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Today's Story by Zarina Zabrisky

I knelt on the asphalt and drew my last picture for Grandma.

Argentina Love

When I was ten I lived in Odessa and dreamed of sailing to Africa, Australia or Argentina. I loved all far away places that started with A.  My name started with A, too–Alla–but I didn’t like my name. I kept altering it.  Angelina.  Angela.  Ariel.

Yes, I was Ariel, a famous singer.  I sang my songs to my only audience, Grandma Enta.  Grandma always sat outside, under a linden tree, in the shade, and didn’t move, yellow like our wallpaper. Ever since I was very little my mom left me sitting next to Grandma in summers.  Grandma told me fairy tales but she never could hear me.  She went deaf a long time ago. I couldn’t remember my father–her son–and I couldn’t remember Grandma Enta hearing.

So to explain my songs to Grandma I first drew pictures in colored chalk on the cracked asphalt or danced.  Pale pink, light blue, white, and creamy yellow palm trees, parrots, pineapples and princesses in puffy dresses covered the sidewalk and the yard.

One day I wrote a song about a girl, a pirate and a prince, and I made a long strip of pictures.  The pirate kissing the girl, a pink heart over their heads.  A prince on a galleon, pink sails full.  The pirate and the prince sword fighting.  The pirate in a pool of pink blood.  The wedding.  The prince holding yellow rings. A blue tear on a girl’s cheek, for the pirate.  The blue and pink mixed in the air and looked lilac, violet and tasted sweet when I licked my fingers.

The radio inside the neighbors’ apartment played music, soft piano and crying violins, and it flowed from the open windows.  I sang my songs to it, dancing and twirling in front of Grandma right on the drawings.  The girl in my song wore scarlet skirts, a red rose in her hair, and dangling bracelets on her ankles and wrists.  So I made chain bracelets from curtain rings and a skirt from a very old flag.

I found it in Grandma’s trunk.  Grandma Enta used to be the best seamstress in Odessa.  She was famous for her art of stitching but now she couldn’t sew anymore because of her arthritis. She kept her sewing tools in the trunk–glistening and rusty needles, tangles of bright threads, frail laces falling apart, and mother-of-pearl buttons.  She had also old photographs of my grandfather Ivan, in his black leather jacket and a red star military hat, and of some other bearded men–“To Enta from Yasha with love,” “To Enta from Aaron with love,” and some signed in strange spidery letters that I could not read–an old book in a foreign language with the same strange letters, and a small silver pendant in a blue box–it was a star, but with six corners instead of five, a kind I’d never seen before.

I was going to ask Grandma about all those treasures later, but for now I wrapped the red velvet banner around my hips.  The golden tassels swung by my knees, and “Long live the Red Army!” dazzled in embroidery.

After I bowed, Grandma didn’t clap.  She usually did.  Instead, this time she signed for me to get closer.  She used her frozen fingers like a hook to pull the banner off me.  The clothespin flew to the ground.  Grandma put the banner in her lap and patted the red velvet as if it was a cat.  Then, she said in a croaky voice, “You shouldn’t have opened my trunk without asking.  This is very old.  I made this for your grandfather when I first met him.”

I sat down next to her chair, in the dust, and looked up at her, preparing for a story because her eyes got all dreamy.

“He came to my house to order this–” she started, and then stopped.

She sat there in silence, her fallen mouth moving as if she was chewing on something.

“And then what happened, Grandma?  You fell in love and got married?” I asked.

“Do you know the other song about Argentina?” asked Grandma instead of answering.

I shook my head.

“It starts, ‘Tell me why do you need the foreign country Argentina?’ Mom never sang it to you? No?”

“No, ” I shook my head again.

“Come,” she said.

I got closer to her, breathing in the dry hot scent of acacia, mustard and garlic that soaked the air, and listened to her dense, crispy voice:

Why, tell me, travel far away to Argentina?
Here’s the story of our own Kakhovka rabbi

He lived a peaceful quiet life without a worry
Enjoyed his life as happy as a clam

The rabbi had a lovely daughter Enta.

I looked at Grandma.  Her name was Enta, and I never heard anyone with the same name.  It was a strange name.  A Jewish name, my mother once explained to me.


“Enta,” said Grandma and kept singing,

Enta was supple like a beautiful silk ribbon,
She was as clean as freshly laundered blanket
She was as smart as all the Tora writings.
She had two suitors crazy about her.

But then, you know, the revolution happened,

It happened in the  town of Kakhovka
It happened in our Enta’s little head.

The Reds were now in charge,

The Comissar Ivanov was —

She stopped.  Her waxy hands, all wrinkles, lines and knuckles with the blue knots of veins, looked like a witch’s hands.  She moved her fingers, smoothing the velvet banner on her knees.  Ivanov, I thought.  That was our last name.  Grandma’s, my father’s, mine.

“Wait,” I said, but Grandma couldn’t hear me so she just kept singing, and her voice was changing, it was getting stronger and younger,

And Enta fell in love insanely, madly.

Ivanov was broad-shouldered, handsome, healthy,

He wore new breeches,

And his boots were always squeaking.

Grandma sighed and said, “Oh how handsome he was,” and kept singing,

One night the rabbi returns home,

And Enta’s missing.

He finds an envelope and tiny little letter.

He reads the letter and he does not understand it.

Few words: “Good bye. I left–

Signed– Citizen Ivanov.”
“Oy, vey,” he cries. “Where is my little daughter?”

She stopped singing again.  I saw tears in her faded eyes.  She had no eyelashes left.  I watched a tear trembling on the slick red of her inside eyelid, then it slowly crawled its way through the furrows on her cheek as she started singing, her voice loud and clear,

“The rabbi prayed no more,

He quit religion,

Moved to Odessa

And became a business owner.”

Grandma stopped singing and closed her eyes.

“Grandma,” I wrote on the asphalt with lilac chalk. “Was it you?”

I tapped on her knee. She opened her eyes, read it and nodded her head.  Then she said, “Only my father didn’t become a businessman.  He died the day I ran away.”

She covered her eyes with her yellow crooked fingers and didn’t move.  I walked to her and patted her hand–it felt cold.

When Grandma died the next summer, my mother had the coffin set outside under the linden for the neighbors to say good bye.  I looked out of the window at the yard swimming in the golden heat and sweet acacia scent.  The piano music floated out of the open windows again and bounced off the yellow walls.  The flies buzzed over the coffin and landed on Grandma’s sharp waxy nose.  I got the red velvet banner out of the trunk, grabbed my chalks and went down.  I covered Grandma with the banner, face and all.  And then I kneeled on the asphalt and drew my last picture for Grandma.

A Russian Red Commissar galloped on a black stallion, the red velvet banner in his strong arm.  Enta, beautiful and young, sat behind him, her white arms wrapped around his waist, her braids flying in the wind, her brave eyes open wide.


Zarina Zabrisky is the author of IRON, a short story collection, and a novel We, Monsters forthcoming in 2013. Her work appeared in literary magazines and anthologies the US, UK, Ireland, Canada and Nepal. She is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee. You can read some of her published stories and poems atwww.zarinazabrisky.com.


This piece was read as part of a production of “Action Fiction!”, sponsored by Fiction365 and Omnibucket.   

Read more stories from Action Fiction! productions.


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