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Clutched Fragments - A Ukrainian-Canadian Easter Story

One of the ways I use writing is to make sense of world events. Last March, I wrote this flash story about a Ukranian refugee integrating into Canada while also keeping her connection to her family and the Ukraine alive. As I wrote it, I got to learn about Ukranian Easter traditions and even baked a paska of my own (though I stopped short of decorating Pysnanky eggs!). Today I reread the story, dumbfounded this tragedy is still unfolding. My heart is with the Ukraine and all Ukrainians this morning.

Clutched Fragments

April 2023

Anna places her lips against the curved surface and blows, cheeks puffing with effort. Viscous liquid shudders through the pinhole, landing in the patterned bowl Mama had given her.

“You expect me to eat that?” Jimmy kisses her cheek and grabs an apple from the counter. 

“We can’t waste it.”

He shrugs. “My family boils them. A lot less work.”

“That’s not the point.”

She takes the chewed pencil from behind her ear and carefully draws on the newly hollow eggshell. Even with everything that’s changed, the floral design flows easily from her fingers.

 She always took care of the pysanky while Mama made the paska. There’s a pang in her chest as she remembers Mama’s floured hands plunging deep into the dough, disappearing and reappearing as she kneaded it to perfection. A heady aroma filled their modest house as the bread baked.

It’s unfathomable that Annas’s not there with her—that it’s still going on. An unsolvable riddle, an immovable force, keeping her from everything she knows and loves.

She fills her homemade kistka with melted beeswax and traces along the delicate pencil markings before dropping the egg in the dye. It submerges into the opaque red liquid. Other colours, made from tea, beets, and fennel, line the counter awaiting their turn. She adds more lines of wax between baptisms.

“A whole day affair,” Jimmy jokes as he chews noisily.

Last year—her first in Canada—homesick and lonely, she’d accepted an invite to Jimmy’s family Easter celebration, extended through some refugee welcome program. That’s where they met, and she clung to him like a liferaft.

She had brought a paska and explained the process to his parents.

“Bit plain,” Jimmy said, “for all that work.”

She’s grateful for this new life Jimmy’s given her. She even likes that he doesn’t get it. The worst thing that’s ever happened to him was a bad grade in high school or a favorite sports team losing. His life is as average as hers used to be.

Tears welled in Mama’s eyes when Anna told her she was leaving Ukraine—although she must have had an inkling. All signs pointed in that direction: the streets eerily empty,

neighboring houses deserted, and the rumble of tanks getting closer.

When the sadness receded, anger distorted Mama’s features. 

She labelled Anna a traitor. “Abandoning your family. Your home.”

Anna shook her head but didn’t dare contradict her out loud. “You could come too,” she whispered. 

Mama looked at Anna as if she’d asked her to go to Mars.

When all six eggs are dyed, Anna melts the wax off with a candle, revealing deep red flowers, elaborate green leaves, and whorled purple lines.

Jimmy sidles over and kisses her temple. “They’re beautiful, babe. Sorry for teasing.”

She admires the decorated eggs and is transported instantly to Mama’s ramshackle kitchen. Next, she’ll bake the paska and place some on her tongue. The sweetness will unfurl and take her back to her homeland again, if only for a moment.

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