The narrator of this chapter is Grandma, writing a letter to Oskar from the airport (continued from the previous “My Feelings” chapter, Chapter 4). They are announcing flights, says Grandma, but “They do not matter to us, because we are not going anywhere.”
It’s still unclear why Grandma is in the airport, but it’s very symbolic: she is surrounding herself indirectly with memories of her son’s death, and she’s finding a home and anchor in a place where no one else remains permanently.
Grandma discusses the beginning of her marriage with Grandpa. Grandpa took pictures of every detail in their apartment, including the doorknobs. Grandpa used to go to the airport after work. At first, he would bring Grandma American magazines, but even when she stopped asking for that, she still gave him permission to go.
Instead of devoting himself to enjoying his life in his home, Grandpa was obsessed with creating a record of it so that if anything happened to it, he would still have a preserved version. Grandpa was burned by a metal doorknob in the Dresden firebombing, which fuels his particular obsession with doorknobs.
In their first Halloween in the apartment, Grandma didn’t understand what she was supposed to do when a child dressed up as a ghost came to the door. The ghost tells Grandma to give her candy, but Grandma instead puts two one-hundred-dollar bills in an envelope and pays the ghost to go away.
Grandma is grappling with her own trauma and grief from World War II, and she has to adjust to life in America, where certain rituals can be lighthearted celebrations, not symbolically laden with doom.
Grandma says that when she was in the guest room supposedly typing her life story, she was actually just hitting the space bar over and over again, because, as she says, “My life story was spaces.”
Grandpa thought that Grandma didn’t realize she had typed a sheaf of blank pages as her life story, but Grandma reveals that she knew what she was doing the whole time: her life story, as she typed it, was actually intended to be entirely blank. Her family is gone; she has married the lover of her sister: it is a blank. Also, once again, the novel makes clear the misunderstandings possible between people. Grandpa all this time has been trying to protect Grandma from the knowledge of her blank manuscript, and she presumably has been letting him lie to her in order to protect him form the knowledge of her blankness.
Grandma feels a hole inside her and realizes that she needs a child. She writes in Grandpa’s daybook to tell him that she is pregnant, which means that she has broken the rule they had set (that is, to have no children.) When Grandma says goodbye to Grandpa that day, as he is leaving for the airport on his usual routine, she picks up his suitcase and it feels heavy, which is how she knows he is leaving her.
Grandma tells Grandpa that she is pregnant in the same way that she tells him she wants to marry him: not by speaking out loud, but by writing in his notebook, a more permanent record than speech. But having a child is too much for Grandpa to handle—he is not emotionally ready for the weight of another being, for the possibility of more loss.
Grandma follows Grandpa to the airport, but he tells her that she has to go home. Even though the situation is fraught and they’re both upset, Grandpa makes a few small jokes. But then he starts to cry, which makes the daybook wet with his tears. Grandma says that she’s not angry with him. When she asks why he’s leaving, Grandpa writes that it’s because he does not know how to live.
Writing might be more trustworthy than speech, but actions always speak louder than words: Grandma’s true communication of her love is seen through her action of following Grandpa to the airport, and Grandpa’s true communication of his feelings is through his tears.
In the airport, talking to Grandpa, Grandma has several memories of her family as she is trying to convince Grandpa to stay. Grandma remembers when Anna taught her what it felt like to kiss and to be in love. She remembers her father wanting to save her family and the world, but not being able to. She remembers her mother teaching her to put on makeup. The morning of the Dresden firebombing, she had started to write back to the man in the Turkish labor camp, but the letter lay unfinished on her desk.
Grandma, just like Grandpa, experiences intense mourning for the past, and trying to convince Grandpa to stay as he’s straining to leave also makes her remember many painful memories from Dresden. The firebombing ruptured her life, and she doesn’t want Grandpa to leave her too.
Grandpa keeps pointing at “Broken and confused” and “Nothing” in the daybook and Grandma points at “Don’t cry” and “Something.” Finally, she convinces him to return home. They pawn some of their jewelry. The next morning, Grandpa packs again and goes to the airport, but this time, he doesn’t come back.
Grandma convinces Grandpa to return home with her, but not for long: he can’t face the idea of starting a new life in America, because the grief of losing Anna and his unborn son in Dresden is still too raw. Overcome with guilt and trauma, Grandpa leaves – he protects himself from connection by leaving all connection behind.
Grandma feels the baby (that is, Dad) kick in her belly, and she releases all the animals from the apartment: they leave and don’t come back.
Grandma releases Grandpa symbolically from her life by letting his animals go free.