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“Is Grandpa in heaven?” asked Michael. He sliced into the oatmeal with his spoon, carefully trapping a puddle of sugar and milk.

“Etta believes that your grandfather died and went to work at a health food store,” said Grandmother Booth.

Michael’s tongue ran a gob of oatmeal around the roof of his mouth. “Do ghosts take vitamins?” he asked.

“That’s enough.”

“I found a book that belongs to my dad — ”

“What did I just say?”

“But this book — ”

“Michael, please. Swallow your oatmeal.”

He longed for a glass of orange juice and a bowl of Cocoa Puffs. His grandmother was again buttering toast, which had gone soggy.

“Your grandfather never took vitamins,” she said. Her knife tore straight through the toast and screeched across her plate like blackboard chalk. “He sustained a rich, full life, and he never took vitamins.”

“My dad has a book — ”

“Here we go again.”

“ — about people who got phone calls from dead relatives. They call up and say stuff they forgot to say when they were alive.”

“I know all about your father’s books,” said Michael’s grandmother. “What happened to the book I gave you? Great Expectations is a wonderful story.”

“It’s five hundred pages long,” he said.


He wanted to tell her that Pip was no name for a boy. It put him in mind of Pippy Longstocking, an even worse name for a girl.

“The great books are long books,” said his grandmother, none too convincingly. “The Bible, certainly. There’s Anna Karenina and Raintree County.”

Michael managed another bite of oatmeal. “What about The Old Man and the Sea?” he asked. “The Old Man and the Sea isn’t a long book.”

“As if you’ve read it.” His grandmother snorted.

Admittedly, Michael knew of many more books than he had read. His father’s library — which filled dozens of bowlegged shelves tilted against the basement walls — offered a grand visual excursion. The books were divided roughly 50/50 between accepted literary classics and outré occult manuals and overviews.