She lived unending through wars and dead children, dictators and three hundred thousand cigarettes, jobs of washing dead bodies before burial and massaging barren women to conception, but what still upset her was her arranged marriage decades ago. To a farmer, old already when she was just a child, a skeleton the last sixty years of her life. Over milking a cow one snow-covered winter morning, her father said, you will marry the farmer, the barn night-dark and smelly, his head hidden behind flank and sirloin, stubby fingers squeezing udders. Windblown frozen sprinkles hit her bare legs. Her heart sank into manure, deep through the ground, wishing her father dead. They married, and she couldn’t look at his leathered face, his rotting teeth, his coal-colored eyes. No love, but children that led to grandchildren that led to great-grandchildren and in between he was dead and buried, she standing upright at his graveside, dry eyes and soundless, as prayers were read and others cried.
One day Petra, her last living child, never married, near 90 and hunched over, came to her and said, the circus is in the village, there’s a white tiger, we can wheel you there. But she refused, feeling weak and tired, waving away her daughter. In the silent house, she pulled her burial shroud from a cracked wooden case, stitched by her now useless hands many years before, and pressed it to her face, thinking, this won’t be the day, though she’s long been ready, like so many days before.