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A Taste of Judy Budnitz

March-April 2007

Read an excerpt from "Nadia" by Judy Budnitz, who was profiled by Eliza Wilmerding in the March-April 2007 issue of Harvard Magazine.

Our friend Joel got one of those mail-order brides. It was all perfectly legitimate: he made some calls, looked through the catalogs, comparison-shopped. He filled out the forms without lying about his income or his height. Where it asked “marital status?” he wrote “divorced!” and “when she left me I threw my ring into the sea.” “That’s so romantic,” we all said when he did it. “No it wasn’t, it was stupid,” he said. “I could have sold that ring for a lot of money.” We insisted, “No, it’s very romantic.” “Do you think?” “Any woman would want you now,” we said as we put on bathing suits and diving masks and headed down to the beach.

I’ll call her Nadia. That was not her name, but I’ll call her that to protect her identity. She came from a place where that was necessary. Nadia brings up images of Russian gymnasts. Or is it Romanian? Bulgarian? She had the sad ancient eyes, the strained-back hair, the small knotty muscles. The real Nadia, the famous Nadia, I forget what she did exactly, I have vague memories of her winning a gold medal with a grievous wound, a broken bone, a burst appendix. I think she defected, I picture her running across a no-man’s land between her country and ours, dressed in her leotard and bare feet, sprinting across a barren mine-field where tangles of barbed wire roll about like tumbleweeds and bullets rain down and bounce on the ground like hail.

But our Nadia, Joel’s Nadia, came wrapped as if to prevent breakage in a puffy quilted coat that covered her head to foot. She kept the hood up, the strings drawn tight so all we could see was her snout poking out. She must have been cold when she first came, she stood in his apartment and wouldn’t take it off, and then went and leaned against the radiator. We were all there to welcome her, we had come bringing beer and wine and flavored vodkas: orange, pepper, vanilla.

~From “Nadia,” a story in Nice Big American Baby