Alina Stefanescu


There are those of us who drink tuica.

There are those of us who never once tasted tuica.

There are those of us who cannot drink a beverage which is home­-brewed and therefore never once legitimized by an ad.

Regardless of who drinks, there is an appropriate time for tuica which descends on the innocent and seasoned alike. I avoid my grandfather’s gaze. The tapping motion of knuckles against a small glass. The tap tap tapping he expects to fill his cup and then the clear, water-­hue of the tuica itself. Add to this the countless tuica-­drinkers in the park who resemble kind old men getting hydrated.

There are pour-­drink gestures which repeat again and again at 11:00am. Anywhere in the world at 11:00am where one Romanian gathers himself together with the spirits of Romanians past.

It might be easier to understand if tuica was a palindrome­­--but it is not a palindrome.

Easier to understand if tuica tasted good--­­but tuica tastes like old sponges dipped in rubbing alcohol, the half of a half­-dressed wound. And shit.

The woman sits on a stool and fumbles through recipes. The word “tumor” pounces from the talk show screen. She should cook liver since it’s been a long time and she is the only woman in her knitting circle who knows how to cook liver.

An old man wanders into the den.

The woman becomes a series of skirts and scarves and folk dances. She is a hora. She spins like a top outside herself. When she slows, the recipe calls for two large red onions.

Later that night, after the liver and the salad and the heap of napkins scattered like petals across the mahogany table, there is the requisite drinking and joking and poking about. There are corneas painted beneath poise­and­pluck eyebrow armor. There are kisses half­begun in the hallway. There is the scent of a friend’s vagina on her husband’s breath. And there is the old man on the couch tapping an empty glass.

More tuica.

On the porch, her husband flaps his hands and mimicks bird calls as a substitute for the emoticon she might have glimpsed of him on screen. She is not allowed to see his emoticons, as a man's emoticons must remain private.

Why? she asks.

The mourning dove is never here at night, he tells her.

There are names which turns into misunderstandings. The constraints of phonetic spelling render more damage than good.

But why does your breath smell like­­--

Honey, listen. You are wound up like some mechanical toy. It’s no good to be wound so tight. I do what I do because therefore I did it. Henceforth I’ve done it again.

More tuica.

The woman knows that the hurricane on television becomes a tsunami in a matter of time. The victims pile up like slot machine numbers. She knows it is a game but also not a game. People kept dying. There is nothing she can do to stop them.


More tuica.

The morning makes its way around a flower pot in small shadow handprints, children singing ring­ around ­the ­rosie, or the silhouette of the song and clasped hands­­ all the ways light can make much of small things past, all the maggots in the carcass of childhood.

There’s no point in thinking the worst. Worse happens whether or not you watch it. At least you can press click and see how to make a green bean casserole. You’ve never made a green bean casserole. Why don’t you make a green bean casserole? I love green bean casseroles made like my mother’s with the crunchy canned onions and the Campbell’s creamy something. Why don’t you make something I like instead of whatever you ate growing up poor?

Hush, she says to the cat who mews for fish-­shaped treats. Hush Oliver­­ as if you haven’t had enough fish to fill a pond already.

I’m all ready for tennis, he tells her on his way past the cat and the casserole and the special cuisenaire. What can I pick up from the Publix on my way home?


More tuica.

A teddy bear.

The old man taps his knuckles against the glass.

The husband expresses his enthusiasm for tennis. He is not aware of the old man. He does not remember putting the keys in his ignition when he drives across town. He only knows he needed to arrive and he has done so. The days pass like summer sprawled across a city park.

The woman cooks the casserole she sees on tv. Her husband responds like the screen men with exclamations of delight and satisfaction. Like the men on tv, her husband disappears when the plate had been emptied. Men are accessories for meal time. What use have they apart from eating?

But the old man remains in his chair and waits for tuica. He complains that her husband stays out late doing god knows what with office women. He uses three toothpicks after every meal.

When the woman sits for a second, the old man places his wrinkled quivering palm over her hand and smiles.

“You are my favorite granddaughter,” he admits, his love limpid and clockwork as tuica.



Alina Stefanescu was born in Romania, raised in Alabama, and reared by the love-ghost of Tom Waits and Hannah Arendt. She won the 2015 Ryan R. Gibbs Flash Fiction Award and was a finalist for the 2015 Robert Dana Poetry Award. Her poetry and prose can be found in current issues of PoemMemoirStory, Tinge Magazine, Jellyfish Review, New Delta Review, Lunch Ticket, Change Seven, and others-- as well as Objects In Vases (Anchor & Plume, March 2016). She aims for a clean ontology. More online at or @aliner.