Grilled Cheese and Furniture by Samantha Ladwig

Stepping out of the car and looking upwards at my Great Grandmother's front door, I am prepared for discomfort. I am prepared for the overwhelming weight of emptiness. I am not, however, prepared for the smell. My stomach drops as I push open the door to the condo. A gust of Her Giorgio Armani perfume forces its way up and into my nose as the door bounces off its stopper. My legs tingle. Microscopic fireworks bursting. The sensation travels north at a pace faster than I’m comfortable with. It always begins with a fall. I remind myself to breathe. Saying goodbye to my childhood safe haven was not something I had planned on doing at sixteen with my boyfriend on a Tuesday after school. He smacks my ass and asks if we're going to go inside.

Cautiously, I put one foot through the door and then the other. The quiet cuts me. I can almost hear the dust falling, Tetris-ing into place. Each particle weighing down the reality that this space of quiet from the drunken screaming, this safety from the hands that moved over me, shoved my face into moldy, soiled pillows, this warmth of predictability, is approaching its finish line.

I instantly regret inviting my Boyfriend. This should not be a shared experience. I explained to Him on the way over that we're preparing for an estate sale. He nodded like He understood but went on admiring His new car. A black Volkswagen Jetta. It’s a lady's car. I don't tell Him this.

Why do we even need an estate sale? I picture the furniture in my Great Grandmother's condo, the blueprint spread out in my head. I'd never thought about furniture before. I’m in high school. I want clothes. I want my basketball team's sweatpants. The pair my parents can't afford. The ones that, not having, make me stick out, grey sweatpants in a sea of black, every time we walk onto the court and warm up for our next loss. I don't want furniture. I think of my bedroom. The bedroom I live in at home, with my parents, in Monroe, Washington. The one I hole myself up in, a small cube I can control, safe from small town claustrophobia that magnifies mishaps and heightens insecurity. What use is living room furniture or dinnerware to me?

As He closes the door behind us, I catch myself in the entryway mirrors to my left. This does not help my nausea. A smaller me would stumble to these mirrors in oversized high heels to examine my newfound femininity. At sixteen, have I found femininity? I shaved my pubic hair earlier today, does that count? I feel out of place.

His hand brushes across my stomach as He walks past. I wipe my palms against my dress and follow Him down the hall and into the living room. He asks how long we will be here, and I wonder the same thing.

I don't know if it's because He's awkwardly surveying Her space for the first time, or if it's because I'm uncomfortably conscious of the impact that Nana’s declining health will have on The Family, but I'm suddenly aware that we're surrounded by Japanese furniture: chests and chairs and small statues and tables and paintings, a detail I had noticed before but clearly hadn't ingested. This is strange. We are not Japanese. We are white. The German and Norwegian kind of white. I wonder why He and I are surrounded by Japanese furniture in the middle of my very white Great Grandmother's condo in the very white city of Mercer Island, Washington. I wonder if anyone in my family knows any Japanese history. I dig for the cell phone in my backpack and dial my Mother.

"Explain to me again what it is that I'm supposed to be doing here?" I ask.

"Take your Post-its, the blue ones, the ones I handed to you on your way out. Write your name on them and stick them to the items you want."

It sounds so easy. I want to ask Her about the Japanese furniture but stop myself when I hear sniffling on the other end of the phone. I want to ask Her why she’s crying. I want to tell Her that I’m confused. If it always begins with a fall, doesn’t that mean the inheritance you always talk about will be rolling in sooner than expected? But I hang up.

My eyes come into focus, and I realize just how many Post-its are sticking to the Japanese furniture. I see my Mother’s and my Sister's names on what looks like every item carefully situated in the living and dining rooms. I wonder if my Sister, now twenty, has any tips for tackling this morbid task but shoo the thought away when I glance at the clock. It’s after noon and there’s a good chance She’s already started drinking. Instead, I imagine them walking through, calculating the value of each piece. Vultures, I think, fucking vultures. "It's like they were planning on Her fall. Like they pre-picked these items." I say this to the furniture, apparently, because He is no longer standing next to me.

He's shuffling in the kitchen, opening cupboards and looking for food. I flinch at the pang of each closing cabinet. I inform Him that there are thin mint patties in the pantry at the end of the kitchen. There are always thin mint patties in the pantry at the end of the kitchen. My face suddenly grows hot. He is scrounging through Nana's kitchen as if He's been here before. As if this is the perfect, most reasonable time for a snack. "Can I get one of those?" I ask, thrusting my hand toward Him, refusing to move out from under the doorway. This will be the last thin mint patty in this kitchen. As we walk back into the living room, I stuff the box of thin mint patties into my backpack, bending the pages of my biology homework in the process.

I ask myself what a sixteen year old needs again, hoping that maybe this time an idea will spark and I can wrap this depressing task up. I stand by what I said about my Mother and Sister, vultures, but silently thank them for making this job easier--my options are limited.

We find ourselves in the guest room, a short distance down the hall, where Nana would turn on The Golden Girls, usher me to the blue, corduroy foldout couch, and bring me a sliced, peeled, and salted green apple. Nana was a firm believer that all produce skins were toxic for the body.

I never eat green apples outside of Her condo. I only eat the skins off of red apples outside of Her condo. I have not stuck a single Post-it on a piece of Japanese furniture yet. Hands close in around my waist. My dress bunches and the elastic of my underwear loosens as they slide down my legs. A distraction. Welcome or Unwelcome?

I look around at the Post-its as I try to reach for my toes. This is the first time I've had sex from behind. This is the first time I've had sex in my Nana's condo. This is the first time I've had to Post-it furniture. I’m unsure of what exactly it is that I’m supposed to do with my body as it folds. My ass is making a terrible, sloppy slapping sound against His thighs.

As my head and my back and my body move downwards, my knees give way out of discomfort causing Him to also bend forward until we were both awkwardly rocking, trying not to fall. It does not feel good for me and I wonder if it feels at all good for Him. I wonder if the noises He is making are just as false as mine. I wonder if we are both mimicking media, trying to convince one another of something we know nothing about in the guest room of my Nana's condo.

I try to hold onto the legs of a wicker chair. Its wooden backside keeps thumping against the wall with each pump and I am uncomfortably aware of the old lady below us. Is she aware of what's happening above her? Do these noises ever come from this condo? Did my Nana and this old lady and their old lady friends talk about sex as they played Bridge in the room that I am now trying to have sex in? As I rock back and forth, working too hard to remain upright, I wonder if my Nana ever had sex in this room, the room where we used to watch The Golden Girls and eat peeled, sliced, and salted green apples? I block out the sounds that He is making and remember the story my Mother told me, before Nana's fall, about the time she put a thong on backwards. Bud, the post-Papa boyfriend, had laughed at her in a flirtatious way because he knew how thongs were supposed to be worn. The wilting old man knew how to put on a thong, and my Nana didn't.

Eighty-eight and wearing a thong. Bud probably knows how to have sex the way I'm trying to have sex now. Nana probably knows how to have sex the way I'm trying to have sex now too. I feel sick.

The room goes quiet when He finishes. So quiet that the queef that blows out of my vagina sounds louder than the wicker chair hitting against the wall. Neither of us acknowledges the noise, though I wish we would. My cheeks burn. I don't know if this sound is normal but it happens often. I avoid His eyes while I unfurl my body and leave the room. This is not how I expected the day to go.

Blood appears on the towel that I grab from the bathroom and wipe myself with. Shit, I think, a week early. My eyes graze the counter for something to clean it with. Tacky shell-shaped soaps are piled in a small dish. I'm going to have to sneak this towel out with me. There's no one here to do laundry. People don't do laundry in this condo anymore. Nana's in a home now, a senior living home, with different laundry machines, run by a staff of twats who won't let Her sit outside in the sun for fear of cancer. A notorious sunbather unable to sunbathe. The woman is reaching ninety and is in the middle of losing her home. Let her have the fucking sun. I fold the bloody towel and start to walk out.

A blue painting of a Japanese garden hangs outside the bathroom, no Post-it visible. My Mother told me once that Nana painted it herself. A blue replica of some U.S. Embassy Japanese garden where they used to spend their summers. She could have been lying, though.

I holler at Him to bring me my Post-its. Emerging from the guest room, he drops them into my hand and heads down the hall to the kitchen. He ignores the folded, bloody rag and asks me if it felt good. "Uh huh," I say, scribbling my name on the Post-it. I press it onto the painting and make my way back to the living room. My thighs are sticky. I think about washing them because I know they're going to chafe but I hear potato chip bags moving, cracker boxes opening, and olive jars sliding around wooden shelves. I suddenly don’t want to wash just my legs, I want to wash my body. I want to throw that painting. I don't want this furniture. I don't want Him to be here. I don't want to have sex from behind. I don't want there to be an estate sale.

I'd never even heard of an estate sale until a few days ago. Estates sound big, like a manor, like Mr. Darcy’s Pemberley or Maxim de Winter’s Manderley. I wiggle my toes into the creamy shag carpet and wonder if the house that I live in is also an estate? He pops His head out of the kitchen and asks if we can go yet. "In a minute. I want to look around this area again," I say, motioning as if there were a turntable in front of me. He rolls His eyes, a box of Fig Newtons in His hand.

My palms start to sweat. "I don't know what I'm supposed to pick! This is stupid."

"Just pick something meaningful,” He says, crumbs shooting from His mouth.

"It's not that simple. It feels weird. And everything is already tagged."

"Yeah, it's weird, but just pick something meaningful. What's something your Nana would want you to have that reminds you of her or your time here?"

My head jerks awkwardly in his direction. I follow His hand as it places a Fig Newton into His mouth.

Refocusing my attention, I search and look over each table, cushion, and plate. Finally, nestled between a wooden chair and the brick fireplace, I spot a small black and gold Japanese chest, the one that comes with a set of keys, each drawer locking individually. Nana would make grilled cheese sandwiches from a seventies-looking contraption, yellowed with age, while I locked and unlocked each drawer. I sat in the calm, lost in busy work without fear of getting In The Way.

In a sea of colored Post-its, each one flashing a family member's name, this small chest is bare. I look. Left. Right. I drop to all fours and survey the ground, searching for a fallen yellow or pink square. My excitement, or maybe relief, turns to confusion. What’s wrong with this chest? Awkwardly, I write my name on not one, but two Post-its and press them to the top and side of the chest.

I let Him know that this is good, that we can go. He asks what else I chose besides the chest and I point to the painting of the Japanese garden on our way out. I keep my eyes straight as we hit the entryway and ignore the reflection to my right.

Samantha Ladwig is a film critic and moving image cataloguer living in Los Angeles. After growing up in a small town in Washington, she moved to Seattle to earn degrees in film, history, and archives. Though she’s written about film for sites like Bust, Birth Movies Death, IGN Entertainment, and others, “Grilled Cheese and Furniture” is her first published short story.

Issue Contents

Issue 7

From the Editor

Back and Forth

He was asleep. Arms resting at his sides, legs stretched toward the slats at the end of the crib. Blades of light cut through the blinds reddening tufts of blond as they danced over his head like twinkling embers. His wispy baby hair had grown into a miniature mullet, the ends swooping upward as if styled with a curling iron, the hair at his temples dampened by exhaustion.

There was a Riley shaped patch of sweat on the white sheet below him. As mothers do, I had watched him sleep more times than I could count. Only he wasn’t actually asleep. My eyes stayed fixed on his hair because it was the only part of his body that let me believe he was sleeping...

[Continue reading...]


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I always avoided venturing too far into the main floor of the house if I could help it, especially in the mornings. My musty...

Grilled Cheese and Furniture

Stepping out of the car and looking upwards at my Great Grandmother’s front door, I am prepared for discomfort. I am prepared for...

Two Halves

“Find your place,” the loudspeaker rang out as thousands of people swarmed onto the Washington Mall. “What do we want?” the..


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