Posted by: Kathryn Hulick | January 15, 2010

The Cherries

Andrei bit into the hard, tangy fruit. He chewed carefully around the pit, then spat it into the snow.

He hated cherries.

But he kept a straight face, eyes black against the frosty white wilderness, staring at the patch of pink where the cherry pit had fallen.

Vkusnyi,” he said.

The boy giggled, just like he always did when his grandfather spoke. The boy didn’t speak a single word of Russian, and Andrei spoke barely any English. The word he’d said meant delicious. It was as if by saying the cherry was delicious, he could erase the nasty tang on his tongue and the feel of the slimy pit between his teeth.

Vkusnyi,” Andrei repeated, one hand holding out the bag full of nasty fruit and twiggy stems.

The boy didn’t take the bag. “No, they’re cherries!” He giggled again as if it was the most hilarious thing in the world to leave his grandfather standing in the snow holding a gift.

The boy’s name was Andrew. An ugly American way of pronouncing Andrei’s own name. He loved his daughter, but he would never understand what possessed her to marry that American and move across the world to the barren, frost-bitten, empty state of Alaska. Or why she would name her only son after her father but get the name wrong. And now the kid didn’t even have the know-how to take the stupid present.

“Andrew, dabei.”

This time the boy took the bag and held it loosely between his fingers.

“What’s going on out there?” Andrew’s mom came to the door.

“Couldn’t you have moved to California?” He shouted at his daughter in Russian. “I could use some sunshine in my old age. I can’t take this snow, snow, snow all the time. Summer, winter, it’s all the same. And I ate a cherry. Just to show the boy they weren’t poison.”

“Nice to see you, too,” his daughter said in English. Andrei had a feeling that Russian words stung in her mouth the way the cherry taste still stung in his.

They hadn’t seen each other in two years. He’d shown up uninvited intending to put things right. To ask her to teach him some English. Help him talk to his grandson.

The cherries were an afterthought. A stop at a grocery store down the street from his daughter’s house. They were in season now — and she’d always loved them as much as he hated them.

As if on cue, the boy held up the plastic bag. “Mom, grandpa got us cherries!”

The only word Andrei understood was “Mom,” and she didn’t look impressed.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were coming?” she said in Russian.

Andrew just stood in the snow, wishing he had a shot of vodka to wash away the cherry taste. And maybe give him some courage for what he had to do.

Prastitye menye,” he spoke so softly he was afraid she didn’t hear. So he said it again in English. He’d practiced the words on the long plane ride from Moscow to Anchorage. “I’m sorry.”

Olga nodded. “Come in.”

On the TV, a beer ad gave way to a show about surfing in Hawaii.

Andrei gestured at the TV. “One day we’ll go there together, how do you say it in English?”

Olga told him, and he repeated it to his grandson as best he could. The boy giggled again, but this time he took the old man’s hand.

“Sure!” He held out the bag of cherries. “Want another one?”

Andrei shook his head.

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