Authors: Mylene Dressler
The Wedding of Anna F.
By Mylène Dressler
Copyright 2014 by Mylène Dressler
Cover Copyright 2014 by Untreed Reads Publishing
Cover Design by Ginny Glass
The author is hereby established as the sole holder of the copyright. Either the publisher (Untreed Reads) or author may enforce copyrights to the fullest extent.
Previously published in print, 2012.
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This is a work of fiction. The characters, dialogue and events in this book are wholly fictional, and any resemblance to companies and actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Also by Mylène Dressler and Untreed Reads Publishing
The Medusa Tree
The Wedding of Anna F.
The interviewer is coming today. So. Here is the simple part: choosing what to wear. I’ve told my little assistant buzzing downstairs—no, that isn’t fair of me, she isn’t little, she looms over my life, in fact, and she’s more than an assistant, she’s almost a kind of nurse, at times—I’ve told Maia to leave me alone for a bit, to let me be quiet, so I can get ready for my time with him, and then for my birthday celebration to follow; because I need a rest after having spent the whole morning in my study, organizing my documents and letters, the private papers that will sum me up, in my eighty-third year—work that has been the easier part of this day, now that I think of it, at least compared to what’s going to come later on, compared to what is coming on now.
I hope I can manage it all. I don’t tire easily, thank goodness. For my age I’m still fairly sound—apart, that is, from the slight deafness in my left ear, the result of being left lying in the mud at Belsen. Of course, no one knows I’ve ever been there. But this much is true: I’ve never needed or wanted much rest, since then.
I’ve kept moving fairly well into my so-called golden years. I think I could have been an athlete, given the chance. An Olympic swimmer. That would have been lovely! Or an ice skater. But I would have to lose weight… Recently, I’ve had a terrible feeling I’ve been carrying too much fat on me. I hate it. Extra pounds. Those horrible millstones of age. I don’t hunch, though. I’m no beauty, and never have been, but there’s one thing I have to be proud of and that’s my hair, which yesterday in the village I had dyed a dark, soft brown and shaped into a rounded, helmeted style, like the Queen of England’s. For several weeks now this will need very little attention, thanks to twenty-first-century chemicals. It’s a good thing. There will be a great deal of media attention, soon.
No, I don’t need much outward preparation, really, for being judged by a doctoral student. I don’t have to worry about looking any older than I should, and if I ever did, that was a long time ago. I have my clothes picked out from the closet and lying on their cushioned hangers on the bed: the white silken blouse and matching skirt, and the red-slashed scarf, all in one ensemble. Like a bride. And I will say one other thing for me: Once I know something is going to happen, I do try to see it through. And I am going to see this through. Even though it’s going to be hard, perhaps even nearly impossible. To make this Scottish boy believe I am who I say I am.
On my dresser are the matching pearls and earrings, and on the chintz-covered chair are my pantyhose, at their ghostly feet the deep, wine-red pumps. It’s important to be prepared. It’s important to stay quick and alert, especially as one gets older. Although, when I was still very young, right after the war, I did get into some trouble, and made other people anxious and unhappy, by not seeming to be quick and alert enough. Instead, I would wander around the kibbutz in a daze, with a mop pail over my head, pretending to myself I was lying at the bottom of the ocean, the metal tub over my ears making for both a real and imagined pressure, and the hollowness underneath leaving me quivering all over, but silent, as though I were a piece of twine knocking against a bell. Hidden under my hot, shiny helmet I would walk round and round in the dirt, circling the chicken coops and the vegetable gardens and the trampled goat yard, in complete silence, watching my untied shoe laces drag over the flat, whitened stones. That part I have always remembered, if not understood. It is the rest of my memory that has come as a surprise, and that is going to be hard for others to understand. Because there have been so many people pretending to be Annes or Annas or Anastasias across history. A certain lack of trust has developed around the name. If you tramp to a well too many times, it becomes a ditch. That is understandable.
My parents could only tell you—or they could if they were still alive—that I was an orphan girl. A mystery girl. That they found me in Palestine and brought me back with them to the United States, to New York State, where they came from and where they believed I would grow up healthy and strong. And that’s how I ended up here, in front of this big bay window, in June, on this fine, warm day upstate, as opposed to down in the mud. I’ll never forget my first glimpse of the fields outside this house. The wheat stretching on for miles and miles in waves, all these golden heads bowing and straightening, welcoming, generous, sweet smelling as a larder.
Away from the window, I’m more critical. I look halfway decent if I turn sideways in the mirror, or at least I can make better sense of my pear shape, not head-on, but if I turn slightly to one side, like a bulging pitcher with my lower lip turned out for a spout. Now, off with these loose linen pants. Off with my smock—it’s June, after all!—until I stand in nothing but my puffy brassiere and the white sail of my underwear, my thin skin pooling over the elastic banding here and there. Where the sun has never touched me, at least not for years, not much, in truth, since that beach south of Haifa, I’m almost lilac colored. Where it has, I’m all dotted and liver spotted, irregular as the
of the moon. Higher up, my loose cheeks run over the hemline of my jaw. And why? Because I’ve been a talker most of my life. An inveterate talker, other, that is, than during the months I spent in a kibbutz hiding under a bucket. Other than during that confused, shadowy, early time, and during a childhood I can no longer remember (although
The Diary of a Young Girl
at least fills me in on some of that and confirms some of what I’m about to say), I believe I’ve always been good at words and at talking my way into and out of things. So it’s no wonder my mouth is a bit saggy, with little pockets at the sides, as if each has been stuffed by Black Peter, Dutch-style, with a lump of coal.
When I first came to the United States, though, I would stand in front of this very mirror for hours, in front of its oval frame and brass pivots, and stretch my mouth this way and that, practicing my English. Then later on it became my job, as a law student and then as a practicing attorney, to drill and debate and depose people. I have not only been a good talker: I have been very good at getting other people to talk. This has been tremendously helpful, not only as a way to earn my keep, but because, I found, the better you were at getting other people to talk about themselves, the less you had to talk about yourself.
Years ago, I used to sleep with a man (I have slept with a few in my time, though not many), and I remember I liked to have him face away from me whenever we were intimate. If we were going to take a bath together, for instance. I would go into the bathroom first and slide into the tub. Then I refused to let him climb in and sit behind me with his legs wrapping around me, the way some men want to do. I hate the feeling of someone folding me in, seeing me without my seeing. Better to make my lover squat in front of me, so that his back would be turned, and no wriggle room left in front of or behind him; plus, I liked being able to pinch and pull and examine all the spots he couldn’t see, the moles and the freckles, the hairs sprouting with no rhyme or reason, the crease along his granite shoulder from our wrinkled sheets. Among the letters and postcards I was sorting through in my study this morning were letters from him. No one knows a thing about those letters, or the relationship we had. But now that I’m about to be revealed, everything will be subject to scrutiny, and important. And that is why I have been busy getting
The first thing I thought, when I was brought to this house at seventeen (scrubbed clean and transported), was that this bedroom, with all its canopy and perfect white lace, couldn’t possibly be mine. Not these linens. Not this dresser. Not these books. Not this cedar-lined closet. What on earth had I done to deserve a closet? Once a week, I was expected to take my very best clothes out (amazed that I owned them) and get smartly dressed, and then my adoptive father, whose last name was now mine, drove me to Manhattan, where I was ushered up a short flight of stairs and into a darkened suite that smelled of cigarettes and encyclopediae, to lie down on a couch and talk a great deal. This, let me be clear, was the only period of my life when I was sent to see a psychiatrist.
He smiled and made notes on a short pad I couldn’t see. He was very patient, and very easy to make happy.
“So, you do feel you’re ready for school, Hannah?”
“Oh, absolutely,” I said in my perfecting English. “I feel very certain. Is it wrong to feel so wonderfully good and happy and certain about things, doctor?”
“No, not at all.” He was obviously impressed with me. “We should very much want you to catch up to other young people your age, shouldn’t we? We want you to study, and to
“Do you think I could become anything I like?”
“I’ll have to discuss it with your parents. But of course I’m going to advise against anything overly introspective. It will be much better for you, Hannah, if you learn to serve others, your family, your new community here…concentrating on your future. That, you know, is what Jewish girls your age are concentrating on these days. The war is over. Much has been sacrificed. And because of your trauma, your memories may never return to you. But you can build new memories. And I am positive, with a husband, with children, and in peace and in good health… But yes, of course, yes, your education, first. It will do you no harm, and I’m certain it will do you much good.”
Doctors, even Jewish psychiatrists, weren’t so terribly clever at exploring the unbucketed heads of young girls in those days. Or maybe he thought it was better I remained a blank. Maybe he knew there are some things better left unremembered. Or else I am sure he would have pushed me harder, and I would have recovered who I am much sooner than a mere three weeks ago. I would have taken my proper place in history when I was a young woman, and not, breathlessly, at eighty-three.
* * *
JUDGING FROM HOW QUIET it is downstairs, Maia must have finished moving the buffet table the way I asked her to and is done getting it covered with the lace runner and ready for the caterers, who will arrive this afternoon. And now she is either talking on her slim little telephone, or having a coffee in the kitchen, or reading a book, or all three at the same time, as young people do these days.
I hear a good-bye, some light laughter, a snap, and then a creaking on the stairs. Which means that she is coming up to find me. Something must need to be discussed, something worth climbing up the two landings for. I know she finds the staircase awfully annoying. Maia is a plump girl and not fond of exercise. Yet she has been with me for three years now and hasn’t decided to leave.
This girl who opens my door is my favorite assistant in a dozen years: a pretty, stout Pakistani with long, loose hair. She wears it thrown over her shoulder, as if she’s ever ready to fling it out a window and escape if I become too obnoxious, too demanding. She’s the most efficient of all the young women I’ve ever hired, handling all the little details of my life that have become too much for me, but without my having to ask; she anticipates me, yet she’s never cruel or judgmental, always smiling and nodding with the same kind of
relaxed you are taking this all too seriously
smile that I could never coax out of that lover I used to take baths with long ago. But then, he was Irish, and nosy.