A delicately woven portrait about the people we love, the cycle of life, the interconnectedness of all things, and the mystery and mysteriousness that stitches it all together.
And how does one go about addressing such gigantic concerns and ideas in such a brief space? Griffis does so elegantly by juxtaposing large questions and ideas with microscopic, seemingly insignificant observations:
“[Grandma] says, ‘Do you ever wonder why everything just works in your life? Some people, everything in their life doesn’t work. It’s one big dysfunction after the next, malfunctioning electronics, parking tickets, which is why you need to be nice. Some people are being persecuted by shadows.’
A field mouse runs through a thicket.”
Could a person actually see or hear a field mouse run through a thicket? Maybe. Probably not. I’ve seen them at my feet, briefly, fleeing for their lives, and if it were dark out, or I hadn’t looked down at that precise second, I’d be none the wiser, meaning: they scoot silently through the grass. But that’s beside the point. The point is that somewhere in that grand space — say, a thicket of bramble in the middle of a cut cornfield — a field mouse is most likely running through that space. Meanwhile, a person, somewhere, could be “persecuted by shadows” — losing their mind: fogetting “names, dates, places.” Everything is happening everywhere and all the time.
Our first person narrator is a (literal) cake eating, popsicle loving eleven years old, so the quaint questions about life (What is a biome?) and fascination with the unknown (Have you wondered why witches are old ladies on brooms?) make sense. And answers for asked or unasked questions usually come from Grandma, who lives in an apartment attached to the narrator’s house. The apartment smells like “boiled vegetables.” Grandma, in all of her boilded vegetable glory is at the heart of this piece, doling out advice like it was her birthright. Perhaps her most interesting idea/advice is about boundaries. At their best, boundaries provide a sense of belonging; help with understanding stages of life; structure time; order relationships. But “[Grandma] says watch out for psychos. She says unhealthy people don’t understand boundaries, which is why the world is dying. All the boundaries are messed up.”
While that advice is interesting, it’s definitely not her best. Perhaps this might capture it:
“She hands me a list of life advice:
Your memory is an eroding seashore.
Barren maples look like nervous systems.
Anhedonia is a chemical imbalance.
If you resist everything, you will turn to stone.
Try to sort the puzzle.”
Yes, when everything is fractured and out of place, where does one start? Sort the puzzle. Sound advice for all of us. Thank you, Grandma.
Gabrielle Griffis is a multi-media artist, writer, and musician. She works as a librarian, and lives on Cape Cod with her husband Corey Farrenkopf. Her fiction has been published in or is forthcoming from Wigleaf, Okay Donkey, Monkeybicycle, Gone Lawn, XRAY Literary Magazine, decomP, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere. Her writing also appears in Repair Revolution: How Fixers are Transforming Our Throwaway Culture.