Instead of at Marianne, Kate looks again at the head in her hands. Marianne turns, finding her grandmother coming fast toward her, like a speed walker. She says, “There’s a storm coming. Did you drive?”
And Marianne, “The train. This is Julia.”
On her right, Julia’s presence is suddenly heavy, exposed. Julia says, “Hello,” and brings out her hand.
Her grandmother takes it, looking desperately at Julia, a pained, uncomfortable smile, and shaking her arm as though the handshake meant she was safe, that should could keep her house and feed her family, that they’d all live another night.
Under her grandmother’s gaze, Marianne finds herself smiling. But instead she wants to cover everything with clean white sheets—her grandparents, Kate in the corner, the cats, the messes of the interiors and exteriors of the house and workshop—to hide this all from Julia, to give, instead, an image of purity, of nothingness, a clean slate for her to draw on, to draw anything other than the scene before them.
Marianne’s grandmother touches with her thumb Marianne’s forehead, moving the hair from her eyes. She leans closer, kisses where her thumb had once pressed. Marianne can feel Julia looking away, up at the cats, back at Kate. “It’s very good to see you.” Her breath smells of mint and cigarettes.
The sound of electricity flowing, and then the squeal of the circular saw again, the thud of the wooden cube dropping from the beam.
Marianne’s grandmother is screaming, “Dennis! Dennis!” but her grandfather cannot hear. The smile leaves Marianne’s face and takes her grandmother’s. She says loudly, leaning in, “Kate came when I told her you two were leaving.”
Marianne: “I see.”
“We’re awfully busy today. Unexpected.”
She watches Julia walk toward her grandfather, looking at the Robin Hoods and the Indian chiefs. She reaches up to touch one’s feet, lifting it with her fingers as though checking its weight.
Her grandfather again cuts the power to the saw. He says, “That one’s a beauty, yeah?”
“She helping with the orders, Kate is. I wish you would come by on weekends when you could.”
Marianne is no longer listening. She watches Julia turn to her grandfather, tucking two twists of hair behind an ear. She watches Julia like she is moving in slow motion, slow enough to catch every subtlety, every curl of her fingers, every nod of her head. She watches Julia knowing that Kate is doing the same.
“I know that you’re busy,” says her grandmother.
Julia says, “It is. Are the shoes real leather?”
“What, with going away and all—Europe—and with school, college life”: her grandmother.
“Damn right!’ from grandfather. “Took Donna weeks to craft those, to make them look like real cowboy boots.” Marianne thinks he sounds old, like he’s fighting for breath with every word.
“They’re amazing,” Julia’s dreamy voice, the one that she uses on Marianne when she wants something: water from the kitchen, a towel from the closet, Marianne’s shirt or pants off her body. “Wooden heels and all.”
“But I understand. I understand what you’re going through right now,” says her grandmother.
When Marianne told her coach about Germany and the semi-professional league tryout, he had told her, “You have this in the bolsillo. But when you’re on that terreno, just watch that temper,” and then he pressed one finger to his lips. These words have resonated with her since, and she’s watching it now, feeling it run through her veins, pound at the back of her head. She wishes she could close her eyes and start the day over, waking up close to Julia and faking sickness: a sore throat or migraine, something that wouldn’t last long enough to carry with her on the plane ride. They would have stayed in, watched television, did last minute chores, eaten leftovers. She wishes that, when she’d close her eyes, what would happen would be what she feared most: everything would be gone and she would be alone for good. She feels ready for this sacrifice. No grandparents, no Kate, no college scholarship. But she would invent a way to keep Julia on her same plane, a box perhaps, built with wood from her grandfather’s supply and plexi-glass from somewhere (she would ask her grandparents), with holes drilled for air.
Kate is standing on her grandmother’s right, both women with the same blank stare, same color eyes, same pink lips spread in an even line. Kate is her grandmother’s third child from her third husband. Marianne looks to watch Julia receive a gift from her grandfather, a devil cat. She is gracious, thankful, commenting on its red, silken cape and forked tail.
Kate says, “Are we having lunch or not?”
Marianne says, hisses, “Why are you here?” then thinks, Watch it.
And grandmother: “I told you already. Why are you acting up?”
With Marianne’s grandfather, Julia says, “You certainly have many. You must sell a lot.”
“We have a big booth at the Flea Market, and Kate’s Chris has set up our own space on the Internet,” says her grandma, reinvigorated.
Marianne feels the smirk take her face, doesn’t stop it. There is no better time than now to mention Kate’s husband, to remind everyone of who is attached to whom. She wants to look at Julia, at Julia and Kate both, but can’t. She looks at Kate. “How is Chris?” she says.
“He’s fine,” her voice comes flat and quick.
“Do you still live there with him? Seems like you’re here a lot, giving out my number to Germans and sanding cat heads.”