Wednesday Write-in #17: Babushka’s Wardrobe

Wednesday Write-in #17 @ CAKE.shortandsweet

Prompts: ancient history :: organised :: pickled :: wardrobe

BABUSHKA’S WARDROBE

Dearest Family,

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.

With love,

Jolana

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24 Comments

Filed under Featured Content, Flash Fiction, Wednesday Write-In, Writing

24 responses to “Wednesday Write-in #17: Babushka’s Wardrobe

  1. toni zeisel

    …you came so quietly, your step didn’t make the floor creek, and you didn’t look to the corner, somehow knowing I am there, voiseless words from our hearts in unisono. And then, and there you found, that you are for ever present, as we all always were in the most tender corner of Babushka’s wardrobe….

    Like

  2. botanicarose

    I liked how the opening lines made me expect Narnia and magical time travel, but then it returned to the real world and the gentle reminder that our memories are a kind of time travel too. Simply loved how you used the metaphor of pickles in the jar.

    Like

  3. Elaine McKay

    Congratulations on Featured Writer. Well deserved!

    Like

  4. Loved this! My 2 fave lines:
    “But I open the jar when you arenโ€™t looking. I know how the brine tastes.”
    “Iโ€™ve been through them all. You guys are in there too, you know.”
    The idea of writing it as a letter is perfect. Well done!

    Lou x
    @misswriteuk
    http://www.misswrite.co.uk
    http://www.faceboko.com/luise.gibney.writer

    Like

  5. Reblogged this on CAKE.shortandsweet and commented:
    Please take a moment to read Babushka’s Wardrobe by Anthony, which I’ve chosen as our 17th featured story.
    This story is an interesting take on remembering a loved one, and exploring their life through the mementoes they have left behind. The language creates a very rich atmosphere and lost world. Have a read!

    Like

  6. Emmaleene Leahy

    I really like how you used trying on clothes as a device for time travel; very original. At the start I thought we were off to Narnia; I like the way the reader’s expectations are played with as the story unfolds and we get to know Babushka and her life through the contents of her wardrobe. Well done

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  7. toni zeisel

    “BABUSHKA will never leave our souls, pravda? She was really biger then life; and you, my grandson, will always have my gratitude for opening her wardrobe. You are granted free entrance any time you desire.

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  8. Elaine McKay

    I thought the wardrobe being used as a way of taking the reader through the history of this character worked very well. You deal with their grief tenderly.

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  9. I really enjoyed reading this. For some reason at first I read the voice as a man’s, perhaps because the narrator seems more concerned with facts than emotions? I’m not sure, it was just a feeling I got. I really liked the way you tied in memory and history to the pieces of clothing, that was lovely, and very effective. Babushka became almost larger than life, she was really clear in my mind.

    Welcome to the wednesday write-in! ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • That’s an interesting insight into the gender of the character — I’m so used to writing male narrators that perhaps our granddaughter suffered from my tendencies ๐Ÿ™‚

      Thank you for reading — I am looking forward to taking part in more write-ins.

      Like

  10. Wow, what an evocative piece! The descriptions are powerful, yet they don’t drag the flow of the story down, and the two time periods are also synched well. Love the metaphor with the pickle jar.

    Like

  11. What a great story!
    Love the opening sentence of the letter. The whole story/letter flows naturally, and I love how it comes full circle back to the pickle jar reference.

    Just two things I’ll bring up. In the second sentence you have close instead of closed.
    Second, I found ‘Then I tried my best to ignore the Russians.’ a bit confusing at first, then after re-reading I realised it was meant to be part of the previous sentence – I interpreted it as something from the narrator.

    Like

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