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Fischer, Joan (ed.) / Wisconsin Academy review
Volume 51, Number 3 (Summer 2005)

Nesaule, Agate
Randa's umbrella,   pp. 42-47


Page 44

memoir 
"I hope you're not taken in by Lita, 
though. She's her mother's daughter, 
she'll squeeze your father dry. And that 
boy is a dishrag. People say he was dam- 
aged in Vietnam, but I think he's just too 
lazy to get a job." 
I'm about to step into the rain when 
my father says, "Don't go out there just 
in your raincoat, Agatina. You'll get 
soaked and catch pneumonia. 
Remember how delicate your lungs are." 
I'm astonished by his solicitude. 
During the thirteen years of his mar- 
riage, he wouldn't have noticed what I 
was wearing, remembered I'd had TB at 
fifteen, or had the energy to say some- 
thing, but she's been dead only three 
days and he's already showing affection 
and concern. 
"Take this. It was Randa's," he says 
and hands me an umbrella. It's huge, 
with alternating panels of purple and 
green, a curved dark wood handle, and 
sturdy metal tines. It shelters me so 
effectively as trees bend and rain lashes 
during the graveside ceremony that I'm 
the only one who isn't sputtering and 
shivering when I arrive for the meal at 
the Ramada Inn. 
The large portions of crisp fried 
chicken, moist ham, and mashed pota- 
toes taste surprisingly good for motel 
food. German wine flows freely into tiny 
glasses, but no one gets sentimental 
enough to eulogize the departed, 
although there are a few toasts to my 
father to thank him and to wish him well 
in his new life. It's not clear whether he's 
being congratulated on his retirement, 
duly marked and celebrated a year ago, 
or on his freedom from Randa. 
Victor the Violinist slides into the seat 
next to me. 
"Hello, highly esteemed lady," he 
says. He smells of wine and baby 
powder, which he's used to mask the 
beads of sweat on his forehead. His 
shoe-black dyed hair gleams. 
"May I have your son's address? I 
must write and ask his permission to 
court you. I understand you're all alone 
in the world too. Like me." 
Victor has had four wives to my one 
ex-husband. 
"I guess you'll be leaving soon for that 
big house you own. And that's a new car 
you're driving, isn't it? You'll have to for- 
give me, esteemed lady, for the next 
question. It might offend sensitive 
females, but I'm too honest not to 
inquire. How old are you?" 
Here is my chance to get in a word. 
"I'm fifty-four." 
"Oh, my God. I didn't know ... I 
couldn't possibly ... a woman over fifty 
... there's just no way ... oh, my God." 
He slithers away. 
Victor knows funerals lead to mar- 
riages. Randa, dressed in black, 
plumped herself down next to my father 
at a funeral meal thirteen years ago. 
"I heard you've just lost your wife, and 
I'm grief-stricken too. We two have 
everything in common," she announced, 
though they'd never met before because 
Randa lived in Columbus and did not 
come to Indianapolis for Latvian events. 
"We are both sensitive, we are both 
mourners. I lost my husband years ago." 
She dabbed at her eyes, blew her nose, 
and inspected the husband material in 
front of her more closely. 
"I know how hard it is for a man to be 
a widower. No one to wash clothes, no 
one to cook, no one to love. And you 
shouldn't get tangled up with a woman 
your own age because you'll end up 
having to take care of her. By the way, 
I'm fifteen years younger than you, prac- 
tically a girl." 
The allusion to laundry must have 
been especially appealing to Papa, fresh 
from half a dozen attempts by my sister 
and me to teach him how to put soap 
and soiled clothes into the tub and quar- 
ters into the slot of the washing machine 
next door to his apartment. Like many 
men of his generation, he was helpless 
at tasks usually done by women. 
"Are you going to be all right, Papa?" I 
ask as people start getting ready to 
leave. "Would you like me to stay on a 
couple of days?" 
"I'll be just fine," he says cheerfully. 
He doesn't even seem tired after two 
hours of burying and two hours of talk- 
ing and toasting. "But you better start 
back, Agatina, you have a long way to 
go. It'll be dark before you get home." 
He was never concerned before about 
the eight-hour drive to Columbus, 
Indiana, when he used to call me to pick 
44  SUMMER  2005  WISCONSIN  ACADEMY  REVIEW 
him up right away because he was leav- 
ing Randa. But by the time I arrived, she 
would have cozied up to him, and I'd 
have nothing to do but turn around and 
drive back to Madison. 
"Well, if you're sure, Papa," I say, glad 
I won't have to miss any more days of 
teaching. "But I'll come next weekend in 
any case, to give you a hand and to 
check on you." 
"That would be nice. I'm very grateful 
for all you've done for me, Agatina," he 
says, surprising me once again with his 
appreciation and with the sweet diminu- 
tive of my name, which he wouldn't 
have dared utter while she hovered near 
him, monitoring his phone calls. 
The sky is dark, but a few tentative 
rays of sun break through the clouds 
now and again. The earth is wet, the 
fields an early light green, and small 
clumps of daffodils, already in bloom in 
the hilly southern Indiana countryside, 
shake themselves, raise their heads, 
expand, and glow. Papa is safe. I no 
longer have to be terrified that Randa 
will start beating him as he gets older 
and frailer or that she'll torture him 
physically instead of just screaming and 
throwing his clothes out into the street. 
My son, my sister, and I will actually get 
to spend some time with him now too. 
Past West Lafayette a drizzle begins 
and darkness presses down on the 
empty flat fields on what is surely one of 
the most boring drives in the United 
States. I pop in a cassette of ghost sto- 
ries and put my mind on automatic as 
stairs creak and doors slam in country 
houses in the England of the 1890s. 
The car swerves so suddenly, I barely 
avoid the ditch. Grateful that no one else 
is near me, I manage to turn sharply to 
the left and then right onto the grass 
verge. I wait for my heartbeat to return 
to normal before I pull out into traffic 
again. Ten miles farther I have to jerk on 
the wheel the second time to avoid hit- 
ting a woman standing by the side of the 
road. But I see nothing except a tele- 
phone pole with black plastic blowing 
loosely the instant I pass. The drizzle on 
my windshield is turning to ice when a 
black stretch limousine cuts in front of 
me, forcing me to the shoulder once 
more. Its mirrored windows give no clue 


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