When my grandmother pulls a deck of cards from the pocket of her dress and says, “Let’s play gin,” I say, “Let’s drink gin.” She shakes her head and says, “I don’t drink.” She did years ago. I haven’t seen my grandmother in a long time. I live five states away and I don’t like to fly. Then she says, “Gin is for tough guys and we’re not tough.” I don’t even like gin and I’m not tough, so I say, “Let’s play.”
We’re on my grandmother’s front porch. If I ever get my dream house, it will have a front porch. A wind chime made of yarn and plastic starfish hangs nearby, and with a small breeze, it sounds like plastic hitting plastic.
“You made that for me,” she says when she sees me looking at it. I don’t believe her. I would remember. Like the ugly ceramic bowl, too small to hold anything but a few mints or a pair of earrings; the hand in plaster; the jar of colored sand; the pine cone person with googly eyes and a pink felt mouth. These things I remember making. Not really. But I know.
My grandmother cracks pistachios and eats them while we play. She drops the shells into an old straw hat on the floor next to her. Her fingertips are red. The cards are smudged red.
“The white ones don’t stain,” I say.
“I know,” she says. “I like red.”
My grandmother has become a character. I suppose I will too. Or I already have. With my silver toe rings and the ladybug tattoo on the back of my neck. Just the other day at the grocery store, a little boy speaking in poems, let’s say rhyme, pointed at my tattoo and said, “Tug on the ladybug, tug bug tug.” My hair was in a ponytail and I almost put my hand up to touch the back of my neck. I didn’t. But I thought: tug, bug, chug, lug, mug, pug, rug. I thought: fly away home, roam, comb, foam, gnome.
Plastic hits plastic and I look again. “I think cousin Ann made that,” I say.
“No, it was you,” my grandmother says.
I made it. Why not? It isn’t a bad memory to bank. It can be mine. Here: some craft circle at summer camp, the group sitting around large tables, our summer sunburns and tans, our flip flops and tank tops, our faces slightly sticky with watermelon and popsicles, selecting wind chime objects from a large bin. The counselor says, “Those plastic starfish might not sound pretty. How about these seashells?” I think my counselor is fabulous, but I say, “No thank you.”
“It reminds me of the beach house we rented that one summer,” I say. “Remember?”
My grandmother drops pistachio shells in her hat, drops a card on the table. There’s a faint smudge of red on her cheek. “Of course,” she says.