Monday, March 7, 2016

Magpie 308/Vacation

It was the one image I couldn’t slice into the collages. Aunt Louise put in it the pile, so she didn’t object to its going under the knife, but this woman? Maybe just a little older than me, kissing a message into the future? She’s not my Grandma the Great, and I can’t. Even if I was part of the future she’s kissing.

I stick a push pin in one of the porch posts and hang the picture with a binder clip to the pin.

I make sure the tissue boxes aren’t packed. I bring all of them to the porch and arrange them around the card tables Aunt Louise helped me set up. Dad flipped, but we manage to avoid the porch while we’re cleaning and you can’t just pack up a house all day and night. I work on the collages in between sorting and sleeping. We’re close enough to watch Houston come awake from the porch and we manage to eat and watch the lights without damaging the paper. Neither of us want to use the kitchen.

These collages would be the last pieces I could do in her house, standing on the back porch watching the wisteria bud out in the warm Houston spring. Aunt Louise has a single chair she brought out from the kitchen and she sits nearby, watching the yard while I slice old fliers, photos, and magazine pages onto five large sheets of paper I stole from the art room the last day of school. I’d planned to turn them into posters of my best friends, since none of us are going to the same college in the fall.

Usually, Louise and I come out in the afternoon, when the light mimics that of the photo. I don’t know where it was taken—somewhere in Europe?—Grandma-the-Great’s kissing the letter she’s about to mail and someone snapped a picture with the sun gilding the entire street, casting her eyes into shadow. She could be happy or hopeful or sad; Grandma the Great never talked about those trips with me. Even Aunt Louise avoids talking about them. Louise used to work for a gallery in the city and liked to ramble around all weekend, just letting Houston ‘settle into her bones’ while it floated above the gumbo soil. She told me she used to imagine herself one of those elegant cow birds, just stalking through the grass, looking for the best frogs. She knew the best places to eat at the bases of the skyscrapers and in the remnants of the underground mall and she makes sure we have good takeout for packing.

When Grandma the Great died just before high school graduation, my dad invited Aunt Louise to come live with us out in the burbs. He let us pack up the house—it was his job, really, but maybe it was more our lives—so we went through the rooms and the memories with Clorox and trashbags and two suitcases for Aunt Louise.

We’re more or less done with the house and I’m starting to think this is the last afternoon I’ll have with these collages. They look flat to me, like ruined vacation shots. It’s like I’m putting all my summers in a box like a dead parakeet. Aunt Louise glances across the yard, her eyes flicking to the picture hanging up and then to my collages. “I’m going to pretend she’s letting us know it was a beautiful day,” she says.

“I’m going to pretend that she’s telling us that it’s a great vacation and we should enjoy every bit of it.” I shuffle the scraps to one side, setting them under a rock I found a few days ago in the garden, and let myself relax against the house. Houston glimmers in the dusk.


  1. Reminds me somewhat of 'Beans of August, Maine'. I don't know why, as this is clearly Texas. It just has that soothing homespun feel to it.

  2. A beautiful recollection and story C! I love this!