Nadia Petrokovitz ages the way a gypsy travels: she sheds things as she goes, to make space for the things that suit her. She weighs less now at ninety-five than she did when she was fourteen, her forearms are skeletal, and she comes up to her grandson’s belly button when she hugs him. But she moves with manic purpose, and wears sea green jogging shorts and watches Die Hard marathons on TV. She thinks Bruce Willis is sexy.
She keeps her hair cropped short and dyed red-orange like a robin’s chest, and wears vintage gold jewelry when she goes grocery shopping. She knows the names of all the clerks who work mornings at the Ralph’s near her apartment, and they know hers. When she leaves, the clerks whisper, “she’s a spry ninety-five, isn’t she?”
Nadia used to sell carpets for a living. She would go into peoples’ houses and measure their floors, pick out colors to go with the decor. Her own apartment is hardwood. She never liked carpet. She worked the job to support her husband’s drinking, then to support herself when he moved out, and then – once she became eligible for pension, and had no excuse – because she couldn’t think of anything else to do. But her husband’s twenty-five years dead now, and she’s learned to enjoy being single for the first time since she was eighteen. Men from the apartment complex bring her flowers and sing her songs from the old country in the rec room. Nadia spends a portion of her pension money on bikini waxes.
Nadia’s family cares about her very much. Her children and her grandchildren and her great grandchildren visit her often in her apartment. But more and more she can’t wait for them to be gone so she can go outside. She has so many things on her mind these days, so many possibilities. She is just now getting into go-kart racing, and learning to dance the quickstep. She volunteers as a poll-worker during local elections, and flirts shamelessly with the twenty-somethings who come to her door to distribute campaign literature. All in all Nadia has had a good life, but not nearly as good as the one she has now.