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Posted by Dr. D , 24 August 2010 · 62 views

“Bring me the little wood box from the dresser,” said Mischa from her bed.  She had pulled the covers about her shoulders with the sight of frost staining the windows and now peered over the edge of the blanket.  “It’s in the top right hand drawer.”
        Norma brought the box and placed it on the edge of the bed without speaking.
        “Tell me when that little Mexican boy plays in the hall, will you, please?”
        Norma cast a caustic glance before answering.  “If I see him.”
        “He’s a good boy, that one,” observed Mischa.  “Don’t you think so?”
        Norma moved a dust mop over the bedroom floor and now slammed it beneath the bed in her search for dust and lint.  “Don’t know him,” she replied.
        Mischa sighed heavily.  “Of course you do.  He was here when?  Day before yesterday.  Sitting right here talking with me.”
        “He’s a little boy,” sighed Norma.  “He probably doesn’t understand anything you say, Mischa.  He doesn’t understand English.  You don’t speak Spanish.  So why have him here to chat, huh?”
        Mischa frowned deeply.  “He’s learning, Norma.  Don’t talk about him like he’s inferior or something.  He has an English class in school.  He understands very well.”
        Norma laughed aloud as she moved a damp cloth over the window sill and inspected it to see how much dust had gathered since yesterday morning.  “And I studied Spanish in high school.  Know what Spanish I have?  Gracias, buenos dias, buenos noches . . . . Now I could really get by in Mexico, right?”
        “He reminds me of my little brother, if you must know,” she pouted.  “My little brother was like him.  Dimitri.  That was his name,.” said softly added.
        “You told me before,” advised Norma.
        “Seven he was.  The last time I saw him, he was seven.  That was in thirty-nine so, let’s see, that would be sixty-six years ago.  My God, sixty-six years, Norma.  Can you imagine that?  Little Dimitri would be seventy-three years old now.”
        Norma moved to the windows and pulled the curtains.  “Do you want the television on?” she asked with hardened tones.
        “No, Norma.  Please, no.  I don’t want to watch the tele.  I want to talk.”
        Mischa gazed at the large woman over the rim of the blanket.  Norma had been her companion for more than thirty years but she still found her to be intimidating.  She was a woman who never smiled and that had always been something Mischa could not understand.  Norma never spoke of her life but it was obvious to Mischa that it must have been very sad.
        “I want to talk to the little boy,” she reconfirmed.  “His name is Miguel.  Not Michael, mind you, but Miguel.”
        “The medicine’s starting to talk,” grumbled Norma.
        “What’s that, Norma?”  What did you say?”
        “Your pills.  They’re making you crazy again.”
        Mischa pulled the blanket downward to expose her face.  “I am not crazy, Norma.  I’m old, yes, but not crazy.  Please don’t say that.”  
        When excited or disturbed, the old accent came back to her.  She had not shaken it completely in all her years in America.  She glared at Norma and with the sound of her own voice, the accent forced her to remember old times and her brother all the more.
        Norma did not reply but continued to push the dust mop over the floor and to issue a soft curse when there was a stain difficult to remove.
        “I was remembering my little brother.  That is not a crazy thing to do.  He is probably dead now.  It is not crazy to remember him.”  Mischa insisted harshly.
        Mischa waited, as if wanting Norma to respond.  The only sound was the dust mop slamming against the legs of the dresser.
        “I brought that dresser with me from Austria,” said Mischa as a request not to do damage to it.  “Aboard the Nordic King, I brought that dresser and the rest of my furniture.  It was a good thing, too.  Originally I had planned to ship my things to England because the Athenia, Cunard boat, was going to Canada.  
        “My father said that it would be impossible to get a travel permit to England.  Things were already getting a little difficult in Europe.  It was easier to go south through the corner of Yugoslavia and then to the Italian ports.  I was very disappointed.  I remember that.  I always wanted to see England, but if I had gone there and boarded the Athenia, do you know what would have happened?  Can you imagine what happened to the Athenia?”
        Norma did not pause from her tasks.  “The Germans sank it.  Everyone died.”
        “A German U-board sank the Athenia.  Can you imagine that?” echoed Mischa.  “If I had gone as I planned, I would be at the bottom of the North Sea right now.  It was a horrible thing for them to do.  That’s when I stopped being a member of the Nazi Party”
        “You told me, Mischa.  About ten million times.” her companion grumbled.
        The old woman issued a short giggle.  “On the Nordic King there was this man.  Very handsome, he was.  An American, as I remember.  But do you know what he asked me?”
        Norma pushed a small mound of dust toward the door with a clamoring of the mop against the tile floor.  “Yes, Mischa.  I know.  He asked you if you were Anastasia.”
        “Anastasia,” sighed Mischa.  “’Of course not,’ I told him.  “Anastasia was Russian.  I’m from Austria.”  That’s what I told him.  And do you know what he said then?  I’ve always remembered.  He said, ‘The reports are that Anastaia was very beautiful.  Maybe that’s why I have mistaken you for her.’  Oh, how my heart jumped with that.  It was so romantic.  Don’t you think that was a romantic thing to say on a warm night in the middle of the ocean?”
        Her narrative was met with a continued silence but she ignored Norma’s disinterest.  
        “But my father did come from royalty, just like Anastasia.  Yes, he did.  Directly from the line of Archduke Franz Salvator and Archduchess Marie Valerie, he was.  I remember that he was very important.  People came from far off to visit him and speak of political matters.  My Mother said that our dining room furniture came from the royal palace.  Can you imagine that?  But I remember . . . .  it was made of one of those fine woods with the swirls in it.  
        “But it was odd that the man asked me if I was Anastasia.  My father must have liked something about the Russians.  After all, he named me Natasha Mischa, no?
        Norma’s large frame was but a shadow against the light beyond the door.  She pushed the dust out of the bedroom and was closing the door as she offered abruptly, “If you need something, call.”
        Mischa watched the door close and the room engulfed in a subtle dimness. A shaft of sunlight came from the parting between the curtains and she could see fine particles of dust from Norma’s mop floating in the air.