“He’s upstairs. In the library. You’ll have to wait,” she tells her and motions for the girl to sit on the hard chair. The girl wonders if she can hear her swallow in the silence. She swipes her sweaty palms on her jeans and wonders if she should have changed into a skirt or a dress or a different person altogether before presenting herself here. What was she thinking?
The woman stares at the door, also waiting. Neither of them make eye contact. She was to sit here and wait for her grandfather to finish reading his latest book about Hitler invading Poland? Or to read about how the Brooklyn Bridge was the world’s first steel-wire suspension bridge? Or perhaps today he was reading about Abner Doubleday and the history of baseball? He found everything fascinating.
The silence was broken by a distant sound. What was that? It sounded vaguely familiar, almost like water running? It sounded like a toilet was just flushed? The woman’s face turned a bit pink as she cleared her throat a little more noisily than was necessary.
“It sounds like he should be here any moment now. I’ll go fetch some tea,” she says, just as Grandfather strolls into the room. He is still drying his hands on the seat of his pants as he greets the girl with a hearty hello.
“The nurse said you were in the library?” she says. “Did you finally turn the second bedroom into a proper library for all of your books?” Right now the whole house was his library. He would need more than one bedroom to house just his collection of books on trains.
“Oh, bother! Did she say that? She is so stuffy. I’m thinking we need to hire someone else. Or no one else. I can take care of myself; she needs help. Not me.”
“Grandfather! She can hear you!”
“I don’t care. Now tell me. Did she smile at your appearance or give you that silent once over and have you sit in the time out chair?”
She rolled her eyes and grinned, “I actually thought about running back home to change my clothes! If I’d known she was working today I would have waited to come until later! She told me you were in the LIBRARY! Since when is the bathroom called a library? That’s a terrible euphemism!”
“In my day a girl wouldn’t have gotten herself in that position,” the nurse said as she plunked down a pot of tea. They hadn’t noticed her walk into the room. On the tray was a plate of saltine crackers. Grandfather noticed that the butter was missing so he couldn’t make the caterpillars appear to make his granddaughter giggle. Another sign his nurse was just looking out for his health, he supposed.
Over tea he pulled a book from his sweater pocket.
“I did find this in the library. I think you might be interested in this?”
The red leather was almost worn away, if there had been a title on the cover it had long since been rubbed off. The binding looked like yesterday’s celery. It seemed to have given up trying to hold the pages inside and limply started and ended the stack of withered papers.
She was afraid to breath, afraid to reach out and touch the offering. She wasn’t sure if the book he held in his hand was really real or just something from a story she had once heard him tell her. She must have tripped on her way over here. Knocked her head on a rock and fell unconscious. This cannot be real. Was he actually handing her the diary she has been searching for?
At first she just casually scanned the shelves each time she visited. This was after all, the only home she had ever known. It had been just the three of them: mom, Grandfather, and her. The Three Bears mom used to call them. Grandfather had so many books. She had finally asked him outright a few weeks ago. He smiled gently and in a far off voice said, “I think I might know of a book like that.”
He often said this in response to questions about books. She may as well have asked about a book about birds or submarines or airplanes.
And then. He was holding out the very book.
She took the book.
Her mom’s voice echoed loud and clear the moment she opened the diary.
“It’s a glorious day! Today is the day I found out that I was to become a mother! I am going to be the most wonderful mother! Every day will be perfect. I will read you stories and sing you lullabies. I will take you for walks in the park. I will bake you cookies and sew you homemade Halloween costumes. You will be snuggled and cuddled and loved all the days of your life!”
She turned a few more pages.
“Today you took your first steps. You wobbled a bit at first, but you were so determined to get across the room and grab that cookie out of my hand, that you practically ran! Grandfather chuckled and I clapped and you started to cry at all the commotion. We felt so bad that we startled you with our excitement. We will try to curb our enthusiasm a bit in the future, but we are so proud of you!”
A few more pages.
“This is the day you begin Kindergarten. I feel my heart is breaking a bit as I will no longer be the most important adult in your life - aside from Grandfather, of course. I know! I know! I have to send you to school, but can’t I keep you little for just a little bit longer? These five years have gone by so fast. You are growing up much too quickly. We will have to play more in the evenings and the weekends since you will now be in school all day.”
She was nearing the middle of the book now.
“Graduation day! How quickly this day came! You just came into the kitchen and asked me for the car keys so you can go to the lake with your friends. How is it that you are driving? You have become a beautiful young woman who is now going off to college. You are leaving and I can’t even stand to walk by your bedroom without breaking down and sobbing at the idea of you not sleeping in your bed each night. It’s just the thought of you not being there for me to tuck in. I can’t bear the idea of you not being here for me to check in on, not being able to stand in your dark bedroom doorway and listen to your soft breaths, see your pink cheeks, listen to your soft sleepy sighs. How can you not be here for me to whisper good night to each night? How will I ever be able to sleep without knowing where you are or how you are doing?”
She turned the page and it was empty. And another. And another. She didn’t know what she expected. She knew what she wanted to find, but it wouldn’t be there. She just wanted more time.
While she was the one who asked for the car keys that day in the kitchen. Her mom had said no. Her mom needed the car to run out to pick up some last minute Graduation gift or cake or decoration or no one would ever know what or why she had to have the car. No one would ever know why the other car decided to run a red light at just that moment. It just happened.
Grandfather must have worn that book down. He must have been the one who read it over and over again. They say time heals all wounds. Time never lost anyone then. Time steals the moments. Time just keeps moving.
She set the book down and it fell open. The spidery handwriting of her grandfather was on the page:
It’s your time to write the happy moments of motherhood. The book is yours.