I’m not the hoarder, Granny Keeper is. I’m just the finder.
I found her the day I lost everything. My boyfriend, my wallet, my job. I had no idea where the boyfriend or the wallet went, I just knew they weren’t there when I woke up. Will’s stuff was all gone, from his Xbox to his nose hair trimmer, so at least I knew he wasn’t kidnapped.
Maybe my wallet was, though.
On the other hand, Trisha the manager was crystal clear on why I lost my job. You’re supposed to write the customer’s first name on the ticket, not bitter identifiers. Codependent Hipsters. Sugar Daddy and the Sidepiece. Short-Term Engagement.
At an aggressively cheerful chain restaurant like mine, such shenanigans are the kiss of death. Termination effective immediately. Absolutely bone-chilling terminology, I would have preferred to be released.
She was sitting at the kitchen table in the dark when I got home. I flipped on the lights and there she was, complacently knitting a bright red scarf. She later gifted it to me as a memento of our first meeting, and I love it now, but at the time it was garish and eerie. I mean, who knits in the dark in other people’s kitchens? Usually psychos, I’m guessing.
I didn’t say anything at first, I just watched her. She was round and soft and friendly looking, like Queen Elizabeth’s approachable twin, and she hummed That’s Amore to the click of the needles. I thought maybe she had wandered off from her family, and I tried to recall the faces of the missing people I had seen posted at Wal-Mart. She didn’t look familiar.
At first, the humming and knitting was kind of nice. Soothing. But then it started making me nervous again. Needles and all. “Hi,” I said, and waved, which was kind of awkward since I was only two feet away.
“Hello.” She laid her knitting down in her lap and folded her hands. “How was work today, dear?”
“Well, I got fired.”
She clucked her tongue at me, a disapproving mother hen. “Well, now, that’s too bad.” She patted the chair next to her, and I slid into it.
She invited me to sit in my own chair.
“Do you want to talk about it?” she asked.
“Not really.” I shrugged. “But we should probably talk about what you’re doing here.”
That was important to get out in the open.
“Why, I’m from Craig’s List.” Wispy grey eyebrows, aged rainbows of surprise, soared into the delicate lines of her forehead.
“Your new roommate?”
“My new roommate?” Echolalia, the long banished, obnoxious childhood habit was bubbling up. Ms. Jess, my poor speech teacher had worked so hard to break me of it. In her honor, I bit my tongue (literally, front teeth vivisecting quite a few taste buds) and forced myself to listen, without interjecting, while my elderly trespasser explained herself.
“Your ad.” She spoke the words deliberately and slowly, as if to a very small child or crazy person, which wasn’t really fair, considering the circumstances. “I’m taking the extra room. We’ll split rent and utilities right down the middle, but from the looks of you I imagine I’ll be taking over groceries. You’re skin and bones.” She dug around in an enormous patchwork bag, and pulled out a package of Fig Newtons from beneath a tangled web of multicolored yarn. “Please, have some,” she said, brandishing them at me.
Dismissing an irrational fear of being fattened up for Baba Yaga’s oven, I took one and chewed on it thoughtfully. I guess it was nice of Will to put an ad on Craig’s List for a new roomie. It would have been nicer if he had just told me he was leaving. Or nicer still if he’d just stuck around.
On second thought, a Craig’s List ad is a pretty crappy farewell gesture.
“So, how come you were sitting here in the dark?” I asked.
“Don’t talk with your mouthful, dear. No one needs to see that,” she admonished primly before answering my question. “It would have been rude to barge in here and turn on all the lights as if I owned the place.”
“Right,” I said, making sure I swallowed every last crumb first. “What’s your name?”
“You can call me Granny Keeper.” She resumed knitting and humming.
“I know, dear.” She patted my hand. “It was in the ad.”
Granny Keeper was flipping pancakes when I came downstairs the next morning. Like, literally flipping them. A procession of them soared from the spatula, stopped just inches from ceiling and spun, hurtling back to their blistering doom.
I hadn’t eaten breakfast in five years, but that was all about to change.
“I need something blue,” she said, handing me a plate.
“Something blue?” I repeated. Gah. I bit my tongue, gathered a thought, and tried again. “What do you need?”
“I’m not sure yet. It’s just so empty in here. We need something blue. After you eat, you can run out and get me some things. And then I’ll see which one I want.” She unclasped a dainty beaded coin purse and pulled out a crispy new fifty dollar bill. “Get as many as you can.”
I don’t know what was in those pancakes, but I said yes.
At first, I planned on going to Goodwill, but Granny Keeper had said to get as many blue things as possible, so I kept driving. A couple of twists and turns behind the Goodwill is the junk shop. It doesn’t have a proper name. It’s not “The Junk Shop” or anything. It’s just a big room overflowing with crap, like an above ground basement or a floor level attic. It’s mostly Goodwill rejects, but sometimes you can make a really special discovery. Once I found this amazing Christmas wreath, a little smelly and dusty, but totally festive.
And anyway, you pay for stuff by the pound at the junk shop. So I could get a ton of blue things.
I slid a cracked plastic shopping basket up my arm, dangling it from my inner elbow like a designer bag. An azure tea cup capped a pyramid of broken and mismatched plates, its chipped glory beckoning me with its blueness. Old ladies like tea, right? Especially old ladies that call everybody dear and make pancakes. I grabbed it quickly, as if somebody else was actually contemplating this fine bit of pottery, and nestled it into the corner of my basket.
I poked around in the bins, gathering more items, until my basket was full. I organized them in a neat little spectrum of blues, from the deep navy sock on the left all the way up to a powder blue onesie on the right. I was reaching for a bright cobalt bandanna I had spotted beneath a rusty teapot, when I heard a voice behind me.
“You entering a blue period?” This guy asked, arching an eyebrow. I’ll bet he does that a lot and people think it’s cute. I silently blessed Granny Keeper for making me brush my hair and put on lip gloss before I left. And change into a clean shirt. And put on deodorant.
“A blue period?” I echoed, stalling until more words tumbled out. “No, not really. I mean, my boyfriend ran away and I lost my job. But I wouldn’t say I’m having a blue period, though, that’s kind of dramatic.”
“I meant your basket.” He pointed, his lips twitching. “It’s like Picasso’s Blue Period in there, I thought maybe you were working on a project.”
I nodded. It was more like a fool’s errand than a project, but that’s splitting hairs.
“Me, too. I’m grabbing some ceramic for a mosaic.” He proudly displayed a basket full of cracked plates and cups, in all kinds of colors.
“Okay.” I said. “Well, good luck with that.” I took my basket to the checkout/weigh station and paid, looking like a total baller with my fresh fifty.
As I got into my car, I saw the eyebrow-arching artiste climbing into the rustiest old Ford I’d ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of rusty old Fords. He started blasting some old Prince, rocking out to Little Red Corvette. It looked so funny.
I had about twenty bucks left after visiting the junk shop, so I stopped at the convenience store on my way home and bought a couple of tubes of toothpaste, Airheads, Cool Ranch Doritos, and two blue raspberry Slushies. I wasn’t sure if the Doritos were cheating or not, since really it’s the bag that’s blue, not the chips themselves, but it was worth a shot. And I love Doritos.
I thought Granny Keeper was going to be more impressed with the stuff I found, or at least tell me what it was for, but she just said “That’s nice, dear,” like the old lady from the memes and politely declined the Slushee. A little deflated, I dropped my bags on the counter. A plastic Easter egg rolled out, hiding itself behind the microwave. When I reached back to grab it, my fingers brushed against something hemp and familiar.
“My wallet!” I crowed, waving it triumphantly over my head. It was nice to know that Will was only a thief of love and not a thief of cash.
“Oh, you found it. How lovely.” She patted my shoulder, then frowned at me. “You drove all day without your license?”
I was going to look for a job the next day. I was actually going to look for a job all the next week, the next month, but it never happened. Every day, Granny Keeper had a new eccentric goose chase for me. It always started with pancakes and segued into nonsensical requests.
“Bree, darling, I need some soft things.”
“Bree, dear, how about you run out and grab me some wooden things?”
“Bree, sweetie, I would really love something shiny.”
She never would tell me why, or what, she really wanted. She just said to get as much I could, and she would know it when she saw it.
So far, no good. I hadn’t found the it yet and my house was quickly disappearing beneath the mounds of not-its.
Janae came by to check on me. I was surprised. I’d begun to think I’d lost her in mini-divorce.
“Will’s worried about you,” she said, uncomfortably tucking a braid behind her ear.
“Will?” I guess I did lose her in the break up, she was here by his decree.
“Yes, Will. He thinks you’ve gone a little crazy since you guys broke up.”
“Crazy?” I bit down on my tongue, determined not to speak again until I had a real, original thought to express.
“Yes, Bree. You’re not working or dating or anything, and all you do is buy random crap from thrift stores. And you keep posting selfies of you and your grandma having tea and eating pancakes. I’m not going to lie to you, it looks nuts.”
I liked to think that Granny Keeper and I look like Kate Middleton and the Queen as we sip our tea, so I was more than a bit offended by that last remark. My mouth screwed up into a sideways knot and I rolled my eyes.
“That’s fine, you can roll your eyes at me. You never did like to listen to me. But you need to be rolling them around this house and taking a close look at what’s going on. You’re going to be buried alive in here, and Will and I are going to be kicking back, watching you on a very special episode of Hoarders.”
“I’m not hoarding. I’m looking. I’m looking for something.”
“Looking for what?”
“I’ll know it when I see it.” I waded through a pile of old quilts and tattered baskets and threw open the door. “And what do you mean ‘Will and I?’ You’re a Will-and-I now?”
Now it all made sense-every time she came over, they always stayed up giggling, “kicking back” or whatever, when I went to bed. Will said I was paranoid because I thought it was weird.
She didn’t answer me, she just grabbed her purse and started shuffling to the door.
“You can tell Will that if he doesn’t want to look at my face, then he sure doesn’t need to be looking at my Facebook. Please let him know that my mental state is just fine, and no matter how much you guys would love it, I am not pining for his company. Or yours!”
After a completely satisfying and house rattling door slam, Granny Keeper stepped into the room, gracefully navigating the debris. “That’s nice, dear. You found it,” she murmured absently, patting my arm.
“Your self-respect. I knew it was around here somewhere.”
I was at the Safe House thrift shop, hunting for things that were purple, when I met Corinne. She was hunting for things that were t-shirts. Tiny ones to be exact. Her own clothes were really nice, brand names and classy colors. She wasn’t wearing any make up, though, and warm brown roots sprouted from her very meticulous part.
She only found two tiny shirts, and I felt bad for her because she obviously wasn’t very good at this game.
“What size?” I asked.
“I beg your pardon?” she said in lovely, clear tones. I’ll have to remember that. Instead of inanely repeating people, I’ll just say ‘I beg your pardon?’ Way more elegant. Like Kate Middleton.
“What size shirt are you looking for?”
I dug through a couple piles, including the ones marked swimsuits, husky girls, and men’s sweaters. I am awesome at this game, and wound up with an assortment of 3T’s in a wide array of styles and colors.
“That was amazing.” She grinned. “I’m Corinne.”
“I’m Bree. So, what are these for? Some kind of project?”
“They’re for my son,” she said, grin fading. Her face tightened into a defensive mask as she unzipped her Burberry bag, pulling out a handful of dimes and quarters. “Thank you for your help,” she said coldly and took her shirts to the register.
I watched, feeling rude and awkward, as the cashier refused her quarters and slipped a couple Dr. Seuss books and a worn teddy bear into the bag. They hugged briefly and Corinne hurried out the door.
I followed her. “Hey!” I shouted.
She stopped, turning with an impatient look on her face. “What?”
“I’m sorry if I said the wrong thing. I’m not good at talking sometimes.”
“Me, neither.” She smiled. “I’m just a little oversensitive, I suppose, my life’s changing and it takes some getting used to.” Unwelcome tears blanketed her eyes, and she blinked the blink of a woman desperate not to cry in the middle of the road. I know that blink.
“Do you wanna get some coffee with me? My treat.” Coffee usually distracts me.
When I got home, Granny Keeper was waiting for me on the sofa, surrounded by empty picture frames and throw pillows with the regality of a duchess. She cleared a patch of couch for me, and I dropped into it. With my head on her shoulder, I told her about it.
“I guess I’m lucky Will ran away. With some people it’s totally the other way around.” She listened without commenting, as I told her about Corinne, about how she came to live at Safe House, leaving her home with nothing but her toddler and a suitcase. How she was trying to build a new life from the ground up. How she had given up everything to find herself.
“I wonder what made her come to this decision,” Granny Keeper said.
“She said her counselor helped her. Corinne started seeing her because her husband said she was too moody and difficult, and that’s why he acted the way he did, but then she realized that she wasn’t the problem at all.”
“That must be lovely for the counselor,” she mused. “To be able to help other women like that.”
“Absolutely,” I agreed.
“So, what did you find today?” Granny Keeper asked briskly.
I stopped at the junk shop after class, so that I could find some things that were broken, when I ran into the artiste. He arched his eyebrow at me and examined my basket of cracked plates and pottery fragments.
“So, what are these for?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“What’s all this for?” he asked again.
“I’m not sure yet,” I said mysteriously. At least I hope it sounded mysterious and not just lame.
“But you’re not an artist?”
“I’m a psychology major.”
“Oh, I get it, mending broken things.”
“Yeah, that’s it.” I headed over to weigh my junk. He followed.
“Can we go to dinner sometime? Or get coffee?” Instead of arching, his eyebrows drew together seriously. He looked a little nervous, which was endearing.
So I said okay, we exchanged numbers (and names!), and I told him I’d see him Saturday.
Before he left I gave him all my shattered stuff. He promised to make something pretty for me and jumped into the rusty Ford, once again blasting some Prince. The Most Beautiful Girl in the World. He grabbed his chest and pointed at me like a total goober. It was really sweet.
The house was spotless when I got home. Granny Keeper was sitting at the kitchen table, knitting by the light of my laptop.
“Where is everything?” I asked.
“What did you find today, dear?” she countered.
I blushed and shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“It’ll be fun to find out,” she said with a wink. I slid into the chair next to her and my eyes were drawn to the glow of the screen. Even though I’d been expecting it, Granny Keeper’s recent web search just about broke my heart.
“You’re looking at Craig’s List.” My throat tightened and I started blinking in sad Morse Code.
“Oh, dearie, you’ve found so much.” She patted my hand. “It’s time I went looking again.”
“Who?” I swallowed all the ugly jealousy and tried to be happy for her next girl.
“I’m not sure yet. I’ll know her when I see her.”