It wasn’t a far drive to Grandma’s, but the kid looked for castles and in his mind this took nearly as long as going to the moon. My wife wasn’t along for the ride. She was practicing boundaries, as she’d put it, learning to set limits. I wasn’t sure what this meant aside from the fact that she wasn’t here and I couldn’t remember the car games and it might as well have been the moon by the time the houses started to stretch one long yard between the other.
It was Easter but nobody mentioned it. Maybe, at most, there’d be an awkward acknowledgement of the bunny and the chocolate the boy ate this morning, but according to my mother, we were Jews, and despite all the hoopla of a good Christmas, Easter wasn’t ours.
Jana made a small party this morning having hidden one-hundred miniature chocolate wrapped eggs around the house for the boy to find. There’s nothing wrong with tradition, she said, setting out a carton of hard-boiled eggs she planned to decorate. The boy was ecstatic, chocolate covering his fingers and mouth as he dug through the pastel foils.
The first thing Grandma asked when she opened the door was what the hell took them so long, and the boy said we live in a different state, even though that wasn’t true. She took his face in a pinch and asked what was with his hair, but he didn’t know what to say. He asked where the Ninja Turtles were and if he could go play and then disappeared into her basement to the box of old toys.
Hello, hello carrying a generation of misdeeds, a brush of her paper cheek against mine, and already feeling my shoulders slump, I stepped narrowly inside her door. Sorry.
Her house smelled like it always did—of powder and chicken and lemon-scented Lysol. Inside, everything felt like it was just about to break. Too many crystal bowls, filled with nothing, sat perched on countertops. A set of miniature porcelain dogs lined the edge of the piano. The chandelier hung with a million glass beads.
My mother was back at the stove where she stood stirring something painfully in a pot. Her housecoat hung loosely over her round figure and her hair was pulled into a gentle knot behind her head. I itched my ear. Fingered my pocket. What can I do, I asked.
But she had everything ready, matzo ball soup, chicken in the oven, some kind of white dip with old chips on a plate in the middle of the table.
I looked at her stirring in her housecoat. I wanted to ask her something. A list of possible questions rose in my mind. But with each one, I crossed it out. I’d forgotten to say hello from Jana. But really, the moment for that had passed in the flurry of entry.
I could hear the boy playing in the basement. He had found the turtles. Was calling for Michelangelo, Leonardo. I could see his chocolate stained self, how excited he was this morning, and it was a story to share, but then again not.
It was my mother in the kitchen. I knew her stature, the way her elbows crooked out to the sides, the way she bent over the pot, the way she made the ladle seem five-hundred golden pounds that she could just barely use to stir the thick sand in the pot. She was seventy-three this year. A stain marked the back of the blue cotton housecoat right behind her shoulder. It was orange and shaped the size of a small lizard. I watched her from behind. I stared at the stain. Something folded softly in my gut. Made me want to take it off her and wash it clean.
She snapped towards me, turning around with a bowl of matzo ball soup I was to put on the table. I had pulled something mindlessly from my jacket pocket and was turning it in my hand.
What’s that? she said with the bowl outstretched, the broth trembling on its surface, steam rising to her chin, and the two of us stood looking down at the miniature pink foil-wrapped egg in my hand like it was some small explosive come to land suddenly between us.
“Jana” I said. And my mother’s face contorted with mystery. I stuffed the chocolate egg back into my pocket and took the bowl of soup, the edges nearly too hot to hold and set in on the table set for three.
Originally from Chicago, Melanie Pappadis Faranello lives in Connecticut.