- Daughter with a Star on Her Brow
Kasia murmurs to herself, zigzags from one side of the road to the other. She gives the neighbors a good look at her gangly frame, frazzle hair, fox eye. She brings water from the pump at the end of the road, the bucket filled only partway, all the better for the wasting of the morning. For avoiding that two-room shanty, the flies, the crumbs, dribbles of syrup, her mother in bed again with a wrung-out face and blanched skin and pumpkin belly.
Give Kasia sun-scorch instead, and spruce branches, and the pigweed and nightshade vines choking the pump, and the seesawing of her arms as she works the pump handle, and the gurgle of water. These she loves, and the spooked shadows of the neighbor-girls fleeing. She knows they ridicule her. They cross to the other side of the road, yammering as if she can’t listen to both them and her own muttering.
Water for boiling the cabbage, water for scrubbing the floors, water for the baths of brothers and sisters, and for father. Idle these last three days, and still pinches of coal dust sprinkle off him wherever he goes, especially upon the surfaces Kasia has just wiped. He sleeps late, wakes to sit vigil at her mother’s bed. He wipes her mother’s forehead, fans her if she sighs, helps her sit up for broth and tea. He goes outside after breakfast to play with Kasia’s brothers and sisters, and again after supper, insisting that in his absence Kasia sit with her mother and fuss over her. Something she never does when he works in the mine. If Kasia balks, his neck-vein pulses, his eyes burn, he threatens. She gives in. But as soon as he closes the door, Kasia drags his chair to the foot of her mother’s bed, away from her mother’s rancid breath, condemning eyes. She covers her mother’s feet, two dead fish, too awful to look at. She listens to her father and brothers and sisters as they play ball, or charades, or lion sleeping in the grass, are you brave enough to tiptoe past.
Kasia wishes that he could be like this always, teasing and tickling and chasing her brothers and sisters. That her mother would get better, cook and clean again. That she could go traipsing in the woods, search for campion [End Page 73] and starflowers to press between the pages of her mother’s Bible. She keeps her favorite spruce cones in an old crate. Sometimes, she discovers a cross-shaped fragment of branch, and these she also saves. When she was little, she tried to take the beaded Star of Bethlehem from the Christmas szopka at church, but it was glued to the magenta foil backdrop, and then her mother pinched her arm and said, you may look but you must not touch.
Kasia fills the kettle on the stove. Her mother whimpers. Her father pets her mother’s arm. Her sisters dress paper dolls. Her brothers belly-scoot in the cool barren dirt beneath the shanty, her brothers who will be made to go down into the mine when they are older, to work in spaces dark and confined. Kasia warns them, play in the woods while you can. They ignore her.
“Your mother feels stronger today,” her father says.
“Strong enough to walk across the room?” Kasia says.
“She wants to go to mass this evening,” he says.
With her wipe-rag, Kasia wallops a fly crawling on the bed. “How will she get there?”
“In her finest,” he says. “You’ll iron her good dress and fix her hair.”
Kasia grabs the buckets and stomps outside.
The three beauties (milk-white, partridge-plump) cross to Kasia as she walks the road. “Katarzyna, may we borrow a moment of your time,” they coo, oh so polite. Why have they chosen her? These girls with arms linked, grins like gashes, rose and turquoise skirts.
“Come see a note from a boy even stranger than you. Some silly little Italian. Swimming after us two days...