[The auction for this Significant Object, with story by Victor LaValle, has ended. Original price: $1. Final price: $51.99.]
Who the hell goes to Portugal? In my family?
The question arose as my sister and I were going through my grandmother’s things—her effects. She’d died of old age at Queens General Hospital and she’d been longing for it. Some people never want to go, but not her. She’d lived long (96 years), seen her grandkids and great grandkids.
The old lady didn’t own the apartment she’d lived in, alone, for 22 years. After she died my grandmother’s landlord (New York City Housing Authority) sent a letter: two weeks to clear her things. Then they would be bagged and bussed to a dump. So my sister and I spent evenings taking the 7 train to Jackson Heights, climbing nine flights to grandma’s apartment (her elevator was about as reliable as our older sister). We decided what to keep, what to sell, what to donate, and what to leave for the City.
Let’s be blunt: the mitt’s not pretty. Okay, it’s ugly as an unwashed butt. I didn’t find it in my grandmother’s kitchen. Or in the living room, where she’d sit and have tea in the afternoons. It was in her bedroom, slipped between the mattress and box spring. Some old ladies stow bags of cash, my grandmother hid a Portuguese cooking glove. I showed it to my sister, but she’d found my grandmother’s small Bible. Was leafing through, marveling at the notes our grandmother left in the margins. She got the Good Book; I kept the mitt.
Then, I brought the thing home and forgot about it! My sister and me, we helped our mother through the next few months. Eventually I found myself getting back into life. Like I started going on dates again. My head clear, my heart ready, my bed cold. So one night I’ve got this lovely woman at my place. She comes over to split a bottle of wine while we prepared a meal. My part consisted of uncorking the bottle. Meanwhile she made squash soup. The second or third step is to bake the two halves of a split squash, hot enough until you can peel back the rough outer skin with a butter knife. She opens the oven door and asks for a mitt to pull out the tray and what do I reach for? That’s right. Had it in a cupboard over the sink.
My friend slides the glove on, reaches into the oven, but as she’s pulling the tray she loses her grip and the squash goes to the ground. I just laughed. I was drunk, and this pretty lady had already let me kiss her. What could I be upset about?
But she wore another expression. Not anger. Not pain. Bewilderment. She slipped the oven mitt off and turned it inside out. I thought she was going to rip it so I shouted, but then I saw the inside of the oven mitt. It was covered in words.
Not writing. Letters stitched into the fabric! We read the words, starting at the top, where the middle finger would reach. It read: My dearest Grace (that’s my grandmother) I hold your memory like I held your form. I feel sunlight across my body and the warmth of you. The warmth of being inside you…
And it went on like that.
Turns outs my grandmother was kind of a slut!
My friend and I poured wine. Toasted the old woman. Good for her.