17th Street Review

Can I Tell You a Funny Thing I Heard Today (I Hear Them All The Time)

Hannah Kingsley-Ma

Over drinks my friend tells me his grandpa spent his life dividing women into three categories based on their looks: bird, horse, cookie. We spend the rest of the evening brainstorming cookies we know, their faces round and scrumptious. I want to be thought of as a bird because birds are thin, but I know where I stand. I come from a long line of cookies — the swarthy women who made me, their briskness mediated by their love of rum-raisin ice cream. There are no old photographs of them looking off into the distance in a movie starlet haze. Instead they stand in the corners of empty rooms, cast grim by an antiquated sense of hardship, and scowl. 

I, cookie of my own domain, roll through life with a startling sense of ease. It is a question of perspective, I tell myself. Others would just say that I’m spoiled. Okay, I understand. There are certain things. For instance, my friends and I stare at our breakfast foods like Romans sorting through bird guts, seeking out our future. We are all transfixed by the milky yellow of egg yolks. We’ve replaced sex with egg yolks. It’s so obvious! We leave dabs of broken yolk to dry on the tops of our lips like jammy little beauty marks. We have no work ethic. We are bored in movie theaters. If you listen to what they say, you’ll know that we are the worst generation that’s ever lived. 

What we’d tell you is that every grandma is a prudish ghost. Every grandpa is an old man with a white beard governing his own shapeless cloud, using his omnipotence to look up our skirts and tell us whether or not he liked what he saw. 

Lately, because the state is burning, the skies have been dark and the air is thick with smoke. We keep our windows shut. We scrub the scent of campfire from our hair. The young and elderly have been donning surgical masks to go outside. Their bodies are more absorbent to the ills of the world. The rest of us are people whose lungs have made up their minds. I feel it in the light. It filters in strange and warbled in my apartment, the one previously inhabited by my grandfather. He acquired it after Poland gobbled up his first best family and he had no choice but to make his improbable way here instead. I cover the floors of his apartment with the secondhand maternity dresses I will probably never need but like to sleep in and the crumpled receipts of all the unnecessary items I love to buy and various lumps of melted chewing gum. All the surfaces are for sleeping. The place is blanketed and warm. 

My grandfather is roughly a million years old, born at the turn of the century a century ago. Though we never met, his disapproval is a given. It makes our familial love whole. If he were to visit me in the evenings, when I’m sitting on my couch looking at the blank walls and wondering how they photograph, I would tell him in a matter-of-fact way all the things I’m good at. We’d stay up until the morning rendered him invisible again and I’d talk until my voice was gone. It’s important to repeat myself for emphasis: He deserves to be told that we have everything under control.

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