Leonard Kress

Two women live in different neighborhoods of the same city. Every Sunday they meet at the cemetery where their children are buried. They must travel over an hour to get there—the grounds of a monastery of Polish and Hungarian monks who revere a charred icon of the Blessed Virgin. In the 17th century this icon, burned by Swedish invaders, saved the land after decades of devastation. Paderewski’s heart is also buried there, in an urn, though neither woman knows where.

They trudge out to the graveyard after mass. They carry shopping bags of topsoil, trowels, flower pots, bulbs and votive candles. One brings a watering can, the other a jar which they fill at a pump near a fringe of trees. After a few dry creaks water gushes uncontrollably. They groom the gravesites religiously, on hands and knees, pawing at the encroaching grass and weeds. One woman’s son died of cancer, almost sixteen. From time to time this woman carries a second shopping bag—clothes that need mending, because the other woman takes in sewing. New cuffs, hems, roomier gussets.

The other woman’s daughter died mysteriously many years ago. There was a dispute over whether or not she could be buried in consecrated ground. The monks intervened. While the first woman prays for the soul of her son, the second woman scours nearby graves for a pot of flowers she placed by her daughter’s tombstone the previous week. She can’t find them and begins to shout accusations—the drunk veterans who just held a memorial, the scouts, the groundskeeper, even the monks. In her search, she weaves in and around the polished granite markers. She doubles back and begins again, so that a pattern emerges. Did you take my gryzantyny, she asks the first woman, who continues praying. Her stockings have ripped and bruises are forming on her bent knees. It would be fruitless to translate gryzantyny, they don’t grow on this side of the Atlantic.

More about Leonard Kress may be found with his story, “Dance of Death, 1972.”

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