In my grandmother’s house, there is a picture of my great-grandparents: a tall, chubby woman, a man with blue eyes, and on a high stool between them, a toddler with a taffeta dress and black boots. There are no surviving pictures of their other children. The little boy died when he was one. Mariuca caught scarlet fever when she was eight. In the hospital, they left a window open and her lungs went ablaze. All the water in the Black Sea could not extinguish them. My grandmother is an educated woman and uses the word ‘pneumonia’ for every other instance. But her sister’s lungs went ablaze. This is what her mother told her. I will tell my children, I had a great-aunt who died because her lungs went ablaze.
A tide has come and swept all the grown ups. They have fallen to the floor and are wet with tears. I’m kicking the armchair in the living room, but softly, so that I wouldn’t hurt myself. I don’t know where my brother is.
The Danube is a brown-green ribbon and the pontoons are square plastic beads. Among them, an upturned plane, belly up, like a dead fish. When the engine starts, the propeller sprays dirty water. I tell my mother we should go somewhere safe.
I am sitting on the beach, counting seashells. My mother is lifting my daughter. The waves want to swallow us, they rise higher than three of me, but smash against an invisible glass screen a few inches from us. Someone has died. The grandfather comes and takes us, bringing coupons. We are in a hospital corridor. More people are gathering and the walls tighten around us.
In the town centre, there was an old man with a green slicker who sold books. My grandfather knew him. We used to stop by his bookstand so they could chat. A long time after my grandfather died, the man was still there, no matter how high the tide was. He was still guarding his bookstand when I came home from college. Now I cry when I remember the man, because I never bought a book from him.
Sophie van Llewyn lives in Germany. Her prose has been published by Flash Frontier, The Molotov Cocktail, Spelk, and Hermeneutic Chaos Journal among others and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is currently polishing her novella-in-flash.