“A Kapitany” (The Captain), Chapter 33

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I started “A Kapitany” in 2007, left it and only came back to it this late fall. The general theme of bdsm had changed, had blossomed into something very different. Doing a lot of research on Europe and especially Hungary after WWII, and especially reading Keith Lowe’s book: “Savage Continent” made an impact. It also gave me a framework to revamp and complete this novel. To say that it changed is understating it. I became more interested in what was happening post Nazi, post Soviet, with the people of Hungary. It gave rewards in what had become a love story deepened. The influence of Be Bop, popular music of the 50’s and 60’s on Hungarian people was also interesting to me. This chapter has a nod towards that.

I think the strength of the Hungarian people and these characters comes from what happened to Hungary. War tears up society, but it also reshapes it. There is a caution though: today the rise of the right wing in Hungarian society and politics is is showing it’s head again. It stands as a warning to all of us that the destruction of WWII could happen again.

Lady Nyo

A Kapitany, Chapter 33

It was after three in the afternoon when Vadas returned from seeing Zoltan. He walked into the kitchen, looking for Elizabeth. Maria was stirring a pot on the stove.

“Maria, have you seen Elizabeth around?” He threw himself in a chair and bumped his shin on the stretchers of the oak table. It was scarred with knife cuts and pot burns. He remembered adding his own carvings with a knife Janos had given him when he was ten years old. Vadas traced a ‘bad word’ with his finger. He got belted from Janos for that trick. Maria had to cook and look at that all day, Janos said.

“Elizabeth was here in the kitchen, but my English and her Hungarian weren’t good enough to talk. She did knead some dough. Her wrist is hurting her, Vadas. She needs to take better care of it.”

“Yeah, she needs to stop beating me up. That will help her wrist.” Maria laughed.

“Perhaps if you speak only Hungarian she will learn faster?”

Maria poured a cup of coffee for him from the percolator on the back of the big stove. Vadas wanted to replace that old Aga with a new electric one, but Maria wouldn’t hear of it. She was used to this stove and too old to change. Janos kept a low fire burning in it throughout the night. Maria claimed only good bread, decent enough to eat could come from these old stoves. The new stoves made ‘store bought’ bread.

“Where have you been all day? The girl wasn’t easy with you gone.”

“I was seeing Zoltan, Maria.”

“And how is he?” Maria wiped her hands on her apron and sat down at the table.

“He’s doing pretty well. He’s lost weight and is pale, but his spirits are good.”

Vadas sipped at his hot coffee. He liked it strong and black. Maria was the only one who made decent coffee, strong enough for him.

“When I was visiting the aunties, they told me something. Zoltan is my half brother.”

“I knew.”

“What! Am I the only person on earth who doesn’t?” Vadas put his cup down and splattered the table.

“I nursed him as I nursed you.” Maria wiped up the coffee. “Your mother didn’t have enough milk when either of you were born. Let me see. Zoltan is about four years older? I forget. And you were born after your father returned from that work camp.”

“What happened to your baby, Maria?”

“They both died, Vadas. I was raped by a Russian soldier after the war. The baby was stillborn. I had milk but not much else. Zoltan’s father hunted in the mountains. He saved a lot of people around here. All the other men were either off fighting the war, or in the labor camps, like the one your father was in. But that was later. I was too young to carry that first baby. But I had milk. I was given Zoltan. Years later, when your mother had you, I moved in with her and your father and nursed you. You were a fat baby then.” Maria looked at Vadas over her cup. “You’re getting fat again.”

Vadas pounded his stomach. “It’s all muscle. Women get fat. Men get muscle.” Maria laughed.

“Tell me more, Maria. Tell me about those early years.”

“So much happened during the war years, Vadas. There were no men around. We did all the labor, plus the work of women. I was so young then, not even seventeen, and after the first baby? Well, I was lonely, too. So many had died around me. The old people were dying off from disease and the famine. There were no doctors. I thought if I had a baby I wouldn’t be so alone. This second baby died, and then not long after I met Janos. He was coming home from the war. He walked for months, hiding out in forests and caves. It was a miracle he made it back. So many didn’t. Your father came home but he was a broken man.” Maria sipped her coffee.

“But you never had another child?”

“No, those two were all I had in me. I grew attached to Zoltan. They took him away. Some aunt raised him.”

She sighed. “I was attached to you, too, but your aunties took you to France with your mother. You were just a baby. I cried so much, but I wasn’t wanted by them. I begged and pleaded to take me. When your mother came back with you after a few years, you had grown into a little boy and didn’t remember your old nurse. You were scared of everyone. You cried at the drop of a feather.”

“Living with Aunt Margit probably gave me reason.” Vadas laughed uneasily.

“It’s God’s miracle, Vadas, that both of you boys survived. More than half of the children in Noszvaj didn’t. I remember gathering grass and boiling it with any roots we could find to make soup. Some of the barn cats, the ones we could catch, went into the soup. We ate up the kittens first, then the rats. We ate anything to survive, shoe leather and bits of old harness. But we stopped that in winter when we had no more shoes.”

Vadas looked at the fat, old grey cat sitting on the ledge of the window. Maria smiled and sipped her coffee.

“You know, Vadas. Your Elizabeth will never know or understand what happened here, or what happened across Europe. The war was terrible, but after the war? It was worse than hell. It never really ended. Not for another ten years. It was sect after sect, different militias battling each other. We were in the middle. We were expendable. Partisans took their revenge on everyone. One village raided and slaughtered another. I saw men and women tied together by the Red army soldiers and thrown in the river to drown. We were rounded up and made to watch this. Men had their eyes gouged out and bugs put in their sockets and then sewn up. There were always enough ‘others’ to slaughter for no reason. Even the priests were hung. I remember women and children from another village locked in a church and set on fire. What happened after war was madness. This whole country reverted to savages. That was what we lived with. Your Elizabeth will never understand this, even if she reads a hundred books.”

Vadas shook his head. He knew the stories. The older people, they couldn’t forget them, and why should they? Perhaps in the remembering, in the telling, it made them grateful for life, for survival. Perhaps they also didn’t want to let old wounds heal, either. He wondered. They were the fallow ground, just waiting for blood, these memories, these stories, the next ethnic cleansing, and the next war. He was a man, had served a short time in the defense force. He knew how brutal men were. It could happen again.

No, this wasn’t Elizabeth’s war. And they weren’t her memories. But as she learned the language and lived here, she would hear them. He knew the resentment the Americans didn’t stop any of this. How could they? Hungary was Russia’s spoils of war.

Maria poured more coffee. They sipped in silence, thinking of the past.

“I asked Zoltan to move in here. He refused. He says he’s comfortable where he is and too old to move. I will deed over the lodge to him. Of course, you and Janos will live here until you die. You are as much part of this family as he.”

“We know, Vadas,” said Maria patting his hand. “You always have been good to us. Janos and I have no worries about that. We do worry about your woman. She’s been through a lot, yes?”

“I will deal with it. Talking with Zoltan today gives me new ideas.”

“You protect yourself, Vadas. Whatever it is you are planning, you protect yourself. You will have a new wife. Maria crossed herself. “Don’t leave this one a widow.”

Vadas changed the subject. “We have been talking about bringing her old auntie over from the States. She won’t want to live in Hungary. Elizabeth says she will stay probably a month. I can’t see her elderly auntie making that trip for just a month.”

“As long as she stays out of my kitchen, I will make her welcome.”

Vadas laughed. Two women in one kitchen was trouble. Three? God Almighty. He would move in with Zoltan.
“I have a lot of work to do, Maria.” Vadas got up, leaned over Maria and kissed her on the forehead. The things he learned in the last 24 hours! Ah, life was complex and too many secrets were kept in the dark.

He looked in on Elizabeth and found her sleeping. She looked tired even in sleep. Watching her he saw her mouth move and hear her murmurings. She was dreaming of something.

He sat down at his desk. There was much to do for the vines, always the vines. He needed to calculate the amount of fertilizer to use. Zoltan usually did that, not by a process of math, but by experience. He had rows and hills stretching out across the valley, almost to the foot of the mountains. He needed around thirty pounds of actual nitrogen to spread per acre, not too close to the vines. Grapes were deep rooted fruit. They went down five feet or more, some of the older vines. He needed to plant more new rows, and replace those vines not producing well.
Vadas worked on his calculations. The nitrogen he used was ammonium nitrate, which was 33% nitrogen. You multiplied the weight of a 50 pound bag which gave you 16 pounds of actual nitrogen. Three 50 pound bags gave you 50 pounds of nitrogen. He had acres of vines to consider. Ah, God!

He hated math. It always screwed with him. Only with the needs of the vines had he been able to do this. But he still hated math.

Of course, too much nitrogen would damage the grapes. Compared to other crops, grapes didn’t have a high nitrogen requirement. A high nitrogen dump late in the season would affect the vines ability to withstand winter. Up here at the foot of the Matra mountains, the winters were always severe.

Too much or too little, like wine and women, would unbalance life. Something was always screwing with him.

After a few hours of this, he had enough. He would have to dig deep for the fertilizer next year, between bud and bloom season, but for now, this year, he had it covered.

He moved to a club chair, first poking up the fire. Janos had a good supply of wood stored under a roof, but he needed more before winter. It was always winter when things broke down, stopped working or died. Vadas had only been attending the vines for the last five years and now? It was a make or break deal. If it was dry tomorrow he would take Elizabeth out to inspect the grapes. They would be small green bullets, but growing. He made a mental note to call around to his clients in Paris and Budapest. There were enough barrels and bottles in the caves to supply them now. He would also have to secure more buyers for the wine. Ah God, it never ends, he thought. It’s a race between weather and demands of the soil and fruit.

Vadas was happy. The news about Zoltan made him happy. He decided to listen to his favorite music: American rock and roll. He had a collection of old records he bought during visits to the States. It was rare he had a chance to settle and enjoy this music. He put on “Under the Boardwalk” by the Drifters. He lit a cigarette and stretched out, drawing the smoke in deeply.

Elizabeth stood at the entrance of the room.

She started to laugh. “I didn’t know you liked this kind of music.”

“Ah! My dance partner has arrived!” Vadas threw his cigarette into the fireplace and grabbed Elizabeth around the waist. He danced her around the room, dipping and swaying, twirling her around like a 50’s jitterbug. He was quite happy with himself.

After a few minutes, she was tired out, but Vadas continued to dance, putting on a show, one hand on his stomach, the other waving in the air, his feet gliding about. Elizabeth laughed at his antics, glad to see him in such a mood. Finally he flopped down in his chair, beaming at her.

“Wherever you went it certainly made you happy.”

Vadas turned off the phonograph. “I saw Zoltan.”

“And how is he?”

“Good. In fact, better than ever.”

“Oh, that’s so good to hear. He’s a sweet man.”

“Yes he is.” Vadas started to light another cigarette, and then thought the better of it. Elizabeth was around and he didn’t want her nagging. He would hold the ‘good news’ about Zoltan until they went to bed. Then he would tell her, when he could weave the tale.

“Come here, Elizabeth.” He padded the chair.

“There’s no room, Vadas”, said Elizabeth, laughing.

“There’s always room for you, Mouse.”

Elizabeth sat on his lap. Vadas pulled her into his arms. She tucked her head under his chin, as he looked outside at the trees. The afternoon had slipped away and dusk was falling. The rain was heavier. The night would be a good one for sleeping. Lying in bed, he would hear the pounding of the rain. It always comforted, lulled him to sleep.
Nothing was solved, and Miklos was still out there. But he had seen Zoltan. In less than a day he had gained a brother, some family. He felt happy. The woman in his lap was a big part of that. Whatever tomorrow would bring, he could face it. He knew Zoltan would have his back. Then again, Zoltan always did. It just was a bit different now.

Jane Kohut-Bartels
Copyrighted, 2013

Lady Nyo

Lady Nyo

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