Vincent van Gogh, “Poplars in Autumn,” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
As Agata hurried down the dirt road, the autumn sun was already sinking lower in the sky. Sunlight streamed between the poplars lining either side of the path, casting shadows that lay over her small, determined figure like a shroud. It would be dark by the time she arrived at the meeting place. Past curfew. She shivered and wrapped her cloak tighter around her body. She wondered how the children would survive the winter, if she couldn’t get them out.
She had some money—and her body. She would bargain with both if necessary to buy enough food and the necessary papers for the children. She had given up her theater career for a life of religious contemplation, but now she contemplated whether life was a tragedy or a farce.
She left the path and walked into the woods. Feliks—she was certain that was not his real name—was there waiting. Silently, he took Agata’s money and handed over the papers, along with some potatoes. No bargaining.
“I can’t meet you again. It’s too dangerous,” he said to her. “Go quickly now.”
But it was already too late. Hearing men and dogs, Agata thrust the papers into a hole behind a giant poplar root, hoping Maria would find them there tomorrow. Seconds later, the soldiers’ flashlights illuminated her like an actress on a stage. She stared at their boots, then looked up at their faces and thought, “This may be my final performance.”
This story is in response to Jane Dougherty’s Writing Challenge. The prompt was Van Gogh’s painting above.
I thought the figure looked like a nun, and it made me think of two recent Polish movies I’ve seen. Ida, the Oscar-winning Best Foreign Film (2015) is about a young woman raised in a convent since WWII, who is about to take final vows. The Mother Superior tells her she must first meet her aunt. The two take a road trip, and Ida discovers her parents were Jewish.
The Innocents (2016) is about nuns in a Polish convent. It is December 1945. One nun leaves the convent to find a French doctor. It seems there are several pregnant nuns—the result of Soviet soldiers invading the convent and raping the women there. The doctor, Mathilde, and the sisters form a bond, despite their differences.