Five Wallpapers by Anne Panning

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close up of patterned wallpaper pink flowers with green stems on white and yellow background

My parents’ house in Minnesota was butter yellow with green and gold trim. My mother called it her Holly Hobbie house. There was gingerbread (outside) and cookies (inside). And wallpaper everywhere.

It now languishes in foreclosure. Both of my parents are dead. When I Google Earth their address, I can see my mother’s calico clothespin bag still hanging on the clothesline. Moss has grown on the roof, thick and lumpy like a carpet of green boils ready to erupt.


The wallpapers haunt me.


The other day I mentioned the deep regret I feel over not having taken small scraps of wallpaper from the rooms of my parents’ house. My friend replied, “Oh, but you have the memories. They will always be with you.”

She is correct. She is not correct.

I want to stuff wallpaper in my pockets. I want to laminate memories. I want to make tiny wallpaper quilts.


Purple white floral.


I imagine the art project I could make from the ghost wallpaper scraps: a collage of pretty. Rough around the edges. “Rips,” I would call the piece, and there would be buttons from my (inherited) sewing basket and stickers of Victorian children playing hoops and marbles that my mother loved to stick on the envelopes of letters she sent (so rarely sent), and maybe a swatch, just a snip, of the cream and pink plaid flannel shirt of hers that hangs in my closet (tucked beside my wedding dress), and some cinnamon sticks, and a tiny dollhouse pillow she sewed for me once out of blue ticking—the size of a saltine.


Here is why I don’t have any wallpaper in my pockets: my mother died (this is a long story and hard, too hard for now). My father lived, for a while. Things got up inside his head (bugs, Xyprexa, men in white with guns).

The distance between Brockport, New York, and Arlington, Minnesota, is 1,055 miles: meaning, what could I do? how could I help?

I learned that sheriffs will drive the crazy away in vans with caged compartments. They will not lay on the sirens. They will drive for hours with no place to go. Or maybe this is long-distance phone call fiction.

Everyone went away: I went the furthest. But that’s not true; my father went to Autumn Lane Memory Care Center, the farthest point you can travel before you reach the end of the world.



Mustard yellow calico.


My sister-in-law, Jacqui, once told me about a friend of hers—let’s call her Jane. When trying to express why she liked Jane so much, she said, “I don’t know. She’s just got this very Midwestern feel about her.” When I asked her what she meant, she couldn’t really say.

Here is what I think she meant:

a. nice

b. solid, as in, “I did her a solid.”

c. stolid

d. tennies and jeans (tucked-in t-shirt)

e. organized and kind (kindly organized)

f. down to earth (rain gauge, Ranch dressing, Kleenex in the car)

Could I check any of these myself? Maybe b. and e.?

Maybe not.

Maybe I’m not who I think I am anymore.


I worry about my parents’ house; despite distance and despair, I have become its keeper. I track it online and see the weeping willow my mother planted has become a giant overgrown hippie, blocking off half the house.

She used to pull a lawn chair and sit inside the draping branches and stitch kittens or days of the week onto dish towels. She sat sheltered inside it like it was a cave. Sometimes when I’d arrive for a visit (so rare), I couldn’t see her until she emerged, parting the green vines like a beaded curtain, and smirked, happy, as if she were onstage: the long lost mother.


Apples on cream.


The other day I bought a roll of wallpaper at Goodwill for 99 cents. I had it in my hand; I put it back; I retrieved. It’s not gorgeous or cute. It’s not quaint or fun or sweet. It’s Batch 1, Pattern 12256, pasted vinyl, made in England. It will not go up on my walls, but rest in my closet: a hard log of blue feathery flowers and yellow suns.

Waiting for my mother.

My mother was an expert paperhanger: the bucket of gob snot glue stuck to the floor, the smeared wet sheets (flapping heavy), the boar-bristle hand brush (smoothing, smoothing). I helped by not helping. For my bedroom, I was all purple: she said fine. I was fourteen on the floor: she ladder-perched, reached her arms up far, far away from me.

The log of wallpaper is not our wallpaper: it is not us. It doesn’t merit opening, though I do sometimes reach in to take a peek. And a smell. Sometimes I like to hold it on my lap.


Violets and vines.


How many gables does my parents’ house have? I can’t remember. And did the scrappy lilac bush out back make it after all those ice storm lashings?

I can’t remember.

I remember three gables pointed clearly up to the sky: Jim’s bedroom, Amy’s bedroom, my bedroom. Those slanted walls, our little dovecotes, held us safely inside (little pigeons).

But there might be four gables. Or even five. I can’t remember.

I remember all the wallpapers, though. If I could peer into the tiny upstairs window, the window facing east, the window that gets buttery sun till noon, the window that harbors the heart of our family, I think I might see tiny white diamonds on dusty blue, glowing.

Anne-PanningAnne Panning has published a novel, Butter, as well as two short story collections—The Price of Eggs, and Super America, which won The Flannery O’Connor Award and was a New York Times Editor’s Choice. She has also published work in places such as Bellingham Review, Prairie Schooner, New Letters, The Florida Review, Passages North, Black Warrior Review, The Greensboro Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Kalliope, Quarterly West, The Kenyon Review, The Laurel Review, Five Points, River Teeth, West Branch and Brevity (4x). Her memoir, Dragonfly Notes, is forthcoming from Stilllhouse Press in September 2018. She teaches creative writing at SUNY-Brockport.




STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Lily_nymph

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