It was, in the end, at least what one might say was a worthy effort. Anna Viorka had gambled upon Alan Shore and the American legal system, and lost heroically, whatever comfort that was. But at least she'd tried.
Needless to say, of course, the plane ride home was chilly. Anna sat slumped to the side against her window, eyes drooped, remembering the sad eyes of the man who tried to defend her case to the American justice system; her parents simply referred to her behavior as 'sulking' and, despite her mother's so-called enlightenment and education, shook their heads at such a frivolous country as America that put such ideas in the girl's head. Children, however, they knew, had no resolve. Reality would wear her down and she would soon accept the reality of the situation. Anna herself wondered how long it would take to crush her spirit. A twelve-year-old, she surmised, only has so much.
Anna's mother and father decided between themselves not to mention the incident when they returned home, partly not to embarrass Anna in front of their community and partly to avoid the shame such a thing might cause. They feared to taint themselves and her with the idea that the decadent ways of the West might shake the foundation of their identity as roma; they sighed at their wayward daughter, and decided that the upcoming marriage to their choice of husband, a boy named Tchiavolo Russi, would settle her down. Even so, what the American lawyer, Alan Shore, said to them ate a little at the back of their minds; despite their protestations that sex would not take place if the girl didn't want it, how could she stop a boy who was bigger and stronger than she was? They decided, without speaking it aloud, that it was simply a thing they wouldn't think about, consoling themselves that this is what the roma had done for hundreds of years. It was their history. It was their way. Besides, it had been so hard for them to find a husband. Who wants a wife who was raised in America with all their dangerous ideas? Tchiavolo Russi was the youngest child of a family with six boys and four girls. He was skinny, even a little slender, and not very tall, and was altogether barely as big as she was. He was, however, rambunctious as any of his siblings or classmates in school and generally found himself in trouble at one time or another. At their first meeting he'd leered at Anna with a smirk on his face and made many crude remarks, leaving a poor first impression with the bride-to-be. Still! Most considered it a good match. Marriage would settle them both.
Anna's last demonstration of spirit occurred just before the wedding at the entrance to the chapel. She'd screamed, she'd cried, she'd begged and pleaded, just as her sister had done before her wedding. It was only natural. They'd taken her to a quiet room and let her scream herself hoarse and exhausted, before taking her back again, red-faced, eyes streaked with tears, but now silent. The groom, usually so glibly coarse, merely stared straight ahead and recited his vows as woodenly as did she. In a part of her not now deadened and numb, Anna wondered if he would take out his anger at her behavior in their marriage bed. Neither one acted terribly happy at the reception, which inspired a great deal of 'awwwwwwww's and catcalls, the boy getting his hair mussed repeatedly by older, wiser adults. Neither one would raise their eyes to look at each other. Anna wondered, just for a moment, if she'd hurt the boy's feelings. In the next moment, she wondered - who cares? My life is over.
His spirits seemed to recover just before he retired to their wedding chamber. He'd smirked and waggled his eyes and told his brothers he was locking the door. No matter what happened, he told them, or what they heard, that the door was not to be opened until the next day when they'd pass out the bloody sheets to wave in the air, showing the community that the marriage had been consummated. His brothers all smirked right back at him, patting him on the back and wishing him well. Anna overheard all of it.
Sitting up, curled in a fetal position at the edge of the bed, the new Anna Russi watched soundlessly as the boy entered the room and took off his jacket. She made no move as he walked over to the marriage bed; but instead of jumping on it, or ordering her roughly, or any such thing, he simply kneeled down at the edge of the bed. "I need your help," her husband told her.
She made no move, or sound; her breathing was shallow. There was the sound of a match striking, and a candle was lit next to the bed, at which point he turned back to her, all trace of his earlier smirks and leers vanished utterly. "Please," he told her, hands open. "I don't want this marriage any more than you do. My parents forced me into it. I was only rude to you so your parents wouldn't make us go through with it, but they did anyway. Now we have to convince them we slept together. If we do that, they won't bother us and they'll leave us alone."
Anna listened as he spoke, hardly daring to believe what she was hearing. Tchiavolo - "call me Chavy, by the way" - wasn't interested in marriage either, wasn't interested in the ways of the roma, had absolutely no use for their traditions or their people or the continuation of their culture. "What good is it, if it makes everyone unhappy?"
Anna still refused to speak to him, but at this point her head was turned, she stared at him like a trapped rabbit, albeit curiously, hardly daring to show any hope in the fear that the boy would smirk, chuckle, and say 'funny joke, huh? Now get your clothes off, bitch.' But he didn't. "I'm going to pull out my knife," he told her, holding up a hand. "Please don't be scared. I promise you I won't hurt you." Instead of a choori, a traditional gypsy knife, he withdrew a Swiss Army Knife. "My uncle gave this to me once," he told her. "From a catalog. I was crushed when he told me he hadn't really been to Switzerland. They say it's very beautiful." Gritting his teeth, to her shock, he opened the largest blade, and grasped it with his palm, sliding it down to open a deep gash. "To show you I'm sincere," he grunted, "I offer you my blood." He pulled the still-dripping knife from his palm, now covered in red in the dim candlelight. Without cleaning the blade, he offered it to her. "I make you a promise; this marriage isn't real. We never consummate it. We work together and one day I promise we will get out of this horrible place."
She made no move toward him, simply stared at him wide-eyed. It was too much to hope for. "You have no one else you can trust," he told her, as his blood dripped from his palm. "Will you trust me?"
Without a word, arm twitching with her hesitation, she reached forward to take the knife from his hand. Without taking her eyes from his face, she grasped the handle white-knuckled, brought the knife down and dug it into her own palm, face clenching with the pain as she slid the blade from the underside of her knuckles to the heel. When she was finished, he held up his hand. She put her palm against his and they clenched fingers, clutching each other's hand tightly for a long moment. He blinked in surprise at the force of her grip, so great was her desperation to believe this was real. "Our blood," he said, "our pact, is stronger than this marriage. And stronger than those who did this to us." He squeezed her hand back, blood dripping on the bedsheets, as he stared at her, eyes fierce and determined. "Now," he said after a moment. "Show me how to spread the blood on the sheets, like the way it was for your sister."
After stashing the bloodstained sheets in the corner of the room - a rather ghoulish form of fingerpainting, Anna thought to herself - they'd each torn the pillowcases into small strips with which to bandage their hands. After that they figured the ought to spend a few minutes jumping up and down on the bed on their knees, screaming at the top of their lungs, at least until Anna collapsed in giggle fits and Chavy was gasping with exhaustion. Eventually they sat at the edge of the bed, helping themselves to the baskets of fruits and things that were donated by the clan families for the occasion. "So what do we do?" she asked him finally, munching on an orange wedge with her unbandaged hand.
"I've been thinking about that," he replied, biting into an apple. "I heard what happened to you in America. It's terrible. In the old days under Ceaucescu you could just say you wanted to defect and you would be a hero, not just a runaway child."
"A man tried to help me," she said morosely, perching her cheek on her fist, elbow on her knee. "In America a person is still a child until they are 18. Parents can do what they like."
Chavy bobbed his head in a nod. "That's right, but now there is a person who has more rights than they," he told her. "Your husband! The American legal system wouldn't dare interfere with the rights of a husband over his wife."
She looked up and stared at him, trying to understand what it was he just said. "You're going to help me get back?" she asked, open-mouthed.
He nodded. "Of course," he told her. "We will both need jobs. I'll work with my father and brothers in the fish cannery. You could work in a store... or at the university?" He looked at her. "Your mother is a professor and everything. Tell her we need money to start a family. We save all our money carefully and live off our parents for as long as we can. Eventually we will have enough for plane tickets." He shrugged. "It's not much of a plan," he admitted with a wan smile, bonking his head with a fist. "We will both have to be good actors, and think it up as we go."
"You intend to come to America with me?" she asked him, eyes narrowing. He shook his head from side to side. "Where will you go then?"
An odd light came into his eye as he leaned forward. "You may love where you grew up in America, and New York City and all that sort of thing. But I'm going to Paris," he stated with a nod. She raised her eyebrows. "It's the city of Hemingway," he went on, "and Proust, and Balzac, and Flaubert, and Sartre, and Debussy; it's the most beautiful city in the world! I want to sit in a cafe on the Champs Elysses and watch the snooty girls in sunglasses and leather jackets with their noses in the air." He smiled, then made a thoughtful face and shrugged. "I will work as a waiter, or a dockhand, or whatever work I can find. Perhaps meet a rich French Jewish girl and have lots of adventures." His smile returned. She wrinkled her nose and grinned at him, at the passion for his dreams and the life in his eyes.
The next day there were cheers as her father waved the bloody sheets in front of the crowd; even though it was blood from their hands, it was still a little humiliating for Anna, even though she hugged to herself the tiny secret of what had really happened. That maybe the future won't be so terrible. She had found someone else with a dream as large as hers and just as much determination to realize it. At one point her mother and father noticed her bandaged hand, and asked her how it happened, leaving her at a momentary loss for words.
Suddenly Chavy's arm was around her shoulders. "Well, your little hellcat put up a real fight," he said with the sneer she had first known him for once again on his lips, more deeply than she had ever seen it. "But she came around in the end. Didn't you, hmm?" Anna, instinctively playing her part, dropped her eyes and let abject shame and despair spread across her face.
His father, standing nearby, clapped him on the back in immense pride, beaming happily. "That's my boy!" he crowed.
Anna's parents, however, looked positively mortified, but said nothing and eventually withdrew.
When they were alone, however, Anna whacked him across the shoulder. "How could you do that!" she yelled at him with a glare, as he stared at her in surprise. "How could you make my parents feel that way? How could you humiliate me like that?!"
"If we don't, they will always be watching us!" he yelled back. "They'll suspect our plans and they'll decide the bloody sheets were a lie. They'll do something. They'll force us somehow!" His arms waved. But she wouldn't be mollified. That night, as she slept in the bed and he slept on the floor, she still refused to speak to him.
Eventually, in the dark of the night, she lifted up from the bed, frowning down at him. "Your father was certainly pleased with you," she said, almost by way of accusation.
"My father's a pig," he murmured back at her, not moving from where he lay. "He forced my mother every day of her life. If my brothers did not behave exactly like him, he would beat them. If my sisters refused to do everything he said, he would beat them too." He didn't say anything more. Eventually she figured he must be asleep. The next day they each said they were sorry, and shook hands, the scars on their palms touching.
The newlyweds lived at Anna's parents' house, since they had more room and Chavy's family house was overcrowded as it was. They didn't get much of a honeymoon. A few days later Chavy put on his hat and walked off to the cannery, while Anna prevailed upon her mother to get her a job at the university in Bucharest as a clerk in the library. Days passed and the couple saved as much as they could. "It's to start a family," they both repeated to her parents as often as possible. "A great big roma family of grandchildren." Chavy's father was immensely pleased - his youngest had always been his favorite. So much like him and always so obedient, even if the boy was a little skinny. Anna's mother and father, however, wondered at this change in their daughter. Going from rebellious girl to settled housewife in such a short time. She always now took part in roma religious services and community activities, which before she'd found so boring. Whenever it became too tiresome they would each look at the angry scar on their palms, and it would renew their sense of purpose. Their stash of money grew, slowly but surely, but tickets on the airplane were so expensive and their goal was still so far away.
Little did Anna's mother realize that the change in her daughter's behavior was due directly to the influence of the girl's supposedly boorish husband. "We must work hard to be like everyone else," he'd told her one night. "Take part in things they take part in, those things that make us roma, but not too much though. We must do everything half-heartedly, like all the rest of them do, even though they always go on about family and continuing the ways of our ancestors. We don't want to arouse suspicion." Anna wondered at how good she was becoming at lying, even if it was in a good cause, and even if it was only to those who had done her injury. She wondered if her moral virtue would ever recover. She was a very serious twelve, then thirteen, then fourteen year old.
Anna had never forbidden Chavy from taking a side of the bed. Eventually he simply got tired of the floor, and finally they slept in the same bed together, even if they never touched, except when his arm would flop across her face or her feet kicked his leg while fast asleep. "Also you snore," they both said to each other. "No, I don't! You do!"
At night before sleeping Anna would read legal texts she'd smuggled from the library. "When I go to America," she told Chavy, "I'm going to be a paralegal working for Mr. Alan Shore of Boston, Massachusetts. One day I will get my law degree and he and I will be partners in a prestigious law firm. On weekends we shall go for walks along the Charles River and talk about life and philosophy."
"When I am a wealthy shipping magnate in Marseille I will hire you to establish my American branch," he'd replied, looking up from a copy of a text by Gaston Leroux she'd smuggled out of the library as well, for him. Once again they shook hands, once again their scars touched one another.
Sometimes at night he would read to her from some of his books, by Victor Hugo or whoever else, and once he excitedly showed her pictures in a large book with glossy pages by an artist named Toulouse-Lautrec; but the words put her to sleep, and to her the pictures all seemed utterly grotesque. On the other hand, whenever she would tell him about some curious and fascinating thing she'd found in books about US contract law, it was as if she'd fed him sleeping pills, he was unconscious so fast. How could anyone not find it interesting? The law was this magnificent game of logic and skill, of interlocking numbers, events, facts and concepts that formed delicate crystalline structures held together only by reason. A legal brief was a work of art, one that had impact, one that was real, and more than just bizarre pictures in a dusty gallery or some effete novelist moaning about decadent women who played with his mind or had affairs with other men. And every time she would read about the law, she felt a little closer to Mr. Alan Shore of Boston, Massachusetts, who had worked so hard to try to help her be free.
Being in such close proximity with another person, especially when so young, very often made them get on each other's nerves, and they would often have screaming fights, mostly about the smallest and most ridiculous things imaginable. This actually put the minds of Anna's parents more at ease, as they sounded more like a married couple. But all the two children had to do would be to look at the nasty red scar on their palms, clasp their hands, and remember why it was they struggled so hard. Most of the time however they talked, and planned, and added up figures, and contemplated the future. One night, she was seized by a strange sense of closeness to this person beside her; the girl bit her lip, and smiled to herself, and stole a glance at the prone form with its back facing her. She reached over to squeeze his shoulder, just once, but he pretended to be asleep. She pursed her lips in her usual glum half-grin, before turning over herself to go to sleep. The boy's eyes, however, remained wide the whole night.
Eventually Anna's mother, a not un-intelligent woman, decided the girl was up to something, she just didn't know what that might be. One snowy day in winter when the girl had returned from her job at the library, Anna's mother and father, and some of the other men and women of the kris, the local roma community, were waiting and confronted her about her odd behavior. "Where is this family you two say you're going to start?" she demanded. Her anger wasn't abated by Anna's protests, all things Chavy had told her to say, that they were trying very hard, that they expected a big family with lots of plump little grandchildren for their parents to play with, etcetera. Finally Anna's mother - the educated, modern university professor - further demanded that the girl strip down, so that she could inspect the girl's maidenhead to make sure it wasn't intact, a suggestion that shocked Anna into temporary immobility.
"No!" said the girl finally, backing away, holding up her American legal books as if to ward off the older woman.
"What are you doing reading those books, anyway?" her mother barked as she advanced. "This is about that lawyer of yours in America, isn't it!"
"Get away from me!" Anna yelled. "You're the one who made me marry! Now my husband is the only one who has the right to see me that way!"
"I'm still your mother," the woman replied, as two of the other women moved to flank Anna to seize her arms. Indecision tore through Anna as she dropped her books, trying to summon the necessary nerve to defend herself against her mother.
As it turned out, she didn't need to; at that moment Chavy, returning from work, barged into the room, viciously slapped Anna's mother across the face and pushed her down, grabbing Anna by the arm and pulling her behind him. His fists balled as his eyes swept the room from side to side, burning with fury, seeing red. Anna pressed against his back, more out of shock than anything else. "Never touch her again," he growled, and despite his comparatively small size his presence filled the room. Anna's father had jumped to his feet to rush to his wife's side when she hit the floor, following which he advanced on Chavy threateningly. The boy didn't move, merely stared into his eyes. "One after the other, or at the same time," he declared in an even tone. "The next one who lays a hand on her will lose it." After a tense moment, Anna's father backed down, moving to help his wife up from the floor; Chavy backed out of the room, Anna behind him.
"They suspect us," Anna told him that night in their room. Refusing to go downstairs to eat with the family, Chavy and Anna shared sandwiches on top of their bed. "They know something is wrong, they just don't know what. What do we do?"
Chavy picked at his lip and remained silent. That night he put a hand on her shoulder and woke her up, finger against his lips by the light of the winter moon. They gathered what meager possessions they had in two small bags and crept downstairs, hand-in-hand, and out the door. "Take this," Chavy told her as they walked across the city, trying not to shiver from the cold in their bones, the falling snow covering the ground. "I have a school friend in the mafiya. Our families won't even know to speak to him; he's Vlach, not roma, an outsider." Anna took a small red booklet, and opened it to discover a Hungarian passport, listing her name as Anna Maria Kovach, age 18.
"No one will ever believe I am 18!" she protested. The loss, forever, of both her maiden name and her ethnic heritage was hardly even a cause for concern. To be a Viorka and a roma had never caused her anything but grief.
"The passport says you are," he stated. "So you are."
Eventually she discovered that their final destination was the airport; all their money together was only enough for a single ticket with barely any left over. "We can't go!" she wailed. "It's not nearly enough!"
"It's enough for one," he told her. "We don't have a choice. We can't go back."
She stared into his eyes, which were still so determined. "But what about you?" she murmured, suddenly filled with the urge to cry which she desperately tried to repress.
He shook his head. "I'll work my way west on the railroad," he said. "They ask no questions down at the yards. Eventually I'll get to Paris! You'll see. One day I'll buy you a cup of coffee on the left bank of the Seine River and you and my rich and fashionable wife can talk about clothes or something."
She laughed in spite of herself. He bought her an airline ticket and split with her the little money that was left over; she saw while pretending to divide it evenly that he was giving her more, and wanted to say something, but couldn't. What if she needed it? Eventually he handed her her bag and pushed her through the security checkpoint. The last she ever saw of him was a wave of his hand. On the flight, she made yet another lie - she told the people sitting next to her on the plane that she was coming home to the US from the funeral of her Romanian grandmother, and that was the reason she was crying.
In the United States, she once again found Mr. Alan Shore of Boston, Massachusetts, who was very surprised to see her again, particularly as that evening he was right in the middle of entertaining female company of a romantic nature. When things had settled he discussed the situation with her, and they resolved that he would assist her in getting her GED and a student visa to help her remain in the country while she studied and worked for American citizenship. She was, after all, eighteen. She did her best to try and express her profound gratitude at all his help, and how much it meant to her, but he would just shrug. "Always happy to break a law," he told her through a Cheshire grin. He was a very interesting man indeed. She wondered if she loved him. All in all, things had worked out so much more wonderfully than she'd hoped.
Anna Kovach worked her way through law school, graduating with honors, and went to work with Alan Shore in his law firm, which, however, was different from the firm he'd worked for when she'd met him. "Creative differences," was all he would say regarding his former employers, wearing an enigmatic smile. Eventually they were to join with Alan Shore's larger-than-life mentor, the spectacular and spectacularly unpredictable Danny Crane, and launch a firm of their own. The notorious Boston legal practice of Crane, Kovach and Shore would gain a formidable - if vaguely nefarious - reputation, both for the tenacity of its lawyers and the flexibility of their ethics. When Alan Shore grew older as time went on, his young protege became the firm's star attorney, capable of recalling even the most obscure legal minutiae even while in the middle of courtroom proceedings. A lawyer that other lawyers feared, and clients prayed for. There was the occasional man in her life, but she really had not the time for such silly, romantic things.
One day, through an intermediary, she'd made contact with her American relatives, who were overjoyed to see that she was safe, and completely agreed with her reasons for running away, as well as being impressed at how far she'd come. They asked if she'd like to send any message to her parents, even to let them know she was alive. "No," she replied. "No I don't."
Tchiavolo Russi worked odd jobs on the railways in Eastern Europe for a time, eventually becoming an assistant steward on the famous Orient Express, which on one fine sunny day brought him to the very gates of Paris itself. At which point he'd slung his bag over his shoulder and walked away, hands in his pockets and his eyes in the air. Paris, of course, wasn't everything he thought it would be. After all, street crime was out of control. And it was kind of smelly. He did indeed work the docks, pushing barges up and down the Seine and the Rhone rivers (which were also smelly) and lived in a little flat in the Latin Quarter, where he met others of a similar temperament to himself and even managed to take a few classes in subjects he enjoyed. Eventually he managed a number of barges for a shipping company, carrying freight up and down the rivers of Paris and other cities, and was soon promoted to a position of some importance within the company itself.
One day when he wasn't at work or at classes, he decided that the time had come to fulfill his dream. He put on his sharpest clothes and strolled down to the Champs Elysses to have a cup of coffee or two, which he did, watching the people go by. While there, as chance would have it, he met the girl of his dreams, who was doing exactly the same thing; her name was Roxanne Leeson, a student at the Sorbonne. It was only later he discovered that she was from a wealthy Jewish family on the Rue des Rosiers, with a winery in the Loire valley and a summer house in Nice. "I was just kidding that time," he said to himself in amazement, upon making this discovery. Despite not wishing to pigeonhole this young woman into his childhood fantasy, he found himself unable to resist her for her own charms, and within less than a year she was Roxanne Russi. Within two years he'd become the owner of the company he had worked for, and had opened a branch in Marseille, where he bought a house for his new family. "Paris is so touristy now," they both said with a sigh, and shook their heads, grinning at one another.
As time went on, the scars on a matched pair of palms faded to a pale line. Every so often, at a random, reflective moment, perhaps looking out at the ocean while holding his young son's hand, Tchiavolo (shortened early on to Charles) Russi would occasionally give some thought to the girl he'd been forced to marry in Romania. Every so often, when she'd come home to her empty apartment with stacks of legal briefs to go over, or perhaps when tapping a pencil up and down on her desk, Anna Kovach would occasionally let her mind wander to the boy who'd helped her achieve the life she'd always wanted, a life lived on her own terms.
One day, Anna, finally listening to Alan's repeated insistence that she was working too hard, got the idea into her head to take a vacation to Paris, and then perhaps Eurail down to Marseille or Nice to see the sights. As chance would have it, Charles Russi one day decided to take himself and his family on a vacation to America, to see the fabled cities of New York and Boston.
Unfortunately, both of them left on the same week, and missed one another completely in passing.