Lori has been writing fiction since she first caught the writing bug at age nine.
Anna in the Kitchen
A gentle knocking on the guestroom bedroom door startled Anna Wronski awake.
"Mrs. Wronski? Anna? This is Beatrice Neville." Beatrice was aware that Anna might be confused about her surroundings when she woke up, so she was intentional about identifying herself.
Anna sat up in bed and indeed completely disoriented to her surroundings. Beatrice tapped once more. "Hello? Anna, it's Beatrice Neville."
Anna then realized where she was and why. "Yes, come in," she said in her thick accent.
Beatrice entered the room with a warm smile. "Good morning. I hope you slept well."
"Yes, slept well. Thank you."
"I just wanted to let you know I'll have breakfast ready shortly. Are you hungry?"
Anna thought a moment. "Yes, I guess I am."
"Well fine," said Beatrice. Would you like to bathe before you eat?"
Anna immediately thought about saving water as she did at home. She only bathed once a week. Beatrice read her face. "It's okay Anna. You are welcome to bathe as often as you like."
"Thank you," Anna said. "Maybe tomorrow."
"All right then. The bathroom is the first door on your left. There are fresh towels waiting for you whenever you need them. Will I see you shortly?"
"Yes. Thank you," Anna said again.
Anna stood up and noticed her robe on the end of the bed. She put it on and went to the window, pulled the curtain aside and tried to get her bearings. A heavy fog enshrouded the world, shadows of trees in the yard barely visible. The damp, foggy gray seeped into her spirit, leaving her heavy hearted, and a bit fearful. She closed the curtain and turned to go to the closet when she noticed Gita smiling at her from the photos on the bureau. Immediately her spirits rose. Now that she was out of the hospital she could search for Gita once more. Anna went to the closet, chose her old, threadbare red dress, and began the day.
Anna came down the stairs and inhaled the smell of freshly perked coffee. It was intoxicating and she couldn't wait to sit down to her first cup. But she was not about to sit down and be waited on. The concept was completely foreign to her, a violation of what her mother taught her, and what she had practiced all her life. She went up to the counter and took bread out and set it in the toaster. She would turn it on when everything else was ready. She looked around for a butter dish. "Butter?" she said. "Where do you keep your butter?"
"No, Anna, you are our guest. You sit and I'll serve."
"That's nonsense," said the old woman. "I've never been served in my life, except at the hospital or a restaurant. My mother taught me not to sit idle and be waited on. We'll work together, okay?"
"Well okay then," said Beatrice, amused at Anna's pluck. "I'm delighted to have the help."
Within moments Anna had taken complete command of the kitchen. The only thing she had to ask about was where things were. "Butter?" she asked again.
"In the refrigerator."
"Oh, no," said Anna. "Butter must be room temperature. Cold butter will tear the bread." She took the butter out and frowned. "Do you have a better butter dish with a cover?"
"Not really." Anna shook her head disapprovingly.
Anna taught Beatrice the correct way of making oatmeal, how to poach an egg correctly, how to fry the bacon with just the right state of crispiness. Beatrice took no offense at all and was tickled to see her guest become a member of the family, to see Anna confident and happy. Anna was not the fragile, quiet, and sad woman she usually was.
"I look forward to you teaching me how to cook better. Maybe you can teach me how to make polish dishes." That made Anna smile. Mr. Neville came in and sat at the table. "Oh my, it's smells amazing in here. "Let's dig in." When the table was set and the food on the table, Anna bowed her head and said a silent blessing. Then she waited for her hosts to take the first bite to make sure they appreciated the new, old way of cooking.
Anna's first sip of the coffee brought a frown. "Is there something wrong with the coffee?" Beatrice asked.
"I'll have to teach you to make proper coffee, polish way. This is good, but I'll teach you to make it stronger." Coffee was important to both Mr. and Mrs. Neville and weren't very excited about stronger coffee, but in the vast scheme of things, it wasn't important. They could learn to like strong coffee, at least until Anna returned home.
Mr. Neville devoured his breakfast with a lot of humming. Anna looked up at him puzzled. Beatrice laughed. "Don't mind him, Anna, he hums when he eats; it means he's enjoying his food." Anna smirked and resumed eating. In a hurry to get to work Mr. Neville shoved his chair back and wiped his mouth. "Thanks for the delicious breakfast ladies. Now I need to go before I'm late."
Anna did the dishes while Beatrice dried and put things away. When they were finished Anna disappeared for a few minutes and returned donned with boots, coat, and scarf.
"Where are you going, Anna?"
"School of course. I go to look for Gita."
"But...but..." Beatrice realized it was none of her business. Anna was a grown woman, was feeling quite well, and since she'd been making school rounds for years, there was nothing to worry about. If it made her happy. But she wished she and Elvin could get through to her that there would never be a Gita found at school, and that Gita was grown up and living in Anna's homeland. "Well, you have a lovely time," Beatrice said. I do hope you'll come home for lunch. Anna was certain she would.
Back to School
Neither the fog nor dampness could dull Anna's spirits. She was so full of joy to be returning to school. She missed the children and looking for Gita. Roosevelt Elementary School was Anna's true home. She felt loved and welcomed even when she didn't speak to anyone for days at a time. That rarely happened anymore. The children loved her so much. Their letters and pictures had meant so much to her.
Up ahead the shadow of the school loomed through the mist. She picked up her pace with excitement. 'Where shall I start today?' she wondered. 'Kindergarten, yes, kindergarten.' She began her circuit on the north side of the school. The first kindergarten class belonged to teacher, Mrs. Crumbie, a young stylish woman with a beautiful complexion. Anna cupped her hands around her eyes and peered in through the window. The children were sitting on the floor in a circle while Mrs. Crumbie read a story. Their backs were to her. She scanned the girl heads searching for Gita's red hair. She was disappointed all were blondes or brunettes. She scanned again and thought she spotted a red haired child, partially hidden by a little boy's head. Her heart pounding, she moved further down the window to get a better angle. Back and forth she went until she found the perfect view. Her heart sunk as she saw that the red hair belonged to a little boy. "Ah well, there are plenty more classrooms awaiting," she said aloud.
At the next classroom the kindergartners were painting at easels; again, unaware of her presence. No red heads, but she was greatly amused by the paintings. She remembered a particular painting Gita brought home one day.
"Oh my," Anna said, as Gita held out her paint stained hands. "It looks like you painted at school today. Show me what you painted."
Gita stood very straight and held the painting in front of her, her little head bowed over the paper as she explained her masterpiece. "This is the tree at Aunt Ula's house" Gita said, pointing to a brown stripe with green dabs all over it. She pointed below the tree to colored blobs. "And these are Aunt Ula's flowers." Ula was an expert gardener and Gita was impressed by them. She loved to be out in the garden with Mama and Aunt Ula while they pulled weeds, planted seeds, new flowers and shrubs, or did the pruning. Gita always helped them. Anna pointed to what looked like two people.
"And tell me about these two people," Anna said, hoping they really were people.
Gita looked up at her mother and frowned slightly. "Why that's you and Aunt Ula, Mama. And see, here is the garden watering can, and this is zoofy, Aunt Ula's cat." Gita looked up at her mama again and smiled wide, exposing two gaps where her two front teeth should be. Anna clapped her hands and complimented her daughter for a lovely painting.
Anna took the painting from Gita's hands. "I know just where to display this. Come, follow me." Gita followed her mother and watched as she put it up on the kitchen wall where the dinner table was. "There, now we can enjoy it every time we have a meal. Papa will be pleased."
But Papa was indifferent and only gave it a cursory glance, followed by an "Uh huh, nice Gita. Anna, where is my new white dress shirt?" Papa never took an interest in anyone but himself.
Anna chose not to dwell on the memory of Rufin's insensitivity, only on the precious moment she spent hearing Gita describe her painting. Anna spent another two hours peeking in classroom windows, even the older children's classrooms. She new Gita would not likely be among the upper grades classrooms, but she loved observing the children anyway. A few times children spotted her and cried out "Mrs. Wronski. It's Mrs. Wronski, she's back." They fled their seats and ran to the windows and waved and greeted Anna. She waved back at them and blew kisses. The teacher's were just as happy to see her but had to call the children back to order.
Lunch and Dinner with the Neville's
At lunch time the children filled the cafeteria and Anna took the time to sit on a bench outside and rest her feet before heading back to the Neville's for lunch. Mr. Neville heard of her presence at the school and went out to invite her in. "Hello Anna. It's so good to have you back. Don't sit out here in the cold, come to my office and share my lunch with me. Besides, I want to ask you a few questions.
Completely forgetting about Mrs. Neville, she asked, "What's for lunch?"
"I'm not sure, but I hope it's baloney with mustard, no mayo."
Anna turned her nose up. "Mayo, not good with baloney."
As it turned out, Beatrice had made two sandwiches as she always did. Today they were different kinds. Baloney with mustard, cheese, and lettuce, and Tuna salad. After a brief discussion, Anna chose the tuna. Mr. Neville called the school secretary and asked if she'd find some apple juice, milk, or make some 'strong' coffee. Anna chose milk, Mr. Neville chose the coffee. He needed the zip more than Anna apparently.
"My mother gave us cheese and kapusta pierogi for lunch.
"That sounds delicious. Perhaps you can make some of those pierogi for us one day. They're like a dumpling, right?"
"Yes. I love to make them for you and Mrs. Neville."
"Tell me about your family growing up?" said Mr. Neville. "What did your father do?"
"My father, he was a science professor at Warsaw University, astronomy, and biology. Very intelligent man. He taught me about the moon, the stars, the planets. He was a kind man. He told me to do my best, to gain as much knowledge as possible, study hard, and to be kind and generous to others."
"He sounds like a very special person. What was his name?" Mr. Neville had a purpose for this conversation. He wanted to find out about Anna's daughter and how he might find out about her. At this point she seemed comfortable talking about her life growing up.
"Antonio Ryszard Krol. Such a distinguished name. He was very handsome man. Smoked a pipe."
"How about your mother? Siblings?"
"Brothers and sisters."
"I have older sister, Antonia. She played violin for the Warsaw symphony. And a baby brother, Antoni, he died at three years old." Her eyes grew sad. "My mother was strong woman. She worked for women's suffrage. Father was very supportive. She taught me to work hard, and said idleness is laziness. She was a loving mother."
"Sounds like you had a close and wonderful family. Did your mother have a name that started with an A also?" he asked with amusement. "I ask because the rest of you have A names that sound very much alike."
Anna chuckled. Yes, my mother was Anka, but people called her Ania. My older sister was Anastazja. My brother, his was Antoni after my father."
"And was Warsaw where you lived?"
"Old town." Anna looked up at the wall clock. She was feeling anxious and wanted to return to her business.
"I'll bet you miss them very much."
Anna got quiet and averted her eyes. "Yes. Very much."
The phone rang. Mr. Neville answered and listened. "She's with me Bea. No need to worry. It was cold and I invited her in for lunch. You got an A+ on the tuna salad. He paused to listen again. "Okay, dear. We will see you later."
Anna felt terrible she'd forgotten about having lunch at the house with Mrs. Neville. Mr. Neville read her face. "Anna, you're not to worry. Bea was just making sure you were okay. She wondered if you'd like to make something polish tonight. How about the perogi things you spoke of?"
Anna smiled at how he posed the question. "Yes, of course. I better get back and get started."
"Oh, let me drive you. It's cold."
"Nonsense. I will walk. It feels good after hospital."
"Okay. I look forward to dinner tonight."
Mr. Neville was not disappointed. Anna put on a feast. The meal began with Zupa jarzynowa - a vegetable bouillon base vegetable soup, followed by Kilebasa, and the pierogi's Mr. Neville was anxious to make. Anna made them with sauerkraut and mushrooms, topped with sour cream, much to the Nevilles' delight.
"Oh, Anna," said Mr. Neville, scooting his chair back away from the table and patting his bulging stomach. "That was an incredible meal. I won't be able to eat for a month."
"Anna has dessert, too dear. Don't run off."
He didn't know where he'd have room for it but he couldn't refuse her after all her hard work, her labor of love. She stood up and went for the dessert. She put warm, freshly baked cakes in front of her hosts.
Mr. Neville tasted it. "Oh, you have outdone yourself. I've died and gone to heaven. What is this?
"Makowiec - poppyseed cakes."
The Nevilles lavished Anna with praise. She beamed. She had cooked for no one, for how long she could not remember. She was liking staying at the Neville's.
Anna Wronski Thrives
Anna flourished at the Neville's, though she missed her little home. Beatrice gave Anna full reign of the kitchen, although she didn't have much choice. She didn't care, it was good for Anna. Mr. Neville showered her with compliments. He was sincere. He'd always loved Bea's cooking, but Anna left her in the dust. They were seeing before their eyes what a strong, confident woman Anna really was. They hoped it would continue.
In the evenings they watched television in the beginning. It was a novelty to Anna at first. She didn't have one at home. It was hard for her to follow the programming. But she laughed at Mr. Ed, the talking horse. Eventually, they found themselves drinking tea and talking. It was in this relaxed and loving atmosphere that Anna began to open up more about her life growing up. Dr. Ptak was pleased to hear she was opening up. She had follow up appointments with him and he was very pleased at this disarming of Anna's fears. She began to open up to him as well. But the real story of how she came to America and what happened to Gita, and her husband if there had been one, was not yet forthcoming. It would take time.
Mr. Neville had promised Bea, just prior to bringing Anna home, that he would start looking for a way to get the answers and find Gita. He now had some solid information. What to do with it he would have to talk with Dr. Ptak about. Perhaps if they put their heads together they could come up with a game plan. He also thought about inquiring about Anna to her landlord, or if she owned the house, records he could look into, just go get an idea of how long she'd been there in the pacific northwest.
Anna also continued to see Dr. Reynolds from time to time about her general health. He had her on a good regimen of medication and her health issues remained greatly improved.
There came a time, a month or so into her stay with the Neville's, that she became restless to go back to her own little home. They had not heard a word from or about Mrs. Hargrove. Still, they didn't feel good about her being alone.
Mrs. Hargrove sat behind the counter of her little grocery store. Her teeth rested on the counter, yellowed and gunked with the remnants of food. Since coming home from the hospital after her fall, her hygiene had gradually deteriorated. In the last few days she'd made no effort to hide her dentures, thus her customers took one look at them and turned and left the store. She figured they were spies sent by Mr. Neville and Anna Wronski's doctors. She began to lock the front door during business hours. The window sign said 'Closed', so customers knocked on the door. Mrs. Hargrove would go to the windowed front door and ask if they were spies. Perplexed, they answered her 'no.' She continued to grill them and when convinced, she let them in. Sometimes she was heard mumbling.
Mrs. Lydia Harrington (newly and scandalously divorced), Mrs. Hargrove's much younger, busybody friend, heard through the grapevine that Edna Hargrove had been acting very odd, even disturbed. She had to see for herself. She arrived at Hargrove's grocer, her hair impeccably coiffed, make-up perfectly applied, and her attitude very self-important. She never left home looking like what she considered a typical frumpy housewife. She was above the common people. The only reason she paid any mind to Edna Hargrove was that they had a mutual, insatiable craving for gossip. She found the door locked at one o'clock in the afternoon. That was odd indeed. She knocked hard. "Edna? Yoo-hoo. Are you there?" There was no answer so she knocked harder. "Edna, I know you're in there. Open the door. It's me, Lydia. Lydia Harrington."
Mrs. Hargrove went to the door. She began the grilling, to which Mrs. Harrington took great offense to. "Edna, have you gone daft? I'm your closest friend (which was not completely accurate). Now let me in."
Mrs. Hargove opened the door, put out and irritable. "Come in Lydia. I'm sorry, but there are spies everywhere and I never know just whether my friends have been paid to become my enemy and spy on me. Now, what can I do for you?"
Lydia was startled to observe Edna Hargrove's unkempt appearance. First of all, she was pretty ripe. 'How long since she's bathed?' Lydia wondered. Her dress had a few stains on it, and her teeth were out. She peeked around her friend and saw the teeth on the counter. She was horrified to see how disgustingly dirty they were.
"Edna, honey, what's going on?" she said in feigned concern. "You look and smell like a gypsy." Her nose scrunched up and she recoiled for more dramatic emphasis.
"Well, look who's talking, Miss June cleaver with an attitude. Your perfume could awaken a dead corpse. And that blood red lipstick you're wearing is way up over your lips. Who do you think you're kidding? It doesn't make your lips look larger and more shapely, it looks like a two-year-old playing with her mother's makeup. You look like a brazen hussy. You've really gone berzerk since your divorce. There are no men here for you to put your claws into, Miss Marilyn Monroe, so you can go home."
"Well," she Lydia said. "I see how it is. You have a lot of nerve, Edna Hargrove, considering I've come to see how you are because I care so much about you. Now please, tell me what's going on and maybe I can help you."
"Help me? Just what is it you think I need help with?"
"Well, no offense, but your dress is stained and you could use a bath, and..."
"Why would I let you help me with those things? I can take care of those things all by myself, thank you very much."
"But you haven't, Edna. That's the point."
Mrs. Hargrove got nose to nose with Mrs. Harrington, hands on her hips, posturing aggressively. "I see what you're up to, Lydia, and it won't work. You're trying to spy on me. Who's paying you? On second thought, never mind, just get out." With that, she grabbed her by the shoulders, turned her around, and shoved her out the door. Then she locked it and returned to her chair behind the counter.
Raymond's Grave Concern
"Thank you, Mrs. Harrington." Raymond Hargrove returned the receiver down on its cradle, his face ashen, his eyes downcast in worry. The cop manning the front desk at the station took a look at Raymond with concern.
"Hey, Ray, you okay, man?"
"Yeah...no. I'm off my shift now but if anyone calls asking for me, give them my home and my mother's phone numbers." With that, he left and drove to his mother's grocery store. He found the door wide open. He'd expected it to be locked as Mrs. Harrington said. Usually, he wouldn't have paid her any heed, knowing about her gossipy ways, her penchant for adulterous relationships, and her recent divorce - a scandal that rocked the community and set tongues to wagging. But there was something in her voice that made him think she was telling the truth. And considering his mother's recent, unsettling behavior, and the head injuries she'd suffered, it wasn't that far-fetched really. But here it was, the door was open.
"Ma, you here? It's me, Raymond." There was no answer. His stomach sank as he noticed her filthy teeth on the counter. His mother was not in her chair. The cash register was open but there seemed to be no money missing. Not thinking straight he said, "Oh, please, God, please tell me she hasn't been robbed."
He went into her little apartment looking for her. The heavy drapes were still drawn, which wasn't completely unusual. But a few days worth of half-eaten meals were still on the table, dirty dishes in the sink and on the counters and stove, and the stench of garbage spilling over under the sink. He went to the bathroom and bedroom - which were also a mess - calling for her, but he didn't find her. His fears of a robbery and kidnapping still worried him. He called Cooper, his partner.
"Coop, I think Ma has been robbed. Can you come right over?"
"Sure, buddy, but we ought to call someone on duty as well. I'll be there in a few."
Raymond checked the cash register again. He was off his game in investigating and he had to rethink things. There was still money in it. Robbers would have cleaned it out. He continued looking for evidence. A while later he checked his watch. "What's keeping Coop?" He called him but there was no answer. Twenty minutes later Cooper arrived with an on-duty officer with his mother in tow, looking wild-eyed, frizzy-haired, and a gagging stench that emanated from her underarms.
"What the heck is going on?" Raymond said.
Cooper spoke calmly. "We found her lurking around Anna Wronski's home."
© 2018 Lori Colbo