75: “He gets up earlier than some birds”

Helen had grown somewhat tired of living with her grandfather. It was not all it was cracked up to be. Sure, she lived rent-free and she didn’t have to buy her own groceries, but the negatives had begun to outweigh the positives. For one thing, her grandfather often woke her early in the morning with the sounds of his regular morning routines. That would be fine, except that he woke at what Helen considered an entirely unreasonable and unnecessary hour.

“He wakes up at the crack of dawn,” Helen complained to Iggy and, by extension, Miles one night, having gone over to their apartment in search of solace from her grandfather for at least a short while. “He gets up earlier than some birds. Why? He’s eighty. What does he have to do? You know what he does? He plays bridge on Wednesdays. That’s it.”

Miles and Iggy stared at her in silence for a moment. Helen had initially been quite surprised when they’d gotten together. She hadn’t been around to witness the progression of their relationship. All the experience she had with the two of them together had been taken from their time as high school students, during which the pair of them had battled to prove who hated the other more. It almost always ended in one of them being humiliated in front of large numbers of their peers. Naturally, it had thus come as something of a shock to Helen to learn, over email from Priscilla one day, that Iggy and Miles had managed to put their differences aside and fall in love. But looking at them look back at her with matching looks of slightly disdainful confused concern, Helen began to understand what had brought them together.

“You okay?” Miles asked after a while, breaking the silence.

“I got up at five o’clock this morning, so you tell me,” was Helen’s blunt return.

“Alright,” Miles said slowly. “So no. You’re not okay.”

Helen glared at him. She was happy Iggy was happy, but she wasn’t so sure she didn’t prefer when they used to make fun of him for having a crush on the hairy librarian.

Helen could deal with the early rising. Well, she couldn’t actually, but she found that a far cry easier than dealing with her grandfather’s girlfriend. Except, she wasn’t supposed to call her his girlfriend. She was to call her his lady friend, as if that somehow made any difference. It was important to her grandfather, so that he could maintain the illusion that he’d only ever loved one woman, Helen’s grandmother. And Helen thought that was genuinely quite sweet, but it didn’t change the fact that her grandfather most definitely had a girlfriend.

Her name was Agnes and she liked to knit. Agnes liked to knit more than she liked anything else in the world. Agnes liked to knit more than anyone else in the world liked to knit. She did it constantly, even during dinner. Whenever she was over for dinner, Helen and her grandfather would sit at the kitchen table with her and pretend like she was gnawing roast beef off her knife like a heathen so that she could still hold onto her knitting with one hand. Agnes liked to knit all kinds of things. She knit Helen’s grandfather a balaclava and matching mittens for the winter. The problem was that Agnes was not actually very good at knitting, despite all the practice, so the balaclava had a very small openings for the eyes and the mittens were twice the size of his actual hands. They looked like gigantic, knit, maroon pancakes. She had also forgotten to put a hole in the balaclava for the mouth entirely so he looked like some sort of demented elderly superhero when he wore it. And he wore it often. In a show of support unparalleled to anything Helen had witnessed before in her life, her grandfather wore all of the things Agnes knit for him, sometimes all at once. As such, he very frequently looked utterly ridiculous.

“The poor man is going to suffocate inside that balaclava,” Helen said to Iggy and Jacklyn one day. They’d dragged her to the gym. Helen was under the impression that Iggy had dragged her along because she didn’t want to be left alone with Jacklyn, who was a very fit woman indeed.

“What a way to go,” Iggy remarked.

“It’s nice that she cares about him,” Jacklyn offered. “Like, it’s nice that she wants him to be warm.”

“Does she ever,” Helen snorted. Earlier that morning, Agnes had brought over knit knee-high socks for her grandfather. They were brown and green striped and they had incredibly long feet. Helen felt she would’ve been better off making tube socks because her grandfather couldn’t even get the excess sock around the toes into his shoes. He assured Agnes that they would come in perfectly handy around the home, a statement that was promptly followed by him tripping over the too big socks on his way to boil the kettle. He was going to break a goddamn hip in support of Agnes’ knitting habit.

A couple days later, Helen returned home from a lunch date with Nicholas to find her grandfather and Agnes sitting together in the living room watching Coronation Street at a truly alarming volume. The neighbours would love that.

“Oh Helen dear,” Agnes greeted her. Helen had been hoping to slip in unseen and take cover in her bedroom until Agnes hopefully left for the day. She had assumed she’d be able to make it under the cloak of the Coronation Street theme song, but that was apparently too much to ask.

“Hello,” Helen greeted Agnes, smiling politely.

“I have a little something for you, dear,” Agnes said, pulling a paper bag out from her purse. It was very wrinkled, just like Agnes. Helen walked over to accept the gift. She had no doubt that it was knitted. She had assumed it was only a matter of time before she started receiving misshapen balaclavas as well; her grandfather could only wear so many ill-fitting knitted items of clothing at one time.

“Thank you,” Helen said, accepting the bag. Agnes watched her expectedly until Helen opened it up. She’d been hoping to avoid this. She’d been hoping to open it in the solace of her bedroom so that she could hide her look of horror from Agnes and her grandfather and then send Agnes a thank you card later. Elderly people loved thank you cards.

From the brown paper bag, Helen pulled out what, alarmingly, turned out to be a yellow knit bikini. Agnes laughed delightedly.

“I saw the pattern in one of my books and just thought it was too adorable,” she informed Helen, who was having trouble trying to sort out what her face should look like.

“Oh, thank you,” she said, aiming for sincerity and coming up quite a bit short. She took her knit bikini to her room after she flashed Agnes what she hoped was her most charming smile.

She brought the bikini to Priscilla’s the next day. She held it up for Priscilla, Tallulah, and Rosalyn to all see.

“She has to know I’m never going to wear this,” Helen said, though she didn’t think Agnes did in fact know that.

“That will never keep its structure,” Rosalyn told her. “That would disintegrate if it ever got wet.”

“Serious ‘Free the Nipple’ situation,” Tallulah agreed, nodding.

“It’s just very impractical,” Priscilla added.

“On the plus side, it feels like there will be very, very minimal situations in which you would ever be in a bikini in front of your grandfather’s lady friend so this is all probably a moot point,” Rosalyn pointed out.

“God, I fucking hope so,” Helen replied.


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