Posts Tagged ‘the dom acts silly’

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

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