Mushrooms

My hosts in Běleč, M and A, are crazy about collecting mushrooms. Day in and day out, all they think about are mushrooms. Every spare inch of their house is filled with mushrooms laid out in various stages of cleaning or drying. The green of the Billiard table is barely visible beneath all the mushrooms: chanterelles, oyster, porcini. A baking sheet is propped up precariously between the wood stove and the chairs, so that you have to tip toe everywhere. The cats are shooed off whenever they come too near.

When I meet A out in the forest in her red raincoat, she smiles like a child caught doing something it shouldn’t.

‘I promised I’d be quick today,’ she tells me.

‘Why do you have to be quick?’ I ask.  

‘We’ll, because yesterday I was out in the forest for six hours. Today I said I’d be back after two hours.’

She can’t help herself. Even as we talk, her eyes move over the ground. She knows exactly where to look.  Hřib Smrkový like the roots of silver birches, Liška Obecná prefer ditches. There is no need to be stingy with insider information, there’s more than enough to go around.

Like all addicts, she is quick to point out anyone who’s got it worse. She tells me about cars that she sees which are positively sagging with mushrooms. Cars so full that their driver is no longer visible. She holds each mushroom to my nose so I can smell it’s delicate perfume.

When I wake up in the morning, the wood stove in the corner of my room has gone out, and sun shines into the room through the small window. Beyond the fields, tall, red pines bend cheerfully with every gust of wind. The clouds move by quickly. Rain falls for a few minutes at a time, then stops again. When I go downstairs, I find a bowl of mushrooms, eggs, tomatoes and butter on the table.

I make breakfast, drink a cup of coffee and walk down to the old Jewish cemetery. Ancient graves with Hebrew letters stick out of the ground like a mouth of crooked teeth. Many trees have grown into and around the graves. On the edges of the cemetery, near the low walls, wild strawberries grow. Between the graves, mushrooms.