I don't remember writing to my father, but I must have, because after my mother dies I'll find letters from him among her papers, and in them observations about how well I am learning to print and to spell. One faded, penciled note, dated February 20 of the year I turned three, thanks her for sending a Valentine inscribed to "Daddy." I've never known whether our daughter knows anything of me, he writes. Does she? Would it be possible for me to see her for a few hours?

I'm six when my mother moves out and leaves me. She is gone, but her room remains just as it was. I pull down the coverlet and see that fresh sheets are on her bed, and in her closet hang the dresses she didn't like well enough to take with her. Dresses of all colors: red, blue, pink, green. I stand among them. I duck under the skirt of one and let it fall around me like a yellow tent, a tent the color of the sun and smelling of flowers. I push my face into the smooth fabric, a hundred times more lovely than any other thing in this house. If a dress like this was not worth taking, how could I have hoped to be?

I look in the drawers and see where she keeps her spare nightgown, and I lie carefully on her bed with my head on her pillow. When I get up, I smooth the covers back in place. I make sure that if she returns she won't know I've been there.

She's moved to a nearby apartment, although to protect herself from my predatory grandmother she never tells us what street she lives on, nor does she give us her phone number. She sees me often, but she comes and goes at her own discretion: she does not want to be summoned by fevers or nightmares or loose teeth. It's the first of my mother's attempts since the divorce to make an independent life for herself, a life that does not seem possible to her unless motherhood is left behind.

?? Harper Perennial


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