My great-grandfather had a Bavarian accent, a German passport, and an eye made of glass as a souvenir from fighting in the First World War. He played the zither. My great-grandfather married a woman from Basel-Land, a local beauty who obsessed about tidyness and created stunning embroideries which she displayed on their dark-red sofa and which my mother, the grandchild, wasn’t allowed to touch. He played the zither for my mother. She played the concertina. Later, they played together. My great-grandfather knew the ouvertures to all the operas and operettes ever played at Zürich’s theatres during his lifetime, his favourite being Rossini’s “Wilhelm Tell,” and whenever he went to the opera, he’d take my grandmother, his daughter, with him.
My great-grandfather with surname Gammel, blond hair and blue eyes, mysteriously turned into a Swedish citizen when the Second World War broke out and my grandmother and her German passport lived too close to the border and needed to invent neutral origins to keep her going through life in a hostile Swiss village. He brewed beer for a living. My great-grandfather brewed beer for a living and lived in an apartment in the middle of Zürich, with the river Limmat flowing on one side, the railway track running along another, and a large road along a third side, and my great-grandfather took great pleasure in all three of these features, because he said he never got bored at home–sittting out on the balcony, waiting for the 15:20 train up north, or the 17:30 train down south, watching the boats along the river, or the trams, cars and horses on the road. He brewed beer and played the zither. My great-grandfather had to leave his beloved apartment when he couldn’t live on his own anymore, and he eventually died in an old people’s home somewhere in Zürich, of neglect, or abuse, nobody knows which exactly, and my grandmother was too busy running a farm, bringing up four children and dealing with abject poverty to be able to investigate. I’ve still got the zither.
Walburga Appleseed likes her chocolate dark, her wine rich and her fiction short. Her flash fiction has appeared online and in print. She recently won the Winchester Prize for flash fiction. In a parallel existence, she also writes for children. Visit her online at https://walburgaappleseed.com.
Also published on Medium.