Short Story - Kaylee’s Quarter - Rebecca Laskowitz
Kaylee grasped her mother’s hand as they made their way up the icy stone walkway. Snow covered the edge of the path where flowers usually blossomed during the spring. She watched her step so as not to fall and ruin her new pink puffy coat. It was her first Christmas present of the year from her parents. Even though Christmas Eve wasn’t until tomorrow night, the frigid weather allowed for Kaylee to receive her coat a few days early.
While one gloved hand clung desperately to her mother, the other held just as tightly onto Bunny. Bunny went everywhere with Kaylee since she was two. The stuffed rabbit’s ears were tattered from months of teething, and his yellow coloring faded from hundreds of journeys through the washing machine. Kaylee held him by the ears and raised her arm just high enough to keep his fluffy bottom from dragging on the cold, wet ground.
After making her way up the front steps, Kaylee turned around to watch her father carry their bags. Her Hello Kitty duffle bag stood out against her parents’ gray luggage. She wondered why grownups chose such boring colors.
Kaylee spun around at the sound of the front door opening. Her grandmother’s face had her usual smile stretching from ear to ear. Kaylee loved her grandmother’s smile. It was always sincere and her teeth were the brightest shade of white.
“Hi, dearies,” she exclaimed as she stepped aside to let her children enter the warm house. The smell of apple pie and sweet potatoes filled Kaylee’s nostrils the instant she crossed the threshold. Holiday spirit was palpable in her grandparents’ house.
As her grandmother leaned down to take off her coat, Kaylee’s grip on Bunny remained firm.
“What a beautiful coat, Kaylee,” Grandma said. “Where did you get it?”
“Mommy and Daddy gave it to me for Christmas,” she replied softly. The sounds of chatter coming from the other room kept Kaylee glued to her spot in the foyer. It usually took her a while to ease out of her shyness.
“A new coat for Christmas!” Kaylee jumped at the bellowing voice of her grandfather. “What a lucky girl, getting her presents early.” He scooped her up in a big bear hug and planted a kiss on her that smushed her cheeks together. “Want to go say hi to everyone?”
Before she could say no, she was being carried into the next room. The sight of so many people caused Kaylee to bury her face in her grandfather’s sweater.
“Aw, look who’s being shy,” sang her aunt’s familiar birdlike voice. Kaylee felt long, fake nails tickle her neck. She shrugged her shoulders to protect her neck from the invading fingers. “I have something you, sweetie.” Kaylee peeked out from her grandfather’s shoulder and saw a Hershey Kiss in her aunt’s outstretched hand. She reached out her tiny hand to grab the candy, but before she could claim it, her aunt’s fingers closed around it. “First and hug, then you get the kiss.”
Kaylee hesitated, but the thought of chocolate helped her conquer her bashfulness. She held out her arms, Bunny still dangling from her right hand, and wrapped them around her aunt’s neck. She was embraced in another bear hug and received a glossy kiss on her cheek before being set down. As soon as she had her chocolate, Kaylee turned and ventured further into the crowded room. She didn’t make eye contact with anyone, and her answers to everyone’s questions were short.
“How are you?” “Good.”
“Who’s in your hand?” “Bunny.”
“How old are you?” “Five.”
“Are you excited for Santa?” “Yes.”
Kaylee finally found her way to the other side of the room. She sat in her little seat positioned next to the Christmas tree. From here she could observe her bustling relatives catching up after being separated for months by hundreds of miles. Kaylee enjoyed watching people and listening in on their conversations. Especially when she was the topic of the conversations. People often made comments about her thinking she couldn’t hear them.
“She’s gotten so big!”
“She has her father’s nose.”
“And her mother’s brown hair.”
“But where did the curls come from?”
“She’s too skinny.”
As Kaylee sat listening to the grownups around her, a loud greeting was heard in the foyer. She wondered who had arrived that warranted such an uproarious welcome. Her mother walked into the room and announced that Granddad had arrived.
Kaylee stiffened in her seat. She knew that her mother’s grandfather was her Great Grandfather Henry. Before anyone noticed her moving, Kaylee escaped out of the other door in the room and into the kitchen, dragging Bunny on the floor behind her. Her heart pounded with fear when she though of Great Grandpa Henry. His frail ninety-five year old frame crept slowly forward with the support of his cane as his third leg. His tired face seemed to have permanently wrinkled up into a frown. His eyes were sunken in and gloomy. Kaylee was sure she would turn to stone whenever she looked into the two pits of darkness on his face.
When dinnertime came around, Kaylee was relieved to be placed between her parents. Great Grandpa Henry, as the oldest member of the family, was perched at the head of the long table. His food was served to him while everyone else served themselves. He barely spoke—just gave slight nods when her mother or aunt pointed to the various serving plates. His movements were slow and stiff. It often pained Kaylee to watch him exert any kind of energy.
When he chewed his food, his jaw moved just as slowly as the rest of his body. His teeth always looked like they were going to fall out. Everything about him frightened Kaylee. While everyone else treated him with love and respect, Kaylee did her best to hide from him. She saw her great grandfather as a scary monster, slinking slowly through the hallways, making creepy wheezing sounds when he breathed, walking hunched over like he was preparing to attack any little creature that got in his way. To Kaylee, there was nothing great or grand or fatherly about Henry.
By nine o’clock, Kaylee had made it through the evening of staring and coddling from her aunts and uncles and was tucked into bed. Her father gave her a kiss on the forehead.
“Can you tell me a story?” asked Kaylee as her father stood up.
“Not tonight, sweetie. I’m gonna go talk with people downstairs. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen everyone.”
“Please,” implored Kaylee with a pleading look in her eyes. Kaylee always took advantage of her father’s weakness for her big brown eyes.
“Sorry, but not tonight. I’ll tell you two tomorrow night. How does that sound?”
Kaylee hesitated before accepting the offer. Her father left her alone in the room, leaving the door slightly ajar. She closed her eyes after making sure Bunny was securely at her side.
She was just about the drift off to sleep when she hear footsteps in the hallway. Her excitement grew as she expected her father to come back and tell her a story after all. But just as quickly as her excitement grew, it dissipated when she realized the footsteps didn’t belong to her father. They sounded much too slow, and if she wasn’t mistaken, the person had three feet instead of two.
Before she could figure out who was coming, a shadow filled the crack in the door. Kaylee sat up and clutched Bunny to her chest. A slight creek sounded as the door slowly opened. As the crack in the door widened, so did Kaylee’s eyes. Her pulse quickened and her skin went cold as Great Grandpa Henry took shape in the door frame.
When the door was completely open, Henry slowly made his way into the room. Time seemed to slow down as he made his way towards her bed. Kaylee sat perfectly still, too afraid to move. Bunny was locked in a death grip between Kaylee’s arms, chest and chin. After seconds that felt like hours, Henry hovered over the bed leaning heavily on his cane. His sunken eyes stared down at her like two pieces of coal. And then, just when she thought he couldn’t inch any closer, his free hand reached out to her, wrinkled and trembling.
Kaylee ducked her head as far as she could, but the hand continued to creep towards her. She shuddered when she felt Henry’s cool skin brush past her cheek and reach behind her ear. Kaylee’s mouth opened slightly and a whimpering sound escaped her lips. The whimper was about to turn into a scream when the hand returned from behind her ear. Kaylee’s anxiety turned to amazement when Great Grandpa Henry held a shiny quarter in front of her eyes. Her hand shot up to her ear and her mouth dropped open.
Henry smiled. “I saw something shiny behind your ear during dinner.” He held the quarter out to her. After a slight hesitation, Kaylee reached out and accepted the gift. “Do you like bedtime stories?” he asked softly.
Kaylee couldn’t hide her excitement as her eyes lit up. “Yes,” she replied meekly and leaned back against her pillow.
Henry turned around and sat on the side of the bed. Kaylee bent her legs to give the elderly man more room.
“Once upon a time, in a land across the sea, there lived a young magician known far and wide. Audiences traveled hundreds of miles to see Haunting Henry perform his legendary disappearing acts. His fame allowed him to travel to many countries, including America where he eventually met his future wife.”
Kaylee listened with fascination as her great grandfather detailed his journey from being a young boy with a desire to be different and amazing to an internationally acclaimed illusionist.
By the time the story came to an end, Kaylee was sitting on the edge of her bed looking up at Great Grandpa Henry with curiosity. Henry noticed her questioning gaze and smiled.
“Is there anything you want to know?” he asked as he put his arm around her lovingly.
Kaylee stared down at her palm where the quarter still rested. “When did you learn the quarter trick?”
“When I was five years old,” he whispered.
“Like me?” Kaylee responded excitedly.
“Like you.” Henry leaned over and gave Kaylee a kiss on the cheek. Then, with the support of the nightstand and his third leg, he rose and began his slow journey out of the room. As he reached the door, Kaylee sat up quickly.
“What was the best magic you ever did?”
“My family.” His response came without hesitation. “I created my family.”
You can find more of Rebecca’s work at: http://rebeccalaskowitz.blogspot.com/