I’m a big fan of The Extraordinary Ordinary because of how beautifully she writes. I love the idea of trying to capture those weighty everyday moments without a lot of explanation. This is my attempt at Just Write.
I go into the living room to talk because it’s the one part of the house where calls don’t drop. The cat follows me. He probably thinks I’m talking to him. He’s 18 but he’s never used a phone before.
My little girl comes in next with a blanket, her new baby doll and a plastic tube of tiny knights she got on our trip to New York City. She lays the doll and blanket on the floor and lines up the knights on the keys of a 1978 Wurlitzer organ we rarely use and knocks them down with a green dragon, one by one.
I am talking to my grandmother on the phone. I had thought up many reasons not to call. I’m tired from our trip. I mailed her a mother’s day card and gift. I’ll call tomorrow. None of them beat the voice that waited patiently until the Brady Bunch episode with Peter’s terrible volcano was over and insisted Call Now.
My grandmother is 86 and does most of the talking. I know from phone logs that we usually talk for an hour, give or take 10 minutes. She tells me a lot of the same things each phone call and I’m not sure if this is because she forgets or thinks I forget.
She brings up things that happened a long time ago, like that time another family member got drunk and said terrible things three Thanksgivings ago. I was even there for it, but I know not to interrupt or argue the details because once I lost my patience and made her cry. She hung up on me and I felt like a drowning person must feel in that final moment when panic changes to relief but it’s still the end. Of course I called her back to apologize. Let’s start over, I said. She’s my grandmother.
For the 51 minutes we talk on the phone, my little girl comes and goes out of the room to watch bits of America’s Funniest Home Videos and report back to me.
A boy just pooped on a girl’s shoulder! she whispers in my non-phone ear and then steps back to watch my response. I raise both eyebrows and make an O with my mouth and think what kind of pea pickin’ show are they watching anyway. Later I realize she said bird, not boy.
My little girl climbs on my lap and gives random hugs and quiet I love yous and then rolls herself up in a blanket and lays so long and still at my feet that I am sure she’s fallen asleep.
The last five minutes of my phone call are me trying to find the exit. My phone battery is dying and l tell her and she says Just wait a minute and tells me what her mechanic said about her car battery. She also says And another thing, just like they do in the movies. My grandmother fled her Soviet occupied Baltic state when she was a young woman and still speaks with a heavy sing-songy accent that I found soothing as a little girl.
In the end, I am saved by a raccoon. One minute my grandmother is telling me what her mechanic told her and the next I hear her rapping on glass to scare off a raccoon that is washing his paws in a water dish she keeps on her back porch for the birds. No wonder that water is so dirty! she says.
The raccoon’s presence has boosted her mood and she tells me she is happy I called. We say goodbye and I feel something loosen inside me. I go upstairs to plug in my phone to charge and my little girl follows me upstairs like a puppy wrapped in a blanket with a sprinkle of freckles across her nose.