In the morning, I took my sketch pad and my paints, and biked to the lake. I couldn’t sleep all night. My head was filled with the conversations of the consciousness raising circle. I felt an excitement, a new kind of strength, beyond myself. I couldn’t wait, I needed to paint.
As I approached the lake, I saw her laying there, in the tall grass. “Hana!” I called
She looked up from her magazines: “Hi?”
“I’m Ada. We met yesterday, you delivered the paper to my grandmother’s house.”
“The Baba Yaga is your grandma?” She raised her eyebrows.
“No. She’s just my grandma.”
“Shit, sorry. I’m so used to calling her that.”
I shrugged. I got used to people thinking Baba is strange, and last night, if anything, should have been a confirmation of it. But now I wasn’t so sure. Baba wasn’t a witch in any sense of the word: she wasn’t luring children into her hut to eat them. She was a determined older woman trying to change something. I could understand that. But she was strange. In the sense that no one behaved like her, no other woman her age had the audacity to.
“So, what are you doing here?” Hana gestured towards my sketch pad.
“I’m painting the edge of the lake.”
“It looks like a bunch of random dots and splashes and stuff,” she tilted her head.
“I’m trying to paint like Snyder,” I said.
“Joan Snyder? The American abstract painter?”
Hana stared at me blankly.
“Never mind. What do you do?” I asked.
“What do you mean, what do I do?”
Baba wasn’t a witch in any sense of the word: she wasn’t luring children into her hut to eat them. She was a determined older woman trying to change something.
“Like, now in the summer. I know you bring the newspaper but apart from that?”
“I don’t know. I help around the house, the barn; we have chickens and cows. Otherwise I don’t do much. Sometimes I read.”
“What do you read?” I asked.
“Novellas, romance stories, anything,” she pulled the loose strands of hair from her face, “What’s this– an interrogation? Let’s swim.”
“In that? It’s dirty–” I remembered I was bleeding.
“Oh god. Don’t be such a snob,” Hana said, already peeling off her dress. She was slightly taller than me, slimmer, her limbs tan. Next to her I looked plump, round, unflattering. Her nose was sharper than mine, her skin freckleless, her country accent charming.
I took off my clothes reluctantly, one by one. I did not feel like swimming, especially on my period, but I wanted to spend time with Hana. I wanted to show her that despite being from the city I could spontaneously go for swims in muddy lakes. When Hana got in the water, her soot-black hair floated on the surface like a living being.
It wasn’t cold. I was half way in the water when she splashed my face. I splashed back. We leapt up and down, our feet pushing off the muddy bottom, laughing and screaming. Once we got tired we floated on our backs: our fingers, toes, occasionally brushing against one another. I glanced at the tan lines on her skin where her shorts and t-shirt sleeves must usually be. Her muscles shone in the water, I could even make out the little black hairs on her forearms and legs. But suddenly something felt off. I remembered what she said.
“Why’d you call her that? Baba Yaga?” I asked.
She looked suddenly embarrassed, “I don’t know, everyone calls her that. Rumor is she leads a witch circle in her house. She invites some of the village women and they boil and dissect farm animals to offer them up to pagan gods.”
I burst out laughing. But Hana stood up in the water, and stared at me blankly. “You don’t believe that, do you?”
She shrugged, “it’s true, isn’t it?”
“Of course, it’s not! I’ve been here a week and I can testify there’s been no animal slaughter or dissection happening.”
Hana shrugged, “I don’t know, why do all these women come to her house every week or so? It feels suspicious–like she’s planning something.”
“My grandma runs this thing called a consciousness raising circle. It’s basically a group of women who meet at her house to talk about things.”
“Things? What things?”
“Politics and life and stuff. There’s one next week. You should come.”
Hana looked unconvinced.
* * *