Noreen wasn’t in the snack bar, which meant she was in the ladies room, looking at herself. It wasn’t vanity, quite, which made Noreen spend so much time with mirrors. Years later, I decided she simply needed reassurance.
For forty days each year, we were the same age. She was born February 9th, and I came December 31st, just on the stroke of midnight of the same year. A bit eager my parents were, but they were both pretty old and there would be no grace in my complaining.
My sister, as I expected, was making faces at herself, leaning her elbows on the counter. She could do this for hours, twisting her mouth to one side, then the other; tilting her head at different angles or raising her shoulders to shorten her neck. It didn’t matter; mirrors liked her and she looked no less beautiful. (Oddly, she never came out right on film, and those who didn’t know us then look at the photos and think I was the pretty one). I had given serious thought to detesting her, but it would have been too much work so, a bit reluctantly, I was fond of her.
“Noreen. I need you to come upstairs right now.”
“Is Grandma okay?”
“If she was okay she wouldn’t be here, would she? But that’s not why you have to come. Greenray is standing in the hall, outside her door.”
My grandmother had never talked to us about our mother’s father, but our mother had. Unfortunately, all she knew about him was that he was an American soldier who had gotten Grandma pregnant without marrying her and then absent-mindedly gotten himself killed before righting the situation. Noreen found this romantic, and had insisted on his being the hero of at least some of the stories we told each other when we were supposed to be sleeping. Thinly disguised as Greenray the Invincible, he’d rescued any number of princesses and the odd mermaid, all of whom had been eager to bestow their favors on him. Chastely, he had always refused them, out of loyalty to our grandmother. (We weren’t quite sure whether bestowing favors involved having babies or giving a sort of filmy scarf.)