By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: The Everything Library lends not only books but anything a person might need for a little while. Today, you are borrowing a grandmother.
Paul shifted his weight and then leaned against the library’s information desk. On most mornings, patrons had to stand in lines for at least 10 minutes. Somehow today no one had joined him at the end of the line when he first came in, and now here he was. It made his request feel a little less awkward.
Truthfully, the entire concept of borrowing anything made Paul feel awkward. His mother had raised him to be self-sufficient. If he couldn’t find a way to pay for it, she’d always said, he could probably do without it. That applied to everything the library offered, including books. But today…today he knew he would have to break his mother’s rules.
“All right, Paul,” said the smiling librarian as she approached him for the second time since he entered the building. “I think we have exactly what you need today.”
Walking beside her was a woman who fit the bill of affectionate grandmother to a T, right down to the comfortable shoes and the pale lavender cardigan she wore over the matronly blouse and skirt. The librarian, with her arm around the grandmother’s shoulders in a tight squeeze, beamed.
“Paul, this is Beatrice. Bea, this is Paul.”
Bea pulled at the chain around her neck and brought her glasses to her face. She peered at them through Paul as if even the prescription wasn’t enough to convince her this boy was trustworthy. After scrunching her eyes at him for several long seconds, she dropped the glasses and let them hang from the chain again.
“Well, at least you’re not dressed like one of those hoodlums.”
Despite the lack of any kind of positive greeting, Paul wanted to smile. He watched Bea as she chatted with the librarian for a few minutes. She fussed with her skirt and glasses, gave her handbag an extra hard yank under her armpit as if that spot alone could ensure its safety, then eyed Paul from head to toe for at least the third time since the librarian had brought her over.
“And, Paul,” the librarian said, bringing him into the conversation, “you remember the terms of borrowing a grandmother from the Everything Library?”
He nodded, trying to diffuse his amusement. “I do. She has to be back by the end of business today.”
“And don’t you try to pull one over on me, young man,” Bea said, drawing herself to her full 4 feet, 11 inches. “I may be old, but I still know how to defend myself.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Paul said. “Is it okay if we leave now?”
He held out an arm to her, which she eyed skeptically.
“Just because you have some semblance of manners doesn’t mean I’m not watching you,” she said, narrowing her eyes for a moment. When she stepped forward and primly looped her own arm through his, though, Paul knew he’d won her over.
“Have fun, you two!” the librarian called from behind them as they made their way toward the sliding glass doors.
Paul threw her a grin over his shoulder and nodded his thanks.
He discovered after about four steps that Bea moved at a much faster pace than he expected for someone of her age. The tension between their locked arms tightened for a few steps before he adjusted his stride. Bea, he noticed, was smiling a small smile.
“I really appreciate you coming with me today,” Paul said as they moved through the parking lot toward his car.
“How old are you anyway, young man?”
“Mm-hmm. Too old to need a grandmother for show and tell, then.”
He pulled his arm back and put his hand in his pocket for his keys. Using the key fob to press the Unlock button for the car, he opened the passenger side door for Bea and watched as she carefully seated herself. After making sure she had put on her seatbelt, he shut her door for her and trotted around to the driver’s side. He got in, locked the door, and put on his own seatbelt.
“Well, if not to show off my knitting skills, why do you need a grandmother today? Don’t you have one of your own?”
Paul’s heart constricted, but he tried to ignore it.
“Not anymore,” he answered lightly. “She died last month. Old age.”
“Oh. I see.”
He started the car and pulled out of the library parking lot, taking the turns and roads he’d come to know so well. In truth, when she first died he didn’t know how he’d be able to bear the pain of losing his grandmother. She was the only grandparent he’d ever known; the others died long before he came along.
His mother had always said that losing loved ones was a part of life. Sharing the grief, she said, brought people closer to one another. So even though it was one of the hardest things to do—say goodbye forever to someone he loved—ultimately it had its purpose.
“Well,” Bea said after several moments of silence. “I’m sorry to hear about your grandmother. Mother’s side or father’s?”
“Mother’s,” Paul said, that heart constriction coming back. He inhaled deeply to make it go away and almost succeeded.
“How’s your mother taking it?”
They pulled to a red light not too far from their final destination, and he drummed his fingers on the steering wheel.
“She doesn’t know.”
Bea jerked her head to face him. “Doesn’t know? What, is your mother one of those women who can’t be bothered during her bridge game with what’s important?”
Despite the insult, Paul couldn’t help smiling again. “Bea, you’re showing your age. Women don’t get together to play bridge anymore. And Mom doesn’t know because I haven’t told her yet.”
“Hmmph,” she said. “Well, whatever they’re doing—even if it’s that newfangled computer on-the-line stuff—surely your mother should know about her own flesh and blood. What possible reason could you have for…”
The car pulled into the parking lot of the assisted care facility, and Bea’s words dissipated in the space between them.
“What is this? Why are we here?”
Paul took in another deep breath. “To see my mother. She was diagnosed with early onset dementia five years ago, and lately she’s…she’s gotten worse. On good days she knows who I am, and on bad days…well, I have to remind her all over again I’m her son, and then it goes from bad to worse because she feels so guilty that she doesn’t remember me. I couldn’t tell her about Grammy, Bea. It would crush her. She already feels like she’s lost so much, and I was hoping that if you could go in there and pretend to be Grammy for a little while…”
He didn’t finish. He couldn’t. Suddenly, saying it all out loud, he realized just how ridiculous his plan sounded. Even if his mother couldn’t remember him, surely some visceral part of her would recognize that this elderly woman beside him wasn’t her mother. People might forget where they’d gone, but it was harder for them to forget where they came from…wasn’t it?
Bea studied the outside of the facility for a little while not saying anything. He worried that she would demand he take her back to the library, and that wouldn’t do because the librarian had already said Bea was the only grandmother available for loan. The next grandmother wouldn’t come in until the following week, and after the nurse’s call that morning that his mother seemed unusually agitated he didn’t want to let any more time than necessary go without seeing her.
“You called your grandmother Grammy?” Bea asked finally.
Prickles of hope gave him goosebumps. “Yes, I did.”
“And your name is Paul, you said?”
“Ma’am,” she repeated. “That’s nice. Your mother must have raised you right.”
He shrugged. “I’d like to think so.”
“All right, Paul. Take your grammy in to see your mother.”