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© Tracy Thomas. Courtesy of Unsplash



My mother seined the waters of our childhoods. She gathered everything into the nets of her fingers: schoolwork, artwork, mementos. My mother did not recycle. Nor did she dispose. She was indisposed to it. Gathered now, it seems a kind of evidence, but of what? Consider the card she saved from the nurse who helped deliver me: Second daughter! Looks like you’ll have to wait for next time to get that son. Consider my mother pasting that into my baby book. It would seem to imply I’ve been a disappointment since the moment I was born.  


I didn’t have a grandpa, so I studied my friend Lara’s. He dozed before the TV in his wool cardigan. He walked without lifting his feet from the floor. Sometimes in the afternoon he shuffled to the hall closet, ducked inside for a moment, then shuffled back to the couch. Lara’s eyes didn’t swerve from Mighty Mouse, but I had to know what Gramps was doing in that closet, I had to. The next time he shhhed open the door, I snuck up behind him. He whirled around, wild-eyed, but when he saw it was me, only me, he smiled. He allowed me to witness him easing from a coat pocket a palm-sized white paper bag, McDonald’s. He noiselessly uncrimped the top, spread its mouth with his thumb and index finger, reached in, and pinched out a single fry. I understood that he was sneaking it. I understood that we must hide things from the mommies and the daddies. He held it out to me, a tiny sword, cold as if pulled from the heart of a stone. 



My mother and I argued about her eHarmony profile. I thought she should list her age as 74, not because she couldn’t pull off 64—she could, she’s a beautiful woman—but because if she did meet someone, she’d be beginning their relationship with a lie. 

But I don’t feel 74, she’d insist. 

Our argument was not long-lived. The lumps turned out to be cancer. After her double mastectomy, she performed a slow rotation before the full-length mirror. After that, she deleted her profile.

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Beth Ann Fennelly

Beth Ann Fennelly directs the MFA program at Ole Miss, where she was named the 2011 Outstanding Liberal Arts Teacher of the Year. She has published four-and-a-half books (the half being a novel, The Tilted World, which she coauthored with her husband, Tom Franklin). Her new book, Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs, will be released by Norton this fall.