Jessie walked up the stairs of the old Victorian house, carrying the sticky chocolate cake her mother had made. Jessie had met Ms. Pushkin quite a few times, but always accompanied by her mother. Now that she was twelve, her mother had decided that it would be better if she went alone. She was only there, Jessie reminded herself, to deliver a Christmas cake for their elderly neighbor. Still, what if she wasn’t home or something went wrong? Reaching the door at last, Jessie gripped the brass doorknocker that was shaped in a lion’s head and knocked three times. She waited, no answer. She knocked again, still no answer. Jessie was about to consider leaving the cake on the steps when the door creaked open. There in the doorway stood a frail old lady in a silken nightgown and a pair of yellow slippers.
“Hello, Ms. Pushkin,” Jessie said tentatively.
“Who’s there?” she asked, rather confused.
“Ms. Pushkin, it’s me, Jessie, from next door.”
The old woman was silent for a minute, and then, as though she had just remembered who Jessie was, she said, “Oh, Jessie, come in, come in.” Jessie entered the house, remembering her mother telling her it was the polite thing to do. Ms. Pushkin led her into a cozy sitting room with a roaring fire.
“Come, sit down,” Ms. Pushkin pointed at the empty armchair. Jessie sat down and then, remembering why she was there, she said, “Merry Christmas, Ms. Pushkin, I have a cake for you.” Jessie held out the cake, which was in a pink cardboard box.
“Oh thank you, dear, do me a favor, just put it in the kitchen,” she waved a hand toward a small doorway. Jessie got up and, doing as the old woman had said, she entered the small kitchen and set the cake down on the green tiled counter. Returning to the sitting room, Jessie sat back down in the armchair. It was then that she noticed them. Sitting on the large mantle over the fireplace were seven or eight intricately designed snow globes. They were all different sizes and looked as though they would have been rather expensive. Ms. Pushkin sipped a cup of tea that had been sitting on a large glass coffee table. The two were silent, just taking in each other’s presence.
“You like my snow globe collection?” Ms. Pushkin asked Jessie, who was still gazing at them.
“Yes ma’am, they’re very beautiful,” Jessie answered as she finally tore her gaze from them.
“That first one on the right, yes that one, that was given to me on my seventh birthday,” Ms. Pushkin said. “And to think that I still have it.” The old woman gave a snicker. “Now that second one I was given as a present for joining the circus.”
“You were in the circus?” Jessie blurted out before she could stop herself.
“Oh yes, I lived in Russia my entire childhood, you see,” Ms. Pushkin went on. “Moscow to be more exact. I had it all, the big tents and the face make-up that takes forever to get off. I was a juggler for my group. On stage I would juggle anything from potatoes to flaming torches of fire. It was the time of my life!” As Jessie listened to the woman’s story, she could see a gleam in her eye. “But,” she said solemnly, “all good times must come to an end. It was the fifth show of the night for the Fire Catchers, that’s what we called ourselves. I was doing my act, juggling the fire and all, when I spotted a small girl wandering onto the stage. She kept coming towards me and, when she was only inches away from my whirling balls of fire, I had to stop. But you see, I couldn’t. It was Charlie’s job to come out and extinguish the fire torches one at a time, while I was still juggling, but since it wasn’t the end of the act, he didn’t come out. Charlie was one of the people in my performing group. I stopped the fire just as it was about to hit the little girl, but in the process I was burned quite badly.” Jessie looked in amazement from Ms. Pushkin to the snow globe. “Well, that ended my circus days and, to tell you the truth, I still miss them.” Ms. Pushkin sipped her tea again and leaned back in her chair.
“Well now, dear, I have kept you much too long.” She suddenly looked rather sad and apologetic. Jessie stood up. It was hard to draw herself away from the warm fire and the wonderful stories. “Thank you for the visit, my dear, and a merry Christmas to you,” Ms. Pushkin said. “Feel free to come back anytime you wish, although I expect that you have much more important and enjoyable things to do than sit and listen to me rattle on and on.”
“Ms. Pushkin,” Jessie said slowly, “would it be all right with you if I came back tomorrow to hear another story? I do enjoy them a lot,” she asked hopefully.
“Oh, it would be my pleasure,” Ms. Pushkin said delightedly. “I tell you what, you come over at around four and we’ll have tea.” And that’s what Jessie did.
Over the next few days, Jessie learned about Ms. Pushkin’s adventures meeting the Indian prince and her exciting trip to Spain. She heard about the woman’s trip to the Galapagos Islands and her expedition on an African safari. Jessie’s mother was delighted that she was spending so much time with Ms. Pushkin, and Jessie was always eager to come again and again and to hear the wonderful stories of the old woman.
“Now that one I got when I went to the ballet with my friend in Australia.” Jessie and Ms. Pushkin were seated in the two armchairs in the sitting room, a roaring fire in the hearth. They were sipping tea and Ms. Pushkin was in the middle of telling Jessie yet another story. “It was the best performance I’d ever seen,” she exclaimed. “You see, halfway through the ballet, the main dancer was injured so badly that she had to be carried out of the auditorium. Now remember, my friend was with me, and when they called out frantically into the audience for anyone who knew how to dance this part of the ballet, before I knew what had happened, my friend was up there on the stage. It had turned out that their backup dancer had been diagnosed with pneumonia and it just so happened that my friend had done this ballet in a class over the summer.”
“Wow,” Jessie breathed, entranced by the story. “This friend of yours must have had a lot of courage to do that. Just think, if she messed up, then what would happen?”
Ms. Pushkin sat quietly for a minute, reliving the moment in her head. “Yes, it was fantastic.” Jessie stood up and went over to the mantle to get a closer look at the snow globes that had made the last few days of her Christmas break so wonderful. The very first snow globe on the right was a small one, and inside was a large present and a piece of cake. This was the one that Ms. Pushkin had received for her birthday. And the more Jessie looked at each of the snow globes the more it all made sense. In the second one was a big circus tent with many balloons tied to it. In the third was an Indian palace, the fourth an old-looking church from Spain. That was the church that Ms. Pushkin had told Jessie about. In the fifth were a small marine iguana and a breeching whale. Those were the exact animals she had described in the story about her exciting trip to the Galapagos Islands. The next one had a tall giraffe eating from a tree. Her trip to Africa, Jessie thought to herself. The one after that had a dancing ballerina in a pink leotard. The eighth and last snow globe Jessie did not remember being told about. In it was a small sitting room with a burning fire. There was a large coffee table in the middle of the room and two comfortable looking armchairs. Squinting her eyes, Jessie could just make out seven snow globes, sitting on the mantle. That’s when it hit her. Ms. Pushkin, she couldn’t have bought this anywhere because it was a complete replica of her real sitting room. And what about all the other globes? They fit her stories’ descriptions so well that… Jessie spun around and saw that the whole time Ms. Pushkin had been watching her. “You made all of these, didn’t you?”
“Indeed I did,” Ms. Pushkin answered, a smile creeping across her face.
“So you were making it up the whole time, all of it! All those stories, you made them up just so I would stay and listen.” Jessie was furious. Just when she had begun to really like the old woman it turned out she had been lying the whole time.
“Please, Jessie,” Ms. Pushkin said, “that’s not true.” Jessie tried to think of something to say in return. “Then how come, how come you said you got all of these snow globes in India and at the circus when really you made them here?”
“I did get them in all of those places, dear, don’t you see, those are the places that I received all of those lovely memories. These snow globes, they’re just here as a way to display my memories of my memories, if you will.” Ms. Pushkin said this in a way that suddenly made so much sense to Jessie that she suddenly felt awful for getting angry with the woman and accusing her of lying. She wondered if Ms. Pushkin would forgive her.
“What about that last one?” Jessie asked finally.
“That one is my latest wonderful memory. It is of the few days in which I got to share parts of my life with you and, more importantly, I got to know you. And it is a gift,” Ms. Pushkin added.
Jessie was confused. “I thought that you made all of those, so who gave it to you?”
Ms. Pushkin smiled. “No one gave it to me, child, I’m giving it to you.”