Grandma, the narrator, describes the day when Grandpa comes in in the middle of the night with dirt on his pants. Grandpa doesn’t tell her what happened; instead, he says that he wants to get her some magazines from the airport. She tells him to bring a suitcase, supposedly to carry lots of magazines, but so that really he can bring his things with him.
Grandpa’s actions speak louder than words; that is, Grandma understands more from his non-verbal communication than the words that he says. “Getting magazines from the airport” is his excuse to take himself to the airport with a suitcase so that he can leave, as he did when Grandma was pregnant with Dad.
Grandma remembers the day her father died, trapped under the ceiling, but she can’t remember his last words to her: she told him that she had to leave, but she doesn’t recall what he said in reply. In her dream about it, she says, the tears go up his cheeks and return to his eyes.
Both Oskar and Grandma fantasize about reversing the laws of physics so that events wind backwards into themselves and things can reset to normal, as though tragedies had never happened.
Grandma puts the typewriter and paper into a suitcase. She writes a note, tapes it to the window, and takes a cab to follow Grandpa to the international terminal at the airport, where he is sitting and asking people what time it is.
The story line of the letter that Grandma has been writing throughout the novel and the story line through the letters Grandpa has been writing converge: Grandma sees Grandpa asking for the time, so she meets him as he is writing the latest letter of his presented in the novel.
Grandpa tells Grandma that Anna had been pregnant, but Grandma knew the whole time. Grandpa also tells Grandma that he has been seeing Oskar, but Grandma knows that, too. Grandpa says that last night, he and Oskar dug up Dad’s grave, and Grandpa buried the letters he wrote, along with the key to Grandma’s apartment, in the grave.
Grandpa kept his relationship with Oskar secret because he didn’t want to become too intimately involved in the family, and he had kept Anna’s pregnancy secret to protect Grandma from even deeper sadness—but, as it turns out, he didn’t need to protect Grandma, because she knew both secrets the whole time and was strong enough to deal with them.
Everyone around them in the airport is coming or going. Grandma suggests that they stay in the airport forever: “Not coming or going. Not something or nothing. Not yes or no.” Grandma describes a dream she has had of Noah’s Ark, but in reverse: the rain going into the clouds and the animals descending the ramp, two by two.
Grandma’s dream of reversing Noah’s Ark suggests her desire to reverse the past. The image of bringing the animals back recalls the first time Grandpa left her, forty years ago, when she released all his animals from the apartment; this time, she wants to re-start and keep Grandpa with her.
Grandma writes that she is typing this very letter sitting across from Grandpa at a table at the airport. When she is typing the letter to Oskar, Grandma writes, she is choosing Oskar over Grandpa, because she can’t see Grandpa’s face. She finishes describing the dream, which goes back to Genesis: God said let there be light, Grandma writes, and there was darkness.
Now, the reader finally knows why Grandma is in the airport, as she wrote in the first chapter that is from her point of view: she and Grandpa are suspended in this limbo of not choosing, of remaining between the past (represented by flying back home to Dresden) and the present (returning to New York).
Grandma describes the last night that she spent with Anna. She regrets never telling Anna how much she loved her: she thought that it was always unnecessary to say, because they slept in the same bed every night. But, writes Grandma, it’s always necessary. She ends the letter by telling Oskar that she loves him.
Just as the one letter Dad did receive from Grandpa ends with Grandpa telling him that he loves him, Grandma ends her letter to Oskar by expressing her love, which is her way of saying goodbye without leaving Oskar wracked with guilt and worry that he had done something to send her away. And it is a signal that all of the communication in the novel, failed and partial as it is, are in fact expressions of love.