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Chapter 4: Annika’s Grandmother

As we drove, Annika explained that we were going to meet her Grandmother for breakfast. She made a look on her face that almost resembled a smile. “Everyone in the family has to meet Grandmother Sissel. Even Marty had to take his girlfriend to meet her. Grandma Sissy hated her.” Annika’s face broke out in a genuinely happy grin.

“And if she doesn’t like me?” I asked.

“No worries, she’s going to love you.” I’m her favorite granddaughter. “Now she’s very old and I want you to be prepared for a couple things, first, she’s very very old.”

“You said that already.” I quipped.

“Yes, but she’s very very old. Over 110 but we’re not exactly sure because there aren’t any records of her birth that anyone can find. Second, she’s losing it a bit, she thinks she even older than we do.” Annika turned to me and smiled, “you’re going to love this place, it’s a Swedish restaurant so the food is like heaven, the my mother used to cook.”

We parked in front of Dansk. I sat in the car and blinked my eyes. Annika asked, “What is it? Is it the name, is says Dansk which means Danish but the owners are Swedish.”

“Oh, it’s just that, um, this is where I ate after I met with Martin about the insurance.”

“Oh, Makes sense, his office is only just down the street.” Annika wrinkled her nose at me and sucked air in her nostrils hard. “Sorry,” she added, “I don’t mean to snort at you, I just had an itch in my nose.”

Asking for a table outside, we were shown to the same table where I’d eaten yesterday. But something happened here, didn’t it? Something weird, but I couldn’t remember, and my head hurt to think about it. I gripped my glass of ice water, then lay my forehead in my palm. When I looked up there was an elderly woman wearing a full length sable coat. Over her head lay a thin shawl. Reaching both hands up, she adjusted her shawl slightly out of her face so see me better.

It seemed to me that she’d just sprung up out of the seat that she was sitting on. I know I was staring in disbelief, I’m sure that I’d never met anyone so old before. Somewhere in the darkened cobwebs there must have been eyes. I was searching for them.

She extended a withered hand to me, and I felt that the only thing to do was to stand and then gently bend and kiss it. Icy, it reminded me of frost on a windshield which reminded me of waking in my car and the migraine returned.

“Bra,” the old woman said and slowly she turned to Annika and said, “han är söt.”

“She says you’re cute.” Annika translated.

“Men, kanske vi kan låta honom veta nu?” Annika asked her without offering me any translation this time. But I was busy closing my eyes and resting my forehead in my palms again. From far away I heard the gentle tapping of a spoon on a glass. Maybe there was a wedding party about to have a toast. At least my migraine had downgraded suddenly to a mere severe headache. I heard the tapping a second time and my headache went away.

When I looked up Annika was grinning and the woman as old as stones was staring at me severely. She didn’t look a day over 98 to my eyes. I saw the side of her mouth twitch a micro-smile for just a splinter of a moment. And then I remembered the beautiful raven haired woman who had sat in front of me yesterday. Her face was porcelain and her eyes were golden brown with more golden than brown. And in another 100 years that gold eyed brunette would look just like this elderly matriarch sitting in front of me.

“She’s my daughter too,” said Grandma Sissel.

“I’m sorry, who is?” I asked.

“The woman you met yesterday, here at this table, she’s my daughter too.”

“Grand, um, granddaughter? Yes?” I stammered.

“Daughter, granddaughter, granddaughter’s granddaughter, it’s hard to tell after a while,” said Grandma Sissel.

“Call me Grandma Sissy.” And okay, I thought, I’ll call you anything you like. I was remembering more bits and pieces from moment to moment.

“She slapped me.” I said.

“Who did?” asked Annika.

“The black haired woman with the gold eyes who met me here yesterday.” I blurted it out so fast that I half couldn’t believe myself. “She slapped me. Then she said, ‘come with me’ and we went just like that to some sort of a forest or whatnot and, and then she slapped me again and was shouting catch me, and running away.”

Now Grandma Sissy was grinning and Annika giving me a hard stare. “Did you catch her?” asked one of them, but I don’t remember which. I had to think to remember before I could answer.

“No, I chased her but I never tried to catch her. Thing is I was like born in that moment, born to run in circles, to run after her, but I felt like catching her would be wrong. But I didn’t know why it was wrong, so I never even tried.”

“Bra, bra pojke, gott hjärta, hör hans hjärta till dig.” Said Grandma Sissy. I must have been staring because Annika waved her hand at me. Either it was American sign for “Hi” or Queen of England for “stay away from the royal carriage or my guards will mow you down.”

Annika wiped a tear from her cheek and said, “she says your heart belongs to me.”

Grandma Sissy added, “och blodet alltför.”

“What was that?” I asked, and Annika just said it meant “forever.” Well my great great grandparents were Swedish but I didn’t know any myself. “But who was that raven haired woman really, and how did she make me forget, who I was, or where I was?”

Annika shook her head. Running her fingers through her hair, she said that we’d get to that but that she had a question first. “Tell me where you were this morning?”

“I woke up in my car in the driveway . . . in the passenger’s seat.” Finally I could think about that frosty white baby’s hair all over my windshield without feeling like I was about to have a stroke. So, I told them about the frost. Annika turned a bit of a paler white than her usual Caucasian self and Grandma Sissy, screamed something that sounded like “fawn”. But I couldn’t see what a young deer had to do with anything. Grandma Sissy followed up with a couple of what must have been expletives that sounded rather like a spitting sound.

“Men, at least we know certain that you two can be married.” Grandma Sissy said. Annika sobbed quietly.

“What, what, what? What is it?” I asked but Grandma Sissy answered with a bunch of questions while Annika continued to cry. Starting with my last name, my parents names and my grandparent’s names. Six of my great grandparents were English and I couldn’t recall their names. But two were Swedish. Great Grandpa Lyssna had been married to Grandma Ane Brun Lyssna.

Grandma Sissel clapped loudly and said, “she är min daughter också, also.” I must have looked perplexed because she continued, “Granddaughter’s daughter.” The old lady smiled and launched into a brief but detailed description of Grandma Ane.

She knew that my grandma’s little fingers on her right hand were bent outwards because a bull had stepped on them when she was small child. She knew that Ane’s favorite food was lingonberry jam over pancakes. So what, I thought, find me a Swede who doesn’t like that. She also knew that Ane hated her parents and had killed her cousin Arne when he was attacking her in the hay barn. That was why Ane left Sweden. She came to America with a small bag of gold, that I learned for the first time in the garden patio of the Dansk restaurant, had in fact come from Grandma Sissel herself.

I leaned back, Annika had a tear stained puffy face. Using the tree’s branches I counted from my dad, to grandpa Lyssna to Grandma Ane, to the daughter of a granddaughter who bore Ane into the world. Grandma Sissy was claiming to be my sixth great grandmother. Best guess, she would have had to be born about 1780ish give or take 20 years.

“Forget it, it’s a bunch of bull.” I said as I moved next to Annika and put my arms around her and her hair rested in my face. I could feel her sobbing again. “What is it? What’s wrong?” I pleaded with her, but she didn’t answer.

Grandma Sissy growled at us, “Doesn’t matter, done is done. You get married today, right away. I will fix it. She will be punished.”

Annika whispered in my ear, “it’s good you got the insurance when you did.”

Until Later . . . 

Chapter 3: Waking In My Car

Shivering, I awoke in my car. Parked in my driveway, the interior smelled of autumn forest. Sort of a rotten pine scent with overripe blackberries. So cold. Raising my seat to its nearly upright position, I realized that the steering wheel was on my left. Since it’s not an English car I began slowly to worry about what had happened since lunch. Or even at the restaurant since I couldn’t remember having eaten . . .

Outside my car window it was dark and fuzzy or foggy. I rubbed my eyes, it was foggy since I could see my hands clearly enough. Fully dressed, freezing and prickly beard, I looked like I woke up late and wasn’t going to make it to work on time.  Keys in the ignition made a tinkling as I tried opening the stuck shut door. I grabbed them. Putting them in my breast pocket, I pulled my cell phone out first and checked the time.

On the face of the phone it was 5:05 am and the app displayed a picture of the moon with no clouds around it. The door didn’t budge, but leaning into the driver’s seat, I lashed sideways with my shoulder and it burst open. In another life I must have been a fire fighter. Cool morning air rushed in, yet it was much warmer than inside the car.

I welcomed the morning, and stumbled out of the car falling to my knee. Stiff and cranky I stood up and stretched. My back cracked in 3 places which was unusual. Turning to shut the door, I noticed frost on the window, door handle and hood of the car. It was on the roof and doors and as I pulled the door open again, it was on the inside and outside of the windshield. What was that about?

I shut the door and clicked the fob. My grass wasn’t icy. My walkway was clean and dry. Passing to my neighbor’s car, it wasn’t covered with frost. Just mine. And it was hoar frost. Like my windshield was covered with short wispy baby’s hair.

Inside my little house in Camdten Gardens near San Diego State I stretched and felt rested enough. Made sense I guess since I must have slept since late afternoon yesterday. But where had I been. Thinking about it gave me a headache, but not thinking about it, made me feel at ease and free. That made me uneasy and anxious. So I set to wondering about why I didn’t care where I’d been and that gave me less of a headache than thinking where and what I’d in fact been up to since yesterday afternoon.

Placing my thoughts directly on the frosty hair that had been on my car gave me a migraine complete with swatch of plate glass window running through the upper right side of my visual field. I was going to have to find an answer in a more unconventional way. With the volume down I turned on the TV and switched over to Netflix. Perhaps an episode of Voyager would give my headache a rest. I closed my eyes and listed as Captain Proton saved the Galaxy from invasion yet again.

Suddenly I was back at Dansk, a young dark haired woman sat down in front of me as I was devouring my pancakes and those wonderful sausages. “You don’t want to raise your cholesterol like that, besides, it’s time to start your diet.” I put down my fork and finished chewing and swallowed. Wearing a Donna Karan business suit not quite à la Ally McBeal, she smiled at me. Dark wavy hair caressed her shoulders and lay across her clavicles. Golden brown eyes stared into mine. I believe she said, “I can see why Annika likes you.” But the sound of it to my mind was like it was fading away as she spoke or did her lips even move. Between my ears it echoed for a couple of moments saying “Annika likes you, Annika likes you, Annika likes you over and over.”

If I answered her I don’t remember it. If she ever said anything else I don’t remember it officer. But there were no police, I was interrogating myself. I could feel my body was running free now, like in a dream when you’re running across a field of grass just before you start to fly away. Not like the dream when you run and run but you go nowhere, but like I was running and running and there was a beautiful woman and either I was chasing her or she was chasing me. But I don’t remember what she looked like. Sandy blond mane or black and wavy, it seemed to me that there were both in my dream.

Maybe I was chasing one and the other was chasing me. I began to think it was more like running in a circle so that you are simultaneously doing both; chasing and being chased.

Door opened and I awoke. Annika walked in and laughed at me. “It’s 10 in the morning and you’ve missed half your work day?” Which was true, I usually started at 6am in order to handle the east coast business before starting on the central, mountain and pacific times.

“What?” I almost shouted at her.

“Don’t sweat it,” she said, “I called at 6:30 to see if you wanted to do breakfast and they said you weren’t in yet. So, I waited a couple of minutes, called back and said you were sick today and that you wouldn’t be in until tomorrow, so you’re cool like school.”

“Really?” I was gradually remembering the prior day and my head ached less for having slept through half a season of Captain Janeway’s trek through the Delta Quadrant of our Milky Way. I wanted to ask about the stethoscope but thought the better of it. Perhaps the preferred mode of inquiry would be to help with the wedding planning and see how much of had in fact been done.  Were we really going to the Wedding Chapel by the Sea, was there really an Italian string quartet coming to play her processional music down the little chapel’s aisle?

But she was so beautiful and she was here and smiling in scrubs with little . . . were those flecks of blood on her shirt? She caught me staring, “Oh that, I was visiting with a friend in the E.R. and got blood sprayed by the gsw victim of the day.”

“It’s not ketchup?” I asked.

She let out a maniacal laugh continuing, “you got me, dang I thought you might fall for it, yes of course it’s ketchup and I’m sure I’ve sat on mustard too.”  As she turned and showed me her butt there was in fact a yellow spot not unlike what you might expect if you had sat on mustard. Pulling her light cotton pants tight, I couldn’t help smiling. I felt a bit more relaxed, and embarrassed, and those didn’t usually go together but just now for the first time, they did.

“Listen, I’m going to go and change, then we’re going to go have breakfast.” Peeling as she walked away, I clicked off the TV and watched her reflection disappear down the hallway.

“I’ve got your back!” I yelled out.

“What?” she answered walking back into the hall wearing a tan sweater.

“I’ve got your back,” and I thought curses foiled again.

“Oh, great, I guess.” She headed back into the bedroom. No, she hadn’t yet moved in, but as a fiancée she’d taken drawer privileges even though she was a traditional girl and when she visited, I was appointed to my slumber on the couch. My friend Scott gave me the book called, She’s Just Not That Into You, but I haven’t read it yet. I was pretty sure he was wrong anyway, women who aren’t into you don’t make wedding and honeymoon plans.

“Dude, she is, she totally is, but she’s a traditional girl.” I’d handed the book back but he wouldn’t have it, he just shoved it into my briefcase instead.

“If she doesn’t want you before the wedding, she won’t want you after either. She’s up to something.” He’d said. But what? I’d wondered. I’m not rich, not famous, not going to be. I’m lumpy dumpy and kinda funny, so maybe just maybe she was really in love.

Momentarily the dim and distant memory of seeing her kissing the used Vampire Insurance salesman was edging in on my good feelings. There she was leaning over my shoulder from the back of the couch pressing the bell of a stethoscope on my chest. “You’re alive!” She cried out.

“Where did you get that?”

“From my boyfriend.” Smiling she continued, “there was this young doctor that washed out of the program and he gave all of his gear away to hospital staff before he left making sure not to give any of it to any of the doctors or other interns.”

“What?” I asked, well that was odd coincidence.

“I heard you met with my cousin Martin about the insurance.”

I felt such a relief. Then I felt a creeping anxiety coming up my spine. Why should I feel relieved that all this set of coincidences should come together all at once. And I still couldn’t think about my car without the swatch of glassiness spilling across my vision like spraying and freezing water on a windshield. Damn, there it went again.

My right eye squinted shut, “your cousin is our used vampire insurance salesman?” I asked. My head began to feel better.

“Yup.” Annika furrowed her eyebrows at me, “he thinks you’re paranoid and told me to marry someone else. He’s an ass but he’s family. How did you find him bytheway? That’s an odd coincidence.”

“I couldn’t have said that better myself,” I said. “He’s like, I don’t know, cagey about everything, he even said that he didn’t know you.”

“Oh, hmm, how did you get to ask him about me? That’s even weirder . . .”

“I was I don’ know, embarrassed. So I was looking for an insurance agency out of the way, you know, off the beaten path and found him.” I said. Yawning I stretched, and saw that she was still waiting for a more comprehensive explanation. “Well I heard him on the phone say that he’d just gotten a referral from Annika his best referrer. So, I asked how he knew you and he said he didn’t and claimed he’d said Anita. But I know better, he plainly said Annika.”

Annika tied her hair in a pony tail and asked, “Well, did I tell you to go to him?”

“No, I found him on my phone.”

She crinkled and sniffed hard, “well, he’s an a-hole, and I think he’s been in sales for too long. Come on, I know this great little restaurant.”

And I still couldn’t think about that car anymore.

Til Next Time . . . 

The Time Chain

“Between two Breaths,” you said . . .
smell Spring,
bee sound,
gentle breeze through headstones
barefoot running in grass,
jumping markers.
At last stretched out,
fingers gliding down pollen covered noses,
“Between two Breaths, you said, now is Freedom.”
Kissing,
compensates thirst.
itchy blanket,
wool n laughter.
Time crept up
enfettered us.
“Between two Breaths, you said, now is Freedom.”
Through pane,
dirty glass
grey clouds,
obscured gate twelve.
Couldn’t I have stayed.
The woman next to me
cried from Frankfurt to Fort Worth.
“Between two Breaths, you said, now is Freedom.”

(c) 1988 By David L Nelson, All Rights Reserved

Daddy Come Back

The little boy screamed, Shane come back! Shane! Shane! Come back Shane! Not having seen most of the movie, Little Brother just found it funny. “Great lisp.” Father-son camaraderie was lost on Little Brother. Even if he had seen it on screen, he’d have missed it. From the corner of the couch, little brother pointed at the 15” black & white TV. Between his thumb and forefinger he held a popcorn glistening with real butter. Salt sparkled on its edges in the TV light. Shane, obscured by a popcorn cloud, continued riding away in spite of the pleading shouts of the boy. “You . . Stupid Idiot”, thought Little Brother. In his mind, Stupid Idiot was a proper name.

Alan Ladd could pull off that fringy suede that made him look like a hippie on a horse. Maybe Little Brother would get one of those jackets too. Hanging on the vacuum next to the wall heater, his light blue denim jacket screamed anything but horse. Not even iron horse. Just bike. All holes, Little Brother’s pants could have used some mending. While they were at least down to his ankles, they gave an economic impression close to the situation of the boy in the movie. His hair once made Terrance Hicks ask, “Is that the wet look or the dry look Little Brother?” Of course, Little Brother had the benefit of free medical services, free education, free lunches, and free food. Even the bike had been free. None of which was available to the boy character in the movie.

In the years before the divorce Little Brother had been just a toddler. During that time Big Brother had experienced a paternal relationship with Dad, ballgames, Saturday matinees, tickle attack, but also task master, mean drunk, and hostile father due to sexual remorse that no nobody knew about and finally hide away time. Weekends were dad’s time with the kids, but only ones big enough that he didn’t have to change. Between Friday and Monday in his dad’s world, there had been no wife time. Ten years after, Big Brother’s heart was aching for the boy on the TV. Big Brother was the boy. He was also the teenager with a little brother who dressed like Oliver Twist, cracked jokes that would have embarrassed Groucho Marx, and hated their dad. Ten years before, watching as his dad rode away into the sunset in his brand new Buick in search of leaner pastures he’d felt so alone. The blue Skylark with the white top disappeared down the street. Choked, he couldn’t yell out, “Come back Daddy! Daddy come back!” Couldn’t cry. Several weeks later, the neighbor, Mr Landers remarked to his mom that his knuckles had been white and he could have counted every muscle in his jaw. Standing alone, he’d patted the top of his own head. Like his dad, he felt the comb of his crew cut poke into his fingers.

Before their parents split, every time their dad would come back to Metairie from a business trip, his brief case was full of toys. On weekends when he wasn’t pretending to work he’d take Big Brother to ball games, movies. Holding the boy in his arm, he’d smile like he was enjoying White Comanche, and maybe he was. Big Brother enjoyed the scratchy worsted wool grey sleeve on his ear. For Dad, even laughing wasn’t so hard once in a while. Something Little Brother had never experienced. Dad didn’t much like babies, though he’d always loved pregnant women. “Go get em Kirk” their dad yelled at the screen. It drew a couple frowns in the crowd but he’d just chuckle and stuff his face with oily popcorn.

As Shane rode away, Big Brother had forgotten the bad times, and he’d remembered only those moments in Planet of the Apes with his dad. Dad was a racist southern bigot who’d had to move south to fit in.

More than average, dad had a particular love for Planet of the Apes and took Big Brother to it on several Saturdays in a row. Futuristic science fiction cascaded into Big Brother’s psyche.

Big Brother dreamed up stories of flying cars, space travel, bug eyed slimy aliens. Talking apes made dad smile, as did cute mute girls in torn up animal skins with the apparent maturity of a pre-adolescent.

Watching Shane with his little brother, Big Brother had wondered if the love Shane had for this boy would sink into Little Brother’s soul. It didn’t. Big Brother had become the dad after the Buick had slid away in the afternoon sun with his hopes, dreams and his baseball glove in the back seat. How he ached to have dad’s arm around his shoulder again. To be the little boy again. Now a teenager, Big Brother sat in dad’s recliner with his feet up. By right of conquest, he’d won the recliner from Little Brother and Big Sister. Leaning back he watched the TV between his Converse Allstars. Clean pant legs of new Levi’s 501s ran down to the shoes. Big Brother earned his keep by mowing all the neighbors’ lawns for $4 per hour. Maybe he should have sat on the couch with his arm around his little brother, and been the father for a day. In his left hand he held a salad bowl of popcorn covered in salt, melted butter and a bit of black pepper. Dad had always brought little pepper packets from Denny’s to the movies for the popcorn. Pepper and butter smells combined to remind him of those few hours on Saturdays when Dad wasn’t yelling at mom.

Back when he was around, one of dad’s jobs had been as the family’s source of sarcasm. And he’d done it so well. Say something mean to a person. Laugh like it’s supposed to somehow be funny. Get mad at the person you’d just made fun of when he didn’t subscribe to your brand of humor. Make fun of them for being hypersensitive babies. That was Dad. Bastard. Big Brother had had to take over that job, though his heart wasn’t always in it. Doing his best, he’d worked hard to fill those shoes. Oddly, Little Brother had learned that dad skill to the best of his ability from his big brother. On top of that he’d spiced it up and made it his own. Clearly it was important to have sarcasm in the family. Little Brother could bend a situation to the funnier side with just the cruelest hint of sarcasm. Alienating the rest of the audience at the same time, not just the target of the ironic invective had often been the result. Who knew? Probably Little Brother won’t have a lot of friends and probably he’s going to be a lot like Dad.

There they sat, one on the couch, one on the arm chair watching Shane ride away. Little Brother laughing at that lisp. Big Brother’s heart aching for the boy with the crew cut whose little brother never knew a fun Saturday with his dad. Little Brother said: “What’s your problem? It’s just a stupid movie.”

“He’s watching his best friend leave, his father leave,” Big Brother answered.

“Pffft, like that’s never happened before,” Little Brother responded.

“Cut it out Little Brother, he’s probably never going to see him again.”

“Like, that’s never happened before. He’s better off anyway. We were. Besides what’s your problem? Big baby.” Little Brother had practiced that one. Big Brother leaned back in the arm chair a little while longer and nursed his bowl of popcorn.

“Hey” Big Brother leaned forward, put his feet on the ground and said, “you want to go to a ball game?”

(c) 2011 by David Nelson, All Rights Reserved