From "The Wolf Story," an O. Henry Recommended Story
The night before I was to leave, we went to bed early. I fell asleep on the cot, and Lauren on the sofa, but several hours later, I shuddered awake to voices coming from the kitchen. The light from the naked bulb on the ceiling was filtering into the living room, shadows shimmering on the floor.
"The future of Poland," Lauren was whispering, "is a Jewish baby."
"I can't believe this. This baby, it is impossible," a male voice said. "To have baby right now? You must be joking."
"But it's the right thing to do."
The conscious part of me wanted to eavesdrop, and I contemplated confronting Mateusz, his curls and his dimples, his Star of David, to lecture him about responsibility, but too many glasses of Zybrowka and apple juice were weighing down my eyelids. I went back to sleep.
In the morning, I said goodbye to Lauren, who looked as though sleep had eluded her. Her thin hair was tied in a messy knot, skin creased around her eyes. She stood among the Soviet relics of my youth: the shabby brown furniture, the worn, faded carpet on the wall. On the kitchen table stood two glass mugs full of cold tea and a plate of fanned cheese slices, their outer edges turning a deep, crusty orange after sitting uncovered for several hours.
I hugged Lauren, wanting to know how to confide in her again. In the gray chill of morning, the apartment was homey, with its interplay of brown and orange, its warm shabbiness. I stepped out into the hall.
"Why did you come here?" she asked, in her immigrant nightgown, her hand ready to shut the door behind me.
I muttered something about wanting to help one of my best friends, but suddenly I couldn't recall whether during that phone call from Warsaw I had been summoned, or if I had summoned myself. Had I remembered it incorrectly? Had it been I who dialed Lauren in Poland, struggling to make myself understood in Russian, finally tracking her down through the Jewish Historical Institute? She needs me. I had thought of my grandmother then, no doubt. Where had I been when she collapsed on her own stairs?
("The Wolf Story" by Irina Reyn first appeared in One Story. Copyright © 2007 by Irina Reyn. Excerpted by permission of the author.)