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THE POLONEZA /Alison Cadbury WHEN THE CAMPANA tolled one chill March day, I was huddled next to the stove in Thanasis' carpentry shop, sharing a cigarette with him. "Who's died, I wonder?" I asked. He answered, "The Poloneza." "Oh no! The poor thing!" Tears filled my eyes. The Mami, the midwife, had told me that the Poloneza, the "Polish woman," whose real name none of us knew, had gone for the second time in a year to hospital in Athens, this time to be treated for a septic womb. Thanasis' news was, as it happened, a koroido, a put-on, one of the games of wits in Greek culture I had not gotten used to in the four years I had been living on this island in the middle of the Aegean Sea, and never saw coming. As a koroido, it was uncharacteristically sick, but, as it happened, prophetic. A week or so later, I saw the Poloneza getting off the bus, carrying a basket with a cloth sewn over the top. Furious, I stormed over to Thanasis' and chewed him out, but he was imperturbable; in fact, he gloated over my credulity. He knew I felt pity for the Poloneza and her children, and he had rejoiced (having put one over on me) to see me burst into tears and run to the Mami, who had also cried (score twice for Thanasis), to discuss what would happen to them. I was worried not so much about the boy Dimitris, who at twelve was old enough to work and could be taken on by a farm family, but about the two thin, ragged little girls, six and four. Their white-blond hair, tangled and dry, was always dark at the scalp with nits; their pale skin, sun-reddened, was shadowed with grime. They never spoke when they met me. But often during the summer I had lived on a farm near their isolated seaside home, they would come and stand silently outside the door of my house, their deep blue eyes seeming to plead for something I was helpless to define or remedy. If any other village woman had died, the fate of her children would not have involved me. The machinery of kinship would go into motion and this aunt or that cousin would emerge to adopt one child or the other. But both the Poloneza and Eustratios, her husband, were foreigners to the island, and as far as anyone knew, The Missouri Review ยท 159 had no kin at all. Where he had come from, nobody knew. Yes, he was Greek, had shown up shortly after the war, looking for work. He had been taken on for a while by a well-to-do farmer in Kamares, who did not pay him but allowed him to trade labor for an unused stable and a certain amount of the less profitable produce. The farmer demanded labor from the young Poloneza as well, the moment she could get up from the flea-ridden mattress on which she had borne the first child. The farmer had in-laws with more conscience than he. They discovered that before the war, before he had been taken prisoner and sent to a forced-labor factory in Poland, Eustratios had been a shepherd. They gathered together a small flock of sheep and goats, the scanty remnant of those not slaughtered for food by the occupying Italian and German soldiers, and hired Eustratios to build up the flocks. Hired? They had no money, or if they had, it was needed to restock, to buy unbelievably expensive tractors and threshers to replace the hands that had left holding rifles and never returned. They arranged for the shepherd and his wife to occupy an old, long-abandoned house on the bay of Lageri, needing repairs, of course, but near grazing land, and with outbuildings that would shelter a good-sized flock. It was not an unfair arrangement; the shepherd family was to have the ewes' and goats' milk which they could either sell in the village or to the island co-op, or boil up themselves to make mizithra, curd cheese, which they could sell or trade. They...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 159-170
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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