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Tomorrow, they'll make plans for Sylwestra, because undoubtedly they'll be spending New Year's Eve together. It's already been decided that they won't leave Justyna's side, and for that Justyna is grateful. They'll help clean the house, they'll babysit Damian while she goes out and tries to find a job, and they'll lend her a little money until she does. They'll make Anna pick up the phone and fucking call Tefilski. They'll help Kamila go through her belongings at her old apartment. It's already been decided.
When she hears the footsteps in the foyer, Justyna opens one eye. Anna has fallen asleep and Justyna has no idea how much time has passed and why it's taking Kamila so long to find that fucking bottle.
Justyna hears him before she sees him.
"Shhhh. Don't wake her. She looks so sweet."
He's standing in the doorway. Shaved head, thick beard, dirty jeans, and dirty hands, no coat. She sees all these things in a flash and for a moment Justyna thinks he's an apparition, except apparitions don't talk. They don't have fresh snow on their boots.
"You having a party? Tsk tsk tsk. Is that how a widow is supposed to act?" Justyna is frozen, except for her hands, which start to shake.
"I guess your pretty little friend forgot to lock the door behind her. Didn't you tell her? About the bogeyman?" Anna stirs beside her, and Justyna shudders. She knows the minute Anna pops open her eyes, she will let go of a scream that might move Filip to action.
"The police are right outside," Justyna says quietly.
"I know they are. I would have said hello but I didn't wanna wake them." Filip smiles and looks around the room, looks up toward the ceiling. "Where's Elwira?"
Justyna has spent her whole life talking her way out of shit. She knows people; she understands how they operate. She has rarely been afraid of confrontation or of dying. But now, face-to-face with a life-or-death situation, the only thing she wants to say is a pleading jeszcze nie jeszcze nie. Not yet. But she can't open her fucking mouth.
It happens in the blink of an eye. Kamila slams the bottle down on top of Filip's skull. The bottle doesn't break, but it's enough to send him to the floor. That's when Justyna scrambles to her feet, and takes over; five more blows, one right after the other, as Anna screams her fucking head off. Thank God for Anna's vocal cords, for their decibel-shattering powers, because she is loud enough to wake up Officer Leon, who runs in, pistol cocked.
An hour later, Justyna sits on her front steps, smoking a cigarette. It's cold, but she can't really feel anything. She watches Kamila and Anna drive down Witosa in a cab, on their way to Szydowek. They begged and begged for her to hop in the backseat with them, to leave that fucking house.
"I'll be there later, I promise," she told them. "I have to go get Damian anyway."
"You sure?" Anna asked as the three of them stood on the porch and watched the cop car drive off with Filip in the backseat, soaked in bimber from the sixth and final blow that finally shattered the bottle, just as Officer Leon tried to grab it from Justyna's hands.
Justyna stares at her cigarette. Did she ever really believe that Filip would come back again? Justyna speaks softly, imagining Pawe sitting on the steps right next to her.
"I think I'm gonna sell the house, Pawe. It wasn't ours to begin with. And there's nothing to keep me here anymore. Who's gonna fix the fucking ceiling, anyway?" She exhales again, feeling like a fool, but she continues.
"I guess it's over. I mean, there'll be a trial, but I think it's done, misiaku. And I hope he gets it up the ass on a daily basis in there. And I hope they never let him out. There. That's it. I just wanted to say that, just put it out there in case someone else is listening." Justyna closes her eyes. Everything is incredibly still, and quiet, the kind of winter stillness that promised snow.
"I miss you. Every day. I miss you not because you're not here. I miss you because I'm still waiting for you to come back. How fucked up is that?" Justyna stops talking for a moment, just to catch her breath, because she knows she could go on forever. But that's the idea, she supposes, that's what he wants her to do. To go on, forever.
"That's the last of it," Kamila says. Satisfied, she sits down on top of the cardboard box that's now taped up like the others. Anna and Justyna sit at the kitchen table and survey the handiwork. It took them three hours to pack up Kamila's life into six boxes and two suitcases. Now, the clock hanging above the table reads 23:37.
"Are we seriously going to ring in midnight here?" Anna asks, finishing her cigarette. She stubs it out into a teacup saucer; Kamila doesn't own ashtrays.
"I'm sorry, you guys. I'm beat. I just wanna lay down and wake up next year," Kamila says.
"Me too," Justyna says, yawning.
Last night, when the three of them got to Kamila's apartment, they boiled parowki and made scrambled eggs, and decided they'd wake up early the next day, start packing up the place, and then spend New Year's Eve at a nightclub. Maybe Desperados. Anywhere with music and people, anywhere they could dance and let loose, just like in the good old days.
At first, Justyna wasn't interested in going out. The last two days had worn her out. The night the cops took Filip away, she stayed out on the front steps for a while. She didn't go to Szydowek to get Damian, and she didn't call or talk to anyone. Justyna needed one night alone in her house, one last night. She went upstairs to the bathroom, sat on the floor, and cried for a long time.
In the morning, she finally called Babcia Kazia and told her what happened; that the police had informed Justyna they'd apprehended Filip thirty kilometers outside of Kielce, standing at a bus stop. Justyna heard Elwira crying in the background as Babcia relayed the news.
"I'll clean this shit hole up a bit," Justyna said, "and come get Damian tomorrow. All right, Babciu? I just need one more day." Babcia Kazia didn't protest, didn't ask, admonish, or pry. "Whatever you want, Justynka," she said.
Later, when enough time had passed, Justyna would tell her sister and grandmother the truth. She'd tell everyone; how Filip had returned to the house. For now, it was nobody's business and she preferred it that way.
Anna stands up and walks to the fridge. She opens it and takes out the bottle of Afrodite sparkling wine, the closest thing to champagne Kamila had in the apartment.
"Well, someone needs to make a toast before we pass out."
When Anna and Kamila had left Justyna on her porch two nights ago, they were both reeling. The prevailing emotion was relief, but Anna also felt giddy. Something momentous had happened. It wasn't just the fact that the three of them had braved a fucking psycho. It wasn't just that Filip would finally be imprisoned for his heinous crime. It was more than that. It felt like a final farewell to the past.
Anna's instinct was to go to Babcia's apartment. She didn't want to spend the night in some hotel room and neither did Kamila. Babcia Helenka had almost fainted when she opened the door and saw Anna and Kamila there.
"Jezus kochany! What's happening? Anna! Who is that?" she asked, not recognizing Kamila.
Anna stepped into the apartment, pulling Kamila along by the hand.
"Babciu, this is Kamila Marchewska. Remember her? My old friend?"
"Kamilka!" Babcia had exclaimed. "I wouldn't have recognized you in a million years."
It was easy to lie to Babcia about why Anna had showed up now, without luggage, at two in the morning, and why she had brought a friend. Babcia didn't seem to care. She was just happy to have her granddaughter back. Anna slept on the floor in the living room next to the wersalka she'd offered Kamila. They didn't say a word to each other, but it took a long time for either one of them to fall asleep.
Anna didn't know how long she'd be staying in Poland. She didn't know much of anything, except for one thing, which she had decided as the sun was coming up. Before she left, she'd go down to the travel agency on Sienkiewicza and buy her parents two round-trip tickets to Poland, whether they liked it or not. Anna wanted to see what this place would bring out in them, whether or not it would save them, revive them. Sometimes, going back to the beginning was the only answer.
"All right," Justyna says back in Kamila's kitchen, "we'll make a damn toast." She smiles. "But first let me go check on Damian."
Babcia Kazia had dropped Damian off at Kamila's that evening. Suddenly, Justyna hadn't been able to bear being away from him for another night. When he walked into the apartment, dragging his backpack on the floor, Justyna knelt down and hugged him for a long time, breathing in the scent of his hair.
"I don't wanna sleep at Babcia's again," he said gruffly, and she told him not to worry.
"And I don't want Miki anymore. I gave him to Celina."
"Who's Miki?" Justyna asked, feeling a wave of remorse for everything.
"The goddamn hamster. I want a turtle now, but only if I can walk him on a leash."
"Jesus, demanding, aren't you?" Justyna swatted his cheek, blinking back tears, and led him to the bedroom. She offered to help him get in his pajamas, but he held out his hand.
"I can do it on my own."
Now, she cracks the bedroom door open. She sees his face in the moonlight coming in through the window. For the first time ever, she's glad that Damian, with his pale blue eyes and fair hair, looks nothing like Pawe. It would make things easier.
Kamila stares at Justyna standing by the door.
"She's a good mom, right, Anna?" Anna nods her head, as she uncorks the wine.
One day, Kamila would be a good mom too; she was sure of it. She would fall in love again. She would gain weight and find a new job. That morning her boss at the pharmacy left her a message: "Your vacation was over weeks ago, Mrs. Ludek. We regret to inform you that your position has been filled." It didn't matter. Somehow, life would go on. She wasn't looking forward to finding a new place to live, or sitting down with Emil at some lawyer's office. She wasn't looking forward to many things. But there was nothing easier in the world than getting knocked up, and for the first time in her life, she'd have fun trying. When Justyna joins them at the table, Anna has already poured three glasses. They each pick up one and take a pause.
"All right, dziewczyny. It's 23:51. Someone better fucking say something profound real fast." Justyna smiles. It won't be her. Kamila and Anna stare at each other before Kamila sighs. "Anna. You have to do it. You're the resident speechmaker here."
"No," Anna demurs. "I'm good when someone hands me the lines, not when I have to come up with them on my own."
"For fuck's sake, Anna!" Justyna points to the clock.
"Fine, fine. Dobra." Anna takes a breath and raises her glass.
"I want to make a toast not to what's happened, but to what will. To our future. May it be bright and happy. May we never have to smash a bottle over anyone's head again." Kamila and Justyna smile and wait for Anna to continue. "I want us to find the place where we belong.... One day, I want the three of us to stand off to the side, and watch our kids do fikoki on the trzepak in front of my babcia's house." Anna stops abruptly, looks away.
"Na zdrowie!" Justyna finishes for her. "That wasn't bad, Baran. A little on the sappy side, but not bad."
"You got something better?" Anna smiles.
For a moment Justyna considers the question. Tomorrow she will wake up and it will be a new year and Pawe will still be gone. And that's the only thing she can count on, so she shakes her head and brings the glass to her lips.
"Not yet," Kamila says, pointing to the clock, and the three of them turn their heads. "Jeszcze nie. We've still got a little time."
"... and the reason is you ..."
Thank you to my entire team at Spiegel & Grau and everyone at Random House, including the meticulous Loren Noveck, who caught some big ones, and Greg Mollica, who gave me my pretty Polish girl on the cover.
To my editors, Julie Grau, Hana Landes, and Laura Van der Veer, the ultimate smart-girl trifecta-you helped me sculpt and whittle down and refine without compromising my vision, and I will be forever grateful.
Thank you to Laura Nolan, my amazing literary agent, who got it right away, and who took me to lunch where we feasted on kiebasa and fell in love.
Huge, unending thanks to the awesome Adriana Trigiani, who read an unfinished draft, told me you are a writer, and gave me a deadline. Your encouragement and insight were crucial to my hunkering down, finishing this thing, and sending it out into the world.
Thank you to Mary K and John Wilson, who introduced me to Adriana and who have always loved and believed in me, even though I suck at returning phone calls.
To the fabulous Bill Butler and Chris Highland, who let me go off and be a mom and then go off and be a novelist....
To Kasia, who helped watch over the boys so I could write.
To Christine Onorati, my staunch supporter, for her words and her WORD-books brought us together, and so much else keeps us that way....
To Adrian Karatnycky, who led my family to America.
Thank you to my countless teachers, who saw something in that immigrant girl and who told her to keep writing-especially Mrs. Conti, Ms. Carroll, Mr. Feigelson, and Mr. Levitsky.
To Judy Blume, Ann M. Martin, Lois Lowry, and V. C. Andrews; to Eva Hoffman and Lorrie Moore; to Barbara Trapido, Toni Morrison, and Dostoevsky; to TC Boyle, and Miosz and Szymborska; to Frank McCourt and Francine Prose; to Marquez and Bukowski-my first loves, my mad loves, my many loves, too many to name.
Thank you to everyone who read the revised-one-last-time-delete-all-previous-attachments-this-is-IT-I-swear drafts-including Maggie, Krista, Anya, TJ, Scott, and Crispin Borfle.
To all the Polish boys who broke my heart, and vice versa.
To all the Polish girls I know, with their own dreams and their own stories, which have inspired mine, especially Karina, Iga, Aneta, and Augustyna-life goes on but we'll always have those wakacje....
To my California Foleys, Malina and Keller-ciocia loves you.
To my family in Poland: zobaczymy si za rok ... zawsze tak bylo i zawsze tak bdzie....
To Babcia Krysia, who took care of me every summer-may you read this book over and over again as well....
Thank you to my mother, Aleksandra, who bravely left home to go start a new life, and to my father, Mirek, who keeps longing for his old one-you taught me sacrifice, you scrimped and saved to give me Polska every summer, and without that, there would be nothing....
To my sister Marika, who read some of these pages a decade ago and told me I was sitting on gold-I'll never stop dreaming about us-down-the-block ... and to my sister Veronika, who came home in a fruit basket when I was ten and changed my life.... No one will ever understand like we do, and the three of us will always be walking down Toporowskiego, forever young....
To my sweet, beautiful sons, Kalin and Kassian-Mama's finally finished writing "that book."
And finally, thank you to my husband, Patrick, who said his vows in Polish, who never tells me no, even when he should, who always listens, who loves me beyond and despite, who lets me sneak off to the porch to scribble just a little while longer ... you saved me and there are no words to show my love & gratitude, but here's a few thousand anyway.
About the Author.
Dagmara Dominczyk was born in Poland and emigrated to New York City in 1983. She received a BFA from Carnegie Mellon University and, over the years, has acted in numerous films, television series, and Broadway plays. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and two sons. This is her first novel.
Follow the author on Twitter.