She was dancing. My crippled grandmother was dancing. I stood in the living room doorway absolutely stunned. I glanced at the kitchen table and sure enough-right under a small, framed drawing on the wall-was a freshly baked peach pie.
I heard her sing when I opened the door but did not want to interrupt the beautiful song by yelling I had arrived, so I just tiptoed to the living room. I looked at how her still-lean body bent beautifully, her arms greeting the sunlight that was pouring through the window. And her legs… Those legs that had stiffly walked, aided with a cane, insensible shoes as long as I could remember. Now she was wearing beautiful dancing shoes and her legs obeyed her perfectly. No limping. No stiffness. Just beautiful, fluid motion. She was the pet of the dancing world. And then she’d had her accident and it was all over. I had read that in an old newspaper clipping.
She turned around in a slow pirouette and saw me standing in the doorway. Her song ended, and her beautiful movements with it, so abruptly that it felt like being shaken awake from a beautiful dream. The sudden silence rang in my ears. Grandma looked so much like a kid caught with her hand in a cookie jar that I couldn’t help myself, and a slightly nervous laughter escaped. Grandma sighed and turned towards the kitchen. I followed her, not believing my eyes. She was walking with no difficulties in her beautiful shoes. We sat down by the table and cut ourselves big pieces of her delicious peach pie.
“So…” I blurted, “How did your leg heal?”
“To tell you the truth—my legs have been well all my life,” she said.
“But I don’t understand!” I said, “Your dancing career… I mean… You pretended all these years?
“Very much so,” Grandmother closed her eyes and savored the peach pie, “And for a very good reason.”
“You mean he told you not to dance?”
“No, this was my choice. I am sure I would have lost him if I had continued dancing. I weighed fame and love against each other and love won.”
She thought for a while and then continued. “We were talking about engagement when your grandfather had to go to war. It was the most horrible day of my life when he left. I was so afraid of losing him, the only way I could stay sane was to dance. I put all my energy and time into practicing—and I became very good. Critics praised me, the public loved me, but all I could feel was the ache in my heart, not knowing whether the love of my life would ever return. Then I went home and read and re-read his letters until I fell asleep. He always ended his letters with ‘You are my Joy. I love you with my life’ and after that he wrote his name. And then one day a letter came. There were only three sentences: ‘I have lost my leg. I am no longer a whole man and now give you back your freedom. It is best you forget about me.’”
“I made my decision there and then. I took my leave, and traveled away from the city. When I returned I had bought myself a cane and wrapped my leg tightly with bandages. I told everyone I had been in a car crash and that my leg would never completely heal again. My dancing days were over. No one suspected the story—I had learned to limp convincingly before I returned home. And I made sure the first person to hear of my accident was a reporter I knew well. Then I traveled to the hospital. They had pushed your grandfather outside in his wheelchair. There was a cane on the ground by his wheelchair. I took a deep breath, leaned on my cane and limped to him. ”
By now I had forgotten about the pie and listened to grandma, mesmerized. “What happened then?” I hurried her when she took her time eating some pie.
“I told him he was not the only one who had lost a leg, even if mine was still attached to me. I showed him newspaper clippings of my accident. ‘So if you think I’m going to let you feel sorry for yourself for the rest of your life, think again. There is a whole life waiting for us out there! I don’t intend to be sorry for myself. But I have enough on my plate as it is, so you’d better snap out of it too. And I am not going to carry you-you are going to walk yourself.’” Grandma giggled, a surprisingly girlish sound coming from an old lady with white hair.
“I limped a few steps toward him and showed him what I’d taken out of my pocket. ‘Now show me you are still a man,’ I said, ‘I won’t ask again.’ He bent to take his cane from the ground and struggled out of that wheelchair. I could see he had not done it before, because he almost fell on his face, having only one leg. But I was not going to help. And so he managed it on his own and walked to me and never sat in a wheelchair again in his life.”
“What did you show him?” I had to know. Grandma looked at me and grinned. “Two engagement rings, of course. I had bought them the day after he left for the war and I was not going to waste them on any other man.”
I looked at the drawing on the kitchen wall, sketched by my grandfather’s hand so many years before. The picture became distorted as tears filled my eyes. “You are my Joy. I love you with my life.” I murmured quietly. The young woman in the drawing sat on her park bench and with twinkling eyes smiled broadly at me, an engagement ring carefully drawn on her finger.