This is an excerpt from a manuscript titled the Christmas Eve Shop. The character of Sophia is named after my grandmother and it is her story of the mushrooms that my mother told often over the years. I thought perhaps the baskets of mushrooms would fit the cultural theme of this prompt and decided to extend the piece to the end of the book’s chapter.

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“Why Don’t you rest for awhile, Sophia? Sharon offered. “I’ll stir for you.”
“Stir, but don’t steal too many. Already I have only half. Mel is helping, too.” Mel shrugged and smiled his broad smile.
“Your tree has some brown leaves,” Sharon noticed, pushing aside the embroidered curtain and looking out the kitchen window. “Autumn’s going to be early this year.”
She returned to her task as the couple sat and discussed the pros and cons of her observation. A few minutes later she informed Sophia, “The mushrooms seem about done. Shall I put them in the kapusta?”
The older woman got up and joined her at the stove. “They are ready. Not so good like Polish mushrooms, but what can you do? In my country, always we would go to pick mushrooms, Mama, Papa, my sisters and me. Each one carried a little basket, and when we came home Mama would check, make sure all the mushrooms were safe. Even Papa’s basket. Papa would watch her closely.” Sophia’s eyes sparkled at the memory, and her lips twitched as she suppressed a smile. “He was always sure his mushrooms were perfect. But Mama would look carefully at every one and then she would make a sigh, and take two or three little ones out and throw them away.
“One day just before I leave for America, I see Mam go to the garbage and take back Papa’s mushrooms. ‘Your papa,’ she says, ‘is a good man, but when I married him I saw one thing I did not like. Always your papa is so sure he is right. This is no good. So every time I throw away some mushrooms.’”
As Sophia ended her story she began mashing the potatoes. Mel put out the butter and cut the homemade bread into fat slices; Sharon stacked the plates and arranged the mismatched knives and forks. Each worked in contented silence. Even the sparrows had stopped their chattering and were perched, puffed up and drowsy, on their branches. The late-day sun shining through the leaves of Sophia’s tree sent dappled patterns of light and shadow over the walls, floor, and ceiling of the old-fashioned kitchen until the plain wooden furniture glowed.

Finally the meal was ready. Plates were heaped with mounds of mashed potatoes covered with the Polish cabbage and its chunks of pink ham and slivers of brown and black mushrooms. Bread and butter were passed back and forth, and still the spell of silence held.
As the golden afternoon began to melt away, bright patches of sunlight dimmed and faded into shadows. Outside, the first cricket began to chirp, and far in the distance, a lonely cicada whirred.
Evening entered by degrees, tiptoeing into corners, ducking under the table and chairs, layering tone on tone of gray until the darkness was nearly complete.
At last, when Sophia could avoid it no longer, she turned on a brass table lamp whose yellow shade seemed to have caught and imprisoned the setting sun. The three friends talked in hushed tones of times past, the people they’d loved, and the joys that would never be relived. Sophia talked the most, about her childhood in Poland, about her first years un America, but most of all about her husband.
When Sharon and Mel had gone, she stood alone, fingering the embroidered flowers that were still vivid after so many years. Moonlight filtered through branches and leaves, illuminating the threads like embellishments on a vellum manuscript. Why hadn’t she told them about the curtains?
People had been poor in her little mountain village. When Stanislaus gave her the fine material and colored silk in order to sew a beautiful dress for festivals, she’d burst into tears. Asking how he’d offended her, he’d tried kissing her tears away until she’d shyly pointed to the bare windows in the little farmhouse and begged to make curtains instead. He’d laughed and kissed her again, promising to make every day a festival. Fifty years earlier on her wedding day.

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