The Scorpion And The Lion


Poland in the spring of 1940 had a tension that permeated all aspects of life. It hung in the air. Northern Europe is known for weather that is inclement during these months; it typically is overcast and the sky more resembles the color of clay. Resistant, sticky and strangely malleable though inevitably leaving a film on the very hands attempting to fashion it into something better. It was a befitting backdrop for the mindset and condition for the people living in Lipiny at the time.

Humanity couldn’t crumble and even though Nazi occupancy placed a very oppressing weight on the hearts, minds and very bodies of those living in my country, life had to go on. The Polish resisted fiercely, buried their dead, and still maintained a sense of dignity and pride constantly picking up and putting the pieces back together. Women would amass in the town square (ironically named Freedom) gathering around kiosks that would announce the names of identified dead. The news of Katyn laid very heavily on their minds. There was a morbid curiosity to know the truth. Wives wanted to know the whereabouts of their husbands, if they were still alive, if the bond between them and their waiting and praying so hotly would allow them to escape almost certain death. So much was said without speaking. The voice over the megaphone affixed to the kiosk would announce in complete monotone lacking any intonation or affection towards a name. Women would assemble at exact times twice a day. Announcements, periodicals and literature that was so cryptic and rich in order to elude censorship would be updated on the kiosk with the same care as the hanging Christmas ornaments or pristine white curtains.

The vigil would be held in silence, the sound waves had to wash over or be absorbed viscerally. If a familiar name was announced, a woman was walked home by members of the group acting as human pillars for a quivering body allowed to mourn not in public but behind the veil of starched linens. It was a daily routine, business as usual.

Cecilia Matula quickened her pace to get home. Though she acknowledged the usual assembly of anticipated mourners, she had a strange sense of urgency. It was dank and the weather had not made up its mind to be either warm and promising of rebirth or cold with its inclinations hanging in the long shadows of late day. She closed the mercantile shop that she owned with her husband early as to reconvene at home and discuss his day’s dealings with banks, syndics, and the usual black market. Cecilia was always impeccably dressed. She was tall, almost two meters, extremely busty with her very long legs ending in a pair of heals. Her features were chiseled and though her demeanor could be construed as glacial, her deep set eyes always showed warmth. Her hair was assembled in complex braids that would be sculpted into a bun, a basket woven of golden hair. She drank the best Cognac and smoked filterless Galois or Gitanne. “If you smoke, smoke the best. And if you drink, drink the best”, she would often ruminate through a hoarse voice. In that instance she pitched her cigarette to the side and noticed her breath quickening and her heart pounding, audible inside her head. She pulled the lapels of her coat tightly together to resist the bite of the wind and felt the necklace her love gave her fall from her neck, slightly down her shirt, and land between her breasts. The cold of the gold crucifix pressed itself against her heart forcing her to halt with an audible clack against the slick cobbles. It took precedence not to lose it.

What was left of the walk home was of complete non import. Classic architecture, tree lined streets, parks framed with wrought iron fences faded into a grey monotone only accentuated by the dark, black trench coat making haste to number 11 Barlickiego. Cecilia’s heels barely committed to the last step before the front door of her townhouse swung open. Her maid, Mrs. Biegun, had been waiting for her arrival quite anxiously. Mrs. Biegun was typically jovial, rosy cheeked, heavy set and chirping about how busy she was with the house’s affairs now stood before her incapable of speech. Her complexion was that of clay, the same clay the sky was made of.

Cecilia Matula drew the very breath from her paralyzed maid’s lips. ”Roman has been arrested.”