My daughter calls me from wherever she is; of course I pick up the phone. I didn’t really know I had a daughter, but I’d always suspected it. She’s finally found me.
“How can I help you?” I say, piling things up before the cleaning lady comes.
She hesitates like a little seed not knowing what to do with all the dirt piled on top of her.
“Tell me everything,” I say. “Where have you been?”
Mom, my first memory is eating an apple on a doorstep to a new home. We kept a dog tied up there for a long time. I was skipping double dutch in the church parking lot when my family pulled alongside me and told me to get in. My brother peed in the milk jug and the five of us pummeled one another all the way there. Dad parked the car and spanked us once in the rain.
“Oh,” I say. “That must have been tough. Then where did you go?” I fold up laundry so the cleaning ladies don’t have to deal with it tomorrow.
Mom, we moved to a whole new world. Dad said not to stare at the Indians as we drove through town. I skated on ice rinks and roller skated too; I made out with a cute boy underneath the plastic wrap on a landing pad. There was another girl there and she did it too. I flirted with the hockey boys through the wire fence. My sister found me one time on the Indian Trail; I was smoking one of your cigarettes. She was sixteen months pregnant.
I grip my teeth and set my jaw, like I do the timer on the stove. “And then what?” I say.
Oh, and then la la, my daughter says. I moved to Pennsylvania and then to Washington and then to Alaska and now I’m in Arizona. I was just wondering how you were doing.
I hedge. It’s in my nature. I cannot deal with this honest little human being. “Do you know who got laid by a thousand men?” I ask.
Alas Kanpipeline, she says.
“Why not Minot?” I say.
Freezin’ is the reason.
Now I know it’s my daughter. I kind of jump for joy. We can start over again. “Honey, there’s a man here I want you to meet,” I say.
Is it my dad?
“No,” I say. “It’s better than that. It’s Woody Allen. Do you have any memories of Woody Allen?” My daughter tries to think; I can hear her energy. She is trying to conjure Woody Allen. Is that the guy who married his step-daughter and kept a park between himself and Mia Farrow?
I could not be prouder of my daughter than at this time. “Indeed,” I say, whipping the trees in my front yard with my rugs, dusting. I go back, way back to the bathroom where Woody likes to hang.
“Hey,” I say to the freak of an individual hanging upside down from my towel rack at Halloween. “Long time no see.” Woody folds his wings and tries to be handsome with his face turned towards the ceiling. His thin t-shirt gives him away.
“Our daughter called,” I say.
What? he bleets.
I feed him a fruit fly, a fat one I’ve been saving off my bananas. “She found us,” I say.
Well, everybody knows Woody, so it’s no surprise that he just ate the fly and looked at me like it was my fault. I take a clean towel off the rack because I want to clean again.
“Don’t make me be alone in this,” I say, knowing before the words leave my beak that there is nothing left to do but scratch in the sand. “You do this every time.”
The phone rings again and we look at each other—Woody and me—knowing it’s our daughter. Neither of us wants to pick up. She is so happy camping; we don’t know why she would want any part of us. We look at each other again. “At least put on the shower curtain,” I say.
Woody hangs himself on the shower rod. That was not exactly what I was thinking.
“Hi Honey,” I say.
Mom, I just wanted you to know that I can keep up good humor in the face of nothingness. I do look at everyone and try to adjust accordingly. The absence of you and Dad has helped raise me. Thank you.
I want to throttle my daughter in this moment. Where was she when we had picnics by the lake? Where was she when we were taking notes on what movies won awards at the Oscars? Was she even in the car all those times? I pull Woody’s wing and he wakes up. What? he bleets.
“She doesn’t remember us.”
My daughter is still on the phone and I don’t know what to do with her. I would give her fruit and bits of bread if she wanted, but again, I don’t know. I fly into a snit, thinking that Woody should get down and I should make things more comfortable. I mean, if I don’t, at least he should.
“What’s your name?” I ask my daughter.