“Our summers were filled with fires. It would get so dry in the hills that the wildfires would show up every once in a while like a nosy neighbor. My mother was very skittish about fires for some reason, even though we were relatively used to them. Every time there was a wildfire, we would put our bathing suits on, pack our towels, stop by a drugstore to buy some Pringles and Goldfish, and head to my grandmother’s place to swim at her pool.” Aerie stops speaking and rubs the back of her neck and smiles down at the table.
I wait patiently for her to begin again, wishing that Aerie had a clock to tick or a sink to drip or anything that would make noise to fill in the space.
“Bridgette and I used to make up all kinds of games in the pool,” she says, trailing off again.
“Marco Polo?” I suggest. “Chicken? Racing? Diving for toys?”
“No, nothing like that. We’d make up games, pretend we were witches or other powerful, magical women.”
“Hideous beasts?” I ask.
“No, in our imaginations we were always beautiful. We pretended to be charming teenagers or gorgeous women, not awkward children.”
“Would your grandmother play with you?” I ask.
“Not really. She would sit in a recliner with our mother reading books or chatting. But she encouraged us. I would sometimes pretend to complain about how the chlorine would turn my hair green and the water would make my fingers wrinkled.”
“You would pretend to complain?”
“Yes. I said it deliberately so that my grandmother would tell me that it was because I was part mermaid. All mermaids had green hair and they all had fingertips like that to pick up shells and treasure at the bottom of the ocean.” She trails off again before realizing the silence.
“She told Bridgette and I that she was a mermaid too,” Aerie says. “She had long, silver, wavy hair. She used to put it in a swim cap and swim some laps while Bridgette and I played. She said she had to use a swim cap or the chlorine would turn her whole head green. She was the only elderly person I knew with long hair. I used to love how the sun would catch the silver strands and make them sparkle.”
“She sounds like a lovely woman,” I say.
“She was,” Aerie says. “She passed away when I was still a child.”
“Would you like to talk about it?” I ask.
“She got Alzheimer’s,” she says.
“That must have been very painful for you,” I say.
“Memories are interesting things,” she says. “They’re here today and gone tomorrow. People can be like that too.”