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Fluffy handfuls of pilling powdery Kleenex.  Unused, tattered, slightly gray.  Worn smooth like sea-glass from the friction against itself.  Curled inward in rounded sullen clumps. 

Handfuls of old Kleenex are in the pockets of all her clothes, now my clothes.  Her boot cut Levi’s with a stray pen mark on the left thigh.  Her black down vest, like a puffy suit of armor.  The shiny leather pants I know I’ll never wear.  The stylish wool smock of a dress I wear on my thirty-third birthday, the first one without her.  I throw them out unceremoniously as I find them.  It’s only been a few weeks, and who would attach significance to old Kleenex? 

Some of her sundresses have pockets, and I’m surprised when my hands find old Kleenex there, ghostly remnants now that it’s been six months.  I don’t throw them out.  When I wear the dresses, there is a slight bulge in my silhouette from the Kleenex in the pockets.  But maybe it’s something only I notice, because only I know it’s there. 

She always threw them away after a single use, extravagantly.  I consider them still good if there is any unused corner.  I leave partly used ones on the bedside table, saving them for later.

A friend once put it this way: “Your mom is a flapper from the Roaring Twenties, and you’re a Depression Baby.”  It’s true.  She blew through lovers, money, life itself.  She didn’t save anything for later.  “Use ‘em up!” she told me once, apropos of boyfriends, when I was fifteen and all elbows and adoration, gazing at her and saying nothing. 

The chemo gave her a runny nose – one of its least alarming side effects.  Mom put Kleenex in her pockets, but if a box was nearby, she’d take from there, and buy a new box when that one was through.  So the pocket-Kleenex stayed where they were, crumpled, superfluous.  Abandoned.  


Kayla Min Andrews is a half-Korean bookworm with a heart of gold.  She teaches English to international students at the University of New Orleans and is a member of the Peauxdunque Writers Alliance.  Her work has appeared most recently in Asymptote.  This piece is dedicated to her mother, Katherine Min, who was a Pushcart-winning fiction writer.  Check out Katherine’s work here:

© 2020, Kayla Min Andrews

One comment on “Old Kleenex, by Kayla Min Andrews

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