For Country

She was known to the villagers as The Widow. Her name was, however, Zafta. She was my grandmother.

“It’s pronounced vossNAYick. Vosnaik. It’s Polish. Like you,” she said, her eyes obscured behind her black, hand-tatted veil. Her fingers curled around the elegant goblet sublimely filled with Sambuca while her right hand accentuated the emphases. Her goblet was always filled with a clear liquor, so she could get away with drinking it without making excuses.

We ate duck that night. “Your grandfather left us, your mother and me, when she, your mother, was ten, about the same age you were when you got your first bike.” She took a small bite from her plate. For the longest time I thought it was because smaller bites forced us to slow down and savor our food, taught us to not overeat. Later I realized it was because larger bites interfered with her ability to speak during dinner. “Stubborn. Filthy. Handsome was your grandfather.

And I was gullible.” Her face revealed little, mainly because the veil was parted only enough to allow a fork and food.

“What happened to him?”

“Your grandfather,” she started, “was a smart man. Very smart.”

We sat in silence for several minutes. Overhead, the first of the nightly sirens echoed through our alleyways and rattled off our windows.

“He didn’t like the way the country was being run, so he joined the military.”

The military. It was said that their ruthlessness was underscored only by their vigilance. Justice, it was said, was to be had on the heads of the Jews. My grandmother knew this, but she didn’t have cause for worry. I let her be here. They were going to find out soon.

“Like I did.”

She fixed her gaze on me, which I could feel through her constant shadow. “There is a lot you two share.”

I couldn’t sense her meaning. She clinked her wedding ring in nuisanced rhythm against the side of her goblet.

“I do it because of Country. There is no room for divided religion.”

“He, too, loved this country dearly.”

We fell quiet again, one thing we were prone to do now. She would continue when it was time.

“He died in an explosion. I got his cross, the only thing that survived.” It swung from her neck, a blasphemy to her.

Dinner was finished, so I stood up, pushed in my chair, kissed my grandmother on the cheek through her mourning blacks. “I will be back next week,” I told her. I lied.

“If God feels the same,” she said. She always said.

I left out the front door and locked it behind me, intent on walking to the station. As I walked down the street, my grandmother would make a phone call from a box she kept hidden in the closet. She would call the men who would grab me, cover my face in wool-cloth, and drag me into a room.

She wouldn’t know that they would threaten me. She did not know that they would make me stare at the blinking lights. She did not want to know how her grandson died, only that when she heard the windows rattle, it wasn’t from the train passing. She would convince herself of that. She had to be a
Widow. And she had to remain anonymous. The revolution would start tonight.

-JR Simmang

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