I was standing alone in the playground during recess when I spotted my grandfather all the way across at the other entrance to the park. “Zaidy!” I screamed, and started running to meet him, arms out wide though he was not the hugging type.
What was he doing here? Maybe he was coming to take me out of school? Maybe he’d pop me in his car and he’d drive, jerky like usual, the way my brother thought was hilarious. He’d pretend he had a donkey in the trunk, and take me somewhere special, just the two of us.
“Zaidy, hi, Zaidy,” I called, waving my arms frantically. “It’s me, it’s Jennifer!” He did not turn. He could not see me.
My zeidy was a quiet man who didn’t talk much. “Ess gezinteheit,” he’d say when we sat down to eat. My father said it meant, “Eat in good health.” He was the only person I knew who said that. He drank coffee every Saturday morning out of a huge glass mug with PAT on the side, which was not his name. He’d stir it, stir it, ever so carefully, before silently taking a sip. The mug came from the “chute,” the trash where he worked as a caretaker.
I had seen him at his house, drinking coffee. I had seen him at our house, eating barbecued hot dogs in the backyard off my father’s tiny hibachi. I had seen him in Miami, once, drinking coffee in the sun. But I had never seen him at the park before.
Maybe he was just stopping by on his way somewhere, and he could just push me on the swings before the recess bell rang. Or maybe he could stay and have my mother’s cheesy macaroni, and I could show off how nicely I gave the baby her bottle while my mother cooked.
“Zaidy!” This was my loudest yell, and everybody in the playground turned to look. They had never heard me loud before. But I had to make him hear. There was so much we could do with a few minutes alone, without my brother, sister, parents; just me.
I must have been close enough at last to get his attention. He stopped in the middle of the path, turned to see who was calling. My heart thumped and I started sprinting towards him.
But then, it wasn’t my zaidy.
It was some other man, in the same brownish-beige polyester slacks my father and every man I knew wore; the same plaid short-sleeved shirt. The same clothes, but not the same zaidy.
In the shadow of my shout, silence buzzed in my ears, which flamed hot with the memory of how eager I had been. I was all alone in the park, in the middle of recess. All alone, like my zaidy, still at home, probably hunched over his coffee, murmuring “Ess gezinteheit,” to nobody at all in particular.