On days when the sky is the same cloudy gray as his eyes, my grandfather goes up to the attic. We hear his light footfalls above us and we sit silently, waiting, for he locks the attic door and none of us have ever seen what is inside.
"What does he do up there?" I ask my father, who shrugs
"Your grandfather has gone up there for as long as I can remember, but we're never allowed to go with him. He carries the key in his pocket . . .and it's a special key, one that can't be duplicated."
I nod, quickly turning away so Dad doesn't see the glimmer in my eyes, plotting a stealthy theft of that key.
Grandpa is an enigma. He used to write; stories, poems, articles--they'd come pouring from his long, tobacco-stained and ink-blotted fingers to the magic keys of his typewriter. His books hide behind Dickens and Steinbeck on library shelves, slim volumes of a past I know so little about.
I know even less about my grandmother, whose name is never spoken, whose face I've never seen. When I ask after her, the response is for me to be quiet.
But I'm tired of being quiet, spending my days in a house heavy with secrets. I want to know about my family, where I've come from. I want a grandfather who doesn't retreat to the attic on cloudy, melancholy days. I want to find out, and for me to do that I must see what's inside the attic.
Every night, Grandpa retires to his study to read and smoke a cigar. He does this in a red silk smoking jacket like Hugh Hefner, which leaves that Holy Grail of a key in easy access. I think he's grown so used to this routine that he forgets I could slip into his bedroom and steal it.
That's exactly what I do, feeling a little devious but not caring all that much. With some quick searching, making sure I walk on silent feet as not to arouse suspicion, the key is located. Not in pockets of his many trousers and matching jackets, but in a little jewelry box. How obvious, Gramps. You don't fool me.
With a sneaky burglar's grin, I fold that key into my hand and creep up to the attic.
It's empty but for a trunk and a table with a suitcase of sorts on it. "That's it?" I say to myself, heart sinking in disappointment. I'd imagined a room reminiscent of King Tut's tomb in Grandpa's history books, full of golden effigies and organs in gilded bottles, velvet carpeting. Dust fills the air, cloaking it with a musty smell like a museum.
I try the suitcase first. Fiddling around with the lock, which springs open with a creaking complaint, I throw open the lid. "This is what you come up here for, Grandpa? A typewriter? There aren't even any WORDS on it!" Indeed, the keys are grayish with age and the ink has long since dried up.
I decide that it's time for me to examine the trunk—the typewriter hasn't yielded to any clues. It's a rather large thing, a shiny black, and heavy to open. But as I do so, this heady rose-musk scent envelops me and caresses my brain. I exhale gratefully, whispering "Jackpot!" under my breath.
So many, many things! Letters; there must be twenty of them in yellowing envelopes. A bottle of exquisitely packaged perfume, the perfume that is releasing the sweet scent I'm near-drunk on. A dress, black moiré silk, simple in design as I hold it up to myself. It, too, carries that feminine, musky scent in its folds, faded with age. A pair of black gloves and Jackie O. sunglasses to match. Two cheap masks—a sad faced dog and devilish cat. I handle those fragile things with care and all the while I'm wondering, "Who's things are these? Who does this dress belong to and why does Grandpa have it up in the attic? Who is this hidden person?"
Digging deeper without one bit of guilt, I encounter one of Grandpa's books. "Nine Lives" reads the cover. "A novel by Paul Varjak." Well, that doesn't surprise me. I've seen, and read, this book a thousand times. But this one has writing in the cover. Anxiously my eyes fight to read the discolored words.
"To Holly," it reads. Who's Holly, and why does Grandpa have her book? "They're not all dirty stories, but I hope you'll enjoy them anyway." It was signed "P. (Fred) Varjak" and undated.
And tucked inside the cover of the book are pictures! Pictures dyed brown-greenish by the hands of time. I give a little gasp upon examining them: Grandpa, much younger, looking stiffly uncomfortable, drink in one hand, with a doelike brunette, resembling Audrey Hepburn to a point it's almost scary, who is wearing a black dress and smoking a long, elegant cigarette. They're surrounded by a bunch of people, all of whom have their backs turned to the lens. The woman is smiling radiantly but Grandpa's face is towards her. Her hands are a blur of motion and above them on a shelf is an orange tabby cat, glowering down upon the party.
Another picture is of the same woman, bundled in a hefty blue fisherman's sweater, with the same cat on her shoulder. She looks as though the picture was taken without her knowing; she could be a Monet painting done in hazy watercolors. Longingly her gaze drifts out the opened window.
Hurriedly I turn those pictures around, searching for some clue to that woman's identity. Penciled in Grandpa's thin, slanting hand are the words, "Holly and Cat."
What's this? The thinnest piece of paper, nearly crumbling in my hands, falls from behind one of the photographs. Taking pains not to ruin it with my excitable fingers, I open the secrets I believe this paper will uncover and read. It's typewritten poorly, letters and punctuation sadly lacking, causing me to doubt that Grandpa wrote this. (From the time I was able to understand, he had me writing and reading.)
Wider than a mile.
I'm crossing you in Style.
Oh Dream maker
You Heart breaker
Where ever you're going
I'm going your Way.
Off to see the World.
There's such a lot of World to see.
We're after the same Rainbow's End.
Waiting round the bend
My Huckleberry Friend,
Moon River and Me.
A magnetic force binds me to this simple slip of paper and I know then that this is Holly's song. It's as if bits of Grandpa's hidden life are being pieced together like a puzzle in my mind and now finally I know. Holly. Holly is the reason Grandpa comes up here so often.
Someone knocks at the door. I jump in complete fear, for it is late into the night and I've been sitting here for what seems like hours. "Let me in, Jocelyn! What are you doing up here?" It's Grandpa's voice, rough and angry.
Tremblingly I rise from my uncomfortable position on the
hard floor and walk slowly to the door, opening it to reveal Grandpa in his
pajamas with a severely annoyed look on his face.
"Grandpa. . ." I fumble for an apology, but quickly dismiss the idea. "Who is Holly?"
The hard features of his face soften and his eyes become dreamy. "Holly. . .so you've found her."
I nod, unable to say anything more. "Who's Holly?" He repeats. "Holly Golightly. Who's Holly?" I'm a little worried; my dependable, sturdy Grandpa looks like he's in a trance.
"Tell me about Holly, Grandpa."
The trunk has been moved. No longer will it sit in the attic, Grandpa says, as we drag it down the stairs. Tenderly he wipes ever-present dust off the treasure chest, a novel-like romance changing him completely. We settle into red leather chairs in the masculinity of his office and he holds a glass of bourbon in one hand. The office is comforting in its warmth and smoke, smoke that sends him back a million years. I can see the decades melting away as he speaks.
"Her name was Holly Golightly. She was a girl-about-town . . .lived in the same apartment building as I did. Rich men took her out and paid her . . .once she told me she got fifty dollars to take to the powder room. But she wasn't a whore. When they got her back to her house, she'd lock the door and crawl up the fire escape to my room to hide. We'd hear them calling for her, drunk and angry, and we'd smoke cigarettes and laugh. She used to have wild parties with a thousand others of her bohemian sort, and they'd get drunk and play their music loud and annoy the man who lived upstairs. The cops would get called but Holly would charm them—if there was one thing Holly Golightly possessed, it was charm. And lots of it.
"Holly's favorite place in the world was Tiffany's. When she'd get the "mean reds" that was the first place she would go, just to spend hours amid the glitter of the precious jewels. It was her sanctuary.
"She had a nameless cat. . .didn't name him because she said he didn't belong to her. But he did; they belonged to each other and she did realize it eventually. But that happens later on.
"I fell in love with Holly and she with me though she hid
it. . .Holly had a complex fear of being caged. She'd been "married" once, to an old tired man named Doc. She wasn't Holly Golightly, glamorous gamine
in Givenchy. Not really. She was really Lulamae Barnes, a wild,
uneducated girl with a brother named Fred.
She called me Fred because she said I looked like him. She wanted to live on a ranch with Fred; he
was good with horses, she said. But
Fred was killed and Holly fell to pieces.
That was when I really understood her.
That and when she'd sing that song."
"The one about the moon river?" I ask, interrupting his reverie to make my childish inquiry. He nods solemnly, our identical eyes meeting in kinship, for now I know the story.
"So many things happened in this first few months; it would take forever for me to describe them all to you. She used to visit a man called Sally Tomato at Sing Sing for one hundred dollars, just to deliver a "weather report" that was really some sort of gangster code. Holly didn't know that; she was adorably naïve about that sort of thing. She went to jail for it, too, but I bailed her out. That day she was supposed to fly to Argentina to marry Jose; she wanted to marry for money.
"But Jose broke his promise and sent a telegram saying he didn't want to marry her. She wilted in the back of that taxicab and I hated Holly then, as head over heels in love with her as I was. 'You can't cage a wild thing,' she said often. I told her I didn't want to put her in a cage; I just wanted to love her."
Grandpa stops there and sits in silence until I finally venture the question I know he's been dreading. "What happened to Holly?"
"Would you believe it if I told you she married me?" I shake my head and he smiles sadly. "She did. We were really very much in love; it was just like one of those romance movies back when they knew how to make them. And you know what she said to me? She said, 'Paul, darling, remember when I told you that Tiffany's was the only place that could ever make me completely happy? Now there's two places; Tiffany's, of course; it isn't like I could forget Tiffany's since it's such a wonderful place, all full of light and diamonds even if some of that jewelry is really terribly ugly, I love it anyhow. And with you.'"
"Where is Holly, Grandpa?" I don't want to ask, don't want to hurt him more, but I have to know.
His eyes well up with tears but he does cry. "I don't know where Holly is, Jocelyn."
Taking a deep, staggering breath, choked with emotion, he
stared down at the photographs in his hand.
"This is all I have of Holly now.
Her favorite dress, these pictures, that song, the perfume . . .the
masks." When he speaks of the masks, the cartoonish cat and dog that I hold
carefully in my hands, a smile crosses his face once again. "When your father was very young, Holly left
us. She'd come back once in awhile; I
heard once that things always come back to the place they love most. And now I'm old; Holly's old too though she
"Why doesn't my father talk about her?"
"He doesn't remember her. She loved him dearly but she wasn't a good mother, wasn't cut out to be a mother in the first place. I hate to say it, Jocelyn, but I caged her. I wanted her to be a wife, someone who would make me dinner when I came home from work at night, raise our children, stay with me until we were old and senile. In my selfish love, I unwittingly drove away the one thing I loved most." He pauses, staring at me for a long time. "You look like Holly. I see her in you; the way you move and the way you talk, how you can move from subject to subject in just a second. Your hair is like hers, and the structure of your face. But your eyes are mine, Jocelyn, and your heart is that of a writer. You've got inkblots on your hands just as I do; yours aren't visible yet but they'll come. I want you to write, Jocelyn. I want you to write about Holly. Tell our story."
Well, naturally, Grandpa.
I've already been writing it in my head. "Maybe your doing so will bring her back to me."
I've got one last question. "What about Cat? What happened to Cat?"
He laughs now, patting my hand the way grandfathers are supposed to. "Cat lived with us. She let him out that day in the taxi, in the pouring rain on the streets of New York City. But we found him and took him home."
"Just like what you did to Holly. . ." I whisper. "So Holly is my grandmother. Will she come back, Grandpa?"
"I don't know, Jocelyn. I don't know. All we can do is hope. Maybe she's seen the world, crossed her moon river in style. You can't cage a wild thing, but you can hope that when you set it free it will return. You've got to believe in love."