Death in the Family

Tessa knocked on the door, then waited. She looked up and down the narrow hallway to have something to do. The 14-year-old girl lived her whole life in those apartments and each floor was the same. A strip of red and gold carpet lined the floor while the ceiling and walls were painted off-white. At both ends of the hall, she could see the fire escape. The apartment door in front of her, D14, cracked open.

“Yes?” a silver-haired, wrinkled woman peered through the crack. Tess caught sight of an elegant silver and pearl earring.

“Uhh…,” Tess glanced at the apartment number on the door, then back at the old woman. She raised the casserole dish into view.  “My grandma asked me to bring another casserole to your…,” she hesitated. “…granddaughter?  I mean, Dee. Is she your granddaughter?”

“Thank you!” the woman pulled the door open wider then stepped out to collect the dish. “Yes. She’s not home right now but I’ll be sure to tell her how thoughtful your grandmother is, Esther, right? On the third floor?” Tess nodded, but she did not hand over the casserole.

“Please, let me carry it in. It’s a bit heavy, and still kind of hot,” Tessa stepped forward before the elderly woman could protest. She made the old woman step out of the way to avoid getting casserole all over her. While it was mostly true, the casserole dish was probably not too much for the old woman to handle; Tess felt the need to investigate. As far as Tess’ family knew, Dee lived alone.

“Oh,” the woman said as Tess walked in. “Okay, thank you. You can just put it on the counter.” Tess let her eyes roam over everything in her vision; she didn’t want to make her inspection obvious by turning her head this way and that.

The apartment was tastefully decorated with simple items. A small, square dining room table sat adjacent to the galley kitchen. The kitchen itself consisted of a beige fridge, an electric stove with coiled metal burners, and a sink. It was almost exactly the same as Tess’ family apartment, but with almost no signs of being lived in. There was no personality or warmth to the space. She noted no signs of a typical college student like posters, plants, and technology. Nor did she see any sign that an elderly woman lived there. The apartment held a distinct lack of doilies, rocking chairs, and half-knit sweaters.

“I’ll put it in the fridge,” Tess said; bypassing the Formica counter.

“No that’s o-,” The woman tried to protest, nearly dashing to stop Tess, but she was too slow. The young girl pulled the door open and deposited the casserole dish. She did it without showing any surprise at the dark, empty, warm interior of the fridge. But, it did occur to her she might be in danger.

“I hope you two enjoy it. Bye!” Tessa waved and walked to the door as fast as she could without running. As she reached for the knob, Tessa blinked. The knob turned before she gripped it, and Dee walked in.

“Hey, Tess! What’s up?” the college-aged brunette smiled at the young girl. She patted her stomach through her blue t-shirt. “Please tell me your grandma sent up another casserole. My fridge is totally empty.”

“Yeah!” Tess nodded at the young woman. “I was just dropping it off with your,-” she turned to point at the elderly woman. Tess blinked while her head changed focus from Dee to her grandmother. “-grandma.” The elderly woman smiled and Tess turned back to Dee; she blinked again. “Hey…,” Tess said. She stared at Dee in the doorway for a silent second. Without warning, she whipped her head around to the old woman; she blinked.

“Yes, dear?” the old woman asked.

“What-” Tess interrupted her own question by turning her head back to Dee; she blinked. “-is-,” she turned back to Dee’s grandmother; she blinked. “going on?” Tess whirled her head around back to Dee. She blinked, but this time she returned her focus to where the grandma was standing instead of to Dee. The old woman was not there. Tess heard Dee sigh behind her.

“It’s complicated,” Dee said. “Hey, what’s your favorite number?” she asked Tess.

“54,” Tess turned to answer Dee. “Why?”

“Really?  Awesome, this won’t be as complicated as I thought. C’mon” Dee wiggled her hand enthusiastically at the air next to them. A black portal opened. “There’s someone I want you to meet.”

“Where’s your grandma?” Tess asked.

“My real grandmother died a long time ago. For now…,” Dee’s youthful, rosy cheeks began to turn pale. Her soft, tight skin loosened into wrinkles and her dark hair filled with silver from scalp to tip. “…I’m my own grandma.”

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