You might think I must’ve ended up at some horrid orphanage where children are neglected, at best, or at worst called singly into the offices of the headmaster/headmistress to endure some form of abuse perhaps involving switches or worse.
In fact the place was quite nice, with dormitory rooms where six girls slept on six beds covered by faded but serviceable gingham bedspreads. We were fed three times each day—simple, hearty food. French toast for breakfast, sandwiches on thick slices of bread for lunch, dinners of meatloaf or chicken-and-dumplings. And in a pinch the cook would hand out apples or crackers to any child that ducked into the kitchen looking for a snack to cure their hunger or their loneliness.
The bystanders that picked me up from the wreckage of the balloon didn’t know my name. The fat man in the nylon jacket apparently kept no records. My mother paid him in cash for our ride in the sky and he never so much as wrote down her information. She’d left her purse at home, not wanting to drop it from the basket while in the air.
When I said he had no family, they whisked me away to the orphanage at the end of Millstone Road. It was miles to any town and we children had the run of the meadow though we were warned against splashing in the stream. It would’ve been a great place to grow up were it not for the sad fact of our parentlessness.
I invented a new name to go with my new life.
“Anastasia,” I told them I was called. “Anastasia Groschenko.”
The other girls called me Annie and soon the adults did too. Only one person could be bothered to pronounce my cumbersome name: my best friend, Roman Archer.
Roman lived in the boys’ dorms on the other side of the building. Each day after lessons we ran out to the meadow together to play Elves and Fairies and to plan our futures. When we were six we figured we would join the circus together. At seven we expected to be gypsies, telling fortunes for food. By eight we’d decided to be traveling salespersons. We always imagined ourselves leading nomadic lives, never settling anywhere. And we would always be together.
Roman was the second person to save my life. Luckily, unlike my mother, he didn’t die doing it.