Emotions eddied about her like leaves blown in a gutter, and her eyes were the color of a brewing storm, but he had always loved winter rains. Is there anything I can do? he asked, and he meant it; he would have done anything to make her understand how deeply he felt. He wanted to wrap her in hurricane-force words, hold her fast at the center where the winds were quiet enough for her to hear him say, I love you.
I have stopped wearing jewelryit is the only way to keep it out of the small, swift hands of my 11-month-oldbut I made an exception the day we took him to see where everything began.
In the restaurant at the edge of the desert, he grabbed the pendant’s cord, gave it a twist, looked up at me with pool-blue eyes.
Be gentle, I said, prying his fingers away. I was wearing that when I met your father.
He put the lawn chair outside, in front of the window with the peeling paint. It fit better in the grass than it did inside on the green shag carpet, and then he didn’t feel so alone. He was joined by the people walking by, the birds in the neighbor’s tree, the thoughts he couldn’t let himself think inside, where they might get trapped against the tobacco-stained ceiling, like balloons after the party. He sat there in the lawn chair, drinking beer and feeling correct, trying not to think about what would happen when the weather turned cold.
They told her she could color between the lines, that it would make her less anxious.
But that is what drives me to make change, she said, and she took a thick black marker and drew her own line, one that crossed through sets of intricately meshed shapes from one side of the page to the other.
The observers had no protocol for world-alterers. If she will not comply, we cannot fix her, said the doctor in charge. They turned away from the drawing girl and her worried eyes.
Step right up, said the hawker, his front teeth crooked and black. She curved her hands around both eyes and took the Midway in small, round portions. Only then could she handle the lights shooting down the ferris wheel’s spokes, the glowing faces on the haunted house, the cavalier swing of the pirate ship.
The only thing you should be doing with those hands is holding on to your tickets, the hawker said, and she refused to acknowledge him. She could smell the cotton candy, and it filled her with sweet, sickening dread.
She found herself once again standing in waist-high mucky water, pushing around a red plastic tugboat. The clouds washed by above her, as if the whole world were made of fluid, and her choice not to grow up made as much sense as anything else.
You can’t stay in there forever, her sister called from the banks of the pond. Her sister, who had chosen to go to college, to get married, to have children, to constantly furrow her brow. You’re not a mermaid.
But I am the captain of this ship, she muttered.
When he was young, he asked his mother to replace the chairs in his room with suitcases. I can stack them up and sit on them, he said. If they’re packed at all times, I’m always ready to travel.
She obliged, taking him to thrift stores in search of cheap suitcases. His room began to look like a left luggage office.
What if you can’t take them all? she asked one day. There are so many here.
But I am already on the voyage, he replied. I haven’t had to leave anything behind yet.