For Grandmommy, who taught me to needlepoint.
“I’m four. I should get four cookies,” Pico reasoned. It seemed perfectly reasonable to her. Why Gramma-dinger couldn’t understand that, she had no idea.
“One cookie,” Gramma-dinger said, then closed the tin and put it back on top of the refrigerator. “That’s all you need. The rest are going up here, out of reach.”
Pico had no idea what ‘out of reach’ meant, but she did understand that the fancy blue tin belonged to her grandmother, not her mother or father. The cookies in the blue tin were Gramma-dinger’s special treat.
“How are you settling in, Mrs. Schrodinger?” the rabbi asked, sitting in Daddy’s chair with his back straight, not leaning back at all.
“Oh, everything is so different up here!” Gramma-dinger said, placing a plate with not just two, but six cookies in front of their guest. “But it’s nice to be close to my son and his family. I was heartbroken when he decided to move to the moon, but it was such a good opportunity, and he’s always been a bright young man…”
Pico sat quietly and watched while the rabbi ate one cookie, then another. The other four cookies were just sitting there, uneaten. Wasted. From where Pico sat, she could see the edge of the blue tin on top of the refrigerator. It had been almost full. It was a new box. There was no shortage of cookies. She knew that Gramma-dinger had an extra box that she kept under her bed, too.
Gramma-dinger stopped talking long enough to eat one of the remaining cookies. They were talking about Grampa-dinger and the funeral. Daddy had gone to Earth when Grampa-dinger died. He was gone for a whole month, and when he came back, Daddy and Mommy told Pico that Gramma-dinger was going to come live with them.
The house was getting crowded. First, her baby brother had arrived out of nowhere. The room she used to keep all her extra toys in had been turned into a nursery for him, even though he slept in Mommy and Daddy’s room. When Daddy got home from Earth, he’d cleaned out the small room he used as a den and they’d moved Pico’s bed into it. Her toys didn’t fit, but Mommy bought a nice toy chest and told her it would be all right to keep some in the living room. Pico’s old room was repainted bright yellow for Gramma-dinger.
The rabbi ate another cookie. Only two were left. Pico wondered what Gramma-dinger would do if there were still two cookies on the plate when the rabbi left. Pico might be able to sneak them off the plate when Gramma-dinger walked the rabbi to the door. She might not notice. She might think he ate them all.
“Rabbi! How nice of you to come,” Daddy said, striding into the room. He shook the rabbi’s hand, then picked up the last two cookies and put them both in his mouth at the same time.
Pico swallowed, watching her father’s jaw demolish the treats. She couldn’t wait until she was an adult. She’d eat as many cookies as she wanted, and she’d let her children and grandchildren eat all the cookies they wanted, too.
Later that night, while Daddy was fixing dinner and Mommy was napping with the baby, Pico heard the familiar sound of the blue metal tin opening. She turned around and saw that Gramma-dinger had some kind of cloth in her hands. The blue tin sat open beside her on the couch.
Pico quietly picked up her dolls and went to sit on the other end of the couch. She’d been very good all week, keeping Gramma-dinger company, and being quiet whenever anyone was asleep. Between her grandmother and her baby brother, it seemed like somebody was always sleeping.
Gramma-dinger put her hand into the open tin and pulled out a piece of brightly colored string. Pico dropped her dolls and leaned over, peering into the tin.
Pico blinked. There were no cookies inside. There were many little cards with bright string wrapped around them, a red ball with needles stuck in it, and several things she couldn’t identify.
“I should teach you how to embroider,” Gramma-dinger said. “But not until you’re a little older.”
“Are you sewing?” Pico asked.
Gramma-dinger held up the cloth. A plastic circle kept part of the cloth flat. It had a half-finished picture of a brightly colored bird on it.
Pico reached out her hand. Gramma-dinger smiled as she touched the taut cloth. “Are you making a picture out of thread?”
“Mmm-hmm,” Gramma-dinger said. “It’s called embroidery.”
Pico watched, fascinated, as her grandmother moved the needle in and out of the fabric, filling in the colors of the bird’s wing. It was slow, but very beautiful.
“Suppertime!” her father announced from the kitchen.
“Go wash your hands, Pico,” Gramma-dinger said, putting her embroidery back into the blue tin.
Pico polished off her dinner, then looked longingly at the box on top of the refrigerator.
“I picked up a Babka today,” Mommy said, eating one-handed while the baby drooled on her shoulder. “Would you like some for dessert?”
“Ummm…” Pico didn’t want to lose out on Babka, but she’d rather have one of Gramma-dinger’s special cookies. She didn’t know if she’d be chastised for asking. “What are you going to have for dessert, Gramma-dinger?” she asked.
“Oh, I’ll have a piece of Babka,” she answered. “I’m eager to find out if it tastes any different, baked up here. I wonder if they make alterations for the high altitude?”
Pico bit her lip as the grown-ups discussed altitude adjustments, whatever those were. Daddy put a piece of Babka in front of her. Pico picked at it. It wasn’t nearly as good as Gramma-dinger’s cookies, but it was too late now. She finished it off, then wandered off by herself while the adults talked about terribly boring stuff.
Pico’s feet took her to her old room. She stepped inside, then paused a moment, confused. It wasn’t her room any more. It was Gramma-dinger’s.
Nothing in it was familiar anymore. Nothing of her remained.
She turned around, about to leave, when she saw a flash of blue under the bed. The brand new cookie tin was there. Pico looked back down the hallway. The grown-ups were all still at the table. She sat on the floor and pulled the tin out. There was a thin piece of plastic sealing it. Pico went to the bathroom and got the nail-clippers, and soon had the tin open.
There they were, in golden buttery perfection. She took one, stuffing it in her mouth. It was heaven. She ate another, then another, casting nervous glances at the door. The sounds of adult laughter still carried from down the hall.
Pico looked at the contents of the bin. Each stack of cookies was in its own pleated white paper cup. The stacks were now uneven.
The sounds of conversation had stilled, and the dining room chairs were scraping against the floor. Hurriedly, Pico evened out the stacks so they were all the same size. She stuffed two cookies in her mouth and held a third in her hand as she put the lid back on and shoved the bin back under the bed again.
Pico tiptoed around for the next two days, waiting for someone to discover that she’d snuck into Gramma-dinger’s room and stolen the cookies, but neither Mommy, Daddy, nor Gramma-dinger herself seemed to know what she’d done.
“Pico, come sit with me. I have something special for you,” Gramma-dinger said one afternoon. Pico brought her dolls over to the couch and climbed up next to her grandmother. “You’re still too little for a sharp embroidery needle, but this—” She took out a fat plastic needle and handed it to Pico. “This is for needlepoint.”
Gramma-dinger took out a piece of plastic that was made up of lots of tiny squares. Pico held the big needle still while her grandmother pushed a fat piece of yarn through. Gramma-dinger showed Pico how to push the needle up from the bottom, then to skip a few squares and push the needle down again. She repeated the pattern across the top of the piece of plastic until there was a thick red stripe across it.
“Now we’ll change the color of yarn, and you can do another stripe,” Gramma-dinger said. “You try, and I’ll work on my embroidery.”
Gramma-dinger started the pattern for her, then Pico took the plastic canvas and plastic needle in her own hands. It wasn’t easy. Gramma-dinger’s needle flashed in and out of her taut circle of fabric, while Pico concentrated on getting her fat needle in the right little square. When she’d finished the stripe, she looked at her handiwork. She’d gotten the wrong hole several times, making the individual stitches too short or lying diagonally. “That’s fine, Pico. It’s your first try. Now let’s change colors again…”
Pico made a third thick stripe, then set her plastic needle and canvas down, watching her grandmother add little details of color to the bird. “What kind of bird is it?” Pico asked.
“It’s a bluebird,” Gramma-dinger said.
“But it’s not all blue!” Pico protested. “It’s got red on it.”
“Well, male bluebirds are like that…” Gramma-dinger went on to tell her all about the birds she used to watch at the birdfeeder behind her house on Earth. Pico listened, and watched the needle dip in and out of the embroidery hoop.
“I’ve never seen a bird,” Pico said.
The needle stopped. Gramma-dinger leaned over and placed a kiss on her forehead. “There’s a lot of things you’ll never see, living here on the Moon.” Gramma-dinger switched the color of the thread in her needle, then started sewing again. “But there are so many more things you get to do that Earth children never get to experience.”
“Suppertime!” Daddy announced from the kitchen while the baby, in a carrier on his back, squealed an echo.
Pico picked at the matzo brei. It wasn’t her favorite. She ate up her cucumber salad then poked at the rest of her food, wondering whether dessert was something that would make it worth her while to eat the matzo brei.
Gramma-dinger stood up, put her plate on the counter, and reached up to take the tin of cookies off the top of the fridge. “How about we just have some cookies tonight?” she said.
Pico polished off her matzo brei then stacked her plate on top of her grandmother’s. Daddy put not just one, but two cookies on a napkin in front of her. She ate them before her grandmother had a chance to notice Daddy had given her more than one.
Pico woke up in the middle of the night, listening to her baby brother wailing and crying. She peeked into her parents’ room and saw her mother pacing with the baby while Daddy changed the sheets in the crib.
Pico tucked herself back into bed.
As she lay there in the dark, her tummy started rumbling. Quietly, she padded to the kitchen.
A metallic glint caught her eye from the top of the fridge. Pico jumped up and grabbed the tin, setting it on the dining room table and looking back down the hallway to see if any of the grown-ups were coming.
She remembered what Gramma-dinger had said about them being ‘out of reach.’ Pico wasn’t sure what that meant, but she knew she wasn’t supposed to get into them.
As quietly as she could, she took the lid off the tin.
A beautiful bluebird looked back at her. The tin had no cookies. It was Gramma-dinger’s embroidery.
Pico ran her fingers over the delicate stitches. It was so beautiful. She could hardly believe the picture was made of thread. Carefully she replaced the lid, then jumped up again and put the tin back where it belonged.
She found a box of peanut-butter crackers and sat down to munch on them.
“You couldn’t sleep either?” Gramma-dinger said, coming into the room wearing her fuzzy yellow robe and matching slippers. “Your little brother is quite loud for such a tiny boy.”
Pico thought about how, only moments before, she’d had the blue tin open right there on the table. She wondered how much trouble she’d be in if Gramma-dinger knew she’d opened it.
“Would you like some milk to go with those?” Gramma-dinger asked.
“Yes, please,” Pico muttered, remembering too late that it was rude to talk with her mouth full.
“Your life has changed a lot, hasn’t it?” Gramma-dinger said, pouring a glass of milk for each of them. Pico wasn’t sure what to say. “First you get a baby brother. Then you have to give up your room for me.”
“I’m littler,” Pico said. “I don’t take up as much space.”
“When I was your age, I had to share a room with my big sister,” Gramma-dinger said. “But it was all right. When our little brother was born and our parents were always fussing over him, we had each other. She would always pour me a glass of milk in the middle of the night if we couldn’t sleep.”
“Was your baby brother always noisy?” Pico asked.
Gramma-dinger laughed. “Yes. Even when he was all grown up.”
Pico drank her milk and munched on the crackers while Gramma-dinger told stories about growing up in Illinois. Soon Pico’s eyes were heavy. Gramma-dinger walked her back to her room and tucked her in. Pico thought she would leave right away, but she didn’t. She sat in the little chair next to the bed and stroked her hair until Pico fell asleep.
The next day, when Gramma-dinger sat down on the couch, she had not just one, but two blue tins. “This one’s for you, Pico,” she said, handing her one tin.
Pico opened it up. A dozen stacks of buttery cookies shone inside.
Pico looked at Gramma-dinger’s blue tin. The bluebird was finished, and Gramma-dinger was adding shades of green to leaves of the branch it sat on. She looked at her cookies, and felt just a little disappointed. The cookies would be gone soon. What would she do with an empty tin?
Gramma-dinger handed Pico the plastic canvas she’d been working on. “If your little brother wakes you up in the middle of the night, now you’ll have your own cookies for a midnight snack.” She put a new color of yarn onto Pico’s plastic needle. “And when they’re all gone, maybe we’ll see about filling it with your own sewing supplies.”
Pico took one cookie out of the tin and put it in her mouth. She put the lid back on it, then went into the kitchen, jumped up, and put it on top of the fridge.
Gramma-dinger was sitting with her needle frozen in mid-air. “Well. That’s quite a trick!” she said.
“What’s a trick?” Pico asked.
“Jumping up so high!” Gramma-dinger said.
“Oh,” Pico said, looking back at the fridge before rejoining her grandmother on the couch. She’d heard that Earth children weren’t very good jumpers.
She picked up her needlepoint and examined where she’d left off. Carefully, she started stitching again.
“Gramma-dinger?” she asked.
“What does ‘out of reach’ mean?”
Gramma-dinger laughed, much louder than Pico had ever heard her laugh before.
“Well, my very talented granddaughter,” she said. “Apparently it means nothing.”
This story is number 5 in the series, and is also available from most of the usual e-book retailers.
Amazon (link coming soon)
Barnes & Noble (link coming soon)