The policeman's wife was grateful to have found a sitter on such short notice. Jo-Jo Beckman came highly recommended.
Jo-Jo liked both of the girls. They were her favorite age range: too old for diapers and too young to give her any trouble. The girls enjoyed playing with the sitter's
long brown braids and trying on her oversized faux tortoise-shell eyeglasses.
[quoteright]By 9:00, the kids were asleep and Jo-Jo had three hours to kill. There wasn't much suitable reading material in the small wooden bookcase; mostly children's books and novels she wouldn't have time to finish. The top shelf was stuffed full of old Playboy magazines. At age 15, Jo-Jo was still naive enough to be surprised that a policeman would read Playboy.
The two-bedroom stucco house was quiet and still. She turned off all the lights except for a swag lamp by the phone, stretched out on the sofa and called her boyfriend.
She first noticed the rocking chair as she dialed the phone. Funny she hadn't seen it before, as it was an exact replica of a rocking chair her grandfather had owned. Many of them were made in the 40's. Grandee had purchased his after admiring Aunt Bea's. Made of oak, the back was two rounded humps which flared outward and then tapered down toward the seat. It had always looked like a heart to her. The rounded arms connected the back with the slightly hollowed-out seat. Even the old blue cushion tied to the seat of this one resembled Grandee's.
Grandmother alone used his chair now. They said he was dead but, deep down, Jo-Jo didn't believe it. Grandee was her best friend, the only reason she loved the annual summer vacation in Oklahoma. It was Grandee who took her fishing on Lake Eufala. He was just as happy as she when they caught nothing, because he hated cleaning catfish as much as she hated killing them.
It was Grandee who had taught her how to play two-deck Russian Bank when she was only seven years old. Grandmother would get onto him for never letting her win but he wouldn't hear of it. He would declare that Jo-Jo would never enjoy beating him if she didn't have to work for it. Five years and hundreds of games later, she almost did it; losing by only one card. It was the closest she would ever come to victory and it remained one of the proudest days of her life.
Jo-Jo's father had attended Grandee's funeral last year but there hadn't been enough money for the grandkids to fly in, from three states away. She couldn't picture a grave she'd never seen. A common fantasy was the sight of Grandee waving from the cabin's long redwood porch this summer, as they drove up to the Oklahoma cabin once again.
It was too quiet in the policeman's house. Calling her boyfriend, Les, chased away the ghost of boredom beginning to hang around her like a fog. Leslie Gallon was the most confident person Jo-Jo had ever known. The fact that he knew everything helped to compensate for his eternal clumsiness. Les tripped over his own feet the way most people blink. The long straight black hair that usually covered his left eye didn't help much, either.
Les steered the conversation over to a favorite topic: himself. He had decided to spend his entire savings on a trip to Scotland to film Nessie. The film was a cinch, he said, because of the psychic link he shared with the monster.
It was about that time the rocker began to move. Jo-Jo's innate capacity to deny painful realities allowed her to ignore it at first. But the chair continued to rock, slowly and steadily, all by itself.
It was not the movement that finally caught her attention as much as the TYPE of movement: it was Grandee's. His rocking motion was unique, a full sway, a half sway and a full and a half, on, and on, at his precise speed.
When the sitter found her voice, she told Les about the rocker not six feet in front of her. She didn't fear he'd doubt her sanity since he loved this sort of thing. She made him promise to call the police if their phone connection was broken.
Les offered to play devil's advocate and advance every possible explanation. One by one she checked them out, hurrying back to the security of the phone as quickly as she could.
Giving the object of her investigation a wide berth, she checked first on the girls. They were sound asleep. The air conditioner was off as well as the heater. There was nothing coming from the floor vents and, except for the children's room, all the doors were closed. In the kitchen, the only open window was closed immediately. The weather outside was calm and warm, typical of Arizona that time of year. She took her boyfriend's light-hearted suggestion to clean her glasses, seriously, even to the point of washing them with soap and water.
The deliberate rhythmic rocking continued.
An earthquake theory was discarded since the swag lamp stubbornly refused to sway with the chair. That left only one thing to do: the chair had to be touched. Jo-Jo knew it. Les knew it. She had to check for strings and wires — even batteries.
Several attempts failed. There was no invisible force field to prevent it (as she half expected), just a strong feeling that the chair should not be touched. The closer she moved toward the chair, the stronger her conviction became. As close as six inches away, she could not, would not disturb it further. And she didn't understand why.
Finally, they acceded to the phenomenon. The chair's motion was not a threat, a hoax or a product of the sitter's imagination. They concluded it had to be a message of sorts. Deep down, she knew what it had to be, what it was.
Jo-Jo put the phone receiver in her lap and closed her eyes. She cleared her mind and waited, no longer the least bit afraid. Gradually, a single thought coalesced: Grandee is dead. He is gone. It was time to let go of her best friend.
She opened her eyes to see the chair once more, wavering, through a veil of tears. Feeling her grandfather's presence all around her, she said farewell.
Almost immediately, the chair was still.
RITA LAWS is well-known on the national Mensa scene as coordinator of the Adoption and the Breast-Feeding and Childbirth SIGs.
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