walk off the plane into sunshine so blinding I
could be walking into Hell. Maybe that's what
I see for myself, an exile for the damned. Our
Caymanian taxi driver taps me on the shoulder.
"Mrs. Clark," she says and I forget
my vow to insist that its Ms, not Mrs.
did you know we were the right people?" I
ask the smiling, brown lady whose services were
arranged ahead by the travel agent.
I can always spot you American families,"
she says with the lilt in her speech that makes
the Caribbean language sound more Irish than English.
Ah, so we're still a family. She holds a sign
that says "The Clerks."
the designer backpack," my son says, and
I know the comment is intended for his label-conscious
sister. Doug wears a Save the Whales T-shirt that
could have been rescued from my rag bag.
least I'm not wearing Jesus shoes," Katie
snaps back at him. Our driver wears shorts and
always expect brothers and sisters to be loving.
I was an only child, a late life, unexpected baby
born to older parents never quite able to figure
out what to do with me. If I had an older brother
or sister, I reasoned in my daydreams, they would
drive me to school dances and brag to friends
about their little adorable sister. If I were
the older child, I would read stories to my younger
sibling and teach it to play double solitaire.
But Katie and Dougs relationship is adversarial.
They argue about everything from the value of
recycled plastic to whose turn it is to sit in
the front seat. Ive learned to ignore this
verbal volleyball, but this time Im ready
to do anything to keep the peace. You are too
old for this, I think, not sure if I mean my children
ignores Katies baiting and grins at her.
I take his grin as an omen that this trip is a
good idea. I've passed it off as my gift to my
children, to Doug who just graduated from high
school and Katie from college. Four years apart,
just as George and I planned back when planning
was viewed as sensible and not the antithesis
of spontaneity. ("This way we only have to
worry about one set of tuition bills at a time,"
we boasted to friends) The trip is a chance for
us to be together before Doug begins his freshman
year at Colby College and Katie starts law school
in Boston. Of course I know the real reason for
the trip is to assuage my guilt, to apologize
to my children, especially my angry, self-righteous
daughter for hurting them by walking out of my
marriage in a brazen act of infidelity. (What
an old-fashioned, high-minded word.) If we can
be together, just the three of us this week, they'll
know (or so I reasoned in order to justify an
extravagance I can not afford) that my feelings
for them are unchanged, no my feelings are stronger,
than they were before I scrambled their lives.
house, which I've seen only in brochure pictures,
is small--one bedroom and bath, minuscule kitchen
and eating area, living room with one sleep sofa,
one chair and a television set, but it is clean
and a sunny screened porch runs along the side.
The only decoration is a wall clock, a big, no-nonsense,
white Bulova with black hands, an odd choice,
it seems to me, for a house where people presumably
come to escape the accouterments of time. The
back overlooks a canal. On the kitchen table is
If you have children please avoid them from
flower pots on porch. The cistern lies there.
Sislyn Eubanks, Manager. Check-out is 12 noon."
This is followed by a phone number.
driver, Frances, insists on helping with our bags
including the one so loaded with pasta, rice and
can goods it wears an orange stigmata, HEAVY,
stuck there by the American Airlines agent who
could not believe anyone would have a bag weighing
83 pounds for a one week trip.
first time on the Kai?" she asks. We all
quiet," she says. "No night life."
I nod again, although I know her remark is meant
for Katie and Doug and not for me. I am the Mom.
Moms have no night life.
she leaves we stand in the front yard. All the
houses along this strip of the Kai are pink and
white doll houses with raked sand for yards and
oleander bushes for fences. The blue-green water
of the Caribbean is visible through the houses
across the street.
like the postcards," Doug says, looking at
the outline of the palms against the backdrop
of blue sky and water.
Katie says, "A Caribbean cliché."
to the brochure, Grand Cayman Island stretches
long before turning on itself like a curled finger.
The tip of the finger is Cayman Kai. Unlike Seven
Mile Beach on the main part of Grand Cayman which
is lined with hotels and villas, the Kai is mostly
residential. The houses are owned mainly by Americans
who winter in them and rent them out for the summer.
I learned this from the brochure as well. And
the Kai is cheap, cheaper than anyplace else I'd
looked into that didn't carry memories of vacations
taken when we were still The Clarks, family
of four. I knew I was taking a risk by dipping
into my teachers retirement for this trip.
"Spending your old age money," my accountant,
who used to be our accountant, warned me. I know
he thinks I'm naive, even stupid about money because
I refused to ask for alimony (the kids, of course,
are too old for child support) taking instead
a small cash settlement from the sale of the house.
But I wanted this trip. I wanted to go somewhere
the three of us could form a new collective memory.
change quickly so we can catch the last hours
of afternoon sun. The Caymanians do not observe
daylight savings so the sun sets early. I put
on the two piece modified bikini I've bought for
the trip and look at myself in the dresser mirror.
Not bad, I think and run my hands down along the
sides of my hips. This makes me think of Rick
and I'm embarrassed. Those feelings don't belong
here in this little house with my children.
not wearing that?" It's as if Katie
has read my thoughts. She's wearing a red and
white striped suit far skimpier than mine. Her
figure is slim and firm, her blond hair, the Clark
hair, is back in a pony-tail.
not?" I answer, hoping I sound self-assured.
I used to welcome conversations with my daughter,
pride myself on my skill at communicating with
young people. Pride goeth before the fall?
If Katie really could read my thoughts, she would
know Id give anything to undo that one conversation,
the one that ruined our Christmas and destroyed
going to wear a cover-up aren't you?" Katie
says, in a tone eerily like her fathers.
George's moral superiority has always irritated
me. He has neither tolerance nor forgiveness for
weaknesses of the flesh.
course." Katie seems relieved.
heads out the door carrying snorkel, swim fins
and mask purchased with graduation money. Doug
and Katie have both brought their own money. ("For
fun stuff like renting a float or pina coladas,"
Doug had said when he found out there was no drinking
age in the West Indies, although as far as I know
he has never had a pina colada in his life.) I
assume the money comes from checks sent from George's
mother and brother and assorted aunts and uncles.
I haven't asked although I am curious. For nearly
a quarter century, I took on George's extended
family in place of the one I lacked, and they
treated me as one of their own. Sometimes I think
it was George's family I fell in love with at
twenty. I miss anecdotes about the personal and
familial quirks of the assorted Clark clan. I
tell myself they are fond of me, maybe even love
me, but I don't blame them for keeping their distance.
George is theirs. He is blood. I am the dark-haired
interloper who married into the fair-haired family.
part of the beach open to the public isn't, strictly
speaking, a public beach. It is owned and maintained
by the Hyatt Corporation who runs daily ferry
service between their hotel on Seven Mile Beach
and Rum Point on Cayman Kai. Since the inhabitants
of the Kai are few, the Rum Point facilities are
open to anyone willing to spend money at the restaurant
and gift shop or to rent sunfish or jet skis.
Katie and I find lounge chairs near the water
while Doug goes off in search of reef fish. Katie
opens her book about women lawyers and settles
in. I have dragged my old Norton Anthology with
me to the Island hoping it will re-inspire me
for the Fall.
teach English Literature in the evenings at a
community college near our house. The students
are mostly low or middle level white collar workers
earning enough credits to be promoted to the next
level at work. Some are there because they haven't
been able to get into a four year school and this
is their last chance. For both of these groups,
literature is a requirement, something to be endured.
It is always a struggle. I want to talk about
imagery; they want to get through with at least
a grade of C. To most of my students, my class
is a means to an end. And because it is taught
at night, it became the vehicle that enabled me
to meet Rick, after class when it was natural
for me to stay late to conference with my students.
Thus the class was a means to an end for me as
watch the few people on the beach and try not
to think about the muscles in Rick's legs as he
walked up and down the sidelines coaching the
high school soccer boys, one of whom was my son.
There is a sordidness that I dont like to
dwell on. I had tried to convince myself I was
caught in a love affair that carried me beyond
the boundaries of decorum. Ah, most fervent passion!
I was Lady Genevieve swept away by the good Lancelot
who meant no harm to King Arthur. None of this
was true, of course. Rick was no Lancelot. He
was my sons soccer coach: sexy, sweet, not
super bright, out for a good lay. And instead
of noble Genevieve, I had been pathetic Madame
cant concentrate on my reading so I watch
a young boy of seven or eight splashing in the
water, flipping and twisting his skinny body like
a loosely hooked fish. He reminds me of Doug at
that age: the same gawky movements, the same dark
hair. My hair. Gypsy hair, Grandmother Clark called
it. Parents claim to love their children equally,
and I've never questioned this maxim, but there
has always been something in my relationship to
Doug that is missing with my daughter. It's not
just the striking resemblance he bears to me,
it's a bond that began at my breast. Even then
I felt the sensitivity his father still has difficulty
accepting. As a little boy, Doug would come into
my morning kitchen with Pooh pajamas and his Raggedy
Andy doll that was the first of many conflicts,
("Does he have to carry that damn doll?")
and my heart fluttered. Fluttered. There's an
old-fashioned word right out of the romance books.
It occurs to me that my son is the only male that
ever did that, made my heart do those crazy flip-flops
you read about in Gothic novels.
boy in the surf dives under a wave and comes up
with a clenched fist.
look," he says to a woman nearby, "I
caught a shell."
decide to share duties, and on our first night
Doug cooks. He serves up our dishes, pasta in
a sauce of olive oil, tomatoes and mushrooms.
hate canned mushrooms," Katie says.
the only kind we have," Doug says. "We're
not exactly a gourmet kitchen."
you could've asked."
have to fix your dinner special? Christ, why don't
you just go along with the group for a change?"
slams her fork down and goes into the bedroom.
Children are the bane of our existence some philosopher
once said. Or maybe my mother said it. Doug and
I finish the meal in silence. Later Katie comes
out and washes the dishes in the little kitchen
that only holds one person at a time. Afterwards,
decide we're not going to watch TV for an entire
week, instead we play Word Madness, a card game
that is a faster version of Scrabble. Katie challenges
me on buss and loses. Thank goodness weve
brought the dictionary.
Mom would know some obsolete form of kiss,"
she grumbles. I challenge Doug on fart and win.
"But its in the dictionary," he
but its slang. Slang words don't count."
open up the sleep sofa for Doug and a spider scoots
it," Katie yells but Doug corners it and
scoops it up then takes it outside.
know..." he begins but Katie cuts him off.
"I don't want one of your lectures. It's
a bug. Bugs in houses deserve to die."
eat other bugs."
have no feelings, Doug. They don't take it personally
when you squash them."
maybe they aren't sentient beings like mammals,
but some Eastern religions....
beings? Oh please, forget it Doug."
about lizards?" I ask. I'd noticed several
in the yard.
too," Doug says.
The package deal included airfare and villa. It
did not include a car rental and the nearest grocery
store is, according to the brochure, about four
miles away. I know we'll need milk, margarine,
maybe some fresh fruit, so early next morning
Katie and I go in search of a bike rental. We
leave Doug sprawled on the sofa, deep in the sleep
at which teen-agers excel. The sports staff at
Rum Point tells us there may be a rental shed
near the fuel docks and points us down a nearby
road. After two or three hot miles, Katie has
a headache and I've got blisters. It occurs to
me that the Rum Pointers thought we had a car.
Who'd be foolish enough to walk in this heat?
The road is twisted and around each bend we've
renewed our hopes so often that by the time we
see water and fuel pumps, I think it's a mirage.
The Bike Rental shed is next to a restaurant,
both deserted except for a man painting a boat
who, as we get closer, turns out to be a woman
painting a boat. She shrugs when we ask if she
knows when the bicycle shed will open. Katie and
I sit at a deserted table under a cabana thatched
with palm leaves pleated like paper fans. Blackbirds
watch from cabana tops and adjacent tables, waiting
no doubt for crumbs from winter tourists.
isn't it," I say, "such an off-season
look." Katie grimaces.
The Shining," she says. A woman comes
at last to clean the restaurant which will open
for lunch. She makes a phone call to summon the
keeper-of-the-bikes ("They don't come regular
in the summer. Didn't they tell you?") and
gives us water to drink. We amuse ourselves while
we wait by naming the feral cats peeking from
behind breadfruit trees: Mangy Cat, Scruffy, Grubby.
Forty five minutes go by before a white pick-up
truck pulls into the drive. I start toward the
truck but Katie waves me away.
handle this," she says.
bikes are chubby pink Huffy's. They lie on their
sides under the shed, chained together in rusty
bondage. The driver, American with a New York
accent, apologizes for the condition of the bikes
but not for keeping us waiting.
got new bikes on order," he says.
quotes a price in Caymenian Dollars glancing at
Katie then sideways at me, not sure who is in
charge, not ready to take seriously the cute blond
with the ponytail who looks like a cheerleader.
He is in shorts and thongs, the Caymanian uniform.
"That's ridiculous," Katie says, "these
old bikes aren't worth that much."
the last time the management rented one of these
in the winter we expect..."
isn't winter. It's July. Those bikes can sit there
rusting all summer or you can collect this unexpected
driver gives in. He seems as fascinated with Katie
as I am. I note the determined jaw of her father.
I imagine her as she will be in five or ten years
when she will become Kate or Katherine. Damn,
I think, she'll make good lawyer. The driver gives
us a ride back and Katie shows off our pink bike
to Doug as if it is a trophy. Doug names it Bubble
days slow to the island pace. In the mornings
I take Bubble Gum for a four mile loop past lantana
and freesia bushes, sweet-smelling mock almond,
brilliant Poinciana; past houses named Sky Hai
Kai, Bali Hai Kai and Ec-sta-sea; past the previous
night's road-kill of birds, snakes and crab. One
morning a crab darts under my wheel and is crushed
by my front tire. Next morning, near the same
spot, another crab rears its claws as I pass.
The avenging family member? The wind sings in
the spokes of my wheels and the music becomes
a refrain. How could you? How could you? How
could you? I push myself faster and harder
until my fingers are numb from clutching the handlebars
and sweat runs down my back. I return to the house
and breakfast with my children, my body odor mingling
with the smells of their morning wakenings.
sense of time meshes with the comings and goings
of the ferry; the positions of the sun. We go
to the beach; we swim; we snorkel. We read while
trying to tune-out Jimmy Buffett on the Rum Point
speakers, but the music will not be denied and
I find myself humming "Cheeseburger in Paradise"
while chopping onions for supper. We make up stories
about our fellow vacationers. The honeymooners
are easy to spot: the girls with French manicures,
the boys self-consciously twisting their gold
bands. They hold hands in the water and sunbathe
side by side in over-sized hammocks provided courtesy
of the Hyatt. But it's the other families that
intrigue us: A black father and white mother,
two black children, one slightly older white one.
met when she was a flight attendant," Katie
says. "He's an international businessman."
they met on vacation. He was recently widowed
and she comforted him."
you're such a softie. She was obviously his affair
and his wife found out." Is it my imagination
or does Katie look over at me?
she was already pregnant with the boy."
daughter is definitely his to a previous marriage."
becomes our favorite past time. We make up all
sorts of permutations. We invent tragedies and
melodramas. We examine traditional families, two
adults and kids, to see if the children really
look like the parents. Maybe the kids are adopted.
Maybe they were kidnapped and taken out of the
country or they're aliens (this from Doug) or
they're a blended family: the older one is his;
the younger one is hers.
cant help wondering what the others think
of us. Do they think me widowed? A governess perhaps
(no, too strong a family resemblance) or an aunt
taking my recently orphaned niece and nephew on
holiday? Most likely they see me for what I am:
a recent divorcee with her children. A woman who
took her cue not from the classic heroine, but
from the plot of pulp fiction: a sordid affair
with a man of convenience. (Is there such a thing
or are there only ladies of convenience?) I wasn't
even creative in my rendezvous choices. A Quality
Court off the Interstate. The trashiness of my
act embarrassed me even as I seized it as my chance
blame my college friend Jeanne Blake for my marriage
to George. For most of my junior year I had a
crush on a boy named Nick who sat next to me in
my English classes. Seating was alphabetical;
I was Anderson to his Anson. Nick was going to
be a screenwriter. We never really dated, as dating
was defined back then, but we met in the little
cafes on campus that pre-dated the big student
union built after we graduated. We smoked Marlboros
with black coffee and ate cheese on English muffins
and talked about repression, Victorian influences
and Freudian interpretations. We created a world
of literary allusions.
Nolan Archer have existed today?" Nick asked
with wild eyes that may have been Heathcliff's
if not Lady Chatterleys gamekeeper. I was
in love with those eyes, but also frightened by
them. Some nights I woke up in my dorm bed with
clenched knuckles and red finger-nail moons on
my palms and realized I'd been dreaming of Nick.
few dates in high school had been with boys from
the debating team or my fellow National Honor
Society members. My mother taught me about boys
by a series of warnings: Don't let a boy put his
hand on your knee in the movie theater; don't
wear clothes that might provoke a boy; (she was
never clear about the kind of clothes or what
constituted provoking) and above all, stay away
from the shop boys, the ones with the slicked-back
duck-tailed haircuts who worked on car engines
and took wood or metal shop instead of college-prep
algebra. I would go out of my way between second
period history and third period gym to pass the
hallway where the shop boys hung out in their
blue jeans and tight tee shirts. I'd never seen
my father in anything but a suit and tie. He must
have worn casual clothes on week-ends, but I remember
him most in the navy suit and red tie he wears
in the photo on my dresser. The low whistles and
shouts of the shop boys--"Whatcha say string
bean," "Hey guys it's Bony Maroney,"--
made me uncomfortable. Yet I was drawn to their
territory as a person who fears snakes is drawn
to the reptile cage. This was how I would later
feel around Nick.
I met George Clark he looked just like the high
school honor society boys: crew cut, madras shirt,
khakis, skinny neck, an Adam's apple that bobbed
up and down like a yoyo. I agreed to go with him
to some fraternity parties and thought he was
nice. I let him kiss me good night before curfew,
but had no desire to linger the way some couples
did. Then Jeanne Blake said, "George is so
cute. He's got the prettiest dimples." And
so I began to look at him differently. Studying
across from George in the library, I noticed his
dimples. He was cute. When we stopped under the
trees on the way back to the dorm, I let him slip
his tongue in my mouth and brush his hand against
my breast and I liked the way it felt. Nick Anson
did not return for our senior year. The word was
he had gone to Los Angeles to break into films.
George and I were married two weeks after graduation.
our last full day we decide to forego the beach
and hang around the house. Katie drags a lounge
chair out to the sandy back yard and Doug takes
his snorkeling gear down to the canal. I'm in
the hammock on the screen porch leafing through
Norton and trying not to doze when I hear Katie
my God, oh my God." My first thought is a
shark or barracuda has grabbed Doug in the canal,
but I see him walking behind Katie who is hopping
up and down, holding her ear, shrieking in the
hysterical voice of childhood nightmares,
my God; it's a bug. A bug flew in my ear. It's
alive." I start to laugh, but see Katie's
face and realize it's no joke. She is scared.
"Get in the water," I yell.
what I told her Mom," Doug says, "but
she won't do it."
can't put my feet on that icky bottom," she
your brother hold you off the bottom. Okay Doug?"
lifts Katie and carries her into the canal. She
holds her breath and dunks her head in the salty
water three, four, five times. Each time she comes
not working. I still feel it flapping around in
there. It hurts."
need some kind of suction device," Doug says,
"like that thing you use to baste turkey.
Or maybe a straw."
be afraid we'd suck too hard and damage something,"
I say. "Try the water a few more times while
I think of something else." I go into the
house so they won't sense my nervousness. Come
on, I say to myself, it's just a bug in her ear.
No big deal. It even sounds funny--bug in my ear--like
a line from an old stand-up comic routine. But
hadn't someone in George's family, an uncle or
cousin, once had a bug fly in his ear? It had
to be surgically removed or maybe it wasn't removed
and there was some kind of damage to the eardrum.
I can't remember. I dial Sislyn Eubanks's number,
but there is no answer. I find the yellow pages,
look up doctors (see physicians) and call a clinic
that advertises an eye, ear and throat doctor
in occasional residence.
definitely needs to be seen," the nurse tells
me. "The ear must be flushed out or there
could be infection." I explain our no-car
status. They are located on the other side of
the island, but they give me the number for the
North End Clinic which is nearer the Kai.
The young male voice at the North End clinic sounds
casual. "Yes, you probably need to come in."
"Can you flush it out?" I ask, thinking
they may not have the proper whatever was needed.
I tink so," the young man says. "Hold
on and I'll check with the nurse." There
is a brief pause. "Yes, she say come in,
she can do it."
Again I explain about the car and ask if they
provide emergency transportation.
the ambulance and it's very expensive. Maybe one
hundred dollars. But if you can get to the clinic
perhaps someone here can give you a ride back."
takes my name and phone number and wishes me luck.
I look toward the yard and see Katie sitting in
a chair looking tense. Doug is kneeling beside
her, holding her hand. I know without listening
that he is urging her to breathe, to relax. I
consider the options for getting a ride: the honeymooners
next door with their rented Jeep, the sports staff
at Rum Point, the horribly expensive taxi. I've
about decided to try the neighbors when the phone
rings. It's the man from North End Clinic.
a woman here who says she will drive you for only
a little money. Maybe twenty dollars."
be there in ten minutes."
be ready." I give him directions then hang
up and race outside.
"We're being picked up in ten minutes,"
I say. "Move-it." Doug pulls on shorts
over his wet bathing suit while I wrap a towel
around Katie. I grab pretzels and sodas; it is
noon and none of us has eaten. In nine and a half
minutes we're outside waiting for our ride.
Mom," Doug says, "I've never seen you
move so fast."
about to ask Katie to update me on the movements
of the bug when a gray car of an indiscriminate
make stops for us. Katie and Doug cram into the
back among assorted detritus. I sit in front beside
the driver, a pleasant woman who smells faintly
of citrus. A stack of what appears to be junk
mail keeps sliding off the dashboard into my lap.
From under the dash, a button hangs down on a
loose wire like a dangling eyeball, and in an
open space where there once may have been a radio,
there is a wadded blue plastic package shaped
suspiciously like a used sanitary napkin. Despite
its decrepit appearance, the car gets us
to the clinic
one is around when we walk inside. Our driver
disappears then reappears as the nurse. She's
put on rubber gloves and a white apron. She takes
a tray to the sink and fills it from the tap (shouldn't
she be using sterile water?) then brings out a
syringe that resembles a turkey baster. Doug gives
me his told-you-so look.
you done this before?" Katie asks. The nurse
pauses as if deciding how to answer.
she says, and looks in Katie's ear.
is a bug," she proclaims in official tones.
"A silver one. It appears to be dead."
Katie seems pleased. Her earlier dramatics have
been vindicated. She is more relaxed now that
the bug is no longer flopping around inside. The
nurse fills the baster with water and begins squirting
it in Katie's ear. A young man appears at the
doorway dressed in the Caymanian equivalent of
an EMS uniform.
"Everything is okay here?" he asks.
"Victoria is taking good care of you?"
I recognize the voice from the telephone and somehow
this pleases me. The young man's presence in the
room makes our group complete. Katie, no longer
in pain says in her teasing, flirting voice.
I'm Katie Clark and I have a silver bug in my
you a gold bug in the other?" the young man
asks, and we all laugh.
nurse, Victoria, squirts three or four basters-full
of water into Katie's ear then tips it so it empties
into an aluminum pan. We all watch with anticipation.
Katie says she wants the bug when it comes out;
she's going to tape it in her journal. Specks
of black float in the water, but nothing whole
or bug-like. Victoria looks in the ear. "The
bug is still there," she says. EMS takes
the probe and looks. He assures us that he, too,
can see the bug. After several more flushings
the bug still has not appeared in the pan, but
Victoria looks in Katie's ear and announces that
the bug is gone.
where did it go?" Katie asks.
down the troat into the stomach."
wouldn't I have felt it?" EMS notices our
skepticism and attempts to explain.
connected, you know," he says. "The
ears, nose, throat."
sure it's gone?" I ask. I'm thinking of that
relative of George's. What if the bug was driven
deeper into the ear canal where it will decay
and fester? Maybe cause hearing loss. Katie will
drop out of law school because she can't hear
her professors and she'll resent me for the rest
of her life.
takes the probe again and looks in Katie's ear.
"All clear. I see all the way to the eardrum."
He holds the instrument out to us. I shake my
head, but Doug takes it and looks in.
can see the eardrum, yes?" EMS asks.
don't know what the eardrum looks like."
much for 'my son the doctor,'" I say and
Victoria laughs, an understanding mother kind
of laugh. She puts away the pans and implements
then goes over to the desk to prepare the bill.
This is a government subsidized clinic so we pay
$10 for the visit. Then we crowd back into Victoria's
car. Doug sits up front and I sit in back, my
arm around Katie, her head on my shoulder. Victoria
pushes the dangling button several times and the
car roars. I've never been in a car that didn't
start with a key. I decide that if Victoria can
keep this car running, I feel better about Katie's
ear. When we get to the house, I ask how much
for the ride and she shrugs, "Whatever, I'm
not a taxi driver." I worry my question has
offended her so I take out the agreed upon twenty
dollars, then I see again that button dangling
beneath the dash and I give her ten more.
night nobody feels like cooking so we eat up our
leftovers: cold pasta, mango salad, and the pretzels
we never ate for lunch. We treat ourselves to
re-runs on television. Katie is stretched on the
couch, eyes closed. Doug rubs her feet.
Doogie," she says allowing her this use of
the childhood name he hates.
and I are on the floor, his feet in my lap, a
treasured gesture of intimacy. I reach out my
arm and touch Katie. I imagine we are all joined
by molecules that flow through us, changing shape
to fit our uniqueness but keeping our sameness
at its core. Katie to Doug to Me to Katie, a recombinant
family. I consider asking if they want to talk.
I've read that after a divorce, you should encourage
your children to share their concern, to get things
out in the open, but Katie has fallen asleep and
I don't want to spoil this moment.
I dont like to, I allow myself to think
of that conversation nearly two years ago. Katie
and I in my kitchen, four days before Christmas.
George and Doug are out Christmas shopping and
I, having had a bit too much wine, am enjoying
a rare moment with my daughter. Katie is telling
me secrets about some of her college friends,
nothing sordid, just a mild campus soap opera
scenario that has us giggling. More than the wine,
the shared laughter makes me feel closer to her
than I have in years and lowers my vulnerability.
It is the only explanation I have for why I wasnt
warier when Katie suddenly said,
sleeping with Mr. Klonski, arent you?"
are you talking about?" I said and heard
my laugh, forced and panicked.
know you are Mom. Everyone knows. I dont
really care. I just want you to admit it."
obviously care or you wouldnt ask. And if
it were true it would hardly be appropriate. .
she interrupted, "Mom, this isnt about
not using the f-word in front of Grandma Clark;
this is about being honest. You always said that
you hate hypocrites worse than anything and how
no matter what we did it was okay as long as we
didnt lie. I just want that same honesty
from you." Her eyes lost their blazing accusatory
look and were pleading.
Mom, its okay. This is important to me.
How can I be supportive if you dont tell
are moments in our lives when the lines between
child and adult become blurred, and we forget
on which side we belong. Were all guilty
of little slip-ups, of being so flattered by the
camaraderie of a young person we forget that despite
all appearances to the contrary, we are not equals.
I looked out the kitchen window at the twinkling
holiday lights in our neighbors yard then
back at my own daughter who, despite our differences,
I loved beyond measure. I took a deep breath and
then, God help me, I stepped over that line into
yes," I said, "Im afraid its
true." I began to say that I hoped she would
understand, that I was glad she was mature enough
that we could share this, but when I looked at
her my words froze and I was instantly clear-headed
and aghast at what I saw. She was looking back
at me with horror.
dont believe it," she said. "Some
of the kids said it was true, but I said it wasnt
possible. How could you? How could you do this?"
please," I began, but I knew nothing could
make up for my stupidity.
a laughing stock," she said. "Everyone
knows Mr. Klonski hits on horny old women. Did
you think he cared about you? This is unbelievable.
My own mother." She ran out of the room and
I heard the door to her bedroom slam shut. The
truth came to me in that moment. She hadnt
known. She had suspected and thought I would deny
it. Or perhaps lie. But she never expected or
wanted me to admit it. Of all the words she had
aimed at me the truest had been these: How
In the morning we pack up our things and straighten
the house. Doug and I are solicitous to Katie
even though she insists shes fine. He even
lets her choose some of his CDs for the
the way, Mom," Doug says, "I forgot
to tell you. Aunt Alicia says you should call
her sometime. I think she wants to have lunch
with you or something." Alicia is George's
really said that to you?"
I made it up. Of course she said it. Why wouldn't
she?" I'm thinking about what this means
when Katie's says without looking at me,
know I really love Daddy, but I wouldn't want
to be married to him."
thing its not an option," Doug laughs,
and I know they are trying. They are sentient
beings, these children of mine.
picked up by a blond driver with a British accent,
the husband of the smiling Caymanian we met our
came here twelve years ago and signed up for a
tour," he tells us. Frances was my guide.
Now she and I run a taxi and tour service and
have a house on the ocean. You never know about
life now do you?"
never do," I agree, and put my bags in his
van to begin the first leg of my trip home.
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