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The Tanks are Firing Now
We are quiet, not afraid.
All is chaos. Adi is part of a great crowd, all dressed in blacks and grays from head to toe, and they are marching, pushing down narrow streets. All around him red banners fly and then the banners are tongues of fire that lap and crackle over his head, but Adi is pushed forward with the crowd, marching in a wild frenetic mass towards some elusive destination. Adi looks upwards. High above the flames the sky turns black, and this parade goes on, black ribbons along the red streets.
“Adi!” Adi turns but suddenly he is all alone in the dark street. The tattered red flags, torn away by the wild mob, flutter like clumsy moths around his feet. “Adi.”
Adi opens his mouth but doesn’t speak. He spins around, eyes wide. Standing in front of him is a mirror image of himself. Every detail, every sharp angle and high pointed bone could be a feature of his own face. This boy has Adi’s pale skin, his pin straight dark hair, his bright slanted eyes, in eerie exactness.
Adi stands paralyzed.
A slow crooked smile creeps up the side of the boy’s mouth. Adi’s smile.
“Don’t you remember me?”
Adi Lanyi is awake now. He wraps himself tighter in his quilt and draws his knees to his chest, shaking. Warm October sunlight filters through his window and casts dancing dappled patterns on his walls. But Adi is cold, and shaking.
He makes his way down the stairs one at a time. At the kitchen table Katalin Lanyi hunches over the American newspaper. After fifteen years in the country she reads correctly, but slowly. Her forehead creases with apparent confusion; she knows what separate words mean but long sentences bewilder her.
Adi sits quietly opposite his mother. Back in Hungary she was beautiful. Adi does not remember this, but Györg has told Adi this many times over.
Your mother, Adi, had the most beautiful pale hair, the longest, palest hair in all of Hungary. She had a perfect round face, and she was very pale. She even had pale eyes. Everyone said that she did not look Hungarian at all!
At this Györg would give his deep laugh. Katalin would blush and look away.
Ever since she came to America, and ever since Adi can remember, his mother’s face has been creased with worry and doubt, and her long hair turned coarse and gray. All too often now she is not happy, not even with this new life she promised herself would be so much better.
“Mom?” Katalin seems not to have noticed Adi’s presence. She startles at the sound of his voice.
“Good morning, Adi.” Her words are careful, and she barely tries to hide her guttural Magyar inflections. In public; in good company, she is more guarded, speaking in slow careful American speech. At home, who is there to chastise her?
“Good morning.” Adi smiles. “What are you reading?”
“Nothing, nothing. Do you want the paper?”
Adi smiles crookedly. “No. That’s alright.”
Katalin seems not to have heard, absentmindedly pushing it towards him. She is paler than he has ever seen her. Her eyes stare straight ahead, blindly focused.
To be polite Adi picks it up, still open to the page his mother was reading. Something catches in Adi’s stomach. His mouth is suddenly dry.
Under the headline, “Remember the Revolution; The Fifteenth Anniversary of a Tragedy,” the paper reads:
…Still today, fifteen years later, we remember the brave Hungarian revolutionaries who sacrificed their lives and fought against devastating odds to free their country of Communist Soviet rule…Fifteen years ago on this day, October 23, hundreds of courageous Hungarian marched in the streets towards Budapest in insurrection against Russian rule. Pitting their bare fists against the advanced military power of Russian tanks and guns, Hungarians made a heroic, if doomed effort…
Send the news to the world and say it should condemn the Russians.
The fighting is very close now and we haven’t enough guns.
Adi feels the sting of bile rising up in his throat. He pushes the paper away quickly, before he can read any more. His mind wanders back to the dream, the memory still as vivid and haunting as if he was still there, standing in the street under that black sky, red flags like bleedings ghosts around his feet… the boy. Adi’s other self.
Adi has so many questions for Katalin.
Who is he?
Would she even understand? Would she answer? Adi does not know, and so he keeps his mouth firmly closed against the onslaught of both his inquiries and the bitter sickness that fills his mouth. Later. Later, maybe, he will ask her.
Later, much later, Adi lies on his back on his bed, once again pulling the quilts around him in a soft protective shell. Downstairs he hears the muffled sounds of his parents’ conversation. Slowly his eyes close, the quiet murmur of Magyar conversation resonant in his tired mind.
The street is still as silent, deserted, as when he last set foot there. No other presence is visible to him beyond his own. Adi is strangely calm. A sense of purpose floods him. He is here for a reason.
Itt vagytok, Adi… I am here, Adi.
This time, Adi opens his mouth, but not in shock. He feels none of the alarm which so consumed him. His words are clear and steady. Perfect Magyar words.
Nem értem, he replies to the stranger. I don’t understand.
Igen ti tudjátok, báty. Yes you do, brother.
What is the United Nations doing? Give us a little help. We will hold out to our last drop of blood. The tanks are firing now. . .
The last message – a telex from a newspaper journalist – from Hungary.