[The auction for this Significant Object, with story by Sarah Manguso, has ended. Original price: $2. Final price: $20.00. Significant Objects will donate the proceeds of this auction to 826 National.]
When the old lady died, my brothers and I were told to take away everything that was left.
The knickknack shelf was dusty. The porcelain things were gone, and so was the tiny violin. There were some pastel-glazed animals, a jar of flowers, a clay thimble, and other things of no value. I looked at the little paper man, his paper face with its painted mustache and his hollow belly that hid a metal weight. My grandmother bought it in Spain after watching a man somersault it up and down his forearm as he sang in a pure tenor on a cobblestone street. Can you see him, young and smooth-faced, the light on the windows of the church behind? I can. My grandmother wore a gold bracelet with a charm from every country she’d ever been to.
It was cold in the apartment and we kept our coats on as we packed and sorted. I have never seen my brothers cry except when one of them knocked out three of the other one’s teeth.
All the tiny things were wrapped in tissue and put into boxes and then into a crate to donate to the church. I didn’t see my brothers take anything but I pocketed the corked jar because I knew it wouldn’t get crushed in my pocket on the way home. It was the size of an apricot. The flowers inside were real, or had been made to look real. They were stuck to the base of the jar with some putty.
I’ve kept the jar in a drawer since then. I don’t know where it came from. When I open the drawer and see it rolling around, a flicker of yellow, I remember my grandmother’s shiny yellow kitchen table, and the soft yellow hand towels, and all the yellow scarves and things she liked to wear. And then I can see the whole apartment and the parquet floors and the shelves and the little paper man.