In her ninth decade my grandmother begins shedding items. She invites me to claim things: decorative plates, cookie molds, cardstock.
The day before my wedding she presents me with a stunning quilt, bundled and tied with brown ribbon. A few weeks later she sends another textile, too small to be a tablecloth, something a woman from an earlier generation would lay upon a side table or mantle as nestling ground for figurines. When my child is born, another quilt, pink and green squares among dense floral ones. She is working through the scraps from all her decades.
As my grandfather fades she clenches me at each visit and says he doesn’t have much left. I do not know what the much refers to or how it is measured.
When he is gone, my grandmother (who longs for all her threads to tie and seal) adopts a dog.
I learn that a mother’s body cupboards the DNA of her children and their father as long as she lives. Her body is the foundry of all her children’s stories, and each strand of each story interleaves inside her. No strand can be tugged without the mother detecting the shift of other strands. This is how the mother speaks more than the father while her own mind goes unheard.
Impractically, I save all the cards we receive for our first child’s birth. I envision an art project starring the seafaring elephant, the tap-dancing penguin, the embossed golden bird, and all the stylized flowers—a cornucopian medley of thanks.
Before I get around to making this, our friends have children and we are so tired that we fail to buy them their own special cards. I cut out the figures and affix them to paper and write notes of congratulations in the fanciest writing I can do. I choose to save the borders of the cards from which the images were cut.
Long ago my father read something dark I had written and left on the family’s desktop computer. He wrote a long letter in response, a thing I have lost, but I remember the kind way it was addressed and the feeling it evoked, a sentiment as tender and perfect as a tiny ashen column.
An e-mail arrives. My father has written to me about his early life, its brutality. What split and cast him into fighting winds, part blowing this way, part blowing that.
A friend calls to say her brother has died. When I arrive, she points to where she has dumped vasefuls of flowers into the back bushes. My mother, she says, and stops.
A student comes to say that he cares about the topic he is researching, and to ask if it is all right to be frank about it in his writing, this caring. My brother, he says, and stops.
Emily Flamm's work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Catapult, Territory, and other places. She lives in Maryland.