Amy was preparing herself to sleep, although she wasn’t sleepy. At her grandparents’, bedtime was at 10 pm, which was a huge contrast to her bedtime back at home, around midnight. She’d always bring along a book so she could stay up reading until sleep arrived. However, this time she’d forgotten one and the ones in her grandpa’s shelves weren’t interesting to her. Her grandpa was an amiable man and she loved playing chess with him, helping him around in the garden and sitting on his lap listening to his fantastic stories. He was a great storyteller and her imaginary world grew exponentially with every tale she heard from him.
But that day her grandpa had a cold and he’d gone to sleep already, so asking him to tell her a cradle story was out of the question; she’d have to resort to her grandmother. Now, that was by no means a good option because her grandma, although she cooked like a chef and was very generous when it came to presents, was by no means a storyteller. Her grandma would readily read her any book she had brought, but she was unable to create a single storyline or to give birth to imaginary characters in a consistent fashion. Whenever she attempted to tell her a cradle story, she would get lost in the plot and get all the characters jumbled up; her original characters tended to disappear as if swallowed by the earth, as the story progressed, and new characters tended to be created out of thin air, so in the end the story of a princess that wanted to go to the moon ended up being the story of a sailor that proved that the Earth was round. Even for a six year old, these gaps of coherence were so evident and the whole story was so dissonant and illogical that she couldn’t sleep afterwards thinking of what had happened to the pretty princess or what had Columbus to do in the whole business.
But Amy had a generous heart and there was nothing else to do at her grandparents’ because, in old people’s fashion, they didn’t have computers, and the TV was off after 9 pm. So she decided to give her grandma another chance so she could redeem her disreputable story telling skills. Therefore when her grandma kissed her goodnight, she said:
“Grandma, could you tell me a cradle story?”
Her grandma looked disoriented as if she’d been asked to put off a fire or assemble a car. However, after fifteen seconds of hesitation, she said:
“Just one story comes to my mind right now, but I don’t think it’s suitable for a child of your age.”
“A child of my age!” said Amy, upset at this blatant lack of respect for her mental maturity. “Grandpa retold me Anna Karenina and I understood it all, so I think there’s nothing I can’t take. I’m an adult,” she affirmed with whole conviction. Her grandma couldn’t find arguments to dissuade her granddaughter so, after mentally cursing her husband, started telling her story:
“Once there was a man”
“What was his name?” asked Amy, worried that her grandma would start mixing it all up again.
“Mmmm, his name,” thought for a while her grandma “his name was Carl.”
“Like grandpa!” exclaimed Amy enthusiastically, and she laughed inwardly at the thought that her grandma had said that name probably just because it was easy to remember.
“Yes, so Carl was a young man visiting some old friends back in his hometown. Although he was originally from Leszno, he had recently married a pretty girl and they lived together in a small flat downtown Poznan. His friends, a married couple, were thirty years older than him; they had been very good friends with his parents and, after his parents died, they’d become his only link to his hometown. They were very fond of him, so whenever he went to Leszno, he was sure to have a place to sleep at their house.
They had a fifteen-year-old daughter, called Bessie, that had almost grown into a woman at that time. Bessie was very shy, but her shyness betrayed hidden passion rather than fear of people. She was a tall slim girl, her eyes were the color of honey and no one that saw her would deny that God existed and had modeled her with His own hands. Carl was an affectionate man and he kissed and hugged his friends, but he couldn’t get close to Bessie, so he had to wave her good morning when he arrived at the house, to which she answered with the same gesture. During the morning and afternoon of that day, which was a Saturday, Carl chatted with his friends to catch up with them, he ate their delicious food and read a book he’d brought with him. Bessie was always around, now listening to music, now reading a book, now watching TV. She seemed to be totally indifferent to the fact that there was a guest. “The new generation,” thought Carl, and he hoped that his own children would behave less autistically. For a moment he thought of his young wife back home and he was sorry they hadn’t had a child yet.
In the evening his friend invited him to drink a bottle of cytrynowka that he’d reserved for a good occasion. Carl was a little lightheaded so he got drunk much earlier than his drinking companion. The drinking soiree was over at 2 am because his friend was dozing off in the sofa while they talked. The house was quiet and dark because the ladies had gone to sleep hours before, so Carl groped his way into his room. He didn’t want to turn on the lights for fear of it burning his bloodshot eyes. However, he could see the silhouette of his bed thanks to the moonlight entering through the window. Just when he‘d laid down fully clothed on his bed, he realized a warm body beside his. He turned his head thunderstruck; it was Bessie underneath the covers. For a moment he thought he’d mistaken the room and he felt utterly ashamed, but then he saw his belongings on the table, where he’d left them that same morning. He thought that maybe she didn’t know he’d be sleeping there, so he stood up to leave the room and go sleep in the living room, when he heard her whisper. “Please don’t go.” He remained paralyzed by pure fear for twenty seconds. All his blood had rushed to his temples and he was scared at what he was able to do if he stayed. “I need to go; I can’t stay here,” he said, and he felt a pang of guilt at what he had just said, because it implied he wanted to stay. She had known that he wouldn’t leave the room; she had known it from the moment he laid his eyes on her that morning. She sat on the bed, showing her pale nakedness, and she undressed him delicately but firmly, first his T-shirt, moving to his pants and ending up with his socks. He didn’t stir, as if fending off his guilt by convincing himself that he hadn’t done anything wrong; he was just too drunk and that girl would eventually realize that what she was doing wasn’t appropriate and she would stop. But she didn’t. After undressing him she took her panties off and got into the bed with him. The last thing he remembered was her warm body pressing against his before he lost all control of himself.
The next morning, when he woke up, she wasn’t there anymore. It took him an hour to summon up courage to get up, and another hour to subjugate the fear that overcame him every time he tried to go to the kitchen and stare at his friends’ faces. However, after exchanging good mornings, everything became easier. They treated him in the same way as they had treated him the day before and that convinced him that life would go on in the usual manner, and that the previous night had been just an extraordinary exception. “New day, new life,” he said out loud, and his hosts laughed cheerfully, not understanding the whole meaning of the phrase. For the rest of the day, he didn’t see Bessie anywhere. That fact scared him slightly, but it also relieved him. He had the strange idea that if nothing came to light that day, it would all be buried and forgotten for ever. In the afternoon, as planned, he bade goodbye to his friends and drove his way back home. He couldn’t stop thinking of Bessie during the whole journey; he was worried his wife would one day learn what had happened, but no, it wasn’t that what worried him the most. He was scared of himself; he couldn’t recognize himself in the actions of the previous night. “It wasn’t me,” he thought. An idea started to permeate his mind: “Maybe it was all a dream, a very vivid dream. After all, I have a strong imagination and I was very drunk. Definitively that wasn’t me last night; I’d never behave in that way except in dreams.” This idea soothed his conscience and by the time he arrived home, he was just glad to see his wife again.
She was making dinner and she had run out of pepper, which she added to every meal, so she asked him to go to the shop nearby. He was happy to comply with her demands, but he couldn’t seem to find his keys. “Just take mine,” she said and gave him a kiss with her thin lips. Suddenly he remembered a passionate kiss from a red fleshy mouth, and he cursed his mind for playing tricks on him. He descended the stairs and more images came to him, as if the fog that had covered them was gradually clearing. He picked the pepper from a shelf, while two thin but muscular legs entwined themselves to his waist. He payed at the checkout while two thin but strong arms pulled him towards them. He ascended the stairs while waves of long hair cascaded on his face. When he got to the kitchen, he was exhausted. He couldn’t repress his feelings any longer; he must tell her, no matter what; otherwise he’d drive himself crazy. She wasn’t there, so he went to the bedroom. He saw her wearing a different dress, her back towards him. But a second sufficed him to realize that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her hair, her hips or her legs, it was…her.
She turned around and told him “Don’t worry about her. She won’t be between us anymore.”
He didn’t have the strength to ask for details and everything was just a nightmare, so he did what everyone does in a nightmare: he ran away. He searched in the other room; it was empty; then in the bathroom, and there she was, his wife, laying in the bathtub, covered in blood.
“I think I’m pregnant with your child. I can feel it,” the girl said behind his back. Nine months later your mom was born,” said the grandmother concluding the story.
Amy hadn’t blinked during the whole story. “But …your name isn’t Bessie,” she said “you’re grandma Elen.” And she stared incredulously at her grandma while she saw her go out of the room. After a few minutes she came back with a piece of old paper. It was like a little notebook, which she handed to her.
“This is my old ID,” she said simply. “After the story I told you about, I had to change my name. Of course no one should know about it; I hope you’ll keep the secret for me.”
“Of course grandma,” said Amy, glad that she was given a secret to keep. “So goodnight, grandma… E-l-e-n, she said,” making it clear that she’d never pronounce her real name, while handing back the piece of evidence.
“Good night darling,” her grandma said and she kissed her cheeks.
“Now that’s a good story!” said Amy to herself while she was being tugged into her bed, and through the whole night she slept like an angel.