When my grandmother died, she died with the bang of a death rattle. All that gossip and noise she held onto for her eighty-seven years on earth just drizzled out of her like carbonation from a too tightly wound Coca-Cola bottle.  My grandfather died by way of ambivalence. He went to hospice one evening and in the early morning when my father turned to get some ice water my grandfather folded all his cards. Total kaput. 

 

It wasn’t long before they started popping up everywhere –– my grandmother more than my grandfather, of course. It was similar to the way my grandfather stayed silent at the dinner table as my grandmother passed the pasta and the meatballs and the bread around and before any of us could take a bite she would run through all of the ways something could potentially be wrong with the sauce or the meat or the salt ratio. Eventually my grandfather would put an end to the madness and say, “Marie.” Then we all ate in silence as a way to prove how delicious the meal really was.

 

These dimes started popping up in the washer and in the dryer and I knew it was my grandmother trying to signal something to me because I had been in distress recently. They began showing up in my shoes or found when I lifted the mattress to tuck in bedsheets. They appeared that one time in the wet of the stream after I had gotten into an quarrel over fabric strengths with my girlfriend. Or I’d be eating a bin of cherry tomatoes and there at the bottom of the carton was a dime. 

 

I was lonesome without my grandparents and so I started asking for change in all dimes. Then I would go to the bodega and got sparkling water, an avocado, Ruffles, a six pack of Budweiser and paid for it in dimes. My friend Natalie made me a small ceramic bowl to keep all of my dimes in and then I had to ask her to make me twelve more. I couldn’t contain myself or my grandparents.

 

Soon I learned that coin collecting was the hobby of kings but I didn’t know what that made me if I only collected dimes. I hoarded my coins and got rid of all the tools in my home. Instead of screwdrivers I used the dimes. I baked my pies and I used dimes to weigh down the crust. Once when I had put an iteration of my grandparents into the oven at too high a temperature, I took the crust out and burnt my fingers on the metal. ‘Whew!’ my grandmother said. ‘A sorcher today!’ Then I placed her next to stack of card decks I always had ready for us. 

 

12 Comments

  1. Taylor Grieshober

    I love this piece! I think what I like most is how you’ve been able to spin the entire tale around a singular object: a coin and how comforting it is for the narrator. I think it’s unexpected, how quickly they accept the presence of the coins as a means of communication. This isn’t a story where the narrator is looking for meaning in the strange appearance of the coins–they come to the meaning immediately and settle on it. That probably also has a lot to do with the narrative voice, which is really strong! And the details pop. I like your diction too, especially in the line “He went to hospice one evening and in the early morning when my father turned to get some ice water my grandfather folded all his cards. Total kaput.” That “kaput” part and he “folded his cards” have excellent rhythm.

    One suggestion I have is to let us actually hear some of what the grandmother said when she was dying. I love the rhythm of “all that gossip and noise…” but I’d also like a taste of the kinds of things she said there, especially since we get some of her dialogue at the end there. Might be nice to bookend it.

    Thanks for sharing! This is a great story.
    Taylor

  2. Amy Barnes

    So much identifiable grief and emotion here. I can see my own grandparents in your storytelling (just trade Dr. Pepper in for Coca Cola.) Evoking that type of universal immersion into a story is a hard thing to do. Your descriptions here make the story so vivid and memorable: she died with the bang of a death rattle, drizzled out of her like carbonation from a too tightly wound Coca-Cola bottle, folded all his cards. But you take us past those initial grief moments further with your narrator. The reader is immersed in the “return” of the grandparents: meal memories, the dime touchpoints, and then the collecting to get closer to these memories. All through more identifiable sensory details: the bodega purchases, dimes to weigh down baked pie crusts. It feel like there could be more to the story here — I could see this as a series of linked micros exploring the deaths, grieving process, full circle healing.

  3. Bud Smith

    this rules, I love what you did with the coins and the hurt and the answerable big questions of life. I had a couple ideas here on how to consolidate some of the sentences so we slip into the story at a different angle:

    My grandmother died a death rattle bang. All that gossip and noise she held onto for her eighty-seven years on earth hissed out of her like carbonation from a too tightly wound Coca-Cola bottle. My grandfather died ambivalent. One evening in hospice my father turned to get some ice water and grandfather folded all his cards. Total kaput.

    It wasn’t long before dimes started popping up everywhere –– my grandmother more than my grandfather, of course. It was similar to the way my grandfather stayed silent at the dinner table as my grandmother passed the pasta and the meatballs and the bread around and before any of us could take a bite she would run through all of the ways something could potentially be wrong with the sauce or the meat or the salt ratio. Eventually my grandfather would put an end to the madness and say, “Marie.” Then we all ate in silence as a way to prove how delicious the meal really was.

    These dimes started popping up in the washer and in the dryer and I knew it was my grandmother trying to signal something to me because I had been in distress recently. They began showing up in my shoes or found when I lifted the mattress to tuck in bedsheets. They appeared that one time in the wet of the stream after I had gotten into an quarrel over fabric strengths with my girlfriend. Or I’d be eating a bin of cherry tomatoes and there at the bottom of the carton was a dime.

    I was lonesome without my grandparents and so I started asking for change in all dimes. Then I would go to the bodega and got sparkling water, an avocado, Ruffles, a six pack of Budweiser and paid for it in dimes. My friend Natalie made me a small ceramic bowl to keep all of my dimes in and then I had to ask her to make me twelve more. I couldn’t contain myself or my grandparents.

    Soon I learned that coin collecting was the hobby of kings but I didn’t know what that made me if I only collected dimes. I hoarded my coins and got rid of all the tools in my home. Instead of screwdrivers I used the dimes. I baked my pies and I used dimes to weigh down the crust. Once when I had put an iteration of my grandparents into the oven at too high a temperature, I took the crust out and burnt my fingers on the metal. ‘Whew!’ my grandmother said. ‘A sorcher today!’ Then I placed her next to stack of card decks I always had ready for us.

    • Bud Smith

      I love how random the dimes are, how magic and how awestruck they make me feel … I had an idea though … maybe their wedding anniversary was The tenth of October?

      Or the narrator falls into such a stark despondence and then its like the dimes start showing up A she ever got on her report card or something. Some way that the dimes seem even more tied to the actual people that are gone and the absurdity of their lives that cannot be contained in death.

      I’m excited to read more of your writing. I like how your brain works

  4. Janelle Greco

    The carbonation of the Coca-Cola bottle and the “total kaput” in the first paragraph totally grab me. The line, “I couldn’t contain myself or my grandparents” is amazing. It’s such a great expression of grief and how it works. Not being able to contain or hold something. The dimes draw me in. All the images with them—how they replace screwdrivers and weigh down the crusts of pies—is brilliant. The story is haunting really now that I read it over again. I did get a little confused toward the end when the narrator says they put an “iteration” in the oven. Is it that she’s baking something that looks like her grandparents? Is it that they’re physically putting some form of the grandparents in the oven? I just had to pause here. You could also maybe thinking about expanding this story to include more scenes of the grandparents when they’re alive like the dinner scene. I was really drawn in by that. What a lovely piece about loss and holding onto something after that loss. Thank you for sharing!

  5. Neil Clark

    “All that gossip and noise she held onto for her eighty-seven years on earth just drizzled out of her like carbonation from a too tightly wound Coca-Cola bottle.” What a great start! Hints at the grandmother’s character and a striking, visceral bit of imagery. I like the contrast with the grandfather’s death the very text sentence, too.

    So many other gems in here. And the symbolism of the dimes just straight up works, especially with the way the grandmother pops up at the end.

    I thought the paragraph of the memory at the dinner table was great in its own right – really relatable whether you come at it from the perspective of the grandmother or the others around the table. For me, it slightly distracted me from the core of the story, though. Just a though – maybe try cutting it down and seeing how it reads? But if it doesn’t make it in, don’t bin that passage! Like I say, it’s a beautiful bit in its own right.

    Great piece – made me think of my own grandparents and how memories of them are sparked by seemingly innocuous objects. Will stay with me, this one.

  6. Samantha Mitchell

    Hi K,
    There’s something so satisfying about your story, and I think it has to do with the tangible token of grief that the dimes represent. I remember hearing about “pennies from heaven” as a small child, coins left by loved ones passed on in random places, and your dimes recall this colloquial folktale and embrace it instantly. At the same time, you make this concept your own in truly interesting ways. I love the image at the end, where the pie is weighed down by dimes. Or how the speaker doesn’t own tools anymore because they have dimes to use as screwdrivers. That’s some really good storytelling.

    I wonder if you could push the appearance and use of dimes even further. Like a few others said above, I think it’s great that the narrator accepts the dimes immediately as tokens from their grandparents and doesn’t leave the reader with any doubt that this is the case. I also think that gives you a lot of room to up the stakes. What if the narrator is suddenly overwhelmed by the amount of dimes he (she, they) keeps collecting? What if dimes started interfering in their life in a way that could not be ignored by living family member and friends? What kind of choices would this overabundance of dimes force the narrator to make? Just some things to think about.

    Thanks for sharing!

  7. Jacob Schrodt

    Wow, the making of meaning in a time of grief, using something random like discarded change, is so relatable. You’ve created a world here in which what could be seen as delusional or desperate behavior is actually quite believable and healing. I love how the grandmother is characterized by the over-analyzation of her cooking, while the grandfather sits in silence, and when he finally speaks he is blunt and efficient. I wonder if you can show this more specifically in the appearances of the dimes as well. The multitude of dimes leads me to think most of the grandmother. Perhaps you can show an example of when the narrator knew a specific dime came from the grandfather? Wonderful work with this!

  8. Traci Mullins

    This is so imaginative and well written. I love how the dimes are a character all their own. You convey the personalities of the grandparents so effectively. I really love this line: “My grandfather died by way of ambivalence” as well as how he could shut his wife down with one word. The only thing you might consider is a smoother transition between the second and third paragraphs, maybe by shifting some sentences around and starting with the grandson’s mindset (distressed) and his need for a reassuring sign from his dearly departed. Also, maybe play up his perplexity about the dimes at first before shifting to how they comforted him. I LOVE the line about him arguing with his girlfriend about fabric strengths-haha!

  9. Kevin Sterne

    hey this is cool. we both wrote about ghosts sending things. Mine screws, yours coins. I obviously love what you’re getting at with this piece. I love the lines about Marie and spaghetti dinner. This rings so true. I love the escalated superstition you get to by the end of the piece. All good stuff here.

    I do wonder about starting the piece at the third paragraph and then sprinkling in the first two paragraphs later. My thinking is that “These dimes started popping up in the washer and in the dryer and I knew it was my grandmother trying to signal something to me because I had been in distress recently.” throws us right into the story. No set up needed. Just a suggestion. Hope this helps!

  10. Martha Jackson Kaplan

    K–– Magic imagination. Congratulations.
    It makes me want more about the dimes. I’d like some way in which the dimes tie directly into something about the grandparents. It could even be as simple as, “When my grandmother died, she died with the bang of a death rattle” made of dimes. Or somewhere in this piece some other reference to dimes– Grandfather’s pockets always filled with dimes, for example. I like Bud’s editorial suggestions, especially in the first sentence of the second paragraph– instead of the pronoun “they” drop dimes into that line. There is enough tension in this narrative that you don’t need to keep us waiting for the central image of the dimes.

    I think you clearly nailed the two deaths, not always an easy task. And the dimes, well, pure magic. I can almost see the silver gleam of them. Thank you, enjoyed reading this.

  11. David O'Connor

    I love this line–My grandfather died by way of ambivalence. Also, all the foodstuff and just the overall awareness of detail really works for me. My only suggestion is more of a question but what’s the link between the dimes and the grandparents, maybe I missed it, maybe you don’t need it, but for me, the death rattle and rattling a ceramic jar of dimes feels like a map to explore. Thanks so much, love it!

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