The Bittersweet Taste of Greek Honey

Flash
Gigi Papoulias


Photo Credit: Ishwar/Flickr (CC-by)

I found Mamá sitting up in her hospital bed, breakfast tray untouched, staring out the window. “Aren’t you gonna eat a little?”

At month ten of advanced, incurable, gastric adenocarcinoma, eating or not, how much of a difference would it really make? Deep down, we both knew this, but said nothing.

“Just get me some tea.” She looked at me. “I’m OK,” she added.

*

It was Sunday morning. My cousin and I sat at the table, waiting for our pancakes, which our mothers had agreed to make, even though we were running late. Mamá was by the stove, stacking pancakes on a plate. My aunt, Thía Maria, put a jar of honey on the table. It came from their village in Greece.

“You’ll see, it’s sweeter than maple syrup,” Mamá told us. “It’s better for you. Now eat, we can’t be late for church.”

She placed the heap of pancakes on the table and Thía Maria said to her, “Remember when we saw what was inside the church?”

They had grown up during the war, and would sometimes mention a childhood memory. In this sudden recollection, they told us that when they were kids, after a deadly ambush on the outskirts of the village, they had slipped out and sneaked into the church—which served as a temporary morgue.

“Yeah, they were stacked one on top of another,” Mamá said matter-of-factly, while Thía Maria poured thick honey over the pancakes.

I sunk my fork into the fluffy stack. My cousin licked honey from his fingers.

Mamá shot Thía Maria a look and said to us, “Anyway, hurry now, eat.”

We ate in silence. I remember finishing the last pancake. It had absorbed all the honey and rested on my tongue just enough for me to savor the sweetness before I swallowed and it sunk into my bloated belly like a stone.

“Mmm, good,” I said as I stood up. But the heaviness inside made me feel like I was moving in slow motion.

*

I returned with two cups of tea. Noticing my red, swollen eyes, Mamá demanded, “What’s the matter with you?”

“Nothing.”

I put the tea on her breakfast tray. “You need to eat these pancakes, too.”

I placed the napkin on her lap. “Here, this will make it sweeter.” I took out a jar of Greek honey, poured some over her pancakes and swirled a spoonful into her tea.

“No honey for your tea?” Her dull eyes scanned the small amber jar.

“I never really liked the taste of honey. Or pancakes, actually.”

“But you loved pancakes and honey when you were little.” Her bony hand gripped the paper cup.

“Mamá, the doctor will be in soon, to discuss hospice care.”

She sipped her tea and swallowed hard. “Mmm, good,” she croaked, “I feel better now.”

I moved the tray closer to her, the thin pancakes drowning in a pool of honey. We looked at each other. Mamá reached for the fork and I nodded.

pencilGigi Papoulias was raised in Boston, a daughter of Greek immigrants. She lives in Athens and continues to coexist within two cultures, realizing it is mostly a privilege and sometimes a curse. A deserter of the corporate world, she enjoys writing stories and translating. Her fiction has appeared in Your Dream Journal, Literally Stories and in an anthology by Kingston University Press, London. Twitter: @manyfacesofATH Email: gigipapoulias[at]yahoo.com