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kazimir_icon.gif munin_icon.gif

Scene Title Dziadzio
Synopsis It's Polish for grandfather. Eileen reminisces while under the influence of Refrain.
Date September 9, 2009

Speakeasy Hotel and Casino — Room 201

There is character to the room, if in the way that 'character' carries negative connotations. The paint is peeling off the skilful wooden moulding, the carpet is faded and the bedding looks old and tired. The painting hung behind the bed is so old as to be retro and the bathroom sports a clawfoot tub and a pedestal sink. Both leak and have hard water stains. The whole place carries a faintly musty smell, though it's clear the staff have attempted to keep it at least somewhat clean. The sheets are stain-free and the bathroom is always stocked with little bottles of toiletries. The windows are thin and let in a fair amount of traffic noise. The one good thing is that the old radiator keeps the room toasty warm in winter.

A glass ashtray balances precariously on the lip of the clawfoot tub in the bathroom of Room 201 on the second floor of the Speakeasy Hotel in Brooklyn's Red Hook District. In many ways, it is symbolic of the situation belonging to the young woman whose body soaks in the tub's lukewarm water, glassy gray eyes studying the cracks in the bathroom ceiling from beneath a haze of smoke with only a modicum of interest, yet if asked to extrapolate this comparison, she would be unable to articulate an intelligent answer.

But while we're speaking of asking—

If you asked Eileen Ruskin, or "Munin" as she's now known to her family and friends, she would tell you that Amsterdam is the most beautiful city in the world. This isn't a claim she makes lightly, either; blessed with the opportunity to visit places she never dreamed she would see outside of schoolbooks until a few years ago when the Vanguard took her under its wing, she's stood under the Eiffel Tower and fed the pigeons outside the St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague, strolled Munich's Englischer Garten and chased waves on the beaches of the Black Sea in Novorossiysk.

None of it, at least not in her humble opinion, compares to Amsterdam and its floating flower markets, more than one hundred kilometers worth of canals or its rich architectural history. Having spent the day exploring only a small portion of the city, including the Anne Frank House and the Kattenkabinet — an art museum devoted to works depicting cats — the young woman has retired to her hotel room for the evening and now sits in its window frame, clothed in an oversized dress shirt on loan from Ethan, a pair of black leggings and a matching athletic bra that doubles as a top.

A light rain patters against the glass pane, distorting her view of the Prinsengracht and the lamplight seeping in from the street outside. It's dark, which means that Ethan, Amato and the others will be back soon, and while she should probably slip into clothes that are more suited for going out to dinner, she seems content to relax while she waits for their return in her bare feet, a dog-eared copy of The Wind in the Willows in her lap and a pair of reading glasses perched on her nose.

The creak of the hotel room door opening allows in the faint sound of voices from the hallway. "I miei ringraziamenti per il vostro aiuto, Lucrezia." The rough and sandpapery voice coming from the hall joins with the dusky tones of a sultry woman's voice giving nothing but laughter. There's a silence between the two, and then footsteps both approaching and retreating as the door opens further. Emerging into the dimly lit room, the dark-clad figure in the doorway is of familiar relief to Eileen.

Tired blue eyes stare across the room from her, one hand on the door that slowly presses shut with a soft click. Interspersed with the brush of his cane against the carpet, Kazimir Volken's slow stride trhough the sitting room and towards the windows comes with a gradually expanding smile on his face. As he comes up to Eileen's side, one gloved hand lightly brushes a lock of dark hair from her face, tucking it behind one ear, and then moves to lift the reading glasses off of the bridge of her nose.

"How many times," he chides in a gentle way, "have I told you not to borrow my glasses?" His lips creep up into a hesitant smile, creases at the corners of his eyes showing how earnest the expression is as he folds the arms of the glasses shut, and tucks them into the breast pocket of his suit. "You don't get those back…" he adds in a strangely stern way, but the rise of one gray brow and that soft expression seems to imply he's hiding something.

How many times has Kazimir told her not to borrow his glasses? Munin looks sheepishly down at her hands and, as if trying to remember, lifts one finger at a time, counting off the incidents she can remember — or pretending to. "Sorry," she says, folding the book shut as she reaches up to tiredly rub the heel of her hand over her right eye. "I keep forgetting." And that may well be true.

Outside, on the other side of the glass, the shape of a large black bird ripples under the light as it shifts its weight from foot to foot, ruffles its glossy feathers and turns its head to track pedestrian foot traffic on the street below. Whatever Bran can see must not be very interesting; Munin's attention remains on the man standing beside her rather than the comings and goings of the hotel's other patrons.

"We missed you today," she adds, and sets The Wind in the Willows aside. "Amato's taking me to the Oude Kerk tomorrow. You should come with us. The floor's made of gravestones."

There's something of a smirk that crosses Kazimir's face at the mention of the trip. Closing his eyes and shaking his head, the amusement in his expression is so clearly visible. "He's taken quite the shine to you…" there's something mildly protective about the tone Kazimir uses, even as he reaches into his suit jacket and pulls out a small, black-leather case with gold filligree across the top. "While I was handling some banking, I saw these in the window of a shop…"

The case is slowly opened, revealing a pair of tortoise-shell framed reading glasses sitting on silver satin. "Those old spectacles of mine would do more harm to your eyes than good, and you've got too many more years of reading left for me to worry about whether or not you're going blind." There's a smile, hesitant, as he offers out the case towards Munin.

"Go ahead, try them on…"

One small hand hovers above the case, tentative, and gently removes the reading glasses from their satin cushion with extended fingers and then unfolds them, careful not to strain the bows. "I couldn't go blind even if I stared straight into the sun," she says beneath a breathy laugh, "not so long as I've got Bran out there." It's a joke, or at least as close to a joke as Munin is willing to come in Kazimir's presence, and although she doesn't sound particularly convinced herself, what she suggests might not be outside the realm of possibility.

She places the glasses on her face, squinting dewy eyes behind the lenses and blinks slowly as her vision adjusts to the subtle change. A moment later, she's lifting her chin and raising those same eyes to Kazimir's face, studying his expression like a rumpled baby screech owl peering up from the bottom of its nest. "How do they look?"

Silent for too long a time, Kazimir's expression reluctantly shifts to a smile, brows furrowing as if puzzled by his own reaction. "Just as beautiful as without," he says in a hushed voice, lightly brushing the leather-gloved knuckles of one hand across her jawline. Looking down, then away, it's clear the old man's mind wanders as he turns, thoughts drifting away towards the future, towards what lays down the line from this point. "I had come up here to take you downstairs, we're not long for the dinner…"

Tucking a hand into the pockets of his slacks, Kazimir rocks his cane from side to side, his thumb brushing over the small notch on the brow of the wolf's head. When he turns, he's regarding Eileen over his shoulder uncertainly, "and you're not changed." His head inclines, turning fully towards her. "We've been moving from city to city so much, it's moments like this where we finally stop and listen that I see just how much you've grown up." That earnest smile returns, even if he seems surprised by it. "You're not the little girl we found in England anymore… you're turning into a woman right in front of me."

Munin's cheeks flush pink with colour. She's blushing, but the high set of her shoulders and the angle of her chin makes it clear that this has nothing to do with embarrassment and everything to do with pride. "I don't know about that," she demurs slyly as she swivels on the windowsill, one hand clutching at the frame support, and stretches her legs out over the radiator mounted under it. Her toes touch the carpet, followed the balls of her feet. "There's lots of things a lady can do that I can't."

She moves around Kazimir and behind the dressing screen adjacent to the room's twin bed, her silhouette only faintly visible through the fabric — it was designed with privacy in mind, and all that can be seen of her skin is a pale sliver of arm as she hangs Ethan's shirt over the screen's side. Hangers rattle in the closet. "Who's Lucrezia?"

There's a distant fondness to Kazimir's eyes as he watches Munin's movements, the way a grandfather might watch a grandchild parade around, but there is no such genetic bond between those two. There is only the distant look of someone who longingly seeks for a family, and the stoic expression he tries to hide that lonliness behind. "She's no one," he lies to her, and it's not the first and will not ever be the last, "just a polite face from the lounge."

Turning back towards Munin, Kazimir slowly approaches her, his cane thudding against the floor between each nearing step. Diverting towards the window, Kazimir leans his cane up against the wall, then turns back to the young woman, approaching her with one gray brow raised higher than the other. "Did my Conscience tell you what type of dinner it is we will be attending tonight? Aside from that you must be on your best behavior, and dressed like a proper lady?" Both of which things he seems to subtly imply are dubiously possible in a teasing manner. "It's a ball."

Munin is in the process of pulling a dress over her head when the word 'ball' so succinctly leaves Kazimir's lips. There's a brief pause that doesn't last any longer than the time it takes her suck in a sharp breath. In the next instant, she's zipping the dress up the back and poking her head around the side of the dressing screen to look at the old man askance. She's still wearing the tortoiseshell reading glasses, though her hair lays in such a way as to veil one half of her face. The other has adopted an expression of apparent surprise, lips pursed and one shapely black brow arched.

"I'm sorry?" she asks, then ducks behind the screen again. "I thought you said we were going to a ball." Her leggings join Ethan's shirt, discarded with a flourish of her arm. "I couldn't have heard you correctly, because balls have music and waltzing and things, and all I know is ballet."

There's a grumble of a laugh that stirs from deep in Kazimir, a pleased smile crossing his face as he rest his hands on his hips and regards Munin's silhouette behind the screen with an amused sigh. "Exactly why I came up to get you myself an hour early." There's something of a patient cast to the smile he offers Munin, brows furrowing together. "Come on out," he makes in rumbling demand, holding out a gloved hand towards the screen. "You've plenty of time to worry about your hair later, you're the only woman coming to the ball with us to meet Mister DeLuca, and I would prefer if you were able to entertain him with a dance."

But there's the confusion again, because Sierra is somewhere in the city, somewhere nearby, and yet she's not attending the ball. "You, Amato, Ethan and I will be the only ones in attendance, I want to make a good impression to him… This will be the first time he's met anyone outside of myself and Ethan." A moment's pause, and then something even more unlikely, a moment of lightheartedness. "Otherwise I'll have no choice but to ask Amato to dance with him."

Munin steps out from behind the screen and takes Kazimir's hand, smoothing the wrinkles from her dress with the other. A nomadic lifestyle restricts the size and variety of the young woman's wardrobe, allowing her two steamer trunks worth of belongings. She owns only two dresses, one in red and one in black, and the one she's wearing now is the latter of the two, sewn from silk and chiffon with a low neckline designed to emphasize the shape of her throat rather than her bust. Provided she takes his advice and does something nice with her hair, it's more than appropriate for a formal function if paired with the right shoes.

"You ought to ask him anyway," she says, giving Kazimir's hand a playful squeeze. "I'd like to see the look on his face."

"Were I not worried he'd hole himself up in his room praying for the evening, I might just entertain that idea to see the smile on your face." Kazimir's eyes drift up and down the dark dress, fingers winding around Munin's tiny fingers as he guides her over. "The key to a good waltz, when you don't know how, is to be mindful of the one taking the lead. Knowing DeLuca as well as I do, he'll wish to lead the dance…" Kazimir's hand raises up with Munin's to shoulder height, his other hand coming down to rest against the small of her back. "Put your hand," he nods towards one of hers, "on my shoulder, and be mindful of my collar." Or less carefully worded, don't kill yourself.

Watching the young woman with those tired eyes, Kazimir can't help but smile. "The things we do, often lead us away from a normal and fulfilling life. At times, I wonder if I made the right decision in bringing you to us, but then when I see you like this— see the smile on your face, see how contented you are— I know in the end I made the right decision. No matter how short lived it may be."

Munin's smile wavers at that, and Kazimir may detect the faintest flinch shudder through her slim frame as she follows his instructions and places her hand on his shoulder. When she speaks, however, her voice is as clear as the air in the winter and as smooth as glass, vibrant and unfaltering. "You've done wonderful things for my life, Dziadzio," she tells him, "and now you're going to do wonderful things for the world."

She glances down at her bare feet, red lacquered toenails a stark contrast against the plush carpet beneath her soles, then back up at Kazimir. "I'll take all the time I can get. This family is my heart."

Brows tense as Kazimir watches Munin, listening to her in a manner that indicates surprise, his lips hesitating before creeping up into a more reluctant smile than should be. But by now the only thing he's showing that hesitant show of affection to is the wall over her shoulder. "Follow my lead…" is all he can say to those words, slowly and carefully moving his feet apart and drifting to his left in a graceful gait, "and pay attention to where my feet are. When you dance with mister DeLuca, don't look at your feet, look at him… It's important we sell this moment."

Tension comes in Kazimir as he looks down to Munin, smiling faintly. For all the paternal affection that he tries to hide, it still exists somewhere down inside of him. But for all the paternal affection he would want to afford her, there can never truly be any. For in the end, no matter how long the dance is drawn out, the song will always come to an end, applause will rise, and the ball will draw to a close. Some people will make their way home, others will be forgotten as faces in the crowd.

And what makes it hardest of all on Kazimir, is that he knows the two of them can never have a happy ending.

Smoke leaks from Eileen's open mouth and nose, trickling out through her nostrils and past her lips as they move to form words without voice. It isn't perfect — no memory is — but it's close enough that she can put aside the salty wetness on her tongue and the shudder that passes through her body on the next exhale. Heat plasters curls of dark hair to her cheeks, and as she reaches up to smear it away with the hand still holding a cigarette between two white-knuckled fingers, she realizes for the first time that she's crying.

Taking another drag from the cigarette, she sinks deeper into the tub. Displaced water sloshes against its porcelain sides, up over the rim like an ocean wave smashing into shore and sends the ashtray to the floor. Glass explodes, scattering dozens of tiny fragments across grimy tile. Where the individuals pieces come to settle, Eileen does not know and will not particularly care until her mind finishes replaying Louis Andriessen's interpretation of Wilhelmus van Nassouwe and the familiar sensation of leather-clad fingers entwined with her own has diminished into emptiness.

Just as there is no such thing as a perfect memory, there are no happy endings.

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