Vasili stood still, staring at the doctor as if he did not comprehend what the doctor had just said.
“Vasili, I said your sister has Consumption. Do you know what that is?”
Vasili knew exactly what it was. He had heard about it many times from the men at the mill and he knew what it meant. He could only nod at the doctor; he could not find words and his throat tightened as if he were being throttled by strong hands.
“Do you understand what can happen to her now?”
Nadya spoke up, knowing that Vasili was not capable of talking right now. “Yes, we understand, Doctor.” She turned to Vasili and quietly said, “You need to sit down for a little while.”
To the doctor she asked, “What do we owe you Doctor?”
The doctor, knowing the plight of these immigrants and knowing the effect of his news, said, “I cannot take your money. You have been through enough tonight. I will check back in a couple of days, but you should be prepared for the worst.”
“Thank you Doctor, for your kindness. And be careful, there is a storm coming.” said Nadya.
She opened the door and as the doctor took a step into the doorway he turned, faced Vasili, and said, “I am truly sorry. There is just nothing that can be done for her.”
When the door closed, the silence in the room was overwhelming. Vasili stood in the same spot, but now his head was bent and he stared at his shoes, worn and battered. “How strange,” he thought, “that right now I am thinking about how to fix my shoes.”
Nadya led him by the arm to his chair in the living room, and gently pushed him down until he sat. She knelt next to the chair and took Vasili’s hand in hers. Everyone could tell when Vasili was angry. Nadya only worried when Vasili was silent. She had only seen him like this once before, when his mother died.
Nadya said, “There is nothing you could have done. You are a good man and perhaps God will reward you and restore Maria’s health. You have been a good brother to Maria all of her life. When she was lost in the valley in the mountains, it was you who found her. You said you would never give up on her. Do not give up now.”
“Nadya, I wish to be alone,” was the only thing he could say.
Nadya knew there was no consoling Vasili when he was like this. She moved her hand away, stood up while keeping her gaze on Vasili, then turned and went into Maria’s bedroom.
As soon as Nadya left the room, Vasili’s eyes filled with tears. “What have I done?” he thought. “I thought I knew better than Father, but I should have listened to him. Why did she have to get sick? I promised Father, her, and God that I would take care of her, and I have failed miserably. I have no honor.”
Vasili remembered his mother and how helpless he felt as she lay dying. If it had not been for him and his brothers and sisters she would have lived. She died slowly from hunger, and none of the children realized that she did not eat so that they could. Vasili wiped his eyes with his handkerchief as he thought of all the times he had complained to his mother about being hungry. “What a fool,” he whispered.
He remembered now his father, who he left to run the small farm with only his brother Havel to help. Havel was barely 17 years old and knew nothing. “I have ruined too many lives,” Vasili thought. “I have ruined too many lives.”
“Now I have led Maria here,” he thought, “and here she will die. I deserve Your punishment God. Punish me for what I have done to this family.”
The pain in his head was almost unbearable; the pain in his soul was permanent. He stood up, went to the kitchen, and poured a large glass of vodka. He sat back down in the living room chair and drained the vodka in two drinks. But he knew that the liquor could not wash away the guilt he was feeling, nor could it stop the self-pity as he desired. Now he could remember things as clearly as if they just happened.
When they were young, Vasili would sit near the fireplace and tell Maria tales of Baba Yaga to make her scared, and just as he would get to the worst part of the story, he would jump up at Maria and make her scream. Then they would both fall into fits of laughter.
One hunting day, Maria begged Vasili to take her with him.
“It is not trip for a girl,” said Vasili. “It is dirty and when I shoot something you will see the blood.” Vasili was doing his best to make her think the worst of the trip so she would not go.
But Maria could always get Vasili to give in to her, and he relented. He told her he would teach her how to hunt, but when they got to the mountains she only seemed interested in picking the wildflowers growing in abundance on the hillsides and next to the streams.
“Vasili!” she shouted. “Come see what I have found!”
Vasili, trying to stay silent for the hunt, came quickly to see what she was fussing about, and to tell her to be quiet. When he saw she was pointing to a field of flowers, he said, “This is your first time hunting, and it will be your last!” His voice echoed from wall to wall down the valley.
But he did not mean it. He had Maria with him on most of his hunting trips after that because she was full of life and joy.
Maria’s crying brought Vasili out of his trance and back to the apartment. He could hear Nadya in the Maria’s bedroom trying to comfort Maria. But Maria could not be comforted.
Running into Maria’s bedroom, Vasili knelt beside Maria’s bed, bowed his head, and said, “This is all my fault. All of it. If we had stayed at home I could be farming and you, you could be a wife by now and living happily in your own home. Instead, I got you sick.”
Maria was weak, but she placed her hand on Vasili’s head and quietly said, “No, dear brother, this is not your fault. I wanted to be here and I am the one that talked Father into allowing it, remember?”
Vasili could only nod his head in silent acceptance. He knelt that way for a few minutes, then said, “I will ask Father Andras to visit you and give you the blessing for the sick.”
Maria answered, “Perhaps you should ask for Posledné rituály.”
“No, this is not the time for Last Rites!” said Vasili. “I do not allow it.”
Nadya had been silent until now. She placed her hand on his shoulder and quietly said, “Vasili, this is not your decision to make. It is up to God to decide.”
Vasili recoiled slightly from her touch and replied, “God cannot have her yet.”
Maria looked at Vasili, her blue eyes full of sympathy for her strong brother. “It is as Nadya says, my wonderful brother,” said Maria. “I am sad if I have to leave you, but it is God’s will.”
“There must be a way to help you,” answered Vasili.
“What did the doctor tell you?” asked Maria.
Vasili hesitated, then said, “It does not matter, he does not know everything.”
“He told you I was going to die, did he not?” said Maria in a matter-of-fact tone.
“Vasili, please stop and listen to me,” Maria demanded. “There is only one thing I am going to ask of you. But you must do this one thing for me.”
“Of course I will do anything you ask,” Vasili answered.
“Please, take me home. I must see Father before I die. Please Vasili.”