I had switched from the BBC to NPR, half listening and half sleeping, with my face buried in the cat, when the phone rang.
"Hi, Madeline." Q was on the other extension. I also said hello, sort of, a little late. It was my first word of the day.
"Do you have any birthday wrapping paper?"
That was a hard question.
"I think so."
"Can you bring it when you take me to school?"
"What time are you coming?"
"What time do you want to go?"
"7:40." It was 7:15.
"Okay. See you then." We hung up. I buried my face back in the cat again. The phone rang.
Another hard question. "Yeah."
"Could we go earlier? Like 7:30? So I can wrap my friend's locker?" When a friend has a birthday, her other friends wrap her locker in birthday paper. When there is a football game, they festoon all the team members front yards with toilet paper.
Sure we could. We went to the drug store and got paper and tape, and then we got a bow and got some lip glosses and a little stuffed bear that said "Hugs" in white letters on his tummy.
"What time is your viola lesson?" I asked as we drove toward the school.
"8:00. But if she knows I'm wrapping a locker, it'll be okay if I'm late." I guess they don't make music teachers like they used to.
My English teacher asked me to stay after school one autumn afternoon. "Is something wrong at home?" she asked. I was surprised at the question. I hadn't noticed that I hadn't been doing as well in school. Hadn't noticed that my attention was wandering. I was preoccupied with other things. With my grandmother, who could no longer get out of bed. With the new room I occupied at home now, now that I couldn't share her room anymore -- my grandmother and I had been roommates for years. With the quiet commotions in the night, my mother's quick footsteps into my grandmother's room when she was overcome with coughing and couldn't get her breath, when she was sick to her stomach, when her chest pains refused to respond to the little pills she put under her tongue. With the hushed visits of the doctor, who lived across the street, and would come in the night and administer a shot of digitalis. In the afternoon, I would get off the school bus and hurry home. I would run up the stairs to her, first thing, without even putting my books down.
"Well, my grandmother is sick," I said. "Her heart." I don't remember what the teacher said after that, don't remember leaving the classroom and going to my locker, don't remember the bus ride home. My grandmother died one night that February. I had gotten a puppy that very same day, a sick puppy, and I had to feed her every three hours with a doll's bottle. This was a very good thing. I ended up doing all right in seventh grade. My mother left the church in the middle of the service once, in the summer. "She thinks of her mother," my father told me. I didn't say anything, shocked that adults could also be overcome with sorrow. The Christmas that followed was not the same without my grandmother. None of them ever would be again. They were never magic again. This is what it's like to be grown up, I thought. No magic.
We pulled up to the school, Madeline putting the finishing touches on the arrangement of lip glosses and teddy bears in a gold birthday bag full of tissue paper. She opened the door.
"Thanks, Mamo," she said casually as she got out. She doesn't know I won't always be here. When I was her age, my grandmother was already gone.
"Have fun," I said. Have magic. Have it for as long as you can. When it goes, it's gone. It doesn't come back. Then you remember how it was.