She was in the next room, nursing their baby when she heard him hitting his mother. And she realized he wasn't the man she assumed he was: gentle, loving, devoted to his beloved mother, incapable of such an act of violence. She heard her mother-in-law's door wrenched open and then slammed shut. He burst into their room, face flushed, breathing heavily. She hesitated to speak, the baby had been nearly asleep, but was now anxiously sucking, wide awake with round eyes darting around his mother's face. Their 4 year old daughter was playing with her favorite dolls in the safety of her brother's play pen. At 9 months he was a skilled crawler and clever at figuring out how to get his sister's interesting toys and books. Consequently, the play pen was a place she could safely entertain herself with worrying about his intrusion. She had stopped dressing the dolls and was sitting quietly, while listening to her beloved Babcias's quiet sobbing from the next room. No one spoke.
"Did you hit your mother?"
"She wouldn't stop talking," he defended himself.
"It's her fault, she was asking for it. I told her to be quiet but she wouldn't. She got what she deserved."
The woman was shocked at his lack of regret, and his conviction that he had done the right thing. He busied himself at the piano, shuffling through papers without noticing their daughter
watching him. She was nearly motionless, simply listening as if invisible. Her mother caught her eye and held her gaze. How many times had the girl been told not to hit her brother, even when he tore the heads off her dolls. Even when he grabbed her toys and destroyed her doll house. Wasn't that why she had set up her things in the play pen, originally bought to contain the male toddler.
"I'm not convinced that hitting your Mum was your best option."
"She's not hurt. She probably didn't even feel it through all her layers of fat. All she had to do was stop talking. She was asking for it."
The woman spoke softly, gently, hoping he would calm down, and notice the child listening intently.
"An apology seems like a good idea."
I'm not sorry!" he snapped slamming musical scores down on the piano. "And it wasn't my fault: I warned her to stop talking."
"It will be a long time before she talks to you again."
He looked up, directly into his wife's eyes, "Good, then I've accomplished my goal."
He left the room.
The little girl with blond ringlets crawled out of the play pen, away from the dolls and her mother scooped her up with her free arm. The baby was drowsy, nearly asleep in spite of the drama unfolding around him. These two children were her whole world. Homeless, living in Krakow with her mother in law. Confused by the language and the customs, her children were her refuge, her precious jewels, her chance to confirm the value of her existence. Until they entered her life she had passions, dreams mixed with self doubt and more than a little self hatred. When she first held her daughter, all her self doubt melted away, leaving only love and devotion. This amazing creature enchanted her, made her want to be a better person, more gentle and kind. She was determined to be my conscious about parenting than her own parents had been with their opportunity to parent. She shifted the sleeping baby to the old sofa and took the girl on her lap, enclosing her in her arms. She was shaking. Sensitive from birth, she appeared to be able to read her mother's mind. Rocking her tenderly, the girl gradually relaxed and closed her eyes.
The faint hum of the coffee grinder came from the kitchen, followed by the fragrance of freshly ground coffee. The whistle of the tea kettle sounded next. The late afternoon sunlight faded and she quietly sang her children's favorite lullaby, wondering, and praying they were safe.