06

French Countryside - Garden Wall Edited

I had painted, and done carpentry and plumbing, and I understood the principles of electric work. My father had put me to all of that work and I was competent at fourteen, but not gifted in any of it. I had no trade to make me independent of my father.

But I was confused by my other responsibilities. First I thought those responsibilities were coming to me because I was Polish. Perhaps Sister Aquinata and the Director thought, because I was Polish, I would speak Russian, or German. Poles were always Austrians, or Russians, or Germans, always someone else – the people who rebelled against all this by working harder for our masters and calling this rebellion praca organiczna – organic work.

At first, when Sister Aquinata set out my other responsibilities, she spoke vaguely. With my French, I was slow to understand what she had to say, but in time, I could follow her. I was to spy on the new guest, to report. I was embarrassed then, because I wrote very badly in French. I would not understand what La Circassia had to say, except with some difficulty. I would not be able to write it down properly, and I would look foolish.

I said this somehow, and was told it did not matter. I would do my spying with my camera. I could make a darkroom somewhere in the stable building, perhaps while the plumbers were putting in the toilet. There I could develop my film and make prints. Sister Aquinata would send away the prints, as reports. I would not keep copies. I do not think she understood the photographic process; she said nothing of negatives.

I was not to concern myself with what La Circassia had to say. I was to take pictures of what she did, of what she made. As her attendant, I was instructed to find drawing materials for La Circassia, books, whatever she asked for. When she made pictures, I would take photographs of them.

I was profoundly excited then. I would have a darkroom, equipment, perhaps an enlarger, film, and the time to process it and make prints.

Because I came with a camera.

Sister Aquinata was brief with my instructions, but thorough.

I would run errands for La Circassia, find her what she needed by way of drawing material, paints, books.

I would see that the housekeepers took good care of her and her room, that she was satisfied with her food, with the care of her effects and her clothing.

I would accompany her on any walks she took in the grounds, and provide conversation, if she wanted to talk.

If she chose to go into the town, I would accompany her, along with the man who was there to protect her.

I showed no surprise, even when I was told the institute would pay me more and give me an allowance for a decent suit of clothes, so I would be dressed properly in La Circassia’s company.

First, I would see to the room. Then I would spy.

BLOCK WHITE TALL

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