Dorothy Allison builds a bag with fragments of the past that are in conversation with the present. It must have helped her decide which fragments to include because something from the present hauls up the past and vice versa. Here’s an from her episodic short story, “River of Names”:
I’ve these pictures my mama gave me—stained sepia prints of bare dirt yards, plank porches, and step after step of children—cousins, uncles, aunts; mysteries. The mystery of how many no one remembers. I show them to Jesse, not saying who they are, and when she laughs at the broken teeth, torn overalls, the dirt, I set my teeth at what I do not want to remember and cannot forget.
We were so many we were without number and, like tadpoles, if there was one less from time to time, who counted? My maternal great-grand-mother had eleven daughters, seven sons; my grandmother, six sons, five daughters. Each one made at least six. Some made nine. Six times six, eleven times nine. They went on like multiplication tables. They died and were not missed. I come of an enormous family and I cannot tell half their stories. Somehow it was always made to seem they killed themselves: car wrecks, shotguns, dusty ropes, screaming, falling out of windows, things inside them. I am the point of a pyramid, sliding back under the weight of the ones who came after, and it did not matter that I am the lesbian, the one who will not have children.
I tell the stories and it comes out funny. I drink bourbon and make myself drawl, tell all those old funny stories. Someone always seems to ask me, which one was that? I show the pictures, and she says, “Wasn’t she the one in the story about the bridge?” I put the pictures away, drink more, and someone always finds them, then says, “Goddamn! How many of you were there anyway?”
I don’t answer.
Jesse used to say, “You’ve got such a fascination with violence. You’ve got so many terrible stories.”