I poked my fingers through the stiff white blinds on our window, letting in a crack of light. I was too afraid to open the window, but the light was enough for me to breathe deep and feel my shoulders relax. All those people might be breathing their germs out there, but I was safe in here behind my glass windowpane.
Tilting my head, I took a closer look at the street outside and nearly reared back in shock. Folks were walking around outside like there wasn’t a worldwide pandemic. Maskless, even. Walking their dogs, going on runs, stepping out for some fresh air, like nobody else was around. I turned away in disgust. At least my family kept me safe.
The snowglobe on the dresser twinkled in the shaft of light I’d let in. Wasn’t there a song about snowglobes? I picked the heavy globe up, running my wrinkly fingers over its scratched glass surface. Ah, the barnhouse inside, with the fake flakes falling on it! It reminded me of my long-ago childhood summer trips to my cousin’s house – sledding in the snow, feeding horses in the stable, eating milk with foaming cream on top in the kitchen.
How long ago had that been?
I gave the globe a good shake, and the flakes whirled around, putting the barnhouse into the midst of a snowstorm. I ran my fingers around the tiny world the glass encompassed, feeling oddly powerful.
I whirled around. “Jason?” That boy! Standing in here without a mask. Didn’t he know that the elderly folks were the most at risk for the virus? The experts on TV kept saying that they didn’t know a lot about it, so he should have been even more careful. Lord knows where that boy has been now. “What are you doing in here? You’ll wake grandpa.”
His eyes shifted away from mine. He’d always acted a bit afraid of me, and I couldn’t imagine why. “Grandpa isn’t here.”
My lips pursed as I turned to the bed, but sure enough, it was empty. “All right, I don’t know where he’s got off to, but in the meantime, I want you to stay inside, all right?” He opened his mouth, but I cut him. “No ifs, ands, or buts. We all gotta make some sacrifices. And wear a mask if you so much as open a window. You remember the one I made for you?”
His eyes widened as he nodded slowly, looking a bit fearful, before he turned around and called, “MAMA!”
I strode across the room and snatched his arm. “Quiet! Your mama is probably sleeping. It’s 7 o’clock in the morning and a Saturday, let her sleep in.”
He trembled in my grasp, and I released him, my hands shaking too, as if he’d passed on his tremble to me. Why was he so afraid of me? With a start, I realized that I couldn’t remember the last time we’d done something together, just the two of us. That was probably why he was so afraid.
“Here, how’s this?" I offered, pasting on a smile. "You and me, we’ll order some takeout and I’ll teach you knitting. I’m making a hat. You can make a matching scarf – it’s just a big ole rectangle. Easy peasy, lemon skeezy,” I added with a smile, reminding him of an old joke that had started when he was a baby and didn’t understand the "easy peasy, lemon squeezy" saying. He’d kept making up words to rhyme with “squeezy,” and “skeezy” had been my personal favorite.
Now Jason smiled back at me, but there was a glint in his eyes. “So you want pizza for takeout?”
“For breakfast? Isn’t it a bit early for that?” I started, but then I saw his lips tremble, and I quickly backtracked. “All right, all right, but don’t tell your mother.”
He grinned and dashed away, chanting, “PIZZA, PIZZA!”
I sighed and rubbed my eyes. Where were my spectacles?
“Jason?” called a voice. Who was that again?
“Mama!” Jason shouted back. “Granny said she wants us to order pizza and we can’t deny her anything and I love pizza and she asked for it specifically and—”
“Jason—” she said again, and then she rounded the corner, and I realized it was Jason’s mother – my daughter-in-law. She stopped in her tracks as soon as she saw me, her face making a subtler version of the same nervous expression that Jason had made. “Gran—er—Auntie! What are you doing out of bed?”
“Auntie?” I demanded with a chuckle. “Call me mother, Ann, I’ve known you for so long.”
She sighed, running a hand through a mussed-up version of her “work hair”—a single braid down her back. It looked like she’d come back from work and just fallen asleep standing up without fixing her hair, and I said as much.
She laughed back, a bit nervously. “Ah, yes. Yesterday, uh, it was a long day. You know how it is.”
I made a show of rolling up my nightgown sleeves. “Then put me to work! You deserve your beauty rest. I can put up some pasta and sauce, keep an eye on Jason, whatever you need to keep you off your feet.” Why was everyone so nervous around me? Had I done something wrong? Hopefully, my offer made up for it.
The doorbell rang. All three of us jumped, Ann looking at me nervously before exchanging glances with Jason.
“That’s the pizza, I bet,” she said, but I shook my head.
“It’s a pandemic, Ann, be reasonable. They would have called ahead and left it on our doorstep, the whole ‘no contact delivery’ business. Very smart, but I feel bad for those poor delivery people.”
A tremor went through Ann’s hands, the same as Jason’s. She looked down at him, as if she and he were connected on some level that I wasn’t on. “So this is why you called for me. Jason, this isn’t the first time.”
But I had no time for her secrecy; the delivery was waiting and there wasn’t a moment to lose. “Well, I sure as salt can’t go out there. Put on a mask and answer the door and remind that delivery person that this is a pandemic, and all we want to do is have a nice night in by ourselves. But, you know, do it nicely.”
Her eyes lit up, and she nodded vehemently. “Yes. Yes! You’re absolutely right. Jason, help Granny back into bed, and we’ll bring the pizza in to you once we get them out of here.” She dashed to the front hall, even before I could scold her for leaving Jason here. Jason was coated in germs, probably covered with them inside and out. He reached out to take my arm, but I swatted him away.
“Nuh-uh! Go wash your hands, leave me be.”
I saw the same flash of nerves return to his eyes. “Uh, but Granny, what about—”
“Go help your mother. I might be old, but I’m not stupid. You boys and your rule-breaking ways.” Jason moved away, his eyes darting left and right.
As I watched him leave, my eyes caught sight of the snowglobe on the dresser. “Oh, what was that silly song? Something about shaking snowglobes…” I muttered to myself.
Jason’s brows wrinkled. “A song?”
I scowled. “Go on, get the pizza.”
He hesitated. “Mom might be a minute.”
“That’s fine, you two eat. I’m not too hungry, yet.” He stood, silhouetted by the doorframe, the spitting image of his father. Hesitating, never entering. I hope he would one day enter a room with the confidence of his grandfather. I had thought that confidence would only skip one generation, but maybe it had skipped two.
I waved an arm at him. “Go on!”
He hovered for a moment before gliding away, silent in his socked feet. That boy needed new socks. I could knit him a pair. Wait, no, something else about knitting…I shook my head, trying to clear it. Shaking. Shaking ike a snowglobe. Why was that so damn familiar?
“The song!” I shouted aloud and turned back around. My phone sat on the dresser, next to the globe, but its design didn’t look familiar. It looked newer, sleeker. “Did they come out with a new phone while I was sleeping? During a pandemic? Good Lord,” I muttered, before I realized that talking to myself was enough to get me sent to a nutty nursing home, and I wasn’t nutty.
I found the music app after only a bit of looking. “Snowglobes, snowglobes,” I murmured as I typed into the search bar.
And then, a voice shattered the silence. “Jason! You’re getting so tall, kid, let me—” The rest was muffled, as others hushed him, but it was too late.
I had heard everything.
I stood ramrod straight, phone nearly slipping from my fingers before I recovered, catching it and tightening my grip.
I marched out of my room, snatching a mask from the dresser as I went. Slipping the soft straps over my ears, I pinched the bridge of my nose to ensure that the mask was secure before I stepped foot into the front hall.
After I rounded the corner and I caught sight of the living room, I nearly screamed. Now here was the most shocking sight I'd ever seen in my seventy years of life!
Over fifteen people sat in the living room in party dresses, talking in whispers, drinking wine and whisky and Lord-knows-what. Christmas décor covered the walls, and a tree stood in the center of the room, its green velvety branches brushing the ceiling. Tinsel and snowglobes and wreaths decorated every exposed shelf.
I stood in the doorway, still as a stone.
A silence fell over the room as they saw me, and everyone, only red and green blurs to my bare eyes, regarded me in horror.
Where were my spectacles?
I felt humiliated in my nightgown before these polished party-goers with their shiny shoes and combed hair, but I had to remember that they were the ones in the wrong. What did my mother used to say? Stand tall when you’re right. I straightened my shoulders and took a deep breath.
“You people should be embarrassed. Partying like this during a global pandemic? Maskless, to boot? With an old person in this house?” I clenched my fists. My fury was overwhelming. “I know you think you’re all immune and young. But you should think about how time passes. You—You should be taken out back and given a lesson. I’m furious, furious with all of you, and I can’t remember the last time I’ve yelled like this.” People shifted uncomfortably, and I lifted my chin in pride. “So yes, be ashamed of your actions and think about your mistakes.”
There was a silence, until a faceless someone leaned close to a figure in the corner and muttered, “You’d better take care of this, Ann.”
“Ann?” I echoed. “But I thought—” I felt my heart speed up, its aged muscle banging against my ribs. “You LIED TO ME? What were you thinking? I thought you at least knew the risks and took it all seriously—”
“Mother!” she interrupted, and I felt my fury explode.
“That’s Auntie to you,” I hissed, my cheeks reddening, and she bit her lip, her teeth a lighter blur against her tan skin.
Her blurry figure came into focus as she stepped closer and took me by the arm. “Come on, Auntie, I need to show you something.”
But I wouldn’t budge. “What is it?”
“It’s—It’s hard to explain,” she murmured, scratching the back of her neck.
I crossed my arms. “Is that so? Sounds like a coward’s refuge of an excuse to me.” I looked back at the crowd for validation, but they had all turned away.
“Just let me show you,” she whispered, squeezing my hand, and the tears in her eyes caught my attention. I sighed and nodded, and she guided me swiftly away, flashing her guests a quick smile over her shoulder as she walked.
I felt…like a burden. An embarrassment. But no! She was the embarrassment. She shouldn’t even be touching me. I tugged at her arm. “Let go—”
“I washed my hands,” she said simply, and I kept quiet.
Finally, we stopped in front of her work iPad. She tapped in her passcode, and I waited, bouncing on my toes. “What are we—”
“It’s here.” She opened up her Calendar app.
“Your Calendar? What could you possibly—”
She clicked on the “Year” button, and it zoomed out to show the full year’s calendar. She scrolled to the top. “What year is it?” she asked.
I froze, the numbers black against the screen’s white light.
“What year is it?” she asked, more demanding this time.
“It’s—no. It can't be."
“I’m not supposed to tell you this, but—I can’t keep doing this.” She spun away and pressed her hands to her eyes, catching her tears before they dripped onto her makeup. Her hair might have been in its messy braid, but she was wearing make-up. How had I not noticed?
“It’s Christmas Eve,” I whispered to myself, feeling sweat pool against my palms. “No, no, no…”
My fingers slipped against my phone, and a song began to play, its notes unwinding through the kitchen. I tapped furiously to stop it, but the song only skipped ahead.
“I was having’ that same dream again…”
I tapped again, and it skipped again. My hands shaking, I dropped the phone, and the glass shattered, shards flying across the kitchen floor. But the song kept playing, and I kept shaking.
“It’s—it’s 2040?” I said, and Ann nodded, looking tired.
The phone’s speakers kept blaring that stupid, stupid song.
“My tiny little world is your hands, so shake it like a snowglobe, f*** my plans.”