Saturday, December 15, 2007

Family: Chapter Nine- Bookends

They are holding hands. The girl looks at the boy with laughter in her eyes. He smiles back, unlocking the door of the car that will drive to Stone Harbor. Together they drive, heedless of the world, understanding only love. The radio blares as their car winds through the countryside.
Fall arrives. The phone in the finance office rings. I’m pregnant, she says, and I sit heavily. I feel as though I’ve been punched in the stomach. Are you sure, I say. I’m sure, she says, and starts crying with happiness. Damn, I say.
Winter comes. A child is born, a daughter. The daughter screams into the middle of the night, kicking the sides of her crib. The mother soothes her, feeling frazzled, the mother’s hair a red explosion of curls. The father waits, restless, work is coming tomorrow. In the morning he holds the daughter in the blue rocking chair, watching Little Bear on an old television. “It’s going to be alright” he tells the daughter, and the daughter senses his truth.
Soon it is Summer. The family is on the patio, drinking and smoking. Sunlight reflects on the water. The daughter takes the training wheels off her bicycle. Her helmet is too big. Pink streamers flap at her handlebars. Look at me, she says. Look at me.
It is the first day of school. She wears a High School Musical back pack. She argues with her parents. She waves from the back window as the bus drives off. She shares a secret with her best friend. We watch the bus dwindle to a speck in the distance before walking home.
We dress up to watch the school play, a musical called the King and I. The daughter has a small part, a speaking role, as one of the King’s daughters. She radiates in her little Thai costume, a pint-sized Oriental princess, more valuable than any pearl. Before the lights come up the father cries a little.
There is an argument. How can we afford college if you’re going to spend like this, the father says. It’s not my fault, the wife says. It’s not anybody’s fault, the father yells, it’s just math, for God’s sake. We’ll find a way, she says. The daughter, angry and frustrated, spends the night at her friend’s house.
I teach the daughter to drive. She backs over a curb and I pretend I’m angry. Pay attention, I say. She asks if she can borrow the car to pick up her friend, but I refuse. You don’t trust me she says. I do, I say, I do. She makes a face at me, the face her mother makes when I drink too much. I recognize the face.
The daughter graduates from college. She is far more poised, far more intelligent, and far more beautiful than any of her cap wearing classmates. There is a great cheer as they all toss their black caps into a cloudless sky. She smiles and I see the whiteness of her teeth. They look like diamonds in the sun. That’s my daughter, I say to a stranger, pointing. That’s her right there.
I’m moving out, she says. What the Hell do you mean you’re moving out, you’re just a child for Christ’s sake. The daughter wears the expensive suit that I purchased for her job interview. She is cool, confident. I am losing my temper for some reason. The wife looks at me and suddenly I realize. Outside a bitter wind blows. The window rattles in it’s pane. For a long time no one says anything.
Together they stand and read the stones. The daughter thinks back, remembering the life and laughter of those who came before, remembering the most important thing. Her husband stands beside her, nervous, thinking only of the baby that is coming. They are holding hands.

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