• Vol. 08
  • Chapter 09

Stories From Before the War

Some berries I couldn’t reach.
I wish I were grown-up.
I did help with picking tomatoes.
Mother had shown me how to. She also told me
that, before the war, this had been a garden with a lush
lawn and they’d have parties. She said ‘lush’.
I didn’t want to interrupt her and ask what that means.

The neighbours would come, and they’d unfold
the trestle table that stood against the wall
of the shed and load it with food—salads, pies, heaps of pasta.
I’ve had a pie once, and pasta with tomato sauce.

The Slivovitz would soon be gone. Mother always had another
bottle stashed somewhere, she said. Then they put up
a photo of Uncle Josip and Uncle Stjepan
who were in the merchant marine. I met them
once, they told tall stories. That’s what Mother said.
They’d even met a kraken!

While the water boiled for coffee, Uncle Nikola
would play the guitar and Uncle Franco the concertina,
while Mother, Marija and Vesna danced the old
dances and forgot to cook. Mother smiled, her eyes
having that far-away look like when she talks about Dad.
He’s ‘in the war’. I can’t imagine the old aunts dancing.

Uncle Franco they said had fallen. I suppose he would
be getting up again to play the concertina
for me when I am big enough. But I can dance
now, can’t I? Mother calls me and tells me
it’s not the time for dancing.
Her eyes are filling with water.