Monday September 28th
I stand at the front door and rub my eyes awake. My sister’s there, going on and on about how she has to go to work. My niece is sick and can’t go to school. She has no choice; Addie has to stay with me for the day. She hands me a note, a pink lunch box, kisses Addie on the cheek and darts towards her running car. “See you at four,” she hollers out the window and drives away.
– Make sure Addie takes a teaspoon of her medicine (see in lunch box) every four hours. Don’t worry, she’s not contagious.
– She eats a lot (like every two hours) so I packed her lunch and plenty of snacks. If she wants anything else, make sure it’s ORGANIC. She only eats organic and her stomach will not be able to handle anything with hormones or pesticides in it. ORGANIC FOOD ONLY.
– NO CANDY
– NO TV
I crumble the note in my hand and toss it into the garbage.
Addie’s standing by the couch holding an American Doll in her arms who looks an awful lot like her: long brown hair, big brown eyes. Both are wearing purple cotton pajamas with a white unicorn printed on the front of their shirts. A matching bag hangs around Addie’s shoulder.
“Where’s Uncle Jared?” She asks.
She looks around. “I’m seven now.” She coughs.
“So your old enough to read?” I ask.
“I love books. I have a bag full of books right here.” She coughs excessively.
I get her a glass of water from the faucet. She sits on the edge of the couch, her little feet dangle over; she sips the water.
“You have a lot of books. Can I read one of yours?”
“Maybe later.” I grab a pillow and blanket from the closet and make her a bed on the couch. I sit beside her and reach for the remote.
“What are you drinking?” She asks.
“Can I have some?”
“Maybe later,” I say, and turn the TV on to the Today Show.
The watch on Addie’s wrist starts buzzing.
She sits up. “It’s time to take my medicine.”
Opening the fridge, I twist off the cap to the bottle. I dip my pinky inside for a taste. Bubblegum. I spoon-feed her a teaspoon.
“Mom says you have a fur coat. Can I see it?” She reaches for a tissue and blows her nose.
“That’s what your mother told you about me? That I have a fur coat?”
“She said when your Mimi passed onto heaven, she took the diamond, the jewelry, and all the china. You only wanted the fur. Why?”
“Go wash your hands.”
Addie coughs a bit, then races to the sink and washes her hands with soap and water. I walk down the hall to the closet and reach for the mink. I sit back beside Addie, the fur draped over both our laps. I hold the special fur brush in my hand.
“It’s so soft.” She rubs her hands along the fur as if petting a cat. She turns the mink over and reads the inside inscription: “Eleanor. Hey, that’s your name.”
Softly, I run my fingers over the gold stitching.
“But we call you Ela for short, right?”
I flash Addie a smile.
The Little Mermaid plays in the background as we take turns brushing the fur.
We walk down the street over to Wendy’s on sixth avenue for lunch. Addie gets a happy meal with chicken nuggets and french fries. I order a frosty. After, we stroll down to the pond at the end of the road from my house with strawberry blow pops hanging out of our mouths. Addie crunches on the candy and chews down to the gum before we reach the path. On the trail, enclosed by trees, black squirrels rustling through orange and yellow colored leaves, Addie runs ahead, screaming something about a frog. I walk faster to catch up to her.
“Careful not to hold it for too long,” I say, standing above her. “You don’t want warts all over your hands.”
“Warts?” She looks up at me.
And just as I am about to answer her, the gum from my blow pop falls from my mouth into her hair.
I race back to the house, carrying Addie in my arms. I sit her on the kitchen table beside a jar of peanut butter. I scoop a clump of peanut butter out with my fingers and place it in her hair, overtop the gum, a few inches from her scalp. Addie is much calmer than I am, wagging her legs over the table, humming the tune Under the Sea. Meanwhile, my hands are shaking wildly while I try my best to work the gum out of her hair. The peanut butter is not working. Nor is olive oil. Or the ice.
I sit Addie in front of the mirror in the bathroom and hold up a large piece of her hair.
“I have to cut it.”
“No,” she beings to cry and cough.
“Just this one part,” I say. “I have to. Or else the gum will spread and we’ll have to cut it all.
She is crying and coughing, unable to speak.
“Look.” I grab the scissors, along with a chunk of my hair and chop it off.
Addie’s face falls flat. She coughs twice, then stares at me for a moment. “Fine,” she says.
I take the scissors to her head. Addie closes her eyes and cringes while I cut off a bulk of her hair.
Our mouths hang open as we gawk in the mirror at the spiky, lopsided pieces of hair sticking out from the sides of our heads.
I read Addie every book she carries in her backpack all the way through twice. They’re all stories about Samantha, her favorite American Doll.
“Now I can read one of your books, right? Remember you said so?”
She was already rummaging through the shelves before I had the chance to respond.
“What does Classical Literature mean?” She asks.
“It’s a book about the Ancient Greeks and Romans. Stories about the gods.”
“No, no. This is a different.”
“There’s more than one Bible?”
“Yes, but that’s not a Bible.”
“There’s more than one God?”
“Um, yes in the stories there are.”
“Oh, I’ll have to think all that over. Maybe we can read this next time.” She places the book back on the shelf. “What about this one? It kind of looks like the pond we were just at.” She holds up Walden, by Thoreau for me to see.
“That’s a great story,” I say.
“Good I’ll read it to you,” she says. “First,” she starts to say then pauses. “Can I have a piece of chocolate?” She hesitantly asks.
“Sure.” I poke around the cabinets. “What kind do you like? Coconut, caramel, peanut butter?”
“Dark,” she says, her eyes glinting.
A girl after my own heart, I think as I pop a piece into my mouth.
We sit side by side on the couch. The fur rests on the other end.
“You start reading while I finish my chocolate,” she says, savoring each bite. There are brown smudges all over her teeth. I take my tongue and lick the chocolate off mine.
While Addie collects her books and places them back into her bag, I empty the untouched food from her lunch box and lay it all on a shelf in my fridge. After, I find a sunflower barrette in one of the bathroom sink drawers and sit Addie on the toilet.
“They’re ants in your bathtub,”she points.
“Leave them,” I snap, then twist the tiny spiky hairs against her head and pin the barrette overtop.
“They’re,” I say. “No one will ever know we had to cut a piece off.”
“What about yours?”
I find another barrette and pin it over my patchy piece as well.
“This is our own special secret, isn’t it, Aunt Ela?” Addie smiles.
“Yes, now shh!” I say and pat her on the head.
My sister is at the door, ready to take Addie home. I drop down to my knees and wrap Addie up in a hug. She squeezes me tight and coughs into my ear. Even though I had made her gargle with mint mouthwash five minutes ago, I can still smell the chocolate on her breath. After she leaves, I go to the fridge and help myself to Addie’s Stonyfield yogurt and the zip block bag of strawberries her mother had packed. Then I lay on the chaise lounge with the fur cloaked over me like a blanket. I turn on Apple TV and pick up where I left off in season three of The Mindy Project. As I use the special brush to comb the hair on my mink, I can’t help but wonder what the hell Mindy sees in Dr. Castellano.