Our first story of the week.

Branching from the Willow

By Shoshana Surek 

Balancing over the center of the Danube River, Nagymama closes her eyes, tips forward, and prepares her stomach for the fall. The river below reminds her of cholent. The debris, shell casings, and Nylas fragments become bits of carrot, celery, and boiled egg in her soup pot.

If she were a child she could tie a yellow ribbon around a willow stick, drop it over the railing, and dash to the other side to watch it emerge. She could wish her willow a safe journey, “Zametsli.”

But she is not a child.

She exhales through gaunt cheekbones, which were once flat and round but are now sharp and desirable (stolen from her prettier older sister who no longer needed them), she leans into gravity, and she falls,

or

Flexing triangular fingers around the train car’s door frame, calloused feet itching for nighttime soil somewhere between Siberia and home, Nagypapa closes his eyes, tips forward and prepares his stomach for the fall. He senses blurred rows of beaded onyx. He smells the red, the yellow, and the white feast encased in green. His stomach rumbles.

Graben,” they said. And so he dug, but in Hungarian.

If he were an old man he could rattle on diabetic feet on a railroad track through the kitchen where she hid the sugary treats. He could emerge with a fine white dusting of donut powder on his lips, apricot fánk his only weakness.

But he is not an old man.

Instead, the obscure light of early morning reveals in the distance a familiar ribbon of Danube River, he leans against gravity, and he falls,

or

Morning stretches toward darkened sky. It says Zametsli to the moon, and it wraps light along alleys and rooftops. It picks up pieces of red, blue, and yellow. The stained-glass street delights the children as the krystal scrapes their feet. The little grebe sits ruffled on tar-colored willow branches and shifts from one webbed foot to the other.

A lone figure, her hair left in station #52, overlooks the Danube River.

If she had hair, it could be released in a modest attempt at beauty, as the sunlight lifted her from the platform and offered her to the river. If he had strength, it could be released in a modest attempt at bravery, as the sunlight lifted her from the platform and offered her to the river. But she does not have hair and he does not have strength,

so

The two lovers met by chance or by design or by the river, as they told it, but all that matters is that the two lovers met. It matters because they were married and they had four children in two concentration camps.

If they had been young lovers, they could leave their shoes on the shore of the Danube River. They could tie yellow ribbons around willow branches, drop them over the railing, and call, “Zametsli!”

That is, if they were young lovers. And they were.