top of page

Clementine peels

By Emily Peotto

Featured in our fall 2019 issue

The veins of my grandmother’s hands were stark blue against her pale skin. Her hair was grey and wispy, still a bit curly, cut close to her head. 

When she ate clementines, she pulled the peel off carefully in one piece, and reassembled it back into its previous form. She poured her cereal into plastic containers. She lined the drawers of her fridge with a green mesh she claimed kept her food fresh longer. She kept her rosaries that she brought back from Italy in Wedgwood containers that lay scattered on her windowsills. 

She was always trying to put things back together: detached buttons, broken vases, her marriage to my grandfather. She loved lavender. She never swore. She was convinced that vinegar could cure anything.

As she aged, her memory faded. At 87, she would tell me how just yesterday, she rode  her bike along the highway that connected Thunder Bay to Kakabeka Falls. Her past was fogged over by dementia, and she could not distinguish whether these stories were from two weeks or two decades ago.

“I bet it was windy,” I would say.

She often fell victim to scams from the Shopping Channel. Her green mesh sat in the fridge for years while tomatoes ripened and softened to the point of rot; she never quite understood that time was an unstoppable force.

In the middle of the night, she would come into my room and place her hand on my side, snug in the dip between my hip bone and rib cage. My dad told me, years later, that she was making sure I was still breathing. When my cousins and I were younger, we thought this habit was funny. 

Looking back, I am crushed to think of the anxiety she must have lived through: a child born during the Great Depression, accustomed to the ritual of keeping the things she loved safe. Learning, slowly, that everything is fragile.

As we were leaving a restaurant once, my scarf caught on the back of a chair and slowly started to unravel as I made my way to the door. I didn’t notice the line of wool dragging behind me until my grandmother scooped it up, cradling it in her hands. When we arrived back at her house, she showed me the pile of unspooled fabric.

“Here,” she said. “let me fix it.”

I watched as she remade my scarf, interweaving each string until the mess of wool became whole again. Like the clementine peels, left standing to hold the ghost of the fruit, my grandmother’s hands were meant to reassemble.

Three years later, in her hospital bed, she would tell me the story of Kakabeka Falls again. “It was just beautiful,” she said, “the way the water never stops running.”


bottom of page