Here's the piece for your reading pleasure:
With a quick twist and twirl of the knife, a sleight of hand like der kishefmakher [the magician] plucking a spanking-brand new silver dollar with a flick of his white gloved fingers gleaming from behind an unsuspecting ear, or culling a cavalcade of pink-eyed rabbits, a flock of cooing doves, a rainbow of silk scarves, a bouquet of blue cornflowers and fresh cut daisies from his seemingly empty black top hat, Grandma Molly extracts the glistening orange peel in one long continuous spiraling curlicue, releasing its sweet and sour jasmine-like fragrance without marring the firm flesh of the fruit or spilling a drop of its tasty libation.
Dangled on the tip of the blade, she displays her trophy for me to inspect like a prized Barguzin sable pelt before dropping it into the bubbling contents of the steaming vat. Then she passes me the knife, hands me an orange and leans back in her chair to watch, hands folded behind her head, lips pressed closed but smiling, her belly rising and falling rhythmically, then rumbling with laughter, her cries resonating throughout the kitchen, as I squirt orange juice everywhere, squinting to avoid the sting, clumps of slimy pulp and bits of white sticky rind all over my hands, just managing to extract the tiniest bit of zest before the bright orange sliver slips from knife to floor. Molly passes me another orange to try again, nodding her head to give me encouragement and direction. Satisfied with my third attempt, she reaches behind her back to tug open the kitchen drawer, and pulls out a second knife.
Orange by orange, we twist and turn, twirl and twirl, the kitchen filling with steam, brimming with sweet stickiness, the oranges’ piquant scent nipping at our nostrils, driving us to work steadily until each orange is skinned. We pause only to blot our faces with our heavy bleached-white cotton aprons.
When we are done, we each select a peeled orange to reward ourselves, pulling apart sections, plunging the firm flesh in our mouths to release instant gratification, then take turns spitting out pits into the brown paper bag lining the garbage tin.
After a final stirring of the bubbling brew with wooden spoon, Molly shuts off the stove, slams down the heavy cast aluminum lid with a potholder to announce the chore complete, and sends me off, skipping, to wash up for tea with her kiss pressed to the top of my head.
I pass Great Grand Mama who is just rousing herself from her nap, stretching up from her rocker by the parlor window as she beckons me in Yiddish “Kumzits, Libhober! Kumzits!” with a wave of her hand. “Ja, ja, ja! I coming, hold your horses!” I call back but all I’m thinking of is tomorrow’s treat of candied orange peel as I stare at my beautiful orange-stained fingers, reluctantly reaching for a bar of soap, the lukewarm water cascading over my fingers under the sink, the scent of the oranges still tingling my nostrils as I discard the apron to come out to join her and Molly for tea.
I hear the gurgle, the final hiss of steam, the tea ready to bubble forth from the spout of the brass samovar into awaiting glasses, see Great Grand Mama seated at the dining table grinning with two white sugar cubes perched between her cigarette and-tea stained yellow teeth, and Grandma Molly standing with a polished silver tray lined with white paper doilies, piled high with babkah, rugelach and tertle. Ah, the sweet fruits of labor!
Copyright 2010 Roxanne Hoffman
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