Visiting relatives

The air turns crisp quickly in this part of the world, still. Snow falls early and hard, a convenient excuse for the global warming deniers to keep pumping oil in their factories. Every year it snows a little earlier and a little harder.

She shakes out her handkerchief and places it neatly on the stone bench.

Woozee? Woozee fink she iz?

Shut up, Nastya, it’s Ana’s eldest. 

Is it my turn? I want to talk to her about Jakob, he has to get his head on straight, he does and what? What? Speak up girl!

Silence, Magda. 

So cold. Dark.

“Turned out nice today, dinit?” Her voice is a bit breathy from the long walk. She opens her bag and takes out a carefully wrapped package. Her hands work with long graceful moves, unwrapping a china plate, arranging sweets and almonds and a tangerine.

Das for us! See, that girl was always respectful. She is a good child.

Let her do her bit, Nastya, don’t be that person.

So cold.

Andrei, get over yourself. 

She whips out a small cup and twists open her thermos, filling the delicate vessel with hot strong coffee. The steam hits her face and she smiles, fanning a bit of it towards the gravestone. “That’ll do you, eh?”

Oooo, that’ll do fine!

She din’t put sugar, you know how I like sugar in my coffee.

Again with the complaints!

We’re Slavic! It is my god-given right and a duty to complain!

She sits on the bench and fishes in her cardigan pocket for a flask. She takes a long hard swig, then pours a bit on the ground. “Enjoy, you old fuckers.”

Who you calling old, eh? Still some life in me yet!

Oh, shut up already, you always do this, Magda.

She sits in companionable silence for a while, shifting a bit to find the most comfortable spot on the hard bench. She inspects the flowers on the grave and tuts. The pansies were looking a bit off. She should replace them before next year.

Oh. Oh. No, no need for that anymore, is it?

Nice of her to stop by, I always thought. Must be so proud of her, eh Kirila?

She is a dutiful child. Should be more like her. Used to be filled to the brim, come All Saints. Everyone pushing and pulling and there was always coffee and pastry. They stayed all day, too. Look at the state of us now.

Dark.

Can someone slap Andrei?

“Been meaning to get here before, but you know how it is. Work and more work. Auntie, you always told me I should study so I don’t have to work. More fool me. More fool you, too I guess. Two PhDs later and I swear… Well, you would know, now, wouldn’t you.”

That’s MY niece, that is! 

Yes, Kirila, as you so often say. Don’t rub it in.

She pours herself another coffee and takes another shot from the flask. Her eyes rest on the cypress trees that line the graveyard. They’ll be the ones to go, too. She wipes her nose.

I could do with some more coffee. 

She brought pastry, too. Don’t skimp girlie!

Patience is the mother of all virtues, Magda. Now shut up and let me get a good look at her.

“I remember the dinners, Auntie. I really missed them when you stopped inviting everyone, you know. I tried to pick up the tradition, but what with the student housing and then the studio, nobody would have fit. And you know how big Grisha got. I would have needed to rent a separate studio just for him. But I missed them. I think we all did.”

Ha!

Grisha is not big, he’s just a well-rounded person.

Magda, if Grisha got any bigger, you’d need to get a zoning licence for him.

Well! I never!

The whirr of machines started up in the background. She frowned at the noise and spoke a little louder.

“I ran into Cousin Lina the other day. She sends her regards and regrets she can’t come, but she’s really busy with the baby. She doesn’t trust those newfangled contraptions. You’d like them, though, I think. No more babysitters to hire, it takes you a whole fifteen minutes to set up and boom, instant babysitter. And they don’t drink and steal money from the drawer. What’s money to a machine anyhow.”

Huh. New-fangled contraptions. Back in my day…

Oh, shut up Magda. Back in your day, you’d give anything for a robotic babysitter.

Not so! Babies should be taken care of by proper people.

Robots are too proper people, you old bigot!

I’m with Nastya on this one. If we had those back in the day maybe I wouldn’t have ruined my back lifting Grisha when it was my turn to watch the children.

You old hag, how dare you!

You fed that boy like he’s a horse! No wonder Jakob turned out so skinny, Grisha probably ate whatever fat that boy had on him.

She was straining her vocal chords by now, the sound of the machines got so loud. She shook her head and took a bite of pastry, careful to let the crumbs fall onto the grave.

“I suppose I should tell you that he did win, like you always said he would, eventually. The elections were probably fixed, to the surprise of absolutely nobody. You were right and I can feel you gloating from beyond the veil, you know. And everything happened just the way you said it would. I suppose I should thank you for steering me into engineering. We won’t suffer as many cuts, at least that’s what they tell us.”

See. I was right. Although I’d never thought they’d be so stupid as to elect that pizda, after what happened in America.

Our people are morons. We have always been morons.

That’s why I said engineering! Nobody is going to argue that we need them. And it’s sort of like sculpting anyhow, just with different materials. Her mother was also good at sculpting, maysherestinpeace, wherever she is.

Another bite of pastry. She unscrews the thermos again and frowns. Empty. She should have taken the big one. The noise of the machines finally dies down. They will start again soon, she supposes. Once they do, that’s it.

That pastry was good. Your recipe, Kirila?

No, it was one of Magda’s I think.

Too right it was! The secret is to bake it with a cup of water in the oven.

“I came to say goodbye, actually, Auntie. See, when the big budalo won, one of the things he promised was also a way forward, to be interpreted as they see fit. So, the graveyard is going. They say he’ll build warehouses. For what, I ask you.”

What?

She chokes down a sob. “Still, no use crying. Nobody even protested, you know. I wrote letters and articles. Nobody cares anymore. What’s dead is dead, they tell me. They live in your heart, they tell me. A relic of the past, they call me. Idiots, I’m not even forty.”

Is she serious?

What will happen to us?

She gets up and stretches her legs. She puts away the cup and the little plate. She empties the rest of her flask onto the grave. “Enjoy.”

Dark.

Cold.

She checks her cell for bus times. The last one leaves in ten minutes, so she’ll have to run. She picks up a stone from the grave and picks a pansy from the side. To remember them by. Then she turns and runs downhill, never looking back.

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