I hate parallel parking! Ruth, my great-grandmother, sits beside me, humming along to the Sinatra CD I’m playing for her. At last! Ruth, is patient as I maneuver; back and forth until I fit just right.
I help her out of my blue Prius. She hands me quarters for the meter. I demur, she insists; it’s the same every week.
I always lose.
She takes hold of my arm. Breathes deeply the dirty air I try to keep out of my lungs. Mimi-my childhood name for Ruth-is fierce and precious as a ruby, still fresh off the boat sixty-four years later.
She walks slowly, blind to scathing looks and muttered curses from people who have Important Places To Be, and no time for her.
With her red bouffant hair, matching lipstick, and heels higher than I dare to put on, she is the Queen of Rego Park.
We enter Kaufman’s Bakery. The newborn loaves are lined up as babies in a nursery, waiting to be chosen. Mimi’s eyes light up at the sight and fragrance of them, and she looks as if she is smelling Olam Ha-Ba.
Her attention is diverted by the girl. Stick thin, wearing a tank-top and low-slung jeans on her bony hips. Mimi’s eyes are on the vibrant tattoos on her arms. The rose, the butterfly, the blood-red heart buried in a bouquet of deep purple flowers.
The girl feels Ruth’s eyes on her. Turning, she frowns. Small silver ring in her eyebrow quivering. What are you looking at, old woman? she probably thinks.
Mimi smiles at her. The girl’s frown fades then she blinks.
Mimi brings up her thin arm, shows the girl her own tattoo.The girl runs long fingers across the numbers on Ruth’s forearm.
I can’t breathe. The girl’s nails are polished black. Or maybe
She brings my great-grandmother’s arm to her cheek and closes her eyes. Mimi runs her hand through the girls baby-fine blonde hair.
Without a word the girl takes her bag of whatever it is she bought, and is out the door. I like her tattoos, Mimi whispers to me. Even thought I shouldn’t. I tell her it’s okay.
Mimi selects five of the loaves carefully; as if she intends on raising them to adulthood. We ride home with Frank still singing; the bread safe on her lap.
I unlock the door of her co-op, marveling that she still lives alone. She doesn’t see the crumbs on the kitchen floor, the dust on the bookshelves and end tables, the cobwebs nesting in the corners of the rooms. Thank G-d! She’d have a fit.
I take a little nap now, she informs me. I kiss the Queen of Rego Park’s cheek, and take her sack of warm bread from her, cradling it in my arms as I walk into her narrow kitchen.
The fifty-year old refrigerators hum away. Like Mimi, they are still full of life.
I put the bread on the table, glad that it will be gone within days and I’ll have to come back. I can’t think of not doing this with her.
I lean over the sack of bread and breathe in.