Jacek: An excerpt from Polska, 1994

Author: • March 20, 2014 • Novel Excerpts

Polska, 1994His voice.

Low and resonant—the timbre lulled me before I even saw him.  There were five or six guys—older than I—and they were walking toward me.

I stared at his black leather blazer and its three large buttons.  I stared at the creases in his jeans and the black shine of his boots and at his long golden fingers.  I stared so hard—I tried to look away—but then he stared back and that resonant voice was directed at me.

“Cześć little one.”  When he called me that, it made me feel precious.  “I’m Jacek,” he held out his hand, “And you?”

“Cześć.”  My hello sounded so meek—so cracked and dry.  I realized how far I lagged in the conversation.  His palm was warm and his fingertips caressed the inside of my wrist.  “I’m Magda.”

“Magdalena.  I would have pictured you as more of a Maria.”  He brushed my hair away from my face.  “Magdalena—may I call you?”  I nodded before I remembered I had no number to offer.  “Does the little virgin not have a phone?  Interesting—a woman of mystery.  Unless you are playing coquette.”  He asked me if he could meet me on Friday at seven in front of Copernicus.  This man—old enough to be in college—asked me on a date.  I had never been on a date.  I had never held hands.  I had never felt soft lips on mine or the soft touch of someone’s teasing tongue.  I nodded.  The last words to warm his lips were, “Take care.”

All I said—like a little girl—was, “Pa.”

My brother Paweł pounded on the bathroom door trying to get to his Old Spice.  I had told my grandmother I was going for pizza at the Browar with Klara so she wouldn’t worry.  Babcia always worried.  I made myself up to not look too made up.  Mascara, yes, but no eyeshadow or eyeliner.  Subtle—like a college girl.  I ironed my jeans and polished my black army boots.  My puffy parka made me look so young.  All the while I kept thinking about the way Jacek pronounced the fullness of my name.

Paweł stopped me in the hallway and told me I was too young to be wearing makeup.  I kissed him on the cheek and tried to hug him.  He pulled away.

I didn’t get to the statue until after seven, but Jacek wasn’t there.  Through bronze eyes, Copernicus watched with me as he had watched us for almost 150 years.  Jacek would be there.  I knew he would.  Twenty minutes I stood in the freezing rain before a loud group approached the statue.  The guys had on overcoats and the pastel Italian suits I only ever saw on Rotarians.  A girl walked with them in clickety-clacking metal heels, and despite the cold she wasn’t wearing much at all, only a black miniskirt that barely covered her hips and some loose, low blouse.  They looked like Mafiosi and they seemed to be coming right at me.

About the Author

Ilsa McKettaAuthor: Isla McKetta

Country of residence: United States of America

Nationality: American

Mother tongue: English

Isla McKetta is a novelist who has lived on three continents and traveled across four. Her first novel, Polska, 1994, was researched while she lived in Poland. She reviews books at A Geography of Reading.


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