Suchorita Rudra-Vasquez holds a BA in Journalism with minors in Biology and Russian Studies
She is currently working for the Business Journal of Corpus Christ in Texas as a writer.
The Cherry Pit
Original Fiction By Suchi Rudra
Katya's kitchen spewed warmth into the rest of the little Kiev apartment as she prepared her cherry varenikis. Her father-in-law was visiting, and her husband Victor sat with the old, bent-over man, listening to his strained voice repeat the stories of his days as a nuclear physicist.
"That was when I liked Kiev. Now, there is nothing here but fast cars and fast people with fast mouths."
"Ay Papa…" Katya could hear the deep tone of her husband from the other room, and pictured his long legs crossed, eyes focused with a child-like attention upon the small man next to him.
"But you chose to come here from the village because you wanted to study and have a good job…"
Victor sighed and Katya knew he was tired of repeating himself but did it anyways.
"Yes, and I got stuck here because I married a woman who had the city etched into her soul. Your mother—"
"Yes, Papa, I know, Mama this and that. Mama is dead, let us give her some rest."
"Katya, where are the vareniki, we are getting hungry now, the smell is driving Papa mad, isn't it Papa?"
"What? I don't smell anything. I'm sick, I'm an old man, I have lost everything, even my nose doesn't work."
"Papa, don't talk like this, you have us here. And Sashinka is coming home soon, she says she has new paintings she wants to show you. You know she always shows you first." Katya heard the old man grumble back weakly, and then heard Victor again soothing the roughness, letting it dissipate into the air.
Her husband had wanted Papa to live with them here, but Papa refused, wanting to go back to his village where his younger sister still lived. But the village was only two hours by bus from the city. Victor had also offered to come to the village, but Papa also refused that, scared that he would like the village so much, he would not return to the city. This always made Katya and Victor laugh and the old man would simply shake his head in dismay at their amusement. So every week, if he was feeling well, Papa made the trip by bus; and Victor rarely got to see the village. Papa only allowed his one granddaughter, Sasha, to visit whenever she was home from university.
He wanted her to leave Moscow for good, a city which was even faster than Kiev, he said, and return to draw and ride horses in the village. Victor was just happy that Papa was in good health and good spirits after Mama had died 2 years back. Her death had left Papa speechless for weeks. As the vareniki were cooling on the counter, Katya sat and stared at the bird-shaped crystal standing on the cupboard by the doorway. When she had married Victor, Papa had given this to her, something he had brought back from his days in France. Papa had also gifted a crystal horse to Sashinka when she was born.
Once she was old enough to recognize what it was, little Sasha had become obsessed with the horse and played with the delicate figure more than with her dolls. Eventually Papa took his granddaughter to his village for the first time to ride a horse and on that day she had declared she would grow up to own a horse farm and ride horses every day. Katya heard her name being called again and broke out of her reverie. Then Victor appeared in the kitchen.
"Katya. What have you been doing in here? Talking to the bird again?"
She smiled up at him and got up to stretch her arms and her back. Katya yawned then, and replied, "Yes, you are having such a lovely conversation with Papa, I didn't want to interrupt, so I have my own fun."
"Yes, I know you and your fun. Now bring out the vareniki, Papa has to go home."
"Ok, ok, I will bring them now. Go sit, be happy. Leave me alone with my bird." She lightly pushed him out of the kitchen and turned to find the vareniki more than cooled. She sighed and knew that Papa would grumble also about the cold vareniki.
Then she noticed that there was still extra cherry filling left in the pan and quickly heated it and poured it over the stuffed pastries. She lifted the plate of varenikis high on her flat palm like she did at the café during work, and sailed into the living room singing, "Hot cherry varenikis! Very hot, very cherry!"
Papa straightened himself a little at the sight of his daughter-in-law swaying around the coffee table with the plate of red and white pastries.
"But are they very Ukrainian?" he pretended to grumble, but was quite happy that they would now eat.
"Victor, could you bring in the tea?" Katya asked, as she set the plate right in front of Papa.
"Here Papa, have two and three and four and…"
"Ach! What are you doing Katya, trying to kill me? Two, that's it."
"But Papa, they are very Ukrainian, as always."
"Well, now that you are working at that Georgian place, I think their dark spices will be poisoning your cooking too."
Katya grinned and patted Papa's shoulder. "Don't worry Papa, I never cook Georgian food. I only serve it."
Victor entered the room with the tea and arranged the tray beside the vareniki. Papa was chewing thoughtfully on his first bite of the pastry, and Katya had paused to watch his reaction to the temperature of it. Suddenly, Papa stopped chewing and coughed. Then he coughed again and his pale face turned red and purple.
"Oh God!" Victor cried as he put his arm around his father.
"He's choking! Katya, what did you put in these vareniki?!" He glanced at her quickly, accusingly, and she was too shocked to answer.
She fumbled with a napkin and tried using it to wipe away the spit that was appearing on his lips as he coughed. She didn't know what else to do. Victor was now pounding his father's frail back as hard as he dared.
"Papa, drink some tea? Papa, spit it out! Papa, Papa!!" Katya's husband was frantic and his fingers shook as he curled and uncurled them over the old man's body.
Then Papa became quiet for a short second, and Katya gasped as he suddenly coughed up a masticated chunk of the pastry, spraying his shirt with bits of red. Victor sighed loudly and slumped to the chair, then leaned over to pluck something off from Papa's shirt.
"Katya!!" Victor raised a small dark object in his trembling fingers. It was a cherry pit.
Katya opened her mouth but did not know what to say to Victor. She turned instead to Papa, again wiping his mouth and now cleaning his shirt off.
"Papa, are you alright? Papa, it's over now, here have some tea." She smoothed down the sparse, feathery grey hairs on his head. Victor had thrown the pit to the floor and was now watching it roll slowly under the table.
"Victor, at least help Papa!" Katya whispered loudly to him. He looked over at Papa and again stood up.
"Papa, you should go home now. You should not indulge in such things like cherries anymore…you are an old man, Papa."
Papa was slowly nodding his head as his breathing returned to a more normal pace. He cleared his throat loudly and said, "Yes, you see, the cherries now all have pits here…they are all irradiated." On his last word, he nodded with the nod of a nuclear physicist.
"Yes Papa," Victor agreed seriously, "and in the village it is not so. You should go back and rest there where you are safe from irradiated cherries."
Katya slid out of the room at that point with her guilty varenikis, cold and almost untouched. The pit must have been from a cherry that was in the sauce she'd used. She felt terrible and sat at the kitchen table heavily, thinking about what could have happened. Her gaze found itself back upon the little sparkling bird as she heard Victor helping Papa slide into his boots and coat and arranging his hat and scarf.
Now she was feeling hungry and picked up a pastry that was at the bottom of the heap, hoping it was a little warm. She observed it carefully for any dark protrusions and then bit into it, savoring the thick cherry syrup that coated her teeth and tongue completely, and even tickled the inside of her cheeks with a faint sour taste.
Then the front door was opened, Victor shouted, "we're going" and the door slammed shut.
A thin draft of the snow cold air made its way into the apartment after the two men had left. She looked around for her shawl but could not see it on the stool where it usually lay. Katya got up to clean up the coffee table, bringing the tea tray back into the kitchen, leaving it by the sink with a sigh. She was very tired now, and she returned to the chair to rest her head on the table. Her eyes closed and she slept, dreaming of horses and birds that spit up pits.
A pounding on the door awakened Katya.
With her eyes still closed, and her heart beating in her ears, she felt disoriented and fearful. She cautiously blinked her eyes open and licked her lips; they still tasted of cherry. The light in the kitchen glared against the clock on the wall that told her it was three in the morning. Victor had left to drop Papa to the bus station at seven—was he just now returning?
Katya pushed back the chair and stood up unsteadily, still blinking. Then she heard a voice wailing her name again and again through the door, even as the pounding came louder and faster. The voice was now moaning as if at the edge of death. Katya felt cold and wondered why she wasn't wearing her shawl, as she scurried to the door.
Unfortunately, the peephole glass was partially covered with dots of paint, and she could not be sure that the man leaning against the opposite wall was Victor. She watched an oblong mouth slowly opening to wail her name again, and then saw a blurry hand raise up a flask. Katya stepped back from the door feeling colder still. Where was her shawl? Katya pressed her lips to the crack in the door and yelled out her husband's name.
She quickly jumped to watch the man's response through the peephole. He was still gulping from the flask but his eyes seemed to open wider at her calling out. This time she yelled into the peephole and the man dropped the flask to the ground. She looked at the clear, spilling liquid and recognized Victor's shoes.
Katya rushed to unlock the door and flung it open to a strong stench of alcohol and something metallic that clung to her nose unpleasantly. "Victor, what are you doing? What happened? It is so late!" She could not say she had been worried because she had fallen asleep in the kitchen. "Why are you…"
He had not looked up until now. With one gloved hand he forced himself off of the wall, and came at Katya who was still in the doorway. His breath, his eyes, his fingers, they were all radiating with a heaviness that did not belong to alcohol.
"Katya," he slurred loudly. "They took our things and then…they beat him. Why didn't they beat me? Why not me?" Victor was weeping.
At that moment, Victor fell to his knees on the drenched ground and encircled Katya's legs with his arms, burying his wet eyes into her thick skirt.
Katya drew in a quick breath. She shivered.
It was very cold.