Yulia sits limp in a wooden rocking chair in the corner of the room, every inch of her still aching and spent from her ordeal. A bead of sweat trickles down the back of her neck, soaks into the thin cotton nightgown one of the farmwomen had given her when she grew too big for her own clothing. The men say it’s too expensive to run the air conditioning now. On a farm, they say, choices must be made. Fans are useless; windows are opened, but they only let in hot, damp air. And bugs, through the broken screens. She watches the bugs crawl along the sill, get caught in spiders’ webs. It is your own fault, she thinks at the poor, wriggling beetle that will soon be dinner. You walked right into it. You are trapped.
She doesn’t turn from the window. The voice is one she faintly recognizes as Pauline, one of the farmer’s many daughters. But Yulia can’t find the energy to respond. And even if she could, there’s nobody she wants to talk to here. She’d rather converse with the bugs.
“Yulia. Please.” A different female voice. “You must eat something. If not for the baby, then for your own—”
“Anatole!” Oh, the relief in Pauline’s voice. “You must make her listen to reason, she’s not been thinking right since the birth, at least try to get her to eat—”
“If she does not want to eat, she does not want to eat.” He lowers his voice as if Yulia can’t hear him. “How is the baby?”
“Ravenous little thing,” Pauline says. “Good luck for her that Marta still has her milk.”
Yulia squeezes her eyes shut as if it could make this nightmare go away. She’s beyond tired of hearing about Marta. Marta the martyr. Nursing both babies. So sunny and bright. The morning after Marta’s own baby was born, all twelve pounds of him, she was in the kitchen making blueberry pie.
Hearing nothing now but the distress of the insects in the web—two files have joined the beetle—Yulia dares to lift her eyelids. Dares to move her head away from the window. Only Anatole stands in the doorway, with the melting blue eyes, the blond forelock askew. That hangdog look was once adorable, then tolerable. Now it disgusts her. The child was born with blue eyes.
“Yulia…” Hands outstretched as if to plead with her, he steps into the room. “All I want is to help you.”
In her mind she knows that. But a different part of her wants to make that untrue. Apparently he takes her silence as an invitation to continue. He kneels before her, sets a tentative hand on her knee. He smells of the fields, of dirt and sunshine. She wants to yell at him, to get up off his knees, to get that so very gentle hand off her body. To yell that she is not so fragile, she is not so broken, that this is not his fault, or his responsibility. All she wants is time to…time to… She lets her eyes drift shut again.
His voice when it comes next is like the buzzing of the flies. “This way you are feeling…the midwife told me it happens quite often, after the baby…to feel a little sad. They call it postpartum depress—”
“I am not depressed! Take your midwife and your psychology and Marta and—” The effort to push those words out has taken too much from her and she drops her head back against the chair and closes her eyes. “Go away, Anatole. Please.”
She can only guess what his face might look like now. Wounded hangdog. Yet she still feels his presence, although he has taken his hand off her leg. “Yulia. I love you. All I want is…”
“I know,” she says. She wants to thank him. She wants to say she loves him, too. But she doesn’t trust those words. She’s said those words before and they have come back for revenge.
“You might not want to hear this now,” Anatole says, “but please just think about it. The midwife said that perhaps when you’re feeling physically able, you might want to get away from the farm for a while. Take a little vacation.”
Her eyes flew open in alarm.
“Without the baby,” he says.
She lets out a long breath; her lids close again.
“We will be here when you return. Did you not say once that you have friends who took asylum in Warsaw? Perhaps you’d like to visit.” He adds quickly, “But you don’t have to answer now. Just think. Just rest.”
Yulia allows the words to settle. His hand sets on her knee, gives it a brief squeeze. Then she watches his retreat.
He stops in the doorway.
“Perhaps there is some bread?”
He smiles, and the hope in his eyes terrifies her.