Antosia and Hania live underneath the sleeping giant, Giewont. It’s the closest residential lane to where the National Park begins. The view from our bedroom window upstairs is of Giewont’s cross-pierced nose. He pokes it out of the forest inviting you.
The house was built by their father. I used to think of it as an unlucky and unfortunate-smelling place. People died there. Mostly men but not only men. The cows lived adjacent to the hallway.
Now there are just two family members left in the house. From an original eight. Hania’s son, Michał lived with them too. Being born with a cleft palate, Michał had a voice that made him sound like was whistling. He was different but there was nothing different about him. When we were teenagers, he argued with his mum a lot. You could hear them through the walls. Doors would slam and moments later Michał would enter his aunts’, Marysia and Antosia’s part of the house. The were always calm with him. Kind. He’d calm down too, whistle a few words back.
He’d look at me for a second. I’d return the same glance. Both of us would look away. One of his aunts would tell him to be nice to his mother. His pitch would raise and he’d leave, but not without something soft passing around the room. His aunts loved him; it was clear. Now I don’t know who died first – him or Marysia. They went close together. Even now the news of Michał ’s passing comes as unbelievable. He and his friends died in a mountain hut that apparently they started themselves. A party. A dropped cigarette. Everyone sleeping. No one made it to safety.
His aunt Marysia died within a month or so of realising she was sick. She’d been the one who’d stayed home while Antosia had gone to work in the post office. Normally Antosia was serious, humble and relaxed. Forever saying she wasn’t learned enough to talk about subjects which attracted opinion. Until we mentioned the museum.
‘I don’t like the museum.’
‘The museum in town?’ we asked incredulously in case she meant a different, seedier museum. Don’t worry, we’re not keen on the porn museum in town either.
She snorted. ‘Old pieces of weed. Tools. A little hut. To show how difficult life was here. Why do we need to remember it?’
‘Cause it’s a museum,’ my grandmother ventured.
Antosia let off another snort. She’d spent a long time living next to cows. It was impressive. ‘I’m not learned enough to speak on the matter.’
On the Tuesday we arrived, the radio went on in the hallway which also doubled as a second dining area. I’d walked through, on my way upstairs. I heard a intelligently lilting Góral voice. Antosia was sitting, staring out onto her lawn front lawn. Green-gold with sunset. I stopped. I had to ask. She explained it was the ex-director of the Tatra National Park. I listened along with Antosia. The sun flitted in through the door.
‘The King of Sweden came to see us, to visit our National Park,’ the voice undulated over the radio. ‘I thought it would be nice to take his party to this particular valley. We had some interesting example of forest there. When we got there, some mountain people grazing sheep were having a celebration. I took him to see the forest and later, the King of Sweden said the party was the best thing he’d ever seen. The ex-park director giggled, Antosia laughed. As if she wasn’t learned in these matters.
Not long after we arrived, we learned that when Antonia was thirteen, she’d had a stroke. ‘At school, my spine really hurt.’ She winced at the memory.
‘How long were you off school for?’
‘About a year.’
I looked down the length of her. Her right hand slightly curled up. Two fingers a little banana shaped. I inhaled. She has a Delphine hand. I explained that Delphine had had a stroke too. Not thirteen, not even born yet but the same thing.
Delphine, poking around nearby, cocked her head interestedly. ‘Does she have tingling in her leg?’
Antosia smiled her wonderful smile. ‘Yes, sometimes.’
From then on, Antosia was in charge of nagging Delphine. She pointed at Delphine’s right hand. ‘You have to use this one first.’ I couldn’t believe my luck. Luck is wherever you find it.
There aren’t many lines of continuity in my life. Not the same childhood home, nor childhood friends. When you start over in life, you find links that connect to your past are like rainbows. Ethereal and fleeting. Now, figures loomed large in my head. I spent the first twenty years of my life here. I hadn’t been here for twenty years. These people had known me my whole life. Nothing had changed. I belonged here.