Word Count 466
By Anne Nassar
Stana and her new mother went to church most mornings, unless the weather was bad.
When the service was over, they knelt and prayed for Stana’s family.
Stana only pretended. She believed in God – He was as real to her as her own hands. But she did not like the face that He showed to Christians. He hid His true nature from them. She would not be complicit and worship Him in a church.
The priest knew what was in her heart. There was an antagonism between them, but it was silent. It was expressed in hostile glances, exchanged when the new mother wasn’t looking.
After church, the new mother walked Stana to school.
At the front gate, she would hold Stana’s hand and continue to talk about this and that, even after the bell rang.
“I don’t like to let you go,” she would say, “When you’re gone, I don’t believe that you’re real.”
It was a private school. Stana was advanced, academically, but all at sea socially. Interactions between moneyed people were much more nuanced. She felt as though every exchange was a trial. There was what you said, how you said it, how you looked when you were saying it, and the relative social standing of the person you were saying it to.
She was considered a naif, a rube. No one would ever invite her to their house – it would be too absurd.
But she was aware that her physical beauty and her intelligence impressed others. She was satisfied with inspiring jealousy, she didn’t need friends. She didn’t want friends.
She saw no point in forming new attachments.
She was waiting.
She didn’t know if her family had survived.
Though she was safe, hidden in plain sight, she dreamt about running away to find her family. She assumed that they would have returned to Zakopane if they were able to.
Then, her math teacher fell ill. His temporary replacement was a young man who was not yet done with his teacher training at the University.
He was serious. He never smiled or laughed, and he could not be distracted.
He very quickly recognized Stana’s aptitude for math, and began assigning her extra homework.
She began to look forward to solving the difficult problems he gave her.
One day, as class concluded, he handed her a sealed envelope and instructed her to give it to her mother.
“He would like to be invited to tea,” her new mother said, reading the letter,“The nerve!”
Nevertheless, she invited him.
He spoke to her mother exclusively, and during the course of the conversation, he revealed that he was from Zab, which was not far from Zakopane.
“Do you go home often?” Stana interrupted.
He replied that he visited whenever possible.
Stana began to formulate a plan.