"I certaintly didn't expect to see my own grandchild in a liquor store."
It was evening in March. Rain dripepd off awnings and down window panes, flowed across sidewalks and into gutters, and at the crosswalks it gathered in black pools, in which soggy grey blobs and chips of brown ice floated. A typical early spring around here. I wasn't sure how Grandma put up with it, but then, old people have been through a lot already.
"I just came in here looking for you. Dad says this is where you come on a Friday evening."
"So you come to a liquor store. In the dark. In the rain." She shook her head and leaned her tall, bony frame against the Vodka display. "In the city. What's wrong with a nice bright sunday morning? It never rains on a sunday morning, you notice that? Except when you don't come with me to -- "
"I'm really tired of Sunday mornings," I said. "I mean, there's not much time i have otherwise to see you, but -- "
"Oh, you could make time if you wanted. Satuday morning, maybe, or evening, or whenever you want to. Catch up with your old Granny King. Listen to the wisdom of the old folks. Why, sometimes I feel like I hardly know you! You never say a damn word on Sunday! You never sing a single song or anything! What's that about?"
"You...you don't know?"
"Why I'm never free on Satuday evening, for God's sake, Grandma, I'm Jewish! Did you just forget about your daughter-in-law's religion? Did you think it was okay to bring me to Church on Sunday and hint about conversion in my ear for an hour?"
"Well, your grandmother Anna never said anything about that, and your mother neither. What do you mean, you're Jewish? You're half Italian! I thought everyone in Italy was a good Catholic."
"Ha! That's what the Popes wanted alright. But there were Jewish people there anyway. Stuck in the crummy parts of the city. Ghetto's an Italian word, you know. You know her. She talks about Italy all the time. Why would she have left if not because they hated her?"
"Well...Hm. Boy, that does explain a lot. But child, All I did was suggest you come with me once. I thought you were entirely willing! And I never said no damn word about conversion, all I said was that Jesus was the Lord and Savior and, you know, all that good stuff. You've got to have faith...I've always needed faith. You really ought to come around some time and let me tell you."
"I don't want to hear about Jesus from you, even away from Sunday. I'm still recovering from December."
"I'm not talking about Jesus this time." She straightened up, and light gleamed in her eyes. "I've been around, you know, and I've been here in this city for a long time. I was here when people were on the make. I was here when it all looked like our dreams were going to come true. I was here when it all turned to crap. I looked out windows to see people shot down in the street, and did you ever ask me about it? No!" She subsided, and smiled. "So like I said, come around some time and let me tell you about it. What's so scary about my place, anyway? It's almost like there's a part of your heritage you don't want to acknowledge." She fixed me with a piercing gaze. "And you might as well, you know, 'cause I know the cops will even if you don't want to. Might as well look for strength in numbers, right?" She chuckled. "Your daddy told me you've got your entire apartment building willing to take up arms, but there's other types of strength, you know."
"I know...it's just, what kind of time do I have for you? I mean -- I'm sorry, that was -- "
"Anna tells me you're away from your place when you're not there doing homework. But you don't come to me. I bet you run around doing all that Shaman stuff. Am I right?"
"I like to explore the city. I like to have new tales to bring to my friends."
"You doing any more of that business with being a rat?"
"Not since the last time..."
Grandma moved to the back of the store, and I followed. "I still can't believe you just blindly followed the advice of a damn rat. What did he do, bribe you with candy?"
"No, he promised me knowledge and adventure."
"Ha!" She stopped at a grey door, and turned to meet my gaze. "Just the kind of thing to lure you." She opened the door. I didn't see how. The door was the kind that has no handles and only opens outward -- like those heavy one-way exit doors on the side of theaters, the ones that don't need locks because you're never going to get them open from the outside anyway. But this one opened outward -- bit of a fire safety hazard there -- and Grandma stepped into a room more brightly lit than the one we'd left. All the lines were a bit sharper, the air a bit thicker. The man at the counter was a bit more solid than the guy at the usual counter. He was a very Man, not like the man from outside.
"Ah, Ms. King", said the fellow, a Black man with a very Turban. "Your usual, I presume! Oh..." He had spotted me, and glanced nervously at Grandma.
"It's alright, Mister Mazigh. She's my estranged granddaughter. A real talent, I daresay, though I rarely get to see it."
Mister Mazigh brought out two very Cases of wine bottles from behind the counter. Their labels were blank, and their contents were a deep, opaque purplish-red.
"What kind of wine is that?" I said.
"Oh, I don't drink...wine," said Grandma, and laughed evilly.
"You can't possibly be a vampire," I said. "You're a methodist."
"Well, no." She hefted both Cases, one under each arm. "I really ought to tell you what I do with this stuff. How the do you think I survived the Eighties? Get the door for me, will you?"
I pushed the very Door outward into the night, and let Grandma pass, then followed.
There was no light spilling from shop windows onto wet pavement. I turned around. The shop windows and door were gone, replaced by a blank brick wall.
I turned back to Grandma. She was already moseying towards the main road. I jogged to keep up behind her.
But before I reached her, a man unfolded from the shadows and flicked out a switchblade knife, and stalked towards Grandma.
But then he froze in his tracks, and I almost ran into him.
"Alright," I said, "go on and mug the poor old lady. What's stopping you?"
"Stupid," said the man, "that's old Mrs. King! And she's got those boxes! Last time anyone tried to mug her, she removed his entire -- hey, you look like you have some money on you."
Grandma turned around. Light gleamed in her eyes.
The man dashed away, into the wet, cold night.
Grandma spat in his retreating direction.
"Listen, Child," she said, "if you're going to dabble in the ways of power, learning about this part and that part of the city isn't enough. There are a lot of things older and stronger than this place. There are a lot of things nastier than you're used to. This ain't no playground, it's a bunch of people packed together and built on the foundations of thousands of years. I really want to tell you about some of those foundations, and I'm disappointed that you don't ever visit me."
"You do your guilt-tripping more directly than Mom does."
"Well, you can't claim to have misinterpreted, can you? I could just say 'stop by and see us some time,' but that's even less direct. Come by my place and see your father's side of the family before I die, how's that? Besides, Martin says you two haven't spoken in months. And I'd love to tell you about Methodism, too."
She descended the stairs to the subway.
I decided to leave her, and hot-foot it back to my place. Dad was going to get an earful from me. Mom too.