When the realtor first drives them to the house, Andras is not convinced. It looks drab in the clouded November light, and it's obviously two different structures stitched together. Such dovetailing doesn't always work. It might be uneven, the roof might leak. The seam between the two spaces, the two lives, might peel apart.
The brick end is the original house. The shape is classic Dutch colonial: gambrel roof with three dormer windows, a wishbone-shaped chimney at one end, smallish rectangular windows on either side of the front door. The wooden part of the house adjoins, perpendicular, forming an L. The wooden end is painted grey, and has bigger windows which are clearly designed to open in warm weather. Both halves of the house feature the same green-painted shutters.
In the front yard, beneath a big spreading tree, the realty sign is askew. It gives the empty house a forlorn air.
But he promised Matyas that they would walk through it. Of the houses currently on the market in Ancram, it is the nearest to Matyas' house. Living so near to his brother again would be a gift, and after these years Andras and Klara are ready to imagine a quieter life, a life away from the noise and the pigeons and the press of crowds on the subway.
The realtor opens the front door with a flourish, and Klara and Andras walk slowly through the empty rooms. The floorboards are pale and wide and scuffed from use. The interior doorways have bullseye molding. Andras stops in one room, caught by the swirl of light warping where it shines through old wobbly glass. These are older windows, then. Though surely not original? His train of thought is interrupted when he hears Klara exclaim. He follows the sound of her voice into the kitchen.
This has obviously been redone in recent memory. It is spacious and bright, with wooden countertops and cupboards painted yellow and blue, and a four-burner stove, and an empty space where a new refrigerator could go. Klara is standing at the sink, which is up against a window, and outside on the grass a deer is standing perfectly still, staring back at her.
"Look," Klara breathes unnecessarily, and Andras moves to stand behind her. His arms slide around her and she leans back, ever so slightly.
"Szarvas," he murmurs. A word he hasn't thought of in years. How does one say deer in French? He can't remember.
"Oh, good, you found the kitchen," says the realtor, clomping into the roon in her heeled boots, and -- whether in response to the sound or to the movement seen through the glass -- the deer bounds away. "The previous owners tore out the original kitchen, obviously; these cabinets are new. And the range. General Electric. I can find the paperwork on the stove if you like. And the windows in this room are new, of course. Double-glazed."
Klara leans back on Andras for one more instant, then shifts, and he lets go. She is moved by the presence of the deer, he knows. It feels like an omen, a sign that there will be gifts here they can't yet imagine.
"You said something about an outbuilding?" he asks.
"Yes, the carriage barn," the realtor agrees, "Your brother said it might suit you. This way."
They exit the kitchen door and walk across the grass where the deer had been, their feet crunching on the lightly frost-touched leaves. There are double doors where a buggy must once have entered, but they go in through a smaller door on the building's left-hand side.
It's entirely empty, save a few cracked flowerpots and a bird's nest or two. The packed-earth floor is flat, and would be easy to cover. Polished concrete, maybe, or parquet, one of the patterns which comes in premade squares.
The rafters are exposed but the roof seems to be sound. Andras looks around and he knows exactly where he wants to put great double-glazed windows to let in the natural light. He can put his drafting table just there, so that he can work on blueprints with a full view of the rolling hills.
All through the rest of that autumn, boxes proliferate in their city apartment like mushrooms after a rain. How have they come to own so many things?
One evening Andras comes home to find Klara sitting on the floor, surrounded by coffee table books, weeping.
He runs to her without shedding his coat and scarf, immediately steeling himself. It's bad news. Something has befallen Támas, or Április, or Elisabet.
"It's okay," he murmurs, and she presses her face into his shoulder. A few heaving breaths and she is quiet again. When she pulls back, her face is wet and there is chagrin in her eyes.
"Whatever it is, we'll get through it," Andras promises.
Klara gives a shaky little laugh. "It's nothing. I'm sorry you had to see that."
"Don't say such things," he chides.
She sniffles. "I was just -- it's been a long time since we packed up house." The last time they moved, they mailed Elisabet a few precious items, and brought only what they could carry.
"Do you not want to go?" Andras asks. He's grown excited about the new space, particularly the new studio, but if Klara has lost her enthusiasm for the idea --
"No, no, I do," she assures him. "I just got caught up in thinking about all of the other times we've moved."
None of which had been voluntary. Departing Paris, not knowing they would never return. One flat in Pest to another, to another, and then no home at all. Even the flat they had shared after the war hadn't been their choice.
"This time we're choosing to go," Andras points out. "It's a new chapter, just for us."
"Now that the kids are out of the house," Klara agrees, and this time the smile she gives him has a hint of the coquette. "Just the two of us at last."
"Mrs. Tibor," Andras says formally, "may I take you out for dinner?"
Klara glances around the room. "This place is a mess. I'm a mess."
"We won't have a neighborhood bistro in the country," he points out. "We should take advantage of having one now."
"True," Klara admits.
"And then we can pack a few more boxes, fortified by soup and wine," Andras offers, "and then perhaps early to bed."
"I like the way you think." Klara uncoils gracefully to her feet, then offers Andras her hand.
Támas and Április both have plans, that first New Years Eve after Klara and Andras have left the city. Támas is serious about his girlfriend, and has taken her skiing in Vermont. (Klara thinks he is likely to propose, and as a result is spending the entire holiday on pins and needles, waiting for him to call with the news.) And Április is spending the holiday with her college room-mate, who lives in exotic Texas.
So Klara sets the table for three on New Year's Eve, and Polaner's car pulls up at the dot of seven.
"If I drink too much, I'm sleeping on your couch," he says, by way of hello, as he is shrugging out of his olive-green coat while juggling a brown paper bag from the liquor store.
"We have a guest room," Klara says, "and let me take that," reaching for the coat.
He bats her hands away. "Do we stand on ceremomy after all this time?"
"No," she says tartly, "but I want to hang it up."
Andras enters with a canvas wood sling full of firewood.
"Bonne nouvelle année," says Polaner, and hands Andras a bottle of sparkling wine.
"From New York state," Andras notes approvingly. "I'll put it outside to chill."
Klara turns on the radio. The local public radio station is playing jazz all evening, and the warm brass tones feel like just the right soundtrack for their quiet New Year's evening.
They drink red wine by the fire. They feast on roast chicken and butternut squash soup with dollops of sour cream.
"How are the grandchildren?" Polaner asks, winking at Andras. He knows it's hard for Andras to think of Elizabeth's children as his grandchildren; they are peers to Támas and Április, anyway.
"Perfect," Klara says. "New Yorkers, both of them; they'll never leave the city."
"Elisabet and Paul might," Andras suggests. They've had this conversation before. He thinks they want to return to Connecticut; Paul's parents are getting older, and Paul is an only child.
"Maybe," Klara shrugs. "But they're in no rush."
"Perhaps not," Andras agrees. He opens the second bottle of wine. For dessert there are palacsinta spread with raspberry jam.
As midnight approaches, Polaner excuses himself to use the telephone. Michael is in Santa Fe at an opening; it's an hour earlier there. When he returns his smile is bashful, as though he can't believe his own sentimentality. He catches Andras and Klara dancing, pressed together.
"Like young lovers, you two," Polaner teases. "Am I a third wheel?"
"Never," Klara promises. Her cheeks are pink with high color -- from the wine, from the dancing -- and Andras is certain that he has never loved her more.
The radio announcer reminds them that midnight is only a few moments away. "Champagne," Andras decides, and goes to retrieve the bottle from the back steps. A light snow has begun to fall, coating the grass and the leaves and the carriage barn and the bottle of sparkling wine.
By the time they finish the champagne, they are all more than tipsy. Shortly after midnight, they lead Polaner to the guest room and then tiptoe up the creaking stairs. Outside the snow falls thick and quiet. When Andras returns from the bathroom, he sees Klara wearing only a slip, standing at her dresser removing her earrings, and his heart swells to fill his chest.
Looking at her dark hair now streaked with grey, the laugh lines around her eyes, the curve of her hips and the delicate swoop of her collarbones, he still cannot believe his good fortune. That this woman married him!
"Another new year's eve together," Andras says quietly, and Klara turns to him.
"I don't want to count the years since Paris," she cautions.
"No counting," he promises. "I'm just -- glad."
"You know I am too." She steps out of her slip and folds it, tucking it into the drawer. "And glad we included Polaner."
"Of course," Andras says instantly. It's only right, after all these years.
Beneath the comforter and the quilt, she reaches for him, and he reaches back. They make love as quietly as they can, mindful of their guest downstairs, cushioned in the rapt silence of the new year's first snow.
"I can't believe we're doing this," Klara protests as Andras helps her over the edge of the log to the frozen lake. At one end there are two freestanding nets, and a handful of children are engaged in a kind of free-for-all, skating into each other and trying to shoot hockey pucks into the nets. At this end of the lake -- pond, really; it hardly merits the grandeur of the name lake -- the skaters are mostly teenagers, moving in speedy circles around the ice.
"Why not? It's not so different from Rockefeller Center," Andras says, to make her laugh. It is in every way different from Rockefeller Center.
When they first came to this country they used to go to Rockfeller Plaza every chance they got. There was a strange comfort in witnessing the glee of the American children who had never known hardship, resplendent in their bright colorful parkas and tasseled hats.
Április always asked for roasted chestnuts from one of the street vendors, and Támas and Klara would share a hot cocoa. And skating outdoors reminded Andras of Városligeti Műjégpálya, though the cityscape in Manhattan was a far cry from Vajdyahunyad castle. Nothing in Manhattan was that old.
This, though -- this is more like the pond where he and his brothers had skated as boys. It is periodically interrupted by wooden piers. The banks are uneven. The small lake is appealingly crooked, surrounded by small houses and overturned boats now blanketed in snow.
There is a curious feeling of having come full circle. From rural Hungary to rural New York, from one smalltown pond to the other, with Paris and Budapest in between.
A tall blond girl sails past them and out of the corner of his eye Andras can almost imagine that it is the young Elisabet, ignoring him with all of her teenaged might.
Once on the ice Klara takes his arm and they begin to skate. A few of the teenagers eye them curiously. What are they thinking, Andras wonders, at the sight of this aging European couple circling the ice arm-in-arm? No one else on the ice is their age. But who cares! He is skating with his wife, and she is the most beautiful woman on the ice. The most beautiful woman in the world.
Klara gives his arm a squeeze and he lets go, his own movements slowing as he watches her describe a graceful figure-eight, her movements as exquisite and balletic as they were in Paris a lifetime ago. She picks up speed, takes a small jump, pirouettes. Andras can feel his face creasing into a broad smile.
When their orbits around the pond intersect next she skates right over to him and they kiss. Her lips are reddened by the cold. The laugh lines around her eyes are crinkled deep. And the stir in his heart and in his belly is every bit as intense as when he was a lovestruck child of twenty-two.
It seems miraculous. That they are here together. That their two beautiful children are grown, Támas as old now as Andras was when he first came to Paris. That America has proven so safe and so congenial. That after all these years Andras has shaken the sense of impending doom, of thin ice, which was the war's inheritance. That they can kiss like this on an upstate New York pond.
The sound of a wolf whistle startles them apart. When Andras looks, he sees a young man giving them a thumbs-up. He's applauding Klara's dancing, perhaps, or their display of middle-aged affection; who knows. Klara bends a knee in a curtsey, laughing, and Andras offers a courtly dipping of his head before they begin to circle again.
Their skates etch their passage into the pond in perfect elliptical curves, carving and obscuring their path with each pass.
Klara sleeps late on weekend mornings. Andras likes to putter about the kitchen making coffee, and then to bask in the warmth of her sleepy regard when she emerges in her bathrobe to wrap her hands around her favorite mug.
But this particular Sunday morning they are out of milk. And he wants the Sunday Times, anyway (it's a habit they acquired in the city of which he is loathe to let go) so he slides behind the wheel of their used car and drives to the store in town. He's paying for his two items when a vaguely-familiar-looking bearded man in a flannel jacket and a baseball cap greets him by name. "Mr. Tibor."
"Andras, please," Andras corrects him automatically, casting about to remember who this man might be.
"Do you have a moment? I've been meaning to ask you a question," the man says.
"Certainly," Andras says, and hopes the question will help him figure out who the man is.
They sit at one of the checkered tables in the corner.
"I meant to call sooner, but it's a busy season," the man says, spreading his palms in apology. "I've been hoping you might be willing to come and speak. I think our youth would learn a great deal from hearing your story, and the adults would too."
"That's very kind of you," Andras says, though it doesn't help him identify the invitation. Is this fellow a librarian, a local schoolteacher...? Does he want Andras to speak about architecture?
"I can understand if you don't want to come for Yom HaShoah," the man says, and in a flash Andras realizes: it's the rabbi from Amenia. He looks different in his ballcap and bluejeans, but now that Andras has identified him, he can't believe he didn't see it sooner.
There is no synagogue in Ancram, but there is one in Amenia, which is not far. They drive further to the nearest movie theatre, for instance, and equally far to reach the decent grocery store. Andras and Klara and Matyas and Polaner attend services at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and Andras and Matyas say kaddish there on the date they have chosen as their parents' yahrzeit, since no one knows when exactly they were killed. But otherwise they don't spend much time there.
He finds his spiritual sustenance in the curve of his wife's shoulderblades, the low angled light gilding his studio, the sweep of precise angles on a white page. What could the synagogue offer him to match that?
Andras takes a deep breath. How can he tell this man that no, indeed, he does not want to come for Yom HaShoah? That the memory of those years is burned into him like a brand, and he does not want to retell the horrors, even for the best of all possible reasons?
"But I was hoping you might come some other time this spring," the rabbi continues. "Not to talk about the war, per se, but about life in Hungary. What was it like, what did you and your brothers do when you were kids, how did you become an architect --"
"I went to school in Paris," Andras says automatically. "For a time."
"Paris is a beautiful city," the rabbi says fondly.
"It is," Andras agrees.
"Anyway, you don't need to give me an answer now," says the rabbi, "but I hope you'll think about it, you and Mrs. Tibor. It's such a gift for us to have you in our community."
Not because of his prizes in architecture, not because of his accomplishments, but because he comes from a vanished world. To his surprise, Andras can't help feeling charmed by that assertion. By the fact that someone wants to remember not only the horrors of the war, but the sweetnesses of his childhood which preceded it.
"I'll think about it," Andras promises, and rises. The rabbi does, too.
"Have a sweet Pesach," the rabbi offers, and Andras wishes him the same.
Outside the air is damp and cold. He tucks his hands inside his pockets, wishing he'd worn gloves. But the car starts easily, and the engine must still be warm from the drive to the store; the heat comes on right away.
Early morning light pours between the leafless trees, and out of the corner of his eyes Andras can see a golden haze beginning to gleam on the willow branches. Spring will come after all.
When he gets home, he'll have to tell Klara about the rabbi's invitation. He'd meant to say no, but the more he thinks about it, the more tempting the idea becomes. This is the season for telling and retelling their story, after all. My father was a wandering Aramean...
And the Lord brought us out of bondage with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.
Were it not for that, then we, and our children, and our children's children would still be slaves to a Pharaoh in Egypt.
He pulls into the driveway, picks up the paper and the milk, and heads inside. His Klara will wake soon, and he wants to be there when she does. He is the luckiest of men.