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A Little Honey By Jchym Topol Translated from the Czech by Alex Zucker Winter breathes its last gasp,

leaving mounds of black ice and frozen chunks on the sidewalks. The sun occasionally climbs above the city now, edging across the glassy sky. The curtains here are always shut, except for a narrow crack. The suns rays pour into the room in a single spot. She says theyre easier to catch that way. She keeps a mirror in bed, the little kind girls use to look at the tip of their nose. She uses it often these days. Sometimes it slips beneath her pillow or gets lost in the blankets. Thats all right. She always manages to dig it out somehow. She doesnt use it to look at herself. My mom never was very fashionable, she didnt get dolled up unless there was a reason. Instead of studying the wrinkles on her face, she uses the mirror to fish for rays of sunlight, assuming theyre the last ones shell see. Though who knows? We didnt talk much about that. Over the last two years shes gotten accustomed to staying in bed. Before, we used to go out for walks . . . down to the river, say . . . gulls chasing across the sky, colors, noise, people . . . the slow click-clack of her crutches. Nowadays the most adventurous trip she takes is to the bathroom. She recounts these expeditions to me by text message. She keeps her senior cell phone on a string looped over her shoulder, like an Indian quiver full of arrows. If she stops to rest on her way through the jungle, or trips and falls, she shoots out a signal dresser, for instance. As soon as I can, I drop everything and head over to her place, scoop her up, and carry her back to bed or to the bathroom, depending what she wants. Weve got a few other signals besides dresser. So whats it like, anyway, Mom? Remember how when youre little and you have to run through the hallway in the middle of the night? When your parents arent around, or theyre asleep, and youre nervous and afraid, but you do it? She smiles, or tries to. Its just a series of minor victories, she says. Stop it, youre blinding me . . . Shes catching a ray of sunshine and flashing it in my eyes. She sets the mirror aside. She doesnt mean to torture me. Weve always liked each other. Well, up until I was sixteen and I finally got out, she was totally smashed every night, or just about. If she wasnt smashed she had a hangover, which was even worse. When she was around fifty, though thank God! she gave up drinking and started visiting churches, beginning and ending every day with prayer. She had, after all, grown up in a religious orphanage. Her dad, my grandfather, had died during the war. She said her mom had cast her off. The Order of English Virgins played a big part in her upbringing. Till the Communists squelched them. When she was young, fueled by the bottle, she often made fun of the sisterhoods name. She didnt spare me any of her stories from the girls home. As a boy, unfortunately, I couldnt appreciate them. There was nothing forced about her conversion. Her life calmed down. It really is better to get up and say a prayer in the morning instead of tossing back shots. And she didnt force anything on me, no waving the Bible at me and carrying on about booze. She just carried the news from the stone churches . . . the Templars, the Hospitallers . . . Prague is full of that stuff . . . I enjoyed it. Heres some honey for you, Mom. From the Galilee. I was casual about it . . . announcing my gift in an offhand way, like it was nothing special.

But yes, I was proud. I mean, how many sons bring their dying mother honey from the Holy Land? I did the shopping, too . . . groceries, personal hygiene, entertainment . . . I brought her stuff all the time, who else was going to do it? Not long after she agreed to visits from social services, I caught her dumping the food from them down the toilet, or feeding it to the birds. She wouldnt let anybody else wash her or make her bed, a monstrous nest of books, magazines, crumbs, and pills that was such a mess sometimes it was hard to tell what was what. Hospitals? She hated them. Wed already tried that. The other people bother me, she said. I was only gone a week. She didnt look dirty, but she still had the same sheets on her bed . . . well, wed deal with that later. Today Id left the bag of groceries out in the entryway. The only thing I brought to her bedside was the little jar of Israeli honey. It was a fancy terracotta jar, sealed with wax. Heres that Israeli honey, Mom, just like you asked for! I set it down on the table next to her bed. It made a little cracking sound. Is it really from the Galilee? Does it say it there? Let me see! Why does it have that silly tourist packaging? Its written right there, see? . . . Galilee! . . . but in Hebrew, thats what they speak there. Well, of course . . . but Im not at all surprised that your books are published in Hebrew. They have everything over there! My fathers books only came out in German, Polish, Hungarian . . . places around here. I suppose translation is easier now, isnt it? With all those machines. Oh yeah, its easy now. No big deal. Is there any country where you arent published? Russia. Oh, mm-hm. Thats only natural, though. Dont even bother. Did you bring anything back for Bolek and Lolek? Thats what my mom calls my sons. After the Polish cartoon. Model fighter planes, Kalashnikov water pistols, some T-shirts, fresh dates and stuff. The boys were thrilled. T-shirts with Hebrew? Have you lost your mind? Theyll beat the living daylights out of them . . . My mom still thought of childrens homes as brutal institutions, like they were after the war. As she got older, I think, her memories had intensified. But my twins were in a modern facility, the best one available. Mom, please, this isnt the 50s anymore. You want to taste the honey? Howve you been, anyway? Good. I wasnt alone for a minute. Hes been with me the whole time. We talk. Who is he? Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer. Oh, come on, Mom. Its all in your head. So what? Even if it is, I like what he says. Are you going to taste it or not? And what does he say? The usual stuff. Like I dont have to worry. And I should prepare myself for the journey . . . well, I realize it sounds like a movie . . . but he also explains why everything is the way it is. What do you mean, everything? You know, life and death. I never knew he knew all that.

I suddenly have the idea that when she dies, Ill burn the apartment down. I mean I wont, but Id like to. In the days of the Bible, nobody wouldve been surprised. That I want all of this . . . the bed, the books and pictures, blankets, pillows, the pots and pans she hasnt used in ages . . . the dried-out flowerpots, all her old-lady stuff, everything here in this flat drenched in that sour smell, coated in it . . . I wish it could all just disappear. Once shes gone, the flat will be mine, weighing me down like a terrible burden. Why would I want that? Ill lock the door and walk away. All Ill keep is that tiny little mirror of hers. Itll easily fit in my pocket. So why is everything the way it is, then? He says thats the right question. And well all find out. In time. That is, at the end of time. Well find out, but gradually. Uh-huh. I open the jar and bring in two teaspoons from the kitchen. Theyre sticky, but thats all right. Ill wash the dishes later. She lifts her head. I insert the tip of the spoon between her teeth. She takes it in, her head drops back against the pillow. She savors the honey in peace. It seems like she sank into a hole during the the week I was gone. Even deeper than before. Fading away. Seriously, her face looks like a skeleton. And when was the last time I washed her hair? Does she really look that pitiful? Or is it just that I havent seen her in a week? When a person is dying, I think its better to be with them all the time. That way the changes dont startle you as much. Hm. I dont think this honeys anything special, she says. Youre right, I say. The last time I had honey was probably ten, fifteen years ago. I offer to open the curtains. Its almost spring! I say. Just leave it! I step towards the window and suddenly I hear it. The crash as the mirror slips out of her hand and shatters on the floor. Into slivers, tiny little pieces of broken glass. Well, now Ive gone and done it! Thats all right, Ill clean it up. I sweep the pieces under the bed with my shoe, Ill deal with it later. Give me another taste, she says. I have some too. But not too much. I never was much for sweets. What did you eat all this time? Oh, this and that. Those biscuits and things you brought. It was good. I still cant get over what she said. About Jesus talking to her. So I ask again. Firmly. So tell me, Mom. What else did he say? And then . . . I cant believe it! My mothers face lights up and she grins in this indescribable way, a flirty smile spreading across her ravaged old face. Then she even blushes. Her face turns red like a little girls! Well, I cant tell you . . . everything, she says coyly. But he also says nice things! Like what? Well, things about the two of us. Delightful things! What? About me? No, no! She squirms in her bed. He talks about him and me. As for the rest, well . . . Im keeping that to myself. Fine! You want to hear about my trip? The boysre doing really well. They say hi and theyll send some pictures. You need anything?

No. Maybe later. I sit on the chair, my mom in bed. We look at each other. Theres nobody else here, I dont think, and nobody talking, except maybe in her head. We just sit. In peace and quiet. But were waiting. Thats right, waiting for an answer. Soon itll be spring. Maybe my mom will still recover, maybe shell get better? Oh, definitely. Im sure of it. 1900 words