Izaac tapped the paper lightly against his thigh. “I don’t know. Come.”
He tossed the newspaper on top of her galoshes to offer Ludka his arthritic hands, which were still good enough for leverage.
“Take a breath, kochanie, and come with me into the kitchen. I’m going to have a little drink and I suggest you do, too. One drink won’t shatter our wits. Come now.”
In the kitchen, while Ludka related the story of Brozek’s phone call, Izaac took a bottle of Belvedere out of the freezer and poured two small measures into crystal shot glasses. Ludka stooped to see out the pass-through from kitchen to dining area, scanning the view out the three-paneled French doors into the yard and field and wetland beyond, all of which were only palely illuminated by the mild light reflected from the snow. She had a vague sense that she was being overly alarmist, but she’d wound herself up tightly enough that she couldn’t begin to tease loose her more sensible mind. When she straightened up, the kitchen cabinets above the pass-through obscured her view and she hit the closest cabinet once with the side of her fist, rattling the dishes inside.
“Already we should have torn these down. I’ve told you years and years and still you haven’t done this. How can I see? I break my neck, craning.”
Izaac gently took her hand, and put a shot glass into it.
“Look at me. Tell me what’s troubling you about this Stanley Brozek. Do you think he is some grudge-bearing Polish partisan or communist anti-Semite come all the way to Hampshire, Massachusetts, to persecute an old Jew-lover like you? This is not postwar Poland. The Ministry of Public Security has not found you out and come to shoot you. Who cares anymore about an old woman who rescued some Jews? This is decades beyond, this is America. Be reasonable. Even with the Nazis they just extradited—I read it in today’s Times—the Germans want to move on. ‘Whispers of enough,’ the paper says, and they’re talking about Demjanjuk! If no one wants to prosecute Demjanjuk for what he did at Treblinka and Sobibor, no one’s going to care about you defying the Nazis. Brozek’s probably a scholar, studying Polish art. He must have come across your sketches. He’s not skulking around in our garden, ready to break down our door. It’s a ridiculous notion.”
“Is that it? Is lecture over?”
Immediately she regretted her acerbic tone. Those sketches were the last she’d ever done, and she didn’t want to think about that. She did sound ridiculous, she knew, but Izaac did not know everything. She took a drink of the vodka, and the spreading warmth brought the promise of calm. Izaac leaned against the counter and closed his eyes, and Ludka felt her muscles begin to drain of the adrenaline that had propelled her for the last hour.
“No one will ever know I did sketches.”
“I’m not so sure about that. They found the archives shortly after the war.”
“I know this, Izaac, but it makes no difference. I did not sign them, only I tagged them with an A. Who would even know to trace them to Apolonia, much less to me?”
“Maybe Brozek is finally the excellent scholar who’s putting two and two together.”
She hadn’t considered this. If Brozek were to ask her outright if she was the artist, what would she say? She drank her vodka too fast; it hurt going down. Her greater concern, though, was that Brozek might suspect what else she had done. But even if he did suspect—and she hadn’t yet thought of a way this would be possible—he was far more likely to visit her at the office than he was to invade her home.
“I am ridiculous old woman, Izaac, you know this. This Brozek will want to stir the pot.”
“Maybe it’s time the pot got stirred. Maybe it’s time. And if it isn’t, if you really don’t want Brozek to know you’re Apolonia, don’t let him. It’s simple: tell him you know nothing and he’ll go away.”
He tossed up his hands as if dispatching a carrier pigeon. It amused her that she hadn’t thought of this simple solution, and then with a sudden and immediate clarity she knew why—she was wildly eager to learn what Brozek knew. She smiled at Izaac and thumped him on the forearm, not yet aware of the next thought that was pushing its way forward, that wouldn’t manifest until later tonight when they were in bed, lights off, Izaac lightly asleep: Stanley Brozek could be Oskar.
Winner of the 2017 Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award from Poets & Writers, New England native JOAN DEMPSEY received an MFA and teaching certificate in creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. Dempsey was the recipient of a significant research grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation for her work on This Is How It Begins. Her writing has been published in The Adirondack Review, Alligator Juniper, Obsidian: Literature of the African Diaspora, and Plenitude Magazine, and aired on National Public Radio. She lives in Maine with her partner and their family of animals.
Adapted from This Is How It Begins, by Joan Dempsey, Copyright © 2017 by Joan Dempsey. With the permission of the publisher, She Writes Press.