Grandma was lonely and belligerent and we weren’t sure what to do until we saw the imaginary friend sale. It was an impulse buy really, but imaginary friends don’t come cheap and the imaginary freaks were on special. Each came in a small, red, jewelry-sized box. The card inside had the description – height and weight and age and personality.
The imaginary fat lady was kind enough but a bit claustrophobic and we worried because Grandma’s condo was small. The man who could pop his eyeball out of its socket seemed shy. The alligator man had a great sense of humor but was a bit boisterous and the card hinted at a drinking problem. The lobster boy was very chatty and liked auto racing. That is why we chose Lester. She was single and twenty-nine, close to our age, self-confident and well-groomed. She had an affinity for Shakespeare and was a traditional sort of dresser, preferred blouses and skirts. She liked classical music and jazz, pizza and sushi, and had excessive hirsutes, hair all over her body from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. We hoped she could keep Grandma company, introduce her to new cultural experiences.
Grandma had kicked out the home aide nurse we hired to look in on her twice a day to chat and clean. Grandma said she could run her own vacuum just fine. She told us the nurse stole things, cost too much, and she didn’t need the help. The home nurse said Grandma intentionally missed the toilet.
“Whoever heard of a woman named Lester?” Grandma said when she opened the red box.
“She did,” we said.
“I did,” we heard Lester say.
Lester sat beside us on the burnt orange recliner chair. She wore a white blouse, purple skirt, had inch-long auburn hair covering her arms and legs and everywhere else, we assumed.
Grandma scrunched her nose. “She’s too hairy.”
We had lunch with Grandma and Lester. Grandma made egg salad sandwiches and we brought a cake. Lester ate the sandwich that appeared in her hand.
Grandma didn’t say much to Lester but did offer her some cake. Lester politely refused. We had a very small sliver of cake because were watching our weight.
Grandma never had an easy time around new people, but we figured she and Lester should just get to know each other.
“I’m not going to leave,” Lester assured us. “She can’t kick me out.”
Grandma was biting her lip when she waved good-bye. Later she called us to say Lester scared her.
We told her she probably scared Lester, too.
“Lester seems perfectly nice,” we said, “you just need to get to know her.”
Lester was attractive and scary at the same time, had a beautiful voice but in odd ways reminded us of when we hit puberty and started growing hair in places where we’d never had hair before. We were afraid the hair would keep growing. Even now every week we shave the hair that is not supposed to be there, keep it at bay. Our mother still waxes her upper lip.
The next day Grandma called us to say she’d taken Lester grocery shopping and never would again. “She told me to buy mangoes and they’re just too darned expensive. Then she said we should get sushi for lunch. I’d never eat that stuff.”
“Lester is just trying to be helpful,” we said.
“She’s annoying,” said Grandma. She said Lester didn’t understand her. Lester shed imaginary hair everywhere. Lester was rude. We knew this was a lie.
“You need some company,” we told Grandma. “It’s either Lester or assisted living.”
Grandma hung up the phone.
When Grandma called later in the afternoon she said Lester kept pestering her to take her medications.
“I’m an adult,” she said, “I can keep track of these things.”
“It’s nice that Lester wants you to keep healthy,” we said because we knew sometimes Grandma didn’t take her pills.
“She said I should get a bobbed cut, that it would make me look younger,” said Grandma. “She told me I needed to get rid of the old lady curls.”
We told her we didn’t think a new haircut would be a bad idea.
“She called them old lady curls,” said Grandma.
“She didn’t mean to hurt your feelings,” we said because they were old lady curls.
“You’re both on her side,” Grandma grumbled before slamming down the phone.
When we went clothes shopping with Lester and Grandma, Lester suggested things for Grandma to try – fuchsia skirts and violet sweaters. We thought Lester had good taste. Grandma rejected everything, said the colors were too loud, bought everything in navy blue.
At lunch we ordered salad and Lester raised her eyebrows. We told Lester we were trying another diet. She nodded and didn’t say anything else. Neither Lester nor we could convince Grandma to order anything but fried fish. It was what she always had.
“I know what I like,” she said, “quit bugging me.” She squinted again at Lester who ate her chicken sandwich quietly. We sighed at our dry lettuce but patted our hips to remind ourselves of the incentive swimsuits waiting at home. Soon we’d have to shave our bikini lines.
When we went to the used book store, Lester tried to lead Grandma to the large-print mysteries but Grandma wouldn’t have it.
“They’re for old people,” she said.
We shrugged at Lester as if to say this is what we’ve been dealing with for the past fifteen years, ever since Grandma hit sixty-one and started getting ornery. When we dropped them off at home, Lester and Grandma both waved slowly from the door.
The complaints persisted. Lester wanted to teach Grandma how to play poker. She wanted Grandma to start crocheting again and watch less TV. She tried to get Grandma to walk to the grocery instead of driving.
“Too damn chilly outside,” said Grandma, “and it doesn’t matter to her because she’s got a layer of fur.”
Trying to avert a crisis, we went to see Grandma and Lester the next day.
Grandma was pouting, said we should take Lester back to the store.
Lester sat beside us wearing a pink dress. She daubed her eyes with the tissue that appeared in her hand.
“You hurt Lester’s feelings,” we said, “she’s done her best. We’ll take Lester home with us if you hate her that much.”
Grandma bit her lip, patted her thinning curls. “I told you, she’s too hairy.”
We gathered our purses and both grabbed one of Lester’s soft hairy hands. We were certain she was near tears, somewhere in all that hair.
“Come on, Lester,” we said, almost crying ourselves, sure that if we had never cut our hair it would have grown like hers, covered everything. We thought of the slightly rusted razor in our bathroom.