"Please, God, please, don't let me be normal!"
- Luisa, from the musical The Fantasticks
Olivia Granger was, in nearly everyone's opinion, perfectly normal. She lived in a perfectly normal house in a perfectly normal town in the south of England, and she had a perfectly normal son with whom she had perfectly normal rows every second Thursday of every month.
In fact, her life would have been perfectly normal in every way, were it not for her surprisingly abnormal granddaughter.
The trouble, she often thought, had begun with her son's wife. To be certain, Ellen Granger, née Sommerfield, appeared to be the very model of a sensible modern woman. John had brought her home from university in the spring of his second year, both of them aglow with new love. Ellen was polite, well-dressed, and possessed of excellent taste in food, as evidenced by the glowing compliments she lavished on her hostess's apple crumble. So when the pair had announced their engagement the following winter, Olivia had given them her blessing.
In hindsight, she should have realized that the erudite young woman was too good to be true.
John had always been a quiet, obedient child, albeit with a self-possession that sometimes bordered on arrogance. Undeniably gifted, he spent most of his time as a child in his room reading thick tomes about chemistry, physics, and astronomy. And while the late Mr. Granger had sometimes fretted that his son seemed to have few outside interests and fewer friends, Olivia was secretly pleased that John had no opportunity to be led astray by the less desirable element.
Ellen, by contrast, was vivacious and outgoing. John called her the "life of the party"; Olivia simply found her irritating. She dragged John to political rallies, concerts, and plays, and was often found dancing around the living room belting out the lyrics to some musical or another. Olivia had been raised in a time when ladies were silent, reserved, and subservient, and Ellen was none of these things.
Olivia first recognized that something was wrong some two months after the wedding. She immediately went to her son with her concerns. "Well," she suggested tremulously, "Ellen is a little unusual, isn't she?" But John just smiled broadly and informed his mother that, indeed, his young wife was unlike anyone else he knew, and wasn't she wonderful?
Olivia then realized, with a sinking feeling in her stomach, that it was already too late.
After graduation, John and Ellen set to establishing a dental practice together near John's hometown of Dorchester. Although she was gratified that her only child would be so close by, Olivia remained anxious about the negative influence Ellen exerted on her son. She resolved herself to watch both young dentists carefully.
The doctors Granger took Thursday as their day off from the dental practice, and once a month they invited John's widowed mother over for tea. The teas, which always began so cordially, typically ended with the three principal participants snapping at each other peevishly and each regretting his or her relation with at least one of the others. This continued for several years, the conflict finally coming to a head when John and Ellen brought their newborn daughter home from the hospital.
Olivia waited until Ellen had left the room with the baby to confront her son. "It's time to put an end to this art nonsense, John. You don't want your child growing up… different."
"And why ever not?" John grinned impudently at his mother and started whistling one of those infernal show tunes.
Olivia was dumbstruck. "Don't you want to give your daughter a normal childhood?"
"Hermione's not normal," said John with a trace of irritation. "She's much more."
"I expect not, what with a name like that. Honestly, John, what kind of name is Her-my-o-knee?" Olivia pronounced the name as though it were somehow distasteful.
"She was the Queen of Sicilia in The Winter's Tale." Ellen announced from the doorway, her tone icy. "Is there a problem, Olivia?"
Suddenly outnumbered, Olivia deflated. "No, of course not."
Ellen relaxed, and John winked at his mother. "Wonderful. Now would you ladies care for some tea?"
Olivia had hoped that the whole matter might die down, but things only seemed to get worse. When Hermione was six, she found her son and daughter-in-law repainting the girl's bedroom walls. She was immediately horrified. "Blue walls? In a girl's room?"
"Hermione's quite fond of blue, Olivia." Ellen said evenly. "Could you pass me that brush over there? The one by your foot."
Olivia ignored both the comment and the brush. "I've seen what happens to tomboys, Ellen. It's not pleasant. A firm hand is what you need." She cast a critical eye around the room. "And a few more dolls, I daresay."
"I don't see how dolls would solve anything, Mum. Besides, the last time we gave Hermione a doll, the poor thing ended up on the roof." John shook his head, smiling fondly. "We never did figure how she got it all the way up there."
"That's exactly what I'm talking about, John! If you don't establish some rules, your daughter might grow up… unnatural. Like I always say, train up a child in the way that she should go…."
"That's precisely what we're doing, Olivia," Ellen said firmly. "Hermione will be fine."
Olivia threw up her hands, outmaneuvered yet again. "Just don't say I didn't warn you!"
By the time Hermione was ten, Olivia was convinced that her granddaughter was, well, odd. Strange things seemed to happen around her with increasing frequency, and the girl was always drawing embarrassing attention to herself. More importantly, Hermione talked too much, something of which Olivia simply did not approve. But when the older woman arrived for tea that July, she was met by chaos. Curious, multi-colored boxes and bags were stacked in the hallway and the Grangers' normally immaculate house seemed to be in a state of disarray.
John met her at the door, apologizing for the mess. "We've just been to London to pick up Hermione's school supplies." Privately, Olivia thought he look rather stunned, though he was smiling in a goofy sort of way. "We, ah… plans have changed. Hermione's going to go to school in Scotland now."
"A boarding school?" Olivia looked at her son sharply. "I thought your lot didn't believe in that sort of thing."
"We've discussed it, and we think that this is what's best for Hermione." Ellen, too, was smiling bemusedly, and kept shaking her head as though she expected to wake up at any moment.
"Well." Olivia decided to ignore their strange behavior and take advantage of the situation. "I have to say, I'm quite pleased. You won't regret this, John. A little old-fashioned education is just what your daughter needs. That's the only way to learn proper behavior."
Ellen and John shared a private glance, and Olivia could swear they were trying not to laugh. "You're perfectly right, Olivia. Hermione just wouldn't reach her potential at any other school." Ellen sounded amused.
Yes, John and Ellen were definitely behaving oddly. But no matter. Olivia wondered briefly if Hermione's school would be anything like the one she had attended as a girl. It had always been a point of pride for her parents that they were able to send their children away to be educated. And little Hermione was so bright-- no doubt she would be attending one of the finest schools in Britain. Olivia beamed. Everything was working out perfectly.
She finally spied Hermione, who had settled herself in a corner to read while the grown-ups talked. A thick red book rested in her lap while she pored over it, obviously engrossed.
Strangely enough, Olivia couldn't quite make out the title of the book. Her eyes seemed to skip over it whenever she tried to look. She blinked, making a mental note to have her eyeglasses checked at the next opportunity. "What are you doing, sweetie?" Olivia smiled at her granddaughter.
Hermione never lifted her eyes from the page. "Studying," she said indistinctly.
Just like John used to be, Olivia thought. She breathed a huge sigh of relief. Things would turn out all right in the end. Hermione was perfectly normal.