By Alexandra Dane

January 16, 2023


I began with the paperbacks. Upside down, by the spine, shook hard, a snow of recipes, bookmarks, cigarette papers, index cards. Searching not for the obvious treasures — jewelry, money, last wills — instead, moments after my grandmother took her last breath, I began to hunt for the sketch. I had waited long enough.

Fifteen years before, on the terrible day we buried my grandmother’s only daughter, my mother, we leaned against each other sharing family stories. Then she told me one I had never heard: “In a letter from Paris a charcoal drawing just fell out, your mother, nude!”

I sat waiting for the punchline, my grandmother to reveal the hiding place. Wasn’t that the point? My fingers were already itching to unfold the onion skin paper, to gaze at the audacity, to carry it home, frame it for my children and their children.

But she went on: “I couldn’t let your grandfather see it. So I burned it.”

I did not believe her.

Bird anthologies, French and English dictionaries, Sartre. The dust mites danced. My grandmother lay silent, cooling. I was so close to changing the narrative if I just tried harder. I saw myself standing by the drawing, surrounded by little faces. “Look how beautiful!” I would tell them.

Alexandra Dane writes by the sea in Seattle and Boston. Her memoir-in-progress explores coming of age twice at the mercy of cancer; first as caregiver, then as patient. Her most recent essay, Found. Well. was published by San Fedele Press. Read her thoughts at She knits to think.

Image by Nataliia courtesy of Adobe Stock

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