There was no way to end this today. Maybe, just maybe, tomorrow. Is this turning into another book?
Easter draws near and thus the end of these Lenten writing exercises. I’ll continue them in some form, but even this evening – on a Friday, for eff’s sake! – my wife launches into a Spring honeydew list of this, that, and ten other tanjed things! If the yard needs that much work then I’ll just sow it with salt!
Anyway. Who wouldn’t mind a walk in the twilight with an engaging, attractive stranger? Yes: the both of them.
After Lily’s outburst the next few blocks were an uncomfortable silence.
“So your – ”
“How long – ?”
They smiled. Arpad rolled his hand.
“Thank you! So you’re a diplomat? Do that right out of college?”
“I’ve never been to college. When I was sixteen, for lack of anything better to do, I joined the Hungarian Army. When the Viszegrad Group turned into the Empire I was a part of that for a while.” He paused to look at the last rays of the sun. “A… mentor, if you will, suggested the Foreign Office.”
“Oh. The army, huh?” He heard the odd tone in her voice.
“You don’t like the military?”
“That’s not it,” he saw the shake of her head in the twilight. “A friend of mine… in the Field Forces… well… he died.”
“I’m sorry for your loss,” he said evenly. It was obvious she spoke of a romantic interest and not a family member.
“I’m fine.” She shrugged. “It was a while ago.”
She looked at him in the gathering dark. A smile.
“What was your question?”
“Hmmm? Oh, yes: I was going to ask how long you’ve lived here. Your voice only has traces of the local dialect.”
The smile fled and she looked straight ahead. Obviously the wrong question.
“I’m home.” She looked left.
Unlike the rest of the town that only had every fourth or fifth street light on, the complex of three buildings she looked to was bathed in light. After such a tumult and loss of life in their country, they must take their childrens’ lives very seriously.
St. Edwards Home for Children, he read.
She took two steps toward the half-closed metallic gate the cordoned off the small parking lot. She stopped.
“My kids would appreciate seeing someone from so far away. Europe is as real to them as the dark side of the moon.” She’d not bothered to turn and her voice was still quiet.
“It would be my pleasure, Miss Barrett,” he said, stepping next to her. “Shall we?”
There were already several kids in their mess hall. Lily had pointed to a table where the adults would sit. As his hostess had wandered off to the kitchen with their take-aways, Arpad introduced himself to the older couple already there. The Fitzhughs; like Lily, live-in caretakers.
The subject of his visit to Texas, followed by a lanky late-teen girl and boy about twelve, came from the kitchen. They carried what looked like platters of meatloaf and breadrolls. Lily had reheated their Rakott Krumpli, now on two plates. She set those before them taking a seat on the bench opposite him. He’d reached for his fork but stopped, realizing no one else was eating.
Eleven children. Six boys. Most of them seemed to be looking at the main door…
“I’m back!” The slightly older boy who worked at the café came bursting in. “I’d say ‘I’m sorry!’ but that’s be total bee ess!”
Arpad was aware that Lily’s left hand had moved to her hip but in a blur her palm was open towards the boy. With a *thud!* her K-bar knife was imbedded into the wall a foot from his face.
“Erik! Language!” Her voice reminded him of a glacier cracking in the high Alps.
The boy, Erik, assumed a pose of contrition. A former delinquent himself, Arpad knew he didn’t mean it at all.
“Sorry, Miss Barrett!”
“Find your seat!” As he did, she began.
“Bless us, O Lord, and these, thy gifts…”
The prayer was similar but slightly longer than what he once said in Hungarian. At its close all the children slapped their hands together and yelled “itadakimasu!” before immediately digging in.
Next to Lily, Mrs. Fitzhugh laughed at the look on his face.
“Traditions are funny things, Mister Rigó! Our Miss Lily is not one to leave things where she found them!”
“I see.” He did not.
Just as the oldest and youngest – the fastest eaters – where about finished, Lily stood and moved to the middle of dining room.
“We’ve a guest this evening! Mister Arpad Rigó, all the way from central Europe!”
“I thought Europe was wall-to-wall rapefugees and Africans!” That boy, Erik, shouted. Interestingly, Barrett did not shout back.
“Except for a handful of countries in central and east Europe, for once, Erik, you’re actually correct!”
The troublemaker beamed at this.
“Just like our young nation with an old history, Mister Rigó’s is in much the same place. Once everyone is finished eating, we’ll move to the chapel for a short talk by our guest followed by a few questions. What do we say?”
“Thank you Mister Rigó!” They chorused.
I like her smile.