We rarely see our child. When we sense her presence one of us calls out, “Where are you going and when will you be back?” If she hears, she does not answer. There are other things we’d like to ask, “What do you learn in that place that looks like a factory?” And other parental areas of inquiry. Before she goes to bed my wife sets a plate of food outside the girl’s door. In the morning, if I find it licked clean, I call out, “At least there’s that.” My wife repeats. This is the closest we come to prayer. We check the bathroom every morning. If the sink isn’t clogged with hair, if the toilet bowl has none of her scent, we wonder where she takes care of her business.
At dinner we watch our daughter’s shadow glide across the surface of the refrigerator and stop beside the table. A dinner roll disappears from the basket. Then another, taller shadow links up. From the conjoin, her voice, “This is Jesus,” she says. “It’s pronounced like God’s son. He’s not Hispanic and hates when people say it wrong.” “Hello there, Jesus,” I say, and a boy, jeans expensively shredded, partially materializes, says a quick, “Yo,” before returning to full shadow. It occurs to me that if asked by authorities in an imagined future to identify the body of a youth atop a stainless steel table as being that of Jesus, I would be unable. Then, the request; I toss car keys at her shadow. “Where are you going and when will you be back?” I get no answer. I hear this: The front door closing, footsteps, car doors opening and slamming shut, and imagine: Jesus is at the wheel, a cigarette dangling. Tugged by the winch of fate, our car speeds toward a bridge abutment stenciled on all sides. Death and Disfigurement. Like mine, my wife’s imagination-needle is magnetically attracted to disaster and will only budge when medicated. My wife says, “Once I was light-hearted and gay, now I sag. Be a man, confess, accept responsibility for who I have become.” “That is so unfair,” I tell her, then reach to caress her shoulder. She is not receptive to my touch.
In bed, the shadows gone for hours and both probably dead, my wife wakes me to relate her dream. “Inside my head, it was horrible.” “Don’t hold back, tell me.” She props up on a second pillow. “Okay then, let’s see, Charlton Heston, he looked alive, but was dead, at least I hope so because his head was hollowed out and used to store seeds, and that,” she readjusts her pillow, “that’s just a tiny part. Want me to go on?” I was thinking, Yes, No, Maybe, when the phone rings. My wife picks up. It’s the girl. Covering the mouthpiece with her hand, she whispers, “There’s sloshing. It sounds like she’s calling from under water.”
“Ask her where she is?” “All she says is, ‘Don’t worry.'” We medicate, sleep. In the morning I crack open her bedroom door, peek in. In sleep my daughter becomes visible; the fleshy nose, the longish but pretty face, one ear smashed into the pillow. The other faces me, alert. On the kitchen table, propped against the sugar bowl is a soggy envelope, MOM & DAD written on it. Inside a damp ten-dollar bill, folded and refolded and the size of a pack of matches, and on a crinkled then flattened scrape of paper is written: Jesus forgot to close the windows at the car wash. We will pay for damages the insurance won’t cover.
The cars windows are steamed up. When I open the door, a fish does not jump out, though I thought one might. Touching the front seat cushion, the indentation fills with water. Taking stairs three at a time, I head for my daughter’s room. She is gone. Her scent remains, as does an oily concave in her pillow. I run into our bedroom. My wife propped upright, wide-eyed, screams. I scream back. She screams back. I blurt out, “The car, it’s ruined!” “Is she dead?” I tell her no. “At least there’s that,” she says.
Lying beside her, I study the intricate pioneer-inspired design on the motionless blades of the ceiling fan, then expound on my theory about aquatic creatures adapting to life in wet car upholstery. She throws back the covers and dashes for the bathroom. I watch her place a yellow pill on her tongue. “Harriet,” I call out, this time with conviction, “Everything is my fault!” She swallows. Her visage flickers like a fluorescent light bulb coming on, but in reverse.