Parenting Sophiewith and without Eric, depending on the
yearhas been much harder than I ever expected. Whatever I do right I chalk up
to my father's example. Whatever I do wrong I blame squarely on fate.
The door to the bedroom opens, and Eric walks in. For that half
second, before all the memories crowd in, he takes my breath away. Sophie has my
dark hair and freckles, but thankfully, that's about all. She's got Eric's lean
build and his high cheekbones, his easy smile and his unsettling eyesthe
feverish blue of a glacier. "Sorry I'm late." He drops a kiss on the crown of my
head and I breathe in, trying to smell the telltale alcohol on his breath. He
hoists Sophie into his arms.
I can't make out the sourness of whiskey, or the grainy yeast of
beer, but that means nothing. Even in high school, Eric knew a hundred ways to
remove the red flags of alcohol consumption. "Where were you?" I ask.
"Meeting a friend in the Amazon." He pulls a Beanie Baby frog
out of his back pocket.
Sophie squeals and grabs it, hugs Eric so tight I think she
might cut off his circulation. "She double-teamed us," I say, shaking my head.
"She's a con artist."
"Just hedging her bets." He puts Sophie down on the floor, and
she immediately runs downstairs to show her grandfather.
I go into his arms, hooking my thumbs into the back pockets of
his jeans. Under my ear, his heart keeps time for me. I'm sorry I doubted you.
"Do I get a toad, too?" I ask.
"You already had one. You kissed him, and got me instead.
Remember?" To illustrate, he trails his lips from the tiny divot at the base of
my necka sledding scar from when I was twoall the way up to my mouth. I taste
coffee and hope and, thank God, nothing else.
We stand in our daughter's room for a few minutes like that,
even after the kiss is finished, just leaning against each other in between the
quiet places. I have always loved him. Warts and all.
When we were little, Eric and Fitz and I invented a language.
I've forgotten most of it, with the exception of a few words: valyango, which
meant pirate; palapala, which meant rain; and ruskifer, which had no translation
to English but described the dimpled bottom of a woven basket, all the reeds
coming together to form one joint spot, and that we sometimes used to explain
our friendship. This was back in the days before playtime had all the
contractual scheduling of an arranged marriage, and most mornings, one of us
would show up at the house of another and we'd swing by to pick up the third.
In the winter, we would build snow forts with complicated
burrows and tunnels, complete with three sculpted thrones where we'd sit and
suck on icicles until we could no longer feel our fingers and toes. In the
spring, we ate sugar-on-snow that Fitz's dad made us when he boiled down his own
maple syrup, the three of us dueling with forks to get the sweetest, longest
strands. In the fall, we would climb the fence into the back acreage of McNab's
Orchards and eat Macouns and Cortlands and Jonathans whose skin was as warm as
our own. In the summer, we wrote secret predictions about our futures by the
faint light of trapped fireflies, and hid them in the hollow knot of an old
maple treea time capsule, for when we grew up.
We had our roles: Fitz was the dreamer; I was the practical
tactician; Eric was the front man, the one who could charm adults or other kids
with equal ease. Eric always knew exactly what to say when you dropped your hot
lunch tray by accident and the whole cafeteria was staring at you, or when the
teacher called on you and you'd been writing up your Christmas list. Being part
of his entourage was like the sun coming through a plate-glass window: golden,
something to lift your face toward.
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