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Stuart Dybek, "A Minor Mood"

Lovely passage from Dybek's "A Minor Mood", which appears in his latest collection I Sailed With Magellan:

    He'd sip his medicinal drink until it was cool enough, then belt it down as if drinking a toast: Na zdrowie, germs, take this! When the shot glass was empty, his gran would bring a refill on the theory that he needed fluids. She'd have a couple belts herself on the theory that she needed fluids, too.
    "Na zdrowie," she'd say--bottoms up!
    Na zdrowie," he'd answer--down the hatch!

    On such white winter mornings--white steam on one side of the pane, white snow on the other--propped on a throne of pillows with the babushka like a raja's turban wound around his swollen glands; with menthol, eucalyptus, camphor, lemon, and through the steam, his gran materializing with a mug in one hand and a bottle of Beam in the other--on white mornings like that, how could a boy not conclude that being sick might almost be worth the joy of getting well? Those were the mornings to be tucked away at the heart of life, so that later, whenever one needed to draw upon a recollection of joy in order to get through troubled times, it would be there, an assurance that once one was happy and one could be happy again.
    Sometimes, on those mornings, Lefty would wonder how his room, its window clouded as if the atmosphere of Venus was pressed against the pane, must have looked from the street. He wondered how it sounded to strangers passing by. Could they hear the vaporizer hissing like a reed instrument missing a reed? Could they hear his gran, who was now sipping Beam straight from the bottle, singing "You Are My Sunshine" in her Polish patois? She loved that song. "Not to be morbid," she'd say, "but sing 'Sunshine' at my funeral."
    Not to be morbid, but when that time came, Lefty played it on the sax, his breath Beamy, played it to heaven, his back braced against the steeple of St. Pius.

February 10, 2005 in Books | Permalink


Nose drove ya (with a forward lip rather than a Chicago drawl) is how you pronounce it...

Posted by: Marilyn at Sep 27, 2005 11:07:01 AM

Marilyn, thanks! I was never clear on the pronunciation. An old Bohemian family friend used to corrupt it as "naz-dar."

Posted by: Pete at Sep 27, 2005 12:29:26 PM