Boil three carrots, two potatoes, and three eggs. Remove from heat to let cool. Dice.
Mothers are responsible for salads. Dozens of salads in a motley crew of bowls dug from the back of the cabinet for the occasion, scattered on the white tablecloth. All sorts of salads: carrots shredded to a pulp and mixed with mayonnaise and kidney beans, finely chopped beets covering a single herring at the bottom of a shallow dish. They call it shuba—the word for fur coat, a fur coat made of root vegetables and endless grating. A deep red stains the kitchen counter, a warzone of peeled beets revealing their delicate flesh. The other mothers arrive and coo over the spread, taking mental inventory for the next time they host a dinner, so that they might compete, salad-wise. An arms race of salads, but the aunties remain stalwart diplomats. There are hugs. Kisses. Red lipstick stains on cheeks rubbed out with generously salivated thumbs. At each end of the table sits a bowl of a Salat Olivier, a delicate, decadent mush heaped high with mayonnaise.
Combine carrots, potatoes, eggs, pickles, one can of sweet peas, and diced onion together in a large bowl. Stir mayonnaise, sour cream, salt, and black pepper gently into potato mixture until well combined. Refrigerate until cold, at least 30 minutes.
Fathers are meant to drink; mothers provide the accompanying zakuski—little bites—cajoling pickles onto the fathers’ plates, spoons of red caviar into their mouths, a passive resistance to veins that bulge with every glass of whisky or vodka or can of beer and fights that live just under sobriety. Zakuski are for fending off the violence that teeters at the edge of the table; the women, their knuckles calloused from hours shredding vegetables in the kitchen, are the stalwart guardians of peace. They hover around the table like pages in a war room, clearing plates and bringing new ones. They cannot be everywhere; sometimes they are too busy washing dishes in the tiny kitchen to notice the budding row, that seemingly innocuous raising of voices from the dining room. Almost a laugh, but from the throat. Brothers with potbellies, whisky on their breaths, their arms slung over the backs of their chairs, toothpicks stuck in their yellow teeth, sling accusations at one another. Father loved some of us. Off-hand, through the sides of their mouths. Maybe if you were married… Their faces swell like big red buttons. I’ll give you your money when you agree to quit smoking. The salad has been cleared for tea; anger takes a seat at the table, cracking its fingers and waiting for dessert. A son pours surreptitious brandy into his glass of tea, inculcated into the brotherhood of violence. The tea, stirred with honey, is sweet as a pea and bitter as memory.
Best served cold with some good bread.
Bread is good for sopping up booze. Filled with bread, butter, and potatoes, men jockey for couch space. Before long, snores replace accusations in the living room. Without enough bread, a father might enrage an uncle with gossip best left for mother mediators; an uncle might kick through plate glass—shredding all of the muscles below his knee. The carpet may stain deeper red with his blood, while a mother stoops to pick up the shattered glass. Is this what you wanted? A mother might pull him aside and kiss him on the cheek until he stops shaking. Another time, a father might ball up his fist and bring it down on another father’s head, tearing his ear from his head. The ear might dangle, hanging by cartilage like potato skin. Later, at the hospital, police will ask how this happened, eyeing a son, who dangles his feet from a hard plastic chair and eats leftovers from a Tupperware he brought with him. It was an accident, a mother might say, placing a beet-stained hand to her breast. We were not paying attention.
STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Marco