This week Grandma brings day-old brioche and a wedge of Swiss cheese and slightly wilted daisies. While Anya sets about making the spread festive, she thinks about a day long ago, when she was a child, in a different country, trundling after her mother on the way to the market.
For as long as Anya could remember, the walls of their city had been gray. Her world had not been completely devoid of color—she had a red winter coat and pink snowboots, and the small bedroom she shared with her sickly aunt was a pale shade of green. And there was the blue sky, of course. But the wall never changed. It was long and even, broken in spots to allow for automobiles to come and go, and by signs in big, bold letters that made her stomach wobble, the messages of which her mother would not explain to her, so she stopped asking.
She could measure time by those long stretches of gray. Their apartment building was ten segments of wall from her school. The market, seven. Which was where they were going that morning.
But when she saw something new on the wall, something fascinating and colorful and not at all frightening, she couldn’t make her feet go forward. It was a flower. A painting of a flower. Unlike any flower she’d seen in all of her six years. It was certainly not their country’s national flower, the tiny chamomile, with its white petals and tiny yellow center, which her mother used to make medicine for her auntie. This one…it was almost all yellow center. Towering over the sidewalk, the yellow center seemed to Anya as big and high as the sun itself, the tiny petals almost an afterthought.
“Mama!” she cried out.
“What? It is getting late. They will be out of everything if you do not stop this—”
“Mama, what kind of flower is that?”
Her mother made a sniffing sound, one Anya had heard when Mama didn’t like a fish at the market. “That is not a flower. It’s a weed.”
Anya pursed her lips. With her mother she’d pulled weeds from the community vegetable garden in the back of their apartment building. The grownups told her that they pulled weeds because they took all the food and water from the good plants. So all weeds must go, all the way down to their roots. But this did not look like any weed she’d seen.
Much later, she learned that this “weed” was not a weed at all. And the painting of such in a public place in the country of her birth was considered blasephemy.
The next day, it was gone.
“You need help in there, mamaleh? Or shall I ring for the maid?”
Her grandmother’s gentle teasing brings Anya back to the present, makes her smile. She brings the tray, sets it on the table, pours the tea.
But still thinking of the “weed” on the gray wall, she strokes a white petal of one of the daisies in the vase, as if she could coax it back to life. As if she could transform it into a different flower. Anya sighs. “I wish we could bring them inside.”
Grandma also sighs. “They would be beautiful on your table. But it would mean the death of them. That flower, it belongs outside, don’t you agree? Forever reaching for the sun?” She gestures to the daisies. “At least here we can have something that reminds us of them.”
Anya agrees, thinking of the difference between the country where she now lives and the one she left behind. Here, a flower is revered; there, it is criminal.
“May I offer the blessing today?” Anya says, noting that Grandma had just filled her plate.
“Of course, mein shayna maidel.” She makes a big show of putting the cloth napkin in her lap and reaching across the table for Anya’s hands.
They bow their heads. “Thank you for this bounty before us. Thank you for the blue sky and the green grass and most of all for the sunflower.” She breaks into a tiny grin and adds, “Putin khulyo.”
“Putin khylyo,” Grandma repeats, and they both spit, and laugh, and eat.