by MARY ELIZABETH RAINES
EXCERPT FROM CHAPTER FORTY-TWO
...by the time they reached the village
street the sun had already risen and there were small signs that
people were awake. Soon the businesses and shops would begin to open.
Una tried to make the girl walk faster.
When they were halfway down the road to
the church, she noticed that a small café on the opposite side
of the street had already opened for the day. There were lights on
inside, and she smelled bacon and coffee. The fragrance hit her
fiercely, like an unexpected blow from a fist, exposing her desperate
hunger and neediness. Even though they were surrounded by warm
buildings that could ostensibly offer shelter, food, sanitation, and
comfort, none of it was available to them. Una felt the absurdity of
seeing everything that they needed for survival so close at hand, and
at the same time having it so completely inaccessible. Holding
Kitty's slender hand to make the shivering girl keep pace with her,
she hastened her steps and walked even more quickly down the street,
hoping that nobody would emerge from the restaurant.
For the third time, Una moved up the
sidewalk to the back of the church and cautiously approached the
sacristy door, with Kitty at her side. She tested the doorknob. To
her dismay, she found that it was locked. She tried it again,
futilely. With a sigh, Una turned away, thinking that she would make
an attempt to get in through the front entrance of the church. As she
did so, she almost stepped onto a burlap sack that had been left on
the grass just outside the back door. Curiously, Una peeked into it.
Her heart gave a jump of joy. Inside was a round loaf of bread and
two eggs, sitting on a nest of folded quilts.
"Hurry," she whispered to
Kitty, carefully gathering up the sack. "We're going back! We've
got what we need."
"You said I had to come along to
help you carry things," complained Kitty, as she lagged down the
street behind Una, scuffing her feet. "Why can't I carry anything?"
Kitty was still whining when what Una
dreaded most of all took the form and became reality. Two soldiers in
Nazi uniforms stepped out of the restaurant. One had a toothpick in
his mouth. The men's eyes fell with disdain and suspicion on the
ragged, disheveled woman and her grandchild. Still out of earshot,
the soldiers spoke to one another and, readying their rifles, started
to approach the two.
"Kitty, take my arm,"
whispered Una. "There are some soldiers coming. Walk faster and
"Gramma, I'm scared,"
whimpered Kitty loudly, dragging her heels even more and refusing to
take Una's arm.
"Shhh," pleaded Una out of the
side of her mouth.
Kitty's hysterics increased and Una
"I'm scared, I'm scared, I'm
scared," the girl moaned. "They're going to shoot us! I
know they are!"
The soldiers had already crossed the
street and were getting closer. Desperately seeking a solution,
suddenly and swiftly Una dropped the sack onto the road and slapped
Kitty hard across the face, shouting loudly.
"Shut up, you goddamned little
brat!" she yelled in a coarse voice.
Surprised, Kitty began to cry and scream
in real terror. Una grabbed the girl's thin arm with one hand, and
with the other slapped her on her face and bottom repeatedly and
furiously, as the girl tried to duck away.
"Shut up, stupid. Shut up, shut
up!" she cried, punctuating each slap with a shout. "Idiot!"
The soldiers grinned at one another and
relaxed their hold on their rifles. Una continued to yell at Kitty
and pommel her, scolding with a deliberate crescendo of severity and
volume as the soldiers passed them.
"Don't you ever run away from home
again, do you hear me? Look at you, running away without even wearing
a jacket, stealing..."
"Gramma, I didn't..."
"Shut up!" screamed Una in a
shrill voice. "Me leaving my work to chase after you in the cold
in these ridiculous old clothes. This is humiliating! I should turn
you over to these soldiers, right now-that's what I should do. Idiot!
Don't you ever run away from home again!"
The soldiers, who were now behind them,
guffawed. Una picked up the sack and grimly marched forward, shoving
a stumbling, terrified Kitty in front of her.
"Hurry up. Wait 'till we get home.
Then you're really gonna get it, you little crybaby!"
She moved faster, shoving her
granddaughter down the sidewalk, a howling Kitty trotting ahead.
Above the masquerade of Una's clenched jaw and scowl, her eyes
brimmed with anguish. She prayed that the soldiers would turn onto a
side street at the end of the block. When she finally had the nerve
to look back, she saw that her prayer had been answered; the soldiers
were gone. Even so, she kept up the charade until they were well into
the fields. It was only when they were safely at the edge of the
woods, near the spot where they had left their robes, that Una put
down the sack and pulled Kitty to her. The girl's face was red and
beginning to swell, and she was crying.
"Oh, my honey lamb, I'm so
sorry," cried Una.
She held the girl tightly as the child
sobbed in her arms, and rubbed her frail body with her hands moving
in soft swirling circles, as if wishing she could erase the effects
of her blows with her caresses.
After a few moments, Kitty drew back and
looked up at her with moist eyes, sniffling.
"Gramma," she said, "don't
"I tried not to hit you too hard,
but I know it hurt," said Una, cupping Kitty's face tenderly.
"Do you understand why I had to do that? Please, do you
"The angels told me you had to
pretend in front of the soldiers to save me," replied Kitty.
"They told me you really do love me."
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