The Year We Drowned
Grandmother is a young woman, hardly older than me, and is walking in the woods somewhere in Mitteleuropa: looking for mushrooms, perhaps, the trumpet-shaped flutes of the black chanterelle nestled among the fallen leaves, an almost-perfect camouflage. It is a warm day in late autumn, and she has paint on her hands and is dressed in some sort of smock with pants, garb more suited to a boy. Nonetheless you can see how pretty she is, with her delicate features and the huge mane of hair tied back at the nape. There will be mushrooms for dinner if she can find some, and her mother and little brothers will exclaim with pleasure when they come home and smell the mushroom fragrance filling the apartment from the kitchen. Her parents, who have been lying in bed all week with some sort of influenza, will shout from the other room that she shouldn’t have gone to so much trouble. Her two sisters, the little one and the big one, will come into the kitchen to help her cook, one of them chopping the onions—a task she hates—the other carefully flicking the dirt from each mushroom with a rag while she climbs up on a chair to take down the big frying pan hanging on the wall to heat the butter. Her father will cook the mushrooms when he gets home from work—he’s the family mushroom specialist and always adds a pinch of Hungarian paprika or Persian saffron to the bit of broth he pours into the pan so that the mushrooms will stew and fry at the same time. She’ll hurry down to the market square before dusk to sell the fresh mushrooms spread out on a sheet of newspaper on the cobblestones, and then use the money to buy a piece of liver to fry for the elderly aunt who lives with her, whose blood is thin.