Something was wrong; this was the wrong child. She was plump and shapeless: a grisly little mouse of a girl; blonde hair frizzed out like bubbled Coke. “Helen Granger?” The airline stewardess pushed the little girl toward her, and Helen felt herself nod. “Angela here says you’re her grandmother.”
Helen’s granddaughter took her hand, and Helen started at the feel of those squishy fingers pressed against her.
The stewardess nodded, “I hope you have a nice visit together.” Her lipstick had smeared during the flight so that one part of her lip grinned colorlessly, as though it had been removed.
Helen smiled politely. “Thank you.”
The woman turned to leave, and then they were alone: Helen and the quiet little girl. Like a child wrapped in thick lining, Angela was so much larger than she had ever been.
“When did I see you last, Angie?” Helen cleared her throat. “August, wasn’t it? You and your mom came down right at the end of the summer, didn’t you? Before you started fourth grade?”
Angela looked up, her lips pressed tightly: “Yeah.” She was pudgy and round—a good twenty pounds heavier than eight months before—but every inch of her was tensed in the stale, sleepy way of long stress. Already, it was so easy to recognize the effect that the divorce was having on the child; she was quite simply coming undone.
Helen kept her apartment in impeccable condition, although she had lived alone for the past eleven years, since Walter had died. Still, she had prepared carefully for her granddaughter’s visit, buying new Kleenex boxes, toilet paper, plastic drinking cups, and paper towels. She had left the wrappers and price tags on everything, so that Angela could see how clean and new things were here: how comfortable and safe a haven was her grandmother’s home.
She’s doing pretty well, all considering, Helen’s daughter Lydia had assured her the week before. But she has gotten a little more quiet. And she likes things clean. Try not to let her wash her hands too much, Lydia had added as an afterthought. She tends to overdo that.
Helen set the olive green suitcase in the guest bedroom and watched Angela walk into the bathroom, turn on the faucet, and come back. The little girl’s hands were chapped from overuse, lightly scabbed skin coloring the creases at her knuckles.
“Angela, dear,” Helen shut the bathroom door neatly behind them. “What would you like for lunch?”
The girl tilted her head, drying between her fingers on a corner of the thick yellow t-shirt she wore.
“Or maybe you’re not hungry? Maybe you ate on the plane?” Helen added hopefully. “We could just have a light lunch: some fruit and yogurt. How does that sound?”
Angela hopped up onto the guest bed, scootching herself backward with her butt: “Ok.”
In the kitchen, Angela ate two yogurt cups: one berry flavored and one peach. She ate an apple, too, and asked whether or not she could have some of the cereal that was sitting on top of the refrigerator. Cautiously, Helen poured a small bowl of cornflakes and watched it go down. Angela wanted another bowl.
“Oh, look at the time—it’s nearly three o’clock!” Helen slapped a palm against the countertop. “How about a quick dip in the pool, Angie, before it gets too late?”
Angela nodded, sucking the last of her milk from the spoon like it was something sacred. Minutes later, she emerged from the guestroom with a loose t-shirt pulled down over her swimsuit, pasty-colored legs jiggling as she walked. “Can I have a towel?” Helen handed her one, and she wrapped it snuggly around her middle.
Five short days, that’s all they had. Five days in the California sun: a week to forget the misery at home in Oregon, the locked doors and terrifying sobs. Was Lydia, Helen wondered, letting women stay over these nights while her daughter was gone? Was she actually giving into this—this new fetish of hers? And what would Angela think, returning home, to find an extra hairbrush by the sink? Or an unfamiliar set of underclothes draped beside her mother’s laundry?
Out at the community pool, Helen tendered the subject cautiously. “So,” she started. “What does your mom tell you, Angie—about her and your dad?”
Angela looked up briefly, her arms fluttering through the water, not quite gracelessly. “They were having problems,” she answered. “For a long time.”
“Oh, well,” Helen sat back in her chair at the side of the pool. “A lot of couples have problems. Marriage isn’t easy, you know.”
Angela watched her grandmother briefly before flipping backward and surging under the water. Helen cleared her throat. “What kind of problems?” she raised her voice once Angela had come bobbing back to the surface at the far end of the pool.
Angela shook her head.
“Well, I suppose that’s kind of personal, huh?” Helen squinted into the sun. “She doesn’t want to tell you everything.”
The girl nodded. “She used to like her teachers. The girl ones. But then she forgot about it for a long time.”
Helen gripped the sides of her chair. “Well,” she forced a laugh. “Kids say things sometimes. But you never really know.”
Angela shut her eyes and turned her face toward the sun. Her fingers spread through the water, the cotton t-shirt floating around her like the cap of a jellyfish. Helen watched the girl flip herself downward again and move deliciously through the water back toward her. She was quick in the pool, athletic. For a brief moment, Helen could almost forget about the puffy lines at the edges of the bathing suit, the chalk-like skin and brittle hair. When her granddaughter surfaced again at the edge of the pool beneath her, she was breathing hard, but smiling. She set both her elbows on the tiled rim and rested her head along them, letting her body relax into the water, stretched out along her stomach so the meat of her buttocks bounced upward behind her.
“Divorce is a terrible thing,” Helen blinked once more into the lengthening sunlight. It was only April, but the weather was already beginning to fester. “It’s very sad.”
“My mom is happier now,” Angela answered.
“She told you that?”
The girl nodded, her cotton-covered butt bouncing up and down along the water’s movement. Helen’s head shook lightly. A nine-year-old, she supposed, wouldn’t care; she wouldn’t know any better. But Helen had noticed her daughter’s gradual transformation: her hair cut shorter and shorter, the dark-colored pants and button-down shirts she wore. A friend at Helen’s senior center had explained lesbian couples: some of them dress like men, and others keep dressing like women. The butch and the femme, like heterosexual couples. Butch. Helen hated that word. Why couldn’t her daughter have chosen the other side? The one that more closely resembles normal life?
And now, even Angela was looking genderless and pathetic: shapeless yellow shirt attached to shapeless blue bottom. There was no attention to appearance—no elegance, no style. “Angie,” she asked lightly, “How would you like to go shopping tomorrow?”
Angela looked up. “Ok,” she agreed, her head bobbing back and forth in the water, loose as a string-held balloon. And Helen shivered.
“So, what would you like to get?” The department store was filled with spring attire: skirts and swimsuits and brightly-colored tops. But Angela just shook her head. “Isn’t there anything you want? Something nice and summery?”
“Well,” Helen stared down at the new combination of cotton t-shirt and baggy sweatpants that Angela had selected for the day. “Why don’t we start with something simple. How about a nice pair of jeans?” She motioned toward a rack of girls’ pants. “Look, they have them in all different colors. What size are you?”
Angela looked down at the rack of techincolor denim but didn’t answer. Helen picked up a bright pink pair and held them up to her granddaughter. “What size are the pants you’re wearing, honey?”
Angela looked down helplessly, and Helen reached around to grab the elastic at her back, pulling the inner tag toward her: Large. “Humph,” she said. “That’s not going to help us with jeans. Well, try this. Size sixteen. That’s about as big as it gets.”
Angie went into the dressing room and came out empty handed. “What happened?”
“I don’t like them.”
“What do you mean? What did they look like? Did they fit?”
“I dunno. Maybe. I just don’t like them.”
“C’mon back and let’s try it again. I’ll help you.” Helen stood outside the door while Angie slipped out of her sweatpants again and into the jeans. She came out, her t-shirt shoved down over the beltline.
“Let’s see,” Helen said, lifting the t-shirt fringe. The jeans cut into the girl’s flesh; she had zipped them, but the button remained unfastened. “I see. OK, well maybe we can try the juniors section. They make things a little bigger.”
In juniors, they did find a pair of pants that fit, although Angela had to roll up the bottoms. And she refused the trendy acid wash jeans that Helen favored, choosing instead a pair of standard denim: stiff, dark, and unbleached. They fit her, Helen thought, like a soldier’s uniform: stiff and gentlemanly and nearly as unflattering as the sweat pants had been. “Well,” Helen suggested. “How about a shirt to go with those? Something cute you might want to wear back to school?”
But every blouse she found was too short at the bottom or too low-cut across the front. Angela, with her thick tummy and newly forming breasts, shook her head at each option. “Too many buttons,” she said. Too pink, too flowery, too snug.
Back outside in the car, Helen slid the bag with its carefully folded jeans onto the backseat and turned toward her granddaughter. “Angie, dear, how long have you had to shop in the juniors section?”
The little girl shrugged. “I dunno.”
“Well,” Helen kept her voice gentle. “You might want to start being more careful about your weight. You’re going to be getting your figure soon, you know.”
Angela stared out the window.
“Angie? Did you hear me?”
Angela nodded without looking back.
“Ok, well, just promise me you’ll think about it, all right?” Helen turned the car carefully out of the parking lot. “You’ve always been such a pretty little girl. You could be a very beautiful when you grow up.”
“How’s she doing?”
“Oh, fine,” Helen chirped into the phone. “We went shopping today. I got Angie a nice new pair of jeans. And now I think she’s in her room drawing in that book of hers.”
“That’s good,” Lydia sounded tired. “She’s gotten very good at art over the last couple of years.”
“Yes, I suppose so.” Helen took a sip of ice water. “But Lydia, honey, aren’t you worried about Angie’s weight? I mean, the kids at school must be getting onto her about it. ”
“Mom,” Lydia’s voice stiffened. “Just let it be. It’s a phase. She’ll grow out of it.”
“Yes, I’m sure. But right now, I mean. It must be terrible for her. And then when we went shopping today, she didn’t want anything normal. She just wants to wear those sweat pants all the time.”
“They make her comfortable.”
“Well, I know, but they aren’t very pretty on her. And she doesn’t like feminine styles, either.”
Lydia made a noise in the background, like a thick-bottomed container set down heavily against a tabletop. “So what if she doesn’t like pink? She’s nine years-old. She doesn’t know what the hell she wants yet. Just don’t bug her about it.”
Helen swallowed; she made her voice as soothing as possible. “I understand, Lydia. But I just think that—well, you know. If she’s not going to have a normal role model, there ought to be some kind of compensation. I thought I could get her some pretty things.”
“Mom, just leave it. Please don’t talk to her about this stuff. Just have some fun with her. She needs that, ok?”
Helen blinked. “Yes, of course. Of course we’ll have fun. Angie and I always have fun together.”
“Yes, Mom—I know.”
When Helen got off the phone, she found Angela in the guest bedroom sprawled out across the floor. In front of her sat an Easter basket—two of them, actually—and she lay there sorting categorically through her candy. “Hi” she beamed. “Want some?”
Helen swallowed. “What’s all this, Angie?”
“Jelly beans and chocolate eggs,” Angela motioned carefully through each variety of candy. “I’ve got two bunnies. And there’s cream-filled eggs and . . . . ”
“Can I have this?” Helen stooped, picking up the larger of the chocolate bunnies. It felt like a trophy in her hand. Hefty and solid: a good two pounds of chocolate.
“Oh,” Angela blanched. “That one’s from my dad. I think it’s for me.”
“Ok, then,” Helen dropped the gold-foiled bunny back onto the carpet. “I’ll just take some of these,” she grabbed a handful of foil-wrapped eggs and straightened back up to amass the damage below her: jelly beans, foil-wrapped eggs, pastel-colored M&Ms, marshmallow chickens. Helen shook her head. Good Lord, she thought: two sets of Easter candy. Two parents full of apologetic treats.
That evening they watched a video from Helen’s collection: The Philadelphia Story, starring Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant. It was one of Helen’s favorites. She loved the way Katherine Hepburn rose up the screen like a tall, wax candle: glowing white, her waist slim as a wick; back straight, and expression poised. She was the inheritor of wealth; she was supreme society. “That’s your Aunt Kathy’s namesake,” Helen reminded her granddaughter, who lay along the floor with her sketchbook. The girl nodded lightly, her attention split between the television screen and the video box, which she was carefully copying into her notebook. “Can we have some popcorn?” she wanted to know.
Helen paused. “All right.”
In the kitchen, she prepared a small bowl of plain white kernels, no butter. But by the time she got back, Angela had fallen asleep. The girl lay quietly next to the couch, bundled up into herself, her sketchbook folded neatly shut and the thin black marker placed on top. Helen sighed, letting the popcorn bowl settle with a mild thunk against the coffee table. There she was: her Angela. Of Helen’s three grandchildren, Angela was the youngest, the only girl, and her favorite. She looked endearing, lying there against the floor: her face still sweet and rosy, despite the bloated body that engulfed her. She was like some magical combination of Helen’s daughters: Kathy’s inborn elegance, and Lydia’s quiet conviction.
The first of her daughters, Kathy had been such an easy baby: the kind that makes a new mother think, “Well, damn! I can do this after all.” She had been strong, a bit rough and tumble. Very energetic and agile, with lungs that could bellow for hours. And so Helen had just assumed that that was the way babies are—her babies, at least—healthy and heartful.
But Lydia had come out like a little crumpled leaf. She’d alarmed the doctor so much that he’d swept her away to another room before Helen had even caught a good glimpse of her. No explanation. We need to do some tests. That was all. Hours later, a different physician came in to announce that the baby’s bone formation had not been entirely successful. The infant was fine, but she was missing two ribs, and one hand and foot were noticeably smaller than their mates. It was nothing life-threatening, but Helen would need to be careful. She should be very exacting about her post-partum check-ups, and she must let them know if anything unusual occurred with her infant.
So Helen had watched her new baby furiously—though not out of devotion, but out of fear. And guilt. How had her body so betrayed the child? Not given it bones! She tried to think back to what the doctors had explained to her, about which human system forms at which month. What had she been doing, say, in the fourth month of pregnancy? What had been her diet? her stress? What had been the missing step that had left her baby so befuddled?
Throughout their early years, Helen had imagined that Kathy was the child she understood, the one that she was close with. And Lydia was the child that she coddled, cared for, and tried to preserve. But heaven forbid relating with Lydia: a small, colorless girl who somehow managed to earn straight-A’s and learned to play the cello by age eight. All this from the daughter for whom she had to buy two sets of mittens, two pairs of shoes, to account for the stunted half of her body. Not that anyone would know to look at her now. But Helen knew, and that was enough. She knew about the wasted money on shoes. Knew about those missing ribs, and how her daughter’s heart lay there inside her chest, less protected than most other hearts on this wide, brown earth.
When the movie was over, she clicked it off without rewinding it, and led her groggy granddaughter back to bed. Minutes later, when she was sure the girl was sleeping, she crept back into Angie’s room and slowly unclipped the little green suitcase. Then she sat there with a trash bag, carefully removing a portion of each kind of candy. Not taking all the cream-eggs, but half of them. And the same with the jelly beans, and the sprinkle-covered eggs. The girl had so much. Too much. She wouldn’t notice, would she, what was missing?
On Wednesday, they had plans to meet to Aunt Kathy for dinner. When Helen called that afternoon to confirm, it was her daughter who chose the restaurant. “Have you ever eaten Thai food, Angie?” Kathy asked once they had arrived.
Angela shook her head.
“Well then,” she snapped her menu open with satisfaction. “We’ll just order a bit of everything.”
“All right,” the girl scraped absently at the edge of the table cloth with her fingernail. Once the waiter had come to take their order, she excused herself to go wash up in the restroom.
“Oh Angie, be careful,” Helen reminded her as Angela slid out of the booth. “Not too much soap.” Then, once she was out of hearing range, Helen turned back toward her daughter in frustration. “Kathy, you really shouldn’t have ordered so much food.”
“Oh Mom, don’t worry about it,” Kathy beamed. “It’s my treat.”
“But Kathy, didn’t you see Angela? She needs to be put on a diet.”
Kathy’s expression narrowed. She raised the fluted linen napkin on her plate, shook it out, and placed it neatly over her lap. “I really don’t think it’s any of our business, Mom.”
“But she’s suffering,” Helen insisted. “And I don’t know what to do for her. She won’t tell me hardly anything.”
“Children don’t,” Kathy, the mother of two teen-aged boys, smiled politely at the waiter, who had returned with three blushing glasses of Thai iced tea. “All you can really do is watch them—and let them watch you.”
Kathy twirled her straw, taking a long, careful sip of iced tea; and Helen wondered how she had so lost track of both her daughters. Lydia’s case was more obvious: she had chosen a path utterly strange and impossible to follow. But Kathy remained what she had always been: impressive and beautiful. These were things that Helen had always favored, having spent her childhood in movie theaters, hoping to glimpse something extraordinary—something to aspire towards. Anything would have been better than what she’d come from: seven younger siblings, her coal miner father and his endless smell of sulfur running through the house. And her own mother, already worn out by life at thirty-six. But Helen had pulled herself up; she had moved to California, married Walter. And now she had lawyer Kathy; and Lydia, too; and her beautiful little granddaughter who, maybe Kathy was right, would eventually pull herself together.
“You like your aunt Kathy, don’t you, Angie?” Helen asked back at the apartment.
Angela breathed low over her sketchbook. “Uh-huh.” All throughout their meal of pad Thai noodles and green curry shrimp, Angela had watched her aunt carefully: Kathy’s slim stature, her neatly pressed suit and charming stories and careful attention to her niece.
“Do you want to see some of her old things?” Helen pressed. “I still have some. Kathy used to wear the most gorgeous dresses when she was young.” Angela stared back carefully. “She was quite fashionable.”
The closet was tightly packed and well-organized. There were Helen’s daily clothes, both shirts and pants lined up neatly on hangers. And there were plastic-covered suits and dresses, some old and some that Helen wore now and again, on special occasions. She pulled out a box. “Here’s some of them,” she said, reaching in and grabbing out a long, gabardine dress. Angie stared at it wide-eyed. “It was the style,” Helen laughed. “Pretty wild, don’t you think?” Long paisley swirls in orange and purple spun round the dress. Angela ran her hand across it, impressed. “Try it on,” she offered, undoing the zipper at the back; and Angela, dutifully pulling off that days’ chunky t-shirt, stood quietly in an undershirt and sweatpants as Helen slipped the dress over her head. Then she looked down and smiled, tugging at the fabric around her middle. “She really wore this?”
Helen’s eyes flashed: “Yes!” she laughed brightly. “Good God, I couldn’t keep her from it! That girl’s always had a mind of her own.” Angela looked down again and let herself laugh, too. A deep sense of relief flooded through Helen as she watched Angela tugging curiously at the psychedelic fabric. This is how it was meant to be, she thought. Two generations of woman cackling together about the era between them. “Here,” she offered, reaching over to lift the ridiculous garment back over her granddaughter’s head. “Let’s try another one.”
For the next half hour, they mulled together through Kathy’s old wardrobe, pulling dresses on and off of Angela’s pudgy little frame: mini-dresses with rounded collars, batik fabrics, paisley prints and seer-sucker shirt waists. Each item was bold—daring in a way that no one else in the family had ever attempted. Angela shook her head over the collective evidence of her aunt’s brazen early years, the unzipped backs of the dresses flopping loosely across her shoulder blades.
“She really was quite something,” Helen shook her head, pulling a jewel-toned rayon tent dress over Angela’s head. The girl crossed her arms over her middle and waited as Helen dipped more deeply into the closet. “Oh, look at this!”
Angela’s gaze leveled carefully over the new treasure her grandmother had unearthed: a stiff, white plastic-covered gown. It was Kathy’s wedding dress. “Isn’t it beautiful?” Helen crooned, holding the dress at arm’s length to display its full form. The dress was a tight-fitting ensemble, narrow around the neck and arms and waist. The wrists funneled like flutes, and the entire thing was covered in discreet little rows of pearls, flowing across it in swimming designs. It was beautiful and noble. A perfectly princess-like dress. Angela regarded it carefully. “Do you want to try this one on?” Helen beamed.
Angela shook her head and looked at the floor.
“No? Are you sure? It’s all right, really. We’ll just tidy it up afterward and put it back in the plastic. Kathy won’t mind.”
Angela didn’t say anything, and Helen began unzipping the bag. She pulled a sleeve loose and motioned Angela to take it. “Here, feel the fabric. Smooth, isn’t it?”
Angela fingered it and nodded.
“So, shall we try it on?” Helen loosened the zipper a little further, but Angela shook her head violently. “Honey, why not?”
“Because I’m not getting married,” she blurted.
Helen stiffened. “What do you mean, Angie? Of course you will.” Angela stood silent, still fingering the little beaded pearls along the dress cuff. “Don’t you want to marry,” Helen swallowed, “a man someday?”
Angela nodded without lifting her eyes, and Helen breathed, relieved. “Then everything’s ok. Why did you think you wouldn’t get married?”
Angela shrugged. Her skin pinkened. “I don’t think I’d look so good in a dress like that, I guess.” She fingered the fabric and looked up at the dress with its slim hips and waist—a soft elegance like the impossibly thin princesses in Walt Disney films. Aunt Kathy really could have been a movie star.
But Helen remained incredulous. “Why not?” she asked, letting the dress droop a little.
Angela looked up at her, perplexed. “I dunno,” she answered, and began to cry.
In the morning, Helen found the rest of the Easter candy in the garbage. Angela’s hands were bleeding again. In the bathroom, Helen discovered the little bar of soap she’d hidden in the cupboard under the sink. It was still wrapped in cellophane, but had obviously been opened, used, and reassembled. Angela had forgotten to dry the soap off before putting it back, so the moisture caught against the plastic in soft, sticky globs. Helen set it back inside the cupboard. Good God, she thought. What have I done?
“Angie, honey,” she called, moving back out into the main room “How would you like to go out today?”
Angela nodded quietly.
“Anything special you’d like to do on your last day? Maybe we could go out to a movie,” she added hopefully. “You always used to love that.”
At the theater, Helen asked if Angela wanted anything from the concession stand, but she didn’t. “Well then,” Helen made her way toward the counter, “maybe just something to drink?” And she ordered a large Coke—diet—for them to share.
The movie was a romantic comedy, sweet and charming to the end. Conflict rose between the lovers, and passed. In ninety minutes, lives were broken and perfectly realigned. The small daytime matinee audience sighed and laughed on cue, and Angela sat quietly, sipping her Coke.
“Did you like the movie?” Helen asked once they were back in the car, driving home. “I thought the actress was very pretty, didn’t you? She had hair like yours, but of course I’m sure she had to perm it to get it looking like that. You’re lucky yours is so naturally curly.”
Helen cleared her throat, thrumming her fingernails along the steering wheel as a brief flood of cars surged past on El Camino. “So, do you still want to be a movie star when you grow up?”
“Sure, I guess.”
“I think you’d make an excellent movie star,” Helen went on, feeling slightly breathless, as she clicked the turn signal and made a sharp right hand turn out of the parking lot. “It’s a very hard thing, you know. You have to be very talented. Your aunt Kathy tried out to be an extra once somewhere down in LA. But they told her she was too tall, so she couldn’t be in it. Can you imagine? But you’re still young; you have so much ahead of you. And you’re so pretty—all that beautiful hair of yours. You’ll just have to start small, like Kathy. Just act in some shows at school and all, and before you know it, you’ll be a big success.” Helen pulled the car into an idle at the stop light in front of her apartment complex.
“Ok,” Angela answered, fingering her seatbelt.
“It was very nice of you to come visit me, Angie.” At the airport the next morning, they waited in squishy chairs for Angela’s flight to be called. Angela held her sketchbook in her lap; she stared down at it without answering. “Thank you,” Helen prodded.
“Did you have fun?” All around them, the airport blinked and thrummed.
Angela shifted in her seat. “Yeah.”
“And are you excited to go home?”
The girl fingered her notebook. The previous evening, she had spent most of her time drawing quietly out on the patio. Helen had pulled out a pair of old movies to put on while she did the cleaning. She didn’t like silence; it always seemed to imply that something wasn’t right.
She cleared her throat. “Will you show me some of your drawings?”
Angela looked up.
“Only if you want to,” Helen reached down, adjusting the fabric of her blouse. “Just maybe one or two of them. I’d like to see.” She smiled as gently as possible, and Angela carefully opened her sketch book and began shuffling through the pages. Helen leaned over. Perched above Angie’s head, she could smell a sweet, creamy scent lifting off the girl’s scalp. Helen’s eyes fluttered shut for a moment; it was an odor that she remembered from Angela’s infancy: that light pungency of early humanness.
Helen opened her eyes. “What’s this?” The image was of a young woman dressed in bell bottoms and a fringed jacket standing boldly on the steps of the Berkeley law library. “Why, that’s Kathy.”
Angela nodded. “I copied it from the picture in your bedroom.”
Helen cleared her throat. “That’s quite good, Angela.” She blinked. The resemblance was astonishing: Kathy’s vibrant expression, her shoulders thrown back in a gesture of mild flirtation. “I’m impressed.”
Angela turned the page, and there was Lydia: a smaller-framed woman but still young and stylish in her college years. Her hair was short, and her face appeared slightly more blank. “That’s very good,” Helen breathed, her head bobbing lightly amidst the bump and shuffle of airport around them. “It looks just like the original.”
Angela nodded, flipping mildly through the pages without comment. There was Katherine Hepburn, Vivian Leigh, Greta Garbo: all of the images from Helen’s movie jackets copied flawlessly into Angela’s notebook. “Wait,” Helen paused. “What’s this one?” A woman stood in the center, holding herself up in a glamorous pose while a man at her feet crouched down with a camera. Behind, there were little figures etched out in the shadows. The woman didn’t seem to notice or mind them. She stared out of the picture bold and sure of herself, but her face was only half drawn. “Who is that?”
“It’s you,” Angela told her. “From the wedding picture in the living room. I copied you, and then I put the man in and stuff. See?” she held the page closer for Helen to observe. “You’re the movie star, and that’s Cary Grant,” she pointed. “They’re going to start the movie soon.”
Helen blushed mildly and stared down at her granddaughter’s drawing. The lines were confident and exact. It was a perfectly imagined reproduction of Helen as a younger woman: beautiful and unfulfilled, but with so much future still ahead of her. “Angie, why did you do this?”
“Because it’s what you wanted—you always wanted to be a movie star.”
Helen laughed lightly and tilted her head. She plucked again at the thin fabric of her blouse. It was true: all those years ago, there had been nothing better, nothing brighter, than that single, solitary dream. “Oh but Angela, that was such a long time ago.” Helen tossed her gaze briefly toward the ceiling; she had done well enough, she had to admit, with the chances life had given her. “It doesn’t matter anymore.”
“No,” Angela answered seriously, shoving the book closer toward her grandmother. “It does.”
Susan Meyers earned an MFA from the University of Minnesota and a PhD from the University of Arizona, and she has lived and taught in Chile, Costa Rica, and Mexico. Currently, she teaches creative writing at Seattle University. Her work has appeared in journals such as CALYX, Dogwood, Cerise Press, and The Minnesota Review, and she has been the recipient of several awards, including a Fulbright Fellowship.