The Music Box
“Nana are you dying?” The words and tears tumbled forth. I threw my hands to my face hoping this might shove them both back into my head. Lately, something was really different. Nana was tired all the time and her beautiful smile always seemed to be more effort than natural.
“There, there, child whatever gave you that idea?” was her reply but, I could see something in her face, something that said she did not want to answer.
My name is Ally, I’m ten years old and my nana is my best friend. Let me rephrase that, she is my one and only friend. Ever since I can remember all I’ve wanted to do is be near my nana and secretly I wanted to be her. She has a special gift for making me feel good about who I am and always knows the right things to say, more times than not the things I need to hear. Don’t get me wrong, I have a wonderful mother whom I love very much, a father also and a pesky little brother named Josh. I guess I love him too.
Nana you see is what I would call a sophisticated lady, one with so many wonderful stories about her life. Just being around her is like being part of an adventure. She grew up in this very house and lived her with her parents even after she married grandpapa.
Grandpapa was a famous magician. “The Great Marvo” nana always giggles when she says it in her deep voice. He and nana used to travel around the United States entertaining people or “mesmerizing them” as nana always says it again in her deepest voice. She was his beautiful and daring assistant and along the way she has collected some of the most fantastical stories. They even went to Europe once. I never had the chance to meet my grandpapa. He died right after I was born. So I made it my official duty to keep nana company, so she never feels alone.
About a month ago I started getting an odd feeling there was something wrong when I came home from school and mom didn’t ask me if I had made any friends that day. You might ask yourself what seems odd about that. Well you see mom and dad are constantly bugging me to make friends. I keep telling them that nana is the only friend I need but, of course that is never good enough for them. So every day after school they ask that same tired old question and I give them the same tired old answer “nope”, with my parents its better never to elaborate. It keeps the lectures down to a minimum. I really believe they think that if I don’t find any friends my age that I’ll turn it to some kind of freak or something. Don’t they realize nana has turned me into a lady? Ladies don’t fraternize with middle school kids. So, anyways they have stopped annoying with that question. Hello, red flag, like what’s going on but, I didn’t want to jinx a good thing so I haven’t asked them why.
And, mom always running to her bedroom and closing the door. What’s up with that? At first I thought “pregnant” right? But, I think she would have said something by now. That can’t be it. I remember when she found out she was pregnant with Josh you couldn’t pull her away from the phone until she informed everyone she knew about the pregnancy.
I have my daily routine and with routines it is easy to see when things are out of place, take mine for instance; school, homework and then to nana’s every day. We hang out as nana always tells a new and exciting story, never the same one twice from what I can recall and it is over a new recipe; cookies, bread, muffins or even things I never heard of. At dinner time nana and I walk back to my house as she “dines” with us every night. The way nana says it I’m always expecting a waiter to come around the corner at any minute. Being around her is like standing in the noon day sun when the rays make the hair on your arms stand up. She has that warmth about her. There is rarely a day when someone is not stopping by her place for one thing or another. I think it’s only so they can be near her like I like to be.
Although, like I said recently our routine has changed. Hello? It’s another red flag. Do people really think ten year olds are not smart enough to pick up on subtleties especially ones that knock you over the head? Because, now when I come into nana’s I find her trying to hurry off the couch before I notice she’s been sleeping instead of in the kitchen like usual. She’ll flash me her bright famous smile trying to hide the tiredness in her voice.
“It’s just old age catching up with me” she would say. I really have no choice but to believe her because after all she is eighty two years old. But, a kid can only take so much and my thoughts had begun swirling around in my head. I felt like a dam that was ready to break and I guess that’s why I blurted out the question with tears shooting out of my eyes like golf course sprinklers. Was my life falling apart?
“Come here my Alley” She said, her voice cracking and I knew she was about to join my flood. She took me into her arms. I don’t know what it is about my nana, maybe she was an angel. Her arms and hands have an uncanny ability to draw out my ailments as if she heals me every time I’m hugged by her and now was no exception. I felt the embarrassing sadness start to drain away.
She then took my face in her oven mitt warming hands and looked into my eyes. I felt myself shutter for an instant knowing she was looking deep into me and seeing a person I had yet to know and then, with a serious tone said “We need to talk”.
With this I began to feel some regret “I’m so sorry nana. I didn’t…”
“No, no child you have every right. It is me who should be apologizing to you and I am sorry. I’ve been keeping a secret, only because I was scared of how you might react. But, best friends don’t keep secrets, do they?”
I nodded growing more afraid of what my nana was about to tell me. Still, her arms were like armor around me and I was sure I could handle anything; even bullets couldn’t hurt me I thought as I pictured them mentally and braced myself.
“Okay, Alley, this is grown up lady talk, so we are going to need some hot chocolate for this.”
She slowly released me and sat me on her “Davenport” as nana always called it. I guessed it was the Polish word for couch. I was still too upset to talk and fell into a state of waiting as she got up to fetch the tea kettle. Nana always boiled water and then kept it at a low heat always ready for a cup of plain hot water with lemon or hot chocolate. It wasn’t long and she was returning with my favorite tea cup and matching saucer. I had chosen this one out of her prized collection. It had an oriental design of dragons decorating it. The pictures were a raised pattern and that’s why I liked it so much. When I held it, I could feel its texture run across my hands.
“Here you go” were words mingled with the sound of pouring water as she looked at me with a longer and deeper stare. I could sense words forming in her mind and began to wonder when they would exit her lips that always seemed so perfect and ruby. She had mentioned once that grandpapa had dubbed them his “Gypsy lips” because he said they flowed so free and danced when she spoke. Somehow I missed him and knew he was needed more than ever at this moment and then she said it.
“I have cancer” Her words like a falling icicle. They were too quick to avoid and I watched as they were falling passed in slow motion shattering to the ground.
In disbelief “Cancer” I whispered? The words now felt like a sucker punch to the gut and it took all I had to echo her words.
But, it seemed easier for nana to speak now. The boulder was over the edge and rolling. “I’m afraid so. I never expected this to happen. Making it this far was a blessing in its self.”
I mustered upon my lasting energy to ask “Do you hurt nana?” With this I leaped back into her arms to take advantage of her healing powers. Nana answered that question and all the ones she knew I wanted to ask as she began to stroke my hair. The whole ordeal had drained me and all my mind could see is that day soon when there would be “a blackness”, a hole left unfilled and I let the tragedy take me into sleep.