In a way, she had always known this day would come.
Her Papa was 62 when she was born. She had thought often over the years of what it would be like without him.
She had not met her grandfather until yesterday. He had come to the funeral; her grandmother had not. She wasn’t sure why and didn’t want to ask the tall, gregarious man when she had met him. She knew asking too many questions annoyed people.
She liked her grandfather immediately. She had never seen someone so big! He had blue eyes- the color of a summer sky on a sunny day- and black hair like hers, except for a bit of grey at his temples. And he had an accent just like her Papa’s. To the funeral, he wore a bright yellow dress shirt, pants stripes- green and tan- and white shoes. Everyone else was dressed in black, navy, or brown.
He had lifted her high in the air, twirling her around with the greatest of ease. That was when she decided she would tell him.
It is my only chance, she thought.
She followed him around the funeral parlor and then followed him home like a baby duck follows its mother.
Everyone had gathered back at the house to eat and tell stories about her Papa. She spotted her grandfather sitting at the table eating with a furious voracity! She retrieved her secret book from behind a loose cinder block in the basement. She had decided to let her grandfather read it so she wouldn’t have to tell him.
Her mother was in the front room, out of sight. The girl decided this was as good a time as any. She approached her grandfather and he turned toward her with a broad grin and outstretched arms. She placed her secret book and its key in his hand, then sprinted to the back door.
She climbed up the old oak tree in the backyard- her safe spot- and nestled herself high up in the canopy. There was a big knot in the trunk where she would hide special things that she didn’t want anyone to know about. (This is where she kept her piggy bank.) She wondered if her grandparents had a tree in their yard.
A good while later, she heard her grandfather calling her name, requesting she come down. He didn’t sound angry, but with grown-ups it was hard to tell. Dutifully, she made her way down through the maze of branches.
Her grandfather gathered her up in his arms with unexpected gentleness. He kissed her forehead.
She looked at him and said, “If you don’t take me, I’m running away.”
He replied, “Princess, I wouldn’t leave you here with that woman if the Pope himself was coming to dinner!”
He carried her in the house, zig-zagging through the people, straight to her mother. Her mother wore the smug, sly smile she wore when she was pretending.
“The girl is going with me,” her grandfather stated solemnly.
Before she could answer, he turned around and sat down at the phone. He spoke to someone on the line in Italian. He reached his arm down and stroked her hair, just as her Papa had.
She saw her mother making her way toward them, and she clung, terrified, to her grandfather’s tree trunk of a leg. But he waved her mother off like someone would wave away a fly. Her mother’s face became very red. Everyone was looking at them and whispering.
“They don’t really want you,” her mother said later. “No one does. You will be a burden. You are an insufferable little bitch!”
Part 3 to follow on Friday.