Songs My Grandmother Taught Me
My grandmother spends hours in the pale blue kitchen, rolling dough between her delicate fingers, stirring in cardamom with a long wooden spoon, measuring the milk with her still- sharp blue eyes. Singing quietly, while she mixes the ingredients for her famous honey cake, her trim figure under the crisp white apron sways to the rhythm.
He watches her from the doorway, dark eyes on her undulating hips. At seventy, he's still handsome, black hair now liberally streaked with grey, back still straight despite the years of heavy work on the farm, body still hard and lean. Half of the village women are in love with him, and not a few of the men. Age hasn't dimmed his desirability, and when my grandmother sees him watching her, she flashes her husband a secret smile, and her hands begin to move in a slower, more sensuous fashion over the heavy, honey-swirled dough.
They've forgotten me, sitting in a corner under a latticed window, the sun shining on the fair hair they tell me I've inherited from her, my mother's mother. Before her song, she'd been telling me a story about my grandfather, how she'd known he liked her even before he did. Lost in the memory, her song had begun.
I can't make out the words, but I recognize the haunting tune. It's a ballad, about a young girl who falls in love with a dark, violent god. They sleep together one night under the stars in a silent forest grove. When the rain wakes her the next morning, he's gone.
Saddened, confused, she returns to the village. When her belly swells, the villagers are cruel, scorning the girl for giving herself so easily to a fickle god. Her friends, disapproving of her lover, move on.
Alone, she waits for the dark god's return, as the child grows inside her. But he never appears. Finally, believing he despises her, the girl walks into a cool, deep stream. She doesn't come out.
When her body washes up on the sandy banks, face pale, hair tangled and muddy, the villagers realize their guilt. They carry the dead girl to the dark god's temple atop a green hill, placing her carefully on the altar, while the candlelight flickers over her ghostly pale skin.
Then the god appears. At first, he doesn't notice the girl, hidden by the mourning crowd, but when they part at his approach, he sees her lifeless body. Heat floods the room, and the dark god begins to howl. He pulls the girl into his arms, stroking her hair, kissing her cold, blue lips. Suddenly, he vanishes, his lover clutched against his broad chest.
He takes her to the king of the gods. The grey-haired Zeus promises to restore the life of mother and child only if his handsome son sacrifices his divinity, if he becomes mortal. The dark god, desperate without the girl, agrees. In a flash, the lovers are back in the forest grove. Her blue eyes open, and when she sees the beautiful man, she cries. He kisses away her tears, and they make love under the green canopy. Later, when she discovers his sacrifice, the girl demands that he beg Zeus to restore his divinity.
The song ends with his refusal.
My tall grandfather loves that song. Even now, even after all of these years, he can't resist my grandmother. He is kissing her now, in the warm kitchen, then picks her up in his strong arms, and they disappear up the stairs. The familiar creak of the bedsprings echoes through the cottage, and I smile, taking the sweet dough in my hands, rolling it.
Despite their beauty, my grandparents are quite ordinary. She bakes, tells stories, cares for her grandchildren. He works in the field, tends the animals, and watches my grandmother.
I hope someday that I'll find someone who loves me the way he loves her, the way the dark god loved the innocent girl.
I hope someday I'll stand in a pale blue kitchen, kneading dough, singing a song to my granddaughter about romance and passion, life and death.
I hope someday I'll find my own dark god.