Chapter 1: An Easter Day Gone Wrong
“Through random wanderings and suffering torments, restless in my mind but eager to finish my task, I, Princess Psyche, have come to the Underworld, to entreat Persephone, Queen of the dead, and goddess of spring. I come on the orders of Venus, with this crystal vessel, to ask of dread Persephone to obtain a piece of your beauty, and to offer it to Venus, so that I may reunite with my lord and love, Eros. The love who was taken from me, through the fault of my own foolishness. Great Lady of the dead, I wish–”
“Bethie. Bethie. Bethiiiieee”
Three times was all it took to snap me out of my fantasy and to awake in this horrid reality. I turned around to see where that squeaky voice was coming from, though I already knew whose squeaky voice it was.
“What?” I said, angry that my fantasy was disturbed by none other than my bucktooth, freckle-faced, wavy-locked little brother.
“Dimitry, what are you doing in my room? You’re suppose to knock, so why didn’t you?”
“I’ve been knocking on your door and calling your name for five whole minutes. Mama says you better come down right now, OR, you’re gonna get a big whack in the behind, like this big (stretching out his arms as demonstration), and I’m gonna watch you hehehehe”
“Get out you little ****” I hollered, throwing a hairbrush at him, but lucky for him I got a bad aim, so it missed him and he ran out giggling like an Imp.
How could I forgot? It was Easter today. Holidays are my Mama’s big thing to fuss about (most of the time), especially Christmas and Easter. Being brought up in a Catholic household made my Mama strong in her convictions and she always wants the family at church for special occasions, such as today, Easter day. So I quickly dressed up in my Sunday best, and my blue Mary Jane shoes, and headed straight downstairs; past the corridor with its floral paintings hanging on the walls, down the stairs with its wobbly handrails, and into the kitchen (which smelled of sweet chicken, eggs, cheese, pork and chocolate), and there was rest of family. My Mother stood out in her white cloche hat with a veil half covering her rosy-tinted face and cool green eyes, her white dress over her slim, narrow-shouldered body, and her white gloved hands holding a handbag covered in blue and purple floral patterns. The ebony hue on her dark brown hair made her somewhat resemble Snow White, in my mind.
“Well, look who has come to grace us with her magnificent royal presence, behold the Princess of Fairyland. Your Highness, we are but lowly servants to your High-and-Mighty graciousness”
“Oh leave me alone, George” I said. George is my older brother, he likes to think of himself as manly and grown-up, but he still acts immature with his constant sarcastic teasing, playing with pocket knives, going on many dates with half the girls in town, playing and teaching Dimitry how to box. He never finished school, and he has no plans but to stay in town. Sure, there is a heart of gold somewhere in him, I just have yet to see it.
“What’s wrong your Highness?” he went on, twisting his lips into a sardonic smile, “Did I hurt your royal feelings? Oooh! Forgive me Milady, for I have offended you”
“George!” said Mama, finally speaking out, “Stop teasing your sister and go find your Father. We’re ten minutes late to Church already.”
“Sure thing Ma” he responded, dashing out of the kitchen in an instant.
The rest of the Romanoff family just waited in the kitchen. Liddie, my elder sister, was gazing at the mirror (as she usually does when she’s dressed up nicely). Helen, my second elder sister and Liddie’s twin, was reading a Samuel Richardson book (though Mama took the book away, exclaiming that it was Easter Sunday and that she should be ashamed of herself). Dimitry was imitating the silly walks of Charlie Chaplin’s The Tramp (and Mama didn’t do anything to stop him because Dimitry is such a little brat that he can get away with anything), and Alexandra, my first eldest sister, was just smelling the food and trying to avoid the temptation of getting caught trying to snag a chocolate or two.
And as for Mama, well, she just walked up and down, left and right, reciting the things she had done and what needed to be done after church. Mama was a very perfectionist woman; she loved to get the job done and have it done right. I don’t know what her big deal is, she has a habit of putting a lot of effort into everything she does, from cooking, to cleaning, to the washing to the gardening, to practically everything. When it comes to the Holidays, she makes a fuss about how the house needs to be neat and clean, to the food tasting sweet and tender, to the clothing we wear perfectly fit and matched.
After a couple of minutes, George came back, with news of Papa, “Couldn’t find him upstairs, Ma”
Her rosy face flushed with disappointed impatience, Mama exclaimed “Then go look in the workshop and hurry, he’s probably sleeping there again”.
Papa usually sleeps in the workshop, sometimes working late. My family are shoemakers, not the best in Wemmick town, but we were good enough. Not only did we make shoes, we also sell and repair them. But lately, business has been slow ever since Papa broke his hand in the workshop, by accident. He had to work slow and steady, but to his frustration at falling behind at work, he took to drinking and visited the Speakeasies more than usual (he used to go once a week before). George and Alexandra had to work longer hours in the workshop, while Mama took on a job as a babysitter for her Church friends’ children. Papa’s hand had started to heal, slowly, but his drinking was still there. It had been a struggling ten weeks for us, but things are getting back on track, sort of; Papa has been suffering from strange nightmares, lately, and has been oversleeping in the daytime.
Just as I was beginning to daydream again while sitting and tapping my fingers on a wooden surface, George’s oblong head pops in from the kitchen door shouting “here he is Romanoff clan, the Tsar of the house” in an awful imitation of a Russian accent. In spite of our Father being Russian, George cannot do a Russian accent, and Papa’s accent faded away over the years (having lived in America since boyhood), with a few sprinkles of Russian words.
Papa looked awful coming into the kitchen, while leaning on George’s arm for balance; he was still dressed in his working clothes, wrinkled and disheveled. His big brown eyes were burning red, half-open and disoriented. The blonde-brown waves in his hair were a mess, covered in grease and sweat. The repellent smell of whiskey exuded from his stained shirt. His once broken hand still bearing the scar from his accident. He gobbled up his words, mixed with yawning, hiccuping, and snorting like a farm pig waking from its sleep.
The family was in a state of both shock and half-hidden attempt to hide our laughter of this, all except for Mama. While me and my siblings thought he looked funny is his stupor, Mama was shocked and dismayed at the sight of this. She walked up to him and sniffed his breath.
“So” she said, pulling her head back away from his bearded mouth, “You have been drinking last night, haven’t you, old man?”
Papa, now wide awake and, slightly, aware of his surroundings, just stood tall to Mama and said, “Don’t call me old man, you screeching Babooshka”.
He raised his finger at her, as if to assert his dominance as man of the house. But Mama just glared at him with a furious gaze. She turned to us and said, “Children, today we will not be attending Easter service this year”.
I was stunned and surprised to hear this, coming from Mama of all people. She, the pious pillar of our household, even Dimitry had his mouth wide open with shock, his face resembling a fish head at the marketplace. Mama then continued, “Normally I would not let this slide, but we can not go without your father. I will not go another Sunday without him again. Sundays, especially Easter Sundays, should be attended as a family, with both parents. So, let’s sit down and eat”.
It was a miracle, it had to be (for me at least). I always wanted to take a day off from Sunday Church attendance, and to resume my playacting. Papa asked George to help him sit down, calling him Yuri (which is Russian for George). Alexa rushed to the table, pushing Liddie aside by her elbow, and stacked up her plate with one of everything on the table. Alex was a big eater, as she worked the hardest in the business. She also was a tough tomboy, playing baseball or boxing with Dimitry, and shining shoes.
Mama lead us in prayer, bowing her head down in humility, though I personally thought the truth is that she wanted to avoid looking at Papa. Still angry at him I suppose. Anyway, after we said our Grace, we all dug in to help ourselves. The aroma of the food was the most heavenly of all scents in the kitchen; sweet, roasted chicken glazed in honey. Fried eggs sprinkled with black pepper. Slices of cheese that combined both a milky and buttery touch to the scent. Scrumptious to the tongue and reinvigorating to the stomach. Everyone was enjoying themselves, all except for Mama and Liddie (Liddie really wanted to attend the Church, merely to show off her new dress).
For a while or so, we remained silent, each and every one of us enjoying the peace of our hearty meal, until Helen broke the silence by saying, “This breakfast is delicious, Mama. It’s perhaps your best this year, but then, your cooking is always delicious Mama dear”
Mama smirked a little, and replied, “Well, I have you to thank, Helen”. Helen smiled back at Mama. Helen was not only our bookworm, but also something of a brown-noser. She compliments Mama or Papa by helping them around the house. She is the family helper, the dutiful daughter who likes to show off both her book smarts and her chore skills.
Liddie was slouching a little, still upset about missing Church. Mama had to tell her sit up properly but she whined, “I really wanted to show the girls and the ladies at Church the new dress I bought this week. I bought it from the savings I earned from babysitting”.
Typical Liddie, always moaning and complaining that she’s missing something big, that and a chance to show off the new fashion she bought or was given, be it a new dress, a pair of gloves, shoes, a hanky, or even a new purse. Liddie is the vain one, fashionably conscious, curtsying, playing the piano and singing, and aspiring to be a lady (except for the slouching and the complaining, she really needs to work at it). She also has a thing for romantic pictures, especially Valentino pictures.
“Mama”, she asked, sweetly like a lamb, “May we at least go see a moving picture? There’s a wonderful Rudolph Valentino picture showing at the cinema this evening”
“Absolutely not”, said Mama, looking like she swallowed a lemon, her eyes staggered with indignation, “This is a blessed day in honor our Lord”.
Alex on the other hand was content with her life, and she was the total opposite of Liddie; a hardworking tomboy who works at Papa’s and my brothers’ side in the workshop. Her table manners were fairly decent, but there are times when she gorges on her food like a hungry dog that she has to be reminded by Mama to eat civilly.
“I really wish you wouldn’t eat like that Alexandra” she said to her, “a Lady does eat like a pig in trough”.
Alex only looked up and smirked, and said loudly, “A lady, is the last thing I want to be. I got no time for prissy manners and dresses, especially the one I’m wearing now. I was working hard last cleaning up the shop. Didn’t had time to eat last night because I had to clean all the dirt off me for church today. But now, since we didn’t go today, I can eat however I want. I got no time for stupid ladylike behaving”.
“Oh, Alexandra” said Mama, sighing in disbelief. She turned to George, and asked him, “George, I heard you last night downstairs. Not smoking I hope? I won’t have that in my house”.
“No, Ma”, he said, wolfing down his breakfast, “I was listening to the radio last night, about that new leader in Germany, I think he’s pretty swell”.
“Oh my God,” exclaimed Alex, “not that German poof again”
“Hey!!,” cried out George, looking ready to burst with rage, as if he were a bull that saw the color red, “we’re not fighting about this again. This Adolph fellow sounds like a swell guy, he just wants to restore the greatness of his country again”
“Well, I think he’s a fruitcake”, said Alex, “his voice sounds like girly rat choking on some rotten cheese”
“Watch yourself, Tomboy, he’s a good man. What would you know anyway, you’re just a brainless, unfeminine bull-”
“George!” cried out Mama, “I will not have this at the table”.
Alex didn’t respond, but she stood up from chair and rolled up her sleeves, and calmly said, “Why don’t you come here and say that to me again, Georgie Porgie”.
Looking furious as ever, biting his lip and clenching his fists, George also rolled his sleeves.
“Alright, a fight” said Dimitry, looking excited like a dog waiting for its treat.
“Can you please stop this at once” said Mama, looking perturbed, “this is a holiday, not a brawl”
“Mama’s right” said Helen, trying to imitate Mama, “you two should be ashamed of yourselves”
“Shut up Helen” said both George and Alex.
“Sergei, will you do something please?” said Mama.
“What?”, said Papa, “now you are talking to me woman?”
And this is the part where I leave off. It’s nothing new, fights are common in families. I paid no attention to the drama, after all, this often happens between George and Alex, they like to fight like roosters in a farmyard. I was already drifting off into a daydream; staring at the only painting in our kitchen, Ulysses and the Sirens, envisioning myself on the high seas with Odysseus and Saint Brendan, navigating into dangerous waters full of krakens, sea serpents and giant squids. I was one of their sailors, armed with nothing but a cutlass and my courage. The waters were too peaceful, and so quiet that something felt absolutely wrong. One of the old sailors was mopping the deck, and out of the sea, emerged this giant, ugly tentacle, ready to grab the unsuspecting sailor. I pulled out my cutlass, warning the sailor to duck and cover as I began to strike a blow on the tentacle. I was hacking the thing with full strength, until I felt a strong, sharp, nail-digging pinch on my arm, snapping me back into reality.
“Ouch!” I cried, looking down to see whose nasty fingernails squeezed at my arm, and I wasn’t surprised to see the who the fingernails belonged to.
“You were tapping your fingers on the table again Bethie” said Dimitry, looking at me like an evil monkey, “You better stop or you’ll end up crazy in the nuthouse”
That was it, I had enough. My blood was boiling, my fists clenched, my cheeks burning with fire, my eyes fixated on him with Gorgon rage, my heart seething with belligerence, I could no longer hold it. I punched Dimitry in the shoulder and furiously shouted, “Stop doing that to me, you ugly little dog’s ****!!! Why do you have to keep doing that to me???”
Tumbling off his seat, with a loud clonk as the chair roughly plunged on the hard wood of the floor, grazing his elbow on the rough edges of the floorboard. Dima burst into tears and his fear-ridden eyes quivered, but that didn’t bother me the least. What actually made me feel guilty was that the rest of my family staring at me; coldly glaring at me, as if I were a hardened criminal. The tut-tuts, shaking heads, and disapproving icy looks were all the more guilt-inducing. George comforted Dimitry by padding his head and looking at the bruise on his elbow. I must have pushed Dimitry really hard, his bruise was all black, brown, and blue.
“Look what you did, you stupid daydreamer” exclaimed George, still comforting Dimitry.
“Bethany”, said Liddie, scornfully, “you are a barbaric maniac”
“He was only telling you to stop talking to yourself,” said Helen, “and you responded violently like a lunatic. For shame, Beth”
“Oh my God, I-I-I’m sorry” I said, weakly but sincerely, “Dimitry I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—”
“Oh go chase yourself” said Alex, scurrying her way to also comfort Dima, “you’re not sorry at all”.
My arms and legs were wiggly like noodles. My heart was skipping a beat. The air in the room suddenly turned cold and silent. This was not the first time I punched someone like this, but this might have been the first time I did this to Dimitry.
The whole time, Mama was staring at me in silence, with eyes like an enraged tigress. She stood there, and in a firm, clear, cold tone, she said,
“Bethany, go to your room this instant, and don’t come down for the rest of the afternoon”
I was about to beg her for mercy, but the cold, dignified expression in her eyes bade me not to. I turned to Papa for some help, but he was also staring at me unsympathetically.
“Don’t look at me, Printsessa” he said, “you heard what Mama said”
The whole family, was looking at me, coldly, gravely, and sharply. So, I tread out of the Kitchen, and slowly marched up the stairs.
Rooms were meant to be a prison for you, when you’re punished that is. Limiting your access to the outside world, and there was not much to do in your bedroom in 1929. For me, I was quite fond of staying in my room all day, happy in fact. I have everything in my room that I need; books, drawing papers, ink, some newspaper clippings of fantastic events (like the Cottingley Fairies), several costumes I made from hand when I was younger (and some ‘borrowed’ from school), and several toys (a ballerina music box, a tin soldier, jack-in-the-box, a ball, a top, a puppet, a toy castle, a sailboat, a kite, a mechanical caged bird, and paper dolls). My favorite one being Lady Polly, a handmade doll that was given to me on my 6th birthday, from my late maternal Grandma. Lady Polly was special to me, she was ragged for sure, but she was my treasure, and I made her into my sidekick and companion whenever I’m on adventures. I would save her from dragons and she would help me fight off giants and wicked knights. She was the first thing I grabbed as I entered the room, lounging on the bed.
I felt truly ashamed and sorry for what I did to Dima, but I wasn’t sorry for being angry at him. Dima was always getting away with tricks he’s done to me, like one time he put a toad in one of my costume pockets and ruined the costume. I didn’t like toads, frogs were okay but toads were ugly to me. He was a troublemaker after all, just like George, and even when he gets into trouble with Mama or Papa, he would still be given less harsher punishments. Mama would say “He’s just six years old, he has excuses and he will grow out of it” to which I would reply in my head “Yes, and become something worse than he is now”.
I have a little secret of own, I have a tendency to eavesdrop on what my family are saying downstairs from my room, through the heating ducts. It was one of my few liberties I have in this room when I’m punished.
It barely took me a minute to open the heating duct that I heard what was going on downstairs in the kitchen,
“You okay? Dimitry” said the voices of Alex and George. Seems that they have gotten over their brawl, which wasn’t unusual at all. Whenever they fight, they forget and ignore that it ever happened.
“Yeah, but it still hurts” said Dimitry’s voice.
“No matter, my baby” said Mama’s voice, sweetly, “It doesn’t look that serious. It will go away soon. I promise” and with that said, she kissed him.
It was quiet for awhile, then Mama’s voice started to speak again, “I did not ask for this to happen at all. But somehow, I feel like this is all my fault, and that God is punishing me for some sin I’ve committed”.
“Don’t say that, Mama” said Helen’s voice, “It’s all Beth’s fault. She can’t control herself”
“No, Helen, Its my fault. I know it. It’s been like this ever since I took Bethany to the Hospital, and that was five years ago”
“Yeah,” said Alex, “I remember. When you and Beth came back from the Hospital, she’s been treating us like the Wicked Stepfamily like in one of those fairy tales she reads. She was always close to her….I mean, close to Aunt Orpah”.
“Don’t!!..” cried Mama, her voice echoing thunderously throughout the heating ducts.
“Don’t bring up the past, Alexandra” she continued, now sounding calm and cool, “that was the promise we made”.
“Ruth” said Papa’s voice, “we know how Bethany can be. She can be a little peculiar, but she’s getting worse”.
“Exactly, Papa” said Liddie’s voice, “and she’s also stealing from us as well. For instance, I found one of my old handkerchiefs on her bed. She said she was using it as a veil in on of her princess playacts”.
“She took my belt once”, said George, “said she was using it as a whip, when she was pretending to be an Amazon”.
“She even took my wooden sword, without asking me” said Dimitry, whiningly.
“Bethany is certainly an oddball” said Mama, as if she didn’t pay any attention to what the others said, “but I’ll be ****** if anyone plans on taking her away from me”.
“Who wants to take her away?” said Helen.
“The doctors at the nuthouse, probably” said George.
“I will not allow that” said Mama, clattering the plates and cutlery with such a hard pound to the table.
“But I wish I knew what more I can do to help her participate in real life. I tried to get her involved in the Church, read some books about the lives of the Saints and Martyrs, but all she ever cared about were stories about Saints involved with dragons, demons, and voyages to fantastic places”.
“I tried to help her too” said Helen, “I got her several books on Logic, Art, Freud, Samuel Richardson, Dickens, Shelley, and even asked her to help me with the chores. But she only read one Dickens’ book, A Christmas Carol, because she loved the ghosts. She tossed away the rest of the books (except for the art book, with its pictures of myths and creatures), and barely helped me out with the chores”.
That was very much like Helen, for such a bookworm, she sure had a limited taste; logic, melodrama, fiction, Freud, Richardson, Dickens, Shelley, not at all fun but she keeps pushing me to read her types of books. I did like A Christmas Carol, mainly because of the Ghosts, but Dickens’ other works were dull, sentimental, and unintentionally funny. Have you ever tried reading Little Nell? You can’t resist to chuckle when reading about Nell’s death. Oscar Wilde definitely had it right, one can not simply read Little Nell without bursting into tears of laughter. At least I think that’s how he put it. I wouldn’t remember though, I was too fascinated with reading his children’s stories. I also did like Shelley’s (Mary, not Percy) Frankenstein. Which is another thing about Helen, she only reads books that reflected on morality, reason, art, and intellect.
The conversation downstairs went on, with Liddie now speaking out, “I tried to take her to Ann Marie’s birthday party, with only just us gals. We were listening to Jazz on the radio, and seeing the new Parisian dresses Ann Marie got from her grandma. And what did Beth do? She was outside, looking for fairies in the Garden, dirty, and holding an ugly frog in her hand. I was so embarrassed in front of my friends, they’d think Beth was a baby or something”
That was a lie, of course. I was joking about finding fairies in the garden. I was merely imagining the butterflies were fairies in the garden and wanted to get a close look at them. The frog was jumping by and I was pretending it was a prince. And I didn’t want to be at that party anyway, with Liddie’s friends. All they ever did was listen to Jazz, talk about boys and dresses and romance books, play with Ann Marie’s kittens, and gossip like hens. Also, they didn’t like the frog I held in my hand, and they squirmed at the sight of it.
“I thought she could be interested in sports like I would” said Alex, “Maybe teach her some baseball or work with the tools in the workshop, none of that girly nonsense. But she wanted to talk about warrior women, like them Amazons or War Goddesses in those old myths. Not that I didn’t mind hearing stories about tough dames like me, but I didn’t want to hear about those non-existent, made up women. I prefer the real Mccoy, not baby stories. And I did find some of those myths disturbing. Like she told me once about a hunting goddess who turned a hunter into a deer and set his dogs on him. I was disgusted, how could baby stories write such scary stuff? That should be illegal”
Alexandra Jean Romanoff in a nutshell, a no-nonsense philistine. Just like Mama, only loutish.
The conversation downstairs continued, but I didn’t care to listen anymore.
I walked over to my dressing table, my sacred throne, and just gazed at some of my favorite fantastic motion picture posters; such as The Wizard of Oz, The Headless Horsemen, A Trip to the Moon, Alice in Wonderland, and of course, Oedipus Rex, my most favorite and prized poster. The leading actors were my idols, they made several pictures together, and most of them were about fairy tales or myths. Orpah Turner and Felix Fleming, were Hollywood’s greatest actors and beloved couple, despite their big age difference, it was a love that I admired and idolized, and they were both beautiful to look at. Oedipus Rex was their first picture together, where they played Oedipus and Jocasta. Strangely, I know Orpah Turner personally, for she is the aunt my siblings were talking about earlier downstairs. It was never to be brought up, but she is my Mama’s sister, and they haven’t spoken since…. Since the Hospital visit, years ago, when I was at least 9 years old. I have fond memories of her, she would visit and bring me presents, books and photographs of herself and her beau, Felix. I keep these pictures stored in my little box, which I hid in one of the draws of my dressing table. From time to time I would look into that pretty little box, with all the gifts I received from dear Aunt Orpah. There was even a book that I treasured the most, which she gave me on my 8th birthday (the last gift she ever gave to me), a book of poems by W.B. Yeats. I would always recite my favorite line in from one of the poems, a line that I would recite like it was a prayer, and it was very much a prayer to me.