Authors: Adena Halpern
Tags: #Fiction, #General
“Am I dead?” I asked out loud, pinching my arm, my face.
My face! The skin was smooth, with no wrinkles. The skin around my eyes was tight. There wasn’t a crow’s foot to be seen.
My hair, formerly thin and dried out from all the peroxide over the years, was now smooth and thick. I must have run my hands through my hair about fifty times before I decided to stop. Doesn’t it fall out if you brush it too much? Or is that an old wives’ tale?
“MY EYEBROWS ARE BACK!” I screamed, as I looked closer in the mirror.
I just want to take a moment to say to you young girls at home,
, under any circumstances, pluck all your eyebrows until they’re gone, even if it’s the style. A little plucking here and there is fine, but
remove them completely. They never grow back. I know this firsthand. Now I was staring at gorgeous, luxurious, natural eyebrows—without the help of a pencil. God knows how much time and money I’ve spent over the years trying to get the pencil to look like eyebrows. Then there was that experiment with the Rogaine. You get a smudge of that stuff on your forehead or someplace else hair shouldn’t be and you look like someone who should be in the circus. The one thought that consoled me at Howard’s funeral was that we were married for over fifty years and he never saw me without my eyebrows, not once. If he had, he would have dropped dead long before.
How did this happen?
Oh—the wish I made on those candles! The wish to be twenty-nine for a day!
I couldn’t imagine any other way this could have come about. I tried to think: Had I taken any odd herbs that might have done this? I’d eaten at The Prime Rib many times before. I had some of the crab cake, a little bit of salmon, some salad, some birthday cake, and a glass of Champagne. I’ve had that meal many times at The Prime Rib and I never even got heartburn, much less became young again. Was it possible that the same thing happened to anyone else?
I picked up the phone and called Frida, my oldest friend. Was she twenty-nine again, too?
“Hey, Frida?” I said when she answered.
“Hi, Ellie,” she said and yawned. Frida always slept late.
“Frida, how do you feel today?”
“Okay.” She yawned again. “My back hurts, like always.”
“So you feel the same?” I asked her.
“Are you checking to see if I’m still alive?”
“No,” I said, but truthfully, I thought maybe I should start calling her every morning; Frida’s kids were awful and never called. “I had a strange reaction from the meal last night and I wanted to see if you were having it, too.”
“Nope,” she said. “Maybe a little indigestion.”
That was normal—Frida was always a little dyspeptic.
“Are you okay?” she asked. “Do you want me to go with you to the doctor?”
“No, I’m okay,” I told her.
“Oh, okay.” She yawned again.
“Go back to sleep, Frida,” I told her.
“I’ll come by and see you later,” Frida murmured.
Okay, so Frida hadn’t lost fifty years in her sleep like I had. Chances were that Barbara didn’t get younger, either, or she definitely would have said something. This was all me.
This isn’t right, though
, I said to myself as I ran my hands down my smooth legs. It’s not the way the world works. I’m
to be pissed off and sad about being seventy-five. Don’t we all regret our lives in one way or another and wish we could go back and change them? Sure, I know what I wished, but I didn’t
expect it to actually happen. I knew that I could not stay this way, not even for a day.
Also, poor Barbara. What would she think when I told her that I woke up and was twenty-nine again? Barbara is such a fragile person, anyway; she’d have a nervous breakdown over this.
“No,” I said out loud. “I’ve got to get back to the way I was.”
I knew Barbara had bought the cake at my favorite bakery, the Swiss Pastry Shop on Nineteenth Street; that’s where we’ve always gotten our cakes. I’ve had cakes everywhere—from Paris to Italy to New York to Philadelphia—and I’ve always said that nothing comes close to the Swiss Pastry Shop. There’s just something about the lightness of the yellow sponge cake combined with the flakes of chocolate on the sides. The icing and filling aren’t too sweet, or too dense. It’s very soothing to the tongue and goes perfectly with a nice hot cup of coffee. Sometimes, even when it’s not someone’s birthday, I’ll run over and get myself a piece of cake. That’s not too often because I watch myself—even with my great metabolism, no one at my age can go too crazy. Once or twice a year is fine for that cake, but nothing more!
So I ran to my closet room to throw on a quick something and tie back my mane of hair so I could get over there. Luckily, Lucy had left one of her cloth rubber bands here. I had remarked on it one day when she was wearing it. She said it was called a . . . “scrungy”? Or was it a “scrunchy”? She said it was the type of thing you should never wear out of the house. How a hair band could ever be considered a fashion faux pas, I don’t know, but my hair was all over my face and I couldn’t see, so I’d have to buck the trends for a few blocks.
The first thing I grabbed was my pair of khaki silk-lined pants—the ones I always wear on planes. They are comfortable enough to sit for hours on a flight to Tokyo, and nice enough for first class. Then it occurred to me—
No, this is what a seventy-five-year-old woman would wear, not a twenty-nine-year-old girl.
I knew I had a pair of jeans I’d bought a few years back when we went to a dude ranch in Arizona, so I searched the bowels of my closet looking for them. They were all the way in the back. I grabbed them from the hanger and threw them on under my nightgown. I was sure I’d look exactly like Lucy does in her jeans, and I have to admit I was excited when I ran over to the mirror to look.
Oh, no, no, no.
First of all, the jeans were now a size too big. My bottom belly was gone! I’d contemplated having that thing sucked out many times, but if you’ve ever had a face-lift and a brow lift and felt the pain of that, it makes you pause before doing anything else too invasive. Anyway, what did it matter? It was gone! A flat stomach with a cute little belly button was staring back at me in the mirror!
But I couldn’t think about that; I had to concentrate on poor Barbara. I had to get back to my old self.
So I threw on a belt, grabbed one of my golf shirts, slipped quickly into my Tod’s driving shoes, and ran out the door with my pocketbook. It was only later that I realized I didn’t put on a stitch of makeup. Not even lipstick. I hadn’t taken the trash out without throwing on a little lipstick in fifty years. My head was everywhere, I was so mixed up.
Now, for some reason, I don’t know why, everyone on the
street was staring at me as I ran the five blocks to the bakery. Maybe it was the panicked look on my face. Maybe I didn’t look as good as I thought without makeup, even if I looked twenty-nine. Okay, so my pants were too big. I’ve seen worse things on the street than that. And it was around the third block that I noticed I was still running without being out of breath. I felt amazing, free; I wanted to keep running past the bakery, it felt so good.
But I couldn’t. I couldn’t enjoy this, not even for one day. I had to get back to my old body.
I reminded myself,
think of Barbara
“Three birthday cakes, please!” I shouted, maybe a little too loud, as I opened the door of the bakery. There was only one other customer besides me, a nice-looking thirty-something man in a suit. I immediately noticed his blue eyes. I have a thing about blue eyes, I guess because everyone in my family has brown ones. I once got blue-colored contacts, but they made my eyes look scary, so I stuck them in a drawer and never wore them again.
“I’m so sorry,” I said to him. “I didn’t mean to take my turn in front of yours.”
“Oh, no,” Blue Eyes said, presenting the bakery to me with a sweeping motion of his arm. “Please, anything for a pretty lady.”
Who was he talking about?
“Well, thank you, young man.”
“Young man?” Blue Eyes laughed. “I think I’m a little older than you.”
“Of course you are,” I laughed, throwing my head back. “But no, please, take your turn. I’m sure you’re in a hurry.”
“Not at all, please. Beauty before age.”
I have to admit I was sort of speechless.
“Well,” I said, straightening my hair, “thank you.” I smiled, walking in front of him.
“Three birthday cakes, with every candle you have in the store,” I ordered with intensity, remembering what I was there for.
I left the store with three large boxes of cake in my hands. Yesterday it might have been agonizing to carry those big heavy things through the city streets, but today it didn’t feel that way at all. I might as well have been holding bubbles in my hands from the adrenaline I was feeling over that compliment. And from such a handsome boy! Sure, it was just a tiny thing, but a tiny thing I hadn’t experienced in more than thirty years.
Okay, maybe I would just have a little fun. I mean, I was going back with the cakes, anyway. Maybe I would just pop into a store and try on some clothes with my new figure. What could be the harm? And as I stopped in front of the window of Plage Tahiti on Seventeenth Street, I saw a cosmic sign. There, right in the window between the mint cashmere sweater and the halter top with the white slacks, was Lucy’s Ellie Jerome dress.
“Can I help you with anything?” the kind, blond-haired woman behind the counter asked as I set the cakes down.
“Yes, actually. I was just walking by your shop and I noticed that very pretty dress in the window. It’s gorgeous!”
“That’s by a Philadelphia designer, Lucy Jerome.”
I just couldn’t keep back my excitement. It was killing me not to tell her. No one could blame me for being proud, could they?
“I know! She’s my granddaughter!” I exclaimed.
“What?” The woman looked at me cockeyed.
“Oh, she’s my cousin. Did I say granddaughter?” I tried to
laugh. “I got confused because she actually named the dress after her grandmother . . . my grandmother, too,” I stammered. I’ve always been the worst liar.
“Oh, sure. You look just like both of them. You’ve all got such hot bodies. Your grandmother is such a pretty lady; she’s so regal-looking. I see her in the park sometimes. I always think about saying hello, but she doesn’t know me at all.”
“Oh, she loves to sit in the park and read the newspaper,” I said, getting excited. “You should go say hello to her next time you see her. My grandmother is really
“She must be if Lucy designed this dress in her honor.” The saleswoman smiled as she took the dress off the mannequin. “Here, this should fit you perfectly.”
“Well, I’ll just try it on. I’m in a hurry to get home with these cakes.”
“For your grandmother’s birthday?” she asked. “Lucy was telling me your grandmother turned seventy-five.”
“I know! Can you believe it?” I exclaimed, going into the dressing room behind the curtain and taking off my clothes. “Can you believe my grandmother is seventy-five? She looks like she’s fifty!” I waited for the compliment.
“It’s hard to believe,” she said as the dressing room curtain suddenly opened. “Now, let’s see how the dress . . .” She paused.
“Oh, sweetheart,” the saleswoman said and sighed. “You’ve got to get out of those granny panties and get some cute underwear for that figure of yours.”
I was mortified. “I know. They’re dreadful.” I smiled sheepishly as I shut the curtain.
As I, Ellie Jerome, slipped into my Ellie Jerome dress, I
couldn’t help but stare at myself in the mirror for just a few seconds. This was what I wanted to see; it was like seeing a childhood friend after many years. Did I even look this good when I was twenty-five? Barbara was already nine years old by this point. No, I didn’t look this good, because I already had varicose veins and stretch marks. So not only was I twenty-nine, but I was twenty-nine without the post-pregnancy body!
“How is it?” the saleswoman asked.
“I’ll take it!” I shouted.
I went back up to the front desk as the saleswoman rang up the dress.
“I would think that your cousin would give you a discount if you got it from her,” she confided.
“She would,” I said, trying to think quickly. “But why not help with sales?”
“You’re a good cousin,” she said as I handed her my credit card.
“Oh, is this your credit card? Is your name Ellie, too?”
“Uh, yes. I was named for my grandmother.”
“Oh, how sweet,” she said as I breathed a huge sigh of relief. And just when I thought I was in the clear, the phone rang.
“Plage Tahiti?” The saleswoman smiled as I signed the receipt. I watched as she wrapped the dress in tissue and put it in a bag.
“Lucy!” the saleswoman shouted toward me with glee. “You’re not going to believe this! Your cousin Ellie is here, and she just bought your dress!”
Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh god, no. Oh god. No.
Oh, I was in such a panic. I could see this poor saleswoman’s face going from excited to shocked in about two seconds.
“Your cousin Ellie,” she enunciated into the phone. “She looks just like you, and she says she’s your cousin.”
I was caught. How would I explain myself? There was nothing I could do. I had no choice.
So, like a crazy lunatic, I did what any normal crazy lunatic would do.
I grabbed the bag with the dress and my three birthday cakes and hightailed it out of there, running down the street as fast as I possibly could. I ran clear past Walnut Street and nearly dropped everything when I almost ran right into the guy with the umbrella stand just past Lil Pete’s restaurant. When I got to Rittenhouse Square, I turned back to see if the saleswoman was chasing me, but she wasn’t.
What a morning.
I finally got back to my apartment building and said hello to Ken, the doorman.
“Excuse me, can I help you?”
“Yes, I just left here a little while ago? My grandmother is Ellie Jerome?”
“I’ll call up,” he said as he went to pick up the phone.