-Hmmm. I see a pregnancy here. – Grand-aunt Ramye says, turning my Turkish coffee cup this way and that.
– Where? – I ask peering into it. Grand-auntie points at a big clump of coffee dregs drying at the bottom of the cup.
– I thought that meant a bad disease – I say – like a tumor. Or maybe HPV.
-Girl, shush your mouth. You should not ask me to read your cup if you don’t believe in me.
I haven’t been a girl for a long time but grand-auntie is right. I did ask her to read my coffee dregs. It is kind of a given when one drinks Turkish coffee. The cups are usually small and elegant, the coffee is dark, strong, and frothy if done right. One has to sip slowly and daintily and swill it around once in a while so that the grinds do not precipitate too much. Once done, the cup is rotated a couple more times and turned upside down to dry onto its saucer. There is a trick to swilling the dregs before the drinker turns the cup over. If one swills it too much and then drinks the mixture, there may not be enough dregs for the fortune reader to see anything. If one doesn’t swill enough, the dregs precipitate and may form a big lump at the bottom. That may imply a pregnancy, a big misfortune, or a tumor looming in the present or future of the drinker. The interpretation is on the reader, of course. And my grand-aunt is the best in the business.
Grand-aunt Ramye is a fixture in my life. Actually, she is my grandfather’s sister, married and widowed at a young age. Her only son immigrated here twenty years ago and married an American woman, which did not make his mom happy at all. However, his wife was a sweet soul who did not complain when he brought her from the old country to live with them. My mother’s second cousin passed away soon after, and his widow found herself caring not only for her infant son but also for a strange Albanian woman who did not speak a word of English. The two women had nothing in common except the memory of a dead man and the care of a child but somehow managed to live and even thrive together. The American woman learned enough Albanian to communicate at weddings and funerals, and my grand-auntie learned enough English to pick up her grandson from school and terrorize the teachers who dared give him bad grades. She also visits me every week, driven in style by her obedient grandson, and often accompanied by her saintly daughter-in-law. My friends know this, so they drop by at every opportunity, eager to have the authoritative and brash old woman give them a glimpse into their murky futures. The bottom of the coffee cup carries a lot of hope.
My grand-aunt’s voice shakes me from my reverie. She is still a little flustered:
-If I tell you it’s a pregnancy, a pregnancy it is. And it looks like you’re the one with the full belly.
-Auntie, it cannot be me. How on earth would I get pregnant? – I tell her.
– The normal way. Do you think I don’t know you spend every Friday and Sunday night out? Your mother tells me everything. And whatever she does not say, the coffee dregs shows me.
I want to kill my mother. She’s never been one for secrets, and her biggest pet peeve and misfortune is that her daughter is in her forties and still unmarried. She has no pictures of grandkids, no gossip about in-laws, no son-in-law to boss around. My mother and my grand-aunt have scrutinized so many coffee dregs that they could probably write textbooks on the subject. They’d make a fortune too. My grand-aunt is a fantastic storyteller.
-Auntie, it is not happening, – I tell her.
– What do you mean, it’s not happening? The women in our family get pregnant even if a man sneezes near them. Your cousin Angela has only one ovary, and she still got pregnant the first time she slept with that bum. Don’t you remember how fat she looked at her wedding?
It is true. The women in my family are very fertile, and this is one of the reasons why I kind of ignored my biological clock and paid attention to other things through my 20ies and 30ies. I wanted to have a career, a life, an exceptional partner, and do things the American way, not the whole – fresh off the boat groom – kind of thing. However, nature has different ideas. My periods have been flickering on and off for a few years, my hormones are crazy and my chin hair needs daily plucking or I start looking like a porcupine. I went to the gynecologist two years into the madness they consider hormone imbalance, and he confirmed that I was going through early menopause. I haven’t told anyone, not even my crazy boyfriend. My last period was 6 months ago. Getting old and infertile hurts more than I care to admit.
-It is not true! – I tell her.
– Of course, it is. Right here at the bottom. See? – she says and points at it again. I look at the lump underneath her finger and feel like yelling at the old woman. Why is she so smug?
-Auntie, I did the last test two weeks ago, – I say. – There is nothing.
-My girl, the cup does not lie. Didn’t I see your promotion and your free trip to the Islands?
She did find all of that, but only because my mother has a very long tongue. It is useless getting upset over it. Privacy is a foreign word to my family.
-And you have a little belly already. I can see it in you, – she says. I want to cry. Not only I am not pregnant, but also I am fat enough to look pregnant.
– My body is getting old prematurely, – I tell her, and because of her confused look, I explain further – My “aunts” have almost stopped visiting. My boyfriend and I have not used any protection for years. If anything was to happen, it would have happened already. I went to the doctor, and he told me the same thing.
My grand-aunt does not bat an eyelash at my confession of having a boyfriend, having sex, and discussing sexual matters. I guess she knows all. An old widow who reads fortune in coffee dregs has probably heard everything under the sun already, including sob stories like mine.
-What do these American doctors know? My mother, your great-grandmother, had your grandfather at 41. She had no periods for a year before that, – she says.
-Really? – I ask without much interest. My grand-aunt isn’t above embellishing here and there, to ferret out secrets and get information to back up her coffee dregs predictions.
– Yes, really. – she gives me my attitude back. – She hated your great-grandfather and would not go near him for the longest time after my birth, but she still managed to get pregnant by him, after she was done with menopause. She was only 1 year older than you.
This is kind of new. According to family legend, my great-grandparents were the envy of their region. He was the richest and she was the prettiest. My grandparents were the only other couple who surpassed their dream status. Grand-aunt Ramye was only a footnote in the family history, even though she was much older than my grandfather.
-They still managed to have two kids. – I point out.
– Well, she was only 12 when her parents married her to your great-grandfather. – my grand-aunt says.
-Those were different times. Your great-grandmother was beautiful but her family was poor. Beauty equaled trouble in those times, so her parents married her to the richest man in the region as soon as they could. They were terrified that some lovelorn shepherd would take her cherry and spoil their precious ticket out of poverty. Your great-grandfather was a 45 year old widower who was taken in by her beauty. To his credit, he let his young and unmarried sister sleep with Mea until she was 16. That was a lot of restrain for a rich man and a village leader, I tell you. Everyone made fun of him, saying he was too old to catch her. It was embarrassing and definitely true. Your great-grandmother was mischievous and stubborn. She used to hide inside an old travel trunk in the attic, so that he would not find her. Once he learned her secret place, she would run around the house until he got too tired to chase her.
In my mind, I see a curly red-haired girl crouching inside an old wooden trunk and keeping quiet, until the old guy goes to his cold marriage bed, cursing under his breath and dragging his cane. Grand-aunt Ramye chuckles to herself and continues, swirling the saucer in her hands.
– The teasing got very bad and your great-grandfather had to hire a couple of men to guard his house, because several young guys tried to kidnap his wife. That was how poor guys found wives in those times. You either had to have enough money for a dowry, or be strong enough to steal yourself a wife. Nowadays, the girls have to kidnap the guys instead.
Grand-aunt Ramye is right. Sometimes, I do feel like hoisting my on and off sweetheart over one shoulder and depositing him at city hall with a gun to his head as a convincing argument. I just don’t think he is worth the trouble.
-He finally went and had a talk with her father. Her father talked some sense into the girl, and she went to your great-grandfather’s bed that same night. However, the experience was so bad that she swore she’d never go back to his bed once she was with child. After I was born, she went back to sleeping with her sister-in-law and my father learned to live with the idea that he would never have a son. I think the women had something going on, because they slept together any chance they could. Your great-grandaunt was married but widowed within a year so she came back to live at her brother’s house as tradition mandated. She used to smoke like a chimney and took to wearing pants and a pocket watch. Between her and my mother, my father never had a chance.
Wait, what again? I can’t believe what my grandaunt is saying, but she soldiers on.
– Anyway, I was married at 18 and shipped off at my husband’s village. Your great-grandmother’s periods were mostly gone by the time she was in her late thirties and she was glad. To her, it meant that she was not a fertile or beautiful woman anymore and men, including her husband, would finally let her be. I know because she would not stop talking about it. Adam, your great-grandfather, gave up on conjugal life as well. Not sure whether he whacked it to death or found some hot young widow to keep warm in the next village over, but he stopped chasing his rebel wife.
Grandaunt Ramye stops for a moment and looks at the cup in her hands. She smiles for some reason and then goes on with this weird little story. I am not sure what to think about her glee at her parents’ unfortunate married life.
-And then one night, she had a dream. An old wise man appeared to her and told her to get up and go wash in the stream behind the house, just as she used to do when she was a young bride. And then he told her to go to her husband’s bed because they would create a blessed and miraculous boy. When she woke up, she found herself bloodied and went first to the stream to bathe, then to her husband’s bed. He was startled to see her and could not believe his eyes, but he did not refuse the vision climbing over him. She whispered to him about their future blessing who would live a long and enchanting life. And sure enough, she was pregnant and gave birth to your brat of a grandfather nine months after.
I don’t know what to think. I like this story because it is so improbable. My grandaunt surely knows how to kidnap my fantasy.
-I have to go home, – she abruptly says – Where is that no-good grandson of mine?
– But you haven’t finished reading my fortune – I tell her. – All you told me is that I am pregnant.
– You get your strong head from Mea; that’s for sure. – she says. – Your grandmother and your mother are both angels. What else do you need, a picture?
We call my cousin, her grandson, on my cell and he comes to pick up his feisty grandmother. We say our goodbyes at the door.
I haven’t had a period in three months. I walk into my gyn’s office without an appointment the next day. He is not there but his nurse tries to convince me that six months is a very normal delay for women going through menopause. Then she gives me a pregnancy test, just to placate me. I really enjoy the look in her face when she gives me the results. Yes, the nurse says, congratulations, it’s a miracle.