The younger and I stepped out to walk to school this morning.
“it’s a beautiful day!” I exclaimed as the sun pierced through the June gloom skies.
Her tone felt like a rebuke.
“What???” I protested.
“You, what????” she countered.
“It is a beautiful day!” I insisted.
She shook her head and sighed.
We crossed the street, catty-corner, and as we made our way down 21st street in silence I barely took in something on the sidewalk, indistinct, grey, a piece of gum, maybe, a dirty fragment of a squishy toy.
“I have to stand up and give out awards today, like at the Oscars,” I began.
“Ugh!” she exclaimed, a little too vehemently, I thought.
“I just saw a dead baby bird.”
“What? Oh! Was that …?” I half-turned back as we walked. “I saw something, I didn’t realize.”
“It was so tiny.” She looked at me.
“Oh!” I exclaimed.
“It didn’t even have feathers.” She looked at me again, as if she was asking me a question.
“Oh that’s sad,” I said. “No baby bird. No bird life.”
(The evening before, looking at an agitated bird I had disturbed by picking a lemon from the tree in the backyard, I had wondered aloud, “What do you think it feels like to be a bird?” The younger had rolled her eyes and shaken her head.)
“What do you think happens when we die?” I asked.
“What?” She wrinkled her face and shook her head. “No!!”
“What?! No, what?!”
“No!!!! You are always asking these …. questions! Like, from your podcasts or something.
“They are not from podcasts,” I insisted, indignantly.
She continued to shake her head while sighing and growling in irritation.
Now I sighed. “I’m sorry it’s just that, I, I like you, so I want to know you, I want to know what you think about things!”
“You do know me,” she fairly spat. “You know enough.”
Now I remembered my friend telling me yesterday that her friend had told her that her daughter’s school encouraged parents not to ask questions, nor to react emotively to any disclosures that might be made.
“Okay, fine,” I conceded, chastened.
We walked in silence then, except for when a quickly suppressed giggle escaped me when we heard a boy walking behind us exclaim to his friend, “Dude, the Across the Spider-Verse soundtrack just dropped!”
The younger glared at me and shook her head.
On the last block before we reached the school, a girl about the younger’s age was trying to stuff her sweatshirt into her backpack on the sidewalk and shot us a sheepish glance as we walked around her.
“Sorry,” she mumbled.
“It’s all right!” I said cheerfully.
“Stop,” spat the younger at me under her breath.
I sighed and we crossed the last intersection before the corner where we would part ways. This is always a moment that demands immaculate timing in executing precise choreography.
“OK, have a good day,” I said as we approached the sidewalk.
“OK,” she mumbled.
“I love you,” I said as I reached to pull her head towards me and leant in to kiss it just at the moment we stepped up onto the sidewalk corner and before our trajectories divided.
Today, though, she tilted her head away ever so slightly as I leaned in so that all I kissed was a gauzy curtain of hair, my lips never meeting scalp, the missed kiss leaving me slightly off-kilter like the sensation of trying to step up onto a step that isn’t here.* I half- gasped, half-laughed as our paths divided, she continuing straight, me veering right, and we both looked back, her eyes narrowed, a glare with a smirk not quite piercing through.
*“Another part of the ritual was to ascend with closed eyes. “Step, step, step,” came my mother’s voice as she led me up—and sure enough, the surface of the next tread would receive the blind child’s confident foot; all one had to do was lift it a little higher than usual, so as to avoid stubbing one’s toe against the riser. This slow, somewhat somnambulistic ascension in self-engendered darkness held obvious delights. The keenest of them was not knowing when the last step would come. At the top of the stairs, one’s foot would be automatically lifted to the deceptive call of “Step,” and then, with a momentary sense of exquisite panic, with a wild contraction of muscles, would sink into the phantasm of a step, padded, as it were, with the infinitely elastic stuff of its own nonexistence.” Vladimir Nabokov, Speak Memory (1966).