Sep/Oct 1999  •   Fiction

Potato Pancakes

by Marcy Dermansky

You can watch a person grate potatoes for only so long before you get restless.

Tonight my baby-sitter and I decided to make potato pancakes for dinner. I had eaten potato pancakes for the first time at a Hanukah party at school, and they were the best things I ever tasted. My baby-sitter is Jewish. She said: "I would be delighted to make you potato pancakes for dinner. Let's do it." She opened a bottle of my parents' red wine, poured me a glass, took a long, long sip straight from the bottle and started peeling potatoes. At school, the potato pancakes were served steaming hot. We heaped on tablespoons of applesauce. My teacher Mr. Ramirez grinned at us while we ate. "This is what Jewish people eat," he said. "Jews are the happiest people in the world."

My baby-sitter has peeled at least 20 potatoes and she does not seem ready to stop. When she finishes one ten-pound sack, she asks if there are any more. My mother's enormous white pasta bowl overflows with shredded potatoes. A bloody piece of skin hangs off the knuckle on her right hand.

"Don't you think that is enough potatoes," I say.

My baby-sitter giggles. She drinks more wine. I have had this baby-sitter for almost three years and I love her more than any of my other baby-sitters, but tonight she is acting strange.

"Don't worry, Hannah," she says. "Sometimes the baby-sitter has big problems and funny pills her mother's doctor prescribes, and there is nothing more that she wants to do than baby-sit for her favorite little girl. Drink a little wine." My baby-sitter gazes at the bowl of potatoes. "What now?" she says. "Fry them up plain? I doubt that's right."

I take a sip of wine and spit it on the counter. I assumed that because my baby sitter is Jewish she would know how to make potato pancakes. Her name is Liz Rosenberg. I once heard my father call her jail bait. He said little Miss Jail Bait has one big Jewish honker. Usually my baby-sitter tells stories about the stuff she steals from the mall and lets me stay up late watching TV. She does my math homework and we eat entire bags of cheese doodles. My baby-sitter picks up a shred of potato that is dotted red with blood.

"Look," she says, and she giggles some more.

I wish that I had not asked for potato pancakes.

My baby-sitter sucks on her grated knuckle. She grabs a cookbook off the shelf and hands it to me.

"You make the potato pancakes," she says. "And I will take a bath." My baby-sitter climbs the steps and a moment later, I hear water running. I hope my baby-sitter does not take too long in the bathtub. I can hear her in the tub. She is still giggling.