THURSDAY, APRIL 1
West 68th Street, Apartment 8G
Grandma Zelda didn’t answer her doorbell the first time Nicky rang. The second time, he pressed down on the buzzer and counted to a hundred, although he knew that if Grandma Zelda didn’t have her ears in, he could count to a million and she still wouldn’t hear him.
Her note had instructed him to sneak out. She’d be expecting him. Nicky turned the doorknob and heard a gulping sound but wasn’t sure if it came from him or the door. He pushed. The door swung open, but the doorknob remained behind, in Nicky’s hand. “Oh, no,” he whispered to himself. “I hope I don’t get in trouble for this.”
Nicky had a bad habit of getting in trouble. Lately his Time-Out Average (TOA) had spiked to .750, which meant that he did something that earned him a time-out three days out of four. Grandma Zelda was pretty much the only person left that Nicky’s dad allowed him to spend time with. “I suppose you can’t do anything that will land you in too much hot water with someone so old,” his dad had told him.
Grandma Zelda wouldn’t care anyway. She didn’t believe in time-outs. During their afternoons together she fed Nicky slices of his beyond-favorite Zeldaberry pie and helped him make plans for a sail around the world. “If you meet a pirate, ask about his grandmother,” she’d advise. Or she’d tell him a story about the time she once swam under a pirate’s ship and scraped a nugget of gold off the keel. “It’s around here somewhere, if I could only remember where I put it,” she’d say.
Grandma Zelda hadn’t left her apartment in over a year, but she used to lead a life of adventure. Nicky couldn’t picture his tiny gray-haired grandmother doing any of this, but she once rode a camel across the Sinai desert, and twice she jumped out of an airplane and parachuted into Mongolia. Grandma Zelda’s left eye liked to wink when she talked, and she spoke with a Southern drawl, which was unusual for someone who’d grown up in the North. She had so many stories to tell that Nicky figured she kept telling them even when she was alone, even when she was asleep.
Nicky clutched the doorknob and stepped inside Grandma Zelda’s apartment. Her walls were covered with photographs and paintings. She kept every picture that Nicky and his sister, Stella, made for her and hung several of them next to paintings by better-known artists. It never felt messy in her apartment but always seemed busy.
Nicky called out for her. “Grandma Zelda?”
“Grandma?” he called out again after he didn’t get a response. “Grandma. Grandma Zelda?”
He walked into the kitchen. He waved to the pigeon squatting on the windowsill. He checked for Grandma Zelda in the bedroom. He saw her viola d’amore resting on the bed, alone. Nicky looked around the sides of her bed, in case she had fallen off it. He looked under the bed, in case she’d rolled under it.
He looked for her in the bathroom, the shower, and the cabinets.
He pushed his way into her two closets, behind her housecoats and dresses.
“Grandma? Grandma Zelda?”
Back in the hallway.
“Grandma Zelda, is this an April Fools’ Day trick?”
“Grandma Zelda?” Nicky called out one final time.