Sometimes she found herself in a yellow room. She sat by the window or by the table or in a rolling chair. Just a gravel courtyard outside and a strip of brilliant sky. The smell of Lysol and lilies and dirty diapers. An Estonian woman sat in the far corner humming to herself and rocking in a metal chair. Ta lendab she was saying. Ta lendab mesipuu and nobody understood her or told her to be quiet. Sometimes a fat woman came to visit and she had chicken yellow hair. They’d sit together by the window. There was a plum tree in the courtyard and its leaves were starting to curl because it never rained enough. Ma, the blonde lady would say. Ma, tell me about Zimmern, tell me how it was. Tell me how to make your apple cake, and who knew what she wanted this lady whose pants were too tight around her belly.
250 grams of unsalted butter. 150 grams sugar with two teaspoons vanilla sugar. 250 grams flour. Two teaspoons baking powder. Three eggs. One large apple, peeled and cored and cut into eight pieces. The apple had to be perfect. The apple was the most important part.
Sometimes the blonde lady brought deli meat. Slices of gelbwurst and fat garlic pickles. Sometimes she pushed the chair closer to the window. Tell me about the church bells, she’d say. About the priest who fell off the ladder picking that last apple. Tell me the story about the cartwheels. She’d sit there and wait for an answer. Her eyes were gray like Henry’s. Why didn’t she just turn around? Behind her shoulder the plum tree was dying. It needed a little water.
The hillsides were flowering and Henry turned his face toward the sun. The gänseblümchen, storchschnabel and forget-me-nots, the lampionblume and wiesen-schaumkraut. The river had thawed and its waters were green. All the sharpness was gone from the air. He smiled at her and his front teeth overlapped and he went down on his knee. Heirate mich, he said, and his accent was terrible. Wir gehören zusammen, and who knows where he learned those words, maybe from one of the old ladies who worked at the PX. He somersaulted down the hill when she said yes. He threw some cartwheels, too, and his shirt got untucked and for the first time she saw the whiteness of his belly. They’d go to the Springs. They’d raise a family there. Her sweet Henry from America who was only twenty-three.
Sometimes she slept in her rolling chair. Sometimes she watched the tree. She knocked against the glass because there were men working outside and they needed to give it water. She tapped the window with her cane, but they never turned around. Any time now the black lady would come with those white teeth. She’d bring a bowl of butterscotch pudding or a little tray with pills. The black lady or the blonde lady whose lips were always moving.
The sky so blue and those perfect clouds, and these days, these endless days with the smell of soup from the kitchen, that watery broth that needed the bone. The hammers outside, always the hammers and the cars and the Estonian lady and her strange humming. Like birds crying or a baby yearning for the bottle. The room went dark when she started.
She closed her eyes because that’s where Henry was. She closed them even when she kept them open. He was sitting under the tree and it was April. It was always April and the tree was blooming and the hillsides, too, and Henry was twenty-three.
L. Annette Binder’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in the Pushcart Prize Anthology, One Story, American Short Fiction, The Southern Review and elsewhere. Her collection of stories, Rise, will be published by Sarabande Books in August.