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Excerpt: Brigid Pasulka’s ‘A Long Long Time Ago and Essentially True’

The pigeon was not one to sit around and pine, and so the day after he saw the beautiful Anielica Hetmanska up on Old Baldy Hill, he went to talk to her father.

The Pigeon’s village was two hills and three valleys away, and he came upon her only by Providence, or “by chance,” as some would start to say after the communists and their half-attempts at secularization.

He happened to be visiting his older brother, Jakub, who was living at the old sheep camp and tending the Hetmanski flock through the summer; she happened to be running an errand for the Fates and her father to drop off a bottle of his special herbal ovine fertility concoction. Ordinarily, of course, a maiden meeting with a bachelor alone — and over the matter of ovine procreation no less — would be considered verboten or nilzya or whatever the Polish equivalent was before the Nazis and the Soviets routed the language and appropriated all the words for forbiddenness. But the Pigeon’s brother, Jakub, was a simpleton, a gentle simpleton, and the risk of Anielica twisting an ankle in the hike was greater than any danger posed by Jakub.

The Pigeon happened to be climbing up the side of the hill just as the sun was sliding down, and when he spotted his brother talking to the girl in front of the old sheep hut, he stopped flat in his shadow and ducked behind a tree to watch. The breeze was blowing from behind, and he couldn’t make out a word of what they were saying, but he could see his brother talking and bulging his eyes. He was used to his brother’s way of speaking by now, and he was only reminded of it when he saw him talking to strangers. Jakub spoke with a clenched jaw, his lips spreading and puckering around an impenetrable grate of teeth, which, along with the lack of pauses in his thoughts, created a low, buzzing monotone. The only inflection to his words came through his eyes, which bugged out when there was a word he wanted to stress, then quickly receded. It was very much like a radio left on and stuck at the edge of a station: annoying at first, but quite easy to ignore after the first twenty years or so.

If you were not used to talking to him, the common stance was to lean backward, one foot pointed to the side, looking for an end to the loop of monologue that never came, finally reaching in and snapping one of his sentences in half before muttering a quick good-bye and making an escape. But the girl was not like this at all. In fact, she seemed to be leaning in toward Jakub, her nodding chin following his every word, her parted lips anticipating what he would say next with what very closely resembled interest and pleasure.

She was absolutely stunning. She had strong legs and high cheekbones, a blood-and-milk complexion and Cupid’s-bow lips, and the Pigeon was suddenly full of admiration for his brother for having the courage to stand there and have an ordinary conversation with such a beautiful creature. He crouched behind the pine tree, watching them for perhaps half an hour, and he started toward the hut only once she was on her way down the other side of the hill.

“Who was that?”

Excerpted from A Long Long Time Ago and Essentially True by Brigid Pasulka copyright © 2009. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

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