Soo train

Posted: February 26, 2014 in Short stories, starts & writing, Soo train

Part II

“Dmitry was a broken, shriveled skeleton when he was brought home from Sudbury,” the old man said, hunching his shoulders and indicating something thin with his two leathery hands.
“Peter and I carried him from the wagon. He was never a big man, but now…”
He shook his head, stared momentarily out at the line of soughing pines. Shifting his position on the log bench, he looked down at his pipe, and then clamping it between his teeth he continued, speaking out of the corner of his mouth.
“When he came home he spoke little and would not talk of the accident.”
“It must have been a hard time for everyone, yes?”

He took a couple of quick puffs from the pipe, removed it from his mouth, holding the bowl in the palm of his hand, and said, “Oh, yes. Very hard,” before blowing out the smoke. “After, Hanna, his wife, she was often crying. And the children all looked so pale. They worry for their Papa.”
The pipe finished with, he tapped its ashy contents out on the edge of the bench and shifted himself around to face me.
“And Dmitry gave them little hope,” he said, frowning and clearing his throat, “Because, he believed, he would not walk again.”

“But he was lucky to be alive. A miracle. It was really a horrific crash. That kind of trauma, some people never get over it.”

“Oh, yes. We had read the newspapers. We new Dmitry was still in shock,” he explained, nodding, and then pausing again to look towards the trees lining the road.
Glancing up at the sky once or twice, more a movement of his eyebrows and faded blue eyes than of his grey old head, he went on. “Yes, this was a most terrible thing that happened. Hanna told me Dmitry has no memory of the accident, but I know a grieving man when I see one.”

“You think he does remember?”

He shook his head, looked down at his empty pipe, put the pipe down on the bench and looked back to me.
“I think he remembers things,” he said, patting a hand on the side of his head. “But none of these things, nothing he thinks is clear, I think. It is all smashed up, so he only sees…”
He swirled a hand around, as if stirring the air to conjure up the words, and then bringing both hands up by his head he quickly opened and closed his fists in imitation of little explosions, blinking and theatrically rolling his eyes to watch each hand as it detonated. “… Splinters and flashes,” he concluded, and then quickly adding, as his hands came down to roost on his knees, “But I already told you, Dmitry would not talk about the accident, so I do not know.”

We sat in silence then for perhaps thirty seconds, listening to the pines and birdsong, our feet scraping in the dirt occasionally, and muffled squawks of hysteria coming from the hen-house.
“Another egg,” he stated, jerking a thumb in the direction of the hen-house, behind us. For a few moments we watched a small tribe of sparrows frolicking on the guttering of a nearby tool-shed and then he continued his story.

“He was very sad; Dmitry. And he suffered his grief for some time, speaking little. Very, very rare to see him smile,” he said, elongating each “very” and slowly shaking his head as he spoke, looking at the ground by his feet.
“Peter says the survivors of these tragedies feel guilt. I believe him. Back then, often I think Dmitry looks like he doesn’t want to be here, thinks he should have drowned in that river or burned to death like those other people. I want to shake him when I see this!” he exclaimed, strangling the air with both hands.
“Then Hanna is very tired. She is doing most of the work and it is very hard for her.”

“Weren’t there people around to help her?”

“Oh, yes. The children help where they can but they are only little. And others in the village help when they can, but still she is always so very tired. Tired of Dmitry and his thinking he will never walk again and this thinking he should be dead.”
Suddenly he brought his fist down on the bench between us and exclaimed, “Enough!” she tells him. “You didn’t die! You are still here! We are still here!”” pointing his finger at me.
“Dmitry got angry and they both yelled. The children stood in the yard crying and the dogs barking and it was all terrible.”
He paused again, clearing his throat once more, and toying with the empty pipe beside him. “But soon the shouting stopped and soon Dmitry and Hanna were determined to mend his broken body. Hanna, she worked very hard. Rubbing and moving his injured legs, every day rubbing with the grease of the goose or the goat and so many stinking herbs!”

“What kind of herbs were they? Do you know?” I asked.

“She bought herbs and small bundles of twigs and bark from the Metis and made tea. So I do not know. No. And Dmitry slept on a plank cut from an oak tree for six whole months, and they spent a lot of time praying.”
Another pause, in which he looked briefly up at the sky and then made the sign of the cross.
“By the Spring Dmitry is a new man! He still cannot walk but no more is he a shriveled skeleton. Peter and I help to carry him to the wagon to go to church every Sunday and we feel the strength coming back to him. “Thank you, my brothers. I promise you I will help with the next harvest,” he tells us.”

“And what did you think?”

He didn’t stop to think. “Hanna looks tired but happy and Peter and I agree, Dmitry is going to get better.”

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