Courtney looked at Mr Rubyn with surprise. She wasn’t expecting him to talk this way. Not now, when she told him about Anastasia’s illness.
When Courtney first met MrRubyn, he was like a whimsical bird, showing up unexpectedly with loud news, fancying Anastasia, looking for a chat. He never stayed long.
Anastasia enjoyed his company but she didn’t take his advances seriously. She possessed certain knowledge of him that kept her in doubt.
‘He is fun to spend some time with,’ she used to tell Courtney. ‘But he never takes anything seriously enough. He wouldn’t harm a fly, but he would walk away from a wounded sparrow.’
Yet, when Mr Rubyn was travelling, Courtney and Anastasia missed his spontaneous visits, his high pitch giggle when he was telling something funny, and his contagious smile.
To Anastasia, Mr Rubyn wasn’t mysterious but an ordinary man waiting for a good moment to act. To her, his special affinity to women was a result of his constant need to be nurtured and taken care of. It wasn’t what she was looking for in a man.
To Courtney, on the other hand, Mr Rubyn was a constant traveller looking for a partner to guide him on his journey, a partner with whom he could build a nest to which he would return from his voyage. She was always interested in his hidden side. Unlike Anastasia, Courtney didn’t see him as an ordinary man. For one, he enjoyed gardening which wasn’t an ordinary hobby for a restless traveller.
But Anastasia was looking for someone who could share her imaginary world. A world filled with enchanted moments and magical events which, according to her, could only unravel in a safe and secure place like her own home. She was rarely leaving her little house and she didn’t seem lonely even if, for a while, her only companion was her garden and its inhabitants. Yet, she understood that without other people there would be no story to share, and much less to live for.
Courtney didn’t understand Anastasia and Mr Rubyn’s relationship. Sometimes she thought that they were similar in a way known only to them. If Mr Rubyn knew that the river flows underneath the ice, he needed Anastasia to break the ice, to show him the flow. If Anastasia knew how to catch butterflies, she needed Mr Rubyn like a butterfly catcher needs a magnifying glass.
Courtney wished that one day her father and Anastasia would connect in a similar way. She wished for the family reunion. But her father couldn’t connect with Anastasia in a way Mr Rubyn did. Courtney’s father considered imagination impractical and confusing. His own stories were written in stone. That’s how it was supposed to be. That’s how it was in Holub’s family.
Anastasia’s aunts used to tell colorful tales about the family life in Ukraine that were not supposed to be taken seriously. Life back there was anything but a fairy tale. Courtney’s father was appalled by the way Anastasia altered the story of Courtney’s sister’s death. It only complicated things.
Yet, Courtney felt that her own story had been altered by Anastasia too, or at least, since she had been living with Anastasia, she had become more conscious about herself.
Just like her mother, Courtney often felt fragile and vulnerable in the presence of others. Yet, unlike her mother, Courtney was a dreamer. She had Anastasia’s imagination. But as much as she enjoyed simple coziness and peaceful existence in Anastasia’s house, she liked to travel alone. Only then, she felt a pleasant sense of belonging to the world. Like Mr Rubyn, she was not comfortable with a strong attachment, and like him, she knew that even a frozen river flows. Yet, she didn’t need Anastasia to break the ice.
The ice breaking idea snapped Courtney back to the conversation with Mr Rubin.
‘I’ve been thinking …’ she said apologetically. ‘I didn’t realize that you have a formula for a peaceful life.’
Mr Rubyn shuffled his feet.
‘It is getting cold. We will freeze if we stay here longer.’ And after a hesitation, as if afraid that he might say something bad, he whispered. ‘You said that you don’t believe that Anastasia is seriously ill, didn’t you?’
Courtney nodded. She turned her head as if she was trying to hear the ticking sound of Anastasia’s alarm clock.
‘Come with me,’ she asked him softly.
‘I know who can help,’ he avoided to give her direct answer.
‘Znaharka,’ he added quickly. Courtney was taken aback.
‘What the hell does he know about Znaharka? How much has Anastasia told him about Ramona’s death? How could she? It’s a family matter. It was supposed to be our family secret.’
She could feel her breath becoming shallow. ‘We don’t believe in Znaharka’s power.’
He raised his eyebrows. ‘Anastasia does.’
Courtney found his calm, quiet tone obtrusive. ‘She does? In what … in the power of “koltuns” … in a spell?!’
‘She said that it is about the power of ritual, about wisdom. Apparently Znaharka’s help comes from the goodness of her heart. She doesn’t ask for anything in return. She doesn’t accept money.’
‘We are not in Ukraine,’ she gasped, and suddenly, as if driven by an odd amalgamation of thoughts, she said.
‘Did you ever see a wounded sparrow?’
‘A wounded sparrow?’ He echoed her words slowly. ‘Go home, Courtney … there are things that you will have to do.’