“Can you see my hand?” There is an open place within one of our kitchen walls, which previous owners have clumsily installed a decorative shelving unit. Through it, you can see into the living room, and as I do dishes and Lauri puts Lily to bed, CB is cruising the house like a cat. She is nocturnal, like her grandmother, and is nowhere near ready to sleep yet. Her little hand waves from the bottom of one of the shelves. “Yes, I see your hand, little boo.” She climbs up on the desk on the other side of the wall and stands to her full height. “I’m the tallest person in the world! I’m taller than you now, daddy!” “Hey, how did you get up there? Be careful hon, there’s a lot to knock over there. Why don’t you climb down.” She reaches up and takes down a small, ornate brass container, about the size of a plum. “What’s this daddy? What’s in here?” I look up and see what she has picked up. I stop for a moment, and think about how much I want to talk about this, at this particular moment. There’s no avoiding the fact that I am exhausted, and am ready for a hot shower and good night’s sleep. She holds the vessel, looking at me through the shelving. “That, boo, is your brother. The ashes.” CB stops for a minute, and looks at it. “Can we open it?” “No, hon, that is not for opening. It stays closed.” “Oh.” She looks at it again. “Please?” “No, I’m afraid not, hon. It’s meant to stay closed.” She looks at the photo next to the urn, of Alex, his hand draped across my pinky finger. “Is this my brother?” I look at the photo, and back at CB. “Yes, it is. Here, look at my pinky, hold onto it, and look at your hand. See how big your hand is? Look how small his hand is. Tiny.” She wraps her warm hand, still sticky from the yogurt pop she downed earlier in the evening, around my pinky, looks at it, and looks at the photo. I consider, at this moment, looking away. I can’t help it, tears are streaming down my face, I’m watching her, and I, too, am looking at the photo, at her strong, sticky little hand, giant, at age five, compared to her brother’s. I don’t look away. There are times when it is good for your children to see you cry, that there are things that even parents weep over. She looks at me. If she sees that I am crying, she doesn’t say it. She gently puts the urn back, and looks at the dish next to the urn, the small rocks we’ve collected at the beach, pieces of red abalone shell, the onesie with the blood stain on it. She quietly pokes through it, inspecting it, making her own small inventory, and climbs down. We do this, now, the introduction of difficult topics, she is circling them like a young lioness trying to decide whether she is strong enough to take down the wounded wildebeest. Her brother. The divorce with her mother. My asthma. Where her sister’s biological parents are. The dead cat in the empty lot down the block. My relationship with Lauri. She grazes them, tests the strength of them, tracks them. They are not secret, they are there, in plain view, but still unknown. We let her ask the questions. Each new question reflects an absorption, an understanding of the answer given to the last, not full comprehension, but an awareness, the pull of the hide under her paw.
Lily (l) and CB(r) are out for ice cream.
CB: See that couple kissing over there? They’ve been doing it now for, like, five minutes. It’s disgusting.
Lily: PDA’s gross me out.
CB: I recently read in HuffPost that when you kiss a boy, you’re essentially kissing a toilet, what with all the germs and all.
Lily: I read that too. We call them cooties at my school. Boys are filthy animals.
CB: The whole thing is beyond me. I don’t understand why anyone would want to actually kiss another person.
Lily: Don’t you like Zach though?
CB: Yeah, but that’s different, I can express my feelings around him. He makes me all woozly and light-headed when we’re together.
Lily: How do you show him you like him then?
CB: The way girls have always done it.
CB: I KICK HIM!
(with apologies to Charles Shultz)