Maria woke up in the big bed at Nana’s. The sheets were fresh smelling, like the outdoors, not scented by detergent. Maria had a fleeting memory of her grandma hanging sheets on the clothesline so that, “the sunshine can get at them.”
Moving her hands slowly over the fabric, Maria smiled. She felt good, and knowing that was a feeling she hadn’t had in ages, she relished the tingle of her muscles recovering their strength. Her memory of her illness was really cloudy, but she absolutely knew that Nana had stayed right beside her. Awesome in every way.
Her parents must have decided to let her skip a bit of school and stay here in the old house until she was well again. Great decision, Maria thought, because even though having been so sick made her a little fuzzy on the details, already she was feeling so much better.
“Country air…” Maria sighed and leaned back against the pillows. It had been ages since she’d been able to visit Nana’s house.
After a few minutes, Maria groped for her watch lying on the stand beside the bed and slid it onto her wrist. 9:46. She’d really slept late. Nana would have been up hours ago fussing around in her garden.
With a surge of energy, Maria threw back the sheets and blankets, and barefoot hurried out to the living room. The old house had only two bedrooms and a big main room with a kitchen tucked into a back wall.
“Nana! I’m awake,” Maria called. The rooms were clearly empty, and so ignoring her nightgown, she tore out the door. And Nana was there, a smudge of mud on her cheek and a basket of vegetables dangling from her arm.
They both laughed as Nana dropped the basket and her garden-strong arms enfolded her granddaughter. “Oh Maria,” the old lady said. “I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed you.”
Maria was surprised by her own sudden tears. But she’d really missed her grandmother. Could school and sports have taken so much time that she hadn’t come to visit? Maria shook her head, confused. Wondering if she should be angry with herself for not being here sooner.
“I should have…” Maria started and then hesitated. “How long can I stay, Nana?”
“As long as you want, sweetheart.” When her grandmother hugged her again, Maria leaned against the old woman. She’d forgotten how Nana always made her feel so loved no matter what. Arm in arm they strolled through the yard towards the house.
Nana gestured to her home. “I know how much you love this old place, so I’ve been keeping it up until you could come. Pancakes for breakfast?”
It was a perfect morning. Maria couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt so relaxed and happy. No competitions. No essays to write. No drama from her friends. Her cell phone never pinged, so she was pretty sure she was out of range.
Grandma made pancakes from scratch as she always did, and Maria went back outside to pick a few ripe strawberries to go on top. It seemed to take a long time to Maria, but when she looked at her watch again, it still said 9:46. Nothing she could really do about it, so she took the berries into the kitchen.
“My watch isn’t working,” she told her grandmother, shaking it a little. “When Mom and Dad come, I’ll get them to bring a new battery.” She looked up sharply at her grandmother. “When are they coming?” Maria had a sudden uneasy feeling that there was something not right about her being here without them after she’d been so sick.
“I’m not sure exactly,” Nana said. She put the stacked pancakes on the table and reached into the cupboard for plates. “But they’ll be along when they can. What do you want to do today?”
Maria filled her plate, added strawberries, and then frowned again at her watch. “Maybe go into town and look for a battery. I always wear it,” she explained, “ever since you gave it to me for my ninth birthday…”
That was right, but something else was wrong.
“You gave it to me…” Maria faltered and looked up at Nana. She remembered now. “In the hospital…it was my birthday and you were too sick to buy me anything. It was yours…Grandpa Howard gave it to you…and then you gave it to me….”
Maria looked back down at the watch that was stuck at 9:46. She looked at her Grandmother’s face, the one that had always shone with love even when she had been naughty or bratty or…
Maria put her hands flat on the table; the watch face glinted in the sunlight that streamed through the window. She noticed that the pane was sparkling clean even though Nana had been too old and sick to keep up the house for as long as she could remember. That she, Maria, had cried and cried when her mom told her they had to sell her grandmother’s house.
For a moment Maria held her wrist up so that the sunlight glinted on the watch face as she turned her arm this way and that. It was beautiful the way it shone on the gold rim and gleamed off the crystal.
“I was really sick,” Maria said slowly. “So sick. I remember everyone crying when they thought I couldn’t hear any more.” She reached out and clasped her grandmother’s hand. The woman’s warmth and strength slid through her. “And I remember that you were there holding my hand.”
She laughed suddenly, a little breathlessly. “And that’s just crazy…because I…I remember the horrible flowers they sent for you.”
Nana looked startled. “The ones in my garden?”
“No, not those ones.” Maria swallowed. She couldn’t say the words…could hardly think them. The flowers at her grandmother’s funeral had been so bright, so scented, that Maria avoided florists and gardens for ages.
She had been nine when her Nana had died. She was seventeen now.
She met Nana’s eyes again. She felt she should be crying for something, but the air was so fresh, and the sunshine so rich. And her beloved Nana had been there when Maria needed her.
She remembered now. Maria glanced down at the watch again.
The machines had stopped their relentless beeping; distantly she had heard her mother scream and her father wail a string of curses. But Nana had held her hand through it all, and now she had brought her home.
“Will it be long before Mom and Dad come?” Maria asked again. She turned and looked eagerly toward the door.
Nana smiled and shrugged. “It’s hard to tell time here, but Maria sweetheart, we’ll make sure everything’s ready. It won’t seem like any time at all.”