I suppose I should start by telling you about my relationship with my father. My father is a very short man. I wouldn’t mention this except that he does, all the time, as an excuse not to do things he doesn’t want to do. He’ll say, “Oh, Annaliska, I can’t possibly come to your tuba recital, because I’m a very short man.” And when I tell him that doesn’t have a damned thing to do with it, he’ll just laugh and wipe his glasses and scratch the side of his head beneath the one piece of hair he has left.
My father collects things. Not things like stamps or coins or pictures of people smiling in front of national monuments. Things like the Gilled Antelope that bobs across the backyard pond like a rubber duck. Or the Japanese Demon-Bear that nearly murdered me when I was three (he didn’t succeed in collecting that one until I was sixteen).
All through my childhood, I had to write my own absence notes for school. They usually went something like this: Dear Mr. Jensen, Please excuse Annaliska Laurentis from school today. There’s been a sighting of a cockatrice in Vermont. My father could not write these notes for me because he was too short. When the school flooded our phone lines or sent terrified social workers to cower beneath the Anansi spiderwebs on our front porch, my father decided to move. If a neighbor called Sanitation or Animal Control, my father decided to move. If the police came out to investigate complaints of fireballs or banshee shrieks or excessive roaring . . . well, you can probably guess.
So you see, Irene, this is pretty much the first problem I’ve encountered where the solution wasn’t to move.
I don’t really know a whole lot about your clothes, Irene. I think it would be creepy if I did. But based on what I can gather from the charred remains of your closet, I probably owe you replacements for the following items:
- Blue suede heels
- About 15 pairs of nylons (why do you need so many nylons, Irene?)
- The wicker basket you used to hold the nylons
- Magenta winter coat with gold buttons
- White shelf
- All the pairs of pants that were folded on the white shelf
- Something brown . . . with like a weird pink loop-de-loop pattern . . . is this ringing a bell?
- Turtleneck the color of dried-up mustard
- Something bulky that was either a bag or a coat. If you’re missing a bag or a coat, let me know.
I know two things about my mother: (1) she lives in California, and (2) she thinks my father is irresponsible. I know the first thing because California is the one place my father would never allow us to move. I know the second thing because I sneaked a look at the custody form when I was twelve. The exact words were “a reckless disregard of property and life.”
My father didn’t win custody of me, exactly. During a court recess, he packed me into an empty filing cabinet, tipped it up on a dolly, and smuggled me out through the courthouse basement. The way he tells this story, you’d think he was returning the ring to Mordor.
Sometimes, I imagine myself watching the battle in court—shiny-headed, open-mouthed, thick thighs sticking out, listing sideways on somebody’s lap. Whoever held me was probably thinking, All the fuss and bother for this kid?
Sometimes I imagine my mother. That’s generally a short exercise, Irene. I don’t know what her name was or what she looked like or how tall she was. I don’t know how she took her coffee, what kind of car she drove, how her voice sounded in the morning when she was sleepy, which stupid jokes worked on her and which didn’t. I wouldn’t recognize her laugh if I heard it in a crowd. Maybe she didn’t laugh at all. Maybe some people just don’t laugh.
I bet you can imagine your mother. I bet you can close your eyes and paint her right there in front of you—the angle of her jawbone, the curve of her wrist, the way her sleeves fall in folds around her elbows, the exact color of her eyes as they land on your face. So you may not have blue suede shoes anymore, but at least you have that.
My father wasn’t a fan of my moving out. I explained to him that adults generally moved away from their parents—this might have been news to him, I’m never sure what he knows—and he said, “You’re only nineteen, Annaliska, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.” When I went to college, he insisted on giving me a toy chimaera with a snub-nosed lion face and a stinger that curled up its back. I think maybe he thought it would protect me from my mother, if she ever showed up to collect me. I have a paper trail now, after all. Registration records. Transcripts. A signature on a lease.
Some people think the world becomes more dangerous the more you move around, but I think it’s only dangerous when you stand still.
Anyway. The chimaera got out. Maybe that’s redundant to say, but that’s what happened. I’d been keeping it in my sock drawer, and it seemed content enough to scrabble around in there, although maybe you’ve noticed that lately I haven’t been wearing any socks. I don’t know where the chimaera is now. Please keep an eye out for teal scales or tufts of yellow fur.
I don’t have much practice at apologizing, Irene. Mostly I’m practiced at running away. All this writing won’t save me when you come home, but at least it’s keeping me here. Let the record show that I was too tall to run.