The Things Grandmothers Like to Talk About

The light’s coming in misty through the lace curtains and her son comes back from the shop with a plastic bag, hands me a beer, hands me the bottle opener saying the bottle opener is a Soviet miracle because it opens cans, too. It looks like some kind of weapon.

And oh dear, have you heard about your auntie? She’s died, and so has your uncle. Terrible, just terrible. And did you know that this the raspberries are actually still alive this Autumn so you can eat them off the bush without maggots. She was 70, I’m 72. Pauses, wipes her eye on borrowed time in a long sad moment. Sipping the beer. Her skin’s lit up. I can’t believe how much it cost to take your cats to the vets in England. We took our apples to someone who makes them into juice in a bag for one Euro. I didn’t know Andris so well, but it’s sad to hear he’s died.

Your sister’s going to study in Riga once every week. She’s a good girl, isn’t she. None of the clocks are right in this house. She’s traveling 300km every week. She’s studying chemistry in Riga. I get handed forks from the drawer. Did you want another coffee? I’ve finished my beer, crushed the cap and dropped it into the bottle, the sun’s going down and I’m wondering which clock is the least wrong. They’re ticking out of time, drifting in and out of sequence.

Her son’s gone down into the basement into the workshop. Cigarette smoke comes up through the floorboards, and she’s just gone to get the German trophy her dog won when he was 6 months old for having good bones and fur. We’re out in the garden, plucking raspberries off the bush. Don’t touch the ones at the top, they’re rotten already. Your new house has been refurbished so nicely. The outbuildings have curtains, oh dear. And oh dear, my husband’s gone blindย and my I’m going deaf. The sun’s lighting the fields, and I’m going to the bathroom a little more often than usual. Tell me, where were you living in Riga? Where have you been for all this time? Did you know your dad’s moving to Canada? Our pension’s being increasedย by 52 cents.

No one else is having a beer, and I’m sitting listening to the conversation with my far from fluent Latvian, a camera with open shutter, wanting to get a picture of her, sitting opposite, going out to smoke on the concrete expanse in front of the empty garage, talking about how I’m going to get a picture of her, lit misty against the window.

Rattling down the dirt road out of the village. The car’s clock is well off as we pass a wrecked out factory, rabbit farm, abandoned petrol station, the culture center where the roof’s fallen in, one of the only roads in Latvia with two roads of trees down the side, made to thank the peasants for not burning down the baron’sย house.

Bleak skyline from a distant dock town, coming home backlit misty, cranes move against the horizon, down onto solid roads, concreted verges, and did you know almost all of your relatives have died.

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