The light which often shined through the window was a pale yellow, with a reflection of our golden field creeping in. The house was common- of typical nature: tan with a faint haze that breezed above. We had five horses, a carriage of foals, and cows that were stationed near the well. The tall well oversaw the cultivation of the greened vast hills.
Albeit the cobbled walls were frequented by damage, the interior was broken, with a crumbled door, followed by a tight hallway with dusty squeezed chairs which led to a kitchen with a chipped table and coarse glassware, our family was together. The room which I shared with my older brother, Tomasz, had several carpets and had a single bed which we rotated. Though we had no plumbing or electricity, the compliments of an urban life, my father would hope for that luxury from our savings from the war.
I started to read the newspaper when my father returned home with them. It was on the New York Stock Exchange and talked about climbing a mountain of money- stocks quadrupling. I don’t think we have much money. My father often talks about moving to America for a new start, but I like it here in Warsaw.
The birth of my younger brother, Piotr, allowed a sense of hope to come to our family. We had a local midwife come over to our home to oversee the laboring process. They fed my mother alcohol to ease the process because we couldn’t afford the new ether and chloroform anesthetics. I found that the house was more lively: where my mother seemed to be happier, albeit stressed. She grasped on Piotr gently, rocking, and I saw her smile for the first time in a long time.
We cleared out the new field of rye that was right of our beets. The government didn’t tell, but they cut our supplemental finances after the war. We were producing record for a couple years when the war was ongoing, and we were well-compensated for it. And after it ended, we were still producing high and the ball dropped. Inflation was high and rising, and it took three times our rye to get the same amount as before.
It was winter now and my father was going to stay home for a while. The weather was especially terrible, the white sleet clawing the walls and the snow rattling the door. My mother had a heavy cough and we separated her in a different room for fear of Piotr becoming ill, though she insisted that she was fine.
March was still cold and our leeks and claytonia were frozen. Tomasz and I had to sell one of our chairs to our neighbors the other day for potatoes.
Piotr couldn’t sleep. He was thirsty. I saw the white puddle on the windowsill. And it was cold, the snow impaled the glass frame and the atmosphere spun with the scent of quiet. He had the bed that day and he asked me if there was water in the house, but I told him no. I fell asleep.
Piotr trudged through the suffocated tunnel and creaked open the door and stumbled to the well. The snow was blinding and the ice crushed him. His feet sank into the blank as if he were in an ocean. He wheeled the shattered bucket upwards and grabbed a shard of ice which lay bitter and sharp.
As he began back his trek to the home, his legs felt numb as he marched through the heavy icefall. Piotr’s breath weakened as his crippled legs could stand no longer. His ravenous cough echoed into the empty abyss of white. And then his body would give. Silence again.
I didn’t see Piotr when I woke up, which was strange because he usually slept longer than I did. I checked outside the door and went behind the house, and I saw him in the snow. I thought he was making snow angels, especially because we had gone to the church last month- but he wasn’t moving.
I hastily carried him inside and called for my father who was on the fields, and my mother who was inside the house. His body was pale- and blue, and ice crystallized around his eyes. His arms were steel, hardened and tough, and his hands were grasped onto a shard of ice- frozen onto him.
My father listened and felt for a heartbeat within him- and found it. My mother took the kerosene lamp and placed it next to Piotr. We took out the furniture and set him next to the fireplace, and it flickered on with the burning of charcoal.
We asked our neighbors to bring a doctor from the city over for Piotr. It was urgent.
Piotr was still unconscious by the time the doctor arrived at our home. He charged us 40 złotych before he worked, and we paid it, enough to equal 3 sheep, but we would’ve paid any price. They moved to heat up a cloth of his and placed it on Piotr. The doctor took off Piotr’s clothes, which were soaked in snow. He turned Piotr onto his back and prepared a long cloth, placing it underneath him, then crossed it over his chest. He told my father to pull on one side and him on the other, and said it would force air into his lungs, and revive him. A breath was drawn.
New news. The markets crashed. Economic crisis. I didn’t think anything of it.
The harvests have been bad for years. We were producing well during and a little after the war, and then we crashed in the drought. We’ve always plowed our fields with horses and a gang plow, but we’ve been saving up our money for years now, and when we get more money, we’ll sell our horses so we could afford one of the new tractors. If we get one of the 27-horsepower tractors with the moldboard plow, they advertise that it plows an acre in only 30 minutes, but if we save up enough for a 35-horsepower one, they say it clears that same acre in only 15 minutes- then we’ll be able to get a larger harvest! But the yields of our celeriac and cress declined this year and our cabbage the year before. We were trying to make back our money after we spent too.
We bought the new radio and a phonograph a few weeks back too, and they punched a hole in our savings.
Our money took a turn for the worst, alongside with everyone else too.
Winter was approaching again and Tomasz and I had to buy kerosene and matches for the cold. We took the horse cart with some of our produce to Warsaw in hopes to sell some for money. Tomasz and I also were trying to find some entertainment since the house has been quiet for awhile. We had to quit the radio monthly subscription because the price rose to 3 złotych- and we decided it wasn’t worth it, if we wanted to be saving.
As we approached Warsaw, many lay on the dirt, praying, or rather begging, to God for their daily bread, and they saw us. We charged them the typical price for our products, but they were unwilling to pay it. Already last month we had to reduce our price, but again- now down to 10 groszy from 30 for a loaf of rye. And down to 14 groszy from 26 last year for a liter of milk. 14 groszy.
Kerosene was absurd- 15 złotych for a gallon. The merchant wouldn’t budge on the price. We tried the matches, and our luck was equally terrible. We used to use crude coal several years ago, since back then there were a lot of exports from Britain so it was cheaper, so now we tried the coal again and it was 13 złotych for roughly the same amount as the kerosene- better than the former. Tomasz was also able to talk down the merchant into lowering the price, and then we purchased them for 8 instead.
Finally. A good harvest. A record that we haven’t seen in years. Our leeks and claytonia lasted the winter and we had great yields. The cress and rhubarb that we planted in the spring was astonishing, and they grew faster than before. Our cabbage and beetroot were at their prime- larger than before, and better tasting. The August harvest granted us a grand amount of rye and winter wheat, after we started seeding in September. I had a feeling that this year was going to be legendary after how much the wheat began flowering in June.
We decided to celebrate and my father told me, Piotr, and Tomasz to buy a few portions of beef from the city, so we’ll be able to have something special for just one weekend. We’ve been traveling to the cities other than Warsaw for the past couple of years now, for hope of better product pricing. This time, we decided to go to Sokołów Podlaski and we took our horse cart and filled it. Once there, we were there, our selling prices were still low, down to worse, 8 groszy for a rye loaf and we were able to reach only 11 groszy for cabbage, but with the harvest, we were able to sell at a higher quantity.
One man remained to complain about his finances as we passed. He desired for a revolt or a war, anything that could cleanse the economy again. How the economy has hyperinflated and he isn’t able to support his dying family with the expenses of survival commodities and how he could barely sell his produce- barely 4 gr for a loaf. I had higher hopes though for us, after this better harvest.
WE HAVE QUICKLY MOBILIZED THE GRAND POLISH ARMY AND WE REMAIN TO HOLD STRONG AGAINST THE WEAKENED GERMAN SCUM! WE HAVE INFLICTED MANY CASUALTIES ON THE FRONTLINES AND WE AWAIT ALLY REINFORCEMENT!
News from the radio filled the atmosphere with a joyous air. My mother was most particularly hopeful upon the delivery of this message. She suggested that after this small German conflict, the farm might be able to supplement Polish countermeasures, which would help send Piotr, Tomasz, and myself to the university in Warsaw.
My father and my two brothers immediately began work on a new cabbage field north of the rye while my mother began to make preparations for transporting our produce. I was tasked with traveling to Białystok with our horse cart and a batch of rye loaves, beetroot, and cabbage in order to determine the current agricultural war demands. I hope I’ll be able to sell for high and maybe soon we’ll be able to afford the new 27-horsepower tractor or even the 35.
Białystok was grandiose. The entirety of the streets were paved with fresh stone and cement, markets were lined across the town, resembling a bazaar of sorts. Lively chatter resounded from the streets, with auctioneers and merchants alike advertising their arrays of industrialized products. Białystok was a city unlike Warsaw or Sokołów Podlaski- it was alive, as if the economic collapse never happened.
The rye bread sold within the first day, with the beetroots and cabbage quickly following. Prices and the demand for produce were significantly higher than many years previous. If we’re able to transport all our produce over, we’d be able to afford our university tuition in addition to the 35-horsepower tractor and the moldboard plow.
The light which had shone through the shattered window was a blackened red, with reflection of fields aflame. The house no longer resembled one of a typical nature. It now stood as a cobbled frame, an ashen char which emitted a foul pollute that reigned. The well shed mudded tears as its cobbled neck was slit. The fractured well now oversaw a ruination.
Albeit the cobbled frames still held, the interior was splintered: a frame with no door, a hallway without a hall, and staggered timber and glass lay in the remains of what was once the kitchen. The room which I once shared with my brothers now housed the wreckage of the single bed.
The pale corpse of what was once my mother lay near our pushcart aflame, which carried near two dozens of rye loaves- charred beyond recognition.
My father grasped onto the necklace of his wife of twenty-eight years and in his other hand, a refurbished carbine. He had been immobilized. Legs were crushed by the treads of a Panzer near his wife’s body and there laid a single hole in his chest.
Across the barren field laid my brothers. Piotr and Tomasz. Tomasz had clutched onto his older hunting rifle- an attempt at a land stand, before it was destroyed, and his body struck with seven bullets. Piotr laid with his palms outwards, his pale face, and body stiff as steel, hardened like ice. And his chest impaled and shattered by eighteen bullets.
I screamed against the silence.