2 Bridges Review has nominated my short story, They Were Like Family to Me, for a 2012 Pushcart Prize! You can download the entire journal (it’s free!) at:
To tempt you, here are the first 700 words.
There were two of them, standing and arguing in front of the oblong patch of grass between the decrepit buildings. They didn’t look like they belonged there; both of them wore new coats, made from fine fabric, well-cut and nicely designed, clearly made somewhere else, where they cared about such things. They were holding a map, staring at the clearing in puzzlement, chattering in a foreign language the old man didn’t recognize. One pointed at the map with a gloved hand, while the other shook his head in disagreement.
“Excuse me,” said the older one in Polish as he passed by. “Perhaps you can help us out.”
The old man was holding a small child’s hand. He was short and fat and out of breath; when he walked, he toddled, just like the little boy. “Are you Jewish?” he said. Though there were no Jews left in Sokal, he had heard that sometimes they came to small towns in Poland to explore their heritage, to reclaim the house their grandfather had lived in, to search for distant relatives in cemeteries.
Both men smiled. “No. Not Jewish,” said the older of the two. The old man peered closer. Now he could see the white clerical collar, just visible over the lapels of his overcoat.
His cheeks reddened with embarrassment. “I’m sorry, Father. It’s just…in this part of Poland, we don’t get many visitors. Usually, they’re Jews. I just assumed…”
The priest waved it off. “Have you always lived here? In this town, I mean.”
“Yes. My parents moved here when I was just a little boy. Where are you from? You speak Polish, but I heard you speaking another language with your friend.”
“I grew up around here,” he said. “But I live in New York now.”
“New York,” said the old man. “I’ve never been west of Warsaw.”
The priest gestured towards the green patch of grass. “Perhaps you can tell me something about this place,” he suggested. “On my map, it says something happened here in 1942.”
“Oh. Yes. Well…” the old man’s gaze wandered. “My grandson…nursery school…” he said vaguely.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Please, don’t let me keep you.” It was a cold day. For warmth, the priest put his hands in his coat pockets. His eyebrows drew together, he fished around inside his pocket until he pulled out a chocolate bar. It had a yellow wrapper with a picture of a little girl on it. “May I?” he asked.
The old man nodded. The priest squatted down until he was level with the little boy, who accepted the candy in his mittened hand. The priest smiled. The child looked back at him with grave, dark eyes.
“You do this every day?” inquired the priest as he stood back up, brushing off his coat tails. The old man nodded. Under his hat, the skin was fragile and thin, like parchment, except for his cheeks and the tip of his nose, which were a startling pink. “You’re a good grandfather.”
The old man shrugged. “My only grandchild,” he replied, by way of explanation.
Now, nothing prevented him from leaving, but still, he lingered. There was something about the priest, his moist dark eyes rimmed with long black lashes. It was the face of a man who had heard many sad stories. Just now, he was gazing with curiosity at the green patch between the buildings.
“It’s my own little project,” he explained, almost apologetically. “Well. Obsession, really. I’m traveling around Poland, Russia, the Ukraine, trying to collect stories of what the Nazis did. Before the people who witnessed them are gone. Things that didn’t make it into the history books.”
The old man’s lips compressed into a thin line. “The history books,” he said contemptuously, dismissing the entire genre. “All they ever tell you is what happened to the Jews. Never what happened to the Poles.” He added hastily, “It’s not their fault, of course. What happened to them was terrible, I’m not saying it wasn’t. All I’m saying, is you never hear anything else.”
The priest nodded. Encouragingly, the old man thought.