Updated: Jan 24, 2021
It’s in The Pudding
That night Gosia’s trembling body leaned against her grandmother’s front door, as if it shielded her from the others, the one’s on the outside. The light brown door had been smeared with streaks of deep red, but it hadn’t been her insides. The sticky syrup-like substance encased her hands and arms and slithered up her neck like the contours of a serpent. Those men, they were the snakes. However, even in this moment she hadn’t a thought of regret.
“Ha,” Bubs scoffs earlier that day. “If not now, then when?” It isn’t a question but a statement. She often speaks to her knitting. Though she rarely speaks directly, it’s more often in riddles. I’ve grown to understand her; years of being raised by your grandmother will do that. Maybe all grandparents are like my Bubs, but I somehow am reluctant to believe that.
“What is it Bubs?” I ask her, calmly and collectively trying to pull the thread through the shirt that sits on my lap. As I stitch it, I attempt to miss my finger with the needle’s point, but fail. “Ouch,” I yank my finger away in an instant, I had pricked it once again. A pin drop of blood forms on my fingertip and persuades me to my feet to get a cloth; a slight flutter to my heart. She ignores my question, so not to complain. “You didn’t give way to that needle again, did you Goose?” she asks.
“I did, it’s okay.”
“Ah, it’s in the pudding,” she affirms.
Bubs has coined the nickname of Goose for me, many years ago. I will admit to a
delicate nature that resides within me, perhaps that is the reason for the name. Though
there is a sense of warmth and love within “Goose” and for that, I am quite content. I set my
shirt to rest on the small, circular wooden table that’s just a step from the floral couch in the
living room. Its legs are not sturdy as they once were and so the weight of the shirt causes it to teeter to one side. I walk into the kitchen, it’s small but we don’t have much – only the
necessities. After decades of use, the wooden cabinets have a crooked lean to them and loose knobs, but that doesn’t bother me. Bubs has been talking about fixing them, but there are always duties that prioritize themselves ahead of those cabinets. The windows haven’t been wiped in a coon’s age; they almost look as though a permanent fog has settled upon their smooth surfaces. I grab the white cloth that always sits in the same spot on the counter beside the sink. I wrap it around my finger, swaddling it like a baby with hopes it will stay quiet.
Putting pressure on the cloth that covers my finger, I shudder at the thought that I’ve
expressed more red tears. I peer under the cloth to find that they have stopped, then suddenly realize my hands still smell of butter – I had been churning earlier. The goats are out back, which is how Bubs and I make a living. Placing my hands in the sink I delicately rinse them with soap in an attempt to remove the smell while simultaneously forcing an effort to not wake the baby on my finger.
“There’s a knock at the door,” Bubs calls from her seat in the living room.
“I’ll tend to it,” I say. As I open the door I feel somewhat miffed to find Filip Bartol on the other side. He is a polite man about my age, tall and thin, and with the eyes of a lion...
“Good Afternoon, Miss Mazur,” Filip says as he bows his head down.
“Good Afternoon, Filip, I told you – call me Gosia,” I reply while resisting the pressure to offer my hand. The alternative being rude, which is a most undesirable trait in Poland.
“Are you certain?” he says, looking timid as a sheep. How ironic, a sheep with the eyes of a lion.
I wish I knew what that meant.
“Yes,” I say offering my hand out after all.
He graciously takes my hand in his, I immediately note its warmth. Gently resting his lips on the back side of my hand, I both squirm and freeze. Surely it’s possible to do both of those things at one time.
“I brought you these,” he pulls out a bouquet of baby’s breath from behind his back.
“Thank you, Filip they are exquisite,” I say curiously, while noting the sensation of pink forming on my cheeks.
“I know that it’s your day of birth tomorrow, however I’ll be working at the shop,” he says. He’s right, tomorrow will be my birthday. September 2, 1939 and I’ll be 24. I ponder to myself how he would know such things, then I glance over at Bubs whose eyes dart away in guilty confirmation. The way her hands suddenly move faster, tilting the needles this way and that – it certainly doesn’t help her case.
Filip’s family is quite wealthy, his father owns a print shop which means he assists in managing it. All the more reason why him coming around here is something of a jolt.
“This is very nice, you didn’t have to – really.”
“Are you fond of them?” His voice smooth, like honey.
“Yes, they are quite special, they have an extremely long bloom time. Most flowers don’t bloom from spring to frost,” I say, filling the silence to hide my nerves.
“You know Gosia, for a girl who hasn’t gone to school you really are well read.”
He means it as a compliment, I struggle to accept it as such.
“Thank you,” I say, not because I want to.
“Won’t you join me for dinner tonight? Say 5:00pm?”
“Oh, I’ll have to ask Bubs.” We have our Friday night routine of Krupnik and pudding.
“You’re 24-years-old,” she shouts from the living room. It doesn’t take an Enigmatologist to understand her, I suppose it just takes me.
“Hmm?” He asks.
“It’s a yes,” I smile an uneasy smile. I close the door turning the knob delicately, with the intent to be quiet enough to not stir any more attention.
Though she didn’t feel regret, she felt something else. An intensity flowed through her
veins, which seemed to have an effect on her breathing. It increased, though it felt nearly
impossible to take a full breath. Her head pulsated to the unsteady beat of her heart, with each thud seeming to anchor her closer to sleep – or something like it. She had made it this far, farther than those men, ironically. Women had been in their own war, fighting for their rights as equals. Gosia knew of the women who did such things, she read about them in books and in the newspaper. She wasn’t one of those women. If she wasn’t one of those women, who was she? She let her back slide down the inside of the door until her bottom met the cold floor. The red liquid across the floorboards absorbed into the underside of her dress.
After closing the door behind Filip, I note a strange feeling in my stomach. I have never received flowers before – an odd number of flowers at that. It is a Polish tradition to give an odd number of flowers. However, it isn’t typical that I have been brought such a gift; given my lack of social stimulation. Although I would be fooling myself if I didn’t admit a certain level of excitement. My stomach housed a thousand tiny butterflies.
“When the flowers bloom, so does the romance,” Bubs esteemed.
“It’s just dinner. Besides, it is unusual for a gentleman of his stature to be on this side of
“Bubs, we’d go together like an ox and a carriage.”
“My dear Goose, one day you will see your greatness.”
Just like that the conversation comes to an end. Bubs likes it that way, being the one with the last word. I know when it is the end. It isn’t necessarily something she says or does, it’s the feeling in the air afterwards. A sense of vigor, like the molecules in the air have somehow shifted. Perhaps there’s a slight draft. I can’t be certain. I just know that everything moves forward.
“I don’t have anything appropriate to wear tonight.” I say to Bubs.
“A dress of course, wear the one that calls to you.”
I go to my room and chose a mustard-yellow dress with small peach flowers. It was
either that or a plain grey dress. My head and arms slip in through the bottom and the dress
slides down my body until it almost meets the floor. It is a pretty dress, though the colours are slightly faded from time and use. It is possible that it was meant to be that way and that Filip won’t notice. I ponder where he plans to take me as I examine myself in the mirror. The waves in my dark, thick hair are wild; though I have never been able to tame them. I’ve also never let that be a bother. Most of the time my hair is up and when I go out I wear a beret. Bubs has always loved my hair. She says I have the heart of a goose, the spirit of a horse and the main of a lion. Though she has never told me why she thinks that.
“Beautiful!” she says as I enter our tiny kitchen.
“Krupnik and pudding?” she asks but it’s more or less a request.
“Now? But we usually have it after din–“
“-We will have it now, before you go,” she interjects, a fierce warmth to her tonality.
“Yes, please,” I say, ultimately happy to oblige.
We sit at the dining table, scratched and worn; it had been used in her kitchen since she was a child and one of her most cherished items of her mothers. At candle light, the flames dance, like two fairies swaying to the sound of a music that is much too quiet for the likes of our human ears. It reminds me of fireflies on a warm August night; though their movements are more sporadic and they too, move to a rhythm that calls to their being. I can’t help but wonder what it’s like to be a firefly – no societal expectations, no pressure of social class or gender. They just get to be.
I eat my pudding with calculated mouthfuls. For two reasons: one, it is delicious and I
would hate to get through it too quickly. Two, if I went too quickly for Bubs’ liking, I would be sure to get a slap to the wrist. The creamy vanilla coats my tongue and I hold it there for a
moment to savour the sweet taste. I can tell Bubs does the same as her mouth points up ever so slightly at the corners – it seems as though she is somewhere else for a moment. I wonder where she goes. It makes me think of my Mom. She doesn’t talk much about Mom, I know it is painful for her. I suspect they used to do this, back before she died. My parents had joined a League - The League of Nations - to prevent the spread of disease. They died from Typhus almost 20 years ago now. Perhaps that’s where her mind goes. It is funny how tastes and smells can trigger such vivid memories in our minds. I have no memories to call upon to guide me on this date with Filip tonight.
If she hadn’t allowed her body to will her to the dusty floorboards, the darkness would have surely closed in. There she sat, her arms limp at her sides. Blood between her bottom and the floors surface. There were screams and gunshots coming from outside. Muffled and distant. A knowing crossed her mind, she could still be in danger and yet some-how she could feel nothing. Numbness. It was a strange sensation. Or perhaps it wasn’t considered a sensation at all. It was as though she wanted to lay her head down, let everything fade into the night and never be waked again. She grew more tired. It seemed impossible to fight the exhaustion. So she lay down, but decided just for a moment. Her left pale, cheek flattened amongst the floor. Her wild mane imprinted in the dust and footprints of red – serves her right for not having dusted and polished the floors this past week. It didn’t matter anyway. Her eyes caught a glimpse of the piece of silver, shiny metallic in the dim lit room. It had not ended well; the last time her hands met its cool, sleek frame. Still, it sits there, rather lively – if a non-living object could be lively. Gleaming with opportunity. Its surface reflecting the light of the candles that her Bubs had lit only a mere two hours ago.
“I’m uncertain of how to behave tonight.”
“Ah. It’s in the pudding,” Bubs waves her hand as if to dismiss my concern as inconsequential.
“But, what is expected of me?”
“Just be yourself, never mind the rest.”
It seems so easy for Bubs, the way she jaunts about with such credence. Where is my lesson in courage?
“What was that?” I ask Bubs. A loud, muffled bang sounds outside in the street followed by a sudden surge of screams.
“Hmmm,” Bubs sighs as she stands to her feet and goes to the window to peer out towards the street.
“What?” I ask again, only now with a slight urgency to my voice.
She turns to look at me, terror in her eyes, “Hide,” she says. “Go, now!”
“Why? What’s out there?”
“Nothing that concerns you. Now go hide and don’t come back out until it’s quiet.”
“You’re scaring me,” I say, almost in the tonality of a child.
Bubs runs to the fridge and grabs something out of a tin can. I stand to my feet; each
bang, each scream, sending my chest into panic. Someone knocks on the door, only it’s less of a knock and more of a blow. They don’t wait to be let in. The door opens, letting the sounds of the screams on the street rush into our house like a vociferous choir of elephants. Only these screams are more ear-piercing, more agonizing.
“Agata Mazur,” he says in a boisterous voice.
“Yes. That is me,” Bubs replies, as she moves quickly toward the door maintaining her stoic disposition.
“You’re coming with me, now,” he says, as he places his hand on the back of her neck. He moves her in such a way that they now face the street; he must be intending to force her
I can’t think clearly. Bubs has never prepared me for this kind of thing. Should I hide like she says? I’ll hide. But he’s already seen me. He knows I’m here. He’ll come back for me.
He walks forward, then outside they go. Bubs fights his hold for a moment and turns her face
“It’s in the pudding,” she shouts. What? Confusion clouds my mind. Pudding? Of all the things, pudding can’t fix this.
I run and close the front door. No plan in mind, just high hopes that I can buy myself
some time before he comes back. I don’t know what his intentions are with Bubs. Maybe I’ll go outside; maybe this is all a misunderstanding. I look out the window and see rows of people, our neighbours, walking single file through the street. Children crying and being separated from their parents, women standing naked side by side. The invaders look like soldiers of some form, antagonizing them all.
What in the hell is going on? My heart pounds in my chest cavity. Think Gosia, think.
Why did Bubs mention the pudding? There’s always a riddle, always a lesson. Think. The
pudding! I run to the kitchen table on jellied legs. A small amount of pudding lingers in each of our bowls. There is a larger, wooden bowl with extra pudding in the middle of the table. How is the damn pudding going to help us now? What are you trying to tell me Bubs? Then I see it. The shiny, silver tip of a razorblade’s edge sticking ever so slightly out of the top of the pudding. I grab it, and run to the other side of the fridge. Tucked in a nook, but also in plain sight from just the right angle. I wait. I know what she wants me to do.
She had memorized its smoothness, its flat, rectangular build. The sharp edges that
could do massive amounts of harm if one wanted it to, of course. Had she wanted it too? They’d asked for it as far as she was concerned. She reached for it then, running her thumb across the sharpened edge. It felt good – the way it scraped at her thumbprint. She pushed it in, only slightly, just enough to leave an imprint in her flesh, but not enough to let it bleed. Enough to let her know she was awake. She noticed a speck of dried pudding on the blade.
“Bubs!” she said aloud, as if her consciousness suddenly came forward and she remembered she had a purpose – they had her Bubs. Where did they take her? She stood then, her body covered in red from the snakes; she moved, but in a disoriented hobble to the window.
“Bubs!” she cried. She could see her, standing atop the hill across the street. A man pointed a gun at the back of her head. Gosia blinked and her grandmother fell to her death.
“No. Bubs!” She screamed, like a choir of elephants, she screamed.
Surprise. I have the element of surprise on my side. They don’t know where I am. I hear the door open, a pair of feet shuffle in. The unwanted guest awaits. I can hear the soldier
walk towards the kitchen, he passes the refrigerator. So he did come back for me, and I think I know what he wants to do with me. In this moment I know it’s my only chance. I grab him from behind, holding the razorblade tightly in my trembling hand. I press it into the flesh of his neck as he lets out a quiet whimper.
“Shhh, who are you?” I ask.
“Why are you here?”
“Adolf Hitler’s orders.”
I could recall information flooding in through the gates of Poland about Hitler’s reign, and his crazed theory of exterminating European Jews. I think not but a second more before I run the blade across the front of Hans Krause’s neck.
I keep the blade in my hand, now soaked in red. It isn’t instinctual, of course; I want
nothing more than to throw it away and wash Hans off my body. His lifeless frame lay on the
floor in front of me. There’s so much blood it’s hard to know where he ends and I begin. A jolt of panic rises in my chest and I run for the front door, leaving a trail of bloodied foot prints behind me. In one swift movement I twist the knob, open the door and run. Only to find myself crashing into someone, another soldier. He loses his footings and falls backward, we hit the ground. I land on top of him and watch his eyes widen in fear. His mouth gapes open as if he wants to scream but nothing comes out. I think he is terrified by me, though who wouldn’t be? I want to tell him I didn’t bathe in blood. But then I see it, the way his hands move to caress his stomach. There’s a pool of blood now, nothing his hands do can stop what’s coming. I glance down at the blade in my hand. I suppose it can cause harm, even if one didn’t intend to. I retreat back inside.
Two of those snakes I killed. Two. I could handle more if I had to. I hear
a noise at the back door off of the kitchen: a jiggling of sorts. That door always stays
locked. I ready myself then, for the next invader. Filip comes bounding in through the back
door – out of breath and filthy as a pig. Quite a peculiar look for such a proper gentleman, I
think with amusement. He is still alive and so am I – which explains the lion.
“Gosia, you’re okay?”
“Call me Goose.”