|PENNY IN APRIL|
by Marlena Baraf We are putting the grandkids to bed in the pretty room we call the grandkids room, two white beds and a periwinkle-blue chest in the middle. I’d asked the girls what sheets they wanted on their beds. Elena said, “the ballerinas,” Penny, said, “the sharks.” Elena is ten; Penny, eight.
Grandpa who loves to tease, says to Penny, “What are you going to do about the monster who lives under the bed.”I cringe. My husband has a Brooklyn bite in his humor. I could bop him on the head! I give him the look, and he leaves.
A few seconds pass. It’s just Penny and me, the two of us lit by a white butterfly with cutouts plugged into the socket at the end of the room—enough for me to notice a half smile on her face and a twinkle in her eyes. “I have something to tell Grandpa,” she says.
“Hey Gramps,” I call. “Penny wants to talk to you.”
He comes in, leans over Penny’s bed.
“Grandpa,” she says, “I have a monster too.”
“What’s his name?”
“It’s not a boy.”
“What’s her name?”
“What your monster’s name, Grandpa?”
I think about this as I get ready for bed, my spunky eight-year-old granddaughter, learning push-back over the years of living with an older sister. There’s a sturdy sense of humor developing in that little body. But I wonder about her monster friend.
The next morning, while Penny colors at the kitchen table and I sip my coffee from a clear glass cup, I ask her in my gayest voice. “Piper, how long have you known Spooky?”
“She’s been my friend for a long time.”
“Do your other friends like her?”
“Sometimes she’s nasty to them.”
“Is she nasty to you?”
“Does she protect you?”
“No. I protect her from Grandpa’s monster.”
Penny comes into my bedroom at 8 a.m. the next morning, taps gently on my shoulder. I think it’s the cat.
“Grandma, I can take my shower this morning.” This is a shower Penny was avoiding the day before.
“Let me have my coffee and I can help you set it up.”
In the kitchen Penny tells me that she peed a little bit. “But I didn’t wet the bed. Grandma. I sleep inside my mermaid dress.”
When we return upstairs, I run the hot and cold water and pull down the ring on the faucet to send the water up to the shower head.
“A little more hot, Grandma.”
I adjust. Penny gets in. I stand at the end of the tub watching as she soaps her head.
Pan-chested body of a girl of eight. Beanpole torso. In a sweet, low voice Penny begins to sing.“Remember me, though I have to say goodbye, remember me….” I recognize this from the movie Coco Penny continues to the end of the song as water pours down her back. Her face is lit with happiness. “I am Peter Pan, that’s what they call me. I am a lost boy from Neverland, always on the run from Captain Hook….” Song after song after song. I remind Penny to rinse the shampoo thoroughly, interrupting her reverie.
“Ok Grandma,” she says, “You can shut off the water now.”
I hand her the thirsty, bright yellow towel that suits her so well.
In the afternoon Penny and Elena chalk up our driveway with the thick, multicolored chalk sticks I keep in the garage. The Spanish word of the day, I tell them, is “tiza, la tiza, the chalk.” Piper draws hearts of every size and color the length of the driveway, hopping from heart to heart. About the Author:Marlena Maduro Baraf immigrated to the United States from her native Panama and her writing is colored by this dual identity. She has been interviewing Latinos from all walks of life for a series titled, Soy/Somos, I am/We are. Her work has been published in Sweet, Lilith, Lumina, Read 650, and Latino Voices at HuffPost, among other publications. Her memoir, “At the Narrow Waist of the World,” is forthcoming in the fall of 2019.