smart, knew I had cut too many classes with Dr. French and would have better luck with Dr. Goldberg. I can shoot the bull with amazing facility, even elegantly and falsely footnoted , if provoked.
Only a sharp Hindu or a Cartesian Frenchman can cut through my web of bull roar. That or a smart redhead, and I don't mean Platonic pursuits.
But I digress.
It is Boxing Day.
Christmas Night is all but over.
I must go to the Mall (Need those boxing gloves for sure) and exchange a couple of things.
But I am still in a Land -of -Cockayne.
Ferdinand the Bull at the mall. The Bargain Yahoos will walk all over me.
Clerks, seeing my bulbous nose and red face from the drinking will become overly obsequious: "Good morning, Sir. Are you all right, Sir? Doing fine, Sir?"
I am tempted to offer an explanation:
So maybe I won't go to the Mall.
I am still in the land of Cockayne.
Anybody out there in the Land of Cockayne as well?
Can't get your Wheelie to work?
Cant even discuss going to work?
I fear I am in the Land of Cockayne, and try as The Man did over the Holiday, the devil has me by the lights.
Sunday, December 24, 2006
While most of my clan is Ukrainian Orthodox, I am Ukrainian Catholic, and my family has been here for so long that we celebrate Christmas these days with the regular Micks.
I married into a family that was definitely not Mick, so I am almost entitled to celebrate anybody's holiday.
But Christmas is Christmas.
Lorrie Goldstein, over at the Toronto SUN, says Christmas is Christmas, and let's get away from all the obfuscations.
Christmas is also a time of miracles.
I have experienced so many personal miracles in the course of my life that I am very nearly a true believer.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
Friday, December 22, 2006
THE BLACK ICON
In the week following the first battles, the attacks of the Russians on Sophia's village grew more frequent. She was not the first to realize that the village was a target, that her house was a target, and that she and the children would have to move. The Germans were now gone and in their place were Hungarian troops under the command of German officers. The Hungarians did not treat the population with any less harshness than their atavar, Atilla the Hun. Only intervention by German officers saved girls and children from rapine. And they could only save a few.
The Russians were close to overrunning the Kolomya region of Galicia and they had help from not a few Red-leaning Ukrainians. The Hungarians would then hold reprisals and mass shootings became common.
Sophia gathered up her family and made for the village of Ivanovetz, a few miles away from the front. But here, things were no better. Artillery attacks were frequent. The Russians were harrassing the Hungarian brigade posted to defend the village. As in Sophia's hamlet, the whole population took to livng in holes, cellars, anything that would protect them from the Soviet barrages, the siren-wail of Katyusha rockets, the hollow whistle of artillery before the blasts. Sophia and her family, being strangers, would gently be shooed away from existing shelters, people having grown panicky and xenophobic. The family would hide in a hollow formed by ancient floods along a millstream, spending nights in the little grotto and taking their chances by day.
One morning, Sophia stumbled onlto a well-hidden cave entrance. Uncharacteristic planking among exposed roots and bushes had caught her attention.
So much like a doorway into sand. She made for it.
Inside, an old couple was huddling. The Baba and Guido protested loudly, but Sophia ,with persuasion, tears and a little food, was able to talke the two into letting her and her family in.. After the initial greetings and grudging acknowledgments, the group of five settled down.
Nights would bring dirt cascading down over the extended family as shells landed uncomfortably close. Defending Hungarians would reply and all the while the cave became musty, dank. Lice began to spread. The adults became irritable, short-tempered. "We live underground like moles. We're even beginning to look like them," said the old man, tossing his scraggly whiskers up with an open palm.
Genyk became caugh up with the allusion. He imagined himself as an animal." I am a mole. Dig, dig, dig," he would mutter to himself while scraping at the sand floor. He and Katerina would build sand castles when there was enough light. At night, Genyk would have frightful dreams about apartments of horror, of the cave roof falling in, of him having to dig out the family. Awaking, nuzzling into Katerina's warm arms. Katerina, goodnatured Katerina. Security. Not like mother, who had lately been beating them both, and violently, for no good reason. Sometimes the old Babushka had to step in. "Things are bad enough. What is the matter with you, woman?"
They stayed in the hole for two weeks. One morning, a tired, red-eyed Hungarian pointed a rifle into the cave and ordered them out.
On this morning, the Hungarians found themselves retreating before the vigorous Russians. Civilian townsfolk were told to line up on the road where horse-drawn wagons waited.The old and the very young were told to board the wagons while the fit were ordered to walked alongside once the column began moving. "We are taking you to Ukrainian lands west of here for your safety," a tall, peak capped major explained to the assembled villagers.
Sophia hoisted Genyk up on one of the wagons, lodging him etween an old man and his battered rucksack and a
well-dressed fussy straight-backed woman who kept complaining of "this indignity." Genyk watched her fuss with her purse, pulling out an elaborate, lembroidered handkerchief, sniffing every so often, and in her high Poltava accent about having to be subjected to all of this.
Before coming to the marshalling point, Sophia had seen a cow and a goat wandering around between houses and shell holes. She had asked the Hungarian soldier whether she could curb the animals and the man answered with a shrug. The animals could provide food and milk for the trip and there were so many of them just ambling around. The goat had burned its udder in a fire, and once the columns started moving, sophia treated the goat with a little stolen butter, salving the burn.
Sophia's joy with the cow was shorlived, however, when a man came by and positively identified the branded animal as his own. During the night, when the column rested, someone stole the goat. Now all of Sophias possessions were on her back and in the little bundles carried by the children.
For two days the column plodded. The Carpathians, heretofore dim and blue, now stood out stark, some of them snowcapped. And then a real mountain of a problem for the refugees, who had stopped just short of Loivy, a smalll hill town built on the spur of a railroad. They were not allowed to go farther. The major, heretofore sympathetic to the refugees, suddenly did a frightening about-face and ordered the group surrounded by his soldiers. The accompanying troopers unshouldred their machine guns, while a five-man sqauad rapidly set up a heavier calibre weapon, training it on the refugees. The circled wagons were now themselves encircled.
"You're feeding the Partisans, you lousy bunch of cripples," said the Hungarian major, in accented but good Russian. "Four of my men have been shot already and it was all from behind. There's no way the Partisans can get food or ammunition along this trail except through you. You will all be searched and if I find something, you will all be shot."
A great wail went up from the crowd. The soldiers began to search everyone without regard to sex or person. A hapless old woman was caught with more bread in her sack than she could posibly consume in a month. They beat her and knocked her to the ground while the round loaves spilled out of her enormous shoulder-borne sack, rolling away like Johnny-cakes. They cuffed the old woman until she sobbed for, and got mercy. The search continued, but outside of surplus food, no weapons or ammunition were found.
Now the officer said something to the men and they began cocking their weapons. A hush fell over he group. Some crossed themselves. Others fell on their knees. They shook with fright, like primitives exposed to their first eclipse. But the eclipse passed.
Hope, like dazzling sunlight, now cut through the fear.
The soldiers put up their rifles and were beginning to dismantle the heavy machine guns.
"That ought to put a good fright into them," the major said to his adjutant before going back to the car.
The Hungarian ordered everyone back to the wagons and the mass of refugees, relieved and thankful for life, followed the column.
The marchers moved through the town, making for the railroad depot, peering at the almost Tibetan style cottages and seeing the strange clothing of the locals, who were also assembling at the track. These hill folk wore sandals that curled up, Arabic fashion; tight breeches and hats like Switzers. But they too were tired and hungry, waiting for the train. The Hungarians stopped at the station and began boarding troop coaches. Apparently their responsibility had been discharged by bringing the the refugees to this point. The Galicians now stood in front of the track, uncertain of what to do next. Some tried to board the coaches, but were pushed off by soldiers and trainmen. "There's a freight behind. Wait for it," they were told.
But no freight came. Three hundred men, women and children waited for four hours, then another four.
"I'm hungry, mother," Genyk complained. Sophia reached into her bag and pulled out one of the hardened rye platters she had long ago prepared and gave half to each child.
With dusk approaching, the group set up leantos of discarded packing cases and then lit fires. In the middle of the night, something roared toward them. The sound increased, as a headlight, dim at first, finally cleaved through murk and smoke. A score of peope rushed to trackside. But as the train approached, it did not slow down and soon rushed by, its suction almost knocking people over. Only three cars could be seen behind. One, a flatcar, carried a mounted cannon. The other two car bristled with men and protruding weapons.
The following day, a freight finally arrived, but as the refugees massed toward the boxcars, a squad of soldiers with drawn weapons stopped them. A captain in charge stepped down from the the lead car and told the crowd that those who wanted to go to Germany would have to line up on one side of the track and those who wanted to remain in the Ukraine should take the other.
Everyone was for Germany.
The last thing Genyk remembered was the boxcar door closing, cutting of all light, the smell of bodies, garlic, food and urine heavy in his nostrils. Were it not for Sophia and Katerina to either side of him he would have screamed out loud. That night, he woke up after a frightening dream. A laughing, devil-faced monster in a Hungarian uniform was sitting on his chest and roaring with laughter at every attempt Genyk made to free himself. Genyk woke up with Katerina's hand on his brow, comforting him. Someone in the darnkness nearby had drunk a bottle of cheap vodka and was laughing out his release.
White light slicing through the cracks announced a new day and the refugees, sick of the smells and confinement, pried open the boxcar door, sliding it just far enough to let in air and light. Genyk could make out the shapes of mountains and piney, green forests. Sometimes the train would stop, for no accountable reason. Someone would move by the trackside with a flare and they would be off again. During one of these stops, red-eyed relatives hustled a dea man out of the Podolski's car, running back from the ditch quickly, lest they be left behind.
At the end of the second day, Genyk felt the train slowing. He looked out the open, breezy door and saw two enormous mounds rising up in front of a large city. "Krakow," somebody said.
Inside the city, the train stopped among some tiered black brick railway buildings. The squintng passengers followed the lead of others and debarked. Where next?
Here, a dozen Black Madonnas came to the rescue. Polish nuns had set up a refugee camp and were quick to administer food, medicine an deleusing the the hungrey, vermin-ridden peastns and princes. Here was shelter. Here was food;hot soup. Here was basic humanity. Beds. And nearby the empty trains, all bound for Germany
........End Chapter Thirteen, THE BLACK ICON.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
War always comes when you're not ready.
I have a hangover that's screaming to the Lord, I can't think, my liver is totally seized, I am out of Aqua Velva for the Final Solution and Blogger is screwing up my site just to remind me to switch to beta.
I had forty good comments on "Michael in the Concetration Camp in my ongoing novel, The Bllack Icon--and everything's gone.
All that remained this morning was the top part of my novel segment.
What a mortrarforkin' way to run a railroad.
Sela Carsen suggested, months ago to switch to something foolproof, but I've forgotten to what.
Nothing is foolprof. Fools are ingenius.
Let's just see if this works. *
I am too far gone now to follow any instructions.
I have drunk up everything in the fridge.
Techie: Mayday! I am in the ejection position and pulling the loo chain!
Monday, December 18, 2006
We now come to the centre of our story, the core of it and so comes my despair as a writer. The core has a rottenness--though I am not sure whether it's in the character or in the writer. Most likely the writer.
For his characters tend to talk like factory hands, and the writer producing this work at the ripe age of 28, and out of a bottle and too much luck with women in Mexico. The access to too much sex and alcohol had ingrained int the writer a certain coarse bibilousness, yea, even a sluttiness of phrase. But the young fool was twenty-eight, feeling himself at the top of his form and fascinated by the story of his mother and father.
So here, without further ado, is Chapter Twelve of my ongoing novella, THE BLACK ICON
Business boomed loudly at the Scheherezade, an enormous beerhall that squatted somewhat precariously on the east bank of the Rhine. Shattered soldiers, beefy factory hands and a sprinkling of thin, nervous women sat at square oaken tables set among holly-studded wooden columns. Raised, excited voices contributed to a general loud roar that drowned out the everyday fact of war and death. Here, the patron enjoyed the gemutlich atmosphere of friend and brew; he could forget the imminent national disaster.
But Michael and his crony cenebrated a personal victory.
Michael took a draft of the pungent imagination-prodding brew and benched comfortably. Across the table, Pavlo, a thin, balding machinist, blinked as alwalys when drinking, ran his fingers through his think hair and shook his head in mock disbelief.
"So they promoted you to foremen over the heads of two other slavvies. Not bad for a dumb Galician carpenter."
"Why not? Anybody can read a blueprint and set up work schedules," said Michael, pleased with himself.
"Well here's to you," said Pavlo, raising his glass. "If I can't make foreman at least I'll feel like one by the time the night is over. Prost."
Pavlo began talking about women and offering his opinion that a German piece was far superior to a Ukrainian one.
Michael answered with something appropriately obscene, but his mind was too elated. "You will make a good German," satisfied bosses had told Michael. "And what's wrong with being a German?" Michael asked himself.
Despite talk of Germany losing the war, he didn't believe it. True, there were frequent air raids, and even now, outside the beer hall, a distant siren wailed. But the air raids seemed to hold no more danger than thunderstorms or hurricanes. Few people actually died here in Bonn-Rhineland and Michael, at any rate, considered his life charmmed and safe. Many a morning he had come to work and found a whole wing of the factory destroyed by bombs, but raids never came on his shift and there had always been plenty of warning. And then the Mercedes-Benz bunkers were deep enough to survive any number of hits.
Pavlo broke into Michael's thoughts.
"Hey, now that you're respectable and practically a German, what are you going to do about our little sidelene?"
"The ration stamp business...You know."
"Oh that, Michel sighed. I guess I'll drop it now that my pay is going to be decent. Blackmarketeering is just too goddam dangersous. You get two months in the Straflager for that, and the tell me those punishment camps are no better than where they send those poor Jews.
Michael would buy a good part of his food ffor cash from smalltime marketeers and would sell his very dear ration stamps to aliens not entitled to them. He charged outrageous prices for the stamps, but he buyers always had the money, or rings, or bits of gold garnered from God knows where. A twinge of fear went through Michel's abdomen as he sipped his second draught. What if he were caught? Was it worth it? The thought of his distant family's upkeep soon chased away the irritation. You had to make money anyway you could. It's that or Sophia and the kids starve. "I'd pimp if it was the only way," Michel said to himself.
Just then, a stunning example of the trade entered the beerhall. A blonde, bob-haired prostitute shimmied toward the first row of tables where a three-man Oom- Pa- Pah band blasted out Bavarian favourites. As she came near the band, she suddenly recognized the portly tuba player and a look of surprised fear came over her fine, slightly over-rouged face. She tried to to get out of the approaching band's way, but was trapped against two tables behind her. Now the threesome approached her, the tuba player nudging the saxaphonist. The tubist mand vague, scratching motions towards his lederhosened ctrotch.
Suddenly, the saxophonist , concetinist and tubist pointed their instruments like phalluses toward the woman and gave out with the three-tone blast that was unmistakable in its intent. There was a loud fart from the tuba.
The woman, embarrassed, fumbled with ther patent-leathr purse and retreated towards the bar. Here, she bawled out a waiter, waving her hands disgustedly at the musicians, who guffawed at her before moving to various tables, their honks and farts now diminished and the music turning towards a more sentimental Lili Marlene.
A lusty chorus from each table encouraged their efforts. The whole hall soon rang with beery, but competent singers.
Even Michael and Pavlo, now feeling the spirit, joined in.
But towards the last chorus, three steel--helmeted Volkspolizei marched into the room, bringing hushed speculation from the patrons. To Michael's panic, he saw them approaching his table.
"Oh Lili Marlene,l Michael's shocked brain sang on as the police hauled him away, while Pavlo vainly protested the loss of his drinking buddy.
There was a minimum procedure at the police station. Michael was informed he was charged with blackmarketeering and his trial was fixed for the following morning. There was no possibility of bail. He was thrown into a cell where three other men squatted, playing dice on the floor. They eyed him without curiosity, then went back to their game.
Michael, half-drunk, frightened, sat in the corner of the cell and peered nervously at the threesome. Two of them wearing leather jackets, both husky men, dark and squat. The third was blond, slim, slightly effeminate and wore a faded suitcoat over rumpled, baggy pants.
Michael saw the the blond one was being victimized. He lost money steadily, and finally, in last desperate gesture, he tossed the dice-- and lost as snake-eyes stared up from the cubes. He swallowed nervously. Apparently, he had bluffed, and now, he turned both his pockets inside-out and shrugged his shoulders at the pair.
"Poor boy," said one of the toughs, grinning coldly, a scar on his cheek forming a grotesque extension of the smile. "Poor boy, he's broke, and probably hungry. Starved."
"Yeah, poor man," said the other."I'd say he's really up against it, starving even. . You know, I think we should give him something to eat. Dont't you think so, you Ausslander over there?"
Michael cringed in his corner.
"Y-yes, of course. People must eat," Michael hurriedly agreed.
"Well," said Scarface, eyeing the bankrupt crapshooter, "It seems we're going to have to give you something to eat."
"I'm not hungry," said the slim man.
"Not hungry? Dont be such a martyr," said Scarface, reaching into his pocket.
The slim man gulped, but found momentary relief in seeing what the thug had brought out of his troser pocket. It was a hard, tough bacon rind. But while he sighed in relief, he saw that Scarface was not through. Scarface pulled a piece of string out of the other pocket and began fastening it tight to the bacon rind.
"Wh...what areyou going to do?"
"Why, we're going to feed you, that's all." Already, the other man had crept behind the victim and had gotten hold of the slim man's arms.
"Hold him, Heiz, while I feed him this bacon," said Scarface. "Open your mouth, you fairy."
"Open your mouth or I'll strangle you, said Scarface, gripping the trembling man by the throat.
The victim opened his mouth.
"Now eat," said Scarface. "Eat it," he yelled. The man's lips were closed tight. Scarface kicked the unwilling diner in the shins until the man opened his mouth to howl. Scarface then forced the bacon rind, string attached, into the victim's mouth.
"Now swallow...swallow, goddam you." The man swallowed the bacon rind.
"There. Don't you feel better after having been fed?"
The blond, string dangling from his mouth, said nothing.
"You know something?" Scarface said to Heinz.
I think it's rude of Hymie here to hoard all that food for himelf and not inviting us to share."
"You're right, said Heiz. "I think he was very impolite. I think he shuld give it back."
"You're crazy," the victim shouted.
Scarface reached for the cord and yanked, causing the tortured youth to howl in pain as the bacon rind was drawn back, out of his retching gullet.
"Don't welch next time," said Scarface, kicking the dry-heaving man into a corner just as a guard came to the grate and yelled for quiet.
The two toughs then asked Michael if he wanted to shoot craps.
"I don't know how,' said Michael. "And I don't have much money."
"Oh, don't worry, we'll teach you," the two chimed in.
Michael happily lost all his money that night without feeling the least bit of regret.
Morning came and along with it, Michael's sentence. Three weeks int eh Straflager, the detenting camp.
While the war raged across Micheal Galician former home, his cheif worry was stealing enough potatoes from the camp kitchen to keeep him from starving. He was caught, and drew another week.
He tried to run away and when redungeoned, he was pretty sure they were about to throw away the key.
. There was no release date.
..........end Chapter Twelve, THE BLACK ICON
Sunday, December 17, 2006
Concluding part of Chapter Eleven, THE BLACK ICON, A novel.
THE DEATH OF THE IDIOT
Kalyna Ostapovna was worried. All through the fighting, she and her wild-eyed son had hid in a ditch near their cellarless home, the standard Neolithic brand with the dirt floor. Tanks had ground to within a hundred feet of where the pair were crouched. The idiot, though not being able to hear the battle sounds, had nevetheless felt and seen all, becoming excited, tongue lolling out, shaking at each flash of the Russian Katiusha rockets and each freakish tremor of the earth. Kalyna looked at him. He could be dangerous. All the signs were there. She may well be in for more lumps. He'd beat her before.
By morning, when the firing died off, mother and son returned to their mud cottage, Kalyna clearing up broken glass and thick dust shaken loose during the shelling. Chyvago, meanwhile, peered through the paneless windows and shook his head from side to side.
The nearby railway depot had received a direct hit and was a smoking pile of rubble, telegraph poles and wire stretching crazily from the jumbled stone.
It was his spot, where he had "talked" to all the nice people. They would never come there again. He pointed at the former deport with a shaking finger, howling.
Kalyna tried to settle him down, to get him busy, asking him, gesturing to him, to help with the cleaning.
Chyvago insited on making for the depot.
"You'll get hurt over there," Kalyna said slowly, so he could read her lips. "There are Germans around. They will shoot you."
"Uhnngnoooo," the idiot insisted.
He rushed for the door, while Kalyna tried to stop him. Rushing after him Kalyna put a foot in front of Chayvago, tripping him, bringing him to his knees in a howl.
"Don't go there," she said to his face. "They will kill you."
Thie idiot rose from the floor and faced his mother. With an angry burble, he stood up suddenly and lashed out at her with a heavy, twisted hand, bringing the woman down.
"Go then," Kalyna cried from the floor. "All right. Go. Get yourself killed. I hope you get yourself killed. Go, you demon, curse of my life. Go. I hope you die."
Gefreiter Muller, high cheeked, fair and freckled, squatted behind a watertank, fingered his black mauser and cursed his luck. All the others, tired after the night's fighting, were allowed to sleeep in any quarters they found, providing they were in wire contact with HQ. But his lieutenant had ordered him to watch over this section of track, challenging anyone who approaced, shooting anyone who refused to halt.
Something big and hulking moved towards where the railway depot had been. An enormousman in a quilt coat. Now the figure bent over to pick up something.
Muller crouched down and yelled "Halt!"
The tall, bent man kept picking up bits of rocke, examining them against the sun. Now he straightened and began walking toward Muller.
Muller lifted his machine pistol and let go a slow burst that stiffened and toppled the approaching figure.
Afterwards, when Muller examined the body, he shook his head. "Stupid civilian. Why the hell didn't he stop?"
Back at his post, Muller fell asleep, tugging at his gritty eyes, while only the occasinal chatter of birds broke his watch.
............end Chapter Eleven THE BLACK ICON, a novel.
e.a. monroe's madcap itinerary of our trip to Mexico is such a gas that I am three feet off my chair here. What an imagination. Hilarious!
To the right is my picture of my current reality here.
That being said, I'd best put in another part-chapter of my Black Icon.
THE BLACK ICON
Chaper 11 (continued)
NAZIS HAD COMMANDEERED SOPHIA'S HOUSE, ALLOWING HER TO STAY IN A TINY BEDROOM WITH HER CHILDREN. A SERIES OF DISPATCHES FROM THE UKRAINIAN FRONT SOON HAD THEM HEADING OUT, LOCK, STOCK AND CANNON.
SOPHIA'S HOUSE, OR AT LEAST A SEMBLANCE OF IT, WAS NOW HER OWN--AT LEAST UNTIL THE NEXT FRONT WENT BY.
Sophia looked out into her front yard and saw that everything, wires, equipment and cannon had been moved during the night. She looked arund her ravaged house. All the windows were shattered. Daylight showed through two of the outside walls. But at least the house still stood. The tile roof had kept the house from burning like the surrounding straw-roofed cottages. Only the previously well-off were lucky to be housed now. The poorer cottages' straw roofs had long since gone up in flames. Only their walls stood, smoking and blackened in the white sunlight.
Here and there, a cluster of people stood outside their houses and wailed. Others were just crawling out of their cellars, squinting unbelievably at the carnage. Some stayed in their cellars never to emerge, direct howitzer hits tumbling metre upon metre of dirt and debris over them.
The sight of Michael's and her own lost labours began to stiffen Sophia into an outraged gesture of revulsion. She began trembling and spots dance before her eyes. Only one thing could preserve her sanity now: work: habit. Absently, she picked up a broom and begans sweeping away the less bulky scraps of debris inside the house.
The steady rhythm of work began to calm her and in about half an hour she stopped trembling and began thinking practically, about how to clean up the mess and patch up the the holes in the walls. Fortunately it was spring and newspapers could be used to shore up the windows. There was a pane or two of glass left here and there, and that would allow some light to get in.
Genyk and Katerina, meanwhile, were so excited by the change in the village that they could not stay indoors.
While Sophia was wrapped in her womb of work, the children crept out of the house to explore the stark wonders of the battle-mutated village. Katerina went off to her girlfriend's house, which was in sight and still stood unharmed, judging by the smoke rising from the adobe chimney. Genyk went off to see if his friend Martin was still around.
But only a charred hulk remained of Martin's house, and Genyk saw two figures huddled nearby in a hastily improvised lean-to made of a blown barn roof. Martin's mother seemed dazed and barely recognized Genyk as he lamely asked if Martin could go out and play. She said nothing. Martin looked at her for affirmation but all he got was an uncomprehending stare before the woman burst into tears. He tried to comfort his mother, but she wailed and moaned to the point where it was starting to frighten the boy. After an hour of this, Martin caught Genyk's eye and made motions suggesting the the two of them should sneak off. Pity yielded to the proposition fo adventure in the gutted village. There were tanks, half-tracks and assorted war machines all over the settlement and Martin could not resist the temptation to see what wonders lay just a few hundred yards away. Martin was a wide-eyed dark, intelligent child.
Martin and Genyk quickly made for the highway as the sobs and wailss of Martin's mother-- "What will we eat now?"--became distant behind them.
Arriving at the highway, the boys found it littered with smouldring trucks, tanks and discarded equipment. A large panzer, its cannon pointing towards the sky lay like some supplicating wounded beast. Other small boys were here already and they, like Genyk and Martin, also delighted in the manner of small boys upon a war scene in any age.
One of the lads stood atop the turret of a disabled tank while another one was inside, judging from the muflfled comments.
"It's dangerous in there," said the boy topside.
"So it's dangerous in here," answered the explorer fearlessly.
"But it'll burn."
"So I'll burn."
"But it'll explode you."
"So let it explode me."
Soon the boys inside the tank began throwing out food, pots and pans, and then ammunition.
Men were around the tank too, not caring much agout the danger to either the children or themselves and they walked among live ammunition, hand grenades and mines. It was food they were after.
Genyk and Martin walked along, enjoying the strange scene. Soon Genyk picked up an innocent looking pellet some two inches in diameter. One of the men, seeing him handle thae pellet said "Throwit it away son. It might be a bomblet. It's liable to explode and kill you."
Genyk trhrew it away. There was no explosion.
"And don't handle anything strange looking. I saw a boy het his head blown off just this afternoon, the man shouted to the pair. They turned away.
Now the wrecks of motorcycles and staff cars caught their eyes. A number of youths were driving a damaged, tireless vehicle. Genyk had never seen a car bofore and marvelled at it.
"You mean that thing goes all by itself--no horses?
"Sure, you dummy," Martin answered. "It's just got a motor."
Genyk was told all about motors while he and Martin walked along the moonscape that was once a highway.
Sohia, in the meantime, had managed to clean up what she could of the house and was now dusting off the remains of a the broken glass and detrius.
The windfall of food would last the family for a week and that problem was solved for a while. With everything now as secure as possible, Sophia was finished. Now she put on her shawl and made for the house of Ann Podolan, Martin's mother.
She caught sight of Ann's charred house. It made her bread into a run.
"Anna," she shouted almost in a panic, "Anna are you here? Are you all right? Ann stumbled out of the leanto and walked towards Sophia like a robot. Hre eyes were glazed; dirt-smudged her small face. She stared at Sophia, first without recognition. But then the merciful faucets of her grief opened wide once again, and hot tears revived her life. Sophia embraced her and the two women loosed their grief for a full half hour.
Finally, they both regained their composure.
"You might as well move in with me, Ann, since you couldn't possibly live in this leanto," Sophia said. "Come on, let's get your things together and we'll got into my house. There's lots of food to last the five of us for a while, then we can go and steal from the depot like we used to."
They began to pick up the remains of Ann's belongings just as their sons came back with armfuls of booty from the battlefield.
"Where did you get all this junk?" Sophia asked.
"Up on the highway, mother."
"Well you go and throw it into the bushes."
No nonsense now. Go and throw it away."
"Come on Martin," Genyk said, making for the hedges.
"And come back here and help us with this tuff. Martin and his mother are going to stay with us for a couple of days," Sophia commanded.
The boys returned from the clump of hedges and helped pick up Ann's meagre efffects. The little group then walked towards the road.
In front of them, on a distant rise, they saw something glinting in the sun.
. "Wonder what that can be. It's awfully bright," Sopiha remarked to Ann.
Five minutes later, they were nearer to the dazzling point of light.
Soon, they approached the spot. A dead man, his face blackened by the sun, was lying on the dusty road. His mouth, opened against the sky, expesed an an excellent set of teeth which had so sparkled in he sun.
"Yes, I see him...terrible, isn't it, Ann?"
"Ugh...I hope someoned gives him a proper burial."
They walked on and soon forgot the dead man. Sophia's house loomed up before them and presently the group stood in the yard. Genyk and Martin helped the women dispose of Ann's belongings. Afterwards, the boys stole out.
By themselves again, out in the yard, they found all sorts of treasure: Wire. Bits of bazooka, where some hopless tank hunter had no doubt blown himself up, and hundreds of shiny brass cannonshell casings.
A staff car full of German officers roared by on the road in front of the house.
"You're right, Martin...These things actually go by themselves...and see all the men in it..,do they ever look sharp!"
"I used to be like that when I was big," Martin said.
"What do you mean when you were big?"
"When I was big."
"You start off small, then you ge t big, you dummy not the other way around."
"No, no, I was really big before. I was an officer too. And I had a staff car like that and lots of men to tell what to do."
"No, I'm not. It's just that I'm small again now and will have to wait to grow up...but I was really big once."
Genyk could not make heads or tails of this and now dropped the argument.
"Say, let's piss against the fencepost.
Just before they peed, Genyk had a kid's erection, which almost caused him to saok his face, bringing a large laugh from Martin.
THE DEATH OF THE VILLAGE IDIOT.
..............end Eleventh part-chapter, THE BLACK ICON
Friday, December 15, 2006
THE BLACK ICON
Russians. The word galvanized the Podolski household. Old Olyna Gregorska had husled into the house with the news, and now Sophia and the woman were excitedly and fearfully discussing what to do. According to Olyna, the front threatened to go through the very centre of the village. "We've got to hide somewhere until the attack is over," decided Sophia. "Best thing to do would be to go into a cellar somehere, where we'd be safe. But we don't have a cellar in this house."
"That's just what I came to tell you," said Olyna. "I've got a potato cellar in my place and we can hide in there, your family and me."
Relieved, Sophia thanked her and began hustlinginot the kitchen. "The battle might last for days, so we'd better bring some food," she said. "Yes, Olyna agreed. "I'll go home and get everything ready. I'll be expecting you in about two hours.
"Better make it three," said Sophia, computing how loing it would take her to bake enough of the tortilla-like cakes to tide the family over.
By sundown, Olyna showed the family into the cellar, a deep shaft scored with planks, mine-fashion, with potato bags lining it perimeter. It smelled dank, but was fresh to the senses of the children. For them, it was the smell of adventure. Olyna closed the heavy wooden doors behind the group as the first rumblings of cannon fire, like an approaching storm, worried the summer evening. Olyna's eyes caught white flashes on the horizon as the artillery and rocket racks began to let loose. The women then lit candles and glanced at each other in their fearr and uncertainty. Hopefully, they would be safe here.
Katerina and Genyk, meanwhile, began playing games with sticks and bits of rock lying on the cellar floor. An hour passed, then two. The children played on, while the women exchanged fearful glances after each thud and tremor that apprroached the village. It seemed as if a giant were walking towards the settlement, each footstep a thunderous tread of ruin. The reports became louder. Now the children had stopped playing and were huddled against each other. Outside, a grinding and grating alternated with ear-splitting crashes. "Tanks," said Sophia, putting her arm around the children.
Cries and screams of men. Stacatto sounds now alternated with the heavy belch of tank cannon.
The battle lasted all night. The children, having passed their tolerance of fear, now slept fitfully, their arms wrapped around each other, with Sophia and Olyna on either side, offering as much security as they were receiving from the sleeipng, wiry bodies of the children.
Soon, sunlight probed into the cellar. The firing gradually died. After a last stuttering burst of machine gun fire, all was still. An hour passed, then another. Sophia and the widow wondered at the wisdom of venturing out.
Olyna cautiously opened the door and eyed the scene. She paused for a moment, then wagged her hand forward, beckoning to Sophia that it was all right to leave. Sophia roused the children, who had somehow gotten to sleep, and talking each by the hand, led them caustiously into the bright sunlight.
An insane, contaminated planet impinged on the senses of the little group. Smoking trees and houses lay obscenely on the ground. Burning tanks lay fuming impotently, like swamped dinosaurs. Most of the village and the nearby highway had the appearacnce of a smoking junkyard. On the road, gutted personnel carriers blazed against the uncaring sun. Machine guns and anti-tank weapons lay near dark pools of blood. Strangely,there were no dead or wonded onthe battlesite. The fight had apparently moved on, giving defenders a chance to clear away the dead and injured.
To Olyna's relief, her house was untouched, save for a few heavy machine gun rounds that carved up the frames of her shattered windows. Exept for a few gouges in the walls, her home was safe.
Sophia thanked the woman for the use of the shelter, embraced her, and made for her own house.
Arrivng at her home, Sophia found the once-proud building pockmarked with light cannon rounds. Holes laced the upper walls. Smoke poured from the chimey and men milled around a newly set-up howitzer in the yard. The house had evidently been turned into a command post.
Cautiously, Sophia approaced the sentry and told him that this was her home. He looked her over, and beckoned her inside. She found the living room filled with German officers in various states, some eating, others barking terse commands into field phone headsets. The wounded were in one of the bedrooms, an attendant administering to them. Equipment, rifles and amunition were stacked against the walls and the kitchen was filled with weary, hungrily eating soldiers.
Sophia searched for someone in authority and approached a cluster of officers huddled around a map, talking intermittently on hand sets. She was soon shooed away by an orderly and hustled into the kitchen, where, to her relief, she saw a captain eating a tin of rations in front of the hearth.
"This is my house," she said to the captain in Ukrainian. I live here. What has happened.
"Ich verstehe nich, meine Liebe frau," answered the captain. "Aber hier ist ein dolmetscher." He beckoned to a ieutenant, a slight blond man with high cheekbones, apparently a lot of Slav in him. The interpreter explained as much as he could to Sophia. During the night, the Russians had launched a heavy attack and had driven the defenders back west along the highway. But the division had counterattacked with panzers, pushing the Russians back past the previous position. Sohia's house was now a command post and hospital until better quarters could be found.
"But where will I stay now?"
The interpreter phrased Sophia's question to the captain. The officer nodded, anbd sent the junior off to find the Oberst. Sopha's German was good enough to understand that the lieutenant had gone to the colonel in charge with her question.
Soon, a dark, stiffly-moving man with grease still on hs cheek and curliqued silver bars with gold pips on his epaulettes appeared in front of Sophia. He seemed harrassed, but his eyes were bron and soft, not without sensitivity.
"You the woman who owns this house?" the colonel asked.
"Yes,.At least I think I do. You people seen t have other ideas.:
The colonel paused before answering and finlally said patiently, "You'll have your house back as soon as we're through. Until then, you can take the small bedroom...Take them into the room, captain." With that he bowed to the woman, turned on his jackbooted heel, and left. Sophia was a woman of stunning, dark beauty.
The captain ushed the family into the smaller bedroom, hustling out the three NCO's who had been sitting there drrinking a curious-smelling brand of coffee. Sophia and the children placed their belongings in one corner of the room and began taking off their outer clothing, preparing to share the rumpled bed.
All that night, the family heard shuffling noises and excited German talk. Then Sophia hard the sounds of equipment being moved.
In the morning, all sounds ceased and Sopha went out to look around. Almost all the men were gone. Only the interpreter lieutenant and an orderly remained in the house, sorting dispatches and a number of satchels. Piles of cigarette butts, tin cans and ammunition casing filled the rooms. But there was also a number of ration cans that caught Sophia's attention and Sophia beckoned towards the food, asking the lieutenant, who was almost certainly part Ukrainian, if she could have the coveted meat and fish.
"But of course, said the officer, at the same time pulling tow cans of meat out of a pack, offering them to Sophia.
She almost kissed his hands in gratitude.
....end first part of Chapter Eleven, THE BLACK ICON
Thursday, December 14, 2006
I am so pee-ohed.
I was reproducing Chapter Eleven of my Black Icon, the core of it, and suddenly, up comes this nc notation as I was copying and pasting.
I clicked onto the chapter I was retyping and zip. Nada. Just "nc", whatever the hell that is. It certainly doen't mean "No Charge".
Cost me a hell of an outlay in energy to type out the vanished Chapter Eleven, and now it's gone.
At least I have the actual book in front of me.
To busy to learn word. That's what I get. The most important chapter of the black Icon lost in cyberspace.
I mean, art, did I have art, did I ever plan the thing out.
And now it's gone.
So until I get the energy up again, there will be no Chapter Eleven of The Black Icon.
"Thank God," you say?
Did you hear the one about...?
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
THE BLACK ICON
Sophia, now with plenty of money for household expenses and food, decided she'd better go on a vitpust, a pilgrimage to the nearby shrine of the Black Virgin. She put Katerina in charge of the household for the day, and with Genyk in tow, set out towards the shrine, fifteen kilometres away.
Sophia and Genyk walked through the main byway of the village, past rows of thatched, ochre-coloured houses, chickens and pigs snuffling around in picketed front yards; birds twittering in slim, windbreak aspens .
Genyk, dressed up in his knee pants and stiff brown shoes, was all questions. "Why are we going to the shrine, Mother? What is a shrine anyway"
"We are going to make a tribute to the Blessed Virgin to repay God's kindness to us."
"Can't we go see God himself?"
"No what kind of a question is that? God is invisible. He is a spirit."
"Is the Virgin Mary a spirit too?
"Well...yes. I suppose you can say that."
"Well then, how will we be able to see her?"
"We can see her picture. We can see her icon, once we get to the holy place. She left her picture in a high tree after showing herself to a woodcutter while he was drinking water from a spring."
"That's a funny place to leave your picture, " Genyk argued.
"No more questions now," Sophia said, leading the boy out to the dusty, rail - fenced road that led to the shrine.
Genyk was sill curious about the relationship between saints and peope. Were saints like people? Were people like saints?
"What?" from an impatient Sophia.
"Do saints have a "thing"?
"What do you mean, a 'thing'?"
"You know, like boys and girls.
"Whatever makes you ask a question like that?"
"Well, everytime I draw a picture of a saint or angel on a iece of paper, I always show him having a "thing' between his legs. Katarina always laughs at this. Why?"
A hint of a chuckle appeared on Sopha's fine lips. She finally settled the question in an arbitrary fashion. "Saints and angels don't do what we humans do. They don't need 'things'." And she quickly added, "Come on. No more questions now."
The road cut through a quilwork of bright green fields alternating with squares of black, freshly-plowed loam. White-pantalooned men folowed their tired, saggy horses ploughs cutting rills into the rich earth. Stocky brown women hoed the green areas. Sophia and Genyk shuffled throguh the road's powdery dust, Genyk every so often pausing to wipe his new shoes, surprised at the pristine shine underneath.
The road now led into a woods, and the pilgrims injoyed the cool smell of pine and ancient gun-grey oaks.
Genyk was getting the hunger bites and Sophia led him off the road a bit, towards a tree-covered knoll. They stopped at an Easter-time dugout, many of these around the villages, tables of sod, seats carved into the earth.
Something pagan about these sites, perhaps tribute places to an ancient Orpheus, but in Christian tradition, these were places to eat church-blessed breakfasts in the open air at Easter time, the whole family taking part. The ritual commemorated Christ's rising from the earthen tomb. Genyk recalled plrevious Easters when he and the family ate slpiced eggs and fragrant sausage in dugouts similar to this one.
Sohia and her son now sat in one of these earthen dining spots, the woman opening a kerchiefed bundle, taking out black bread and backfat. They ate quietly and with relish, only the forest sounds adding to their ruminating.
Afterwards, they stretched out for a nap in the clover. Genyk was just drifting off when Sophia took him by the hand, raised him up. "Not too far now. Let's get back on the road."
A metallic sun, burnished by gritty cloud layers, hung high and aloof from the shrine's oniontopped chapel by the time Genyk and Sophia rached the holy place. They stood on the base of the chapel's supporting hill and looked at the impressive litlle edifice: Byzantine, mostly wood, layer upon layer of skirt-like cornices over a square base; gilded belfry spiralling up in a teardrop whorl, the apex topped by a solid, motion-arresting cross.
Along the hill, a little brook trickled its oblique way down to the spot where Sopha and Genyk stood, the "sweet afton" gradually disappearing in a clump of willows and shrubs to the pilgrims' left. Sophia pointed to a square wooden structure to the right, apparently the source of the stream. "That's where it happened, long ago, Genyk. That's where the Virgin Mary showed herself to the holy woodcutter."
Shifting her eyes from the chapel to the shack, Genyk was unimpressed. "It's a funy-shped building," he decided.
It looks just like an outhouse."
Sophia was apalled. She glared at the boy through narrowed eyes and then, almost in an atavistic gesture, hauled her hand back and struck Genyk full in the face. He saw stars.
"You are a dirty little runt to talk like that about a holy place."
Geny, lately prone to saying the wrong thing, no matter how well intentioned, nursed his cheek and held back the tears. Who was this crazy woman who purported to be his mother?
They crossed the brook after Sophia had taken a little of its water in a earthen jar. They made for the chapel.
Inside, it was cool and calm, silence only occasionally broken by the barely -sensed crack of settling hardwood pews Along the walls, intense-eyed icons jealously demanded individual worship, their fine-lined haloed features designed to strike awe and piety into the beholder.
Directly in front of Genyk and Sophia, stood a whie wedding cake of an altar, imposing by itself, but very pale compared to the icons of the Black Madonna over a side altar to the right. Here, the Black Virgin's seemingly mascaraed eyes stared gloomily under a dark, silver-striped cowl. The Virgin cradled a a miniature twelve-year-old in her arms.
To either side of the the two heads, the cyrillic characters MP and XP stood framed by thorn wreaths and instruments of torture, Christ's invevitable fate.
It was the face of the Virgin that held Sophia's attention. Sophia had been to this chapel countless times but she had never seen the Virgin quite so dark, so menacing, so scowling. Candle soot, dust, yes, but there was definitely a scowl on the Virgin's face. Heretofore, the Icon's features had been a pleasant, Mediterranean flesh tone.. But now the Madonna's face seemed so dark that her wide-eyed, cowled features were barely recognizable. Sophia looked up toward the domed ceiling. Maybe the stained glass windows were not letting in enough light.
But no, that couldn't be . A rising, lead-panelled Christ was flooding the chapel with varicoloured rays. Sophia began to feel something like outright dread. There had been talk in Kolomya county that the miracualous Virgin often predicted the times. Once the Madonna's face turned darker than its usual Coptic shade, evil was predicted for the region. It was a grimy, burnt, hell-scorched ehd Madonna. This, of course, was all old wives' talk and superstition, and Sophia tried not to dwell on the point, just to to reassure herself. But the more she stared at the icon, the more frightened she became. She crossed herself, feeling a shudder go through her. She had to pray. And the boy had to pray too.
Sophia cast a glance at Genyk, the boy busy looking around the chapel, taking in the frescoes, tempera work, the age-browned bible illustrations. She tugged at his head to stare at the front and motioned to Genyk that he should follow her example, to begin to pray. Genyk complied, crossing himself three times and reciting a sibilant Hail Mary to the black, scowling Virgin.
Finally, the two fo them moved out into the aisle, bowed low in front of the sacristy, and made for the gright, sunny afternoon.
On the way home, Sophia puzzled Genyk by keeping very near him and telling the boy that whe would aways love him and Katerina no matter what came. And asking him if he understood.
...........end Black Icon, Chapter ten
Sunday, December 10, 2006
Even though there are days when I want to send Dr. David Suzuki back to firing up his bunsen burners and goosing fruit flies, global warming seems to have arrived. It is December 10 and I'm out in shirtsleeves, doing my ten-mile walk.
Why a ten-mile walk?
Because I'm crazy. I like to walk the entire perimeter of my 20-mile- square mini-city with no other goal than chasing my own backside.
Activity drive, the psych prof used to call it. You can see it in kids and animals. My wife once called me an animal.
There are other drives of course, curiosity, the co-ordinates to get home, libido.
My old prof, who wrote a book called The Night The Gods Smiled (Collins) says two things are certain:
1) You will get laid
2) You will get your book published.
Well. I did get laid, but that was a long time ago. Now it's watching upskirt videos--"All men are perversts," said my last duchess.
As for getting the book published, I did, but I made a whole $5.00 out of it.
Ah activity drive, activity drive.
I'd better give you the tail end of Chapter Nine of my novel, THE BLACK ICON
Ordinarily, Sophia wasn't much for standing on a frozen river, shuffling from one foot to the other while a priest blessed the stream and offered holy water brough up through a hole in the ice. But today, she decided to take the children. Best to stay in good graces with the Almighty.
The family, muffled, multi-socked and prepared for the worst weather, stood on the ice and watched a sleek, dimpled little priest begin blessing the ice with a big ball-topped brass rod, while the muffled congregation watched his every move. Most of the parisioners carried buckets, these eventually to be dipped in the pre-cut hole in the ice. The holy water was an elixir, a cure for all ills and something to ward off evil. This particular winter, there was plenty of evil to ward off. The harvest had been poor because of a drought in early fall. A bad spring could make all the difference between prosperity and starvation.
Spring brought apprehension. Heavy rains, welcome at first, soon became a definite source of worry. Towards the second wek of steady dowpour, Sophia would look out the window, see the road in front of her house turn into a river, and begin worrying.
Genyk and Katerina could not get enough of the weather, splashing around on the flooded banks of the Towmach brook, catching frogs and watersnakes there, taking rides on rafts built by older boys.
The children would come home to find Sophia on edge. They got to gauge her episodes. She was apt now to hit them on any provocation. Like old Baba. Like Baba Yaga, it seemed at times to the kids. Sophia's grandmother had been a monstrous child-abuser. There was something of old Baba left in Sophia.
The kids tried to have fun, but they had no idea of the reality of their situation. Besides dodging Sophia's swipes.
Sophia wold visit her friend, Ann Podolan and share her fears. "Most of the topsoil is gone, with the river flooding.
We won't have any produce at all now. And you have neither pig nor cow, Sophia.
"Let's just hope your man and mine can send something from Germany."
After the rain, the washed-out filelds would not hold seed. By early sumer, weeds dwarfed the emaciated crops.
Famine. It could be seen approaching. People woud exchange uneasy observations, become tight with money and food. And in June the first casualty, a small child, belly distended and eyes bulging, lay in its coffin, surrouded by its gaunt elders. Sophia and the children stood in the church square and crossed themselves. MIchael had stopped sending money again.
Sophia did her chores and worried. Every day she would go out into her potato field and pull up a yellowed plant here and there in the hope of finding the little pea-sized tubers. On lucky days, she would bring home a handful of bean-sized potatoes barely past the stage of roots. "Do I have to share these potatoes with Katerina" Genyk would ask, selfish in his hunger. Katerina would always volunteer her share, quietly eating her larded pigweed while Genyk lapped up the fragrant, fresh potato soup.
On July seventh, Genyk's fifth birthday, Sophia was near tears as she once more made for the potato patch. Lately, Genyk had gotten whiney and irritable from lack of food. Katerina was on the verge of collapse.
Vainly, Sophia dug around the emaciated plants. Just roots. Here and there, pigweed.
"Roots and pigweed. Our lot," Sophia muttered.
She looked up at the sky where her God lived and was about to make
an imprudent curse when she saw Katerina running towards her through the thin rows.
Michael had send a letter. And money too.
...............end BLACK ICON, Chapter Nine
Spring of l942 found the family in high spirits. Mail from Germany now arrived every week. Michael wold include a healthy banknote in each letter. Sophia bought clothes and food for the family. The near-starvation of the past winter now seemed a bad dream. And then Michael announced that he was coming home on a furlough.
In a month he arrived, resplendent and strange: bright brown suit to match his eyes; loud, wide rainbow tie, and two-tone shoes, the latest thing in Germany. Shiny patent leather suitcase full of dry goods and toys for the children. And a gunnysack full of blackmarket items.
Genyk was thrilled by this modish stranger who was no one less than his own father, back from a distant land, filling the children's hand with toys, telling them all about the Rhineland and its castles, promising Genyk and Katerina that they too would see Germany soon.
Genyk spent hours firing off his shiny new flame-spitting pistol. Past suffering was forgotten. Genyk felt he would always be safe and secure in the care of this distant god who was his father.
The family took the train to Kolomya, the nearest town and had a photograph taken, Genyk standing at the end of the Podolski family lineup, not knowing what was going on until the portrait arrived a few days later. There was his father, looking prosperous and healthy, rich chesnut hair not a bit spoiled by the sepia tone, character lines already forming handsomely around the straight, resolute mouth. And Mother, her bright print kerchief restraining the long, gypsy-black hair, breasts straining trhough a man's suitcoat, striped, yellow silk skirt covering her thighs. Katerina, prim and efficient-looking in her simple, but well-embroidered peasant outfit. And there, at the end of the line, stood Genyk, a blond, round-faced child. Small mouth and puffy cheeks; well fed and healthy.
Michael vanished as quickly as he had come. He left Sophia a little money, assured her that he was better off in Germany now where he was sure of work and money and told her to wait. To himself, Michael was thinking, "So what if I'm a showpiece and the factories are full of slave labourers working terrible hours, women getting their hair caught in machines. So I am the only slave labourer who knows how to make wooden panels for Mercedes-Benz station wagons by hand; they didn't make me a showpiece slave labourer for nothing." Michael had been chosen by "Signal", the German propaganda magazine, to be a story subject and example of how well foreign workers were doing in Germany. He had been picked, but for the others, it had been pure hell and starvation rations. There were people in his factory who hated him." There might be a pension for me," he lied to Sophia. "Then I can come back and resume my contracting business."
Sophia, three hundred marks richer, seeing the children health and bright, mad no complaint.
But the prospect of spending her nights alone in her bed made an empty gully of her stomach. At the railway station, she kissed Michael long and hard while the children cried.
Summer. Sophia, strong and healthy, aching for a man, tended the fields: feeling the earth fertile and soft under her sun-bright hoe, working hard and long to take her mind off Michael. The sound of the implement chunking into the earth, the habitual, easy motion of her body, all helped to eash a sharp, white yearning.
In the distance, towards the west, a train moved noislessly through a heat haze, smoke puffing white and dreamy through the windbreaks.
Near Sophia, bees buzzed amng clumbs of blue wildflowers slated for execuction under her hoe.
In about an hour, Sojphia would join up with Kalyna Ostapnova, her neighbour. Already the other woman was walking towards Sophia from her own adjoining tract.
The sight of Kalyna and her son working towards Sophia took Sophia's mind off her own troubles.
"Poor overworked Kalyna," Sophia thought.
Kalyna was widowed and her son was a congenital idiot.
Kalyna's offspring was a leering, howling mass of disjointed emotion. When frustrated or in a fit of temper he would strike out at his mother or anybody nearby. The woman would retaliate with a hoe or pitchfork...He could not be hurt! The vituperativeness of the retarded. She hated this stone-deaf bull-like creature and cursed every day she had to live with him. Often, when Sophia worked near th Ostapovna place, she could hear the thirty-year-old howling like an animal.
He would have been six feet tall if able to stand erect: Hunchbacked, hatchetfaced, "a blight upon my life" Kalyna had often complained Mother and son lived near the railway depot, the idiot often disturbing debarking passengers
with his attempts to speak to anyone and everyone, the resulting sound being a broken, choked "Bronx cheer".
The pair now neared Sophia. Sophia could see the wiry, pleasantly-featured woman prodding the imbecile while he held his hoe like something strange and uneartly, a curious-making, but unsolvable manifestation of the cosmos. Every so often, the woman would punch the thirty-year-old cretin in the side to goad him from one potato clump to the next. The idiot would howl, his wild-eyed lantern of a face threatening and somehow unearthly.
"Bozhe Pomahai," Sophia greeted the pair.
"Bozhe Pomahai," Kalyna answered. "How are you doing with your husband away?"
"I would be doing a lot better if he were here," Sophia answered, straightening up from her work and passing a over a sweaty, very sweaty brow. "At least you have a husband," Kalyna said. "All I have is this," she said, pointing to the now seated Chyvago, legs spread, sifting leaves and soil though his misshapen hands, every so often looking up at the sky and burbling like a baby. "The will of God," Kalyna sighed.
"Yes, the will of God, " Sophia said uncertainly, contemplaing Kalyna's life, and her own empty months ahead without a husband.
Kalyna's dull grey eyes peered at Sojphia through parchment crinkles. Sophia seemed like a tired Madonna under the cowl-like kerchief.
"Why don't you go dancing, kick up your heels a little?" she said to Sophia.
"That's all I'd need. They're enough people her who'd just love to write a letter. I'd lose my paper man.
They chatted on while beginning to work outwards from their meeing point. As the distance increased, they exchanged less and less, sophia watching Chyago being booted from one row to th next, efvery so often shaking a fist at his prodding mother.
Sophia worked long into the hot afternoon, the sung hanging lower wih every pause she took to straighten and clear the kinks from her back. By suppertime she was in harmonywith herself, pleasanly, hungry, looking forward to eating withthe children.
That night, Sophia a fell asleep beside the children surrendering to the sweet warm blackness, dreams of straight-shouldered men with god-like eyes forgotten as soon as they occurred.
Katrina, now eleven years old, was stuck for days at a time with Genyk, a maddening kneee-breeched question mark whoul would not leave her alone for a minute. Why is the sun bright? Who is God? How did you get that red mark on your cheek?-- It never goes away!
"I fell on a a rail at the tracks and hit my face, long ago, Katerina would aswer the question.
Nex day Genyk would be at it again.
"How did you get that red mark on your cheek?
"I told you. I slipped and fell on the railroad track.
Though Katerina loved Genyk, perhaps a little too much as older sisters can be twisted and cruel, the little blond brother was her cross. Sohia had instructed Katerina to take the boy wherever she went.
Whenever off to Elena's, Katerina's girlfriend, Genyk had to be constantly enterained and taken care of, whimpering when ever neglencted.
"Tell me a story...Why don't you talk to me? Why do crabs smell when you take the out of the water? ...You're walking too far in front of me.
Over the months, Katerina worked out a system. Wherever she went, she would lead the boy around by means of a stick. "I'm the engine and your'e the train."
They would trot for days along the Towmach Brook, its willow smell wafting into their nostrils. And then the storng, musky smell of prawn thrown up on the sandy banks by naked, laughing village chidren.
By winter when the village steamed and cracked in the silent cold, Katerina was resigned to life with t he imp.
Sleighing,shovelling snow,shivering with cold during open -air Masses on the frozen brook, the Feast of Jordan with her two -foot runny-nosed shadow beside her. And shivering.
.............end chapter nine space break.
Friday, December 08, 2006
The potato diet was now beginning to affect the family. A lethargy set in, and all three were becoming irritable with the meatless fare. Languid. And little Genyk was infested with roundworms.
One night Genyk awoke, complaining of a buzzing sound in his ears. Katerina, knowing just what this meant, was the first to rise, putting a match to he coal oil lamp on the oaken table between the children's beds. The light, streaming through the children's open bedroom dooway, woke Sophia immediately; Sophia had long-since gotten used to this ritual. She sat upright in bed for a few seconds, then put her feet on the cold earth floor, at the same time grasping out for the pile of newspapers prepared for just such an emergency.
In the other bedroom, she could hear Genyk shouting out, "The buzzing. It's getting louder. And I feel like I'm going to poop."
Sophia hurried towards Genyk, a handful of newsprint rusling in her sleep-numbed fingers.
While Kateria tried to comfort the boy, Sophia threw back his covers, yanked down the baggy pantaloons that served as the boy's covers, and did what had to be done.
Genyk, lying face down, Katerina's hand gently stroking his head, cringed as he felt the stiff paper touching him.
"Got that one...Here, get me some more paper, Katerina. Poor boy, they just keep coming out...damn worms." Sophia continued the operation for twenty minutes, tossing each long, dark, wire-consistent parasite on an outstrtched centrespread on the floor.
"There, that ought to be the last of them," she said finally.
Genyk began crying, but settled down after Sophia stroked his head and flushed face.
While Katerina continued to calm the boy, Sophia made for the kitchen, returning with a large jar of pickle brine, said by the village women to be a cure for worms. Genyk, whimpering and wanting something to get rid of the foul taste in his mouth, snatched at the brine jar and began taking loud swallows.
"Drink as much of it as you can," Sophia said. "It'll keep the worms away." But she scolded Genyk while he gulped down the brackish fluid. "What did I tell you about eating all that brown sugar? It gives you worms, and if you keep eating it all by iself like that, someday they'll come out of your throat in a ball. I've sen it happen."
Genyk took the jar away from his moth and shrieked, making Sophia immediately sorry for the insensitive chiding. She cradled the brine jar in he crook of her arm and stretched out her free hand worad Genyk, caressing his face. "There now, she soothed, pulling th covers back over Genyk. Katerina, on the other side of he bed, stroked Genyk's head and shoulders.
Genyk fell asleep after a last stiff sob.
The Russian Nobel prize winner seems to carry on too long with the unbearable pain and suffering of the Gulag inmates, as our correspondents Sela Carsen points out, and Alexandre Trudeau gives us stories of the Middle East almost equally depressing in these dark times.
Who's going to save this cotton pickin' world?
Change the story, change the world, says increasingly famous Douglas Rushkoff, out of New York City, with whom I occasionally correspond. Prof. Rushkoff is really talking of his recent foray into comic books after succesfully publishing a series of books on the Jewish diaspora. The comic book is an amazing vehicle. There have been coming book classics produced that echo Dostoevsky, Kafka, Orwell. Not just superheroes now, but something like the Bible, at least in parts of what Dr. Rushkoff presents. Comics have been the bible of kids for generations.
Send George Bush a serious comic book?
Through a medium he can understand, he might just see the world for the first time.
I have not produced a comic book
I have produced a mini-book.
I am amazed that forty years after I wrote my Black Icon, a million, yea, a billion people are repeating the godawful story of losing home, life, limb in the course of some stupid war or preventable famine. And things are not getting better for three-fourth of the word. They are getting worse, far worse.
The characters in my Black Icon survive by sheer peasant bullheadedness and blind luck
Also the undivorceability of the basic Slavic family unit. My Ukies stay together, come hell or high water.
"Ivan does not spare the suffering," said Barney McKinley in the Toronto Mirror
I am not Solzhenitsyn, neither am I Alexandre Trudeau.
But my work does contain instances of almost unbearable suffering, cruelty yea, even scatology. My Sophia is Neolithic.
So my Black Icon is not for the squeamish.
Ah, we fat North Americans. Transfat, you say. Scallions. Attacks on Taco Bell. Call them fugitive fries?
Josie's poor flatulent lady on the plain.
Could it be somehow construed that she had gone to the Taco Bell near the airport.
Tom Ridge is apt to do almost anything.
There are people who are not allowed to eat at all.
THE BLACK ICON
The winter of 1941-42 raged around Gallicia like a hungry white animal. Food became scarce. Though Sophia was getting plenty of mail from Germany, Michael was sending little money, asking, in fact if she would sprinkle a little tobacco along the corners of her letters. "Things must be really good!" Sophia had written. Just stamps and subsistence food for Michael over at the German factory.
He had tried to offer four potatoes to a runaway starving Jew, for which he was severely beaten and sent to a correction camp. Hardly possible to send Sophia money from there.
In the midst of it all, Sophia had to bury her grandmother.
The family would sit by the glow of the combination clay stove and fire-heated sleeping perch, eating potato soup.
Very Van Gogh.
"Where is Daddy?" young Genyk wold ask while he fingerpainted on the cold, hoary windowpanes. There would be no answer from Sophia, but at least there was soup. Katerina and Genyk, filled up onthe floury gruel, watching the billowing snow through the clear spots in the feather-patterned windows.
Soon, not only food, but wood became scarce. Fuel could always be stolen from the old crown forest, but foraging for food was more dangerous. Sophia would join forces with one Ann Podolan, whose husband was also in Germany and the two women became accomplished thieves. The large German warehouse nearby had a section where potatoes were kept. Guards were posted around the more important sheds, those containing soap and gasoline. But the whole fenced-in area was patrolled by dogs. One woman would stand near a hole in the fence, watching for dogs and hundfuhrers while the other woud make for the raised wooden doors where the potatoes were. Here, the lock, an old blacksmith-made thing, was easy to open. Such locks were standard in Galicia and the key to one would open them all. But the dogs.
One night, Sophia crept under the fence and made for the root cellar door. Halfway, she paused, looking back at Ann. It was clear. Now she was at the cellar entrance, skeleton key out, ready to be inserted into the smiling hole in the black face. A click and the hasp flew open. She was about to raise the door and go in, but something stopped her. She looked up to see two yellow eyes peering back.
The dog, young and large-chested, stared at her, more curious than menacing. She froze. The two of them crouched on their respective fours, eyeing each other for a full minute. From behind, Sophia heard Ann hissing at her. Too late. Now the animal moved towards Sophia, quietly, as if stalking a bird. She clutched at the heavy loose lock. her left hand, meanwhile, was winding a heavy linen handkerchief around itself. The dog sensed something. A low growl rose in its throat, as its training took over. It was the last noise the dog ever made.
On him like a flash, Sophia wasted no energy. Her right hand grasped the dog behind the forepaws, the left rammed itself into the opening jaws, past the horrible teeth--and stayed there in the Alsatian's throat while the animal writhed. After the spasms settled into weak jerks, two skull-bruising whacks with the lock finished the dog off.
In the cellar now, cutting a large burlap bag with a jacknife, letting the potatoes tumble into her uplifted skirt; raising the door with with her head, cautiously at first, then up higher, enough to ler her out; dashing to where Ann was waiting. Then keeping guard while tthe other woman took her turn, past the door, past the dog, into the potatoes.
While running for home, they decided they'd better try another warehouse next, perhaps a boxcar where the Hungarians kept rations.
The following night, a woman was ripped apart by four Alsatians.
..............end BLACK ICON, Chapter Six.
----- Original Message -----
From: Ivan Prokopchuk