Lost Item at Sunday’s Ukrainian Day Picnic

By Lana Spendl

Dear Students, Faculty, and Friends,

At the end of the picnic on Sunday, Svitlana’s metal breadbox went missing. It was last seen next to the pitcher of kompot at the end of the table. I’m referring to the southern end, next to the area where Christina’s Labrador stood on his leash and greeted newcomers with playful tussles.

The breadbox closely resembles a 1970s Volkswagen Camper in shape. I myself first noticed it while the grass still glimmered with morning dew. I was crouching near a tree, drawing coins from the ears of Christina’s children, when Svitlana pulled the box from her bag and set it upon the table. The gleam of the sun on its metal surface blinded me. So I patted the little cherubs on the heads and wandered over.

The story Svitlana told me was a tragic one. The breadbox was the only item her grandmother rescued from the house before the flood took her village and urged her into the mountains. The poor woman wrapped it in rags and carried it against her chest like a bundled child. She clawed her way up hills, tore her stockings on rocks, lost a shoe in the river. But she never let that breadbox go.

Tears sprang to my eyes as I listened—tears at the invincibility of the human spirit, at the endless fight—and I made a deep, guttural noise to let Svitlana know that the innermost part of me had been touched. We shared a moment of silence as we gazed at the breads and meats upon the table. We thought of abundance and of scarcity. We thought them both necessary to human life. We thought them inextricable from each other. We thought of death. Neither of us mentioned death, it is true, but when we glanced into each other’s eyes, I could tell that being in the presence of that small metal box made us both think of the larger box we must all face in the end. Our existence, I reminded Svitlana with a sad smile, was a spark of light between two eternities of darkness. And her eyes grew moist and she threw her arms around my neck and I reciprocated with a force that surprised even me. And then we laughed like small children—bashful, alive—because we realized that we had forgotten ourselves for that brief second of time. And I returned to Christina’s children—wiser, wearier—and I continued to perform feats of magic before their eyes.

Well, friends, I ask you to look for this box. Perhaps one of you picked it up with another dish you were carrying or took it home thinking it belonged to a friend. Svitlana and I implore you to bring us any update that comes your way. Poor Svitlana is a wreck over this, and I have lost two nights of sleep myself.

Solemnly yours,

Assistant Professor
Department of Slavic Studies

Lana Spendl’s work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in The Cortland Review, Hobart, Greensboro Review, Quarter After Eight, Atticus Review, Monkeybicycle, Prick of the Spindle, and other magazines. She holds an MFA in creative writing and an MA in Hispanic literatures from Indiana University.