Caroline Adderson is the author of two internationally published novels, two collections of short stories, and three books for young readers. Her work has received numerous prize nominations including the Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist, the Governor General’s Literary Award, the Rogers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. A two-time Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize and three-time CBC Literary Award winner, Caroline was also the recipient of the 2006 Marian Engel Award for mid-career achievement.
In introducing her piece below, she says:
I found this in a file called “Deleted Scenes”. It’s from my most recent novel, The Sky Is Falling, which was published in 2010, though this bit dates from 2007. The novel is about, among other things, the fear of nuclear war and the love of Russian literature. It features two time periods, 1984, when the protagonist Jane Z. was a student of Slavic Studies, and 2004, when she is a married mother of a son looking back on her activist days. This excerpt is from the later period, Jane creeping around trying to avoid her overbearing Slovakian cleaning lady, Maria, at the same time she tries to sort out the complicated relationship she has with her.
When the coast was clear, I went to the kitchen and made myself a sandwich, though I was loathe to crumb up the gleaming counter. Maria was in the back yard now beating the throw rugs. I could hear her gusto all the way inside. She drapes them over the patio chairs and whacks them with the rake. There’s a vacuum, but she prefers the corporal approach. As I listened to her grunts and the rugs bearing her blows through the open window, it crossed my mind, not for the first time, that she might be a war criminal in hiding, a former concentration camp guard, the Demoness of Bratislava even. But I did the math. If I had correctly guessed her age, she hadn’t even been born.
Immediately I felt terrible for even thinking it. Terrible because part of her hold on me is that she reminds me of my aunt Eva, who was a teenager in 1945, in Poland of all doomed places. How little I understood the year I lived with her. Like most youth, particularly the miserable, I was concerned mainly with how I felt. My aunt’s basement repository of cans should have told me the whole story. I’d learned in high school about the war-time scrap-metal drives, how children would collect bottle caps and cigarette papers, even sacrifice their tin toys to be transmuted into matériel. Things about my Polish father, too. His over-protectiveness, his cheapness, his exacting work ethic, the way he hugged and kissed us after he was finished being angry, almost bruising us with love. He never threw anything out either, but hoarded bits of wire in old cereal boxes. I’d seen him dash into traffic to pick up a rusted nut.
The horse, the dog, the gun, and all their aliases.
What I realize now and didn’t then, back in university, was that nineteenth century Russian literature is so full of pathos because of the historical vantage we read it from. When Dr. Korolyov says, “Life will be good in fifty years’ time,” he has no idea about the two coming wars, the Revolution, the purges, the Gulag, the arms race, the Cold War.
Neither did Chekhov.
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