Grace settles into the chair, less an act of sitting than of floating down onto the seat. She has borrowed my grandmother’s smile, kind, gentle, inviting. She pulls a book from her bag, its pages or most of them dog eared, and I glimpse some annotations in the margins. We sit around her like children awaiting presents on a holiday, as acolytes seeking knowledge from a font of poetic and prosaic wisdom, or so we think. She reads in a voice that is at once soft and loud enough to reach the back of the room, opening the book to a random page and diving in, then after what seems like a minute and an hour, she stops and asks for questions. We sit dumbstruck for a moment then fire at her like machine gunners on the range. She answers each, claims she is a simple grandmother who writes but we know better, know we are in the presence of a true master.
The meeting drags on. Time is frozen. The space between a smile and a grimace is the edge of a fine blade and the width of a canyon. And you maintain the smile hoping it is not seen as the rictus you feel. Politeness requires a smile, your heart requires a fast escape. So you stay and tweak all of the little facial muscles to maintain the semblance of a smile. You don’t watch the clock on the wall, for it is only a source of frustration. When you leave for home, your face feels almost sore around the lips.
She sits demurely on the step staring off at something. You want to know what but her face isn’t saying, her eyes soft, revealing nothing, her smile enticing, teasing, and out of grasp.
You want to sit with her, see what she looks at, what has captured her thoughts, and there is room on the step for you to join her, but you have never met, you cannot sit next to her, she there half a century ago, and you know she will only be the stuff of dreams one night.
I can still recall the day my mother was ecstatic on learning that everything grew out of a primordial soup. It was proof, she was certain, of a Jewish God, even if he didn’t do it all with his own hands. And, with a broad smile she said, I’m fairly certain at the soup was chicken, maybe with kreplach on the side.
She sat us down this morning for a heart to heart conversation. We had mentioned the neighbors’ new dog, their second, this one little smaller than a pony. She smiled at us, but we could tell it was a false smile, something was hiding about to be set free. “That is the problem with dogs,” she said, “they come in all sizes and temperaments. You never know what to expect, except that in any weather, but mostly the kind you hate, you have to walk them, or they walk you. And loud, they all seem to come without volume controls. So be thankful you have me. Now excuse me, my litter pan beckons.”
Today in odd places, at the most unexpected moments, a child will smile without reason, a young girl will laugh, the young boy will stroke the neck of a wandering cat, and in that place at that moment there will be a simple peace. Only the children will notice this, though it gives lie to those who deem peace impossible. A child knows that it is only preconceptions and attachments that blind adults to the peace that surrounds them.