LOST OBJECTS (22)

By: Lisa Takeuchi Cullen
December 14, 2017

One in a 25-part series of nonfiction stories about lost objects. We asked 25 writers to tell us about a significant object they’d lost (or thrown away, or destroyed), then assigned these stories to 25 illustrators. We’re thrilled with the results. This is the fourth volume in the PROJECT:OBJECT series. Please subscribe to the P:O newsletter; and purchase P:O apparel and accessories — all profits will be donated to the ACLU!

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When I think of all we lost that year — our parents, our home, our homeland — a clock shouldn’t really come up at all. It was made of green glass, angular and abstract in shape, about the size and weight of an iron. It had scant beauty or worth. I’m not sure it even kept time.

The clock sat atop the marble mantelpiece in our childhood home in Kobe, Japan. The mantel sat atop a fireplace that did not work because Japanese homes have no chimneys. The clock and the mantel were decorative pieces in the decorative sitting room where no one ever sat, until that summer, and only then to keep company with our mother’s corpse.

The undertaker had laid her body out on a thin mattress on the floor, packets of dried ice tucked all around, a quilt tucked up under her chin. We who loved her were to sit with her until her funeral and cremation a few days later. The room was cold, on account of the dry ice and the air conditioning. It was late August.

I was alone, for once. My siblings and I had returned home from abroad for the last months of our mother’s life, along with our spouses and our eleven children. And then of course there was our father, for whom our mother’s long illness had somehow never equated death until the day death came. The shock of losing her felled him. Within months, we were to lose him, too, along with our childhood home and all that it contained.

But we didn’t know that, then. While usually the big house rang with laughter — because even amid grief, children will laugh and make you laugh — this moment I could hear only the green glass clock as it tick, tick, ticked. Only the clock watched as I applied makeup to my mother. The undertaker had let me have that final, intimate task.

She looked strange, dead. Gravity stretched her face back toward her ears, a facelift she hadn’t sought or needed. And the makeup was trickier than I thought. The eyeshadow wouldn’t dust properly on her papery lids. Her usual foundation clashed with her graying skin. Lipstick pulled her mouth weirdly to the side.

Tick. Soon the house would fill again and her face still looked like a four-year-old’s first Barbie makeover.

Tick. If I smashed the clock into a million green glass pieces, maybe I could stop time.

Tick. If I could stop time, it wouldn’t be now.

Tick. It would be yesterday, when she lived.

In the end, I smudged and I patted and nobody noticed, probably. In the end, after we buried her, after we buried our father, after the big house was razed and two little ones popped up in its place, after we continued our lives in countries that are not the one of our birth — in the end, I think of that clock.

I wished I’d smashed it. If only to see.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: See sidebar.

ABOUT THE ARTIST: Rose Wong is a Brooklyn-based illustrator and plant lover.

LOST OBJECTS series: INTRODUCTION | Kate Bernheimer on MULLET WIG (ill. Amy Evans) | Dan Piepenbring on COLOGNE (ill. Josh Neufeld) | Doug Dorst on STRATOCASTER (ill. John Holbo) | Paul Lukas on VANILLA BEAN (ill. Alison Bamcat) | Mimi Lipson on DODGE DART (ill. Mister Reusch) | Luc Sante on CLUB CHAIR (ill. Kate Bingaman-Burt) | Nina Katchadourian on FOUNTAIN PENS (ill. Lisa Congdon) | Matthew Sharpe on BAUBLE (ill. Glenn Jones) | Claire Lehmann on PEANUT-BUTTER CRACKERS (ill. Karen Kurycki) | Jessamyn West on ENGINEER RING (ill. Amanda Clarke) | Mandy Keifetz on ORGONE ACCUMULATOR (ill. Emory Allen) | Molly Sauter on DESKTOP DOG (ill. Shayna Piascik) | Amy Thielen on DOG-FUR SCARF (ill. Heather Kasunick) | Stephen O’Connor on HUNTING HAT (ill. Oliver Munday) | Alice Boone on COLLEGE NEWSPAPERS (ill. Rick Pinchera) | Dante Ramos on ROAD ATLAS (ill. Joe Alterio) | Alex Balk on SHOOTING GALLERY (ill. John Lowe) | Chelsey Johnson on NOTEBOOK (ill. Rubi McGrory) | Susannah Breslin on SILICONE VAGINA (ill. Jennifer Heuer) | Seth Mnookin on .22 REVOLVER (ill. Alex Eben Meyer) | Dan Fox on CONKER (ill. Linzie Hunter) | Lisa Takeuchi Cullen on GLASS CLOCK (ill. Rose Wong) | Michael Tisserand on WALKING SHOES (ill. Jackie Roche) | Jeff Turrentine on BASEBALL MITT (ill. Andrew DeGraff) | Randy Kennedy on SNAKE RATTLES (ill. Max Temescu).

ILLICIT OBJECTS series: INTRODUCTION | Kio Stark on PEEPSHOW TOKEN | Sari Wilson on TOMBSTONE PARTS | Annalee Newitz on CAR-BOMB REMNANT | Tito Bottitta on MOONINITE DEVICE | Eric Bennett on DIRTY MAGAZINE | & 20 MORE.

TALISMANIC OBJECTS series: INTRODUCTION | Veda Hille on CROCHET SHEEP | Gary Panter on DINOSAUR BONES | Jami Attenberg on SELENITE CRYSTAL | Annie Nocenti on MINIATURE DICE | Wayne Curtis on CLOCK WINDING KEY | & 20 MORE.

POLITICAL OBJECTS series: INTRODUCTION | Luc Sante on CAMPAIGN PAMPHLETS | Lydia Millet on PVC POLAR BEAR | Ben Greenman on MATCHBOX CAR | Rob Baedeker on PRESIDENTS PLACEMAT | L.A. Kauffman on WHEATPASTE POSTER | & 20 MORE.

SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS at HILOBROW: PROJECT:OBJECT homepage | PROJECT:OBJECT newsletter | PROJECT:OBJECT objects (Threadless shop — all profits donated to the ACLU) | POLITICAL OBJECTS series (1Q2017) | TALISMANIC OBJECTS series (2Q2017) | ILLICIT OBJECTS series (3Q2017) | LOST OBJECTS series (4Q2017) | 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE by Significant Objects | 12 MORE DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE by Significant Objects | 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE (AGAIN) by Significant Objects. ALSO SEE: SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS website | SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS collection, ed. Rob Walker and Josh Glenn (Fantagraphics, 2012) | TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY, ed. Josh Glenn (Princeton Architectural Press, 2007).

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