By UrÅ¡uÄ¾a Kovalyk
Translated from Slovak by Julia Sherwood
AÂ yellow butterfly fluttered around the red ribbon buried in her gray hair. Taking theÂ little bucket from my hands, Miss Priska emptied the coffee dregs onto the ground next to the tree. IÂ watched the earth absorb the remnants of our morning Turkish coffee.Â The butterfly performed an elegant maneuver to taste the wet, coffee-flavored soil. â€œI hope it wonâ€™t give it aÂ heart attack,â€ IÂ said but the old lady just waved it away, sending aÂ stream of water from her hose onto the gnarled apricot tree. It must have been in our courtyard for at least aÂ century.Â Miss Priska was seventy-four, with aÂ gorgeous shock of silvery hair. She lived alone in aÂ first floor apartment with aÂ little garden, surrounded by an enormous brick wall. In spite of her seventy-four years she was out there every day tending her fringed Dutch tulips, purple irises and sugar-puff-like pink hydrangeas. â€œCoffee and Elvis, thereâ€™s nothing better to give a girl a lift,â€ she said, slowly walking over to her apartment to turn up the record player. The treeâ€™s branches swayed in the draft generated by â€˜I Got aÂ Womanâ€™.Â Miss Priska was an Elvis Presley fan.Â An aged Elvis Presley fan, to be precise.Â If it hadnâ€™t been for her wrinkled face and white hair I would have thought this was a crazed girl in a fifties polka-dot dress from Christian Dior. She listened to the King of Rock every day, humming to the flowers in her husky voice on long summer afternoons. Her apartment was crammed with the looniest assortment of trinkets bearing Elvisâ€™s likeness: sugar bowls, glasses, doilies, statuettes and plates; she even owned a toothbrush adorned with his portrait. That she never used.Â Displayed in a goblet behind glass it looked as if Elvis had only just finished brushing his teeth. â€œHeâ€™s a kindred soul,â€ she would say, knowingly caressing a wall hanging showing a life-sized Elvis microphone in hand. â€œWe might have met if it hadnâ€™t been for the Pond, but who would have wanted to cross the Atlantic?â€ she added with a gesture indicating she wasnâ€™t going soft in the head.
Miss Priska was the oldest resident on our block.Â The only thing possibly older than her was the fruit tree that she looked after affectionately. She was lonely.Â Over the years she had lost her siblings and most of her friends had been pushing up daisies for a quite a while. She knew the history of every apartment around the courtyard. She remembered old gossip and long-forgotten love triangles. â€œThe only ones left are me and her,â€ she said, pointing toward the old tree with a chin that made her look like a storybook picture of an old witch.Â The apricot tree had borne no fruit for years. That didnâ€™t stop Miss Priska from tending to it with touching care. She would prune it, hoe around it, and treat it with fertilizer. She kept looking for new recipes guaranteed to give the tree a new lease on life so that she could taste its wondrously delicious fruit once again. â€œYou wouldnâ€™t understand unless youâ€™d tasted it. Itâ€™s a rare variety. A Turkish pasha brought it straight from Istanbul as a gift for Miss ErÅ¾ika! ErÅ¾ika had lived on the third floor and the Turk fell madly in love with her after they met at aÂ health resort. Now theyâ€™re both long gone, you see? But the apricot tree is still here!â€