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ADELAIDE Independent Monthly Literary Magazine / Revista Literária Independente Mensal, New York / Lisboa, Online Edition  

 

 

 

 

 


IT WAS HIS HABIT TO GO TO BED EARLY

by Toni Morgan

 


Following a supper of potatoes fried in an iron skillet with two pork chops and three eggs, he carefully scraped his plate then threw the already picked-clean bone into the yard for the three-legged dog.  He washed and dried the dish along with his eating utensils then wiped out the skillet and set it on the back of the stove for use the following night.  While it was still light, he updated his stock journal and then read a chapter from his Bible. 

It was his habit to go to bed early and most nights he slept soundly.  Just before the sky began to lighten, with the aid of an internal alarm clock connected to the first stirrings of the animals in the barn, he awakened and rose, not pausing to reflect on the day just passed or the day ahead. 

After a quick wash, he pulled on shirt, overalls, and thick wool stockings and padded to the back door where he took his brown canvas jacket from its peg on the wall, shrugged into it, and pulled on his rubber barn boots, aligned and waiting, toes pointing to the wall. 

Outside, a heavy mist swirled down the side of the mountain and formed a shroud over the barn and house, intensifying his sense of safety and refuge.  The lone walnut tree, moisture beading its armored fretwork, stood sentry.  He drew in a lungful of air. The farm was his fortress.

Impatient lowing pulled him across the yard to the milking parlor. Soon the sweetly sour smell of molasses and the funky odor of damp wool and muddy boots merged with the sound of ruminating cows, placid as he kept covenant.  Their tribute streamed into his bucket.

~~~

Rain fell in primordial abundance. It pressed downward on every field and copse, obliterating the distant brooding houses and farms and the heaving river at the mountain’s base. It turned his morning and evening forays to the barn and the milking parlor a slithering obstacle course. Then it stopped. In its wake came a silence louder than the pounding of the heavy drops on the roof that for days had drilled into his brain.  

He stepped from the house and his eyes instantly began a search for storm damage. He saw mostly mud.  A cow stuck her nose to the ground as she cautiously stepped from the shelter of the corrugated iron loafing shed attached to the barn.  Her light brown sides quivered as she sniffed.  Behind her were the bobbing heads of two other cows, pushing and jockeying, impatient to be free.  Finally, the three cows and two heifers emerged and in an orderly line, moved up the muddy path to the pasture.  A few chickens, looking for worms or insects, milled through the mud in their pen while the rest remained in the coop. 

As he re-nailed a board to the side of the house, torn loose by the wind and rain, he heard a loud “hellooo.”  Approaching up the track was his new neighbor. 

Sara Nowak looked as unkempt as ever in baggy twill pants stuffed into boots caked with mud and covered with bits of grass and straw, her faded green shirt half in and half out of the waistband.  She had thrown a horse blanket over her shoulders and fastened it together in front with a large safety pin. Underneath a too-large grey felt hat set low on her forehead and bending the tops of her ears, her faded brown hair, curled and frizzed in the humidity, fell in clumps to her shoulders.

“Yoohoo.  Mr. Bell, yoohoo.”  She waved an arm above her head as she quickened her pace over the rough and slippery pathway.  When she reached him, her face was flushed and her breath came in quick spurts.  “Oh, dear,” she got out.  “Wait a minute while I catch my breath.” 

No one knew how Sara Nowak had come to be in the Duric’s place, which had stood empty since Mr. and Mrs. Duric followed their two grown children to the city five years before.  The first he knew someone was living there again was when he heard wood being chopped and later saw smoke coming from the chimney.   

He looked to the tor that loomed behind his barn.  A crow flew from a tall spruce at the edge of the woods bordering his pasture and landed on the barn’s ridgepole.  He wondered what the woman was going to ask of him this time.

“I need a ride into town tomorrow,” she said. “I know it’s your delivery day.”
He considered her request. It seemed innocent enough. He nodded.
“Good,” she said. “I’ll be ready.” She turned and went back the way she’d come.


~~~


He downshifted and the ancient Dacia-Logan utility van ground its way to the bottom of the grade and the highway that ran next to the river.  Sara Nowak had changed the horse blanket for a faded corduroy jacket he thought might once have been blue, but other than that, she appeared just as the day before, including oversized hat and mud-splattered boots. 

They passed the Lompar farm. There were blossoms on the apple trees in the orchard hinting at the fruit to come. Through the otherwise bare branches he caught glimpses of the storage sheds. He saw no sign of activity near the sheds and returned his attention to the pothole-filled road ahead.

Without warning, the apple trees became tall, dark fir trees, the broad river a rock-filled torrent, and the road ahead a narrow mountain path. His grandfather spoke to him. Forget the girl. We can’t stay with these people. We must leave them and find your mother and sister. Blood pounded in his ears, perspiration beaded on his forehead.

“You can drop me off at the bank when we get there,” Sara Nowak said. “I’ll meet you at the grocery store.”

He forced his grip on the steering wheel to relax. The blood returned to his fingers, the fir trees faded back to apple trees. His grandfather’s voice turned into the hum of the vehicle’s engine. He nodded and reached into his pocket for a cigarette—he allowed himself three a day. 

“Shouldn’t smoke,” she said. “Fouls your lungs.”

He ignored her. Steering with his knee, he took his hands from the wheel long enough to strike a match and hold the flame to the end of the cigarette. His hands shook. He nearly dropped the match before he got the cigarette lit.  She cranked her window down. Cold air blew in. Neither spoke.

He turned off the highway and passed over the bridge and the railroad tracks into the main part of town. It consisted of the bank, a grocery, a miniscule post office, a pharmacy and liquor store combined, the barber shop, a dress shop and a couple of other businesses, none of them thriving. At the end of the street stood the school, a one-story red brick building with the flag of Montenegro in front. Children were yelling and playing a game of field hockey next to it. He had a sudden vision of his own childhood, his school, the games they’d played. He pushed those thoughts from his head and pulled to the curb in front of the bank. Sara Nowak got out. 

The feed store was located between the river and the railroad tracks. He drove back over the tracks and turned into the store’s narrow parking lot.  He went inside then came out again and drove around to the loading dock. The utility van bounced with each bag of feed tossed into the back.  When the two young men were done loading, he nodded thanks and drove off.

At the grocery store, after being handed a receipt for his cheeses, he put a case of baked beans in the shopping cart then moved on to the meat counter. Three packages of pork chops, another three of ham slices, and two pounds of bacon joined the beans. Next, he threw in a five pound can of coffee, two loaves of bread and a large bag of potatoes.  Sara Nowak appeared as, one at a time, he pulled bills from his wallet and handed them to the cashier.

“Nice weather we’re having,” said the cashier, handing him his change. “Going to be summer before we know it.”
“Yes,” he answered and slipped the coins into his leather coin purse. He turned to Sara Nowak. “Are you ready?”
She nodded toward the bag in her hand. “Got all I need.”

By the time he returned home, it was almost time for evening chores. Down from the pasture, the cows milled expectantly outside the milking parlor.

~~~

The next time he went to town, the blossoms on the apple trees at the Lompar farm had been replaced by apples the size of hazelnuts, almost hidden among the grassy-green leaves.  Mrs. Lompar and her daughter applied hoes to the nearly weed-free ground beneath the trees. They each wore a straw hat. Neither raised her head as he drove past.

Sara Nowak had once again asked him for a ride into town. Her appearance hadn’t changed over the intervening three weeks except that she had discarded the jacket.

“Do you miss the home country?” she asked.
He gave her a startled look. “What do you mean?”
“Kosovo. Do you miss it?”

His hands gripped the steering wheel. “You are mistaken. I am not from Kosovo.”

“Oh, I think you are, Mr. Belushi. But if that’s the way you want it, I won’t spread your secret. I just want to know why you didn’t have the decency to tell her goodbye, why you snuck away.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. My name is Bell. Adrian Bell.”
She shrugged. “Have it your way. You can drop me off here. I’ll meet you at the grocery store.”

That night, he had his usual dinner of fried potatoes and meat. He updated his stock journal, where he noted how much milk each cow produced.  He didn’t read his Bible, however, and when he went to bed, he didn’t immediately fall into a dreamless sleep.

~~~

There were fifteen of them, mostly young men and a few women. Ethnic Albanians whose mission was fighting Yugoslav Serbs. It was an old fight, with hatreds going back centuries. Dressed in fatigues, they said they were part of the Kosovo Liberation Army. 

Adrian Belushi and his grandfather had been making their way across the mountains to Montenegro, where they hoped to find Adrian’s mother and sister, when they fell in with the small band. He was unsure how safe it was to travel with them. He wondered if he and his grandfather wouldn’t be better off on their own, even though they were in unfamiliar territory and had no maps.  For now, at least, the group was going in the direction he would have chosen, so he and his grandfather continued on with them.

He helped his grandfather over a log in the path that led down the mountain to the boulder-strewn river below.  The sky was clear, but the air crisp and cool. Leaves had already begun to fall.

“I need to piss,” his grandfather said.

But those ahead and behind wouldn’t slow, and Adrian knew they were becoming impatient with the old man. He tightened his grip on his grandfather’s arm.

“I should be at home,” his grandfather muttered. 

Adrian, too, wished they were home, wished they could go back to the time before the war, before his father had gone into town for supplies and not returned.  After days without word and fearing he’d been conscripted by one side or the other, his mother and sister had joined a group heading for the Montenegro border.  He and his grandfather had camped in the woods next to the farm, watching the house and waiting for his father. 

Instead of his father, a truck loaded with men in miss-matched uniforms drove up to the house. Several of them pushed through the front door and re-emerged a few minutes later with a pair of candlesticks that had belonged to Adrian’s grandmother, but nothing else.  They laughed as they lit a torch and threw it into the house.   

They didn’t stay to watch their handiwork, but climbed into the back of the truck as it pulled away. Smoke poured from the door. Adrian rose from their hiding place, intending to run from the woods and put out the flames, but his grandfather held him back.

“No. They might see you.”

The roof caught fire and soon the house was engulfed in flames. Several hours later, they searched the rubble for anything that could be salvaged. They found nothing. After two more days and still no sign of Adrian’s father, his grandfather said they must go.

“He’s not coming back. We must search for your mother and sister.”

Nearly a week had passed since they stumbled on the KLA band.   Covertly, Adrian watched one of the young women in the group. He admired her glorious and unbound black hair and the way her body moved inside the close-fitting uniform.  He didn’t have much experience with girls.  There had been few to talk with in the village. Besides, there’d been too much work on the farm.  This girl, Lena, was older, eighteen or nineteen to his sixteen years. Maybe she would have the experience he lacked.   

They crossed the narrow but swiftly moving river at mid-afternoon, holding their weapons above their heads.  Two men, Stephan, with the crooked back, and Haka, covered the group as they crossed. Adrian held his grandfather’s arm, steadying him in the current.

A man came from behind them and gripped his grandfather’s other elbow, half lifting him from the water.  “We have no time for niceties,” he said. Everyone knew they were vulnerable to attack while crossing open water, although they’d seen no sign of Serb activity. 

Once across, wet and shivering, they followed the river a short distance and then turned west.  The ground rose in front of them and the forest soon closed around them. After the noise of the river, the silence of the forest gave Adrian an uneasy feeling. No one spoke and there was little light. Clothes and boots still damp, he peered into the green darkness bordering the trail, sure he glimpsed something darting from tree to tree. Once he thought he heard a limb break. The others appeared to pay no heed.   

Eventually they came to a clearing. One of the men built a small campfire.  Adrian eased his grandfather to the ground at the base of a tree. The ground was made soft by a thick carpet of needles. The old man leaned back against the tree, his eyes closed. Adrian shrugged out of his jacket and draped it around his grandfather’s shoulders.

After a while, Lena brought a plate of food.

“It was dropped from an American airplane,” she said. His grandfather scoffed at the idea, but ate the food anyway.

Lena held out her hand.  Without looking toward his grandfather, Adrian placed his hand in hers.  She gave a slight tug, pulling him upright.  Together, they walked into the forest.

Even then, he’d known Lena’s goal was to recruit him to their cause. “You are young and fit,” she’d said, laying in his arms. “You should join us.  We’ll take care of your grandfather.”

“She’s bewitching you,” his grandfather said the following morning. “She is not to be trusted. She will keep you from your duty, finding your mother and sister and taking care of them.”

But Adrian, filled with youthful lust, ignored the old man and lay with Lena again. This time he promised to join them.

Three days later, they came to another river crossing and once again Adrian helped his grandfather. In midstream, he was pushed from behind hard enough to lose his grip on his grandfather’s elbow. The old man was swept away. Frantic, Adrian tried to grab one of his grandfather’s thin arms, but the current was too swift and his grandfather was quickly pulled under. Adrian swam after the old man, diving, coming up for air and diving again. Each time he returned to the surface empty-handed.

He didn’t want to leave his grandfather’s body for animals to discover, but after more than an hour of fruitless searching in the river and along the bank, Lena said it was no use. “We need to move on,” she said, her eyes and face filled with pity. “You need to move on.”

The man who claimed to have fallen against Adrian expressed remorse. Adrian didn’t believe him.  He supposed he’d always known taking care of his grandfather wouldn’t be anyone else’s priority.

He remained with Lena and the group that winter, tramping through snow during the day, searching for food and avoiding detection, huddled around small campfires at night, plotting what and who they would attack when the weather warmed. Later, cocooned in a blanket, Lena would tell Adrian a little of her life before the war and her dreams of a free and independent Kosovo. Adrian told her of his need to find his mother and sister in Montenegro. He planned to find another farm where they would all live.

At no time did they encounter government forces. 

Spring came and they kept moving, but when they came to the edge of a village ten kilometers from the border, Adrian slipped away. 

He never found his mother and sister, despite making his way across Montenegro’s many mountains to Kotor, where his mother’s sister lived and where his mother and sister had planned to go.  The journey took six months.

His aunt said she hadn’t heard from his mother. “Only her letter saying she and your sister were coming. Something must have happened to them.” 

For months, Adrian continued his search, but finally had to accept the fact that his mother and sister were gone to him.  He took a job in a factory that built large in-ground and above-ground tanks. He shared a room with two other men. For seven years he ate meagerly, bought only bare necessities, and saved every extra penny. At first, many nights he would awaken in a panic after dreaming about what might have happened to his mother and sister. Had the group they joined been stopped and executed? Had their bodies been thrown into a mass grave as rumors claimed happened?  His sister was only twelve. He didn’t want to think what rogue soldiers, like the ones who’d burned their house, might have done to her. Killing her would have been a gift.

Over the years, the dreams came less often.  Eventually, he saved enough money to buy his farm. 

~~~~

Although he had no memory of her, Sara Nowak must have been part of the KLA band he and his grandfather had fallen in with. Or, she’d joined them after he left. But why had she sought him out now—it wasn’t mere coincidence that she’d come here.

The next two days were spent in the usual way, milking the cows, cleaning out the loafing shed and carting manure and straw by the wheelbarrow-load out of the loafing shed and piling the contents at the side of the barn, spreading fresh straw in the shed, feeding chickens, gathering eggs and making cheese and yogurt. After the harvest, he would spread the growing pile of manure in his wheat field.
While these actions kept him busy, his thoughts continued to circle around Sara Nowak. He could think of no reason for her to be there. On the third day, after his noon meal and without bothering to clear the table, he stomped down the track to confront her. He found her behind the house, sunbathing in her underwear.

“Put your clothes on,” he said, his voice steely. “We need to talk.”

She rose and casually pulled on trousers and a denim shirt.  She showed no sign of embarrassment at being caught in a state of undress, which shocked him even more than discovering her in such a manner.

“So,” she said. “I suppose there is no need to ask what we need to talk about.”
“What are you doing here? Why did you contact me? Don’t tell me it is coincidence. I won’t believe it.”
“Let’s go sit under that tree where it’s cooler.” She pointed to a large pine. 
When they were seated on the ground beneath the tree, after first tossing some rocks and cones out of the way, Sara Nowak spoke.
“Lena is dead.”
“Dead? When?”
“Six months ago.  She wanted you to know you have a daughter.”

He drew in a lungful of air and let it out slowly. “I doubt that.”

“Her name is Petra. She was born eight months after you left.”
“Lena could have lain with anyone.” He knew that was not so. It had surprised Adrian as much as the others that Lena had remained steadfast to him. 
“She said Petra is yours and I believed her.”
“She made no effort to contact me once the fighting ended. Why?”
“She was captured and put into a detention camp. We all were, including baby Petra.  After she was released, she believed she could bring up Petra on her own.  Then she got sick. Dying took all her energy.”

Adrian frowned. He did not want to think of Lena, so vital, so alive, brought low by capture and then illness.  “How did you find me?”

“Lena knew you planned to find your mother and sister. It took time to locate your aunt in Kotor. Your aunt told me you were here.”
“And this child, Petra…where is she?”
“In Kosovo.”
“So why are you telling me all this now?  Lena, the fighting, what happened…it is a long time ago.”
“Now that her mother is gone, Petra needs someone to care for her. You are her father.”
He stared at her. No words came out of his mouth.
“She needs you Adrian Belushi.”
“Bell. It’s Bell now.”
“Belushi, Bell. It makes no difference.”

Several minutes passed before he spoke again. “I have no knowledge of children, of caring for one. Especially a girl. Why don’t you take her? You and Lena were friends.”

“That is not possible.  I don’t stay in one place long enough to care for her. I only stayed on here to satisfy myself you are what Lena claimed, that you will be a fit parent to Petra. Now that I’m satisfied, I’ve told them at the bank I will be leaving at the end of the week.”
Without replying, Adrian stood. “I need to tend to my animals.” He heard them lowing before he reached his holding.

~~~

A month passed before Sara brought the child to him. They arrived one morning just as he’d turned the cows out to pasture. 
  
“No problem at the border,” Sara said.  “Kosovo had no reason to hold her and Montenegro was satisfied she has family and a place to stay.”

The sun beat down on the girl’s head. What looked like little sparks shone in her blond braids. She held the handle of a small suitcase in one hand. Her eyes were the same amber color as Lena’s, but he saw no resemblance to himself. Maybe around the mouth.

“She has had a difficult life,” Sara said before leaving. Petra had wandered to the walnut tree and was shaking one of its branches. A slight frown grew between Adrian’s brows as several green-covered nuts fell to the ground. “You will need to make allowances,” Sara added.

At dinner that night, the girl looked from the fried potatoes and ham on her plate to him. He tried to discern what she might be thinking, but soon returned to cutting his ham and forking it into his mouth.

When he looked up again, it was to see her staring at her food. “Aren’t you going to eat?” he asked.
“I’m not hungry.”

“Suit yourself,” he said.  “You can give your food to the dog.  Then clean the kitchen. I have bookwork to do.”

After she did as he instructed, she approached the table where he sat. “Where will I go to school?”
He finished an entry in his journal before he looked up. “School?”
“Yes.”
He shrugged. “In the village, I suppose. How much schooling do you have?”
“Some,” she said.  “I can read and do sums.”
“Then why do you need more?”
“To learn other things.”
“I thought you would help on the farm.”
“I need to go to school. My mother told me. It’s August. School will start soon. Maybe it has already.”
Without further comment, he returned his attention to the journal. 

The next day, he drove her to the village and enrolled her. A test determined her placement in grade four. At thirteen, she would be the oldest child in the class.

“Why are you behind?” he asked on the drive back up the mountain.

She shrugged as though the question should have been apparent, even to him. “After the camp, we didn’t stay in one place long, and then I needed to take care of my mother.”

He frowned, not wanting to think of what she so casually described. When they reached the farm, the cows were down from the pasture and lowing with impatience. “You need to learn how to milk,” he said.

“Why? I won’t have time for milking cows. I will be at school or studying. Until I am sixteen. Then I will leave here.”
“You live on a farm now. Besides your schooling, you will also help with chores; I make cheese and yogurt with what milk doesn’t go to feeding calves. You can help with that. Also, you can gather eggs each day.”
“I don’t see why I have to. You did all those things before Sara brought me here.”
He scowled, tempted to shake her. “Consider it payment for room and board. Go in the house. I’ll get you something to wear.”

He gave her a pair of trousers and a piece of rope to tie around the too-big waist.  She needed to roll the pantlegs up about a foot. The shirt, too, needed the sleeves rolled.  He wadded some rags into the toes of old and well-worn boots.  Her feet, though narrower, weren’t much shorter than his.         
“That will do,” he said. “Let’s go. The cows are waiting.”

She glowered, but followed him to the barn.  When the cows were each in their stall, he had her scoop out mash and place it in front of each. Then he had her fill a bucket with water and soap.  “You need to wash their udders and teats,” he said.

He demonstrated with the first cow. With the filled bucket and a rag in hand, she approached the second cow.  Her face screwed into distaste, she tentatively applied the wet rag to its udder. “That’s cow shit, isn’t it?”

“Yes. And it needs to be cleaned off before we milk.”
The cow twitched its foot and Petra sprang back.
“She isn’t going to hurt you.”

With a look of distrust, Petra once more approached the cow. 

Finally, the cows were in the loafing shed and the milk put through the separator and into the cooler.  At supper, Petra ate heartily instead of pushing her food around her plate.

That day set the tone of the days and weeks that followed. Summer lingered a while, then fall brought cooler nights and shorter days. Petra walked the six-kilometer distance to and from school until winter set in, and then Adrian drove her in the utility van.  Through it all, each treated the other with politeness, but without affection. 

The week before Christmas, Adrian walked past Petra’s bedroom door and heard the muffled sound of crying.  He paused, but only for a couple of seconds before crossing to his small refrigerator and removing eggs and a slab of bacon.  He got out potatoes. He reached to start the burner under the pan, but paused and looked over his shoulder to the closed bedroom door.

He sighed, crossed the room and knocked softly on the door. No answer, but the crying stopped. He knocked again. “Petra?”
“What do you want?”
“Why are you crying?”
“I’m not crying.”
“I heard you.”
“Well, I’m not now.”

He opened the door and peered inside. She lay on her back on her bed. “Go away.” Her voice was muffled by the pillow over her face

“You need to tell me why you are crying first.”

She threw aside the pillow, sat up and glared at him. “Because today is my birthday, because it’s almost Christmas and you have no decorations, and because I miss my mother.”

He could think of no response, so he said nothing, closed her bedroom door and returned to preparing their evening meal.

He needed to knock on her door twice the following morning. He was already washing the cows’ udders when she joined him in the milking parlor. He nodded a greeting.  Later, after they washed up, he drove her down the mountain to school. She sat silent in the passenger seat and stared out her window. Snow, which had started the afternoon before, continued to come down. He had to take care driving on the frozen road.  After he dropped her off in front of the school, he went to the general store and made several purchases. 

That afternoon, he waited for her in his usual place and watched the snow pile up on his windshield.  Children poured out of the school’s front door and scattered in several directions, calling to one another or throwing snowballs as they went. Petra wasn’t among them. He waited for ten minutes before going inside the school. Her teacher said Petra had left school an hour before dismissal.  “She said you were not well and she needed to walk home today.”

“You let her go in this weather?”

He didn’t wait for the woman to answer.  Petra hadn’t been on the mountain road or he would have seen her.  She must be trying to go to a city. Podgorica? Kotor? Or would she try to return to Kosovo? He asked himself these questions without a clue to the answer. He crossed the railroad tracks and the bridge, returned to the main road and turned south.  If he didn’t find her within a couple of miles, he’d turn around and head north. She couldn’t have gotten far. Unless someone picked her up. That thought filled him with dread.

The windshield wipers labored to push the heavy snow aside, making it difficult to see through the streaked window. Finally, he made out a small figure, trudging along the side of the road. He took a deep breath while blinking away unexpected tears.  He drove up beside the figure and slowed. He rolled down the window. The utility van’s tires crunched in the snow.

“Get in,” he said.

She turned to him, her eyes red-rimmed, her lips nearly blue. “I don’t want to.”

“Get in,” he said again.

Head down, she stomped around the front of the vehicle and climbed in beside him. He made a three-point turn and headed back toward the road leading up the mountain. Snow and ice melted into puddles on her seat and on the floor at her feet. 

They were nearly to the farm before she spoke. “Why is there a tree in the back?”

He didn’t answer.  At the farm he told her to go inside and change into something dry. “You can fix dinner while I do the milking tonight.”

On his way into the house, after he’d finished cleaning the milking parlor and securing the animals in the loafing shed, he pulled the small tree from the back of the utility van and shook out its boughs.  He set it inside the house by the door.

She eyed the tree, but said nothing as they ate the dinner she’d prepared. He made no reference to the tree either.  Afterwards, instead of turning to his stock journal, while she cleared the table and fed the scraps to the dog before it returned to its new bed by the stove, he nailed two short boards into a cross and affixed them to the base of the tree.  He stood it upright.

“Where shall we put it?” he asked.

“In that corner, where we can see it while we eat,” she said.

He nodded and placed the tree where she’d directed.  While they decorated it with the purchases he’d made earlier, they said little. But Adrian felt a warmth that didn’t come from the stove.

“I’m sorry I didn’t know it was your birthday yesterday,” he said. “I will remember next year.”

She smiled and ducked her head.

Christmas morning, after chores were completed and breakfast eaten, they sat by the Christmas tree, the stove warm behind them. He handed her a small package wrapped in paper. Inside was a leather-bound journal. “For you to write down your dreams,” he said.

She stroked the book’s leather side. “I have a present for you, too. I’ll get it.”

She went to her bedroom and returned with a drawing of her mother. “I did it from a photograph taken before the war,” she said. 

He stared at the drawing and remembered the youthful Lena, the only woman besides his mother and sister he’d ever loved, and their brief time together. “Thank you,” he said.

They continued to sit, each wrapped in thoughts of the past.

Petra’s words were hesitant when she spoke. “Can I call you Papa?”

 

 

About the Author:

Toni Morgan: I came home from a summer as an exchange student in Denmark knowing two things: I loved history, and I loved traveling and meeting new people.  My parents collected early-American antiques. By their measure, anything over 75 years of age qualified.  The house of my host family in Denmark was 400-years-old, and the church where my host-father preached was 800-years-old. I saw where battles had been fought and where Danes had lived ten centuries before I was born. It was a revelation. My writing career began with that trip, keeping the editor of my hometown paper apprised of all I saw.  A former NYT editor, he convinced me I should continue writing.  Although a west-coaster by birth, marriage, and preference, I’ve lived in many places, including nearly four years in Japan. My published works include numerous articles in newspapers and magazines, primarily on finance and budget, and short stories appearing in the Clackamas Literary Journal, Adelaide Literary Magazine, The Path, and Mooring Against the Tide; Writing Fiction and Poetry by Tim Schell and Jeff Knorr, published by Prentice Hall.  My published novels include Two-Hearted Crossing, Patrimony, Echoes from a Falling Bridge, Harvest the Wind, Lotus Blossom Unfurling, and Queenie’s Place.

 

 

 

 

 

     
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