Gabriella Kane


Gabriella Kane studied at university in Hull and Iowa and is currently living in South London, where she works in a bookstore and pharmacy by day, and writes on a precariously wobbly desk by night.


View as PDF: Gabriella Kane - Denouement


Fifteen years after the death of my father, when we were packing everything away into boxes, ready to be moved to the countryside, we came across a Russian lacquer box under a tile on the floor. It was quite accidental, and we probably wouldn’t have found it at all, had my mother not noticed the trail of mouse droppings that led into the closet my father had once used as a dark room. They stopped over a wonky, but by no means suspicious tile, and as my mother lifted it up, armed with a hockey stick from our schooldays to execute the defecating culprit, the prismatic glint caught her eye. The lid was a hand-painted snapshot from Russian folklore- a girl with saffron hair, a gown that blended into the night sky and slippers carved of ice, dancing in the forest, looked on by a man who was sat in the curve of the blue crescent moon.

The dark nook had kept it pristine- we prized it open, not knowing what we would find inside, not anticipating it to be a trove revealing the half-discovered secrets about my father’s life. Inside, covered in a gritty dust, there were beautiful things- a gold-plated harmonica, an amber brooch. There were his medals from the Polish underground force- the Armia Krakojwa- and postcards full of poetic yearning, sent to my father from the girls he knew at school in Warsaw. There were the pictures my sister Klara and I had drawn as children which we thought he had thrown out, the paper still waxy from the crayon rainbows and mermaids.

And then there were photographs- monochrome relics from another era. We didn’t pay much attention to them at first- my father was always taking photos of things and developing them himself, and even though they now had a nostalgic charm, they were mostly just mundane shots of everyday life. The milk bottles lined on the doorstep, the grocer polishing his store front window.

But there was something else there, towards the back of the pile. When I first saw it, I had to check with my mother to make sure.

‘This is him?’

‘Yes that’s him’ she replied.

I thought history had been laid to rest a long time ago, but here it was, gouging open old wounds. But it was so long ago. Don’t dwell on the past I told myself. But I felt some obligation to him. My father’s life was made up of broken fragments, and I thought that if they were finally pieced together, I could give him the peace he had hoped to find.

My mother knew things.

She knew how, hands on hips, brisk and bandy-legged like the fluttering sprints of a fawn, to click her heels in time to the Krakowiak.

She knew how to work her fingers; to separate strands of hair and braid into flaxen wreaths around our ears, bejewelled with marigolds and lemon drop sized glass baubles from the department store Christmas display.

She could recall all the Polish saints by name, like childhood friends, and knew who to pray to for problems she felt were beyond her help. St Jesus Malverde for the pill poppers that pointed at aliens in the play park, or St. Polycarp for the bout of dysentery we got when we shared our bathroom with a surgeon who liked to experiment with sticking things in various parts of his body (We recovered from the dysentery but it took some time to get over the revelation about what he’d been doing with our Cindy dolls and peanut butter jars).

She knew that she was desired by many men, who couldn’t help but find something irresistibly enticing in the challenge of her half-smile and shy, guarded eyes. Her girlhood was spent on a farm in the Tatra Mountains, only daughter of a 6ft 6 górale sheep herder, where the silver-streaked air and mineral-potent spring water had polished her face with a youthful, porcelain doll like complexion.

My mother knew how to hide herself away, make her tiny body fit into things, so she was nothing but a wisp of breath.

I was born at the height of the baby boom as a new generation would began to embrace the world, without the bluster of war hanging over them.

My father had lived with a friend from the Armia Krakojwa, Tomasz (who later became my godfather- and an alcoholic, put away for fourteen years for sending a Russian communist flying over Waterloo Bridge one New Year’s Eve). Tomasz told him about a girl he worked with at the dairy, a ładne dziewczyna with plaited hair and elegant hands, who’d lost her brothers and had been transported to live with other survivors of Birkenau in England.

Kochanie Karolina, my father would write to this misplaced mite, I know you are lonely and your heart is hurt so badly, but there is someone here who can’t will not cannot stop thinking of you every hour, even when he sleeping sleeps. That madly fool in love is me. Józef xx.

They called me Beatrycze and wet my head with vodka and tears, saying ‘The broken years are behind us.’

My mother found something tangible in the world again, an anchor in her life when everything else had been swept away. But don’t get any romantic misconceptions. Theirs never became any kind of love story.


Summer hit with full force. Windows were thrown open and not closed again until late October, we melted over our desks at school, old people dropped down at church and men loosened their top buttons and rolled their sleeves up to their elbows.

We rented five rooms in a ramshackle, rundown house in Tooting, South London. There were two bedrooms; one for my parents, one for Klara and I. There was a room you could have easily mistaken for a coat cupboard that my father used as the dark room for his photography, and a kitchen attached to a small living room overlooking Tooting Common. It must have once been a grand house, Georgian style, with the high double hung sash windows and elaborate garlands and ribbons swirled into the ceilings and plasterwork. Now however, it had been consigned to misery- the doors flapped on their frames at the slightest wind, the paintwork was shambolic and the pipes clanked like disgruntled ghouls at all hours of the night. A foolhardy family of mice gorged on the the pretzel sticks and the kiełbasa, and played hopscotch on our toes when we sleeping.

The rooms were small, but whenever my father entered, he made them feel even smaller. He’d arrive home every day at 6.30 from the printing press, whistling ‘Cold, Cold Heart’ down the lime-tree lined streets, stopping to sprinkle his leftover sandwiches for the pigeons and shake hands whenever he came across a neighbour.

We heard the footsteps on the staircase, hard as thunder. My father was not a big man; he would tell you he was a touch short of six foot, but he was more of a solid five foot nine. Unlike most grown men I knew, he found no pleasure in plentiful meals (from what I gathered, a late adolescence spent in the Army, fed the slimy residues from a pot of broth spooned out to dozens of starving boys just like him had made him almost obsessively disciplined with his diet. Anything that was more gastronomic and substantial than a bowl of sauerkraut, or a marmalade sandwich, was a luxury that his stomach could only handle on special occasions). So he still had the slender form of a man ripe out of his teens, but there was something about the way he walked around, as if he occupied more space than he filled, as if you felt you had to squeeze past him to get to the other side of the room, as if his shoulders scaled your entire breadth of vision. When he sat softly down in his armchair, paper spread over his lap, the air became denser and things came closer.

It was best not to be seen. Klara and I crouched in corner pockets- she was three years younger, slight as a rabbit- and camouflage ourselves into the carpet. I was taller than the average nine year old- clothes seemed to have shrunk on me by the time of every new full moon- so I found myself increasingly hard to hide, harder to blend in with the furnishings. Mother would busy herself with her hands, finding things for them to do, routines for them to perform. She vigorously rolled at a mound of dough on the kitchen worktop, elbows jutting out, knuckles white. We would wait until he spoke.

‘Nobody learns anything anymore’ he said out of nowhere, once he’d reached the sports pages.

‘What’s happening in the world today?’ my mother asked, suddenly looking up while still pounding the dough with the pin.

‘Riots in America. A million miles away. China doing silly things, playing around with the hydrogen bomb. Too much power and, pff, things go out of control.’

‘Goodness. That’s what happens. Crazy people. Have a coffee.’

‘No milk. This is not a nice world.’ He pulled his handkerchief out of his right trouser pocket and dabbed at the high arches of his temples, which were glistening. The evening sun caressed the window next to the armchair where my father was sitting, giving his skin a honeycomb tinge.