Like a Ball of Yarn in the Snow

Like a Ball of Yarn in the Snow

Like a Ball of Yarn in the Snow

by Luis Aguilar Monsalve

This morning my grandmother took me shopping in Manhattan. When she asked me to go with her, I had no qualms about pleasing her, because I was in an angelic mood. Besides, I knew she would buy me a chocolate sundae in Rockefeller Center, if I didn’t get on her nerves and said yes to everything what she wanted to hear.

I am not going to bore you by telling you how my grandmother looked and looked at sweaters, silk scarves, Italian shoes, linens from Belgium, fur coats and more tatters at Macy’s. Bored, I reached into my pants pocket and pulled out the story of Roald Dahl, “The Umbrella Man” that she gave me; then I started to imagine and play with it to hide my annoyance.

It is winter and it has snowed today like never before. My sundae was great as usual. The shops’ windows were dressed in Christmas decorations and seasonal music is playing everywhere. I could not resist its charm and I have been humming White Christmas all day.

I think, before continuing with my story, I must tell you that my grandmother is a seventy-two year old woman and I am thirteen. She is very tall and thin and she looks like a typical Nordic person. I’m tall, slim, blond and freckled. She has more grandchildren, but I feel I am her favorite because I like to spend time with her and I love it when she tells me stories by Eyvind Johnson, Vilgot Sjöman, Camilla Collett, Lars Gyllensten and others.

When we left Macy’s it was still snowing.

“We’ll have to take a taxi, taking the bus now is going to be ridiculous,” said my grandmother annoyed.

The snow was coming down in blankets, and it was very cold. I suggested going back to the store: I wanted her to buy me some clothes and a remote control car; now I was acting better than an archangel.

She didn’t pay any attention to me, perhaps she felt she would end up broke if she bought me things. We stood on the sidewalk in front of the store in the shelter, for which also served as a taxi stop. While we waited, a middle-aged woman approached us and touched my grandmother’s left arm with her cane. My grandmother was somewhat surprised because we had not seen the woman approaching, and looked at her suspiciously-if looks could kill.

The woman seemed incredibly kind, and in my opinion she had one of the nicest smiles, her already wrinkled face showing dignity and well-kept teeth. As she smiled, her blue eyes scrunched up and twinkled between her wrinkles; they looked like the rays of sunshine I used to draw on my school notebook.

“Excuse the intrusion, but I need your help…”

My grandmother regarded her even more suspiciously, very distant and cold.

“What do you want? She asked.

“Your help”, the lady replied. She kept smiling and continued.

“Well, I have to go home to my grandchildren. My daughter works and I am in charge of them. Today it has been a very difficult day for me, very difficult. There are so many things to take care of in a strange house. You do and undo things; you never know if they will like what you do, even if she is your daughter, don’t you think so ma’am?

My grandmother was not at all interested in what the lady was saying, and she did not answered her either: she only shrugged her shoulders in a gesture denoting how uncomfortable she felt. The more the poor woman spoke, the more indifferent my grandmother became… her nose rising further into the air. I also realized that the lady was not afraid of my grandmother’s authoritarian position; on the contrary, she reacted by requesting help more vigorously.

“Well it doesn’t matter, she continued, I have to go home, rather, I have to go to my daughter’s house and I forgot my money; I left it in my other purse, and I have to take a taxi now because I’m already late, and it is useless to take the bus. Imagine! I was going to buy several things in the store, Christmas gifts you know, and I couldn’t pay for them, what a shame! But when I realized I had no money for the bus, I almost died! I didn’t need it to come here because my son-in-law dropped me off.

“You want me to give you money”? my grandmother yelled back at her in the little cornet voice she used when she was ready to explode. With inquisitive and accusing eyes, my grandmother looked at this woman, who I already liked.

“No ma’am, no way. God forgive me from stooping so low! What I’m proposing, if I may (I noticed that my grandmother, whose expression had changed, no longer looked at the lady, but squirmed a little and closed her eyes a bit. While her nose remained its original position of reproach, she pumped her right foot up and down to the beat of her anger) is to exchange this cane with a gold ring and a silver handle for forty dollars in order to pay my fare to Long Island. I need your address so that later my son-in-law can stop by your place and drop off the money you have lent me. Can I count on your help”?

My grandmother was finally annoyed, and answered her, “Do you think I’d give my address to a stranger (here she looked the lady up and down several times, as if she had had a brush with enough paint to capture on her canvas the figure of this woman who had dared to annoy her) to come and rob me? How do I know who you are?” She said this; while her eyes rested on the beautiful silver and gold handle cane that was offered to her in a temporary barter. That was my grandmother, suspicious and direct when she was threatened by someone.

The lady became pale and a couple of pouts emerged from her fine and delicate lips. I didn’t know if she would repay rudeness with rudeness, but alas chose kindness.

“My good lady, she said, “If I had wanted to rob you, I would have done it differently. I approached you because I thought that a woman like you might be a little more understanding and generous toward someone down on her luck. For the record, I am not asking for a handout: I’m leaving you this cane that was my grandfather’s, and it probably cost him ten times more than what I’m asking for it.

My grandmother did not budge, but she had a good head for business, and her attitude changed when she saw the woman begin to walk away.

‘Wait,” she said, “you know that today you cannot trust anyone. I didn’t mean to offend you. I just wanted to protect myself.” “Well,” she continued, “I wish to propose another alternative. For some time I want to buy a cane to walk in this horrendous snow, but I don’t want anyone I do not know coming to my house. Nor do I want to go to someone else’s home to collect forty dollars (here her voice was like a Harvard professor’s.) Then she went on, “I’ll give you sixty dollars for your cane.”

The lady was surprised, and this time it was she who examined my grandmother carefully. I do not know what was in her eyes: surprise, outrage over the price or a combination of both.

“My good lady,” she said, “I am not proposing a business deal, I just want you to help me out of this desperate situation; I’m terrified of leaving the children alone for all this time in that big house, especially after my daughter trusted me with their care. I am terribly late. She was looking at her watch every moment, while looking back and forth from the cane to my grandmother.

My grandmother was not moved, and I was almost disgusted by her inhuman attitude. I did not dare open my mouth, however, and decided to keep quiet. The lady, with a sigh, extended the cane and I thought she was going to rethink her decision at any second but I was wrong. My grandmother opened her purse and pulled out sixty dollars. The exchange took place without complications; neither woman said thanks. The lady slipped through the crowd of people, like a ball through the snow, while my grandmother looked satisfied.

We waited for about ten minutes and we were going to take a taxi, when my grandmother stopped. She saw something. It was the same woman who, right beside us, chatted with a man and offered him a very fine umbrella. Both my grandmother as I watched her; she gave the man the umbrella and received money in return. We began to follow her. She zigzagged ahead, and took a couple of side streets to Broadway. With feline agility, she went into a pub.

We followed her inside and saw her open the ladies room door. My grandmother and I stood back in a corner so she could not see us. The lady emerged with a stately step and walked to the hanger where the coats were hung: she took one with wine-colored collar and sleeve of mink, and also removed a mahogany cane from the stand. She left, leaving behind on the rack, the black coat she was wearing when we had met her.


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