Out of the Hatbox
Kathryn M. Huber
Kathryn M. Huber
K.M. Huber started out in Seattle but ended up in Lima, Peru. In between, she studied Theater at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, OR, got a Masters in Social Work from Columbia, and spent a decade in NYC before moving to Peru the first time. After living, working, and writing in Costa Rica, Bolivia, and Atlanta with three kids and more dogs, she returned to Lima with her Peruvian husband to continue the adventure. She has just finished a novel set in 6th century Peru—the period when the Nasca culture succumbs to environmental and climate crisis. Her stories and essays have appeared in a variety of literary magazines, and include a Pushcart nomination. A taste of her work is available at kmhuber.com.
Rolling Hills Estates retirement community, July 1971
When Maggie noticed the coatrack inviting her to dance, she finally decided she’d been alone in the house too long. She had not slept well since Harold died. Nine months in a home empty of his presence had begun to play tricks with her senses. The cement of habits and routines, built over fifty years together, had started to crumble. Like stubborn blades of grass that reclaim abandoned highways, another self tugged from the shadows in the corners, from behind each frame. The glimpses when she passed the hallway mirror began to resemble all too much the sepia photographs on the walls.
Her steps slowed a little more each night, her legs reluctant to carry her toward the lonely bedroom. She tried not to look at the faces in the frames as she passed, and tried to ignore the odd sensations that fluttered through the half-lit hall. She held her walker a little more firmly, as if it threatened to float away, or worse, to stop altogether. Sometimes, she left the television and radio on to drown out the silence. Without Harold to animate her surroundings, objects took on lives of their own. The faces on the wall insisted on greeting her, almost speaking out loud. When Maggie found herself responding to the photographs—out of habitual politeness—it didn’t bother her that she was talking to the walls. But when the coatrack reached out and invited her to dance, she decided that things had gone too far.
It was time to move to the main building. Fran would be there to keep her company. The activities would keep her occupied. Harold had even suggested the move before his last heart attack, but she knew that he was merely thinking ahead, as always. Knowing how much he would have chafed at apartment living, she had exaggerated her own reasons for staying, insisting that she needed her garden, her kitchen, and her “things.” She told him they still had plenty of time to enjoy their little rambler before moving to the main complex. Harold had gloried in doing his own repairs, in keeping the garden nice, in being independent. He had always taken pride in his work and in his home, but above all, he had taken pride in keeping his wife well: well dressed, well cared for. (“Put her in a pumpkin shell, and there he kept her very well,” Maggie thought, sadly.) Harold had always paid careful attention to detail, and Maggie had been content to inhabit his well ordered world. She had never quite realized what a carefully orchestrated world it had been until its conductor had relinquished his post and left her to finish the final movement of their life’s symphony alone. Only then had Maggie begun to notice distortions in the music. Something would nag at her, she’d push it away, and it would return with the persistence of the marching broomsticks in Fantasia. The rhythms of “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” echoed in every corner. To drive them away, she turned up the radio and sang along to whatever was playing.
Maggie began to talk to the mirror. Sometimes she saw her childhood self reflected back and would ask the “Mags” in the mirror to help her find Mother’s lost necklace. Sometimes she squeezed her eyes and saw the blurred image of her brief college self—the young Margaret at Goucher, full of confidence and a whole world before her, happily oblivious to the precipice at her feet. Maggie tried to remember who she had been so long ago, and wondered who she was now. Margaret. Mags. Margaret Ann. Maggie. Mrs. Harold Smith. Mr. Smith’s widow.
She thought back to the people whose loss had left her reeling long ago. Her brother. Her sister. Her mother. Her youngest son. Their faces hovered in darkened doorways, behind shadows in the mirror, in the tumble of birds outside her window. Maggie had to turn away from visions of planes spiraling toward the ground, her mother’s sickbed, her father’s scowl. She tried to replace them with thoughts of her grandchildren. Lisa’s visits always cheered her up, but Lisa was about to leave for a new city. Yes, Maggie told herself, it was definitely time to move to the main building. She would be closer to living people and farther away from her memories.
# # #
Lisa closed the photo album. “Grandmother,” she announced, “I need to learn how to drink.” Maggie’s head snapped up. “Without getting drunk, I mean,” Lisa added matter-of-factly. “I’m going away to college, and I need to be prepared.” Her nightgown, an oversize T-shirt, was tucked under her knees as she sat cross-legged on the couch in Maggie’s living room. Maggie waited. Whenever Lisa stayed over, their most intimate discussions usually came like this, right before bed, when they were both in their pajamas.
“Natalie’s sister, Janna, went to a party her first semester away from home, and got so drunk she lost her virginity and couldn’t even remember who took it!” Maggie suppressed a gasp as Lisa continued. “I’ve always been able to avoid those situations. But I think it’s time I face reality.”
Maggie wanted to tell Lisa that not all realities needed to be faced, at least not right away. She herself had managed to avoid quite a few—some for most of her seventy years. But she did not interrupt. She fingered the edges of the photograph on the page before her. A family portrait, before the war. Before the influenza. Before her marriage. When “reality” had still come in small, manageable doses. Her face, sixty years younger, peered out of the picture, full of light and happiness. Her mother was seated, pale, but poised, even regal. Her father stood to one side, with his hand on her shoulder, tall, dignified, stern. The dark eyebrows accentuated his light eyes. Maggie’s older sister, Elizabeth, stood behind their mother, slightly to one side. She had the same clear eyes as their father, but hers sparkled with enthusiasm, while his were fixed and hard. Maggie stood behind her mother, to the other side. Only a little shorter than Elizabeth, she had lighter hair and darker eyes. Her face was rounder than her sister’s, but her figure more petite. Alex stood next to her, both hands resting on a stylish walking stick. A slight smile played about his lips, and his dark eyes held a mischievous glint. He was almost as tall as his father, but not as broad in the shoulders. His hair, oiled into position, did not look as wiry as it really was. It had been very much like Lisa’s hair—dark, curly, and thick. It was strange how much Lisa looked like Alex. Maggie stared at the picture, wondering how her life might have been different had any one of them lived longer.
“She’s just lucky that she didn’t get pregnant,” Lisa was saying, “but she did get—” She hesitated, then finished briskly, “Well, she got something that she could have avoided if she’d had her wits about her.” She folded packing paper around another album and placed it carefully in the box.
Maggie was glad that Lisa was taking such care. The albums were fragile and the jostling of the move could jar the snapshots out of place. Her finger traced an image of Alex that smiled back playfully. On the next page he stood next to a biplane somewhere in France, his posture serious and his eyes fixed. She closed the book quickly, remembering the way Lisa had once turned to her with a perplexed expression. “Why did your brother go to war? Didn’t you say he was a pacifist?” Lisa had been the only grandchild to ask that particular question, but she had always been one to pick up discrepancies. Maggie had shrugged and changed the subject. She still had no idea why. She folded paper around the album and handed it to Lisa.
Lisa set it in the box, taped it shut, and carried it to the stack by the wall. “I don’t intend to discover my limits after it’s too late,” she declared. She faced her grandmother and folded her arms. “I remember how you and Grandfather always had your martinis, but I never once saw you drunk. I want you to teach me the trick.”
Maggie was startled. Of course she had never seen them drunk! But there was no “trick” to it. It was Harold’s nature to be moderate, and she herself had never been all that fond of gin. She would have one just to keep him company. One before dinner. And sometimes, but only occasionally, another as a nightcap. On very special occasions he might actually persuade her to have a third. And on a few very, very special occasions that she still blushed to recall, there had even been a fourth.
“Lisa, dear, you’re barely eighteen. It’s not even legal until you’re twenty-one.” She looked away. “And I haven’t opened that cupboard since your grandfather passed away.”
“All the more reason then, Grams!” Lisa pronounced. “It’s time you realize that you are still alive.” She skipped to the kitchen and opened the top cupboard.
“You are not of age!” Maggie chided.
Lisa looked over her shoulder as she pulled down a bottle of gin. “They just lowered the voting age to eighteen. It won’t be long ’til they lower the drinking age as well! I mean, come on . . . if we can send off our boys to get killed at seventeen, then we sure as hell should let them have a drink first!”
“Anyhow, this is your home. You can do what you want!” She found two martini glasses. “The law doesn’t stop people anyway. It just makes them more careful.” She put her hands on her hips and looked Maggie in the eye. “Grams, you really don’t want to leave me at the mercy of all those experienced upperclassmen, do you?”
Maggie lifted herself off the couch grumbling, “Your parents never should have let you apply to schools out of state.” When she reached Lisa, she took the bottle out of her hands and placed it back on the shelf. Her hand lingered for a moment as another bottle behind it caught her attention. She reached back, her finger absently tracing the label. Tanqueray. The last time she had opened that bottle had been the first and only time she ever drank alone. Harold had finally fallen asleep, after a long day of tests and consultations. The possibility of life alone had finally, truly hit. It had frightened her. What she saw after a stiff drink was no better.
Maggie pulled out the bottle and held it out toward Lisa. “This is much better than the stuff Harold got on sale.” She put it down to steady herself against the counter. “Pass me the vermouth.”
Twenty minutes later, Lisa was intoning, “Straight up, no-o-o ice,” as she swirled her glass. “Give it to me, on the rocks!” She held up the glass. “To the perfect martini. So dry, you just whisper ‘vermouth’ across the top . . .” She looked at Maggie appraisingly. “Well, Grams, I must admit, I never dreamed you would take this so seriously!”
Maggie sat across the table, her finger tracing the stem of her martini glass while she peered into the small pitcher. “If you want to learn your limits, dear,” she said slowly, quietly, as if pondering the solution to a complex problem, “you might as well be prepared. A drink or two won’t tell you anything you don’t already know, but a pitcher, now—” She took a long sip, then sat back, following the olive at the end of Lisa’s toothpick as it marked the air, ticking off items on Lisa’s list of drinks.
“Gin and tonic—next time we’ll try a gin and tonic.” Her olive dipped down and up, drawing a check. “Then Scotch on the rocks.” Another check. “What was the one with the little onion—giblet?” She giggled. “I mean gimlet!”
“Gibson, dear,” Maggie corrected. “A gimlet is sweetened.”
“Right,” Lisa replied. “Gimlet goes down easy.” She puckered her mouth and took another sip. “I can’t imagine chasing this with an onion!”
“The Gibson was apparently named after a diplomat who wanted to limit his intake while keeping up the appearance of partaking,” Maggie volunteered. “Wanted to keep his wits sharp during the endless cocktails and receptions, so he had the servers bring him water in a martini glass—with an onion to keep anyone from taking his by mistake.”
Lisa ate the olive on her toothpick and speared another from the bowl on the table. “Well, that’s no fun.” She took up her litany again, with a new olive to check things off. “Skip the Gibsons [mark it with an x]. We’ll try the . . . vodka sour [check], Rob Roy [check], manhattan [check]!” She broke into song: “I’ll take Manhattan, the Bronx—and Staten Island too—” She stopped abruptly. “Do you remember that metaphor about the onion?”
“The one your mother liked?” Maggie replied vaguely. “How life is like an onion . . .”
“ . . . it peels away in layers,” Lisa finished, nostalgically, dropping the olive into her drink and leaning back. “And sometimes makes you cry. I don’t know why Mother got such a kick out of that. It was just something I overheard and liked to repeat. Like I would any good pun.”
“Or bad,” Maggie added under her breath.
“To the life of an onion, to the onion of life!” Lisa declared, pouring herself another glass. “Oh, how I DO adore—a good extended metaphor!”
“Oh, dear,” Maggie groaned, “a poet!”
Lisa shrugged apologetically. “Sad to say, but yes, I know it! Unfortunate creature that I am.” She leaned forward confidentially. “As you may recall, Don Quixote’s housekeeper said that writing poetry is a disease for which there is no cure.”
“Cervantes’ Don Quixote?”
“Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Man of La Mancha.” She started humming the theme song from the musical.
“Can’t say as I recall the housekeeper,” Maggie murmured, closing her eyes. The gin played about her like the cartoon birds that circled over cats and coyotes after a good bang on the head. She smiled sleepily. “But she’s probably right. So, Lisa, my sweet sick poet, what is the gin teaching you now?”
Lisa took a deep breath, then leaned her head back and let the air out slowly. “I think . . .” She spread her arms into a wide stretch and rolled her head in a slow circle. “I think we need some music! I brought my Jefferson Airplane.” She jumped up and crossed to the hi-fi, took the record out of its jacket and set it on the turntable. The needle settled into the groove and slid toward the first chords. She looked over her shoulder toward Maggie. “I also think,” she crooned, “that I could get to like this!” As music began to blare from the speakers, her shoulders swayed and rolled. “‘One pill makes you larger, a-and one pill makes you sma-all.’” She undulated slowly across the room. “‘And the ones tha-a-a-t mother gives you don’t do-o-o-o anythin-n-n-g at a-all.’” Maggie watched her, remembering when a much younger Lisa would prance through the living room in her tutu. These new contortions were not what Maggie would have called “dance,” but young people did all sorts of odd things these days. “Sing it, Grace!” Lisa called through the pulsing music. “‘Go ask Alice’—poom, poom—‘when she’s ten feet ta-a-a-a-ll!’” Maggie congratulated herself that at least she understood the reference to Wonderland. Oddities were the essence of the book’s magic. Mad Hatters. March Hares. Unbirthdays. Talking caterpillars. Anything could happen. And did.
Even now, she reflected, in real life. What seemed absurd or impossible one day could become normal another. Airplanes. People in space. Perhaps anything WAS possible. Anything, Maggie thought, except getting used to modern music.
“I think I’m all done in,” she announced. Lisa’s eyes were closed, her body swaying to the music. “I said, I’m going to bed now!” Maggie added loudly. The song ended halfway through her shout.
“Bed already? But we’ve still got things to pack!” Lisa followed Maggie, punctuating the next song with her shoulders as she danced her way down the hall. She squeezed ahead to open the door, turned on the bedside lamp, then folded down the covers. “We’ll do this room in the morning, before the movers get here,” she said as Maggie plopped herself onto the bed. Lisa helped her settle into a comfortable position and put Maggie’s slippers on the floor, pushing them a little way back so they would just barely stick out from under the bed. They bumped against something and Lisa groaned, “You’ve got stuff under your bed to pack too?”
“Oh, leave those alone,” Maggie muttered, pulling the blankets around her chin and burrowing toward the wall with a yawn. “Just old hatboxes. Stuff to give away or throw away.” As soon as the last word was out of her mouth, Maggie was snoring. Lisa pulled eight boxes out from under the bed, of all shapes and sizes. A few had Paris and London labels, and one read “An Exclusive Lisa” in flourishing script, with small red block letters beneath that said “New York–Paris.” Over the hyphen someone had sketched a small dragonfly. She moved them all to the living room to pile with the other packed boxes. Two were definitely too heavy to have hats inside.
Tickled that she shared her name with a hat company, Lisa brushed off the dust and opened the box to inspect the contents. As she lifted the lid, a tuft of feathers floated up from a stylish tilt hat, forest green, trimmed with a dark netting. She went to the hallway to try it on in front of the mirror and grinned back at her reflection. If she straightened her hair for Halloween, she might be able to pull off a Jackie Kennedy! She set it at a jaunty angle and went back to see what was packed in the heaviest box. She hefted the box onto the coffee table and went to put things away in the kitchen. She poured herself a glass of Fresca and emptied the last of the martini pitcher into it before washing the dishes.
When she opened the box, she was not surprised to find it full of letters, but when she took out the one on top, she realized it was not the personal correspondence that she had half expected. Underneath was a neat stack of letters, each clipped to an article, all with envelopes stamped and ready. The top letter was addressed to the Seattle Times, dated January 2, 1970, a week before her grandfather’s heart attack. “Dear Editor,” it began. “In reference to your Jan. 1 article regarding the signing of the Environmental Protection Act, let me say that it’s about time! I would like to congratulate Senator Jackson for his success in bringing this bill to pass. I am proud that such impetus came from our state, and President Nixon should be proud to have his name signed to this momentous achievement. While I am sure that our city’s namesake, Chief Seatlh, has been writhing in his grave at what we have been doing to the earth since his death, I am certain that he would commend this as a good beginning—a small start, perhaps, but an important one. Most sincerely yours, Margaret Ann Dawson Smith.”
Lisa read through several letters, sipping at her drink and marveling at the fact that she had never suspected that her grandmother had political opinions, let alone articulated them. She rifled down to the bottom to check the date. December 1959. Attached was an article with headlines about a steel strike, but the print was blurry. The more Lisa tried to focus, the more blurry it became. She decided that it was getting too late to keep reading. She put the lid back on the box. “Tomorrow,” she said to the box in front of her, “we must have a little talk with Grandmother.” She stood up, a little too fast, and her head began to throb. She thought she tasted Fresca on its way back up.
# # #
Lisa woke to the sound of Maggie’s walker clicking down the hall and the feel of cool porcelain against her cheek. She opened her eyes, begrudging the bright light streaming through the window, only to realize that she was on the bathroom floor. The clicking stopped, which meant that Maggie was probably crossing the living room carpet already. Lisa pulled herself up, mortified that her grandmother would find out she’d spent the night there. She leaned over the sink to splash water on her face and saw that she was still wearing the green hat. She barely remembered going into the bathroom, but there were no signs of vomit, so either she had cleaned it up before she passed out, or it had not actually come to that. She stood up straight, shook herself awake, flushed the toilet, and stepped out of the bathroom. Morning sun streamed through the living room window and the clock read 6:45. Lisa forced a cheerful “Good morning! Like the hat?” as she glanced quickly around to see what signs were left from the night before. The hi-fi was silent and she was glad to see that she had cleared the counters. The dish drainer still held two upside-down martini glasses and a pitcher. The box of letters was in the center of the coffee table, next to a half-empty glass of Fresca.
“My, you’re up early! You can have the hat; it looks wonderful on you,” Maggie chirped, making her way toward the stove. “I’ll put on a pot of coffee. Want some toast?” she asked. “Or shall I scramble some eggs?”
“Just toast, please.” Glad that Maggie was occupied with the coffeepot, Lisa poured herself a glass of water, gulped it down, and drank a second before replacing the hat in its box. She disliked the blur in her mind as much as the nausea in her belly, and was still horrified to think that she had fallen asleep with her head on the toilet.
Maggie frowned at the box on the coffee table. “I should have thrown those out a long time ago. Please add that one to the trash pile.”
“What? You can’t throw them away!”
“It’s just clutter.”
“But I want to finish reading those letters!” Lisa winced and closed her eyes against the sudden throbbing in her temples. She held the cold glass against her eyes. “I wish I’d had time to read through all of them last night,” she mumbled.
Maggie put a plate of toast on the table and sat across from Lisa. “I’d rather have the hats that were in them,” she said, “instead of scribble.”
Lisa was puzzled by this unsuspected new aspect of the kindly old woman she had grown up with. “So, did you get many published?”
Maggie laughed. “Oh, my, no! Published? Why, dear, I never actually mailed any of those letters.”
“What? Not one?”
“Of course not, honey. Your grandfather would not have approved.”
“Then why did you write so many?”
Maggie shrugged. “I just wrote things that needed to be said . . . ” Her voice trailed off.
“Things that needed to be said, but . . .” Lisa prompted. “You didn’t write those things in a journal, for yourself, you wrote them in letters addressed to editors, for goodness’ sake! And you never planned to send them? I don’t understand.”
“Lisa, dear, you don’t need to understand everything.”
“Maybe I don’t need to, but I want to.”
# # #
The words bounced along a side road in Maggie’s mind. Alex had said the same thing to her once. “Maggie, dear, you don’t need to understand everything.” And she had replied, just like Lisa, “But I want to!” And even to this day, she still wished she could understand what had happened to him. Why he had left without telling her. She stared at Lisa, seeing nothing. Her hand moved unconsciously toward her face as if to brush something away. A faraway memory shivered across her shoulders, and her hand dropped toward her throat. “Breathe,” she coaxed herself, closing her eyes, “breathe.”
She was ten years old again, lying on the ground, clothes wet and head spinning, her chest locked and her heart pounding. Alex sat beside her, supporting her, his voice gentle but insistent. “Breathe, Maggie.” He pulled her to sitting, laying his hand on her sternum. “Come on, breathe into my hand. One, two . . .” Her panic began to subside with his reassuring drone. “You’ll be okay. One breath at a time. Easy, now . . . I’m sorry, kid. I didn’t mean to knock the wind out of you when I pushed you into the lake. I was just trying to keep you from getting stung by that swarm.” The iron grip on her chest finally let go. With an abrupt gasp, the air rushed in. The world came slowly back into focus. “The bees are gone now,” Alex was saying, “and we didn’t get stung!”
Lisa’s voice broke Maggie’s reverie. “Grandmother? Grams? Do you want the rest of this coffee, or would you rather I make you a fresh cup?” Maggie was standing at the window, not sure how she had come to be there. Lisa was holding her cup.
Maggie turned back to look out the window, shading her eyes with a sigh. “Oh. No, thank you, dear. Just water, if you don’t mind.”
“Are you okay?” Lisa took her a glass but Maggie waved it aside, so Lisa set it on the windowsill. “Beautiful day, isn’t it?” Maggie nodded without reply. “I’ll close up the boxes,” Lisa said, “and leave you to your thoughts, then.”
Maggie fiddled absently with the cord to the blinds. When she finally spoke, her voice was restrained. “Memories can be terribly stubborn, you know.” She continued staring out the window. “Have you ever seen a swarm of blackbirds? I mean a whole, huge . . . gaggle of them?”
“Gaggles of geese, sure, and big groups of crows sometimes. But crows don’t come in gaggles.”
“Not crows—blackbirds. A huge flock—or swarm, or whatever it’s called—hundreds of birds, all black. Not nearly as big as crows. Not the kind of bird we see around here . . . Gaggle’s not the word. Swarm would be more like it.”
“A swarm of birds?”
“Yes.” Maggie turned away from the window, squinting as if trying to see something in the distance. She steadied herself on the chair and came around it to sit down. “I was visiting a friend down south once, in the middle of winter. February, I think. She’d been sick. The trees were bare and the grass all yellowed and tinged with frost. I was walking down her driveway to get the newspaper, when a cloud of black appeared at the end of the block, in one great swooping motion. A huge group of birds, smaller than crows but bigger than any blackbirds I’ve ever seen. Well, they just covered the lawn and the trees. Completely covered them. But only for a few minutes. Then they bounced to the next yard. They swept through the neighborhood like a giant broom—a rhythmic, giant, efficient broom.” She glanced sideways at Lisa. “Mind you, this was before Hitchcock’s The Birds came out, but that movie is the closest thing I can think of to describe what it looked like. Except that it wasn’t frightening. A little eerie, but not frightening. After a few minutes, as if of one mind, they would all lift off in kind of a rippling wave and swarm to the next yard. They were five or six houses down when I first saw them. By the time my feet finally cooperated to take me back into the house, they were already next door. I kept watching from the window, and the image stuck in my memory. I don’t know what you would call it—a bevy? A slew? A drove?” She puzzled. “Do you know what they call a gathering of crows? A murder. A murder of crows. Isn’t that strange? A murder of crows.”
“I did hear that once,” Lisa replied. “I looked it up, but couldn’t find that meaning listed anywhere.”
“You probably need a bigger dictionary.” Maggie sat up a little straighter. “But these weren’t crows. I found the whole thing quite odd. They were so deliberate and yet so, I don’t know, tremulous . . .”
“What makes you think of them now?”
“I don’t know.” Maggie picked at the little fuzz balls on the cuff of her blouse. “I guess sometimes I feel like my memories do the same thing. They crowd around me in a flurry, and I can’t help but wonder where they came from and where they’re going. Sometimes they’re stunning and beautiful, and sometimes they’re just plain disturbing—and they can come so suddenly and just as suddenly be gone.”
Lisa sat next to Maggie and reached for her hands. “You’ve been through a lot lately.”
Maggie pulled back. She did not like the way that the shadows in Lisa’s face tried to rearrange themselves into Alex’s features. She did not like the way memory launched her into long-ago places. She did not like the way she had to turn on the lights to banish the images that scurried through her mind like cockroaches scrambling to disappear. She resented the past for its untimely intrusions. Yet, at the same time, Maggie was drawn to the rhapsodies of memory, a veritable moth unto the flame. As much as she wanted to turn away, she just kept watching, and her reluctance, almost inability to stop, scared her.
“Grams?” Lisa’s voice again drew her back. She was stroking Maggie’s hand softly.
Maggie smiled absently. “It can make your head spin.” She placed her other hand over Lisa’s, patting it to reassure her granddaughter. Her skin brushed thin and loose against the firm younger hand. “Did you ever notice . . .” she said, her voice distant. “Did you ever notice that your grandfather never liked to dance?”
“I don’t think I paid much attention, to tell you the truth,” Lisa said. “But maybe, now, it’s time for you to go dancing. Isn’t that what your friends do every Friday? You should join them.”
“It’s a little late for that. And besides, you can’t dance with a walker.”
“Don’t be silly, Grams. It’s never too late. Dance if you want to dance! Some people even dance in their chairs and call it Chair Dancing. Or you could look for a nice strong partner, one who could make sure you didn’t fall.”
“Exactly. I don’t have a partner.”
“Well, your friend Fran seems to have plenty of dance partners. I’m sure she’d share.”
“Oh, come, child! Most of them are so dull.”
“For heaven’s sake,” Lisa moaned, “we’re talking about someone to dance with, not someone to marry!” She jumped up and went to the hi-fi. “And if you dance at home, you don’t even need a partner!” She opened the cabinet and picked through some albums, pulled a Frank Sinatra out of its cover, and lowered the record onto the turntable. “Come on, sourpuss, let’s dance!” She floated back to Maggie with the strains of “Fly Me to the Moon.” She coaxed Maggie’s hands up into the air. “Chair-dance! Let it flow . . .” Once Maggie’s hands were waving gently overhead, Lisa glided around the room, singing along, “. . . let me play among the stars. Let me see what spring is like on Jupiter and Mars.” As she danced past the coffee table, she collected the hatbox and circled back to Maggie. “And you know what else?” Lisa slid into the chair across from her grandmother and put the box in front of her. “Next time you write a letter to the editor, why don’t you try mailing it instead of filing it in your hatbox?”
Maggie folded her hands back into her lap. “It’s not that simple, dear.”
“Oh, come on! It’s as easy as making a good martini when you’ve got the right ingredients. So what do you say, Grams? I have a whole new chapter ahead of me, and so do you. Once we get you moved, we’ll have a toast to our new adventures.”
“Oh, Lisa, please . . . I’ve had more than enough martinis for a long time, and I’m far too old for new adventures.”
“Oh, no, you are not! And you had better stop that sort of talk, Mrs. Margaret Ann Dawson Smith. It’s time you leave your hatboxes for the hats they were made for and live while you still can. Make the next twenty years the best ones yet.”
Maggie frowned. “Oh, bother.” She turned away.
Lisa laughed. “You sound like Pooh Bear.”
Maggie sighed. “Oh, how I used to love reading Winnie the Pooh with you! And here you are now, all grown up.”
“And here you are, acting like Eeyore. Like you’re allergic to fun.”
“I am NOT like Eeyore.”
“I’d love to see you prove it.”
“Let’s just finish packing.”
“Fine. But once you’ve moved, I plan to read all these letters. I can’t believe you wanted to throw them out. I want to meet the woman who’s been hiding inside my grandmother all these years.”
Maggie’s hand trembled slightly as she reached toward the box. “This one . . . my uncle brought from Paris in 1913. My mother loved the hat so much she asked to be buried in it.”
“Well, I hope you’re not planning to be buried with your letters.”
“Don’t be silly.”
“No one is stopping you now.”
Maggie sighed. Maybe Lisa was right. Maybe it wasn’t too late.