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"Lisle Donker (back row, second from the right) with daughters Anne, Freda..." by Karen Walker

Lisle Donker (back row, second from the right)

with daughters Anne, Freda, Dagmar, Maud, and grandchildren circa 1901

Long dresses still make us look short and unhappy.

I'll admit what Mum won't: we're not hat people.

The red cheeks in the painting? All that hiking and the fresh Alpine air. According to Mum, our Donker ancestors were robust and hardy.

Times change. Mum and I live in a basement apartment in a flat town. She goes outside to smoke, gasping as she climbs the stairs.

Those red cheeks are not, by the way, rosacea. Mum doesn't believe her condition came from Great-grandma Lisle, but does think I'm responsible for her flare-ups. I'm stress-producing.

Like when I stare at the picture, blurt, "What weird skin."

"You're being too literal." She argues the painter was making an artistic statement about their—our—blue blood.

But they look more green than blue.

She shouts me down. "It's the majestic woodland background!"

Whatever. Thank God I don't have the Donker complexion, being sun-kissed like my father. He was from Italy and left us to go back.

At holiday time, Mum recreates the painting. She sorts my aunts and girl cousins from tall to short then fiddles with the arrangement to cover up indecently short skirts, gravy and wine stains. Traditional black Tyrolean blouses would disguise such sloppiness. Old ways, she preaches, are the best ways.

To show off my wide child-birthing Donker hips, Mum pulls hard on the belt of my school uniform.

I slap her hand. "Scheiße, hör auf" is the only German I know.

She smacks me back. "How else are you to attract a nice boy and continue our line?" Hopes for four granddaughters and a grandson, like in the picture.

Wait. What? The littlest child—name unknown; everyone else's is in fancy loopy handwriting on the back—in the black overall-type thing is a boy? Whoa.

Great-grandma Lisle apparently told Mum so during their midnight chats and that the boy's name was Maximilian.

"Now, wouldn't that be cute for a future Donker?"

Me, "No."

Karen writes in a low Canadian basement. Her work is in or forthcoming in A Thin Slice of Anxiety, Bullshit Lit, Janus Literary, JAKE, L'Esprit Literary Review, Moon Cola Zine, boats against the current, and others. She/her.


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