14 Jul

She says: the Italians call this Ragusa, you know that?
“I thought it was Dalmatia.”
“It is,” she says, “that’s the region. The Italians call the city Ragusa.”
“It’s nothing close to Dubrovnik.”
“Well, you know the Italians…”
“I don’t.”
She laughs. She adjusts her head scarf and pours a few fingers of Slivovitz.
“Your roll,” she says.
I move the wooden men around the board accordingly. And she makes that tsk-tsk disapproving noise with her tongue on the roof of the mouth. With the next roll, she bumps two of my men onto the bar.
“Your grandfather would’ve seen that coming.”
“I’m not my grandfather.”
“You don’t look anything like your age,” she says. “You know that?”
“Sometimes they’re leery of selling me wine.”
She laughs.
“It’s true. And cigarettes, as well. And sometimes lottery tickets.”
“Good God. Americans are strange people.”
“I have to carry identification with me all the time.”
“Like in the old, Communist days,” she says.
“Something like that.”
“It’s as if you never left home.”
“Something more or less like that. Maybe less.”
“Still, you don’t look anything like your age. America must be good for the body.”
“America lets you keep your body but steals your soul,” I say.
“Oh you’re so dramatic. I see you’ve been reading the Victorians.”
“It’s a sage proclamation, I’m telling you.”
“There are plenty of Americans with bad bodies,” she says. “On the television. And in Belgrade, too. And so it disproves your hypothesis. Your roll…”
I make another mistake. She pounces on it and quadruples the stakes. I give up the game. Get out. Fold. Like in poker. She says my grandfather would have never cornered himself like that. I say again I’m not my grandfather. And then I look at my size 13 feet. And my large, Lebanese nose. I look at it through one eye. It obscures most of my field of vision. And she laughs at my realization. Adjusts her head scarf. She has strong hands. She still cuts her fair share of fire wood. Chords upon chords of it every autumn. She still brings water from the well.
“Once upon a time we had white wine from Dubrovnik,” I say. “We bought it by the case from a little place in Laurel, Maryland.”
“Laurel. Mary Land?”
“A small place. We used to buy them all out. The wine. And then they stopped importing it. They weren’t selling enough.”
She laughs.
“I have an old bottle from the island of Korcula,” she says. “I have willed it to you. When you bury me you can open it.”
“Now who’s being dramatic.”
“Practical, more like it. You can still have the bottle.”
“You can still amend your will.”
She laughs: “It doesn’t work like that here. It’s not so easy. You have to find a notary…eh…it’s not America…”
“Not yet.”
“Come inside. Have something to eat.”
We move in. She slices thick, fatty pieces of bacon and serves them with good, fresh bread.
“I’ll put on the kettle. You know your grandfather…”
“…used to drink his tea boiling hot. I know. It nearly took off my tooth enamel first time I tried it.”
She laughs.
“See? I’m not my grandfather.”
“All right, all right…when’s your train?”
I tell her.
The factory whistle from across the Gradska Luka blows end of second shift.
“I’m packing some sausages for your trip,” she says.
“Don’t. They’ll take it at customs.”
“Eh, customs. Don’t declare anything.”
“I never do.”
“Pfft,” she makes that dismissive noise I’ve known all my life. “what horseshit that is…you literary types are always declaring something.”


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