Friday, February 11, 2011

Odds and Ends

First of all thank you all for your supportive comments. Your gentle support means a lot to me.

Thank you.

Now I haven’t posted for the last few days because I have been busy.

Work is as crazy as ever, it has been somewhat easier now I have made a decision not to stay for the long term. Although I have to say I am kind of missing the people there even though I haven’t left yet.

I have been putting together an application for a job, something I’d actually really like to do. It’s a managing position looking after a couple of mental health programs in something called a Community Health Service. I’ve had similar jobs before so I think I’ll be in the running. It’s senior enough to have almost no client contact, but close enough to the community to keep a feel that I’m achieving something ‘real’. It feels right, the application process closes on Monday so wish me luck.

The other thing that is keeping me busy is my WIP. Unfortunately due to a minor computer problem I lost about ten hours work. I am usually absolutely paranoid about back ups. This time I was a bit slack so of course this was the time I had problems. That’ll teach me :-)

I’ve been
threatening promising more posts about our Tassie trip but just haven’t had time to pick piccies to share from the (literally) thousands I brought back.

So instead I am going to inflict a section of my WIP on you. In case anyone is reading Veiled in Shadows on my other blog I will also post a chapter of that tomorrow.

I’m not sure how popular these chunks are because I seem to get almost no comments on them.
Anyway I enjoy posting them so here goes.

This is (as usual) a first draft although it was not typed today. It follows on from the last section where Ronnie and Valentina crashed into each other at a Berlin Airport.

Valentina Meshcova
Berlin 1948
As spring eased into summer and the weather warmed up I began taking Natasha a beach at Heddersee. Sunday was our day, just the two of us.

I had never managed to find out her German name, if she remembered herself she never said, so she was Natasha. I had thought briefly of calling her Raisa, but my Raisa had died at the hands of Germans so I was not sure.

Of course no trace of her mother was ever found so Natasha lived with me in my apartment as if she was my daughter. She was the first child at our orphanage and she had saved me as surely as I had saved her. So it was not surprising she was my favourite.

She was a serious seven year old, but she seemed happy enough. I thought she was very clever, but what mother does not think her child is special. She had learned Russian very rapidly, even quicker than most small children are with language. She still spoke German when she played with other children, but most people guessed she was Russian.

Before the airport I had stopped thinking about Ronnie every day. Now I knew how desperately I still loved him. I re-enacted every moment of that brief encounter again and again, always ending with his expression of hate.

How easy to live with a love who was gone for ever. How hard to be hated by one's desire.

Without Natasha and the focus of the other children I could never have managed the next few days. But eventually I began to feel something like normal again. Thoughts of Ronnie did not distort my thinking at every moment. The incident seemed to have caused no trouble for me either, neither my driver or aide seemed to have mentioned what had happened to anyone.

I lay on our blanket and watched Natasha as she played at the water's edge. She kept as close an eye on me as I did on her, she didn't mind playing on her own with someone watching, but being left alone held a terror for her. She was one child I never had to worry about wandering off.

Sunday was the busiest day at Heddersee with the residents of Berlin making the most of the weather. So I was not surprised when a woman spread a blanket next to mine. With my focus on Natasha, I did not pay much attention to her, I had an impression of long, milky white limbs and black hair.

A voice in German, 'Excuse me.'
I glanced over at her she was holding a bottle out in my direction, 'I don't suppose you could put a bit of this on my back could you?'
I looked at her more closely. She was beautiful, physically beautiful the way Raisa had been, so that people would notice when she entered a room. Tall, dark haired, pale skinned, striking grey eyes.
I knew her from somewhere, I was sure. Yet I had never seen her before, I was certain of that.

It was oil, thin and clear and with an odd earthy smell that was still pleasant and somehow familiar. She held her long black hair up on the back of her head as I rubbed the stuff into her back. How strange, to waste precious oil on the skin. But looking at her she was not by any stretch of the imagination poor. Her bathing suit was clearly tailored, not the home knitted thing most people made do with if they could get hold of something to knit. 'What is this stuff?'
'Coconut oil, it helps me cook myself.'
That explained the smell, dried coconut was something I knew from before the war. 'You will have to be careful, you are very pale. Half an hour, any longer and you will burn.'
'Alas, I have not had time to lie in the sun for years now.'
'I can see that.'

Natasha looked across to check I was still there. She frowned, almost alarmed when she saw my blanket empty. Then her smile when she saw I had not abandoned her. 'She's a pretty child, is she yours?'
It was not a question I had been asked before. 'I am not her mother, but yes she is mine.'
'I always wanted a daughter, but… the war.'

I glanced at her hands, there was a gold band, but on the left. Not married then, but presumably she had been engaged. It was awkward, but I asked the question anyway, I had not had a casual friendly conversation since Raisa was killed.

Before the end of the war I was driven by circumstance and after... well I was a Soviet officer and officers do not have nice conversations with their subordinates. I talked to children and gave or received instructions from other soldiers. 'Your fiancée?'

She laughed and held up her hand, the gold bright in the sun, 'Husband, we do it differently in the west. Here, the wedding ring is on the left. He was killed.'

I felt cold.

The hate, of Germans and Germany was never far away. She must have sensed it, 'Don't worry, he didn't fight against your Russian boys. He was a pilot, he died in France.'
'I'm sorry.' To my surprise I actually was sorry, I felt her grief. She wasn't just a German, she was a fellow human.
'Do you have someone?'

It was foolishness, madness to say anything to anyone. But perhaps after all this time I needed to reach out to someone more mature than a small girl. 'There, was a boy, an English sailor...'
She was curious now, 'Did he die?' she meant to seem casual, but I knew she really wanted the answer.
'No, he was sent away. The NKVD...I was arrested. They told me he was a spy and if I ever saw him again I would be shot.'

Her response took me entirely by surprise, 'Don't worry, I'm sure you'll be happy in the end.'

I did not have a moment to ask what she meant, Natasha came running across, all wet and excited. 'Valentina, I am hungry! Can we go and get some bratwurst?'
One thing that was still very German about Natasha was her love of sausage, of any kind. As if noticing the stranger for the first time she asked in her direct way, 'What is your name?'

The woman hesitated just a moment, 'My name is Penelope.'
'That is a funny name.'
She smiled, taking the childish criticism in her stride, 'Yes it is a funny name, it is a very old Greek name.'
'You aren't very old.'
'Compared to you I am ancient.'
'Valentina can we go now?'
I smiled at the stranger, 'Perhaps we will meet another time?'
'I shall look forward to it Valentina.'

10 comments:

Charmaine Clancy said...

Good imagery in your WIP and your two main characters seem to be fully developed.

Kyna said...

I always seem to miss important posts. I had to go back and read what people were 'supporting' you through.

I'm sorry that you are feeling burnt out in the work you loved. But in such a high stress occupation, it's understandable. I hope you find something you'll love doing as much as social work, and feel just as rewarded. Sometimes change is good.

Susan Fields said...

Thanks for sharing this excerpt. It had me caught up right from the beginning, like I was really there and really listening to Valentina tell me the story. Great voice!

Oh, and best of luck with your job application!

Old Kitty said...

Valentina is truly coming along nicely!!! Her character is fleshing out at each excerpt. There are intriguing seeds here being sown! Natasha and Penelope!!

Keep writing!!!! And GOOD LUCK with the job application form!! Take care
x

Myrna Foster said...

I liked how Natasha had to be able to see Valentina, and the excerpt left me with questions (in a good sort of way).

Kathleen Jones said...

Good luck on Monday Al - you deserve it! As for losing work - it happened to me a few times because I travel a lot and the latest version of the WIP was always on the wrong computer and I kept over-writing files and losing stuff. Now I work entirely from Dropbox. I have the little programme on all my computers (and Neil's) so every time you connect to the internet it updates the files you've stored in it to the latest version. You can also access it from any other computer, so it keeps your work safe. It's a neat version of 'cloud computing' - a kind of internet storage thing and it's FREE! The BBC recommended it and I've been very happy.
KJ

Deniz Bevan said...

Good luck on your job application!
Very brave of you to put up first draft stuff on your blog. I'm already intrigued by the characters, and hope we get to see more of Penelope.

The Words Crafter said...

Good luck on the job application. I liked the excerpt. I felt drawn back in time....isolated, insulated, and as if I were sitting near the women, hearing their conversation....well done :)

I have something for you on my blog today!

Al said...

Hi Charmaine,
Thank you! It is a first draft so it will improve (assuming it doesn’t get cut)

Hi Kyna,
Change is (or at least can be) good.
I’m kinda hanging on to that!

Hi Susan,
Pleased you liked the piece.
Thank you!

Hi Jennifer,
Valentina is certainly pushing herself father into the story.
I will keep writing.
Thank you!

Hi Myrna,
Pleased you like Natasha’s nervousness. It is kind of explained in an extract I posted a few weeks ago.

Hi Kathleen,
Thank you.
I have heard about Drop box a couple of times just recently.
I know a couple of hackers, so storage online makes me a bit nervous. But then I am not rich and famous so I guess no one will pick my account to hack. So the security it has is probably more than adequate. I guess I’ll look in the next couple of days.

Hi Deniz,
Thank you!
Brave or stupid :-)
Pleased you like the characters. I’m fond of them too. I guess you will hear more of Penelope.

Hi Words,
Thank you!
Pleased the excerpt works

Thank you I’ll be by to check it out.

Rayna M. Iyer said...

I just read this, and to be perfectly honest, it was strange to see my name keep popping up, more so because on blogsphere, I think of myself as not-Natasha.
But, no other name would fit the child, and I am honoured you named her for me, even if you did so subconsciously.