(Kelly was written by Kelly Blanchard. Anna was written by Cindy Chen.)
Anna sat on the park bench in the Alexander Garden, looking out to the beautiful fountain located in the middle. She’d been sitting there for about an hour now, even though the interview wasn’t scheduled to happen until a little bit later. Isaak and Koyla, her four year old son, were on a separate outing: Anna figured that Isaak was probably giving Koyla a tour of the Conservatorie. She smiled at the thought; reminiscing at her own memories of roaming the hallways and talking to her professors.
They made this trip once a year. Back to Leningrad, to visit those they loved and those they lost. Isaak had the idea of moving back to Leningrad a few years ago, but the thought in itself was almost too much—because no matter where she walked, she saw what she had seen back in 1941—the dead people, cats, dogs… along the streets. She remembered the air sirens, and the shells that rained down. The fear and the emotions had dulled with time, but the memories hadn’t. And that was why they make the trip once a year: to remember.
Anna snapped out of her thoughts and stood up as a figure approached her. “Kelly?” she tilted her head slightly, in question.
Kelly smiled as she approached her. “That would be me. You’re Anna, right?” She offered her hand. “It’s nice to meet you.” Then she glimpsed around at the peaceful park, the smile still warming her face. “It’s nice here. Do you come here often?”
Anna offered her a warm smile in return, and shook her hand. “Yes.. it’s nice to meet you too,” she said. Taking a look around at the park, and shifting her gaze back to the fountain, she nodded in agreement and said, “Just once every year or so. I live in Moscow. But… this place brings back memories.”
“Would you care to walk, or should we sit?” Kelly motioned to the bench nearby. “And what kind of memories?”
“Let’s walk,” Anna suggested, and shrugged as Kelly inquired about the memories. “My father used to take me here when I was little,” she smiled at the fond memory, “I think it was mostly for him to think peacefully about his compositions, but he always asked me for my opinions too.” Anna recalled a specific time when she had come up with a counter melody for him while humming and walking. “And then during the war…well, this was the one of the only places in Leningrad that was untouched by the siege. Everyone was cold, starving…but nobody dared touch the trees in this garden, even though all of us needed the firewood.” She motioned at the tall trees off to the side.
Kelly’s gaze skimmed over the trees, but her mind determined two questions. She wasn’t sure which one to settle on. Knowing they would probably get back to the topic of the siege, Kelly decided to on the other topic first. “Your father wrote music? What kind?” She raised her brows as she glimpsed at Anna.
Anna nodded, and her eyes lit up. She loved talking about him…even if their relationship was one that was cut too short. Though when asked what kind of music her father wrote, specifically, she had no idea how to answer that. “My father was a…” she struggled to search for the right word. “…revolutionary.” That sounded awfully cliche, but that was, unfortunately, the best she could come up with. But there were truth in her words, as…well, his music got him in a whole lot of trouble. “Brilliant, really,” she said, “but my mother always said he was selfish for composing the way he did.” Anna lowered her gaze to the ground…knowing that she should probably elaborate on why, she added softly, “the government said he was an enemy of the state because his music was not patriotic. and that was the last time I saw him.” She kicked a pebble on the paved path, looking off to the side.
“That’s horrible. I’m really sorry.” Kelly felt bad. She could only imagine what that would have been like, imagined putting herself in the father’s shoes but being a writer instead. Amazing how people of the artists could become enemy of the state if the government became displeased with them. Kelly shook her head. That never led to happy thoughts, but she went on with her questions. “How old were you when that happened?”
“I was fifteen,” she replied, meeting Kelly’s gaze again. “And it’s alright. He has been acquitted since then, so his music is available to the public now, but it was just…” Anna’s voice trailed off once again as she tried to figure out how to best describe what she was thinking. She always better at articulating with music; not words. “…an experience,” she finished, though she knew that those two words did not do justice to what she and her family had been through. She remembered the days when she could no longer find her father’s music in the library and the Conservatorie, and the days when any proof of his existence had been wiped away.
“I understand.” And there was a lot to that experience for Anna, but Kelly didn’t want to dig up those memories or emotions. Instead, she focused on the other topic as they walked. “No, I was given some information to read about the siege you mentioned. Quite devastating.” Kelly shook her head at the descriptions she had read of it, but then glanced at Anna. “From your experience, what can you tell me of it?”
Anna stayed silent for a while at the next question, formulating her thoughts as she plodded along the path with Kelly. “It felt hopeless,” she finally said, taking a deep breath before continuing, “I saw dead bodies everywhere. And I was just constantly afraid…that the next person to die would be someone in my family.” Her voice caught, but she continued. “My mother and sister did die…and Isaak, who was my best friend at the time and my husband now, had to identify his mother’s body among the others that were lying on the side of the streets.” She shuddered at the memory. “But there were some good memories too, believe it or not,” she said, “playing the piano through air raids with Isaak, trying to drown out the sirens, for example.” Anna chuckled at the memory. “Foolish, I know. And could’ve killed us both. But I don’t think I cared much about that at the time,” she added.
“That makes sense in a odd but poetic way.” Even now Kelly could imagine the scene of such death, destruction, cold, and noise of the bombs, but then the sound of a piano playing amidst it all, and a small smile touched her lips. Quite poetic indeed.
Withdrawing from her thoughts, Kelly stared ahead at the path they walked. “How old were you during the siege?”
“You’re not the first one to say that,” Anna said, grinning, remembering how Isaak and her had figured out that Beethoven sonatas were best at blocking out the noise. They’d pick out the pieces almost methodically…a few bars would prove whether or not the song was enough to “beat” the wails of the sirens.
Anna stared at the path in front of them once again, and answered Kelly’s question. “I’d just turned seventeen when Germany declared war, and we didn’t evacuate until I was nineteen. Though 1941 and 1942—especially during the winter in between—was by far the worst.”
“I’m sorry to delve into those horrible memories, but…it’s part of my job description.” Kelly kicked a pebble off the sidewalk. “During that winter, when did you realize that you were all in a lot of trouble?” She then paused and glanced at Anna. “If that makes any sense.”
“It’s fine,” Anna nodded, fully aware what she was getting into when she agreed to do the interview. “I think nobody realized how much trouble we were in until it was too late,” she said. “I remember a lot of trains leaving Leningrad, and how my mother was going to get my siblings and I evacuated as soon as possible… but she decided against that when she received word that some of the trains were sent “straight to the Germans,” so to speak. The trains were shelled, and that was the last we’ve heard of the people on board. And then there was the warehouse fire, which depleted the food in the city, and of course, the air raid drills. There was a lot of things that happened that hinted at what was going to come, but nobody could do anything, and of course, we didn’t know how bad it was going be until we were just skin and bones and had a ration of only 100 grams of ration bread a day.”
Kelly wagged her head when she heard of this. It disgusted her—angered her how these people could have been treated like that, but she took a deep breath and let it go with an exhale. “So, how did you adjust to life after the siege?”
Anna shrugged a bit before looking back at Kelly. “Well, I would not say I had a terrible time adjusting to life afterwards…but I did miss my mother and Leningrad,” she motioned at the park around them. “After we evacuated, I stayed in Lokovo for a while before going to Moscow to finish my studies. I think most of the time after the siege, I just refused to think about it. It wasn’t hard.. people rarely talked about it anyways.” She shook her head. Life back then was different. There were specific things you weren’t supposed to talk about—things like her father, or the Siege, as it was a result of many mistakes on the government’s part–of course, that has changed since then, but it made repressing the memories of the Siege very easy.
Kelly nodded. This made sense. “And you said you married Isaak? And you have a wonderful family of your own now?” She smiled as she watched Anna’s face.
“Yes—a small family. Just me, Isaak, and my son, Kolya. Anna nodded again, a smile spreading across her face at the mention of her husband and son. They were, well, her entire world. The siege had made hers and Isaak’s bond stronger, closer. Whereas they were best friends before the siege, they found themselves to be inseparable afterwards.
“So you mentioned how you were best friends with Isaak during the siege and such, but how did the two of you first meet?” Kelly cast her a look. Finally they came to a bench in a shaded area, and Kelly took a seat. She wanted to soak up this place rather than simply passing through it. It was lovely here indeed.
“Yes.. well, he lived in the apartment downstairs from mine,” Anna explained, remembering the day when her mother took her to welcome Isaak and his family. “Then we were accepted to the Leningrad Conservatorie at about the same time, and so we were classmates. We were close, but if you’d suggested that we would be married years later, I’d say that you’re crazy.” Anna chuckled as she followed Kelly’s example and sat down on the bench. A breeze came by, and Anna tucked a stray piece of her dark brown hair back behind her ears.
“And when was the one time that you realized there was something…deeper between the two of you?”
Anna chuckled again. These questions were drastically different from the ones before. “There were hints, but nothing really obvious. I think Isaak realized there was something even before the Siege. He asked me to several events that, now that I think about it, were more like dates than anything else,” she explained, remembering, more specifically the time when Isaak had invited her to the Philharmonic. “For me, it was after the Siege. You see every part of someone through an experience like that. And I just kind of… knew he was the one I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.”
A warm smile touched Kelly’s lips, and she nodded. “That is a wonderful thing indeed.” Then she looked out at the grassy area of the park where a few trees stood and provided shade. Some couples walked the path they had been on, children ran around and played. It was peaceful here. Kelly couldn’t imagine the horror that Anna had once described, but she was glad to see how life turned around.
However, Kelly sighed—knowing her time here was short. “I need to get going soon, but one final question. You’ve endured much hardship and witness horrible things, and you’ve come out of it stronger. What is your hopes and dreams for the future” She shifted her gaze back to Anna to observe her.
A smile graced her lips as Kelly asked the question. She remembered the days when her only hopes and dreams were to survive another day and make it out of Leningrad. Sometimes not even that. Having hopes and dreams for the future seemed like an luxury now. “To watch my son grow up, and hope that he doesn’t have to go through what I did,” she nodded. “To continue touching people with music.” She shrugged. “They’re simple…but I don’t want any more than that.” She was a pianist, a professor, a wife, and a mother–to have a peaceful life with her family and with music would be the greatest blessing she could ask for.
“Well then, I do hope your dreams come true, and may what you had to endure never happen to anyone again.” Kelly nodded but then smiled as she rose to her feet and turned to Anna. “I really wish I could stay and talk more. I find all this fascinating! But unfortunately I have others to meet and talk with as well. Thank you for your time though…and for all you told me.”
Anna returned her smile. “It was my pleasure. I’m glad we could talk as well and that I can share my experience.” She stood up as well, offering the other young women a hug before they parted ways
Cindy Chen’s book is titled ‘Sounds of War’ and is already published! You may find it here: http://www.amazon.com/Sounds-War-Cindy-Chen-ebook/dp/B00OML6M00/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8
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