Fantasy Kids

Kate grinned as she tugged on Ben’s hand. “I can’t believe Mom said we could play wherever we want to,” she said, pulling him down the hall. “She never lets us go up into the attic.”

Ben hesitated at the foot of the stairs. “I’m pretty sure she wasn’t thinking about the attic,” he said, “but she did say anywhere . . .” 

Kate and Ben had accompanied their mom to their grandpa’s house for the weekend so she could help him after he fell and broke his hip. Grandpa was really grumpy about being stuck in bed, and Ben could tell that their mom was overwhelmed and worried about Grandpa. It made sense that she wanted Kate and Ben out of her way so she could focus on taking care of him. After all, they were 10 years old and could take care of themselves. 

Maybe the attic wasn’t a bad place for them to go. He knew that it was full of all sorts of interesting things from Grandpa’s life with their grandma, whom Kate and Ben had never known. She’d left their grandpa when they were babies. He’d kissed her goodbye one morning then came home from work that night and found her gone. No note, no explanation, and no contact since then. And she hadn’t taken anything with her: no extra clothes, purse, I.D., nothing. Their grandpa had been heartbroken. 

But that was all long ago. They had seen pictures of her, of course, and everyone always told Kate that she looked so much like her, but they didn’t know her so they couldn’t really miss her. That made her stuff fascinating instead of sad.

Most times when they asked if they could go to the attic Grandpa said no. Their mom said that it was hard for him to remember about Grandma because he still missed her so much. But he had brought them up into the attic a few times to show them some of his treasures: an old suitcase he and Grandma had used as they traveled the world together, Grandma’s wedding dress that was yellowed with age, and Grandma’s hats.

He loved to tell them about each hat, and how she had always worn a hat when she left the house. Some were fancy, others plain, but they were all brightly colored. Her favorite hat, a bright red one with black and white polka dots and a big red bow, still hung in their grandpa’s bedroom. He didn’t understand how she could have left without even taking a hat.

But Ben wasn’t thinking about Grandma’s hats as he and Kate climbed the rickety stairs to the attic and pushed through the door in the ceiling. His heart thudded in his chest. If they were caught, he knew his mom would be upset. Then again, the chance to explore unattended in the attic was more than he could resist.

At first he and Kate crept around quietly, not wanting their mom to hear them and come looking. But soon they forgot to be stealthy. They were too caught up in pulling down boxes and poking around in drawers to see what they would discover. Kate paraded around in one of Grandma’s hats, a big purple one with a spray of flowers on the top set over her blonde curls. Then she found an old dress of Grandma’s and held it up to her chest, looking in an old mirror leaning against the slanted roof. 

“Do you think this is what Grandma looked like?” she asked, posing and trying to push her young face into a grown-up expression.

“No,” Ben said. “You just look ridiculous.” Kate stuck out her tongue then moved along the dusty row of boxes, running her hand over the labels.

“What do you think’s in here?” she asked. “This box isn’t labeled like all the others. Help me get it down.”

Ben walked toward her. He was pretty sure Grandpa had never shown them what was in this box. It was tucked away and seemed forgotten. He pulled it down from the top of the stack and unfolded the top. It was empty except for three pairs of shoes. Two were clearly Grandpa’s, an old pair of loafers that looked well-worn and comfortable and a large pair of sneakers. The other pair had to be their Grandma’s: bright yellow flats with a bow on each. They were scuffed and one bow was torn but still hanging on.

Kate bent over the box. “They’re just old shoes,” she said dismissively and went back to the bin of Grandma’s dresses. 

But Ben pulled out Grandpa’s loafers, drawn to them for some inexplicable reason. Kate was trying on Grandma’s clothes . . . maybe it would be fun to try on Grandpa’s shoes, just for a second.

He picked one up gingerly, not sure why he felt like he should handle it carefully. The leather was soft and felt slightly warm in his hands. He pulled his own shoes off and slipped the first shoe onto his stockinged foot. A little thrill ran through him and he sucked in a breath. Kate looked at him as he reached for the other shoe. 

“So now you think it’s fun to try on Grandpa’s stuff, huh? Well, you look ridiculous, too, and . . .”

Suddenly Ben couldn’t hear her anymore. He couldn’t see her either. The attic was dark, and he felt dizzy, like he was spinning. Both shoes suddenly felt snug on his feet, and his body felt like it was floating. Then he thumped to the ground and opened his eyes, only to close them again against the blinding light. 

Why was it so bright? And why did the attic floor feel so soft and . . . sandy? He lifted a hand to shield his eyes then blinked a few times and opened them slowly. His brain couldn’t make sense of what his eyes were telling him.

Maybe he had fallen asleep and this was a dream? That couldn’t be right. He pinched himself. Definitely awake. But how else could he explain what he was seeing?

He was sitting on a stretch of sand. In front of him the ocean spread toward the horizon as far as he could see. The sun reflecting off the water made it sparkle, and the gentle waves lapped at the sand in a steady rhythm. He was clearly not in the attic anymore. But where in the world was he?

People were playing in the water and lounging on the beach all around him. No one seemed to have noticed his abrupt arrival. A wave of panic washed over him, and he opened his mouth to call out . . . what? Help? Instead he stood, brushing the sand off his pants, then whirled around at the sound of a thump behind him. 

Kate was sitting in the sand looking at him in bewilderment. “Ben?”

“Kate?” Relief rushed over him. He wasn’t alone. His eyes were drawn to the bright yellow shoes on her feet and something in his mind clicked. “You put on Grandma’s shoes,” he said, his mind spinning. “I put on Grandpa’s shoes and ended up here. Then you put on Grandma’s shoes . . .”

“I watched you disappear,” Kate said, cutting him off. Her voice was full of awe. “You were there trying on the shoes, then you were just . . . gone.”

“I disappeared?” Ben said incredulously.

“Well, yeah. Right when you put on Grandpa’s second shoe.” She looked at her feet and wiggled her toes inside the yellow shoes. “I think these shoes are magic.”

Ben looked at her, trying to process what this meant. Worries tugged at his thoughts, fighting for his attention. “So rather than get help, you decided to put on Grandma’s shoes and come after me?” he said. “But now how are we supposed to get home? We’re both here, and nobody knows, and . . .”

“You’re welcome,” Kate said and rolled her eyes. “Do you really wish I would have left you stranded here alone? And do you really think mom would have believed me if I ran downstairs and told her you had just disappeared?”

Ben shook his head. “No, she would have gotten mad and told you to quit pretending.” He bit his lip. “But what about Grandpa? I mean, these are his shoes.” He gestured to his own feet.

Kate stood up and folded her arms. “Well, I’m sorry, but I didn’t think about that. I had just seen you disappear, so I put on Grandma’s shoes to see if they would bring me to you. Excuse me for trying to help.”

“Okay, you’re right,” Ben said. “I’m sorry, I just . . .” 

“Anyway, where are we?” She cut him off again as she turned in a circle. “And why are we just standing here worrying? This is awesome!” Before Ben could stop her she took off toward the water. He started to follow then stopped short.

A monkey, a real live monkey, had just scurried out in front of him on the sand. It stopped and looked right at him then ran back into the trees at the edge of the beach. Ben followed the monkey with his eyes then froze at the sight before him. 

There were more monkeys, some high up in the trees and stretched out on branches, others scurrying about on the ground. He saw one large monkey with a baby clinging to its back as it rested on a tree branch and watched him lazily. He took a step toward it then heard a voice behind him.

“I wouldn’t get any closer if I were you.” The voice was shaky with age but sounded amused rather than cross. “The momma’s are fiercely protective of their young.” 

Ben turned to see an old woman with white hair peeking out beneath a pink straw hat with one bright orange flower stuck in the brim. Her skin was tanned and wrinkled, but her eyes were bright and her lips were drawn into a friendly smile. A small dog dug in the sand next to her sandaled feet.

“Is this the first time you’ve seen monkeys in the wild?” the woman asked, and Ben nodded. She smiled knowingly. “They’re fascinating, aren’t they?”

He nodded again, then found his voice. “I’ve only seen them in the zoo, and never so many at once.”

“Well, you’ve come to the right place if you want to see monkeys,” she said with a chuckle. 

Ben didn’t know what to say. He wanted to ask where he was, but he knew that would sound stupid, or even suspicious. And he couldn’t stop looking at the woman’s face. It seemed familiar somehow. Luckily, Kate bounded over and saved him the need to talk. She was never at a loss for words.

“Ben! Did you see the iguana over there?” she asked with excitement, pointing down the beach. “It’s huge, and it’s just sitting there, even with all these people around.” 

Ben raised his eyebrows and gestured to the trees. “I found something even cooler than one iguana,” he said. 

Kate looked toward the trees and her eyes widened. “Monkeys!”

The old woman chuckled again. “This must be your sister?” she asked Ben. Kate turned around, and the woman took a step toward her, her brows furrowing slightly. “My, you are a pretty girl,” she said, studying Kate with a strange look on her face.

Kate grinned. “Thanks!” She took in the woman’s tanned skin and the dog on a leash. “Do you live here?” she asked.

“Yes, not far from the beach. Max and I like to come here to walk. He thinks it’s fun to chase the monkeys, actually. But I’m trying to teach him some manners.” 

“Your dog’s name is Max?” Ben said. 

Kate giggled. “That’s our grandpa’s name.”

The woman smiled. “I’ve always liked that name. And when I rescued this old pup a few years ago, it seemed like a good fit.”

“Have you lived here all your life?” Kate asked. The woman shrugged and got a faraway look in her eyes.

“No, I don’t think I have,” she said. “The truth is, I don’t remember anything from when I was young. In fact, my first memory is from this very beach. A nice couple found me here, wandering around in confusion and dripping from head to toe. The doctor they brought me to see figured I must have hit my head while surfing and washed up onto shore. Except I was wearing a housedress instead of a swimsuit, but I guess my style has always been a little odd.” She gestured to her hat. “I had no idea where I was, and no one here recognized me or knew anything about me. I couldn’t remember a thing about my past.” She fingered the dog leash in her hand as she continued. 

“I used to wonder why no one ever came looking for me, but I made peace with that years ago.” She didn’t notice that Kate and Ben had both gone very pale as she talked. “I’ve made a good life here, and I’m happy as a clam. I figure if I can’t remember anything from before, then I must not have had anything good to remember.”

She stopped and noticed for the first time that Ben and Kate were staring at her.

“What? I’m not the only person who has lost her memory from a hit on the head, you know,” she said. “And there’s not many places I’d rather settle down than Costa Rica. Wouldn’t you agree?”

Kate grabbed Ben’s arm and they looked at each other, seeing confirmation in each other’s eyes of what they had each concluded on their own. 

“How long ago were you found here?” Ben asked in a whisper.

“Oh, it’s been almost 10 years now, I think,” she said. “I don’t look back anymore, only forward. So I can’t be sure.”

Ten years. She had disappeared, and she had come here. There was no doubt now. This was their lost Grandma, and she had no idea who she was.

“You seem upset,” Grandma said, pulling Ben from his thoughts. “Don’t you worry about me, kids, I’m just fine. Why don’t you run along and find your parents now, and I’ll let Max get his walk in.” She stepped around them and continued down the beach. 

“Wait!” Kate called, but Ben shushed her and grabbed her hand. She shook him off as the woman turned around. “I know who you are,” Kate said. The woman’s eyebrows lifted in surprise, then her expression stiffened.

“I’m sure you mean well, but I’m not interested in your story.” She turned away and picked up her pace. Kate tried to go after her, but Ben held her arm firmly this time.

“We can’t just let her go; we might never see her again,” Kate cried.

“I know that, but we have to think this through,” Ben said. “What are you going to say? ‘By the way, you are our long lost Grandma. Do you want to come home with us?’ She’ll think we’re crazy. She already told us that she doesn’t want to hear what you have to say.”

“Well, we have to find some way of proving it to her, then,” Kate said, “There has to be something we can. . .” She dug her foot in the sand then looked down at her shoes, the bright yellow ones with bows, and her eyes lit up. “Her shoes! She’ll remember these shoes!”

Ben was unconvinced. “But what if she doesn’t? What if we just make things worse? What if we ruin our chance to get her back for Grandpa?”

Kate blew out her breath. “Ben, if we don’t do anything then we’ll definitely lose our chance. We have to try.” She pulled her arm free and took off after their grandma. “Wait, please,” she called. “I know your name. It’s Rose.”

Grandma stopped abruptly. She turned around, her face stern. “Honey, I’ll ask you one more time to stop. You don’t know what you are saying, you don’t understand the pain I went through. I’m done looking back, and . . .”

Kate was walking toward their grandma, her yellow shoes held out in front of her like an offering. Grandma’s eyes were on the shoes, her mouth frozen in an “oh.”

“Where . . . where did you get those shoes?” She stammered.  

“You remember them, don’t you?” Ben said, moving to stand beside Kate. He looked from his grandma to Kate, then back to Grandma. She reached out a hand to touch a yellow bow. 

“But where did you get them? I made these bows, I remember. These are my shoes.”

Ben swallowed. “We got these from our Grandpa Max. These are our grandma’s shoes.”

January 09, 2021 01:56

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