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’s 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, like my childhood in Kvillebäcken.”
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 forget about it the owners are Swedish.”
“Oh, it’s just that, this is where I ate after I met with Martin about the insurance.”
“Oh. Oh that 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 which brought the migraine back.
“Bra,” said the old woman, maybe it was short of “Bravo?” And slowly she turned to Annika adding, “han är söt.”
“She says you’re cute.” Annika translated.
“Men, kanske vi kan prata med honom nu? Om oss?” Annika asked her without offering me any translation. But I was busy closing my eyes and resting my forehead in my palms again anyway. From some distance 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 thought. 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 but more golden than brown. And in another 90 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 dis table, she’s oso min daughter.”
“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. I felt like I had been born in that moment, born to run in circles, to run after her, but I felt like catching her would be wrong. Even though I couldn’t remember anything before and couldn’t imagine anything to come afterwards, I knew somehow, I just knew that catching her would be wrong. And though I didn’t know why it was wrong, I never even tried.”
“Bra pojke, gott hjärta, hör hans hjärta till dig.” Said Grandma Sissy poking Annika in the chest with her boney index finger. 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.” While my great grandparents were Swedish 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. “You know, Honey, I’m so glad that you didn’t try to catch her, but I’m, um, just tell me where you were this morning. You didn’t go to work, so . . . what happened?” Annika made a strained effort to sound light and cheerful.
“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 hoar 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.
“Hår?” Annika asked Grandma Sissy.
“Rimfrost,” she replied. “Och, at least we know certain that you two can be married.” Grandma Sissy said. Annika sobbed quietly.
“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 any of 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 dotter 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 Ane’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 the generations back 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 fifth or sixth great grandmother. Best guess, she would have had to be born about 1780ish give or take 20 years.
“Forget it. That’s a bunch of bull.” I said as I moved next to the side of Annika’s chair and put my arms around her, my fingers interlaced at her opposite shoulder. 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.” Grandma Sissel growled, “Jag kommer att reda ut allt.”
Crying Annika said, “men det finns ingenting du kan göra.”
“Inget? Jag kan göra någonting och allting!” came the commanding answer. Then she whispered, “berätta honom allting.”
Pushing her blond hair from her eyes, Annika was saying, “but you’ll have to kill . . . her.” But Grandma Sissy was gone again. In the same way she came, she had vanished. No, I didn’t see it but she couldn’t have walked away that fast.
Annika whispered in my ear, “it’s good you got the insurance when you did.”