Loopholes, Chapter 7

(Previous chapters: 1, 2, 3, 45, and 6.)

The weird thing was, I wasn’t so mad at my grandmother when we sat down to dinner. Maybe it was because somehow when we were all sitting together, you could see that she looked tired, and old, and something worse than both of these. Her skin was almost dusty, gray and hanging down from her face. She looked like if we weren’t there she would be lying down on the couch, sleeping.

“Are you OK, Grandma?” I asked, and she looked at me for a second, like she was actually going to talk to me like a person, but instead she just said, “Eat.”

We all tried to eat, and that was the only sound until Pinky said, “Grandma, I think I know why Mommy sent us here.”

Jacob and I snuck a look at each other, while Pinky kept on eating calmly. I hoped he knew what he was doing.

“You do not need reason to visit your grandmother,” my grandmother said after a long moment. Pinky kept looking at my grandmother, and then she frowned. “So…what is this reason?”

“Because she missed you! And so since she has to go to work at the university she sent us here to see you instead of her!” He beamed after he said this, like he’d figured out something amazing. I had to hand it to him, he was pretty smooth. It’s like some kind of crazy combination of being really smart, and actually being nice.

“Yes,” she said, looking down at her food. “Is probably this.”

Jacob and I looked at each other. I tried to do my part. “So maybe we should call Mom after dinner,” I said. “Especially since she misses you.” My grandmother glanced up at me, then over at Pinky, and I saw that we had her.

We all watched her, and she watched us, her eyes cloudy with thinking about something else, you could tell. “We could—,” Pinky began, and Jacob and I shushed him, because we didn’t want to ruin it. She hadn’t said no right away, which was already a miracle.

“We call your mother?” My grandmother gave me a piercing look. I tried to hold her stare. “OK,” she said out of nowhere. “Yes. But after dinner.”

It took Pinky longest to make it through dinner, but when he finally did we were ready, and somehow everybody got a little excited, even my grandmother. We were wiggling in our seats, and first Jacob popped up and then Pinky, and Grandma kept saying, “Settle down, settle down,” but she wasn’t even mad.

She had an old-fashioned yellow phone that was stuck into the wall and had a long curly cord that connected to a handset thing, and she went over and picked it up and dialed while we bounced around. Then she held up her finger and we all got silent. “Hello? Hello, Reichl?” She got this big smile that you never really see on my grandmother’s face. She’s the only one who calls my mother Reichl—everyone else calls her Rachel. “Yes, they are here. They are safe. Yes—hello?” And the smile dropped off her face.

My skin got cold. I stood up. “Let me.”

My grandmother turned so her back was to me, holding the phone close to her ear. “Hello? Hello, Reichl?”

“Let me,” I said, and I grabbed for it.

She slapped my hand away and said, her voice tense and scared. “Reichl!” She clicked some weird thing on the phone. “Hello?”

“Grandma!” I tried to take it.

“Enough!” She slammed down the phone. Pinky started to cry. “Is enough.” she said in a quieter voice. “Nu, so, is problem with the phone, that is all.”

“But—.”

“Sit!” It was an order, and I sat. Pinky was still crying. Jacob was quiet, hugging his knees. My grandmother picked up the phone again and dialed the number.

“Use redial,” I said.

“Enough!” She waved her hand at me, hung up the phone, and slowly pushed in our home number. A number I absolutely knew by heart and could press in in less than one second probably. And then she waited, and we waited, and the whole Florida house felt like it was holding its breath. Then she stood up straighter, and for a second everything seemed like it was going to be OK. “Yes, hello? Hello?” Then she sagged, and she let the hand holding the phone drop to her side. You could hear it coming out of the ear piece, the awful mechanical voice saying “I’m sorry, you have entered a nonworking number, please—.” She hung up. “The phone, it is not working,” she said. “Is….” She stopped for a moment, and I almost thought she was going to cry, but instead her face got hard and final. “Is a storm. She is up in Massachusetts with all the time the snow, and the ice, and the phone it is not working.”

“I want to try.” I picked up the phone.

“Alyssa,” Jacob said, his voice low.

“Fine,” my grandmother said. “So she tries.”

I swallowed down the stupid choking lump in my throat and blinked so I could focus on the little square buttons. I pushed each one hard and carefully. It seemed like if I really concentrated, then everything would be OK somehow. The phone made a little shift in sound as it connected, then it was quiet and I waited, squeezing the handset part so hard my hand hurt. And then—it was ringing! “It’s ringing!”

My grandmother stood up fast, and Pinky whooped and jumped out of his seat.

“I’m sorry, you have entered a nonworking—.” I slammed the phone down.

“Alyssa?” Pinky said. My grandmother shook her head.

“There’s something wrong with the phone,” I said. “Her phone is broken. Or maybe it’s you!” I turned on my grandmother. “Maybe your phone is broken.”

“Yes, yes,” she said. “Is the phone, is no problem. Now.” She clapped her hands. “We go to bed, and tomorrow you go to school—.”

“We’re not going to bed!” I looked at the clock. It was 7:45! “Not even Pinky goes to bed this early!”

Grandma’s mouth got hard. “Is school tomorrow. Children need the sleep.”

“I’m not tired!”

“Alyssa.” Jacob’s voice was quiet and urgent, but I ignored him. “I’m not going to bed.”

“Alyssa!” My grandmother stood up straight. “You will go to bed.”

“Wait, first I’m calling Phoebe, OK? I just need to call Phoebe, I have an idea.” I grabbed the phone, my hand felt all sweaty and hot. “I’ll tell her to go over to Mom’s house to check on her!” I was dialing. It seemed like the most obvious idea in the world. “She’ll just run down the street, and check on Mom, and then come back and call us—.”

“Hello? Alyssa?” It was Phoebe’s voice. Everything started to seem like it was going to be OK.

“Phoebe!” I curled away from the rest of them and tried to whisper in to the phone. “Phoebe, there’s something at my mom’s house you need to get for me, except I don’t know what it is.”

“What?”

“I can’t explain now, but can you go over to my house and call me back?” She didn’t say anything. “Phoebe? I would call my mom myself, but her phone’s not working—Phoebe?” It was weirdly quiet.

“Grandma? The phone thing is happening to Phoebe too! Grandma—.” I turned around looking for her. And then I saw her, standing by the wall, her finger pressed down on the phone’s bracket. She’d hung up.

“Phoebe?” I said, because part of me didn’t believe it.

“No,” my grandmother said. She looked so sure of herself. The rage rushed up in me, and my vision went white. I flung the phone’s handset across the room. It crashed through the kitchen window, smashing glass everywhere.

I make the worst decisions.

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