Reykjavík the Beautiful

At a rickety, vinyl-topped table just a meter from the foot of his wife Raisa’s sickbed, Mikhail eats his dinner alone. Tonight’s supper—a sandwich of local ham on thick slices of a molasses-heavy brown bread, all slathered in a grainy and pungent mustard—sits ignored on the table. Peasant food, he thinks. Only after staring at the sandwich for fifteen minutes does Mikhail manage a few soggy bites, hoping to avoid the commands of the nurses; they rotate in and out, checking Raisa’s intravenous medications, delivering Mikhail’s telephone messages, all imploring him to eat, eat.

The nurse who arrives to remove his dinner plate says, “You did not eat much.” Her admonitions remind him of an old Slovak proverb that tells him, Eat, in this same imperative way. These chidings are like music to him, a comfort, as they make him think of childhood, the way his grandmother left him extra slices of cheese and an egg-heavy yellow bread on Easter Sunday, telling young Mikhail, Eat, do not starve as you do at home.

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