“Téta Marie” by Bára Hladíková


Dust fills the mechanics of the Soviet machines she still uses to mend. I wipe mirrors, toilets and sinks, hand-stamp receipts. Every Wednesday she buys me a donut, pays me five dollars to clean her shop. I am nine years old, the only child of the only other Czechoslovakian migrants in this small town.

I saw them and I said, Jeziše Marié, who are those slavs, Marie tells me. But then I saw they had a baby—you. I see my parents through her eyes, walking down the small main street. My dad’s black hair falls long past his jean short-shorts to his skinny dark legs. My mom’s long skirts, strings of beads, holding me.

Marie hunches over industrial machines, surviving thyroid cancer. She bastes, binds, drapes, drives needle into cotton like her husband drives trains; stitches needle into vinyl like the road they took from Czechoslovakia with two children, all the way to this small town in rural Canada. Kdo tady zase lezé, she curses. Who is crawling into my shop again. She is too busy charging six dollars per hem to make small talk.

She is the only one who speaks my language, the only one who asks me questions, when my dad moves out. She takes me home while my mother digs up stones, laying new paths. She winds the doll with the porcelain face, I dance to “Für Elise.” She sits me in front of marble checkers while she bakes kolač. I jump marble over marble, watch pieces disappear. I solve the puzzle until there is only one marble left.

Bára Hladíková is an artist and writer based in Tio’tio:ke, Montréal. Her work can be found in The Midinette, Cosmonauts Avenue, Kissing Dynamite Poetry, and elsewhere. She is the managing editor for Theta Wave, and her book archiving diaspora from the Eastern Bloc, Behind the Curtain, was recently published by Publication Studio. @baroslavka

Image by Ilya Lix.