“You have visitors, Mrs. Jaunzems,” the Day Nurse says. She leaves the two women standing in the curtained-off quadrant of the small room.

“Who it is?” Mrs. Jaunzems asks. She thinks maybe they look like people she knows. Knew, maybe.

“It’s me, Gita,” one of the women says. “Viktor and Mirdza’s girl.”

“You joke. You not are girl. You old!” Mrs. Jaunzems says.

“Viktor and Mirdza’s daughter,” says the other woman, not Gita.

“Who are Viktor and Mirdza? They are here?” Mrs. Jaunzems looks around, but there is only Gita and the other woman. The one who is not Gita. Mrs. Jaunzems wonders if Viktor and Mirdza are dead. She does not ask this. It is better, sometimes, not to ask.

“It’s just us, Ludmilla. Just Gita. And I brought my daughter, Baiba. You remember my daughter, don’t you?” the woman who says she is Gita says and smiles.

Mrs. Jaunzems shakes her head. “There was little girl, Gita. There was little baby, Baiba. They have mother, she is sick with bad lungs. I take care these girl after war. ” She looks at the women. She shakes her head. “The baby girl Baiba, she have such good hair. Light color. With curl.” The two women look at each other. “The little girl, she not have good hair. Her hair is dark. Like wire. I brush and I brush. I oil. I set. Still her hair not stay right.”

Gita smiles. “That’s me, Ludmilla. And this is my daughter. Her name is Baiba. After her aunt,” she says and pulls the hair behind her ear. She twists it. This looks like something Mrs. Jaunzems has seen before.

“You are same Gita I take care after war?” she asks. She looks at the woman’s face. It is hard to say.

“Yes, Ludmilla,” old Gita says, “I am that Gita. With the hair that wouldn’t lay right.” She touches Mrs. Jaunzems’ knee. Mrs. Jaunzems sits back, all the way back against the back of her wheelchair’s seat.

“If you kill me in street, I not recognize you.”

Old Gita laughs. “What a thing to say, Ludmilla!” She makes a sound that sounds to Mrs. Jaunzems like the sound of a hen.

“Papa sometimes say this when he meet old friend he not see long time. One time he see Cousin Ewald in Russian uniform. He say this to Cousin Ewald. Cousin Ewald come next day and shoot him in head. This is when I go away.” Mrs. Jaunzems pats her pockets. She needs a kleenex. The Day Nurse says she can have all she needs, but the box is always empty when she goes to it.

“That was a long time ago, Ludmilla,” old Gita says. She gives Mrs. Jaunzems a small packet of kleenex from her big pocketbook. Mrs. Jaunzems wipes her eyes. Old Gita looks away and Mrs. Jaunzems folds the packet and puts it behind her back.

The one they say is Baiba sits down on the chair. Old Gita sits down on the bed. Now that they are sitting, nobody says anything. Mrs. Jaunzems rubs a palm against the rubber wheels of her chair. Finally, she says, “Day Nurse say my feets bad. She wrap them in bandage. I not can feel.” She points to her feet. “Day Nurse say, ‘Be careful!’ I say, ‘I am in wheelchair, what more careful I can be?'”

Old Gita wipes a knuckle against her eye. “You were always so funny, Ludmilla,” she says. “You used to do that trick, to make us laugh—you’d light up one of papa’s cigarettes and cross your eyes and stick out your tongue and blow smoke out both your ears!”

“They not let you smoke, this place,” Mrs. Jaunzems says.

“How are you feeling, Ludmilla?” Baiba leans in to ask. Mrs. Jaunzems pushes the pack of kleenex down farther behind her back, shoves it under her dupa.

“Is same thing. Same thing,” Mrs. Jaunzems says. She hopes this is a good answer. It is hard to know anymore what to say to people. Maybe it was always so hard but she does not think so.

“They not let you use telephone,” Mrs. Jaunzems says. Her hands make a shape like a telephone and then her hands make a shape like nothing. Her hands make shapes she cannot understand. One hand flaps on her knee. The other hand pulls at the front of her housecoat. “My hands not always this way,” she says. “I was washerwoman, after war. Then my hands are strong. When there is war, nobody care what is clean, what is dirty. After war, every places only dirt, dirt. And everybody wanting clean.” The flapping hand pushes down the pulling hand. Mrs. Jaunzems sneaks a glance inside her housecoat. She hides toilet paper in her housecoat. She sees she needs to hide some more. Old Gita is looking at her, looking at the pulling.

“I not can clean myself here,” Mrs. Jaunzems says, pointing between her legs. Old Gita makes an ugly face. “Is truth!” Mrs. Jaunzems says. Maybe she says this too loud. Old Gita’s lip curls up and twitches as she pushes it back into a pleasant smile. New Baiba coughs into her fist.

“You look nice today, Ludmilla,” Baiba says when she is finished coughing. Mrs. Jaunzems laughs.

“This morning lady come. She set hair. She trim whisker. ‘I look like billy goat before you come!’ I say to her. Is good thing lady come this morning. Is good thing you not see me yesterday!” Mrs. Jaunzems looks at the women. Old Gita is dressed very nice. Mrs. Jaunzems looks at her shoes. They are pointy and have a high heel. What is she doing all day where she can wear these shoes? “Why for you dress so nice for this place?” Mrs. Jaunzems asks. Old Gita and Baiba look at each other. Baiba raises her eyebrows.

“Because we were coming to visit you, Ludmilla,” old Gita says. She smiles, but looks sad. “We have something we want to tell you.” She reaches her hand out to Baiba. They hold onto each other. “Ludmilla, Mirdza passed away.” She blinks back tears.

Mrs. Jaunzems knows she knows this name. Yes. Mirdza was the mother, with the bad lungs. Mirdza did not like Mrs. Jaunzems. Mrs. Jaunzems does not say this. She says, “She was good woman. I know she is staying forever with Jesus.”

Mrs. Jaunzems did not think she was a good woman. Mirdza came from money and she never let anyone forget. Even when a wheelbarrow full of bank notes wouldn’t buy a loaf of bread, Mirdza acted as though she still had her horses, her dressmaker, her hats with ribbons and feathers, her satin slippers. And Mirdza was fat. Even when everyone, even her babies, shrank down to huge skulls and big hungry eyes, somehow Mirdza stayed fat. Mrs. Jaunzems never believed that her milk had dried up like she said. She always thought Mirdza made up that story so she did not have to get out of bed when the baby was crying. Still, Mrs. Jaunzems hopes Jesus will forgive her for lying. It is worse, she thinks, to say bad things about the dead than to tell a lie. The lie is gone, already. The dead, they can come back.

Mrs. Jaunzems reaches out her hand to touch Baiba’s head. When Mrs. Jaunzems took care of the little baby Baiba, she’d touch her head like this to calm her. She’d stroke her good hair and sing to her. Baiba’s eyes go wide like she is frightened, like she thinks Mrs. Jaunzems will hit her.

“You are good girl, Baiba. I am never having to spank you,” Mrs. Jaunzems says, smoothing a palm over Baiba’s soft hair and down her round cheek.

“Ludmilla,” old Gita says.”This is my daughter.”

Mrs. Jaunzems leans toward the woman with the soft hair and squints. She sits back and looks at old Gita. “No…you fool me. You say to me this is Baiba. I hear you.”

Old Gita begins to cry.

Mrs. Jaunzems thinks she should maybe give her a kleenex. But the kleenex is under her dupa. She cannot give this woman a kleenex from under her dupa. She looks the woman with the soft hair up and down. It is hard to know if this Baiba is not the same Baiba. It is hard to know anymore who is anybody.

Mrs. Jaunzems pulls her hand away from Baiba. Not her Baiba. She can see now. “She was good baby,” Mrs. Jaunzems says. “Gita, you remember I take you to green park? You are in kindergarten I think. Baiba is two year old. Maybe you not can remember.”

“Of course, Ludmilla,” old Gita says, dabbing her cheeks with the back of her wrist. “You took us every day.”

When Mrs. Jaunzems took care of those girls, Baiba was just a baby. She could only say, no and momma and dog and tickle and papa. Her whole life, little Gita was always talking for Baiba. Baiba didn’t need so many words. This Baiba is quiet. Maybe her whole life Gita is talking for her too.

“I take you to green park. Only park with grass. With tree. Every places dirt. Holes in ground. Every places peoples, peoples. Too many peoples. No places they can stay.” Mrs. Jaunzems shakes her head. “Is not good place for childrens.”

There was a time, just after the war, when Mrs. Jaunzems turned down a little street behind the apartment house. There were three men. They had a woman pushed against the wall. She made noises like a cat. Mrs. Jaunzems ducked her head and went the other way.

“Oh, it wasn’t so bad, Ludmilla,” old Gita says. “You used to buy us ice cream from a cart, remember? They served it on paper plates and they’d crease right down the middle when Mr. Kirklinš scooped the ice cream onto them.” Her hands make a shape like a book closing.

“I remember cart,” Mrs. Jaunzems says. “I not take good care you girls.” She shakes her head. It is not the ice cream cart Mrs. Jaunzems remembers. Mrs. Jaunzems looks into Baiba’s eyes. She is not her Baiba, no. But she looks like her. She looks like what Mrs. Jaunzems thought her Baiba would look like, someday. Who can say who anybody is anymore? Sometimes the dead, they come back. “Gita, what you remember from war?” she asks. She should not ask this, she knows. She does many things she knows she should not do now. She steals. She lies. She calls the night nurse bad names the Russian soldiers used to call her, before she was Mrs. Jaunzems, when she was still a girl.

“Oh, not very much, really. I was so young. I just remember the boys in the block house playing war with their slingshots. They’d pick up the bullet casings that were everywhere and pound them down flat and shoot them at birds with their slingshots. They’d shoot at each other!” Old Gita clasps a hand to her breast. Her eyes go wide. When she was a little girl, Mrs. Jaunzems called her klektoka. Rattle, it meant.

“What you remember from Baiba?” Mrs. Jaunzems asks. Maybe old Gita remembers only silly things about her sister. Maybe she remembers the game with the rubber ball and the metal star. Or the song Mrs. Jaunzems sang to them going-in-and-out-the-window, in-and-out-the-window. Maybe she remembers chasing chickens with her in the courtyard and fresh eggs for breakfast in little white eggcups like a skirt on a lady. Maybe she remembers her doll with the eyes that go click-click, open and shut. Mrs. Jaunzems hopes for this.

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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