The Comeback Page 1

Author: Ella Berman

Genres: Fiction


Six Weeks Earlier

They recognize me when I’m at CVS buying diet pills for my mom, the only kind that don’t make her lose her mind.

“Aren’t you Grace Turner?”

The woman is pleased with herself, a red flush climbing her neck and bursting proudly across her cheeks. Her companion is smaller, wiry, with narrow eyes, and I already understand that she’s the type who will need me to prove it somehow, as if I have anything left to prove.

“Grace Hyde,” I correct, smiling politely, humbly, before turning back to the staggering array of options in front of me. The one my mom likes has a cartoon frog standing on a set of scales on the box.

“Do you live around here now?” the first one asks hungrily. She’s already terrified that she’ll forget something when she recounts the story to her friends.

“I’m staying with my parents.” Maybe I’m in the wrong section.

“What was your last movie, anyway?” This from the smaller one, obviously. She’s scowling at me and I find myself warming to her. It’s hard to find a woman who still believes that the world owes her anything. Her friend, who has been shifting from foot to foot like she needs to take a piss, jumps into action.

“Your last film was Lights of Berlin. You were nominated for a Golden Globe but you’d already disappeared.”

“Top marks,” I say, forcing a smile before I turn around again. Then I put on a truly award-worthy performance, this one of a former child star in a supermarket, dutifully shopping for all of her mom’s health care needs.

“Were you needed back at home?” The woman puts her hand on my shoulder, and I try not to flinch at the unsolicited contact. “I’m sorry. It’s just how you . . . you disappeared one day. Was it because your parents needed you?”

Her relief is palpable, hanging off each word. And there it is. Because not only has this woman recognized me despite my badly bleached hair, ten extra pounds, and sweatpants from Target, and not only have I validated her very existence merely by being in the same shitty store in the same shitty town as she is, but also, after a year of waiting, I have restored her faith in something that she might never be able to articulate herself. This woman can leave the weight management aisle today believing once again that people are inherently good and, even more important, that people are inherently predictable. That nobody on this planet would walk out of their own perfect life one day for no discernible reason. And all this on a Monday afternoon in Anaheim no less.

“Can you do the bit? From Lights of Berlin?” she asks shyly, and the way her mouth tugs up more on one side when she smiles reminds me suddenly of my dad.

I look down at the floor. It would be so easy to say the line, but the words get stuck at the back of my throat like a mothball.

“You have pasta sauce on your T-shirt,” the smaller one says.


I take the long route home, walking down identical streets lined with palm trees and fifties-style suburban houses. My parents have lived here for nearly eight years now, and I still can’t believe that such a place exists outside of nostalgic teen movies and suburban nightmares. It’s the kind of town where you can never get lost no matter how hard you try, and I end up, as I always do, outside my parents’ neat, pale pink bungalow. It has a wooden porch in the front and a turquoise pool in the back, just like every other house on the street.

The smell of bubbling fat hits me as I step through the front door. My dad is cooking ham and eggs for dinner, with a couple of broccoli spears as a nod to my former lifestyle. I didn’t realize how badly they’d been eating until I came home, but it turns out there really are a lot of ways to fry a potato. I arrived back in Anaheim a vegan, but as I watched my dad carefully prepare me a salad with ranch dressing and bacon bits on my first night, I knew I couldn’t remain one for long.

My mom is watching TV on the sofa with a slight smile on her face, and I know without looking that she’ll be watching the Kardashians, or the Real Housewives of anywhere else on earth. She used to be a semi-successful model back in England, but now she’s just skinny and tired for no reason since she rarely leaves the house. Instead she lives for these shows, talking about these women as if they are her friends. I try to apologize about the diet pills, and she just shakes her head slightly, which I take to mean she doesn’t have the energy to discuss it. It’s this new thing she’s doing, rationing her energy and refusing to spend it on anything that either displeases her or causes her stress. She’s selective with her energy but she’ll watch hours of the Kardashians each day.

I sit next to her, carefully avoiding the pink blanket that covers her lap. I tuck my legs underneath me, and my dad passes each of us a tray with a beanbag underneath so that we can eat from our laps. My mom’s tray has a watercolor picture of poppies on it, and mine has sleeping cocker spaniels. He takes a seat on the green corduroy armchair next to my mother, and I know that he will be watching her with an affectionate look on his face. The one that annoys her when she catches him doing it. Weakness has always repelled us both, which is somewhat ironic given my current state.

I eat the broccoli first from the head down to the stem, and I wish I hadn’t made such a thing about salt being the devil. It’s overcooked to the point of oblivion. I coat it in ketchup instead until it’s nearly edible, and then I start to cut the ham. The Kardashians break for a commercial, and my mom mutes the TV. It’s her way of beating the system—she will never buy a mop just because some newly promoted advertising executive thinks she needs one.

I watch my mom push a piece of ham around her plate. We all know that she’s not going to eat any more than a third of it, but she keeps up the charade for my dad.

“Good day, everyone?” my dad asks, studying a cut on his thumb.

“Excellent,” I say, and my mom lets out a small laugh.

“Just sublime,” she says, before turning the volume back up. I stare out the window and watch my parents’ neighbor Mr. Porter arranging a Thanksgiving display at the end of his drive, soon to be replaced by an elaborate nativity scene. I already know he will back his car into each one at least three times before the New Year and will blame everyone else for it. At times like this, I can almost understand why my parents never left Anaheim. There’s a comfort to be found in the inevitability of it all.

* * *

? ? ?

I arrived on their porch nearly a year ago, with a camouflage duffel bag filled with all the things in the world I thought I couldn’t live without, most of which are now long gone. I was seven hours sober after six months that I remember only in gossamer fragments, and I saw how bad it had gotten in my parents’ faces before I ever looked in a mirror.

Despite what I told the women in CVS, I haven’t really been Grace Hyde since I was fourteen, so I had to work hard to make my return as seamless as possible for my parents. I observed their habits carefully before slotting myself into their schedule, drifting into their spaces only at breakfast and dinner, never in between. I even matched my rootless accent to theirs again, pulling back on my vowels wherever they did to remind them of who I was before we moved here. I, too, have learned how to worship at the altars of TV dinners and reality shows, all the while pretending to be like any other family deeply entrenched in the suburbs of Southern California.