• Vol. 10
  • Chapter 09


My grandmother’s gestures and expressions were precise and overly rehearsed like a classic symphony, all the muscles in her face playing their instruments to perfection. No chuckle, glance or grimace happened spontaneously, and any reaction was carefully measured for appropriateness before being displayed. It made her taut and theatrical and false even when she was genuine, and the rest of us wondered often how she could still breathe, girdled by the immense fear of being herself.

She looked and dressed like the Queen of England. Her shoes were discreet, her coats were bright fuchsia or turquoise like tropical seas and her curls were argent and well-behaved. We spotted her on the Upper West Side, the only marvellously colour-blocked outfit gliding down the wet asphalt, a hot peony trench coat with a red umbrella. She walked with straight shoulders and a stoic expression on her wrinkled face, maintaining her elegance in the face of the messy October rain, mixed with wind and mild flakes and indecision.

We stopped the car and rolled down the window and called my grandmother, who took a few seconds to recognize the source of the shouting and a few more seconds to look around her mortified, as if we’d just shown a photo of her in her nightgown to everyone. ‘How dare you call at me like that, what are you, a rooster?’