After roughly three hours of hollow sleep this morning, I stumbled sleepy-eyed out of my hiding place -into Smalltown, USA: land of the un-living.
Going out is a necessary evil, yes, I know, and rather than make waves or run with the bulls, I do my best to blend, I really do: to fall in line with the tired faces and empty worlds.
I remind myself of the introvert’s rules: No interaction unless absolutely necessary, no direct eye contact, Don’t look too glum, but no big smiles (or they may notice you) Smile with your eyes, soldier-Smile with those eyes!
And then without fail, it happens every time. At the slightest hint of an eye-smile, the Legion of Grannies attack!
From the spice aisles they come forth, trance-like toward the eye-smile, from beneath dusty shelves of Korn Flakes, they heave themselves up and slither toward the eye-smile beacon, and from motorized scooters they miraculously climb. Wrapped in the essence of rosewater, eucalyptus and granny-sugar, they roll toward me in a solid wave, slow and painful like a belly ache, and I am defenseless.
No longer eye-smiling, bracing myself for the impact, I peek out at them through my armour of dark bangs and catch glimpses, lifetimes of secrets twinkling in those faded grey eyes. Painted, wrinkly lips part to expose tiny yellow teeth, and my busy head buzzes with curiousity about those lips: Did they tighten from decades of tight-lipped girl secrets and pretend smiles? Perhaps holding back words for the sake of peace? Are those wrinkles from yesterday’s young lips wrapped confidently around bold cigarettes or perhaps hungrily around their bold fellows?
I’m shaken into the present by the the soft chorus of pleas, like a basket of hungry kittens it begins:
“Can you help me?”
“Could you help me find the [cotton balls, bubble bath, epsom salt, laxatives, baking soda, vinegar -to name a few]?”
“Could you reach those tins of tomato soup way up there on the very top shelf?”
“I didn’t bring my glasses,honey, can you read this box for me?”
And because my vanity discarded my own glasses years ago, I read the directions for cheeseburger macaroni through squinchy, blurry eyes.
As they continue purring their demands, they hold me tightly in their gaze, seeing straight through the facades I usually guard so well.
Then the transformation occurs: Like Ebenezer Scrooge and the Grinch on Christmas morning, I warm a little in the part of my stomach where I swear my soul lives. Suddenly, I want to save the whole world of Grannies! Not only fetch their goods, and help them compare prices, like the frugal diva I am, but escort them home and make them a nice tea.
Forgetting all about my own shopping, I join them in conversation: “Why must they constantly rearrange things and why must they put the soup up so high?”
And despite the fact that I am 5’9 and have never needed help reaching for anything on the ‘very top shelf’, I feel their pain.
“How dare the supermarkets provide tomato soup for the leggy amazons while completely neglecting the countless granny dwarves longing for the same bland goodness?!!”
Then I break the ultimate rule: I ASK THEM EACH HOW THEY ARE FEELING.
In a sea of bursitis and gangrene, blood sugar levels and cancer, I am carried to a place I do not wish to go. Suddenly I too have an aching back, and can recall mysterious headaches; My blood sugar drops to numbers as low as 27 when I forget to eat; and my allergies are giving me the sniffles. Upon that last complaint, I am presented with a dozen granny tissues, no doubt left over from Dear Brother Bill’s funeral in ’86. I politely accept them, squeezing them tightly in my hand.
I fight the temptation to ask questions like:
Did you marry the right man?
Is he still as beautiful to you as he once was?
How does it feel to share the same air with him for 30,40 even 50 years?
What will you do when he goes?
Do your children still hug you or have they abandoned you?
What do you dream?
Are house dresses really comfortable and why must they always be adorned in giant green and fuschia flowers?
Hey Sweeties, what was the phrase for a mind-blowing orgasm back in your day?
Oh, and do tell, were you a bottom girl- sweet like Eve or a fierce thing, riding like Lilith until you were sated?
And of course, the big one:
Are you afraid?
But their eyes have answered these and more; Some giggle sweetly, adorned with smile lines and some wear permanent frowns, all etched through decades, all speaking volumes.
Eventually, I slip back into my own life, so I say one of my shy ‘goodbyes’ and once again avoid eye contact. I can’t help feeling a bit smug, pleased with myself like a hospital Santa Claus with the scented wad of sweaty tissues still clenched in my fist.
Bangs brushed away from my ‘smiling eyes’, and chest out boldly, I turn and walk through the thank-yous and God bless yous.
I-the leggy, blurry-eyed savior of Grannies.
And now I’m here-in my safe little world, where everything’s always within my reach, my lips wouldn’t dare puff on a cigarette, and Lilith always reigns supreme.