Judith / Abel Fernández Larrea

Painting by El Sexto
Painting by El Sexto

aunt elshvieta was about eighty years old. she was never married. she was small, with short hair and glasses, and out from under them her large nose protruded. at first glance she didn’t seem to have a gender. my father always said that she “looked like woody allen, the american film director.” my mother always scolded my father every time that he, before an imminent visit from our aunt, dropped that comment. but our aunt, on the other hand, didn’t come to visit us very often.

she and my grandmother were sisters, but for some reason they didn’t speak. when grandma died, my father convinced our aunt to come and live with us at haifa. at first, she resisted, but ended up making the trip from birobidzhan to settle in our apartment. she lived with us for a month. at the end, our aunt said that she preferred to live alone and was thinking about moving back to trans-siberia. then my father told her that there was no need to return to any place and he rented an apartment for her close to ours in neve sha’anan.

she sometimes came over for rosh hashanah and other holidays, although none of us followed the tradition. however, she never missed yom hashoah, the day in which we remembered the holocaust. that day, while the majority of the neighborhood walked down the street or went to the synagogue, we made a simple dinner in which my mother prepared little pastries “like in khabarovsk.” our aunt loved these pastries. she could eat ten in one sitting, and then she would say that she felt bad and that she should return to her house. my father always convinced her to stay, and he sent my brother and i to prepare one of the beds in our room for her. at night, my little brother slept with our parents, and i remained in the room with my aunt, which always made me a little apprehensive.

my aunt talked in her sleep. most of the time she said russian slogans, as if she was haranguing workers in a rally. my father told me that she had been commissar, working actively after the war. also, he told me that because of her, many had been expelled from the party, which was the equivalent of losing it all. people even went to the gulags because of my aunt. meanwhile, she had been awarded the order of lenin.

other times, when she slept, she spoke in yiddish. these dreams seemed older, from before or during the war. they were convulsive dreams. i didn’t understand yiddish very well; only a few words. from what i understood, she seemed to talk with someone, saying “my love, my love, don’t do it.” sometimes she said the name of my grandmother. other times, she repeated a name: rudolf. several years passed before i could find the story, before i understood the cause of aunt elshvieta’s dreams.

then i was about to finish high school. i had read something about the great war, about the massacres, the evacuations, the death camps. i was interested in everything related to the german-romanian invasion and the resistance of the partisans. i thought that maybe aunt elshvieta, who had lived during that time, would know more about it.

one day, after i left school, i decided to stop by her apartment on my way home. my aunt wasn’t there, so i had to sit on the steps and wait for her. after a while she appeared, laden with shopping bags. she was happy to see me and i thought that was a good sign, so i helped her carry the bags. my aunt, given her age, climbed the stairs more energetically than i did. i assumed this was because her habit of walking from one place to another when she was a commissar. we put the bags on the table. my aunt wouldn’t stop looking at me and made comments about how much i had grown, even though it had only been a month since she’d been to our house.

–but how big you are, misha! –she said–, every time i see you,you look more like your father!

then she offered me a snack and began to prepare orange juice. i walked over to her while she cut the oranges. she had a steady hand. with one chop she’d part the fruit into halves.

–aunt –i said, finally daring to speak–, can you tell me about the great war?

her countenance changed. the knife stopped, skimming the surface of the orange. my aunt shook her head and continued driving the blade into the fruit. then she put the knife down and began to squeeze an orange half in her hand. her pulse was shaking.

–what do you know? –i said at last.

–i don’t know… anything.


The publication of this story is part of Sampsonia Way Magazine’s “CUBAN NEWRRATIVE: e-MERGING LITERATURE FROM GENERATION ZERO” project, in collaboration with Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, and a collection of authors writing from Cuba. You can read this story in Spanish here, and other stories from the project, here.