Just When I Think I’m Ready To Leave

I had my jacket on and zipped.  I was wearing my burgundy parka, the same one I’d had since middle school, seventh grade, and it still fit me fine nine years later, and it looked about the same, too.  The imitation lamb’s wool on the collar was matted down around the neckline, and the lining inside the right pocket was torn, but so what?  I had other coats, I didn’t wear my burgundy parka that often, but sometimes I did, and when I did I remembered how much I liked it, how it fit me just right, better than any other winter coat I ever had since, so why not wear it just because it’s old?  I had the strap of my purse strung over my shoulder, the car keys in my hand, headed to the door.

I’d stopped by Granny’s place with my boyfriend, hoping to catch her in the kitchen around dinner time.  I wanted to tell her my news.  But we’d been waiting in the living room for almost two hours, and Granny never came up from the basement.  I said to Devon, my boyfriend, “All right then.”  We were ready to leave. I shouted out to my cousins through the open kitchen doorway, “Hey, catch you later!”

Timmy called back, “You didn’t see Granny’s new arts and crafts!”

Timmy, my cousin, was sitting at the table with his girlfriend Cammy and my other cousin Tidbit.  Tidbit started laughing, his fat cheeks getting red.  “Oh fuck.  You gotta see it.”

Tidbit had a real name.  Of course.  I’m sure at some point I asked what it was and was told, but I didn’t know it anymore.  Once and a while when we were kids we would both be at Granny’s at the same time.  And Tidbit, who had a real name then, would always want to play with her arts and crafts supplies.  She kept them in big Tupperware tubs, and some were organized – one filled with yarn, one filled with pipe cleaners, one filled with Styrofoam balls and cones.  She used to have the tubs just down in the basement, when we were really little, but at some point they started getting stacked up in the dining room, too, and then the dining room turned into another arts and crafts room.  The tubs that Tidbit liked were the ones that were filled with all the mixed up leftovers from Granny’s projects, buttons and sequins and feathers and colored sand and snips of lace and spools and colored toothpicks and old game pieces and scraps of origami paper.  Things like that, all mixed up together in the big plastic tubs, and Tidbit would go crazy for them.  He’d spend all afternoon on the dining room floor, digging through Granny’s containers, making little piles of this and that, and building things.  Animals that looked like half bird, half dog, half lizard.  Or a third of each, I mean.  You know, mixed up.  Before he got started Granny would say do you want to play with the tidbits, honey boy?  Are you begging and begging, is that what you’re doing, honey boy?

That’s what he would do, too.  He would beg.  Clasping his hands, hopping up and down, like there couldn’t be anything in the world he could ever want more.  And Granny would prop her feet up on the footstool by the sofa and Tidbit would rub them for thirty minutes and then she’d let him play with the tidbit tubs to his heart’s content.

How old was he when he stopped asking for them?  Timmy and the other boy cousins always laughed at him for playing with the arts and crafts like a fat little fag and I can’t quite remember when he got old enough to care more about them laughing than he did about those beautiful tubs of pretty scraps.

I asked, “What is it?”

“See for yourself.”  Timmy smiled.  Since I’d seen him last, he’d grown a small beard that outlined his mouth and covered his chin, shaved along the sides in straight lines, and I could tell he spent time on it, probably every morning, keeping it so smooth and even.  He was wearing a dark green waffle shirt that clung to his shoulder muscles.  “It’s upstairs.  In the bathroom!”

“Upstairs?” I repeated.  “In the bathroom?”

In all the years I’d known Granny, which was all the years of my life actually, she’d always kept her arts and crafts in the basement.  The dining room was a room for all her extra supplies and tools and fabrics and things, but so far, up till now, all her projects were down in the basement.  The rest of the house, till now, looked regular, and if a stranger came in, he would never know how weird some of Granny’s arts and crafts could get because he wouldn’t see them because they were down in the basement.  So this was something new.  And it worried me.

“You gotta see it!”  Tidbit shook a handful of Corn Pops from the box and shoved them in his mouth.  His neck had gotten wider.  He couldn’t have buttoned the collar of his flannel shirt if he tried.  The fuzzy hair where he was trying to grow a mustache made his face look younger than his real age, which I wasn’t quite sure of, but I know he was older than the rest of us.  It had probably been at least ten years since he’d dropped out of Eastford High.

“You know what you gotta do,” Timmy said to Tidbit.  “You gotta drive to Kmart.”

They’d been fighting about it earlier.  Who was going to drive to Windham to buy double-A batteries for the Xbox controllers.  The Kwik Stop in Eastford closed at 5:00 p.m. on Sundays, and it was probably seven-thirty by then and snowing, too.

“I’m going to,” Tidbit said, wiping his mouth on his sleeve, reaching into the cereal box for more.

Cammy said, “Oh my god!  You did it again!”

Tidbit said, “No I didn’t.”

“You did!  You sure did!  You licked your hand!  I can’t play anymore.  You’re making me sick.”

“You’re just saying that ‘cause he’s winning,” Timmy said to Cammy.

When the Xbox controller wouldn’t work, Tidbit and Cammy started playing checkers at the kitchen table.  They were using Corn Pops and Cheerios for checkers because of course the real checkers that came with the game were long gone, used up in one of Granny’s arts and crafts.

“Yeah!  What a sore loser!”  Tidbit’s eyes brightened right up at the way Timmy took his side.

Cammy crossed her arms over her pudgy chest and pouted.  Even in the winter like it was now she wore sweaters cut low to show off her cleavage, as if just being a girl, just having boobs, was something special she’d accomplished in life.

“You’re licking your fingers like a disgusting pig and then touching the pieces that we’re playing with on the board and I’m not going to touch them now.  I’m not touching your disgusting slobber spit!”

“What you should do is get your slobbery ass in the car and drive to Kmart.”  Timmy stood up from the table.  He took two steak knives from the wooden block on the kitchen counter and started doing made-up Kung Fu moves in slow motion.  He flexed his arms and moved the knives in his clenched fists like oars through an almost-frozen river.

Something banged down in the basement.  It sounded like something made of metal falling on the cement floor – one sudden clang.  We all stood still, waiting for Granny to call up for help.  But she didn’t.  It was quiet, and then there was a smaller noise, something getting pushed across the floor, and that was it.  When I let out my breath, I realized we were all doing it at the same time – breathing out the air we were all holding onto.

I unzipped my coat.  I walked back into the living room where Devon was waiting, watching the Discovery Channel on Granny’s TV.  The Xbox sat abandoned on the carpet.  Devon had his sock feet on the coffee table, his coat on the cushion beside him.  He knew me.  He knew when I said I was ready to leave I usually wasn’t really ready to leave.  It always seemed to take me longer.  And Devon said what he usually said:  “It’s going to be too late.”

And I said what I usually said:  “No it won’t be.”

If where we were going was the movies and Devon would say, “It’s going to be too late,” then I would say, “It’ll only be the previews.”  If we missed the previews, that was okay, but if we missed any part of the movie, including the part where they showed the title over the background when the movie was just starting, Devon wouldn’t want to see it.  It ruined it for him.

That night we were going back to Devon’s parents’ house to watch CSI.  And it was kind of the same thing.  If we were more than five or ten minutes late, everyone got irritated because his mom didn’t like to have to explain what we missed so far.  She thought that ruined it, and Devon did too.  We were living with them, in Devon’s old bedroom, temporarily.  On Sunday nights there was this thing where we’d all watch CSI together with dessert.  It got started one weekend, and then it became a regular thing, and I could tell that Devon’s mom and dad looked forward to it.  We’d all settle in – me and Devon on the couch, his parents in the recliners – and at the first commercial break, Devon’s mom would serve up some special dessert she’d made, which was a surprise until she brought it out.  Devon’s dad always smiled when she was in the kitchen and said, “What did Mom do this time?”  Last week it was banana pudding with vanilla wafer crumbs on top.  It was really good.

I put my purse on the floor next to Devon’s feet, and my coat next to his coat, and my car keys in the bowl on coffee table.  I said, “I just have to look at something upstairs.  It’ll only take a minute.”

Devon shook his head and sighed.

Upstairs I stopped by the door of the cousins’ room.  Ever since I could remember, one of the cousins had always lived in that room in Granny’s house – whoever   was out of money or a job or a legal guardian if they were young enough to need one.  All the cousins were free to come and go in Granny’s house, eat her food, watch her television.  There was a year or so, when I was younger, when the backyard parties had to stop due to a police report, but for the most part you could do as you pleased at Granny’s house.  Granny had six kids.  Three of them were still around in Eastford, but my mother wasn’t one of them.  Granny had nineteen grandchildren, and one great-grandkid, which was Timmy and Cammy’s baby.  Pretty soon, there’d be two.

The next one would be mine, in about six and a half months, but nobody knew about it yet.  Not even Devon.  I remembered one of my aunts saying you couldn’t be sure, not totally, till after the first three months, so I was still waiting.  But from the day I took the Clearblue Easy test, I’d wanted to tell Granny.  I wanted to see if her mouth would tilt up on one side, or down.

Tidbit had lived in the cousins’ room the longest of anyone, even longer than I had when I was a teenager.  I thought he was going to stay there for good, but then one day last year Granny told him his turn was over.  That’s the way it was.  She would just decide, and then that was it and there was nothing you could do about it.  Another cousin named Evan moved in for awhile, and now it was Timmy and Cammy.  It was still Tidbit, though, who did the most of Granny’s errands and rubbed her feet and drove to A.C. Moore’s to buy her arts and crafts supplies.  I could tell he couldn’t wait till it was his turn for the cousins’ room again.

I turned the knob and pushed the door slow-motion so it wouldn’t creak and peeked in.  In the dim light from the hall I could see Cammy’s clothes piled on the floor and Timmy’s nunchucks hanging from a knob on the dresser.  I tip-toed to the crib.  The baby was lying on his stomach, his bald head turned to one side with a pacifier covering his mouth and chin.  His plastic diaper ballooned; his flimsy baby t-shirt was rolled to his armpits; his white back looked boneless.  I wanted to pull that shirt down, but I was afraid I’d wake him up, even though he was a good sleeper.  That’s what Cammy said.   She said it as if that was the very best thing a baby could be.  I breathed in his smell, and I thought of those candy necklaces we used to buy at Kwik Stop when we were kids, those pastel discs on elastic string that we sweated on and pulled up to our mouths to suck.  A smell sickly sweet.  My stomach twisted.

I left the cousins’ room, clicking shut the door, and moved down the short upstairs hall to the bathroom.  The first thing I thought was uh-oh.  The toilet seat lid and most of the tank lid were decorated with clay.  Modeling clay, the kind that stays soft, in primary colors.  On the shag rug were at least a dozen sticks of it, some unwrapped from the cellophane packaging, some still unopened, and piles of coins separated into nickels and dimes and pennies.  No quarters.  What Granny was doing was covering the coins with clay to make perfect circles, then pressing them onto the toilet, like a mosaic.  I knew it wasn’t good – Granny’s arts and crafts popping up here in the bathroom, like a bat escaped from the attic, surprising you where it shouldn’t be.

I sat on the edge of the bathtub, wondering what to do.  There was a crack by the faucet and a green ring on the inside.  I’d made that green stain myself – years ago, almost ten years ago – from my green-apple bubble bath.  I remembered those oily bath beads in a big plastic jar from Victoria’s Secret that my mother sent me through mail order for my birthday the year she ran away from Eastford.  I used to lie in the bathtub almost every night that first year I lived in the cousins’ room.  I’d light candles and play music on the radio and soak in green bubbles that smelled like pie.

I went downstairs, and when I walked past Devon in the living room, he said, “Ready?”  I held up one finger, which meant I’m coming, just give me a minute.  In the kitchen, Timmy was sitting down now at the table.  He’d turned an empty Ziplock baggie inside out, trying to scrape enough crumbles of weed from its plastic corners to fill the little metal bowl of his bong full enough to get a light, but anyone could tell it wasn’t going to work.  There just weren’t enough crumbles.  One of Timmy’s nostrils was twitching, making his mustache jerk on one side.

I put my hand on my hip and said, “I’m worried about her.”

Tidbit glared up at me.  His lumpy shoulders were hunched, his mouth still chewing on cereal. “There’s nothing wrong with Granny.”

I said, “I’m worried about that arts and crafts on the toilet.”

“Tell me about it!” Cammy chimed right in.  “I can’t even pee in there anymore!  I have to walk all the way downstairs in the middle of the night!”

Tidbit mumbled something with his cereal mush-mouth.

“Whad’ya say, fucker?” Timmy tossed the baggie on the table.  He kicked at the rung of Tidbit’s chair.  “What?”

“Nothing,” said Tidbit.

“Oh I think you said something.”

“We’re not moving out, asshole,” Cammy snarled at Tidbit.  “Not anytime soon.”

Tidbit’s whole neck was getting red now.  “That’s up to Granny.”

“Don’t try to fuck with me.”  Timmy did one his fake kung-fu moves with his arms again, sitting down, which was stupid, but his voice sounded too serious.  I should have walked out and gotten my coat and left right then.


I spun around.  It was Devon, standing behind me in the doorframe that separated the living room hall from the kitchen.  He rubbed his fingers on his forehead so his brown hair lifted up and flopped down again, covering his eyebrows.  He’d let his hair get long again when he lost his job not because they didn’t like him at Comcast Cable but because of the economy and seniority and it was better anyway, Devon told me, because he always knew he should be a college student.  He was smart enough and he had a future and I would see for myself because I would be in it.  His future.

Devon said, “It’s going to be too late.”

I said, “No it’s not.”  That’s what I always used to say.

Devon said, “Hon, it’s time.”

I looked at the door, not the front door because I couldn’t see it from the kitchen anyway, but the one on the other side of the kitchen that led down to the basement.  I breathed in and then out through my nose, in the way that someone else can hear it.  And Tidbit said to me in a low voice, “You leave Granny alone.”

I looked into his eyes, Tidbit’s eyes, and we stared at each other for a few seconds, his pudgy lids scrunched so his eyes looked buried inside the skin, but I could tell from just those little bits of showing eyeballs that he hated me now, which was something new.  I used to always think he liked me more than the other cousins. But now I had a crazy thought that somehow he knew, even though it didn’t show, even though there really wasn’t any way that he could know.  But I thought it anyway.  That Tidbit knew I was pregnant, and he hated me for it.

Timmy stood up from the table and flexed his muscles on purpose so they pulsed out and in, under the sleeves of his tight green waffle shirt.  He said, “He wants to leave!”  He said it in a what-the-fuck! kind of way, like Devon wanting to leave was something crazy, was something like wanting to pick up those spitty Corn Pops on the checkerboard and stick them in his nostrils.  Timmy picked up the two steak knives from the counter and starting twirling them in slow motion again, moving them through the air in side-by-side S’s.  He said, “He wants…to leave.”  He wasn’t’ looking at Devon, or me.  He was looking at Cammy, and then at Tidbit.

The tip of Tidbit’s tongue flicked out, touching his top lip, then bottom.  He said, “He should fucking leave then.”

“Fuck yeah!” Timmy’s S’s in the air started moving faster.  “Fuck yeah!”  And Tidbit smiled and stood up.

Devon said to me, “Come on.”

And I said, “Okay,” but Timmy and Tidbit and Cammy were already laughing, high and barky all of sudden, and I heard the knives drop on the gummy linoleum floor – ploppy plop – and after I heard them I stopped and looked for them, too, to make sure, and they were there, one on the floor by the dishwasher and one by the leg of the table.  Serrated edges and steel tips, one and two, but then by the time I looked back up at Devon – one second, two seconds? – they already had him, Timmy at his shoulders and Tidbit at his feet, and Devon was shouting but his voice sounded high and tiny – “get – what are you – let me – you can’t  –!” – like a little boy, and Cammy was laughing but mad at the same time.  She was saying, “The baby’s down, you fuckers!  You better not wake up the baby or I’ll fucking kill you!”  But when Timmy yelled at her to go open the door! She was laughing too and her boobs bounced up and down as she pushed ahead of them and opened the sliding door in the family room and I ran behind them grabbing at the back of Tidbit’s stupid flannel shirt, and I think I was yelling, too, but I don’t remember what, and they threw him right out the door and locked it and pulled the curtain shut so we couldn’t see him but we could hear him.  We could all hear Devon pounding on the thick glass door, shouting don’t DO this to me! Pounding away.  Tidbit said, “He can’t break it, he’s a weak little shit.”

Tidbit blocked the back door, and Timmy ran ahead of me to the front door and blocked that one, too, and when I tried to get to the doorknob, he pushed me back, and it hurt a little, the place he jabbed me under my left shoulder.  I said, “You better not touch me again, or I’ll scream for Granny.”

Devon was on the other side, ringing the bell, banging.

Cammy plopped down on the love seat in the family room. “Oh that’s a good one,” she said.  “Scream for Granny.”

Granny never came up from the basement when she was working on her arts and crafts.  Not for anyone.  Not for anything, unless she wanted to.  Not for screaming, that’s for sure.  There’d been lots of screaming in Granny’s house, and she never came up. Not unless she wanted to come up.

I ran to the living room window, and I could see Devon out there, running across the snowy front yard in his socks and his high school soccer jersey, the one he’d found in his closet when we moved back into his parents’ house.  He ran to our car parked on the road, but the car was locked, I knew it and he knew it, but I watched him yanking on the car doors one by one and I could tell by the way his back was jerking up and down that he was crying.  But maybe not.  Maybe he was just cold.  Just freezing cold.  He ran around the car, in a circle.

I grabbed my purse and car keys from the coffee table with one hand and scooped up Devon’s coat and shoes with the other.  Timmy leaned on the front door, his arms stretched up in a big V.

I stepped right up to him.  “Get out of my way.”

“Ooooo, tough girl!” Tidbit said.  He’d left his post by the backdoor.  Cammy turned on the TV, flipping stations with the remote, and Tidbit sat down on the floor and fiddled with the Xbox controller, refilling it with the dead batteries, hoping they might decide to come back to life.  They’d lost interest in Devon.  They were done playing.

But Timmy wasn’t giving it up yet.  He said, “Who’s going to make me,” and his little mustache quivered.  For some reason, he looked very sad all of a sudden, his dark brown eyes locking into mine as if sending me a message with no words that he hoped I would understand.  And I did understand it.  For that moment I actually felt more sorry for him, for Timmy, than I did for Devon out in the cold with no jacket.

I said, “I can’t wait, Tim.  You fucker.  You piece of shit loser.  I’m pregnant.  Okay?  I’ve gotta go.”

He let his arms drop, one two.

“We don’t want her here anyway!” Tidbit called.  “Get on out!  You think we want you around here?”

Cammy came over and stood by Timmy, snaking her arm around his waist.  Timmy said, “We were just kidding around.  You know.”

“It hurts,” Cammy whispered at me. “Just wait and see.  It hurts so bad.”

I ran outside, and the cold snowy air pricked my face like a hundred silver pins, but just for that first minute, and Devon ran toward me and grabbed the keys.  In the car he blasted the heat and pulled off his soaking socks.

“I think I got frostbite!”  His voice was shaky.  “Jesus, what if my toes turn black?”

I said, “It wasn’t long enough for that.”

“Jesus!  It feels like knives cutting my feet!  I seriously think I’m frostbit!”

I said, “No, it wasn’t that long.”  I reached down under the steering wheel and put my hands on his feet and tried to rub them warm but Devon cried, “OWW!  Like KNIVES!” I took off my boots and gave him my socks and put my boots back on barefoot.

I said, “Shit!  My coat’s still in there!”  My burgundy parka.

Devon looked at me.  He brushed his bangs out of his eyes, and his hair was snowy wet and stayed in place pushed up sideways in a line over his eyebrows, and he looked older again, like he used to when his hair was short and he wore a shirt and tie to work in the morning for Comcast Cable.  He said, “You’re not going back in there.  We’re never going back.  Never.”

I said, “I know.”

I could see my burgundy coat just lying there on the sofa inside where I left it.  The fake lamb’s wool on the inside that felt good against my jaws on a cold day when I turned up the collar.  Granny bought me that coat.  We bought it at Filene’s at the mall in Manchester.  That was back when Granny still went places outside her house sometimes.  I was eleven years old, and I’d been living in the cousins’ room at Granny’s house for a month or so, since my mother ran away from Eastford.  It was late October, and I was leaving to walk to the bus stop for school, and Granny was sitting at the kitchen table.  Usually I didn’t see her in the morning, but this time she’d been up all night long working on one of her arts and crafts, and even though her eyes were bloodshot they were glossy bright and looked right at me and sized me up.  She’d said, “Katie-Kitie, what are you doing in that thin sweatshirt?  It’s autumn chill.” And I started to cry.  It was my first time crying since my mother ran away from Eastford.  And Granny had said, “You know what?  I’m calling on the phone to your school with a little golden fib, okay honey?  Because this is the day for you and me to go shopping.”

“The thing is,” I said to Devon, “is that’s my favorite coat.”


“Two minutes,” I told him.  “In and out.”  And I jumped out of the car and ran to the house and let myself in.

“What?” Tidbit said when I walked back into the living room.  He was lying on the coach with one of Granny’s blankets pulled up around his chin, watching the Food Network.  Paula Dean.

“My coat.”

I looked at my burgundy parka on the floor now where Tidbit must have tossed it, and I wondered why, all of a sudden, when I thought about my mother, why I always said in my head when my mother ran away from Eastford. I never said in my head when my mother ran away from me. So I made myself think it right then and there, looking at the coat Granny bought me:  after my mother ran away from me.

I walked past Tidbit and into the kitchen.  Timmy and Cammy were gone, probably upstairs in bed in the cousins’ room.

I opened the door to Granny’s basement.  Nobody was allowed to, nobody ever did, but I did it anyway.  I stepped heavily with my boots on the narrow wooden stairs, so she would hear me coming.  I wanted to give her warning.  Stomp, stomp, stomp, stomp.  On the next stair I stood still, breathing, waiting.

“What’s happening?”  Granny’s voice cried out.  “Who is that?”

I took two more stairs downward, then two more, softly now, my soles just tapping.  “Granny, it’s Katie.  I’m giving you some news.”

I stood on the stair landing for a minute, waiting.  Then the door to Granny’s arts and crafts room opened up, and there she was, saying, “Oh, honey, I don’t need anybody giving me news.”

She looked just the same.  It had probably been – what?  Two or three years since I’d seen her, I think.  The last few times I’d been over to her house she never came up, not even on Christmas when I dropped off my present for her.  All the cousins’ presents had been piled up on her coffee table.  She didn’t even have her foil tree set up like she usually did, but Tidbit had told me she had a special tree down in her museum room, but nobody could go down there.  Nobody but him, Tidbit said, and he’d looked so happy with himself.

The thing about Granny was she looked good.  She looked like a lady on a commercial for older lady products – arthritis pills or bone loss supplements – the kind of lady who could make you feel good about getting older, with a trim body and a few wrinkles, sure, but a sweet face and hair with bright blond highlights swirled with bits of silver.  She had on khaki pants, pressed with a crease, and a tucked-in blouse printed with flowers and lipstick and just a touch of eye shadow and an ordinary gold chain around her neck.  If Granny was magically transported to some other location, like the Kwik Stop, and you happened to see her there in the aisle, you would never guess that she was a woman who didn’t leave her house and spent most of her time in a basement.

I looked hard at her, searching for signs.  I still had that creepy feeling from upstairs where the toilet was being covered with clay.

But she was looking hard at me, too.  She was shaking her head a bit, wincing with her eyebrows.

“I’m sorry,” I told her, feeling my eyes sting.  “I know you don’t like people coming down.  But I probably won’t be coming back here for a long time, so I wanted to tell you.”

“Tell me what?”

Suddenly I couldn’t say it out loud.  Not quite yet.  “Remember,” I said.  “Remember when you bought me that coat?  And we went to lunch at Outback and had grilled shrimp with grilled pineapple.”

I wanted to ask her if she still had her “boyfriends,” as she used to call them when I was a girl.  On her appointment nights I was supposed to lock the door of the cousins’ room, not for any real reason, but just in case.

“Katie-Kite.”  She smiled at me, and I could see her teeth were still white and shiny.

I said, “My mom told me one time that you never took her to the dentist when she was a kid and that’s why she had to get five root canals.”

It was such a strange thing to say and I could see Granny make her eyes go blank on purpose, deciding to pretend that I never said it.  So I did the same thing.

She said, “Kite, honey, would you like to see my museum?  It’s not quite ready.  But here you are.”

I nodded.  She told me to wait just a minute, and not to look at the mess in her workroom when she called me, to just keep my eyes on the door to her museum.  Granny swiveled on the heels of her suede loafers and stepped through the door that separated the stairwell from the rest of the basement.

When she called me, I followed.  The lights of her workroom were turned off, but I could see her tables piled with boxes in different sizes and wires sticking up and what looked like hundreds of magazines spread across the floor.  On the wall to my left was the door to her museum; it had a pink paper heart taped on it for February.

“Take off your boots!” Granny called from inside, so I did.  My bare feet were clammy, and I thought all of sudden about Devon out there in the car, wearing my socks.  Stretching them out.  By now, he’d be warm again.

I opened the door.  Inside the dark room, illuminated paper balls hung from the ceiling, like Japanese lanterns.  There were at least a dozen or more, about the size of beach balls, dangling on plastic cords from the ceiling tiles.  A pathway of carpet remnants ran down the middle of the small room, dividing it in half, and the paper lanterns hung high and low on each side.  I stood on the first carpet square with my bare feet, taking in the whole effect.  I noticed flute-like music playing very softly, the scent of a flowery air freshener.  The colored globes glowed around me.

When I stepped closer to one of the lanterns, I could see it had been molded with layers of tissue paper and glue and decorated with tiny pictures cut out from magazines.  Some kind of small lightbulb had been placed in its hollow middle.

I walked slowly down the aisle, studying each one of Granny’s creations.  One orb was completely covered with penguin pictures:  cartoon penguins smiling and real penguins sliding on ice or swimming under blue water.  On another lantern was nothing but Jennifer Aniston heads, most smiling, but there were one or two tiny Jennifer faces on the verge of tears, and I took a step off the carpet because I wanted to look on the other side for more crying Jennifers, but when I did Granny said, “Come and sit down.”

She was waiting for me at a small white wicker patio table and two matching chairs set up at the end of the carpet path.

I said, “How do they light up?”

Granny said, “I put those little night-time book lights inside them.  The kind made to clip onto your book when you’re reading in bed?  Tidbit had to go to two Barnes and Nobles stores and a Target in Manchester to get enough of them.”

I sat down beside her.  “They’re beautiful.”

“But you know what?  I want to try something.  You know that plastic Glad Wrap they make that’s colored?  They do red and green for Christmas, but I think you can still get it in blue, at least, when Christmas is over.  I want to try covering up the book lights with blue Glad Wrap so the light shines with more color.”

I said, “You should try it.”

“Kite, honey, you drive out to Shop and Stop in Windham or Manchester and get me some of that blue Glad Wrap, okay?  And then you can help me.  And we’ll decide together what’s better – clear light or blue light.”

She blinked her eyes, and she was tapping on one of her eyebrows really quickly, over and over, and I thought, uh oh.

I said, “I don’t think my car’s here anymore.”

Devon was gone by now.  I was pretty sure of that much.  But I thought if I called his mother, maybe she would get him to drive back here for me.  Maybe, if I didn’t wait too long.  I could wait outside in the snow for him, I thought, wearing my burgundy parka that still fit just fine.  It wasn’t even tight yet.  The zipper still zipped.

“Tidbit’s still here,” I told Granny.  “Do you want me to tell him to go for you?”

“No!  Not him!”

We sat there together in our little wicker chairs.  I tipped back my head and looked up at the paper ball hanging above me, glowing pale purple, with tiny donuts and bagels cut from Dunkin Donut coupons arranged in perfect concentric circles.

I said, “Granny, where’s that pretty music coming from?  Where’d you hide the CD player?”

Her tapping hand finally rested, floating down from her eyebrow to the arm of her chair.  She smiled.  “Try to guess, honey.”

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