Zarina Zabrisky started to write at six and until now she burnt everything she wrote, including her first novel about trafficking drugs from...read more Ukraine to Russia and her last novel about moonlighting as a dominatrix in Oakland. She wrote and burned short stories traveling around the world as a street artist, fur coat model, translator, kickboxing instructor, and a hot dogs brand ambassador. When not busy writing, Zarina likes to set the world on fire.
Eat, eat. Look at this carrot—yummy. Good for you! Greasy? So what? My grandma used to say, "If you eat pork, eat it greasy."
I'll tell you what. Come to the Jewish Community Center with me tomorrow for good deals. I take an English class there. We are in America, you know? Live in America, speak American. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, or, in Russian we say, live with wolves, howl with wolves. You can't learn much with these old brains, that's true. But it is free. Free is free. You can't complain.
And, mind you, in the cafeteria we have Luba. Businesswoman, we call her. Luba sells anything for pennies. Pastries, peanut butter, cookies from under the counter—such bargains, such savings, I'm telling you. Forget English, who needs it? You must come.
See these cookies? You won't even believe it. Seventy-nine cents per box. Christmas cookies? Says who? Red and green stars? Yes, I know it is February.
Big deal. My grandchildren, God bless them, cleaned them up and asked for more, my little babechki. I'll tell you what: Nobody ever died from dunking a cookie or a sugar cube in their tea. All my life I dunked sugar cubes in my tea—when I had them, that is—and all was fine, thank God, still alive. I like it sweet! At this age, what else do you have? I say, take away the mirror, bring on the sugar! And, you know what? No one has ever heard of cholesterol. No one reads any labels. My grandma, she ate everything. She ate wrappers from candies, believe me. She told me wasting food was a sin.
Anyway, last Thursday Luba the Businesswoman brought some pig legs. Who knows where she gets those things! Nice, plump thighs. Perfect for the pork jelly! You just add onions, garlic, dill, gelatin--mmmm. I usually boil them for five hours. It smells like home, all broth and bones and dill. My grandma used to make the pork jelly. It is her recipe, parsley on top and all.
So, our folks are lining up in the cafeteria, and it is all great until the devil brings Barbara the Director. Goodness gracious! The fuss, you can not even imagine! Barbara sees pig legs and turns all green.
"Jews," she says. "You are Jews! You should be ashamed, Jews!"
So, I think, of course we are Jews, so what? I've been a Jew for the last seventy-six years. Trust me, they wouldn't let you forget you are a Jew in the Soviet Union. It was written in my passport. In big letters. Nationality: "Jew." Religion? What religion? Religion is the opium for people. We had no religions. Nationality it was, Jew. All my life. When they punch you in the face on the way home you know you're a Jew. Why do I need a reminder from Barbara?
"This is pork," Barbara says. "Pig. You understand? Treif. Swine."
She sounds like she discovered America. We know it's pig. We're not blind.
"You, Luba," she says, "are like Adolf Hitler. No, you are worse than Hitler. What Hitler couldn't do, you are doing!"
And then Barbara grabs the pig legs and shoves them into the garbage. Jesus Christ, I think, lady for Heaven's sake you are throwing away perfectly good food! That's a sin! So she shoves all the legs into the bin and shakes her hands as if the pork sticks to her fingers. And then she looks into my eyes—I'm standing next to her—and squints like she just had a lemon and says, "Shame, (even I know what that is) shame on you! You'll pull the pig leg out of the garbage, wouldn't you? As soon as I'm out the door! Oh, no!"
And she grabs the bin and, what do you think, she rolls it to the exit, locks the door, puts the key in her pocket, and laughs. Bitch. She thinks we can't get them, right.
I'll tell you what, my grandma and I had a piglet. When we lived in the country during the war. An ugly, skinny piglet it was, you could see its ribs through. It bit me once, such a mad pig it was. And our neighbor--Russian, of course--from the village, Masha, she said then, "What do you expect from a Jewish piglet?"
And that's what my grandma called me from then on: "my Jewish piglet." If I did something wrong, like had a bad grade or tore my dress, she'd sigh and say, "What do you expect from a Jewish piglet?" She was like a mother to me, my grandma, she raised me, taught me to read, write, and cook. Mom died when I was little. I don't even remember her or my brothers, I just remember my dad waving on the platform, his felt hat—he put me on the last train out of Leningrad—and I made it to the country, can't remember how.
They all starved to death in Leningrad, in the winter. Nineteen-forty-two it was, in the siege—mom, and dad, my little brothers—all of them. I got lucky, really lucky. Everyone we knew died then. A thousand people a day they died, without bread, without food. A million-and-a-half of them died. They ate pigeons, and rats, and even each other they ate when nothing was left. The corpses froze in the streets. I don't know where their bodies went, in a communal grave, or the rats ate them, or people. No one knows. That's what Hitler wanted. He wanted us all dead.
What does Barbara know? When they give you something, take it. When they kick you, run. If you eat pork, eat it greasy. If you are alive, be happy. Grandma used to say that... She only had me left, her little Jewish piglet, and she lived to be ninety-three.
What are you looking at me for? What is wrong with you? Have more, babechka, eat, eat, this pork jelly is not going to eat itself!