O most vigilant watcher! Thou art with me.
Through my most hurtful trials, you have proven faithful
How many times, this inadequate servant cannot count,
That you have remained by my side
On steadfast wings you fly,
Staving off death’s helpers, renewing my life.
Zėrwielandt, Prussia, 1916
Reach back into my people’s history, and you will find their warm blood still flowing- nimble hands crafting their wares. Shoemakers, farmers, and herders of flock. These are the Bialy. Gray-eyed, my people, clinging in rows whilst they were mowed down.
Each must seek his time, they say, and some must die in accordance. So was shed their life’s blood. Even little Nadzieja, big moon eyes and yellow hair like lamb’s wool, they took her with all the rest to feed their masses.
They, the Częrny, the black-wearers, have no gray in their eyes. I do not remember where I stood when Chancellor was taken- taken and slaughtered, they say his body was dragged through the streets till the curbsides were stained red.
Chancellor was a peaceful man, a man we heard little of, a man who did his job with pride and silence. Bialy or Częrny, we each lived amongst one another, sharing drink and table. Who could say why Chancellor was taken? He was a good man.
And then we returned from our work to find that our homes were not our own— tall men in black bearing rifles, leaning easily against our own doorways! Resting, warming their feet at our hearths! Who can know such a feeling, when Father and Jacek and the farm boy Peder were ripped from us, taken to the Praca fields? And us: Mother, Lucija, Liddie, baby Katarzina, my Aunt Jula, and I, Domka, taken with the other Bialy women by ox cart to the dreaded Chorych, city of pain.
Ludži had taken the capital, people said, set fire to all Bialy fields, desecrated our churches, poisoned our livestock and now severed, forever, our families. Dwórzec had been a city of pride and wealth, lush and prosperous. It burned for twelve days and twelve nights after the Częrny raid. The chapels smoldered black as leather Częrny boots.
Baby Katarzina would not cease crying in the rickety ox cart. Not even cousin Ruta, who made a strong affinity with my baby sister, could calm her. I said our national prayer three times as Chorych neared in the distance.
That’s when he appeared next to me: a tall, tall man with hair like brown feathers, and eyes glittering like a river in summer. He laid a large hand on my shoulder and said “Be still.”
Baby Katarzina seemed to hear him, for she stopped wailing immediately, and fell into a peaceful sleep. I did not know it then, but the precious babe would never again wake. I turned to the tall, tall man, whose shadow seemed warm. I wondered, could the houses of the Lord move about on earth, in the form of people? The other women in the cart did not seem to notice the man beside me with dazzling blue eyes, but instead mournfully watched the dreadful city rising closer with each turn of the cart’s wheels.
I remember the deep lines of sorrow etched into their distressed faces, and they held each other tightly against the whipping wind, gray Bialy eyes wide in their panic. The man beside me said not a word, but I could feel the tight heat from his long arm blanketing my strength, keeping fear from my quaking heart.
“What are you called, girl?” He asked after a time, his face broadening into a kind smile. His skin seemed so soft and pale, his blue eyes—he could not be a Zėrwielandter, perhaps Flemish or German. Yet not a soul seemed to notice him.
“Domka,” I said, sounding weaker than I had hoped. He paid my meekness no heed, but nodded solemnly as we entered the dreary gates of Chorych. “This is a cursed place,” he said to me, though I needed no telling of this. Long gray buildings stretched row after row, for what seemed to be miles against a cold steel sky, as gray as our terrified Bialy eyes.
And terrified they should have been, I would learn— for they were no more than sows on their way to market. Not to work, but to be slaughtered as meat!
“You will see things, child, which no human should ever witness! Have strength!” Said Konstanty, for that is what I would come to call him. We passed beyond the tall gates, and were delivered to a long building guarded by big men in black as the rain began to fall— little at first, and then heavy and terribly cold. Mother wept as she learnt that her baby had died in her arms without her knowing.
We exited the cart in desolate silence, and were taken into the long building, which had no door but only a large mass for an opening. When I looked back at the cart, I caught no sign of Konstanty, but the warmth from his arm remained on my shoulders.
The horrible shelter had a dirt floor, and was colder than the freezing rain outside. We remained in the cold shed for almost two hours, and were joined with another group of Bialy women, looking just as frozen and frightened. And there was little Nadzieja from our village, frozen tear-ponds shining like mirrors.
“Konstanty!” I spoke to the hollow air, joining the huddle where my sisters, mother, cousins, and aunt were keeping warm. “Where art thou?” I said the national prayer again, hoping he would hear my call.
A large hand smoothed my hair beneath its scarf, and ran along my back. “I am here, Domka, be not afraid!” It was him, my Konstanty—
“Why say you ‘Konstanty’?” Lucija inquired, her teeth chattering. The other women looked up, except for Mother, who held Katarzina’s rigid little body tight, trying to bring her back to life.
I was always a proud child, defiant at times. “His name is Konstanty. He was on the cart—didn’t you see him?” The women looked at me strangely, which I could fully understand. I knew that they did not, could not, see him, yet I asked regardless. They must have thought I’d gone mad with fear, had dreamed up an angel to watch over us.
But I did not dream him, he came of his own accord. I’d said our national prayer many times, without successfully invoking the assistance of any of the Lord’s messengers.
“Be not afraid,” he cooed gently, the words pulsing in my ear like the first warm sounds of springtime, rushing to my brain like hot wine. “I know they cannot see you,” I said, “But I will follow you.” Though he stood tall, tall behind me, I knew he was smiling.
The soldiers in black then pulled a heavy steel door across the opening, plunging us all into temporary darkness. Several lamps were lit, and we were lead even farther down the murky shed’s mysterious tunnel. Our fingers, toes, had long since turned to ice as we trudged along at gunpoint. “Be not afraid,” Konstanty whispered to me, flooding me once again with precious heat.
“You will be led down another hall, where your clothes and hair will be taken from you. Crouch below the others and run, you must run, to the right. It will be dark, but I will lead you. If you do not escape then, it will be too late.”
“But how can I leave my family to be killed?” I asked in a frozen whisper, tears rolling down my cheeks. My sisters, mother, cousins, aunt, all looked like frightened animals now, not the proud Bialy women I once knew. Each must seek his time, and some must die in accordance—
“You cannot save them,” he said calmly, gripping my hand. “Follow me.” A lit area glowed ahead, and a long panel of shaded windows obscured the motion going on within the subchamber. Loud chopping and sawing and terrible pounding echoed off the cinderblock walls, struck our ears like a flogging.
When the guards ordered us undress, I ducked beneath the mass of peasant cotton and wool, and followed Konstanty’s hunched form, which knelt before me in the stretch of darkness like a crouched beacon. “Come,” he beckoned fiercely.
How can I describe the horrors which I fled? The screams haunt me still, piercing and immutable. True terror—Konstanty, how you saved me! Why did you? My white breath turned to ink in your shadow as I ran, ran from that filthy frozen slaughterhouse.
Dusk seemed to settle upon the wretched city of pain, and from the secret exit my guardian had provided me I stood paralyzed by fear. But such heavy dark clouds, pregnant with hate, looked down on me, so weak and lost. I felt wicked eyes spying from each dark corner of the city, and for awhile I remained beneath the shadowy protection of the building’s eaves. I heard the last few agonizing Bialy screams echo along the deep passageway, fading into obscurity as darkness fell.
In order to leave the horrible Chorych, I would have to bypass the guard shack, which sat beside the gate, its four windows seeing all. “Will you not help me, Konstanty?” I asked the wind, which heaved giant sheets of icy precipitation upon my weary body. It howled and ripped around me, tugging with ruthless ferocity at my thin coat. I held ten frozen fingers to my mouth, pumping breaths fruitlessly against them.
“Where did you go?” I whispered, remembering the calm angelic baby Katarzina drifting into that blessed death sleep. “Perhaps you will have mercy on me, Lord,” I cried, falling to the icy ground. “Let me go, thus!”
But a sudden heat hit my back, rushing with the wind, pulling me across the desolate waste to the city’s wrought iron perimeter. Such terrible, life-giving heat, I could have been seated beside my family hearth. Mother nursing Baby Katarzina and humming to herself. Jacek’s dexterous fingers carefully winnowing out a pinewood flute. My father’s gray eyes, hidden beneath a dark brow, secretive and kind.
“Be not afraid,” I felt the whisper echo into my very bones, those big hands upon my shoulders once more. They led me right up to the stoop of the dismal cement shack, and I stood stupidly at the door, unknowing of how I was to venture an escape, especially with two Częrny rifles aimed at my heart. Dumbly I let my body fall to the icy ground.
“They are young, they can be won,” that liquidous voice pulsed against my neck. “What must I do?” My voice shook in the frozen downpour. The taller guard opened the door, the black uniform tight across his large chest. His eyes were as cold as the rain falling on me. Seeing that I posed no threat, he lowered his weapon and asked,
“What are you doing here?” His comrade appeared from behind the metal door and eyed me suspiciously. He was shorter, with a scrunched, taunting face.
“What must I do, Lord?” I asked desperately, tears welling up, falling to the frozen mud beneath my shaking palms. Konstanty caressed my head once more, and I felt the instinct to remove my scarf, revealing a cascade of yellow locks.
“Be not afraid, Domkanuska,” whispered my angel with deep love, pulsing fierce strength through my prostrated form, giving me the will to look on those four interested eyes without fear.
The short guard nudged his cold weapon against my quaking shoulder like one would a sleeping animal to amuse himself, but the taller stepped forward and pulled me by the arm into the sweltering shack. The tiny stove seated in the corner of the room did its job efficiently, but left a strange, sickly smell behind.
The hot chamber should have thawed my stiff body, but I stood awkwardly in the dim shadows shaking more than ever. I was cornered now, and terrified. Why did you lead me here? I begged, feeling the strength of my Konstanty leaving me as the two tall figures in black approached, their cold black eyes relishing the dread quaking in mine, sorrow gray.
“Be still, dear girl—they will let you leave, but you must grant them errand.” His voice should have alarmed, angered me—but it was so warm and familiar, my only consolation. The shorter guard latched my hands to the hot pipe winding against the cement wall. I could feel the scorching steam burn beneath my fingers, the skin growing red, my bound wrists already sore. The two seemed pleased at my squirming.
Think of them, I begged myself, feeling my body travel with swift flight over the rough green terrain to those golden fields where the proud Bialy youths swung their scyths. The fear—black shadows appearing all around me. Beyond their ominous silhouettes I saw another face emerge in the shack; a woman dressed in militant Częrny black, her hair plaited up inside a black hat.
She seemed surprised, yet unalarmed, to see me tied to the steam pipe, at the mercy of the two young soldiers. “She will remember this moment, my Domka,” Konstanty whispered at last, stroking my cheek with those loving fingers.
“She will pity you.” I tried in vain to keep my heart from pounding, and closed my eyes against the pain of my burning hands. He cannot take all sorrow from you, I told myself, and once again let my spirit fly across the gray sky of Zėrwielandt, soft mossy hills rolling below me, glimmering blue mountain streams—
I pulled the hem of my skirt to my chest as the dark shadows caved in around my body, hot sickly demon breath groaning in my ears. A golden field, Peder’s sweltering neck in the summer heat. He is tall, and the veins on his freckled forearms ripple like tree roots as he toils in his work—
Pain throbbing through my body, I felt the blood dripping down my legs and I could hardly breathe. I sensed that woman watching, those cold lead eyes hateful.
“She will pity you,” Konstanty reminded me distantly, and through such relentless pounding I could hardly feel him touch me anymore. Peder looks up from his work and smiles at me— golden fields, warm light—
The taller soldier grunted behind me, pulled on my hair. The blisters on my hands swelled and bubbled. “Will he not stop?” I asked the tall, tall blue-eyed man standing between the ugly demon in black and me. I was thankful for that beautiful face, cooing in my ear as my shaking legs collapsed beneath me and the short soldier spat on me.
My dead weight ripped my hands from the searing pipe. The short guard leaned on the cement wall as he caught his breath. “Don’t cry,” I screamed to myself, but my hands were bleeding rivers and I nearly fainted at the sight of the hemhorrage collected on my skirts, and I wept helplessly. The angry demon got annoyed and slapped my head hard with his rifle butt.
“Enough!” The ice woman said, standing abruptly. She wetted my dirty kerchief and threw it at my feet. I sucked at the soothing fabric, my parched mouth ravenous, and relieved my burning palms, now two unrecognizable slabs of bleeding skin.
The woman pulled me to my feet, helped me out of the sweltering shack and pointed me towards the stretch of gray fields. “You have five minutes to reach the woods, otherwise you will be taken to the slaughterhouse.”
I could hardly stand for the pain, but had no choice but to run. I raised my hands to the cold air, feeling the brief absence of sting in them. “Help me, Konstanty!” I screamed against the howling wind. The rain had let up for me, but the tall dark trees were far—much too far for one in my condition.
A sudden rush of heat erupted from the ground, and I felt two kind, muscular arms around my waist, pulling me upward. Were we flying?
I was too without water to cry, but yipped wildly as those mighty wings propelled the forest closer and closer, and before long we were safe within the sheltering pines, the horrors of Chorych far behind us.
I fell as though dead upon the brittle pine needles, the relentless palpitations of my frightened heart echoing in my ears, in my hands, and thighs. I am still alive, I knew forlornly. But when Konstanty’s gentle hands released my body upon the cold earth, the reality of my miserable life spread itself before me. How can one weep? Beyond the deep green veil of foliage, my pine refuge, wild smoke churned from the heart of the slaughterhouse. That horrid furnace in the guard shack still pumped hazy billows from its rusted chimney, and my blood still stained its floor.
But Mother! My stomach lurched fearfully, my whole body shaking endlessly in its agony. Liddie! Lucija! Aunt Jula! Cousin Ruta! Baby Katarzina! All dead! And who could say if Father or Jacek survived? Or dear, sweet Peder?
I cannot make you understand how wrenching this moment was—more than when I left my family to die, more than when those soldiers ripped apart my insides like knives through flesh. This moment of devastation I felt in full; Konstanty lay beside me, watching me sadly, caressing my hair. He took not an ounce of pain from my heart as I lay weeping— he knew these feelings must take root in my memory, and they would sustain me more than any aid he might deliver.
There were cracks in the pine ceiling when I awoke then—and how dreadfully cold it was. My body would not move at my bidding so I lay unmoving upon my blanket of frosty needles. The gray sky was so terribly blank that morning.
For a few moments I had no recollection of those previous day’s events, those horrid and tragic acts I’d never thought could be envisioned in the hearts of men, and so cruelly and efficiently constructed. I had nothing now, I realized, feeling the emptiness grow all around me, my thin torn and stained clothing barely shielding the icy wind from my chapped skin. I feebly resigned myself to gathering wood at that moment, despite my aching limbs, my quaking lips and wrenching stomach.
My dreamless slumber seemed to have erased any memory of that angel I’d so pitifully relied upon for my survival. Yet, where was he now? My starved mind raced, suddenly feeling alone and betrayed—could such a force not be Satan’s helper?
Had he not thrown me into terrible shame and torture, planted in me the guilt of abandoning my womenfolk for my own wellbeing? It was as though all blood had drained from me—how limp and used I was! A worn out sack of skin, my sorrow irremovable. I fell to the ground, my meager collection of sticks damp from rain, useless.
“Konstanty!” I shrieked into the skeletal trees. A gathering of crows scattered in a cackling flurry in the boughs above as frozen air gusted in my throat.
“You did this to me!” My shaking, scorched hands clutched my bloodstained clothes, red ice. Your blood, my people. Do you remain?
“You are the devil’s worker, aren’t you?” I seethed, my gray eyes burning. I was alone in that dreary wood—not even my name bore any significance now. For who would call me Domka, who would look on me with loving familiarity? Only those bitter pale ashes of my eyes could define me as Bialy. I buried my face in two dirty, blistering hands and wept. Peder is saddling his horse—his shoulders are strong, but his sun-stained hands are kind. How I long to touch them!
When I looked up from my weeping, there was a man crouched there. His long torso seemed humble, two limp hands hanging over his knees. His hair was like brown feathers. Konstanty!
My heart broke when I saw him because I knew he saw my thoughts, lived and breathed them—they were afloat in those blue, blue eyes.
I turned away shamefully, exhausted. And then like water upon rocks, he washed over me, cleansing and sustaining. Can one be enveloped by another? No! He is evil, a demon of animal greed. But how can he? Those hands are warm, pulling taut the reins, patting old Pilka’s velvety haunches. The sun is faint behind the gray sky. Liddie is watching from the porch, sees how I toy with my apron strings—
My limp body seemed to hover as we made our way through those tangled, frozen woods; as though I slept, seeing my own body drift, weightless over brambles and through murky mires without a scratch. Could it be I dreamt or even died peacefully in the night, enduring one last flightful journey with my Konstanty?
But it was not so—for though I knew not my way through that wretched stretch of gloomy trees, no divine gateway, whether to heaven or hell, yawned before me. The numbness I felt expiring from my limbs, awakening me to the raw reality of painful exertion. But my Konstanty urged me on in silence, those great strong hands sustaining my life, for whatever reason, I didn’t know.
His strength ebbed in me like invisible wings, and before long we’d arrived at an abandoned cottage—it lingered, waiting for its master’s return, and in no sign of dereliction. But its sturdy oak door had been wrenched from its hinges, the furniture tousled and shoved aside— a clear sign of a struggle relieving the quaint abode of any human life. And so, aching though no longer frightened, I entered the small hovel as though welcomed home.
Without any patience for propriety, I seated myself before the strange hearth and dug for banked embers. The coals still glimmered dimly in the ash bed, and I stoked it with as much kindling as remained within my reach. The blessed fire shed light on the simple dwelling’s hearty interior—a cozy single room where some gentlehearted woodsman spent his quiet evenings, no doubt. I saw above the thick timber mantle a sign which ripped my insides with the ease of aged paper, filling me with nourishing joy, and brutally draining my heart’s chambers of all feeling.
It was the Bialy cross, simple in its construction, tipped red at each corner and reminiscent of the same Bialy cross which hung in our home so long ago—so long! But it had been only days since we’d been loaded onto the ox carts, when our men were corralled like chattel beasts to work in the Praca fields—those proud, gray eyes staving away tears as we left, never to return. Had it been only days?
I watched the burning wood consumed by the flames; how willing it was, like my people! For we uttered no protest when we saw the vicious red flame-tongues, gluttonous to devour our families. How witless we were, feeding our enemy! How can a people so joyously endorse the butchery of another? My people, your history is written in shameful tears! And when those spring blooms arise from that earth you so plentifully nourished with your bones, will Częrny children marvel at your sacrifice? No, for we will have been wiped clean and forgotten.
I collapsed upon myself, heaving in my wretched sobs, screaming, slashing, writhing in that silent firelight— my gray eyes drenched with hate flames. For how does one go on eating, drinking, sleeping, waking, with the knowledge that one’s roots have been lifted, annihilated? No one can know such devastation.
And for a moment I slept in hellfire, cursing the day that tall, tall man with bluest eyes had appeared beside me in the ox cart.
The muffled sounds of dogs and heavy thrashing through brush awoke me, and it seemed as natural a thing as any for me to load up a satchel of bread and other meager provisions left behind in the small cabin before running into the frosty woods. The few precious hours of dreamless sleep had done my body good, and for a time I did not think as I ran from those dogs, those dark shadowy men gripping rifles. That sleep—what had happened to me? All pain which resided, which must surely have rooted itself in my heart, had lifted—even the burning, throbbing, wrenching ache from my broken and weary body had numbed.
Mile after mile I ran, tearing through dead forests, over the ashen fields still smoking from Ludži’s army. I did not feel for my people then, did not weep or stir, but caught my breath beyond the burning clouds, and ran again. There was no sun that day, so I did not know in which direction I was going. No wings carried me, no whispers filled my ears with that heat from the day before. He was gone, it seemed. Forever gone, if he had ever been at all.
I took rest beside a small stream, devouring half of my loaf of bread, and scooping up the invigorating icy water. In the clear ripples I saw my pale face, then fell back at the sight of my eyes—not gray as I remember them, but blue—deep bluer than blue oceans, and a cascade of hair like brown feathers. I looked back into the bubbling stream to be sure, and watched in awe that stranger touching her wan, frightened face, hiding those feathers beneath her dirty scarf.
Seeing him there, hidden inside me, I felt his warm strength—and felt ashamed of thinking he’d forgotten me. My Konstanty— Through my most hurtful trials, you have proven faithful... I felt the verses stream from my lips, irrevocable.
“Domkanuska,” he whispered, spreading heat through my freezing body. It filled me, breathed movement back into my blackening fingertips. Father says I am too young, that others have caught Peder’s eye. I could kill Liddie for telling him our secret. But he does not know that Peder looks only on me with such love, the love I give in return. That look he gave me when we found ourselves alone in the barn—
I sat up from my reverie, and quickly packed away the leftover bread. I was safe with those blue blue eyes, with that Nederlander dark hair. Nothing Bialy about me remained, and I vowed to be known as Konstanze, should any curious stranger ask. I closed my eyes against blue tears that pierced the surface of the water. Staving off death’s helpers, renewing my life...
The dark pine wood began to thin as the distant sun faded in the west. My stream had withered to a mere trickling brook, almost lost. Lying there against the massive body of a tree, I would have given being eaten alive by ravenous dogs, for one night in that warm cabin. But the cold found me, as it always did, ripping at my bones, and I begged myself not to shiver. Think of them, he hinted softly. Think of them, and they will always live.
Father is cutting shingles for the new hen house; he rolls up his sleeves so I can see his sunbaked forearms. From my child’s view he is the strongest man alive and can create and repair anything. He sets me upon his knee and we push the awl together, him creating the illusion that I have done most of the work. When he smiles at me, his eyes crinkle, his stern brow released in love.
Then it is night, a magic night lit with candles and heavy with the odours of food and strong cider. It is the feast of Saint Erzula, my mother’s saint day; and she is wearing a proud violet dress with gold fringe in honor. Laughing and singing fill the house as children play on the floor, collecting candies. They say a young girl was lost in the woods, when brightly colored stones appeared and led her to a magnificent grotto. The Mother Virgin then blessed her, making her pure and surrounded by angels. The barren hills around Dwórzec became white with flowers, signifying to all that this was a holy place.
I found sleep at last, safe within the warmth of memory, praying that bright stones would lead my way, and the sweet Virgin would heal my wounds and mend the shame I wore beneath Konstanty’s clever disguise.
I awoke before dawn, those far away memories of warm affection and sanctuary muffling my brittle body and soul; Think of them, and they will always live. The pale horizon was sunless, a clipping wind blustering over the wide plain of limp faded grass. To the northwest I heard the distant moan of a train whistle, a morose and haunting song, reminding me that I was not alone in this world of grass and trees.
So farther across the marshy waste I tramped, my aching remains stiff and agonizing, almost unwilling to go on. But every now and again, in some shivering moment, would I feel that lush warmth swarthing within me like smoke filling glass, my Konstanty, that tugging reminder that his blessings were real. And so I would press on, the wind slashing blue tears from my blue, blue eyes. Domkanuska, he would whisper softly, have strength!
The daylight brought no consolation, only held the frozen earth in a milk white shroud of garish light, exhausting to behold. But eventually I arrived at the iron tracks of the train I’d heard passing, a sign that some homestead or town could not be far off. And so I saw them, those dwellings I’d so fervently sought as refuge. Yet upon my arrival to this inhabitated, though sparse, vacinity, I felt within me only growing dread, despite my divinely wrought cloak.
Those tall farm houses, whose blackened windows peered out at my tiny form queerly and menacingly, their chipped white walls decrepit— my freedom out on this gusty gray meadow offered better prospect than such horrors which might await me within those strange, shadowy walls. Like demons gazing ravenously at my passing flesh and blood they seemed, those men or ghosts passing across the smoky windows. And so I continued in my lonesome journey, trekking without direction into the unknown, wanting not for barn or bed.
It was at nightfall that I arrived at the trainyard, the distant sun casting purple shadows across the thin blanket of snow. It was there that I met the man I would call Mr. Rags.
He was short and old, his red cheeks withered, a long black coat almost grazing the ground as he walked along, hands in his pockets. The tattered black bowler and ash-colored mane of tangled hair, those dark eyes twinkling under wild expressive eyebrows, gave him the look of some odd and misplaced Hebrew scribe. So it appeared that he was as lost in the world as I, and I trusted him to lend me his fire and hot stew.
“Come, come,” he said, leading me to his camp.
Why he had made his home among the abandoned wreckage of train cars I did not know then, but eagerly gobbled up the warm food which bubbled invitingly in the cast-iron bastible. A strange coldness came over me, and it did not seem that Konstanty approved. So closer still to the crackling fire I crept, pulling my ragged coat around my shoulders. My eyes burning with exhaustion, I fell into an incubated sleep.
It is July, the soft drone of cicadas buzzing in the underbrush. The heat of the stifling stable is almost unbearable, but I am to muck out Pilka’s stall. Then he’s in the doorway, lays a heavy leather yoke about a rafter. His silhouette is tall and strong, and I am enraptured, enamored. He quietly enters, studying me with a precision I can feel, almost like those warm weathered fingers have met my skin.
Peeking in and out of the soothing blackness of sleep, across the leaping sparks, I saw the faces. White and wild they were, with wide round eyes that watched me lifted, carried away to a nearby funeral carriage. Within the shadowy recess I was lain, the heavy drowsiness of the stew, my tiredness, incessant dream spirits tethering me down into that cart. I was not cold, as Konstanty was there. And the carriage was padded with any number of odd insulation, though mostly cotton scraps and chaff. He is strong, my Konstanty— he will mind me when you have gone. When I have found him in Praca fields, we will be together again.
“On steadfast wings you fly...” I heard my shaking voice echo. Darkness took me, enveloping all in silent stillness, oblivion.
“Awaken, Domkanuska,” he demanded, tearing me from the rumpled cave of blankets and trash. Dawn had not come yet, and the charred remains of Mr. Rags’ fire had crumbled to crackling ash. Dogs howled against the pale stars, the long squad of pines shivering. Something was very wrong. In my mind were those pale ghosts, wide-eyed and fearful. Eyes of glistening silver, tears of warning.
Horrified, I leapt from the warm bed to the frosty open ground, my eyes heavy. In the cracked glass of a traincar window I saw my reflection: wild curling yellow hair unguarded by Konstanty’s fickle charm, my gray Bialy eyes exposed to the world. The sound of a rifle shot needed not tell me twice.
Like running from Chorych’s saws and axes I did not look, did not think, only sped on through the icy forest. I had fallen for the trap, had slept drugged, awaiting death. But Konstanty’s warning prevailed, leading me on through the cold and cruel sunless morning.
It is near! I can feel it! His heat churned through my blood, invigorating my stride as I leapt, my tattered rags nearly falling to pieces around my body. Praca fields, Peder is there. He waits for me! “...staving off death’s helpers, renewing my life...” The tears tore from my gray eyes like icy pearls, while savagely the hunters sped along my trail. I am nearly to a farm, and then... Soon— Praca fields, I can see them! Peder, he is tall and leaning against his tools. He smiles. Father and Jacek are there— thin, haggard from Częrny whips. But they live! I can see them! Konstanty!
The shot echoes from the farmhouse’s battered exterior. It is my blood which splatters upon the waving white sheet hanging in the wind, the farmer’s bed sheet. Stained with my blood.
I run, and fall. I am so close, Peder. I have come to you. Konstanty, will you not help me?
“O, most vigilant watcher... thou art with me...” My hands scrape the frosty land like meat against razors, the sweet Virgin’s stones leading me on. It is not far— over the windy hill’s brow, he is there. He is there...
The howling gale hammers against my ears, my heart ebbing in time. I can see the blood spilling from me like a wounded animal. Konstanty...
I reached the shivering waste of Praca— the crosses, lined in martial anonymity, spread over the endless landscape on every horizon, tipped red on each side. My people, you are finished.
I fell, the blood soaking the ground. Peder, Father, Jacek! Mother, Lucija, Liddie, baby Katarzina, Aunt Jula, and I, Domka! Your Domkanuska! But no angel appeared, no beam of heavenly light. Only a slit of bluest blue sky emerged from the clouds, a brown feather falling from beyond. On steadfast wings you fly— you fly!
I died then, felt the warmth leave my broken body as white flowers appeared on the earth, a blue tear staining the ground.ng here ...