As always, we’re proud to present the creative writing coming out of our Sunday writing sessions in Vienna. Thank you to Connie Phlipot for sharing her work with us all.
By Connie Phlipot
The red sweetness of mid-summer, the lingering tartness of summer’s end. The seeds clinging to my teeth, particles of berry lingering in the bottom of the tea cup. Tea on a winter evening, made in Grandma’s special way: strong, “Russian Caravan” brewed in a small pot, poured into a cup, diluted to the right strength from water from the samovar’s spout.
I stretched out on the sofa, as I had done every Friday evening for years, crunching salty, oil crackers seasoned with chives. Colombo or Star Trek or an old musical flashed on the TV screen — a large box of a device in a faux wooden cabinet, my grandparents’ minor extravagance to watch the Westerns they loved.
Grandma sat in her upholstered rocking chair, balls of multi-colored yarn spilling out of a basket on one side of her chair, on the other a stack of books — a cookbook with old envelopes marking interesting recipes that would never be made, a blonde in a low-cut blouse on the cover of other, one of the racy novels popular among older women with fantasies of their early years.
The other chair — a worn brown semi-recliner, the plush on the seat and back indented where the previous occupant had rested his head and bottom.
The previous occupant, my Grandpa, now gone almost a year. The chair was never moved, not even an inch for cleaning. Dust circled around its wooden legs. The orange and brown afghan was still draped over the edge of the arm where he had placed it before going into the hospital.
Grandma laughed at Peter Falk’s cynic wit. “More tea?” She half rose from her chair.
“No, I’ll get it.” I slid across the linoleum kitchen floor in my socks.
One plate, one fork, a coffee cup in the drainer. Grandpa and Grandma argued over the correct way to place the dishes to drain. Not enough dishes now to worry about how they were stacked.
A tall chair with a round wooden seat and curved back — ice-cream chair they called it — stood kitty corner from the sink, where Grandpa would sit watching Grandma cook or bake bread.
“Look wren, at the bird feeder.” He would say and she would put down her dough, wipe the flour from her hands on her apron and run over to the window.
“But, those grackles, eating up all the seeds.” And she would wave her arms, the shadows flickering on the snow.
“Let them be. Grackles have to eat, too.”
The apron lay on the kitchen table, one of the large side pockets torn, the other bulging with used tissues. Grandma still wore it, though her cooking was minimal. My uniform she said, sticking her hands in the ample pockets.
I placed her cup and the jam jar on the side table, then went to the bathroom. I wanted to reassure myself that the rest of the house still reflected my grandfather.
Grandma had moved back into the master bedroom — her flannel nightgown and cotton night socks lay across the double bed. For years, she slept in the spare room to let him rest easier alone on the big bed. The slightly musty smell of his illness remained. The cold air whistled through the window where the air conditioner had been installed to ease his breathing in the hot, humid summers.
I looked into the small half bathroom, re-configured with a shower so he didn’t have to use the tub in the main bathroom. His shaving brush — round, black bristles — stood above the sink. Who used them anymore? In fact, when had he last been able to shave himself, especially with a manual razor?
The cuckoo clock chirped. 9:00 p.m. time for a TV channel change. Grandma’s eyes had closed. I turned off the TV.
Could I still smell his breakfasts? I had waken on summer Saturday mornings to the heavy air of fried garlic and salt side. He would have already been working in the garden since day break, fortified with an apple and instant coffee. If I had dashed into the bathroom when he was first up, I would see him cutting off chunks of apple with a pocket knife.
No, I didn’t smell garlic anymore. Too many floor scrubbings and stove scouring had erased the scent. I only smelled tea and the tangy sweetness of raspberry jam.