The morning tapered into early afternoon as we finished up. "Help your old ma," my mother said, erecting an arm from the depths of the beanbag. Though her face, at this point, was lined with age, like a sheet washed and dried too many times in the wind, she still held herself strong against the world. To her death, my mother was a woman used to having her way. As we reached the bottom of the attic stairs, a blast of light shone down the hallway from the window. "Look," she said. She tapped a ruby nail against the pane. "See? I wasn't crazy." We watched the waves break in long blades of foam. The sun made crazy diamonds across the water. "This is all I can give you now," she told me then. "Baby girl, it's going to be a perfectly glorious day."
So how could you be married and then unmarried, Mom," Charlotte asked me one recent Saturday. We were heading toward Hudson River Park, Charlotte beside me on her scooter. She dragged the toe of her navy blue high-top sneaker against the cobblestones, which is what she does when she asks a question she feels tentative about.
"Sometimes grown-ups make mistakes," I said.
"Like in math or something." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "That's a mistake."
Charlotte had only recently learned that before I married her father I had had a first husband. She had run across a photograph of a tall stranger in a gray morning suit embracing me in a wedding dress. It would have been a hard thing to try to obfuscate, so I had told her the truth.
"So then grown-ups can make bigger mistakes than in math homework. But it wasn't a mistake, after all. If I had stayed with Dean, I wouldn't have you."
"So he's not my father, then? Phew. 'Cause I was worried he must be, and I don't even know him."
"He's not your father. If he were your father you would have to be 20, and you're not even 10."
"I am 7," she declared, as if to end this discussion by making her own point.
"And who is my baby girl?"
Once we were safely to the other side of the treacherous West Side Highway crossing, Charlotte tore down the promenade south along the Hudson River, off to meet her friend Zeke on Charles Street; Zeke, who last week she had disdained and this week was her main man. She darted confidently through the oncoming traffic of baby strollers, couples hand in hand, dogs without their leashes, her penny-colored hair flying up behind. "Careful," I wanted to yell, but Charlotte was already well beyond earshot, riding high and free in the early spring light, the morning a seasonal whisper of what was to come. The sun made crazy diamonds across the water. It was going to be a perfectly glorious day.