The Wind that Shakes the Trees

Photo by Dillan K/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Photo by Dillan K/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

“Ewa, it’s time to wake up. We’re nearing the farm. Wake up.”

When Ewa’s eyes split open, they were met by seas of wheat reaching far past the horizon. She was seven years old and sat jostling next to her twin sister as their car trundled along an old dirt road in the heart of Poland. The summer had just begun, but it was already warm. The sky was cloudless and the setting sun radiated an amber color that drenched the stalks of wheat and made them glisten rosy. Ewa’s sister Inka grabbed her hand and pointed out the colors, as if Ewa hadn’t already seen them.

At the wheat field’s end, beyond her father’s skinny frame and her mother’s blonde, flowing hair, Ewa could see her grandparents Mama and Dziadzia waiting outside the warped-wooden farmhouse. They were smiling, their blue eyes shining in the lingering light. Once their car had stopped, Ewa raced from the door and into their waiting arms.

“Mama! Dziadzia!” she screamed as she plunged into them, her eyes closed. She felt the impact of her sister less than a second afterwards, jumping in to get hugged as well. Her mother exited the car, followed by her father with a slam of his door. But Ewa held on tight to her grandparents, unwilling to let go.

“It’s good to see you, Alicja,” said Dziadzia. “Hello, Józef.”

“Father,” Ewa’s father replied.

“Will you be staying long this time?”

Ewa’s mother seemed about to answer but her father interjected. “No,” said Józef. “It’s too long a drive back to Suwalki. Only a moment.”

As they walked towards the farmhouse, Ewa could vaguely hear Dziadzia mention something about “bad apples” to Mama, but Ewa paid little attention. Her mind was focused on the visions all around her, memories of previous summers spent at the farm coming to life. She spotted the apple tree she and her sister had broken a year before.

She remembered sitting with Inka on the branch. When they heard cracking, they each suspected the other was throwing apples towards the ground, but before they knew it, they were flying through the air, then landing on the broken branch on the ground, unharmed and laughing. Ewa looked up to see the great branch that held them had snapped, leaving a mangled hold on the tree’s side. Small green apples rained down around them and the entire tree shook. She hoped Dziadzia wasn’t still mad about it, but walking there beside him, next to the farmhouse, she knew he had already forgiven her.

Mama led them into the pantry, Ewa’s favorite room, its wooden shelves lined with neatly stacked rows of spices, jars of brightly-colored candies and covered bowls of fruit pastes. The air was warm with the scent of bread baking in the kitchen, mixed with wafts of cinnamon. As Mama set to work fixing them both a snack, Ewa grabbed a stool in order to stare out the tiny window into the world beyond.

She could see the apple orchard, her grandparent’s endless wheat fields and the woods beyond them. She saw the horse stable and the hayloft. She watched the cows grazing in the distance, the pigs and chickens mingling in their pens. She watched brief silent gusts of wind shake the Osika trees. Their tall white and black-spotted bodies whipped side to side in the air as their branches quaked, shaking their thin, golden-yellow leaves in unison, waving at Ewa as if to say, ‘hello.’

Her eyes widened as they fell upon the horse-drawn harvester lying in the sun. Speckled with red rust, the harvester’s newly sharpened blades rested atop the bare soil.

“Mama,” asked Ewa. “Do you think Dziadzia will let me drive the harvester this year?”

“Maybe, if you’re good. There will always be work to do, don’t you worry about that.” Mama chuckled as she pushed her hands deep into a thick mass of cookie dough.

Ewa heard hushed whispers from the doorway, the barely-contained hissing of her father, Dziadzia’s controlled rebukes. She nearly jolted off the stool as her parents rushed into the room.

“We’re leaving,” her father said. “Both of you, be good.”

Ewa’s mother hugged and kissed Ewa and Inka, but only briefly. Their father stormed out of the house, clasping Mama’s wrist firmly in his bony hand. Ewa watched them climb into the car and race off into the red sun.

Ewa felt sad, but it was a distant sadness. She knew her parents would come back at summer’s end, as they always did. And as long as she could stay in this place, with all its beauty, she would always feel at home.

Ewa woke on a winter morning in Suwalki and listened for the sounds of her father. She heard only the creaking of the apartment’s pipes and thought he was gone, as he usually was, to his post as a decoder in the Polish military. If he wasn’t, she would wait for him to leave. She tried to avoid him in her thoughts as well, but his presence, the idea of him, hung around the military apartment like thick gray smoke.

Ewa knew what the day would bring. Days passed like that in Suwalki – uniformly. She twisted her head, her body cocooned in blankets, to look at her sister nestled in beside her. “Do you think he’s gone,” Ewa asked.

“I think so,” said Inka.

“Mother?”

“She has an early day at the university,” Inka whispered.

Ewa looked away. She wrenched herself from between quilted covers, the ones Mama had made her, and pushed herself off the bed. The wood floor radiated cold. It shot through her socks to her feet, numbing her bones. She raced to pull on her wool slippers before walking to the window.

The open summer sky had long since curdled into winter clouds. The air outside was frigid but dry and the window was unfogged. The wind blew soft like a whisper over the bare Alder trees bleached white with snow. Brown catkin hung from their branches like fingers. Ewa thought about school, how she would soon sit in Russian class and worry at the words and the alien terminology. Because she had not taken the mathematics track in school, she would not be allowed to learn English, but all the students learned Russian early on. Those were the rules.

Ewa missed the river, the one in the forest by her grandparents’ house. It was a languorous river, and froze easily as the weather approached the cold. One time when chunks of ice spun like tops across the river’s surface, her uncle Przemek had told her to cross the water over a mossy log.

Ewa’s whole family would visit Dziadzia’s farm sometimes in early winter during the holidays, and she was especially excited when her uncle came along. He was always cool, always calm. They were trekking through the woods one of those days, Inka, Ewa, her aunt Janet and her uncle Przemek. They bundled themselves in heavy coats and jackets and slipped through the light frost that had already settled over the undergrowth.

The bridge was not far from where they stood, but Przemek, cool and smiling, said to Ewa “you shouldn’t have to bother with the bridge; the log would be quicker. I bet you could make it across the log faster anyhow. Unless you’re too scared.”

“I can do it,” Ewa cried. She started across, but of course she slipped and fell. She was wrapped in her heavy coat and bobbed in the freezing river like a cork, flowing with the river’s lethargic current. Her aunt screamed in panic, but her uncle laughed and laughed. They fished her out with a log, but when she emerged she wasn’t cold, though she wasn’t warm either. It was a feeling somewhere between warm and cold, a space between terror and goodness. The memory filled her with some of the same goodness of that day in her room in Suwalki, if only for a moment.

Ewa peeled away from the window. They needed to find something to eat. They needed to rouse their small brother and prepare for school. Their mother wouldn’t come home until four in the evening, eyes dark with exhaustion, ready to make them their dinner. Their family friends would call on them for tea afterwards. They never needed to knock – it was expected. They would converse lightly of the weather and the latest gossip around Suwalki. Eventually their father would come home late in the night. He would be drunk. There was no question of this. The house would always be tainted with the faint antiseptic scent of vodka. It’s the army, her mother told Ewa. Everyone drank in the army.

Some of Ewa’s friends with fathers in the military would tell her she was lucky. They said at least her father didn’t hurt her, didn’t beat her. That was true. Sure, he wobbled on legs like spindles, pitching and mumbling. His face would grow rosy and beat like a heart. His scowl would twist even darker than usual, his eyes straining to follow her as the world swam around him uncontrollably like he was drowning, but no, she could not remember a single time her father had ever hurt her that way.

The conversations their parents held well into the depths of night were kept from Ewa, Inka and their baby brother. Children did not engage in the issues the adults discussed around the dinner table, though Ewa managed to grasp at small slippages in the conversation heard from behind corners or lying awake in bed when the yelling started. She heard that there were no opportunities here. The adults worried over their children, where they would go. People were emigrating from Poland. Everyone was leaving.

There were words Ewa couldn’t place, concepts for which she had no basis of understanding. She heard the name Pope John Paul the Second, but she didn’t know the man’s significance. She heard the names Lech Wałęsa and Wojciech Jaruzelski, listened to arguments about parties and “solidarity.” She heard her father’s loud, angry rants about the “nomenklatura.” “The nomenklatura!” he would shout. “The nomenklatura!” The word had no meaning. All she ever heard from her father was her father.

The years clung and squeezed together. There would come a time, eventually, when Ewa, Inka and their baby brother wouldn’t go back to Dziadzia’s farm. All things pass.

It had been a few years after Janet and Przemek had left Poland for the United States when the phone in the hallway of her parent’s Suwalki apartment began to ring. Ewa’s mother picked it up and listened. Tears formed in her eyes and she stood there talking for a very long time. When Ewa, then an adult attending college, asked her mother what was happening she was told to wait. It took hours but her mother did eventually hang up the phone. She sat Ewa and her siblings down and told her that their five-year-old cousin, Janet and Przemek’s child, had died from tuberculosis.

Close to one year later Przemek called Ewa, the first time she had heard his husky voice since their child’s death. He started to talk about America – what wonderful things they had there. Przemek and Janet managed an apartment complex. He told Ewa they felt lonely. His words were a slurry. They had always supported her, loved her. They missed her and wanted to see her again. Ewa could hear his voice was cracking. She heard him stifle back tears she never thought he could physically make. Old as she was, they thought of her as their daughter. Przemek whispered that he and his wife wanted to bring her to America.

The airliner’s landing squealing landing shook Ewa awake. Sounds played over the plane’s intercom, more words she didn’t understand. She knew with vague apprehension that they were English words.

She figured once the other passengers stood up that it was time to exit. Her legs and neck were stiff like wood from the nine hour flight from Poland to New York City. She stretched, bending her knees as she grabbed her luggage, and emerged into Kennedy airport.

Her world was noise. Unfamiliar language burst from all directions. People moved as if they were all running from some terrifying beast, bumping past one another without even a glance in the other direction. It took far too long to locate the rest of her luggage and too much time to find her way outside. When she finally did, the sensation she felt on her skin was as if she had stepped into a volcano. The air was moist like a fever, broiling in the August heat.

“Oh my god,” she said. “I’m stepping into hell.”

Standing outside Kennedy airport, she could just barely make out the heat-distorted image of her Uncle Przemek in the crowd. She could recall his image anywhere, tall, blue eyes, and blonde hair that turned red in the sun. She embraced the man, yet even though he smiled behind dark sunglasses, his arms and smile felt cold and distant.

“Look how old you’ve gotten. You’re already 21? I could have sworn you were still a little girl, so small you could fit in a handbasket.”

He led her to his old Chrysler, its white paint singed and spotted with rust, fading to a dirty beige. Ewa thought this must be embarrassing, to own something so expensive and valuable, only to let it waste away. Przemek swerved out of the parking space and raced between surging lanes of traffic to enter the city.

They drove through lines and lines of buildings and over gigantic bridges, the tallest ones flashing their reflected sun-glints in the background. Their route led directly into the heart of Brooklyn, but Ewa was delirious. The heat was sickening her and in her mind’s humidity-fogged shock, the images of garbage, the ceaseless shouts and horns, the fetid stink warped and turned surreal like a fever dream. There was so much litter- bottles, papers, plastics and bags of it flowing and sliding like avalanches into the streets. The cars were demolished wrecks and they screeched at each other like sounds of the damned.

They parked in front of a flat-topped red-brick building, which Przemek explained was the apartment where she’d be staying. She’d have her own room, he said, but this wasn’t any paid vacation, though it may seem like it. No, she’d have to work. They’d find her a job but no way was she living here for free. No sir. No way.

The apartment had been cleaned recently. It had been swept top-to-bottom. The air felt clinical, sterilized. There were no obvious signs of her aunt and uncle’s daughter ever having been there.

Ewa found her aunt trying to kill the cockroaches inside the apartment. She stomped and smashed at them, but on and on the flat brown bodies scurried, immortal it seemed, prying into every surface and corner. Przemek stepped to the side, as far away from the cockroaches as possible. Ewa smiled and went to hug and kiss her aunt. She seemed the same as back in Poland, though older. She was still a short woman, but her dark hair looked lighter, as if the color had been washed away. Her eyes were cloudy and lined with red. She held onto Ewa too tightly, unwilling to let her go.

They found her a job in the Baby Watson cheesecake factory. Ewa started taking night classes to learn English, but it was a slow process. She was young, but not young enough, and the words slipped out of her mind as quickly as she could put them in. Her legs ached every day from long hours of standing at work and when she relaxed back at her uncle’s apartment she couldn’t decide whether to put her legs up or down. They hurt just the same.

There were some other Polish people in the factory, but the lack of language hurt. Her bosses were usually angry. They hated having to explain anything to anybody, but they always took their time to yell. It was easy for the English-speaking men and women. All the workers looked identical— aproned in green, their hair shoved under a rubber net. Their laughter wafted across the factory to her space on the assembly line. The sound was like the chittering of the cockroaches back in the apartment.

Ewa eventually learned to fake proficiency. She pretended she understood the language and after a month was told she could switch over from the factory to the front of the bakery, a small red-tiled façade that sat between a deli and a bar on Eighth avenue. Its front display was laden with cakes and pastries, a colored vortex of chocolate browns, syrupy reds, and green and blue frostings. The dry, flaking image of a naked Baby Watson was plastered on one sign while others advertised, “The Best Cheesecake on Earth.” Above it all, “D’Aiuto” was spelled in bold neon letters.

Ewa learned to memorize the names of the cakes, speaking in staccato conversation words like “apple fritters,” “biscotti,” “honey glaze,” “peanut butter” and “cannoli.” She worked this way for months until her language improved.

Ewa met The Bad Guy in late September as the leaves on the few symmetrical trees in the city began to change. She was helping a customer, trying in desperation to explain the difference between biscotti and cannoli when he swaggered into the shop, clipboard in hand. His hair was dark brown and shaggy. His chin was rugged, masculine. His voice swelled deep in the bakery like the sound of a cello. He eyed Ewa with raised eyebrows and gave her a wink. He looked, she thought, like a badass guy- cool, aloof. He was Polish as well and he owned his own business out on Long Island, which meant he had means. He delivered twice to the store before he asked her on a date. He had to visit one more time before she said yes.

The Bad Guy took her to an Italian restaurant on Thirty-First Street, not a nice one, but a decent one. The warm lights that hung over the restaurant’s dark-wood tables buzzed like whirring insects and the food tasted wet to Ewa, over-seasoned. The Bad Guy spoke to her in Polish, but he wasn’t very good with conversation. He was quick to laugh though, and that was a trait she admired, a quality she wanted to love.

A week after her first date with The Bad Guy, Ewa’s coworker dropped a tray laden with cakes. The cakes shattered and rained cake-shrapnel over the floor, painting Ewa’s shoes and black pants in rainbow hues. The cakes dropped with the noise of a gong but for a moment afterwards Ewa and her co-worker were silent, their eyes darting over the mess. The store’s owner, a veiny Italian man in wired spectacles, stormed out of his office. He started screaming, speaking so fast Ewa could hardly make out a single word. Her coworker, twenty years older than Ewa with prematurely graying temples, yelled in return, pointing at Ewa and pointing at the floor.

The manager rebounded, flexing the small pouty muscles in his face, focussing all the noise his hoarse throat could muster at her. Ewa stammered. She tried to pluck each halting word from her growing vocabulary but the words tumbled from her mind and slid like ice from her tongue. Her coworker thrust a mop into her empty hands and with eyes downcast, Ewa began cleaning.

“Why won’t they help me?” she thought. “Why don’t they understand?” Her tongue was sore from biting it and her legs felt like cotton and moved like a doll’s.

That night she walked alone back to the apartment. She could hear from the doorway what sounded like her aunt making small sobs in the kitchen. The smell of vodka stained the air. She skulked past the kitchen and into her bedroom and sat at the edge of her creaky metal bed. Her hands clenched white as the frustrated tears that she had held back spilled down her face, speckling her lap. She saw her legs had been stained a cherry red from a the decorative frosting of a child’s birthday cake. She wanted to yell, but instead she laid herself down, stared at the apartment’s cracked ceiling and let the pain wash over her. She only relaxed her fist when she fell into a dreamless sleep.

Ewa screamed, falling from her bed, her legs tangled in the sheets. She grabbed and clutched at her face, making sure the black thing wasn’t there anymore. She checked her chest and legs, her clothes, the blankets.

Moments later, her uncle Przemek slammed open the door of her room. He stooped forward, his back bent. His clothes were baggy and his eyes shone with an inhuman luminescence. “What the hell is going on?” he shouted. His words were slurred.

“I woke up and I thought there was a cockroach on my face,” said Ewa.

Her uncle scowled at her. He looked off to the right at the flashing lights of a New York City darkness piercing through the window. He grunted and swung the door shut behind him.

Six months. It took six months after Ewa came to stay for her “vacation” before Uncle Przemek and Aunt Janet fell back into drink. It started with Janet and spread to Przemek, but the tide of disease extended its cold, wet tendrils through them and manacled their souls. It subverted their personalities in subtle but predictable patterns that grew in intensity and frequency over time.

They tried. Ewa knew they did. She didn’t blame them. She couldn’t.

The cockroaches in the apartment were a river. Janet was the one who did most of the killing. Przemek couldn’t stand the sight of the things. He stood in the corner of the apartment while Janet or Ewa launched themselves into the fray, swiping at them with brooms and smashing them with shoes. They picked them up in glasses or tupperware and threw them in the toilet, watching them struggle as they were pulled spinning downwards. But even if every single one in the apartment were killed, they would spread from the other apartments, other homes all filled with cockroaches. The infestation was inevitable and, after a while, it didn’t seem worth it to fight them anymore.

The more Janet and Przemek drank the more they argued with Ewa. Their halting, slurred words screamed muted through closed windows into the New York City nights. They yelled at Ewa for staying out later and later at nights, for every unwashed plate of food. They wailed how she took their hospitality for granted. Ewa howled that they had turned into drunks.

There were remnants of Janet and Przemek’s child, hidden behind closet doors and lost under furniture – an old box for a white-plastic crib never thrown away, a doll hidden beneath old quilts. In the corner of Ewa’s room, the soft outline of red and blue crayons, hastily scrubbed, revealed itself in the evening light.

The late winter was edging into spring when Ewa woke up early in her uncle’s apartment for her shift at the cheesecake shop. The cockroaches roamed free in the bathroom and kitchen at night. They were accustomed to the dark. When Ewa turned on the light, she waited for a moment as the cockroaches scurried away into whatever holes they resided in. As the last few cretins left obvious sight, Ewa went to leave, but was scared into paralysis when she heard her uncle’s voice behind her.

“Ewa, we need to talk.”

She hadn’t heard him, standing there in the corner. She definitely hadn’t seen him.

“You’re old enough,” he said. “We’re done taking care of you.”

Words caught in Ewa’s throat. They hurt like the barbed edges of fishhooks. She stammered, “Why? But—” but her voice had no pressure and all that escaped from her mouth was air.

They argued, but only for a while. It was a fight she was going to lose; she knew this from the moment Przemek spoke to her. She came home later from work and collected her things. She left her keys on the kitchen table.

Uncle Przemek once owned a motorcycle back in Poland. It was a big ugly thing made of red scarred metal that glowed in the sunlight and belched thick black smoke as its engine roared and coughed like a sickly, dying lion. He would ride the motorcycle through the hills outside Ewa’s grandparent’s farm. But one day Uncle Przemek came and knelt down to Ewa and asked if she wanted to ride with him. It seemed dangerous, but Przemek was her favorite uncle. She loved him not because he was safe but because he was cool and dangerous.

She had sat in front of him, her hands outstretched, grasping the handlebars with knuckles white with intensity. When he gunned the engine, she felt as if her bones were lurching from her body. They went so fast the wind was like a roaring river’s current filling her mouth and eyes. It was beautiful. The trees blurred into a single green smudge like smeared watercolors as they rocketed past them. She had never felt freer.

But something went wrong. The wheels spun out from underneath her and Przemek. The bike turned and slipped and for several meters the ground was scorched from where the bike had slid on the damp roadway. Ewa opened her eyes. “Oh my God,” she thought. “I’m still alive.”

She was trapped under the bike, her legs pinned. Her uncle appeared beside her, cooing apologies and asking if she was okay. He lifted the bike off her and the two went to stand by the roadside. She had a long burn in her knee and it was trickling blood.

Her uncle ran his hands through his thick blonde hair and, after a moment, gave a small, wheezing laugh. The laugh grew bigger, fuller. It became loud and throaty and he squeezed his eyes shut and held Ewa close to him against his chest. Ewa couldn’t help but catch the infectious giggling and started laughing too. She felt like she had experienced something magical, a secret danger that only the two of them shared.

Ewa moved to an apartment with another woman from the Baby Watson factory. She was still dating The Bad Guy and she called her family back in Suwalki to tell them she was staying in America. There were no hard goodbyes. Everyone was leaving, they told her. She was not unusual. She talked to Inka who put her infant child on the phone for Ewa to hear. The baby made soft gurgling noises. Ewa listened to him giggle and couldn’t help but cry, her throat so closed she began to choke. She cried hard, shuddering from the pain, but for only a short time before ending the call and heading out to meet her boyfriend.

Ewa, many years later, felt like she was in a limbo between the worlds of sleep and waking. It was her children, she thought. If only they’d let her get more than four hours of sleep a night. If only they’d just let her rest. She had just finished the day’s nursing class and her head ached with medical jargon nonsense that made her mind feel bloated and sluggish. She had come home this morning from her night job only to be jolted awake by the pounding of fists on her bedroom door in her small, Long Island home. Her children’s cried, “Mom, Mom! Wake up. It’s after 12.”

She’d hardly any time when she was with The Bad Guy and had even less since they packed their things and left him.

She strolled, almost floating, from her classroom to the college lobby where she found Jason and Stephanie, once again breaking into the vending machine. Jason, only eight years old, had squeezed himself into the crawlspace between the wall and the machine. His hand was stretched around its back, groping. Ewa could hear the soft sounds of change rattling. Stefanie, age twelve, stood against the wall next to him, keeping watch.

“Oh my god, I’ve raised a bunch of criminals,” she hissed.

She reached behind and yanked Jason away. His hand came out, clutching a fistful of quarters. Jason, aloof and morose, looked away from her as he plunged the coins into his pocket.

Ewa drove into Long Island’s gray-tinged suburbia, past plots of short-hewn grass, past sparsely populated, barely-greened trees and flat-topped shopping malls. Her children bickered in the backseat of the van but Ewa’s mind was on the storm of final exams at nursing school.

“Mommy,” she heard Stefanie say from the backseat. “Did you really live on a farm in Poland?”

She hadn’t expected the question. “Y-yes,” stammered Ewa. “For a while. For most summers I lived with your great-grandparents. Our whole family would go up there sometimes, your great aunts and uncles. We had lots of cute little animals and it was very beautiful. We would work on the farm and later we would play with the animals or go fishing with my grandmother’s forks down by the river. Sometimes we’d climb up on top of trees in Dziadzia’s orchard and—”

“Don’t tell me,” Stefanie cried.

Ewa could see in the rear-view mirror her face had turned a pale scarlet. Her eyes were puffy and red and tiny rills of water streamed down her cheeks. “Don’t tell me. I want to do that too. I want to live like that one day.”

Jason turned his head and pushed himself away from her. He drew his legs into his chest, closing himself off.

Ewa swung the car over to the side of the road and pulled open the door to the backseat. She held her child in her arms, so big now. “It’s okay,” she said. “It will be alright. I need you to be strong, okay. I need you to be strong for your mother. I’m counting on you. I’m counting on both of you. I’ll take you somewhere beautiful soon. I’ll find a nice place, even here.”

The thick pelt of grass in the Bayard Cutting Arboretum shimmered picturesque in the spring. Ewa, months later, had finally found a moment of spare time and she breathed in every moment. Jason and Stefanie milled about with her and they walked past blooming flowers the colored in vivid greens, blues and especially reds. The sun was light. Its warmth, not nearly as oppressive as when Ewa first encountered it on Long Island, gave her a floating feeling, like she was walking through nothing but air. There was perhaps too much wind, but Ewa accepted that she couldn’t have everything.

They walked past the botanical gardens and into the vast, rolling fields. Trees surrounded them, lush and brown and powerful, looming over the pathways, giving them shade. The path brought them to a crystal lake. Its surface was so clear it mimicked every detail of the verdant scenery around it, doubling it, displaying the beauty like a naturally forming painting. Ewa stopped suddenly and her children turned to look at her.

She was staring at a group of three trees off to the side, their bark printed in a pattern of black and white spots. The base of their bodies melted seamlessly into the ground. As the branches quaked the leaves made a soft rustling noise, a hushing sound. A sign next to the wooden path read, “Quaking Aspen.”

“Oh my God,” said Ewa. “It’s the Poland tree. It’s the Osika.”

Ewa sat on a bench in front of the Poland trees, next to a sign reading: Please Keep off the Trees. Thank you. She watched as Jason and Stefanie ran up to a one-hundred year old weeping beech tree. Its roots plunged and twisted into the earth, wrenching out and back in again as if they were unsure they belonged to this place. Jason and Stefanie flung their arms upwards to grasp at the lowest hanging branches and swung their pale legs up after them.

“Not too far up,” yelled Ewa.

The aspens’ hanging limbs rustled just as they did on Dziadzia’s farm. The aspens danced hypnotically and Ewa was still exhausted from work, school and work again. Her eyelids felt like they were made of heavy wool. She could feel them growing heavier, her mind blanking. But as her head drooped downward she shot awake, eyes wide.

She refused to fall asleep. This was her family, here, now. For as long as she could, she wanted to spend every waking moment that she could together with them.

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