The Most Unsentimental Education of My Life
"Have you seen Masha?" I ask Charlotte, Cybele's middle daughter, who is playing with the Lego set, but she bites her lip and shakes her head and opens her brown eyes wide. My daughter has three daughters, like the three princesses in a fairy tale. Masha has been named after one of the characters in Chekhov's Three Sisters. We are a literary family, you see. Words have always been important to my husband and me.
Cybele scoops up the baby and strides fast through the rooms of our West Side Manhattan apartment, calling her child's name. My daughter takes after my husband's side of the family. She has endless legs, a graceful neck. When I see her walk in my door, she looks to me, despite the babies in her arms, like a medieval queen.
"Masha, are you hiding somewhere?" I ask, my voice rising with panic as I go through the rooms, looking under beds, behind armchairs, the standing mirror.
Masha, at 4, likes to play hide-and-seek. She likes to dress up. I open closet doors and hunt behind dresses, behind my shoes. Cybele peers behind shower curtains.
"I hope to goodness she hasn't gone outside," I say, imagining my grandchild taking the elevator into the lobby and stepping out into the dangerous New York street.
"She wouldn't have done that," my daughter reassures me, as she has so often in my life.
Still, it is not until I open the front door that I find Masha, tears running down her face. She is wearing her yellow fairy costume, though it is long past Halloween, and she has lost her wand. She has locked herself outside and has been standing there while we were hunting for her. I kneel down and gather her up in my arms. "But, Masha," I ask, "why on earth didn't you just ring the bell?" She sniffs and gazes at me blankly with her gray-green eyes, almost the same color as mine, as I abruptly understand and hold her to my heart.