Sundays in September

Anita Hetzenauer
Sundays in September
About once a week, mostly on Sundays, I unlock my mailbox to find out what my orange “No Bulk Mail” sticker could not stop. These are almost exclusively bills, but today there is a handwritten envelope underneath. It is the only letter with a stamp. I haven't seen a stamp for a long time, they are probably threatened with extinction. Without turning it around I know that there will be no sender on the back, but what kind of child forgets their own mother's handwriting?
I wonder why she is writing. Hopefully it is nothing bad. But it also cannot be too bad, otherwise she would have called. I rip the envelope open with my fingers. Somewhat too hasty, because part of the contents falls out. Dark brown crumbs float to the ground. Irritated, I search for the letter in the envelope, but find nothing. The envelope is empty, apart from the brown crumbs, half of which are now on the floor. Strange. She has never done anything like this before. She is not - I do not even dare to think the thought through to the end. When did I last see my parents? On my father's birthday I called, on Mother's Day too, of course on Easter and on mother's birthday too, because it was so close after Christmas. I become thoughtful. September has already begun, I have not been to my parents since Christmas and I did not even notice. What am I doing all the time? Working, maybe a little too much work. Partly because it has to be, partly because I enjoy it and when I finally do have free time, there is the list of unfinished business on my fridge door that I work through. On vacation I want to experience something and relax, preferably by the sea. So there are enough reasons, but I feel that the difference between my reasons and excuses is only the point of view. “Where there is a will, there is a way, where there is no will, there is no way”, my father would say and smile knowingly. He would be right, of course.
I bend over to scoop the brown crumbs from the floor back into the envelope by hand. I still do not know what my mother sent me. Something vegetable, at any rate, probably a dry leaf. It reminds me of tobacco, but is darker. In the envelope between the leaf crumbs lie parts of leaf stems and leaf veins. As I rub the plant remains between my fingers, a spicy smell rises into my nose that I have not smelled for years. But I immediately recognize what here smells like childhood and light-heartedness: walnut leaves. Certainly from the walnut tree in my parents' orchard. My mother sent me a dried up walnut leaf. I have no idea why.
I go up the stairs to my apartment, I use my cell phone and I call. On their landline, of course. The cell phones I gave my parents years ago were never allowed to leave the kitchen drawer in which they were stored. I let it ring for a long time, very long. Nobody picks up. That happens more often, but today it worries me.
Today is Sunday, and I am free; I could drive there. I think about it, but immediately reject the thought again because I can think of all the things I have already planned for today. I start sorting laundry, and suddenly I am as spontaneous as I have not been in decades; I leave the laundry, take my jacket, my car keys and drive off. Even before I reach the motorway, I notice what a beautiful Indian summer day it is. Anticipation awakens in addition to the concern for my parents. I look forward to coming home. After about an hour I turn onto the gravel road, another bend, and already I see my parents' house. As always, I park next to her VW, which was already old when I moved out. When I want to open the front door, it is locked. Strange. The car is there, so they can't be far off. I cannot find my parents in the garden either, but the shadow cast by the parasol falls on the tattered Sunday newspaper lying on the garden bench. A single walnut lies next to it. It is a nut of my favourite walnut tree, which stands where the orchard is steepest. I open the nut with a stone from under the garden bench. It is very fresh, the kernel is still white, just like I like nuts best of all. As I continue into the orchard, I carefully pull the bitter white skin off the kernel. The effort is worth it. I can't remember the last time I ate something so good. The orchard is large and complex; I don't see my parents, but I stand in front of my favourite walnut tree, which is much bigger than I remember. It has grown and is filled with nuts that are either blowing open their green shells or lying already on the ground. I can't help it. I am already bending down and pick up a nut, two, three, a whole handful.
Briefly I think about where I should put the nuts, then throw them into my handbag and reach out my hands for more. How long have I been collecting nuts? I look at my immaculate fingernails as I break open the green shell of a nut. For the next few days I will have brown hands and dirty fingernails from this, but I don't care about that at the moment. I pick up one nut after the other. Right now there is no song in the world I would rather hear than the sound of nuts in my handbag falling on other nuts. The grass in the orchard is as long and tufted as before, the walnuts are often well hidden underneath. I have already taken off my shoes, just like in my childhood, and I let my bare feet look for them, even though the month of September contains an R. At this thought I remember my parents and I try to tear myself free, only one nut more along with the one I am right now stepping on.
I manage to stop collecting because my handbag is overflowing and I no longer know where to put the nuts I still hold in my hands. I feel as happy as the ten-year-old girl I once was. When I look over at the house, I see my parents coming to meet me.
“I knew you would come!” My mother rejoices and my father adds, “Sometimes it is very easy to make someone happy!”

Translation by Shan Wardell
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