By H.M. Cotton
My grandmother floated in from the Galapagos during one of the World Wars. When all eyes were on Europe, she just slipped in and stood there looking, too. When I was young, she used to hold her face in her hands, as if the weight of her baggy skin was dragging her down. Once, when she was asleep, I lifted up the corner of her cheek, sure there was something written there. But by the time I leaned in, she was awake and folding her chin into her headscarf.
Over her mantle hung a huge, tea-stained map. I used to pull up a barstool and sit there wondering if Africa was really dirty yellow beneath the surface. Visitors to the house would leave little push-pins in the places they came from. Her pin, stuck in the blue off the coast of Ecuador, was green. It was pushed in as far as it could go, so there was no way it would fall out. One day, I asked her about the blue pin along the north end of New Zealand.
“Who was that, Yazi?” I asked. She just shrugged her shoulders and handed me a teacake. The next time I came over, the blue pin was missing.
She died when I was 20. At the funeral, my younger cousins couldn’t keep their hands out of the coffin.
“Wonder how they keep her eyes closed?” Mary Lewis wondered.
“I hear they sew them shut,” Layla answered.
They were chided by the aunts and uncles. “Y’all stop that before I tear your hide up,” they threatened and then continued to talk among themselves.
“Did you ever hear her talk about the Armani man?” Aunt Sal asked.
“No, but Laurelie swears up and down she saw a picture of him once.” Uncle Randy answered.
The relatives took great care in ripping apart and dividing her household goods. They barely dodged a family feud over a fifty-year-old spatula. I got to keep the map. I didn’t even ask if I could have the cigar box I had found in the garden shed. I just took it. Inside was a picture, a steamship boarding pass to California, three notices of infantile death all dated across a five year span, and a blue push-pin. In the photo, a younger version of Yazi smiled in the arms of a man who was not my grandfather. The man was clean-cut with dark eyes and hair. He was dressed in a very nice pinstripe suit. I almost expected him to reach into his pocket and hand me a teacake.