“Tales From Ukraine”
Based on My Limited Travels There, Where I Felt I Identified with People, but Never Figured Out If They Identified with Me.
But then my grandfather says, “They’re family,” he’s tearing up now, “and you should feel welcome there any time.” Before I can be touched by this, he quickly amends his statement: “Almost any time.” Just covering his bases.
Dinner in the Village, at the Neighbor’s House
I considered moving here to marry the neighbor boy, but then I found out he was already married. And my cousin.
The Burdens of the Babas Hanka
I couldn’t have been in the kitchen five minutes when Baba Hanka began telling me, through undulating dentures, that someone had died. Probably that everyone had died (except, magically, she and the other Hankas). She struggled to straighten her arthritic fingers so I could see how many had died or how depressingly young they’d been when they’d gotten around to doing it.
My Baba Hanka was busy alternating between mumbling and yelling at Dentures Baba Hanka, “She doesn’t understand you!”— Which I understood, but then the dentures started their dance around Baba Hanka’s mouth again and watching them migrate behind her moist lips cleared my mind of translating their wide gestures.
There weren’t any tears in their pale, old eyes, but there were tears in their warbling voices. My Baba Hanka less than the others, but that was made up for by the appearance of Teary Baba Hanka.
Teary Hanka was still talking about her dead husband and blotting her wet eyes on the apron she’d just used to clean chicken shit off their fresh eggs. She picked up right where she left off the last time the Babas Hanka had me cornered in the kitchen (only this time I wasn’t naked, and Dentures Baba Hanka wasn’t trying to wash me, as I gradually contracted into a tight ball).
Vereniki – Rolling Dough in My Mother’s Cousin’s Kitchen, Before the Air Conditioner
The tips of our fingers are sweating in the flour. Marusha says making pierogi is easy, but she doesn’t like this flour. Also, they’re only called pierogi in Poland and our family’s backward town—I imagine this is because they embrace part of their once-Polishoccupied heritage. The tiny Ukrainian village has effectively transferred all animosity to the Russians for sending them to Siberia to watch their parents die, and so never found a reason to go back the Russo-Ukrainian word for cheese pocket, Vereniki.
It’s an easy recipe: a pinch of salt and a cup of water (not a measuring cup—just a mug about the size of the one that was sitting on the counter at the time), an egg or two, and enough flour to make the dough sticky, like the ball Marusha holds between thumb and forefinger. I nod gamely as a drop of sweat mimics the slow crawl of an insect down my back, wondering how many pounds of flour I’m going to waste trying to make the dough “like this.”
The Rest of the Time
We were eating.
Tatiana Ryckman was born in Cleveland, Ohio. She is the author of two prose chapbooks, Twenty-Something, and VHS and Why it’s Hard to Live, and is Assistant Editor at sunnyoutside press. More at Tatianaryckman.com.
Beth Couture currently serves as both a Board Member and an Assistant Editor at Sundress Publications. Her work can be found in a number of journals and anthologies, including Gargoyle, Drunken Boat, The Southeast Review, Ragazine, and Thirty Under Thirty from Starcherone Books. Her novella, Women Born with Fur, was published by Jaded Ibis Press in 2014 as part of its Blue Bustard Novellas series. She is currently working on her Master’s in Social Work at Bryn Mawr College, and she lives in West Philly with her husband and five cats.