My friend Maryna is from Kiev, Ukraine, where apparently they speak a language other than English. It’s crazy, but there you have it. Her English, while heavily accented, is, for the most part, pretty darn good. She’s an intelligent woman, physically beautiful, and a good little drinker.
She also makes a mean chicken soup.
One of the truly charming things about Maryna, however, is that she is learning the majority of her English from her husband.
This could be a problem.
“You see Mike?” she says to me. “He ees broken man.”
I look at Mike, who grins at me. While it is true that he has back problems, he is not what I would term a “broken man”.
I laugh. “Did Mike tell you that?”
“Yes,” she says. Much of what she says has a downward inflection, as if the information she has to share carries great sorrow.
“Come. Come,” she says, patting the seat next to her. “You seet. You are hungry? I feex beet and potato salad. Maybe you like some herring.”
Mike winks at me. “Maryna, baby, she doesn’t want the beet and potato salad.”
Maryna looks at me expectantly. She very much wants to feed me. “Why not? Ees cold salad. Ees new year salad. Very good.”
I’ve seen this salad. There are layers of beets, onions, fish, mayonnaise, potatoes, maybe olives.
This salad. It does not speak to me.
Mike, standing behind Maryna, grins at me, blue eyes sparkling. He shakes his head. “You do not want the beet and herring salad,” he mouths, silently. “Trust me.”
I trust him.
“Please,” Maryna says. “Keed ees at Grandma’s. We dreenk. We eat.”
“OK,” I say, “Let’s drink and eat.” And Maryna runs upstairs to empty the fridge, returning with trays of food and drink.
“Mike,” she says. “You see Pearl’s car? Ees piece of sheet.”
My mouth drops open, and I turn to Mike. He closes his eyes and shakes his head, smiling. Maryna continues to load food onto my plate, buttering a slice of pumpernickel bread for me, then laying a slab of cheese and some sort of Ukrainian bologna on it.
“Eet’s true,” she says, handing the bread to me. She shakes her head, the sight and sounds of my dreadful little car heavy on her head. “Ees piece of sheet.”
My car. A 1998 Honda Accord. While it runs and has heat – and is fully paid for, mind you – it is a terrible little car in all other respects. The front end is held on with shoelaces, wedged into place with balsa shims. The driver’s side window can only be rolled down one-quarter of the way. The passenger’s side door – a hitchhiker’s nightmare come true – only opens from the outside. The heat is on either full blast or not at all, and – perhaps my favorite aspect of The Little Car That Could – it makes little noises when you steer it, like R2D2 with indigestion...
Maryna’s right. The car is a piece of sheet.