The dictators have helicoptered off from the palace tarmac. They hover round and round, incredulous and, for once, scared ghostless despite their horaltic pose. No one knows whose fingers command the bullets, who’s carting away bodies through awake Romanians, from your deep sleep, through do not interrupt the dying with crying, through nobody’s killing but they’re all dead. When the raptors land, fuel-less and clueless, they look like scuffed rag dolls. I am your mother, I’ve raised you all like my own, the mastermind of the menstrual police croaks to her capturers, a platoon of teen “decreeţei” (offshoots of decree 770) fresh out of high school. Father of the people hammers the air with his fist in an incontinent babble.
My communist body has culled more torpors than desires. Still, I am eighteen and ready. I know how to duck, lie, bribe, starve, mimic, straighten heating coils, probe the obscene eyes of electrical sockets.
Only one train will take me down to the capital’s fires: lazy bullet, the communist fastest. Father and I will ride the bullet. With no mother. Without mother’s knowledge.
She cores apples, her eyes drained by fear. She demands more apples and more apples, from this sack and that sack, wrinkled apples, rusty apples, mistress apples. She empties the small buckets into the sink. To make it less suspect, father wears pajamas. In between descents into the building’s cellar, he stocks the lining of our coats with film. I will carry color for holed victory flags and carnations, and he’ll carry black and white for faces, tanks, gunsmoke. No mixing, he says. No color wasted on death. Father gives me an old Leica he’d gotten on the black market, reminds me it ate up all of grandfather’s savings.
The kitchen is all poppy pellets and flour. The woman elbow deep in dough says history’s made in the kitchen. She won’t let us go down. She is my mother. The velocity of the oven startles her. The neighbors’ whispers [End Page 31] vacated the gas lines. Someone needs to guard the fire, she says, make sure it’s not a trick, like that December when, knowing we had the stoves on overnight to thaw our bodies, they turned the gas off then back on. History’s made in the kitchen, she repeats. Twenty-five years she’s built meals out of nothing, pickled everything: mushrooms, legumes, watermelons, plums, tongues, grape leaves.
The broadcast shifts from captured despots to the streets: secret service sharpshooters masquerading as people’s army fire from rooftops, the dying and the dead on pavement and flatbed trucks, the national library burning.
Father takes too long with the cellar. We can’t afford to miss the bullet, miss the chance to undo our endemic cowardice. I pace the flat, one eye on the clock, one on the live broadcast. Mother has scraped the newspaper ink off the smoked sausage she’s been saving for Christmas. I know I can’t ask what she bartered for it. The perfectly sliced wheels smell like incinerated fir, but sweeter. Euphoria’s replaced all hungers and father’s taking too long with the cellar.
He and I understand history. He has documented my Chernobyl lips: from afar, my mouth has morphed into the head of a speckled carnation; or perhaps I’m blowing bubble gum. Close-ups let you guess pus tinted with blood.
This, we’ll live and document together, father and I.
From the bucket’s bottom, mother scoops one last apple. As she hands it over, I know the fragrance. The skin’s been scored with letters, perhaps words, indecipherable.
A neighbor calls in. She could smell mother’s yeast, so she’s brought two eggs and a cup of sugar. No trading. Let this be for the soul of her late son, Stefan, who wanted a revolution all his life. Also, she’s a tad worried. Only minutes ago my father stepped on the bus to the train station. My mother must be worried, no? Pajamas were sticking out of his suit pants and jacket...