Grandma’s strudel sizzled with cinnamon and cloves; her paper-thin apple slices were dipped in plum brandy. Visitors, demanding her recipe, always called it the best apple strudel in town.
She placed a large piece in front of me, with a dollop of whipped cream. But Grandpa’s piece she slammed down and the fork bounced off the plate.
“You want me to be a widow,” she said. “You never listen to me. You always know best. Rest. Exercise and rest is what the doctor ordered. But do you take care of yourself?” Grandma’s mission in life, regardless of impending widowhood, consisted of baking rich desserts and ensuring Grandpa and I were bursting with sugar and butter.
Everyone’s nerves were on edge. When Kennedy was elected, everyone in Czechoslovakia breathed a sigh of relief, thinking we wouldn’t get blown up by the evil Americans after all. But recently the mood changed. On the radio they frequently interrupted Beethoven and Haydn with the announcer’s somber voice talking of troop movements, of the threat of the imperialist Yankees invading first our socialist brothers in Cuba, and then the rest of the world, and Grandpa sighed and turned the set off.
He grumbled now. “Oh, Heli, you know I’m doing my best. It’s just that the neighbors are so needy and the radios made so poorly. Once they’ve grown used to the broadcasts from Vienna and Berlin, to the concerts, to the football matches, they feel they can’t live without. A little sunshine in their gardens is all they want. And when they come, desperate, well, I can’t say I’ll get to it in three weeks, can I? I fix it in a few days, even if I sleep a little less and get up a little earlier. I’ll try to stretch and lift and twist into those doctor contortions, I really will.”
When I still had Napoleon, whenever Grandma and Grandpa fought, he and I would crawl under the kitchen table and I’d curl into him and he’d wag his tail and lick my face. But ever since Mr. Stetina ran him over, I play under the table by myself.
Every time we strolled through our district, the neighbors all shook Grandpa’s hand and patted his back. So what if he jiggled when he carried me piggyback? Mr. Kroner next door had a gut the size of a zeppelin and did no jumping jacks. For that matter, Grandma didn’t go for jogs either. Then I remembered Grandpa last Easter, stretched out on the living room floor, jerking and turning blue, with Grandma screaming into the phone, “Send the ambulance double quick. We’re losing him.” If the doctor wanted him to exercise, he should. An ant crawled up the wall, carrying a white pebble, larger than himself. I sure wasn’t strong like that. I would keep Grandpa company, lift barbells, build muscles next to him.
A fly struggled on the strip of fly paper by the window, wings flapping, recognizing its big mistake. Down the street the troops newly stationed in the barracks at Franconi performed their maneuvers. Two weeks of steady marching, right by our house. Grandpa said he sure felt safer now and Grandma gave him a look but didn’t say anything.
Our rooster crowed outside. I loved to watch him parcel out corn to his favorite hens but I could not leave the house until I was sure Grandma and Grandpa made up. Grandma poured coffee into his huge mug and he made his eyebrows wiggle.
“Maybe the three of us can go for a walk this afternoon, gather linden blossoms for tea.”
I chuckled: I knew Grandpa was coddling her. She nodded.
I tried to whistle through the gap between my front teeth but could only hiss. Grandpa turned on his Blaupunkt radio, smiled at the final duet of The Bartered Bride. The hero tricks everyone, gets his bride and his inheritance.
'Rooster Crowed' is the first part of a triptych written by Andrew Stancek. To read the second story, please go to 'Moths'. To read the third story, please go to 'Don't Tell Me'.
Andrew Stancek describes his vocation as dreaming – clutching onto hope, even in turbulent times. He has been published widely, in SmokeLong Quarterly, FRiGG, Green Mountains Review, New World Writing, New Flash Fiction Review, Jellyfish Review and Peacock Journal, among others. He continues to be astonished.