“You didn’t want comfort.”
“What good is it?”
“Are you going to do anything to mark the anniversary?”
The question made Jude angry, and anger was good, better than this free-falling despair. “Like send balloons up to her? Or sit by that granite stone in the grass where her body is? Or maybe I should invite guests over and celebrate her life … which is over.”
“Sometimes people find comfort in such things.”
“Yeah. Well. I don’t.”
“As I’ve said before, you don’t want comfort.” Harriet wrote something on her notepad. “Why do you keep coming to me? You control your feelings so tightly we can hardly make progress.”
“I come to you for drugs. You know that.”
“How are you doing, really?”
“Tonight will be … bad. I’ll start remembering her, and I won’t be able to stop. I’ll think that Miles was wrong. That she could have gotten better, or that if I’d kissed her she could have woken up like a Disney princess. I’ll imagine that I should have tried mouth-to-mouth or pounded on her heart. Crazy things.” Jude looked up. Tears blurred Dr. Bloom’s sharp face, softened it. “I’ll take some sleeping pills, and then it will be tomorrow, and I’ll be okay until Thanksgiving, and then Christmas, and then … her birthday.”
She flinched at that. “Yeah. Not that he celebrates it anymore, either.”
“When was the last time your family celebrated anything?”
“You know the answer to that. We’re pod people like in that body-snatcher movie. We only pretend to be real. But why are we rehashing all of this? I just want you to tell me how to get through today.”
“You never ask me about tomorrow. Why is that?”
“What do you mean?”
“Most patients want to learn how to live. They want me to make a map that they can follow to get them to a healthy future. You simply just want to survive each day.”
“He-llo. I’m not bipolar or schizophrenic or borderline. I’m sad. My daughter died, and I’m devastated. There’s no getting better.”
“Is that what you want to believe?”
“It’s the way it is.” Jude crossed her arms. “Look, you’ve helped me, if that’s what this is about. Maybe you think I should be doing better by now, maybe you think six years is a long time. But it’s not, not when your child died. And I am doing better. I grocery shop. I cook dinner. I go out with girlfriends. I make love to my husband. I vote.”
“You didn’t mention either your son or your granddaughter.”
“It wasn’t meant to be an exhaustive list,” Jude said.
“Are you still stalking Grace?”
Jude pulled her scarf off. She was hot now, sweating, in fact, and the scarf was choking her. “I don’t stalk her.”
“You stand in the trees and watch her at that after-school program, but you won’t hold her or play with her. What would you call it?”
Jude started to unbutton her coat. “Man, it’s hot.”
“When was the last time you held Grace? Or kissed her?”
“Really. It’s an oven in here…”
“It’s not hot.”
“Jude,” Harriet said with an irritating patience. “You refuse to love your granddaughter.”
“No,” Jude said, finally looking up. “I can’t love her. There’s a difference. I’ve tried. Do you really think I haven’t tried? But when I look at her, I feel … nothing.”
“That’s not true, Jude.”
“Look,” Jude sighed. “I get what you’re doing. We’ve done this dance for years. I tell you I can’t feel, and you toss back that I don’t want to. My brain is the boss. I get it. I do. The old me would have been certain you were right.”
“And the new you?”
“The new me is living. That’s enough. I don’t burst into tears when I see pink anymore; I can start my car without crying; I can look at my son and not be angry at him. Sometimes I can look into his eyes without even thinking about Mia. I can pick my granddaughter up from school and give her a bath and read her a bedtime story, all without crying. You know how much progress this is. So can we just, for now, forget the next step and let me get through this day?”
“We could talk about Mia.”
“No,” Jude said sharply. She’d learned a long time ago that talking about Mia only sharpened the pain.
“You need to talk about her. You need to remember her and grieve.”
“I do nothing but grieve.”
“No. Your grief is an artery that’s been clamped off. If you don’t take that clamp off and let it flow, you’ll never heal.”
“So I won’t heal,” Jude said tiredly, leaning back into the sofa. “Big surprise. How about if we talk about Miles? We made love last week. That’s a good sign, don’t you think?”
Harriet sighed and made a notation on her pad. “Yes, Jude. That’s a good sign.”
* * *
Every day after kindergarten was over, Grace went to the Silly Bear Day Care until Daddy got home from big-boy school.
On good days, like today, they all got to play outside, but Mrs. Skitter made them walk from the day care to the beach holding a scratchy yellow rope. Like they were babies.
As usual, Grace was at the very front of the line, right behind the teacher. She could hear the other kids laughing and talking and horsing around. She didn’t join in; she just followed along behind, staring at the big pillows of her teacher’s butt.
When they reached the beach park, Mrs. Skitter gathered the ten of them in a circle in front of her. “You know the rules. No going in the water. No fighting. Today we’re going to play hopscotch in the sand. Who wants to help me make the squares?”
Hands went up, kids started yelling, “Me, me, me!” and bouncing up and down. It reminded Grace of the baby birds she’d seen at the newborns exhibit her dad had taken her to. Chirp, chirp.
She walked over to her usual spot. Everyone knew she liked it here. She sat on a log in the sand, way out of the waves’ reach. Sometimes, if she was lucky, she saw a crab or a sand dollar. Mostly, she just talked to her best friend.
She stared down at the pink band she wore on her wrist. On its center, where there used to be a Minnie Mouse watch, her daddy had placed a small round mirror, about the size of her palm. It was the best present she’d ever gotten. It had allowed her to leave her bedroom. Before the wrist mirror, she’d spent hours standing in front of her bedroom mirror, talking to her friend, Ariel, who was a princess on another planet.
Grace wasn’t stupid. She knew that some of the other kids made fun of her for having an invisible friend, but she didn’t care. The kids in her class were stupid anyway.
None of them knew how quiet this planet could be, so they hadn’t learned to listen like she had. She was used to quiet. Her grandparents’ house was like a library sometimes.
There was something wrong with Grace. She’d known that her whole life, even if she didn’t know what it was. People didn’t like her, not even her grandma. Grace tried to be likable and nice and quiet, she really did, but none of it ever worked, and things just went wrong for her, no matter how hard she tried. She broke things and tripped over stuff and couldn’t seem to learn her letters.
Hey, Gracerina, Ariel said.
Grace looked down at the circle of glass. She couldn’t really see Ariel. It wasn’t like that. She just knew her friend was there now, and she could hear the voice in her head.
Grown-ups always asked Grace how she knew when Ariel was around or what her best friend looked like. Grace told them Ariel looked exactly like Cinderella.
It was sort of true.
She couldn’t actually see Ariel, but she knew when her best friend was in the mirror and when she was gone. And she did look like Cinderella. Grace would swear it.
She still remembered the first time Ariel had shown up.
Grace had been a baby, still in diapers. She’d been home with Nana, who used to babysit sometimes when Daddy was busy with school. All Grace remembered about those days was the sound of Nana crying. Everything made Nana sad: the music on the radio, the color pink, the dumb old green sweater hanging in the entry, the closed door upstairs. And Grace.
Just looking at Grace made Nana cry.
One day, Grace had done something wrong. She didn’t know what it was. All she knew was that one minute she was standing there with a stuffed pink puppy that she’d found in her grandparents’ room, and the next minute Nana was yanking the puppy out of her hands so hard Grace stumbled sideways and plopped onto her butt.
Nana burst into tears and so did Grace. She waited for her daddy, but no one came to get her, and finally she just sat there alone, sucking her thumb.
Then she’d heard someone say her name.
Gracie, come here … follow me …
She’d wiped her slimy nose and stood up. Holding her yellow blanket, she followed the voice up the stairs to the door that was always shut. No one ever played in this room.
Inside, it was like something out of a fairy tale, all pink and yellow and perfect.
Over by the dresser was a big mirror that was shaped sort of like a football, with a red and gold flag stuck into the hinge. A bunch of glittery gold stuff framed the oval mirror—bracelets and metal flowers and sparkly rainbows.
She remembered peering into the mirror, seeing a flash of yellow and smear of pink.
Grace frowned, looked harder, seeing … something. A girl, maybe, a little older than her. Are you okay? the girl asked.
“I’m bad,” Grace said, feeling tears start again. “Grace bad.”
You’re not bad.
“Who are you?”
I’m Ariel. I’ll be your friend as long as you need me. Here, Gracerina. Lie down on the carpet, go to sleep. I could tell you a story.
Grace had been so tired. She’d curled up on the soft carpet and pulled her blanket around her. Sucking her thumb, she’d fallen asleep to the pretty sound of her new friend’s voice. Since then, Ariel had been her bestest—her only—friend.
Why don’t you go play with the other kids?
Grace looked down at her wrist. “They’re stupid.” She poked a stick into the sand at her feet.
Grace sat up straighter and looked around. Sure enough, Austin Klimes was coming this way. His face was big and fat, like someone had konked him in the head with a pan. “Uh, you wanna come play hopscotch with us?” he said, breathing heavily. His cheeks were flushed, too.
The teacher had made him come over here. Grace could see the other kids huddled together across the beach, watching her and giggling. They thought it was funny that no one liked her.
“Ariel isn’t allowed to hopscotch.”
Austin frowned. “Everyone’s allowed to play hopscotch.”
“Not a princess.”
“Your fake friend isn’t a princess.”