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Pearland, Texas 

In this town, letters are scarce: billboards, neon signs. I only realize how thirsty I am when Ba asks me to clean out my grandfather’s cupboards of books. Take anything she says. An-y-thing. As I thumb through the words of a life, makeshift bookmarks fall from the pages. Quotidian things: unused tissues, grocery receipts, old photographs. I don’t tell Ba that her young photograph swims between the lines of an old poetry anthology. Instead, I kiss the individual receipts and bookstore invoices, making careful note that in 1999, my grandfather left the HEB with a tub of butter pecan and some gardening tools to bring home for his wife. 

I spend time admiring the curve of Ba’s soft skull. She has a proud forehead, behind which she gathers wisps of hair into a knob of a ponytail. To the knob, she attaches a fake chignon of plastic hair. When she naps, her small head engulfed by the rectangular whiteness of the pillow, she leaves the hairpiece nearby as though it keeps her company. As she sleeps, I notice her tattooed eyebrows, ones which never wash off, ones which make her endlessly discerning. 

I only have words as my aid to describe to you this scene. What’s real, and there’s not much of it, is overgrown and dilapidated. The largest abundance of color comes from the junkyard, where husks of cars and scraps of metal bloom different hues of rust on a thick carpet of tall grasses. The rest of it, the parking lots and big-box chains, arrived from elsewhere, I’m not sure where exactly, and perhaps all at once. 

Today I drove the rental car to the town center only to discover that it’s an outdoor mall. I try making my way back on the six-lane highway, but bearded men in pickup trucks honk and cuss me out through the driver’s side window. SUVs as big as spaceships float by me without pity. In their cabins, climate-controlled and behind tinted panes of glass, suburban children gaze at the milieu of strip malls they must know only as landscape. There is not a tree in sight. 

Even the air feels flat. Even the sky, just one giant blue plane, is flat. Only my Ba’s head is round. As we drive, she notes her favorite grocery store, pointing with her chin the way flowers do towards their sun.

– Lucy Ton That is a sophomore in Branford College.

Illustration by Ashley Zheng

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