art by Tihomir Tikulin-Tico
After the Earthquake
by Caroline M. Yoachim
After the earthquake, Steven drove to his grandmother's house to check on her. He knew the damage was bad the moment he walked in the door. The entryway tiles were covered in a puddle of spilled memories--a week in the hospital, his grandfather's last ragged breaths, the funeral service in the pouring rain. The iridescent sheen of the memories was dotted with shards of broken glass.
So many memories lost, all because his grandmother had used vases instead of something more sensible. Steven had tried to talk her into metal, but she liked to look at the delicate swirls of color in the memories. His wife had suggested plastic, but plastic was too tacky to be put on display.
"John?" his grandmother called.
Steven stepped around the broken glass and found his grandmother sitting in the middle of the living room floor.
"Hi, Grandma," he said.
"Where's John?" she asked. "I looked for him, but everything is broken."
"Let's clean up a little bit," Steven suggested. He couldn't bear to tell her that her husband was dead, she looked so fragile now. "I brought some new containers for you."
He didn't mention that the new containers were plastic.
Some memories survived. The hall closet was the best. Steven found three months of his grandmother's childhood in an oversized pickle jar and his father's first day of school in a Batman thermos. The china hutch was the worst--full of cracked tea-cup memories of friends and broken champagne flutes of birthdays and anniversaries. Nothing in there had a lid, so even the cups that hadn't broken had sloshed their contents onto the floor.
"I have a son that looks a lot like you," his grandmother said.
"I know." Steven didn't know whether to be disappointed that she didn't remember him or relieved that she remembered his father. Both, he supposed.
He poured the memory of a fight his grandmother had had with Aunt Jane into a Tupperware. It wasn't something he'd normally save, but she had so little left that he didn't dare discard it. His grandmother eyed the plastic suspiciously.
"I'll put it in a kitchen cabinet," he assured her. "It's only temporary, while we clean things up."
He took it into the kitchen, where he found a mass of soggy envelopes on the table.
"Oh, Grandma," he said, "You can't put memories in paper. What were you thinking?"
"I wanted to send them to John. He's deployed overseas."
He wiped up the mess with a wad of paper towels and dumped everything straight into the trash. He couldn't even tell what she'd been trying to send.
All through the house, he salvaged as much as he could into Tupperware containers with nice secure lids. He encouraged his grandmother to help him, mostly so he could keep an eye on her while he worked. They saved Aunt Jane's wedding and his grandmother's first date and the time his father got suspended from fourth grade for fighting. He stacked the memories inside the kitchen cabinet, and periodically his grandmother opened the door and peered at the bright colors locked away inside the plastic.