Old Gita tilts her head. “She was so tiny. She never cried. A good baby, just like you said, Ludmilla.” She glances at Baiba. Maybe she is talking about her? But then she goes on. “I remember sometimes we got balloons,” old Gita says, quiet, like praying, “I remember the balloons—they were on a stick, not a string. I always picked a yellow one for me and a green one for Baiba. It wasn’t the same color green as here. It was brighter. It seemed brighter.”

Baiba looks out the little window on Mrs. Jaunzems’ side of the curtained-off room. Maybe she is sad. Maybe just bored. She looks a long time. What she looks at, Mrs. Jaunzems cannot say. When Mrs. Jaunzems looks out the window, she sees the other window across the courtyard. She sees the sky. She sees a cloud reflected in the other window. Sometimes she sees a brown bird. Every day it looks to her like the same brown bird.

“You remember what happen your sister?” Mrs. Jaunzems asks, brave now. Baiba looks back from the window, interested again. “Is long time, now. Maybe you not remember.” She shakes her head. Maybe it does not matter what happened then. Many things happened then, Mrs. Jaunzems knows. Sometimes at night a man holds you down. He pushes his knee between your legs. In the daytime you do the wash for this man’s fat wife. Sometimes there are other men. The woman who made the noise like a cat, Mrs. Jaunzems saw her the day after in the same little street. Her face was like a doll’s face. She was pale. Her eyes were stuck open. Her shoes were gone.

“You were taking us to church,” old Gita says. “I saw the policeman and his dog in the booth with the blue and white stripes. It was a nice dog. It had gold fur and black-tipped ears. I felt sad that the dog was in the booth all day and couldn’t come play. I ran out into the street to pet it. Baiba chased after me. She got knocked down by the grocer’s cart. She spooked his horse.”

Old Gita says this like it is the truth, but Mrs. Jaunzems knows she does not know this. Mrs. Jaunzems told her this. “Is my fault, what happen your sister,” Mrs. Jaunzems says, dipping her head. It is the right thing, to confess. It is the right thing, to say what happened. She wants to say but how can she say?

“It was an accident, Ludmilla.” Old Gita leans forward. “You took good care of us, you did. But I was always too willful and clumsy. Do you remember when I climbed up on the kitchen stool to get into mother’s sugar bowl? I fell off and split my head open on the corner of the table. At the hospital, they stitched up my forehead with green army thread. Look, you can still see the scar.” Old Gita lifts her hair off her forehead, but she is so old who can tell what is a scar and what is a wrinkle?

“Is not same thing. I not should take care you girls.”

“We were lucky to have you,” old Gita says. “Mamma was in the sanatorium with pleurisy and poor papa couldn’t even boil an egg. It is a miracle any of us lived through what we lived through.”

Mrs. Jaunzems folds her hands, the flapping hand over the pulling hand. She bows her head. “When I am girl, I have no shoe,” she says. “No shoe until after war. I am twenty year old before I have shoe.” Mrs. Jaunzems looks at her feet. She cannot feel them. “It not matter now. Now I not wear shoe. Only bandage and slipper like sick peoples,” she says.

“Those are very nice slippers, Ludmilla,” old Gita says. Little girl Gita never listened. Old Gita is the same. What can Mrs. Jaunzems do? It was a long time now since she took care of those girls. She taught them who Jesus was. What more could she do?

“Before I take care you girls, I go with army. In what country, I not can say. Maybe not any country now.”

“They lived in Germany, Ludmilla. You came from Poland,” Baiba says. She tips her head to the side like that will help Mrs. Jaunzems understand.

“I come from big family. I am second baby. After me, there are eleven more. We are poor. Everybody poor. Then war come and they kill Papa. I am fourteen. I go with Russian soldiers then I go with German soldiers. The Germans, they are good to me. They take me to camp. They give me sweets. They see I have no shoe. They give me first pair shoe.”

“You know, I think maybe we’ve stayed too long, Ludmilla,” old Gita says.”We should go. It’s been a long day. We don’t want to tire you out.” She stands and reaches for her pocketbook. Her eyes are wet when she says this. Mrs. Jaunzems gives her a hard look. Old Gita stops talking. She sits.

“I am with soldiers. They give me sweets after. I take care those mens. I not should take care you girls. I not should marry.”

“You did get married, Ludmilla,” old Gita says. “After you came to America, you had a lovely wedding.” Her voice is high and sweet, like she is talking a child out of a tantrum, but she makes a face like she has a headache. Gita was a smart girl. Silly, loud and never listening, but smart. Why won’t she understand?

She rubs her palms back and forth against her chair’s blue rubber wheels. “I remember!” she says and bangs the heels of her hands against the rims. Baiba takes Mrs. Jaunzems’ hand and leans forward, as if to speak, but Mrs. Jaunzems squeezes Baiba’s hand. She says, “During war, I stay in camp with soldiers. They give me sweets. They call me ‘Sweet Lady.’ They see I have no shoe. They give me first ever pair shoe.”

Old Gita looks up. “Isn’t it funny, how you remember important pairs of shoes?” she says. “I’ll never forget the shoes papa had the cobbler make me for the trip to America. They were shiny black, with laces and the little holes punched all the way around. Those were my first pair of shoes. Just mine, just for me. Not someone else’s cast-offs donated to the Refugee Organization.” Old Gita looks at her feet. Mrs. Jaunzems waits. She makes sure old Gita is done remembering her special shoes. Old Gita looks up again, and Mrs. Jaunzems goes on.

“Soldiers I stay with, they give me shoe. When they go away, I go work as washerwoman.” Mrs. Jaunzems closes her eyes. Some days she does not talk at all. It is hard saying so much about anything.

“Mamma always said you were the only one who could get out the stains from our play clothes,” old Gita says in a rush. “Mamma said as soon as we went outside, we were covered head-to-toe in dirt. She said we’d get it in our ears and noses. Everything was covered in dirt.”

Mrs. Jaunzems cannot say all what she wants to say. She does not have the words for this. She grips the rubber wheels. “Before Germans, I am with Russians. There is soldier. He tell me he will take me back to his country and I will stay with him, after war. In his eye, he is dead. He say he want I should stay with him and have baby.” Her hands go white, let go, then grip once more. She starts again. “I see this man on street. I see his face. I never forget this face. That day, I am holding your sister hand. I let go her hand and she run.” Baiba squeezes her hand. Her hand is warm. “I let go her hand when I see soldier on street and I am frighten what he maybe do if he know me. She not can say ‘Ludmilla,’ she always call me ‘momma.’ I am frighten what he maybe do if he think she is his baby. I see him and I am so frighten.” Mrs. Jaunzems eyes are wet. She uncrumples the kleenex she offered to Gita.

“It was an accident, Ludmilla,” Baiba says. She is a sweet girl. A good girl. Who can say she is not the same?

“I not should take care you girls. After war, I should go to convent. I should not have husband.”

“Your husband’s name was Vaus,” old Gita says.

“I remember!” Mrs. Jaunzems says. She is loud now.

“Baiba—do you remember, I told you about their wedding?” old Gita asks. “I helped Ludmilla pick out her wedding dress because your grandmother wouldn’t go.” Baiba does not look at her. She looks at Mrs. Jaunzems. Old Gita goes on talking. “I took the bus downtown with Ludmilla and we went to Wurzburg’s, and then Herpolsheimer’s, and then Steketee’s—remember, Ludmilla? Finally we ended up at a little bridal salon and Ludmilla, you picked out that taffeta gown with the hoop in the skirt and the lace sleeves that came all the way down to a point on the back of your hand—it was so elaborate! But you wouldn’t wear any lipstick!” Baiba looks like maybe she will cry. Old Gita’s eyes dance, her voice is bright, “You wouldn’t wear any makeup because it was a church wedding, with a mass, and we had to wear those doilies pinned over our hair and Vaus rented out the Polish American Citizen’s Club for the reception and he hired that umpapa band, the Benaszeski Brothers.”

“I tell Vaus about soldiers,” Mrs. Jaunzems says. “I tell him about sweets. Still he marry me.”

“Vaus was a good man,” Baiba says. She pats the old woman’s hand. She smiles.

“There not many good man, after war.” The old woman closes her eyes. She feels the weight of Vaus’s large-knuckled hand laid overtop of her own. She remembers his palms, pressed to her palm and firm on her back, turning and turning and turning her across the wide pine plank floor; slow-quick-quick, in time to a waltz.

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