Krzysztof (Excerpt from The Vodka Cure)

Everything in the small white bathroom worked well. The Poles post communism still might have little money to build anything, but they were no slouches about plumbing, no slouches about anything technical. She dragged the blue T-shirt over her head and turned on the shower. Today they, the tourists, were off to Yasna Gora.
The ache for Yurek’s grandfather Krzysztof was beginning again. She welcomed it. Sighed deeply with the relief of experiencing such feeling. It was as if she’d found a planet with oxygen on it, a place she could really live in, after the emptiness of lying on her bed, trying not to wonder what Yurek was doing, where he’d gone, even, after what he’d told her, if he was still alive.
It no longer seemed a problem that Krzysztof was dead. She was surrounded by his spiritual presence. She soaped herself and rinsed off, soaped and rinsed, enjoying the light slap and rub of her hand. Steam, hot water, heated blood and mind, filled her with a new enthusiasm to try to understand Krzysztof, understand how he could have resisted the clever Russian trained torturers, transcended his pain throughout the long sessions they put him through and then not only saved that priest’s life but the lives of others around him. She’d throw aside her Protestantism today and embrace this religion that had so uplifted him.
She knew she was playing with something that was anathema to a Methodist; Catholicism. Even just flirting with it. But it was only for 24 hours.
She emerged from the shower. Dried herself on one of the very white fluffy towels. Stood looking through the tall old fashioned window. These Polish skies were like the blue skies you might wonder at after someone had died. Skies you might find hard to believe in. That’s what it was like for her in Poland, the sun still shining in the blue in spite of all its past tragedy.
Everything around her had Krzysztof in it. Was Krzysztof.
She knew she was driven towards Yurek’s grandfather by something more than the need to understand the man’s heroism. Remembered what The King had told her when she was about to wash the floor: ‘Your father hated you.’ Could The King really be right? Was her search for what had happened to Krzysztof really her search to understand what made her father the way he was?
She remembered now, wonderingly, that her parent had never wanted to touch her. Whenever she’d tried to hold her father’s hand he had withdrawn his before it could come into contact with her skin.
She would never forget the way he sat her down on his favourite bench beside the roses and fruit trees in the garden which meandered down to their little stretch of river and told her thrilling stories about his work instead. Told her of his search to understand why people suffered. Voice trembling with love and enthusiasm for all humankind, he reminisced, ‘When I was a young minister in Connecticut there was a woman in my congregation who suffered with arthritis.’ His deep brown eyes looked down the slope to the gums by the water as if looking for inner strength, then plunged again into his passion. ‘Her hands were so crippled she couldn’t even hold her cat. But after I listened to her emotional pain for hours and hours, she was finally cured and knitted me a sweater.’ Then he had produced for Liz something very dear to him; that same garment. She had seen it on him sometimes, when he worked in his garden. It was shapeless and moth eaten by then. But he was too full of the wonder of what had happened to care about its appearance. He was brimming with an ache for the suffering of people all over the world.
And yet he hadn’t been able to love his own daughter. Couldn’t even touch her.
Could only give her his love of the world out there; a love of whole peoples, but no actual, personal love.
Liz put her cheek against the cold window. Only knew for certain that she was looking for a reason to live, that her search was somehow connected to Krzysztof. She’d find what she was looking for at Yasna Gora? God only knew. She put on her new black blouse and slacks and pearls. Out of respect for the importance of the Black Madonna on the hill. For Krzysztof.