Posts Tagged ‘“The Bull’s Blood”’

The Bull’s Blood, Chapter 33…the Dom acts silly.

April 16, 2019

Cover for Bull's Blood


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?” He threw himself in a chair and bumped his shin on the stretchers of the oak table. The old table 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 curse word with his finger. He got belted from Janos for that trick. Maria has to cook and look at that all day, Janos had 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 Vadas 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 that was 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 more 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, 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.” Maria 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 for them 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 the war was madness. The whole country reverted to savagery. 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 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 didn’t want to let old wounds heal, either. He wondered. The elders, with their memories and stories, were like fallow ground, just waiting for the next bloodbath, the next ethnic cleansing, the next war. He was a man, and he had served his time in the defense force. He knew how brutal men were. It could happen again. The flood of immigrants from Morocco and the Middle East were increasing the ethnic tensions in Paris, Budapest, London. This was a new world, different from post-World War II, but not that much different. It was always the same issues.

No, this wasn’t Elizabeth’s war, and they weren’t her memories. But as she learns the language and lives here, she will hear the stories. He knew the Hungarian resentment towards the Americans. Hungary was Russia’s spoils of war. Things never really changed in Europe.

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

“I asked Zoltan to move in here,” said Vadas. “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 continue to live here. You are as much part of this family as he.”

“We know, Vadas,” said Maria patting his hand. “You have always 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,” said Vadas glumly. “Talking with Zoltan today gave me 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 probably stay 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 and kissed Maria on the forehead. The things he learned in the last twenty-four hours! Ah, life was complex and too many secrets were kept in the dark.

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

Vadas sat down at his desk. There was much to do for the vines, always the vines. He needed to calculate the amount of nitrogen fertilizer to use. Zoltan usually did that, not by a process of math, but by experience. The rows of vines stretched out across the valley, almost to the foot of the mountains. Calculating the correct amount of fertilizer was critical, but Vadas hated math. Ah, God! It always screwed with him. He persevered with it only because of the needs of the vines. Too much nitrogen, or too little, like wine and women, would unbalance life. Something was always screwing with him.

After a couple of hours of toiling over numbers and equations, Vadas had 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.

Vadas went to his study, stoked the fire then sat in a club chair. 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 time. If it was dry tomorrow, he would take Elizabeth out to inspect the grapes. They would be like 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 the weather and the demands of the soil and fruit.

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 laughed. “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 50s jitterbug. He was quite happy with himself.

After a few minutes, Elizabeth 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,” said Elizabeth.

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 keep the good news about Zoltan under wraps until they went to bed. Then he would tell her, when he could weave the tale.

“Come here, Elizabeth.” Vadas patted 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 good for sleeping. Lying in bed, he heard the pounding of the rain. It always comforted and lulled him to sleep.

Nothing was resolved, and Miklós was still out there. But he had seen Zoltan. He had gained a brother. He felt happy. The woman in his lap was a big part of that happiness. 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, 2019

“The Bull’s Blood”, Chapter 32

April 15, 2019

Cover for Bull's Blood


Vadas knew where Zoltan lived, though he hadn’t been there in a long time. He passed through a small village behind Noszvaj, where the road cut through a dense forest. Zoltan had a small cottage, down from the village, off the road. Vadas saw smoke from a small chimney.

All of this region was poor and had been since it was settled. World War II hadn’t helped. The villagers survived much as they had before, scratching an existence from the earth. Many of them hunted in the forest for deer and boar to feed their families. They planted cabbage and millet, the poorest of grains. There was the forest for fuel, the way people still heated their houses. This region of northeast Hungary was poorly served by the national gas and electricity. Unemployment was high.

Vadas stopped his Jeep in front of the small path that led to the cottage. A dog jumped off the porch, barking wildly. A woman, not young, came from inside and yelled at the dog. It went behind the house where it quieted down. She smiled at Vadas, showing missing teeth.

She must be a relative of Zoltan’s, thought Vadas.

The woman stood aside and held the door for Vadas. He entered a room where he saw Zoltan sitting, his feet propped on the woodstove. Zoltan was smoking. Vadas embraced him, kissing him on both cheeks.

“You look good, Zoltan. How do you feel?”

“Like I dodged a bullet,” said Zoltan with a wide smile, his eyes twinkling.

Vadas laughed. “Well, you didn’t dodge the bullet, but you live another day.”

Zoltan offered him a cigarette from his pack. Vadas hesitated. He had cut down and mostly didn’t smoke when Elizabeth was around, but Elizabeth wasn’t around right now. Vadas lit the cigarette and drew in the smoke. Ah, he missed this.

Vadas and Zoltan sat in silence. The woman, who was a cousin of Zoltan’s, brought in a tray of glasses, wine and sausage. She poured wine for each of them then went back into the kitchen.

“How is your woman?”

“She is recovering, Zoltan. She is a bit cracked in the head right now.” Vadas twirled his fingers near his temple, like Soffia had that morning.

Zoltan looked at the woodstove and grunted. “To be expected. She went through hell with Miklós.”

Vadas took a long drag on his cigarette. He looked at the glowing tip. It was good to smoke again. “I still don’t know where that bastard is. He hasn’t surfaced. I got all sorts of men looking and nothing. It’s driving me crazy. It’s also driving the woman crazy. She’s jumpy and cries a lot. This morning she tried to beat me up. I’m sore now, and tomorrow I’ll be bruised like a kicked dog.”

They both laughed.

Zoltan stared at Vadas. “You got one bold woman, there, Vadas. Either she’s bold or you’re getting soft.”

“I’m getting soft in the head. Ah God. And I am marrying her. Yes, soft in the head. She’s softening me up for the kill.”

“You know she tried to save me, Vadas? She told me to stay where I was. She started to leap out of the back door. She was going to deal with them. Her dress and heels slowed her down.” Zoltan shook his head and laughed softly.

Vadas drew on his cigarette. “I didn’t know that. I’m not surprised. She’s smarter than she looks.”

“Well, women, Vadas, you know?” Zoltan shrugged his shoulders and picked up his wine. “To life and death, Vadas. To the death of Miklós. In time.”

Vadas tipped his glass to Zoltan. He could drink to that. “How are the grapes?” asked Vadas.

Zoltan had his own vines. Vadas saw them stretching down the hill behind Zoltan’s cottage.

“Good. We need more rain. Always more rain.”

“How’s your cabbage?”

“Small, Vadas, but the woman spreads manure, and they are growing, but slow.”

Vadas finished his glass and put it on the tray. “Look, Zullie. I came to talk to you about something important, something I just found out.”

“I’m all ears. Look me in the eye and speak, Vadas.”

Vadas sighed and shook his head. “When I was visiting the old aunties yesterday, they told me something. Seems my mother was yours. We are brothers, Zullie.”

Zoltan shifted his weight and smiled. “I knew, Vadas. I knew years ago. Not officially. I heard the whispering when I was a boy.”

Vadas leaned forward and snubbed out his cigarette on the tray. His voice cracked with emotion. “What in hell made you silent? No family to speak of, just these two old biddies, and here under my nose I had a brother? What the fuck, Zoltan? Why didn’t you say?”

“There didn’t seem to be reason, Vadas. Life was fine without knowing. Would it really make any difference?”

Vadas stood up, ran his hand through his hair and sat down. “Difference? Hell, yes, it would have made a difference. I could have done more, I could have done something. Look, Zullie, you are my flesh and blood. Do you know what that means? I’ve not had that. I’ve been thinking I was alone in this world. You could have been part, an important part of my life.”

Zoltan laughed softly. “What would have changed? I’ve been a part of your life. When we have need, we know where to find each other. Look, Vadas, I’m not like you. I’m a peasant. I’m a simple man. I have no education and I am comfortable. I don’t have your responsibilities. What do I need? I have this cottage, these vines. I got plenty of wood for the stove. I even got a cell phone.” Zoltan laughed, his heavy eyebrows going up and down.

“No, Zullie. It’s not that simple. You are my flesh, my blood. I have that house and the lodge and money in the bank. Sure, without Miklós’ business, and the needs of the vineyard, the money won’t last. But fuck, Zullie. I have something more than that with you. I got family right under my nose and I didn’t know.”

Zoltan smiled. “Vadas, has anything changed between us with this news? No. We are the same as before. You need me, you find me. I need you, I find you.”

“Look, Zullie. I don’t care what you say. I have to make this right. It’s something I do. I want you to have the lodge. I am going to deed it over to you, understand? You get the lodge and the land around it, okay?”

“Vadas, are you cracked in the head like Elizabeth? What the fuck would I do with that place? It’s too big. Besides, my vines are here. My cousin takes good care of me. I am set in my ways. What else do I need?”

Vadas sighed and passed his hand through his hair again. “You may not need much now, but I am still going to deed the lodge over. No argument from you, Zullie. Whether you live there or not, it’s your inheritance.”

“You should live there, Vadas. Live there with Elizabeth. That house is going to eat you up. Too expensive to fix up and what would you do with all those rooms? No, you stay in the lodge, and whatever the future brings, well, the future will be here soon enough.”

Vadas was out of words and argument with him for now. He changed the subject. “How’s your wound? Are you in pain?”

“Nah, I’m fine, plus I got these pills. They take the edge off life, Vadas. You might need them after marriage.”

Vadas laughed. “I might need them now. That woman runs circles around me. You wouldn’t believe how strong she is. I don’t want to be on the receiving end of her bad moods. I’m going to be black and blue tomorrow.”

They smoked a while in silence. Vadas filled their glasses.

“That woodstove? Heats pretty good? Maybe I put one in the lodge. That place is cold. Elizabeth is going to freeze her nipples off this winter. She isn’t used to the winters up here.”

“She will adjust, Vadas, but I think you need to keep her warm. Being cold will sour a woman fast. We can take it better. And the whining when they are cold! Jesus Christ, they can whine.”

Vadas laughed. “Yeah, Elizabeth is going to have to make a lot of adjustments. This first year will tell. I expect her to buy and hide a ticket back to the States. This winter will say a lot about her devotion to me.”

They drank their wine and Vadas filled their glasses again. “You know she wants to raise sheep? Not for meat, but for wool. What the hell?”

Zoltan laughed. “Be thankful she is doing just that. She could be sitting around spending your money on crap. A few sheep? Not bad for a new wife. Sounds good to me. You can always kill a lamb and blame it on a wolf.”

“We will see, Zullie, we will see. Right now, I worry about Miklós, where he will pop up. Elizabeth is so spooked she doesn’t want a wedding. She wants to get married in a civil service.”

“Not a bad plan, Vadas. Think of the money you will save.”

“Oh! I want you to be witness. You and Soffia.”

Zoltan laughed. “As long as I don’t have to be too close to that hellcat. Even standing next to her gives me the creeps.”

Vadas laughed. “Lesbians. I don’t understand them. What’s wrong with a man?”

“To them? Plenty, I’m sure. Perhaps they paint each other’s toenails?”

Vadas laughed. “I don’t want to think about it. But I have to think about Miklós. I have to figure out where the fuck that bastard is hiding. I thought by now I would have a clue. I don’t and I have several men on the payroll. Nothing yet.”

“Ah, Vadas, you know Miklós. He’s a tricky bastard. But he will surface for air. Just be patient.”

“Yeah, and quiet Elizabeth. She’s afraid Miklós will come through the window like a wolf.”

“He might. I wouldn’t leave her alone again.”

“I got men watching, but Miklós has men, too. It will be interesting to see what happens.”

“Just a thought, Vadas. Miklós might try to strike before the wedding. You find him first before he finds you.”

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted 2019

“The Bull’s Blood”…..

April 14, 2019


Cover for Bull's BloodTo be published on at the beginning of May, 2019.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted 2019

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