is I have only pictures, built backwards into memories: My sister and I, at four and six, standing in front of an unidentified farmhouse, cradling freshly-picked squash and squinting at the camera. My grandmother's knees separate us; skinny, the color of Oklahoma dust, the state where she was born but never lived. Grooves in her skin tilt upwards like thick smiles. My mother disapproved of "Grandpa Willie", the photographer and Zella's live-in lover, so we seldom saw her after that. Every Christmas, though, we received brightly wrapped shoeboxes full of handmade doilies and dolls made out of pantyhose. We played with the toys for a day or so, then hid them beneath our beds. The doilies later became cat blankets. When Zella died, her body crumpled like a long ashtip from the cigarettes she loved to smoke, I learned about cremation, that her body had not been fed through a meat grinder, no matter what my classmates had said. My mother brought home the dress Zella wore at my parents' wedding, a pale-green polyester shift with bands of rhinestones around the neck and waist. It was so stiff it stood without a body, which was how I now envisioned her. Another summer, twelve years later, and my sister is lifeguarding. Under the unforgiving Texas sun, her skin has turned a dark red, as if someone lovingly rubbed moist clay deep into her pores. Every weekend I search flea markets for bits of bright lace and other knits to drape around the house. Neither of us like our lumpy knees. And the truth about Zella is that we still never speak of her.
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