When the old family Chernikova comes to the garrets down in the south side of West Seventh over by Fort Road, it's easy to forget they're not in Russia anymore, even with Granny Bajang cackling about foolishness and foreign lands.
So they ignore her and leave bowls of milk for the domovoi and other spirits and put up their icons and raise chickens, and year by year they get leaner, for there's no work but for the factories which are hard and long and the docks along the Great River Mississippi. And first young Andre falls sick and passes away in the deep January freeze, then his wife Elena. And Granny Bajang refuses to rub them with mustard paste or lift a finger, she just sits in her corner and knits and gets fat.
And Ekaterina, the mother of the house grows hard and thin and tightens her strings and leaves milk by the door and the menfolk grow cruel and dark and like the ice-covered trees, and the neighbors whisper about the Indians creeping in, those strange wild red men, to eat their bones and marrow and meat. Meanwhile, Ekaterina tends Granny Bajang in her deepening robes of wrinkles and flesh and cackles.
First the children go. Then the husbands. Then the sister-aunts Chernikova. Finally, Ekaterina herself is too weak to leave the bowls of milk out, and as she lies by the stove, staring out the window into the snowy yard, Granny Bajang, who is older than the mountains of Russia are weary, leans over her.
"We only had room for the house, dearie." Granny Bajang cackles over her her grand-daughter, and Ekaterina sees a knife in her hand, sees long shadows of chicken feet on the snow outside.
In the morning Ekaterina Chernivoka is young and flush and beautiful, and the eaves of the house are running with water. The house gets itself up and strides down across the cracking ice, on down to New Orleans from the unwelcoming winter of the northern lands.