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Selin had an inkling, as did I, that Dad might have been keeping another woman in Ukraine, where he had spent the last eighteen years of his civil engineering career. I cannot pinpoint the exact time, but I knew for sure after Mom’s passing, looking at the tell-tale details of a dinner photo that Dad had posted in our family WhatsApp thread, during one of his last visits to Kiev to see “friends” and wrap up his business there. He had given us no clear indication of where he was staying, nor had he specified in whose house this photo was taken. There were several men and women around the table that was set with a lot of care — and very little taste, hiss, hiss. When I magnified the image, I saw the cutlery was the exact same silverware set that Dad had brought to me and my sisters from Ukraine years ago — apparently, he had purchased a fourth set and there it was. On top of that, I could see in the background, lovingly placed in one corner of a larger, framed painting, one of his older passport-sized photos where he was wearing a jaunty woolen cap.
And so I knew, and in the middle of last summer I figured he had a step-by-step plan to introduce this woman into our lives, conflating the two separate columns of his own. The woman was meant to, and did, go through a series of alchemical condensations and transmutations in Dad’s conversation, turning from the vague passive-voice “I’ve been sent this birthday video,” to the plural “my good friends in Ukraine,” to the fewer “my friend Mrs. Tasha, a decent person, and her two fine daughters, one a doctor,” to the singular “Mrs. Tasha,” and then just “Tasha.” In the meantime, like an unstoppable piece of celestial trash, she was meant to be caught by our gravitational pull, slowly breach into our serene skies and crash into our territory in the middle of the night, during our sleep, leaving a small, malodorous crater behind. All of this has happened already. The woman ate from our wild mulberry tree, took whiffs from our climbing jasmine, stared at our sapphire seas all of this past May, and she will be brought again in September, after we disperse to our three separate cities. She will sleep in our mother’s bedroom, for which a new rug has been bought. At some not-so-distant future, a declaration will be made about the humble miracle of two people agreeing to offer one another warmth and comfort in the chill autumn of their lives. This morning, talking to me under his breath, softly, methodically, Dad mentions how Tasha sends him a good morning text every day, and I, because an angel is holding my hand, do not pour my scalding tea over him.
Just this summer, while that tubby grifter has been so hard at work, we said our goodbyes to, and hurriedly buried, my uncle — Mom’s last living brother — while an old family friend was killed by a bee — yes, a bee — and the mothers of five distinct acquaintances passed away. I’m dizzy with death, and shocked by its benevolence. Every time it touches down, another lock in us breaks open, another wall collapses. Never before could we have loved anyone this hard. Even petty grudges no longer stick as they used to, and we have already long forgiven him. Our anger surges perfunctorily for now, because we are our mother’s daughters and because, like many, we’re trapped by untrue tales about the heart, but I already foresee a day when I’ll be nodding at a stranger, in bitter gratitude, for the warmth and comfort she was able to offer him. People become fully human only when they are touched by death directly — for sentience is not enough, one must also feel mortality in the flesh — and once that happens, what is there to do, other than devouring each day with a mad twinkle in our eyes?
So we’ve become giants, the three sisters, with humongous appetites. Melis is slowly eating her health away, while Selin is envisioning a Venetian dissolution in her old age, gorging on beauty she can only watch from afar, sweat and hair dye trickling down from her temples. I’ve been chewing on the sun and the moon since the beginning of this vacation, and I’ve taken to diving of late because it feels like dying. With exquisite ease, I feel the separation of the breath from the body, and of consciousness from both, while a cold new world unfolds and sways around me in strange colors. I nearly drowned when I was two — rescued at the last moment because my tangerine bikini stood in sharp contrast against the emerald seaweed which had covered most of my body — and then I developed a great terror of the sea. My dad was the one who helped me overcome it. He took me in his arms and waded with me in shallow waters for two entire summers, ignoring my tears and tirelessly pointing at the sweetness of the sparkles and the beauty of swaying seaweed.
Another morning redolent with the spice and the pristine light of late August. The whole world feels like a caress. With cautious, unnaturally wide steps, I’m carrying a breakfast of shredded chicken breast and chunks of cheddar cheese for the creature that doesn’t know that I won’t be there next week — the summer vacation is almost over — and she keeps hissing and purring at my feet.