Glass Curtain by Thaddeus Hutyra

chapter 71

 

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FUNERAL...

Author:Thaddeus Hutyra

 

He rushed to the bathroom,shaved himself,put a white shirt and weared dark blue trousers and a jacket of the same colur on himself,combed his golden hair and was ready to go.To his beloved wife!
However strange was her behaviour he loved her and could not imagine a life without her.Not even a single day! God,there must have been a misunderstanding.Her parents must have had a wrong picture of him and brainwashed her in a negative way.He was determined to repair the damage.To speak both,to his wife and her parents.There was never too late to try.
-“Father,I go to Barbara’s parents!”- He called to his parent through a bit open door.
-“Good luck,son! I had the same problems with my wife and your…”- He heard his father say but did not listen more,perfectly knowing what his father wanted to say.He ran out the house towards his Polonez,sat down inside the car,turned the engine on and moved the car swiftly away from the garage gate towards a small path which was connected to a street a hundred meters further.
It took just ten minutes to get all the way from his house to the house of Barbara’s parents.He parked the car just on the side of the road and unconcerned about locking it,he opened the garden gate and hurried towards the main door of the house.He noticed a face of Barbara’s mother in the window who jumped off it the moment she relised Robert Vangard looked up at her.He approached the door and reached for its handle.He realized the door was locked.He pressed a bell at the door.There was no answer.He waited a moment and then pressed the bell again.There was nothing but...a silence.
Only then did he realize the gravity of the situation was harsher than he thought.It looked nearly unthinkable to him.What was it? Why they treated him this way? He would understand their behaviour if he really mistreated his wife.But it was not a case at all.He did not even used some brute words,so common in broken families.It was something else.Most certainly the wrong image of him on the side of Barbara’s parents.They wanted their daughter for some reason out of him.True,he had problems with his alcohol addiction but he fought with it and never tried it since he was back at home.He should have been applauded for it,cheered and kept in good spirits.They chose an opposite path,so cruel to him!
-“Barbara,open,please.I want to speak to you!”- He yelled through the door.Sure,they heard him.Yet there was no reaction.
-“Barbara,why do you do this to me? Come over to me! You know I love you!”- He called once again.
And this time there was no answer at all.A despair overwhelmed him again.God,he loved her and he could not neither see her nor speak to her.
-“I want to daddy!”- He heard suddenly a voice of his older son,Szymon,who began to cry.
He began to knock on the door.
-“Barbara,please,open! I won’t be angry at you.I promise it to you.”- He tried again through the door.Also this time there was no reaction to his call.He no longer heard his son what meant they took him to one of the upper floors.A tear appeared in his eye and he sat down on the stairs.
He then got up and went to his car,a broken and resigned man.He returned home and had no strength to do anything.He was so much overwhelmed by a despair he felt as if he was hanging over an abyss.Whatever he did or did not brought a mental suffering.Sitting on a chair was too much for him,lying on a bed was unbearable to him because it felt as if he was lying on something what burned him.Nothing could give him a comfort.Nothing but the return of his wife and children.The night was filled with such a number of nightmares he sweated.The next morning it was cold in the apartment and a sadness looked from every corner.The rest of the day and the following night were again filled with nightmares and his discomfort realizing from them.So,when his wife has still not returned home on the third day he just reached for his winter coat and went to Parkova restaurant,the one his mother worked for years in when he was a kid and the one as well he had great time with his friends,the other villagers ever since his adolescent age.It was partially in that restaurant when he got addicted to alcohol and he risked going back to it this time once again.He prayed his wife would somehow appear before him,at the right time,just before he enters the restaurant.There was snow everywhere around,on the street,on the trees and the roofs of every house he passed and on the slopes of mountains around the village.He was bewildered so much snow appeared just in one night but this realization did not bring a comfort to him.Yes,there was a little spark of light within his mind when he imagined his children and his wife alongside him,happy at seeing so much snow around.But the spark went off as soon as it appeared in his mind.The village was all white thanks to the fresh snow but his state of mind and wellbeing was all black.What a contrast! He was saddened by the fact he expierenced all that just a few days before the New Year.Heavens,he did not even dared to think about the New Year! Parkova restaurant was located next to a large square,so large many towns would be jalous about.There were several important structures around the square,the ones which decided about the social life of the villagers.Firstly,of course it was a monumental church in which there was a painting of Madonna,the mother of Jesus Christ,gifted to the villagers by one of the Polish kings in the seventienth century.So the village had historic roots! At the other side of the square was the restaurant which he was just entering.There were also a number of shops,a school and a large garden,yet at another side of the square.The garden belonged to his father before.There was their house in the garden,long demolished ever since his father moved to another house he built.Originally,his father did not want to give up the house and the garden.Unfortunately,it was a communist country then and approximate rules applied in the relationships among the villagers and the communist rulers.The council of the village wished to build a department store and perhaps a hotel exactly there where their house and the garden were situated.His father,wanting it or not,had to agree to sell his estate for so little money that one would have a difficulty to buy a used car in the West for that amount of money.Fortunately,his father was an enterpreuner of a small scale business and made enough money to be able to build yet another house and enjoy good,old age.He did not foresee a desease would wreck that plans.The sorrow of human life at an old age!
Parkova restaurant was quite a modern one.One side of its walls was nothing else but glass.It was monumental and there could be as many as five hundred guests at a dancing lot.The stairs to the first floor, built of concrete, were wide for five meters at least.There were about forty steps to get to the first floor and in fact it was a second floor,from the standpoint of an ordinary house owner.Grand floor was occupied by a long bar for those who enjoyed drinking beer and a café with darkened lights,which was popular among lovers.His mother used to work both in the restaurant above and in the café downstairs.She got the jobs after she divorced his father and worked as a waitress in the restaurant and then as a director in the café before she got a romance with her present husband and moved to Katowice,the second largest town in Southern Poland.How many times he rushed up and down the stairs when he was a kid! Thousand times! And he was always so careless then! So happy! What happened with him now? Now,when he was an adult,a husband and a father?! What was wrong with him? Why did he always have a tendency to fault himself for deeds which were not of his making? No,he felt excruciating pain in his head.He dreamt of meeting someone.He could no longer stand being alone.He went up the stairs now,not a step by step but by taking three or even four steps at once.He saw them.All his friends from his childhood and later on.They sat together at a table,laughed and enjoyed time at being together.There was lots of beer on the table.There were also alcohol beverages on the table.He did not mind it any more.He just directed himself to them.They saw him.
-“Hey,Robert,you’re back! Come here!”- They shouted to him.He approached them and greeted with each other.The pain somehow was gone.They were so friendly,so happy,even so enthusiastic.He instantly felt better among them and with them.
The moment he intended to sit down at the table he noticed that some strangers he has never saw,at the next table,looked at him.They must have been the Russians he heard from his wife about! A waitress came and he ordered beer for him and his friends.He was going to enjoy the time with his friends.Perhaps the nightmares would go away that way.He forgot the strangers at the next table and concentrated himself on his best friends.Some of them were his age and some of the age of his two brothers.They instantly poured on him so many questions he had difficulty to choose what answer to begin with.They wanted to know how was it in Belgium,could he manage to stay there so long without his wife and children,how friendly were people in Belgium and many other things.They wanted to know also about his brothers;the one who lived in New Zealand and the one who moved to Bielsko-Biala.Their curiosity was endless.But also he had many questions to them.What happened in the village at the time he was away,what people did,what new romances there were,who got married…He thought that maybe he might succeed in discovering why his wife behaved so strangely to him.
There was a guy in the village she once had an affair with and he even caught her and him seating side by side to each other at his home.Has she continued the affair? Was she in love to the guy? There were so many questions unanswered.
There was no theme they have not talked about.
Once when he glanced outside through the glassed wall of the restaurant he saw the village's most famous citizen,their priest at the entry to the church.He smiled to himself remembering the teachings of the priest every time their met.
-"Robert,never drink alkohol.It's the devil's nest."- The priest used to say to him.He was the tallest of all inhabitants in the village,probably as tall as two and twenty meters.But also the fattest of all of them.He was perhaps the only one who was not afraid of the communist rulers and criticized them openly at his Sudays' sermons.Villagers knew he was a friend of the present pope,John Paul II,who had twice a visit to the church when he was a bishop of Cracow.The villagers were proud of that.
In the meantime Robert Vangard and his friends at the table talked a lot and had a lot drink too.
Strangely,he felt he was somehow relaxed.He even enjoyed himself.He tried not to think about his wife.Enough was enough.Perhaps he lost his wife but he had his friends.
The alcohol did already some inroads within his mind.He knew it and did not bother about it.What was important the headache was gone.And with it the drama and the nightmares.He was happy again.
There was no theme they would not talk about and the most popular one concerned the United States.
”America”,as they used to name the legendary country,which was dear to the hearts of ordinary Poles.There was nothing strange in that.Polish people were robbed of their political freedom for long decades,as a result of Yalta and Potsdam agreements among postwar superpowers.Partially they were abandoned then by the Western countries and partially what happened was a de facto result of the incredible strength of Josef Stalin,the Soviet leader.No country was ready then for a third world war as would surely be a case if the Soviets were challenged.People were devastated by the long war against Adolf Hitler’s army and dreamt about return to peace.Unfortunately,it was Poland and a few other Central and East European countries who had to pay a price for that.Nevertheless,Polish people never faulted the Americans for that.They loved the country which had everything they were deprived of and the United States political system was a model for their future Poland when it would regain its independence.When they heard the news of assassination of both Kennedys,the President and the Senator,they,the Polish people,despaired then as much as the Americans did.Robert Vangard remembered the word “Kennedy” was pronounced often in his house as well as in every household in the village.People kept pictures of the Kennedys,the way as if they were members of their families.The word “Kennedy” and the images of the Kennedys was something special in his mind, a memory which had its own taste,something what was hidden deep in his consciousness,as if the Kennedys were his own family.How could it be any different way when the images were so original,the members of the family and some friends sitting around the table till late at night,with candles on the table and their eternal flames,passing the pictures of the Kennedys from hand to hand,listening to "Radio Free Europe" or "Radio America" and talking politics and the world affairs for hours,something for what they would land in jail if the communist authorities learnt about it.
He was then a four or five years old kid !
Such meetings happened nearly in every family house around the village and in every other countryside and town of Poland.People tried to live the western way,bought jeans for the last money they had and kept solidarity aginst the communists.Sooner or later the system would fall down.
It happened finally after long decades and people now had to confront their dreams with a harsh reality…
Lunch time came and his friends went to their houses.
Robert Vangard panicked a bit when he realized he was again alone at the table.He looked at the Russians at the neighbouring table and was surprised to learn they looked at him.And not only.They actually gave him signs he can join them for companionship.He did it.He got off his table and approached them.
He introduced himself to them and they did the same to him.
-“Sasha,Grisha,Masha,Basha,Borys,Antonov…”- He heard their names and sat down on a chair they got from another table.One of them got a bottle of vodka from a pocket of his jacket.
-“That’s Smirnov,comrade!”- He said.
-“Oh,Smirnov! It’s a vodka with high percentage of pure alcohol.”- Robert Vangard remarked.
-“-“Yes,indeed,comrade! Seventy percent alcohol!”
-“What are you doing here,in this village?”- Robert Vangard asked.
-“We’re skiers.You’ve got exellent conditions for skiing! So much snow,the mountains around,the fresh air…And especially so few other skiers! There is no place in the Alps for skiers anymore…And here we have all the mountains for ourselves…Simply delight!…”
Robert Vangard knew they were not really skiers,remembering what his wife told him.But he was not intending to spoil his time.He continued a friendly discussion with the Russian strangers while they treated him with new and new glasses of alcohol.Soon he felt himself stranger and stranger,as if he were swimming in the water.Nothing but the waves and waves…He knew he was drunken.Yet they got another bottle and treated him even more with their Smirnov.He refused but they asked him to have yet another glass,and then yet another one,and another one…The world was definitely too fluid now to him.Nothing but waves around him.And ocean…
Strangely,he recalled his wife and children in his mind.Perhaps they were already back at home.He had to go to his house because they must have been there.They must have waited there for him.He cared no longer about the Russians.
He just got off the table,heard a rumble of the fallen chair and began to walk to the exit.How difficult it was! He had to cross,or swim rather,across that ocean,that powerful waves of the ocean around him.He found himself above the stairs.
The stairs!
The ones of concrete!
They looked to him like some sort of dinosaurs.
But he had to be back at home!
His wife and children must have surely waited for him!
He made one step and then a second one.How difficult it was to walk down the stairs! Unbelivable because he rushed uncountable times up and down that stairs since his childhood.He no longer remembered which step was it when he made a few steps further down the stairs.What was it? The waves were definitely too strong! They actually got over him,over his head.He was powerless,thrown this and that way,so much unbalanced.He could be swept aside at any time.
He saw that wave,the most powerful one,the one called jaws…
It came at him with such an incredible strength he had no chance and was indeed swept aside.He has fallen on the stairs and hit with the back of his head at one of the steps of the concrete stairs.
There was some sort of explosion within his head and then the light began rapidly escaping him and at the same time he felt some strange warmth spreading all over his brain.It was then when he felt awoken.He understood what happened.
-“God,what I did! Forgive me!”- He whispered and witnessed the light getting smaller and smaller until it became just a point and then just switched off.



*

The day of the funeral was the busiest one.
All family members,friends,the villagers and even some people from other villages came to pay tribute to a young man who died so tragically.They came to pray on behalf of his soul.It was no mystery to them he got addicted to alcohol because of the system and the poverty.He painted their houses and they treated him with alcohol.Sooner or later it had to happen.
Barbara Vangard cried nearly all the time.She bursted out when her mother tried to comfort her.
-“Go away from me! You told me the opposite what I should have done! If not you he would live! God,what I have done! I loved him!”- Barbara Vangard despaired but let her mother to take her into her arms.She knew she had to gather strength.One of her sons,the five year old Szymon,behaved strangely.He vomited,wanted nothing to eat and often cried.It was strange because she did not say to her sons their father died.She did not know that her son actually went down the stairs the previous night and entered the room in which his dead father lay.He spoke then to his father and even tried to wake him up.He realized somehow then that there was something terribly wrong with his father.Despite that he was only five years old he realized his father was…No he could not bear to say that word…
Everybody from the family was present.Robert Vangard’s mother,Emilia Barton arrived with her husband as well as his sister,Dorota Starcz with her husband and his oldest brother,Marek Vangard with his wife.All of them felt totally dumb and pained to the core of their beings.Emilia Barton said nothing,was pale and looked with a tragic face at her dead son.She felt already for a long time something terrible was going to happen.And it happened finally with a vengeance.Robert Vangard’s father looked as much pained on his face.It was also to him a terrible drama because his youngest son was chosen by him to continue the family tradition and,hopefully,to care for him at his old age.His dream was now ruined.
It must have been devil’s finger in what has happened!
Marek Vangard was shocked uttermost and could not imagine how he will be able to announce the Robert’s death to Tadek,their brother who lived so far away,in New Zealand and for whom there was no way to attend the funeral.Thousands of people have already formed outside the house,in the street next to the house and in the road all the way towards the church.Their noble priest,the one towering above all of them,came and allowed the family members to do farewell to their husband,father,son and brother who died in such a young age.
His wife,Barbara,kissed him and cried.
-“It’s my fault,it’s my fault…Forgive me because I loved you,I really loved you”- She repeated.She had to be taken away from her husband by her parents.
Jozef Vangard,the father of Robert Vangard,tried the best to approach him despite the advanced sclerosis in his legs:
-“Oh my son!"- He bursted finally out.-“I had it all for you!”
He looked up at Emilia Barton,the woman who was his wife for long years and who was Robert’s mother and there was a silent exchange of their thoughts,with a motion of unspoken drama because of the death of their son and then he turned again to Robert,touched his cold hands and began to cry.He was the only member of the family who could not attend the funeral all the way to the church and the cemetery.First the sickness brought him down and now the death of his son who was supposed to care for him at his old age.He also was taken gently away from his son.
Then Emilia Barton came to her son and silently,with tears in her eyes,kissed him.
-“Be with God,my dear son.”- She whispered.She had enough tears in her life and was not going to show them off.Then came his brother and sister and all the other members of the family and bid farewell to the one who never harmed anyone in his life.
It was an incredible day,that funeral day.
It was the first of January and the day was frosty.There was even more snow,deliciously fresh and white,  than just a few days ago,covering the streets,the roofs of the houses and the slopes of the nearby mountains.Despite that,and especially despite the freeze running down to minus twenty deegrees centigrade,there were thousands of people who participated and the church was full,the mass at its best and the organ music unforgettable.Dorota Starcz was nearing to bursting with a loud cry.Just a few days earlier she was at a concert in Cracow where she had oportunity to see and hear a phenomenal compositon by Krzysztof Penderecki,named:"Seven gates of Jerozolima".The echo of the devine music overwhelmed her mind.
Finally,they found themselves at the cemetery.
Emilia Barton had impression there was a lightning high in the sky when the first grudge of earth was thrown at the coffin in which her son lay.
It was a sign from God alone…
To be continued…Author: Thaddeus Hutyra,e-mail: tadekhutyra@hotmail.com  or: clubbers@funworld.be
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