Wednesday Write-in #17 @ CAKE.shortandsweet
Prompts: ancient history :: organised :: pickled :: wardrobe
I’ve been opening the door to Babushka’s room and using her wardrobe for time travel. It has remained closed for too long, like the entrance to some ancient hermetic tomb. So I wanted you all to know.
Of the four of us that she left behind, three haven’t stepped foot in there since she died. I am aware of the tacit understanding between us, that to open her bedroom door would be to trespass against the nostalgia and grief that each of us wants so bad to keep sealed away, like pickles in a jar.
But I open the jar when you aren’t looking. I know how the brine tastes.
The antique, double-door wardrobe against the far wall beckons me, an ominous monolith with arched doors of deep-colored walnut. It’s ten steps to get to it and I always tread lightly to avoid the creak of the wooden floors. I’d run if any of you ever discovered me, I swear.
The door always sticks when I first pull the brass handle, then gives with a start releasing the sour mix of must and wood within. Which of you hung her clothes from that single brass rail with such precision? It had to be mother. You know: two fingers of space between each article, all articles organized by function. The fabric of her weekend suits is still crisp; they’re arranged neatly next to slacks and a few plastic-wrapped pieces from the old country. Three shoe boxes adorn the shelf above the hangers: two for Sunday shoes, one for old sepia photographs.
I’ve been through them all. You guys are in there too, you know.
Lately I’ve taken to pulling different articles of clothing and trying them on for fit. I hope you’ll forgive me that. I can’t help it: each one is an eerie vessel to the past, to a not-so-distant-history that I now realize must have visited Babushka often during her final years.
Her beret is out of one of those soviet propaganda films where the girls are made-up and strong but their self-expression is neutered. Machinery and progress are the centerpieces. Was she ever forced to be in a film like that? Every time I put the beret on I picture the frame sweeping past her young, upward-turned face before panning out and revealing the object of her adoration: a crane, machinery or some other such thing.
She kept her apron from the restaurant, you know. I barely know how to keep scrambled eggs in the pan. She knew how to slaughter and stir and cure and cook and serve and organize for the townspeople. Remember? The regulars had their places reserved by rote, she said. She crocheted the napkin loops herself.
I scrambled in a panic when the Germans came unannounced, she said, shooing away partisans and tucking grenades into the haystacks out back.
Then she tried her best to ignore the Russians.
I picture her standing at the doorway to her cantina when Colonel Kerkov arrived, fist on her hip, looking on indifferently as he rolled in on a tank ahead of a full company of infantrymen, his fat goggled head poking out the top.
Remember how she told it? I do. Kerkov took a seat in the dining area and the academic who usually sat there was never seen at the cantina again.
By now you might be thinking of the wedding dress. Don’t worry, I’ve never tried it on and never will. That I keep sacred. It’s handmade. Holding it in my hands is enough to trigger vignettes of her mountain village. Love was still traditional then, she said: the man sought the approval of his lover’s elders; the townspeople joined in on the playful gossip; the mountain boys danced and drank and flailed their axes; the coquettes giggled as they brought the milk.
The young couple received gifts from the townspeople after they were married.
The fire was lively.
Yes, I’ve been taking pickles from the jar, one by one, and for me there are only a few left. When I am finished I’ll dump the yellowish water out in the backyard near Babushka’s garden and be done with it.
And then we can sit down while I try to explain how it tasted. Only when you’re ready, of course.