A Map of the World
There was a black chair in the hall that had been set there for those occasions, and when I forced her onto the worn seat she dug her fingernails into my arm and pulled down so that blood sprang up from the scratches. "Stay there," I growled. I stumbled back into the kitchen and set the timer for five minutes. My hands were shaking. I looked at my arm, at the three bloody tracks. Emma's rage was as perfect an anger as I could think of, flowing spontaneously on a moment's notice from the depth of her being, where a careful accounting of justice, swift as light, must take place. I could have cried at the terror of it, the surprise, the strength of her fury; I could have cried because I knew that I was responsible for her anger; I wanted to cry most of all because I had wanted to right my own wrongs, to raise a loving family, and I had instead produced a hellion. A hellion! She would pursue us through our lives, fueled by rage, crashing into the nursing home where I would sit slumped over in a wheelchair, to give me a piece of her mind. Emma, more than anyone I had ever known, made me think in outlandish terms, in measurements that occasionally extended through to eternity. I covered the scratch with my other hand. "What did you say a minute ago?" I asked Claire, who was sitting straight in her chair peeling the stickers off the bananas. Her short sleek, dark hair was molded around her head like a close-fitting cap.
"I forget," was all. Our daughters had forged their roles early on with our unwitting complicity: Emma, the bad. Claire, the good. Emma had come hard into this world. "Who are you?" we had hardly dared to ask as she miraculously sucked and burped and moved her bowels. "Where did you come from?" We had stood over her waiting for her, our creation, to find her hands, to sit; we begged her to walk, to use the shape sorter properly, to say our names. We wanted to know she was normal and secretly hoped she was quite a bit above average. We were so careful, buying her skid-proof socks and a bike helmet for the goat cart. At night Howard and I fell asleep discussing her intelligence and her remarks. Claire was the blessed second child, nothing more than a baby, someone who had come to live at our house, who would grow up in her own time, her achievements more often than not overlooked in the confusion of getting to work, scratching up meals, finding clean clothes.
When the timer rang, Emma marched into the kitchen, climbed on her chair, turned her bowl over, and then dropped it to the floor, a look of triumph on her tearstained face. The bowl smashed. I fetched the broom, without missing a step, as if the scene had been choreographed, swept up the broken porcelain and then walked out into the yard, slamming the kitchen door behind me with all my might. She had been sitting so peacefully on the black chair, not because she was obedient, but because she had been hatching her plot.