It’s Mother’s Day. In the village in a foreign country my host grandmother has hooves for feet. She sits in the living room after bending her back from morning to evening, in the garden, in the outdoor kitchen, in the animals’ home. I serve her thick, dark coffee with a piece of Russian candy. Does she worry I’ll hit her with the silver pot one day? It’s a jazva, she spits. Use our language. Her teeth are badly eaten but it doesn’t affect her self-esteem. She would not know the concept, anyways—she would not see its selfish grace.
Untenderly she sips the coffee; it’s still scalding; her tongue is immune, like her hands. She smells like the cows, the two mothers she milks, the milk I drink and get stomach pains. We stare at the TV, Indian soap operas once again, the colors exotic and far. We’re all mothers, she says, not breaking her stare. Even if we don’t have a child. On TV the Indian grandmother scolds her granddaughter, both clothed nobly in saris dripping with gold. This is her romance.
Who mothers my toothless mother with her beautiful voice? Her hooves are hidden from view. She had so many girls, each one with a pearled voice too, and now she herself has become a sound. Just a noise, a din like the clink of a dinner plate.
The garden is tulip-filled and green; but it is night, and we look inside at the TV, in the living room, wrapped in the heavy drapery of dark furniture, wardrobes like gravity centers pooling, pulling us in. The rugs could snuff out a candle without touching the flame. The end song rings out so familiar as it does every night. No place is really sacred, not really, I think—always something dims the eye, makes you want to turn away. Her hooves, they ache, and my grandmother complains with a small smile as she stuffs them in her slippers, and hands me the cup, her coffee grounds darker than night.
It feels like I’m staying at a hotel, somewhere I’m always saying farewell to and I come back again countless times, the bed never slept in. I can make you fat, she once said, grinning. It was a sign it was all turning caramel, a bell ringing in hell, and every time the bottom would drop out, I’d forget my mother tongue. It drops. My grandmother clinks back outside, heavy-hipped into the night. She leaves our love again, still as a cup, quite miffed, a thousand tricks in its sleep. It never wakes up. It never checks out.
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