Collector’s item

Now we’re a perfect set
Illustration by Peter Arkle

My friend grant Henry is having a baby. Or more specifically, his daughter Mary Grace is the one performing the actual feat of giving birth, and she and her new husband will be the actual parents. But I try not to remind Grant of that. He is too busy buying designer high chairs off the Internet to notice the baby doesn’t belong to him.

“I just got this chair for Skeeter,” Grant says. That’s what he calls his baby, the one his daughter is gracious enough to be having for him. The chair is a child-sized rendition of all the others in his loft, which looks like a floor in a department store—the midcentury modern furniture floor. I did not know that Knoll made baby chairs. Or is it Bertoia? Whatever it is, Grant has a collection of it. His place is spotless and exhibits no sign of personal habitation. No family pictures or funny refrigerator magnets. There is a painting of his daughter at the age of fourteen that he hung at knee level in his hallway, but that is it. All other personal curios are kept socked away somewhere, out of view—they don’t match what he refers to as his “collections.” Every burner on his otherwise untouched stove top boasts an equally untouched Danish modern tea kettle, each exactly the same but for color. It really is like a display room. I like to come over and complain there are no price tags on his items.

“I am not a hoarder,” he tells me. “I’m a collector.”
“All hoarders say that,” I remind him.

The angriest I’ve ever seen Grant is when my friend Daniel and I broke into his place late one night to rearrange his furniture, after deciding this prank would drive him up the wall the most. We probably overdid it: Just one chair pushed an inch off the mark would have been sufficient, but we actually relocated things. This was in retaliation for Grant breaking into my place a few nights earlier and eating all the gourmet chocolate I’d planned to put in the Christmas baskets I was making for my editors. We were all neighbors living on the first floor of the Telephone Factory in Poncey-Highland, and we were constantly breaking into each other’s places to borrow tequila or space heaters or to litter condoms all over the bedroom floor to make it look like an orgy had taken place. It was fun and insane and I was the first to move out, having bought a house, gotten knocked up, and written a bestseller all seemingly simultaneously.

A few months later, Grant actually hung my baby by the straps of her overalls on his wall. “Look,” he said excitedly, “Baby by Hollis. We could have an art show! A collection of babies, all hanging on the walls. Are you not loving this idea?”
“I am not loving this idea,” I said, unhooking my child.

To this day Mae, now fourteen, is nuts about Grant Henry. She texts him whenever she’s frustrated with me, which is usually when I won’t give her something, like tickets to a sold-out concert at the Tabernacle to see some screaming gaggle of skinny chimpanzees that makes up her favorite band. She knows Grant will get the tickets for her and that it will piss me off. “Don’t worry, I’ll chaperone,” he promises, as though that is any comfort.

Until yesterday his daughter was living in Mexico. She moved there at eighteen. I remember the day she left. Mae was in diapers, a pink tutu, and tiny black combat boots. Now, more than a decade later, Mary Grace is back with a handsome Latin husband, a baby bump, and—compliments of her dad—a perfectly furnished shotgun shack in Cabbagetown. Now my baby will soon babysit hers. I find that fairly amazing.
“Hey, Grampy!” I greet Grant as he pulls into my driveway to deliver my girl a gift, which he bought after texting her, “What do you want for your birthday that your mother won’t get you?” She pounces on the package like a kitten on an open can of tuna. Of course, it’s something both inappropriate and insanely expensive. Mae thanks him and asks about his impending grandfatherhood.

“How are you going to live with yourself with only one grandchild?” Mae teases. “One baby does not make a collection. You need a collection.”

Grant threw his head back and laughed. I laughed too. Sweet child, does she not know Grant’s collection is complete? And that she is part of it? And that, in our own way, we all match each other perfectly?