j e s s i c a    h o l l a n d e r



Before the trip to Grandma’s, I emptied my closet and cut the buttons from my clothes. I stuffed them in my pockets and ran my hands through the cold plastic discs the whole way to Lansing.

Mom said, “Be nice.” She had bologna and Miracle Whip and a tiny tin of caviar in the cooler between us. She had Wonder Bread and china cups in a plastic grocery bag. “I don’t want any observations from you. She doesn’t need to hear it.”

Grandma’s house smelled like lemon cleaner and wet band-aids. She had jars of buttons around her living room: a jar of blue, a jar of green, a jar of red. On her coffee table with the clawed feet, a half jar of pink. On her stained-black fireplace, a quarter jar of gray.

Tubes trailed from Grandma’s nose and disappeared behind a cushion. She wore a smooth yellow smock. Her couch was red and black flowers. When Mom spoke, Grandma looked at the jar on the coffee table.

“With Joel’s promotion they gave him a window. So there’s the real world while he works and he’s a little closer.” Mom pulled at some threads on her armchair. She had three rings with diamonds on her fingers. She looked at me, sitting on the floor by the coffee table with my coat still on. “And Celia’s becoming a brat. She takes socks from our dresser and makes sock balls with more than two socks, stretching as many as she can over and over until they’re all misshapen.”

“The socks like to be close together,” I said.

Grandma didn’t turn from her buttons. I stared at my zipper and pulled it open and closed. Mom sighed like that’s what she meant.

When Mom went to the kitchen, Grandma smiled at me. “Do you like my buttons?” Her voice scratched at first, then smoothed out. Her tubes moved as she spoke.

“Here, I like them.” I emptied my pockets onto the coffee table, the buttons spilling and rolling and crashing into each other.

Grandma held out her hand. “Give me your best.”

I moved two pearl buttons into her palm. They came from my most expensive new sweater. “Mom says I’m no good with buttons. Every time, I’m lopsided.”

Grandma brought the buttons close to her eyes and didn’t speak. Every few seconds, a shake went through her hand and she had to refocus her gaze where the buttons ended up. When Mom creaked in the hallway, Grandma put the buttons in her mouth.

Mom lowered a plate of sandwiches beside my buttons. “More buttons.” She took a bite of her sandwich, full of bologna and what looked like little black beads. “I should’ve brought you a spool of thread.” She handed a sandwich to Grandma, who placed it in her lap.

“Eat,” Mom told us.

Grandma didn’t take a bite, but made a chewing motion with her mouth. I took a sandwich and put it on the floor and chewed air along with her.

Mom stared at the pile of buttons. I thought about sliding some into my mouth. I imagined the cool plastic, my tongue turning the buttons over and over, pressing against the tiny holes just big enough for my tongue to recognize. I thought about swallowing them, how they’d lay in my stomach like they lay in the jars, all different sizes jumbled and pressed together.



JESSICA HOLLANDER is in the MFA program at the University of Alabama. Recent and forthcoming publications include Emprise Review, FRiGG, Gargoyle, Quarterly West, and Sonora Review, among others. She catalogs her failed beginnings at jessicahollanderwriter.com.

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