©Elisa Salasin, 2011

I should never have asked.  But my eyes could not escape the framed black and white photo of this handsome, spectacled gray-haired man with an official sash across his chest.

My bed was in the parlor of this tidy Rumanian home in Cluj, a gateway to Transylvania, and it was late, after mid-night, and I was fatigued from a long, slow second-class journey from Budapest.  The photo rested securely on the top of a small locked etagere.

When I pointed to the picture, my hostess, a gray-haired woman in her 60’s, took a handkerchief from her homemade cotton apron and dabbed her eyes. So this must have been her husband, I thought.

She jabbered away in what I supposed was Rumanian, tears flowing softly. I wished for some cognates, but I was too tired to grasp any words that sounded like French or Spanish. And I wished that Attila had remained in the house. The blonde  English-speaking ethnic-Hungarian teenager had magically appeared at  the train station.  He volunteered to lead me to Madame X’s  bed and breakfast; “Madame X is Hungarian,” he boasted proudly. “She keeps a very clean home.”

I have a bad habit of nodding my head when I am talking with foreigners even if I don’t quite get all of the lingo. So Madame X went on with her tearful story, lovingly glancing at the picture. And I kept nodding. And she kept crying as she passionately told me about what I imagined to be the recent death of her mate.

Unlocking the etagere, from  the middle shelf she gingerly fingered an attractive Italian cloisonee box. I was prepared for a souvenir: maybe an Elks Club ring or some kind of a fraternal commendation or a Guerre Mondial medal.   But when she cautiously lifted the lid, I stifled a yawn and was all eyes, my brown near-sighted eyes penetrating the small embellished container – – I was unprepared for what I saw: the box held at least a hundred tiny, smooth gray stones. I did not need Rumanian to tell me that I was looking at her husband’s kidney stones. I clutched my right side, sympathetically, and grasped a used Kleenex from my jacket pocket; Madame X felt for another dry handkerchief . What was there to say. I put my arms around this sobbing widow.

I slept in her parlor for three nights, my eyes turned away from her treasure.

©Ruby Bernstein, 2011

In the late ’70’s she had a sabbatical from the Mt. Diablo Unified District to study mythology, so off went Ruby Bernstein to Rumania to meet Count Dracula. Unfortunately remnants of a disastrous flood, unpredictable trains, illness, and an offer to go to the Black Sea changed her route. She knows her writing group at BAWP ’74, would have helped her improve this brief memoir.

4 Responses to “Stone Cold by Ruby Bernstein”

  1. jane juska Says:

    Oh, this is a good one. Thanks.

  2. Marty Williams Says:

    Thanks, Ruby. I love how you got so much packed into a tiny piece, about you, the narrator, and what it’s like to try to communicate in a language you don’t know (I loved your nodding as if you understood!) and then the stony grasp of this woman’s tearful story.

  3. Miles Myers Says:

    Ruby thanks —again and again! Miles

  4. Francine Foltz Says:

    I love how this piece stays on the edge: mystery, humor, horror, culture shock. Fran

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