Schwarzsauer and Schlager
Part 4 of my “12 Short Stories” for 2023
Based on a prompt by Mia from deadlinesforwriters.com
I remember when I was about twelve and couldn’t go on holiday with my parents and my sister because I had broken my foot. And that wasn’t even the worst of it.
I was supposed to stay at home, sit on the couch and mend. It didn’t hurt any more, it had turned into a permanent itch.
Jamie kept calling me to ask if he could come over. Mostly, I ignored the ringing, at least when she wasn’t in the room. Sometimes she rushed in, wheezing.
‘Who vas sat? I vas in the keller. Why didn’t you take up se telephone?’
‘No one, Grandma. Wrong number.’
‘How can you know? Maybe it vas your parents?’
I gritted my teeth. How could someone have been living in a country for so long and still not be able to speak the language properly?
‘It wasn’t. Just ignore it.’
‘Vood you like some food? I can make Labskaus again.’
My stomach chose this particular moment to growl.
‘No thank you, I am not hungry.’
She had made me eat Labskaus before and it had been an education. Think mashed potatoes, mixed with corned beef, chopped fermented herring, pickled gherkins and onions.
‘I can make somesing osser? Vat do you vant?’
What I wanted was to be able to have visitors. Without having to explain this woman being around the house and generally smelling of moth balls. If they had ever met her, I would have been so mortified.
‘Your faser alvays loved Schwarzsauer ven he vas little. He became homesickness and it helped.’
I didn’t have the energy to correct her. I wished for my parents to return. I wished my grandparents had never left their home country. Nobody else in my class had to deal with any of this. I just wanted to be normal.
She went to the stereo cabinet and flicked through my father’s record collection. I knew what was going to happen. The ‘Schlager’ record they had given him as a wedding present. The one he never listened to when they weren’t around.
‘It is nice, or? You know, sis is a part of you too!’
She sang along in a language I didn’t understand and swayed in a rhythm that didn’t quite match the music. Something inside me snapped.
‘Just shut up! I have had it with your ‘vat’ and your ‘somesing’! Why can’t you be like Jamie’s Grandma? Why can’t you learn to make normal food and talk like a normal person?’
She looked at me, her eyes wide. Then her face crumpled. When the corners of her lips dropped, it hit me: I had seen that face before. It had appeared in the mirror after those particularly bad days at school. Like when Tom had pushed me from the climbing scaffold and laughed at the ugly sound my foot made hitting the ground.
I wiped my hands across my face and took a breath.
‘I am sorry. I really am. Grandma, can you teach me German?’
Would you like to read more of my stories? You can find them here!