Read 29 Online

Authors: Adena Halpern

Tags: #Fiction, #General

29 (6 page)

“I want to smoke pot!” I shouted.

“You’re not smoking pot.”

“Well, I want to do something crazy, and whatever I say goes. Whatever I look like, I’m still your grandmother,” I warned her.

“Okay, fine,” Lucy agreed. “So here’s the agenda. First we’re going to get your hair done. It looks awful, Gram. And why are you wearing that scrunchy?”

“I know what you said about the scrunchy, but my hair was all over the place. I looked like an animal.”

“Okay, first, hair. Second, bras and underwear.”

“Check,” I said, running into the kitchen to grab the pad I always keep next to the phone.

“Third, lunch,” she said, and then stopped. “Actually, let’s have lunch after we get your hair done. I’m starting to get hungry.”

“I’ve got that cold chicken,” I reminded her.

“It’s so weird.” She laughed. “You’re so my grandmother, but you’re so not!”

And then we paused and stared at each other one more time.

“AHHHHH!” we screamed, hugging each other.

“Lucy?” we suddenly heard. It was Frida, looking all eighty-five years to her seventy-five. I tell her all the time,
Don’t wear your housecoat out of the house,
but does she listen to me?

“Hi, Aunt Frida.” Lucy tried to appear calm as she looked to me for what to do. What
could
we do?

“I was just stopping down here from my apartment to see your grandmother. I have a key, you know, so I’m sorry to barge in like this. She didn’t sound right this morning so I just came to check on her.”

“Oh, she went out,” I said, trying to think of something believable.

“Oh, she did, did she?” Frida looked at me, and then came a little closer. “You know, it’s the strangest thing, but your friend here looks just like your grandmother when she was young,” she said to Lucy.

“This is my cousin,” Lucy answered her. “This is Grandma’s brother’s granddaughter, uh, Michele.”

“It’s uncanny,” Frida said, again looking at me closely.

“P-people say that,” I stammered.

“It’s like looking through time,” Frida uttered.

“Everyone says that, too,” I said.

Frida paused. “But I don’t remember Ellie’s brother having a granddaughter.”

“Sure you do,” I said confidently, knowing Frida as well as I do. Once, when we were kids, I convinced Frida it was raining on a sunny day. Frida was never very brainy.

“Well, now that you mention it, are you from Chicago?” she asked.

“Yes, Chicago,” I said with certainty.

“Oh, of course. Well . . . welcome to Philadelphia.” She smiled.

Poor Frida, who has known me my entire life and spoken to me almost every single day. No one in my family has ever lived in Chicago; where she got that from I’ll never know.

“So where is your grandmother?” she asked.

“Oh, Gram went out to Mom’s house,” Lucy replied.

“Oh, okay. Well, as long as she’s okay, I guess I shouldn’t bother you girls any more,” she said, turning away.

Something about Frida standing there in her housecoat got to me. She has always been a gentle, fragile woman I’ve always felt I had to take care of, starting when we were kids, right up to when
she had a family of her own. Frida was never a great beauty, she never wore the right clothes; she was never young, even when she was young. I don’t know what Frida would have done if I told her it was really me. She isn’t strong like that. She never was.

“Frida,” I said, stopping her. “Would you like to go to lunch with us?”

She turned around and looked at us and smiled. I knew that’s all she wanted to hear.

“Thank you, but I’ve got too many things to do today.” Lie. “Well, have a nice day,” she said, turning again to leave.

“See you, Frida.” I waved as we watched her walk out the door. My heart sank.

That really snapped me out of it. Frida. Barbara. Even Lucy saying she couldn’t look at me as her grandmother. No.

I just couldn’t go through with it, not even for a day. This just wasn’t right.

“I can’t do this,” I told Lucy.

“What can’t you do?”

“I have to get back to my own age. You’ll never look at me the same again. Poor Frida, I lied to my best friend.”

“You’ve lied to Frida a million times.”

“When? When have I ever lied to Frida?” I demanded.

“Last week, when Frida called to ask you to come with her to the symphony.”

“That was different,” I argued. “It was Bach; you know how I feel about Bach.”

“No, it wasn’t Bach. You said at the time that you couldn’t look at Frida for another minute. You were sick of her that day.”

She had me. “Okay, maybe I did, but this doesn’t justify me
prancing around the city all day, being twenty-nine years old. Think of your mother, sitting at home thinking I’m seventy-five.”

“Would you listen to yourself for a second? Mom is not sitting at home thinking that you’re seventy-five.”

“Well, her life revolves around me. I can’t keep this from her.”

Lucy paused, took a deep breath, and put her hands on my shoulders.

“Gram, for once in your life, please, do something for yourself. For no one else but yourself, Gram. All you’ve ever done your whole life is think about other people before yourself. You had Poppy Howard for all those years, and Mom and me and Aunt Frida. When have you ever just done something for yourself, without thinking how it’s going to affect other people? You’ve even said as much before.”

“It’s my generation.” I shrugged. “That’s the way we were brought up.”

“Okay, so guess what? For one day, you’re going to live in my generation . . . and believe me, it’s the most selfish generation this planet has ever seen. All we ever do is think of ourselves.”

“But Lucy, that’s the point. I’m not
from
your generation. As much as I want to, I don’t know how to think like you.”

“So what’s wrong with trying for one day? For one day in seventy-five years, take the day off from yourself. Take the day off from your generation, and live like people my age do. Don’t you owe that to yourself?”

“No, Lucy,” I said, holding my ground. “I don’t deserve it. Why would someone deserve this? It’s wrong.”

And then she said something to me that made me start to change my mind: “So why did you wish to be young again for
one day if you didn’t really mean it? Why are you getting this gift if you’re not going to use it? There’s got to be some kind of logical reason for this. Maybe there’s something you need to do. Maybe there’s something you need to find out about yourself. All I know, Gram, is that you’ve got to do it. That’s why I’ll say it again. Gram—for once in your life, do something for yourself. And if you really can’t do something for yourself, if you are really that selfless and your generation is so selfless, then I’ll ask you this: Gram, do it for me.”

She bewildered me. “What would this do for you?”

Lucy took a deep breath. “How many people in this world get to hang out with their grandmother when she’s around their own age? Think about that for a second—how many?”

“Well, that’s true. I’m assuming there’s never been anyone else who’s ever gotten that chance.”

“Exactly. Do it for me if you really can’t do it for yourself. Let me have this one day in my life to see my grandmother at twenty-nine years old, without looking at some old grainy black-and-white pictures. Imagine how much that would mean to me for the rest of my life. Imagine what I could learn from it.”

“But I didn’t really mean it when I wished it!” I asserted.

“Really
?” she said, taking a step back. “I wished for a car on my sixteenth birthday, and I got a computer. Judging by looking at you, I should have wished a little harder.”

That made me laugh. My granddaughter was right. What was I rejecting this chance for? Who was I to throw away such a gift? Screw Barbara. Screw Howard. And—even though I felt bad about even thinking this—screw Frida. For one goddamned day in my life, I was going to do something crazy. I was going
to live for myself. I was going to live as a twenty-nine-year-old.

“You are a wise girl.” I smiled at her.

“I get it from my grandmother.” She smiled back, putting her arm around me.

“Okay, fine,” I said. “But for one day only. This is it. I’m going to buy some more candles, and at midnight tonight I’m going to light them, and tomorrow this will all seem like a dream.”

“I’m not going to argue with you.” She raised her hands, surrendering. “I’m just asking for this one day in our entire lives.” Then, taking my hand, she said, “Come here.”

She turned me around and pulled me in front of the Paris mirror. We stood staring at the two young ladies reflected there.

“Look at you,” she said. “Just look at how beautiful you are.”

“I look like you,” I said, wiping away tears.

We stood there for a long time comparing our faces.

“I never realized how much we look alike,” Lucy said. “You really can’t tell from those old pictures.”

“Sure you could,” I exclaimed. “Look at your jawline—it’s exactly the same as mine. Look at your cheekbones.”

“Hey, you’re taller than me,” she said. “I was taller than you yesterday.”

“That’s right!” I remembered. “I shrunk through the years.”

“You mean you shrink as you get older?”

“Shrivel is more like it,” I complained. “Lucy, if I ask one thing of you, it’s this: please, drink milk. It’s the best thing for your bones.”

“I thought sitting in the sun was the best thing,” she said, trying to be funny.

“Oh, no, never sit in the sun,” I told her seriously. “Sitting
in the sun is no joke. Lucy, it’s a horror on your skin. My poor friend Harriet, with the malignant melanomas—”

“I know, you told me a thousand times.” She put her hand to my mouth, stopping me. “I’m kidding.”

“You see? I really am your grandmother.”

“Maybe you’re right.” She laughed. “Maybe spending the entire day with you was not the best idea.”

“Oh, no,” I replied. “You convinced me, and now I’m your problem for the day.”

“Jeez, Gram, it was just a joke.”

“Okay, now, let’s make an appointment with your hairdresser,” I instructed. “I don’t want to go to mine. He only knows from blue hair. Then we’ll have lunch, and then the bras, and then”—I giggled when I said this—“then maybe we’ll pick up some hot guys.”

“Yuck.”

“It’s my day.”

“Okay, fine.” She shrugged.

“After all,” I said, looking at myself in the mirror again, “today is my day of being selfish, and what I say goes.”

“Now you’re speaking like a person of my generation!” she declared.

“You bet your damn ass I am.” I laughed.

“My grandmother’s cursing?” She looked at me, shocked.

“Oh, please, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are a lot of things you’re going to learn about me today. Now come on,” I told her. “Let’s get this day started. Cinderella goes back at midnight!”

frida

Frida Freedberg was always a worrier.

She attributed this aspect of her personality to her mother, Hannah, who would wake her up every morning for school with such vehemence that it terrorized her for the rest of her life.

“Frida?” her mother would whisper as she walked quietly into Frida’s bedroom.

“Frida?” She would say, a little louder.

“Frida!”
she’d shriek.
“You’re going to be late for school and then you’ll never graduate or meet a nice man!”

Frida’s mother had been dead for fifty years, but she could still hear that penetrating shrill voice stab her in the heart each morning. Frida wasn’t crazy about her mother, but she never told anyone, not her late husband, Sol, and certainly not her best friend, Ellie. Frida never shared such things like Ellie did. Ellie couldn’t keep a secret if she tried. Frida kept things to herself.

Still, she couldn’t deny that she was a worrier, and this particular morning was no different.

Ellie had called her that morning sounding shaken up. She’d asked crazy questions. Was this the beginning of Alzheimer’s? Oh, God forbid. So she went down to check on Ellie. They lived in the same building, so it wasn’t so difficult to just take the elevator down a couple of floors to make sure she was okay. Instead of finding Ellie, though, she found her granddaughter, Lucy, and a person Lucy claimed was a cousin. Frida knew that such a cousin did not exist. Frida had known Ellie her entire life, seventy-five years’ worth of knowing, and this young woman was no cousin. Frida even tried asking if the girl was from Chicago, even though Frida knew that no one in Ellie’s family ever lived in Chicago. The girl took the bait and said she was. Still, she did look a lot like Ellie when she was younger. Then again, that could just be a coincidence.

This was the tip-off that something was wrong. The other woman had to be a nurse or, worse, a social worker, brought in to help the family decide what to do with Ellie. Lucy was probably keeping this from her, fearing she wasn’t strong enough to take the news. What would Frida be without Ellie? Ellie was her dearest friend, a sister in every sense.

Frida was a champion in the game of jumping to conclusions. A worrier like Frida was worried.

Then again, another side of her, the saner side, told her that maybe Ellie really did go out to Barbara’s house like Lucy said. She would just call Barbara’s house to find out. Besides, she’d been meaning to call Barbara, anyway, to thank her for such a lovely time at Ellie’s seventy-fifth birthday party the night before. No one would suspect she was worried about Ellie. It was the perfect cover. Then, if Ellie was there like Lucy said she was, all
the worrying would have been for nothing, case closed, on to the next thing. She had enough to do that day, anyway. There was the business of the bruised peach she needed to return to the grocery store. Maybe afterward she’d stop at that coffee shop on Walnut Street. Frida never bought coffee from that place. Who in their right mind would spend three dollars for a cup of coffee that cost less than ten cents to make? The reason Frida went in the shop was the heaps of Sweet’N Low packets that were ripe for the taking. Frida was running low.

Everyone, including her closest friend Ellie, assumed that Frida’s husband Sol had invested poorly before he died and left Frida practically penniless. This was not the case at all, however. In fact, it was Frida who handled the investments, even when Sol was alive. Frida had over two million dollars to her name. Being the worrier that she was, though, she saved for the rainy day that never came. Frida learned the Sweet’N Low trick from her older sister, Gert, God rest her soul, who was old enough to remember the Depression. Gert died with enough pilfered Sweet’N Low to satisfy the diabetic sweet tooth of a small town.

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