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The room was beige and lit by two yellowish lamps. There was an unmarked picture calendar of begonias on one wall and nothing else. An old woman was staring out her window. It took up most of the wall across from her. The lawn outside was brown, and humidity made the air above the grass shimmer.
Suddenly a car horn blasted three times. The woman thought she heard the front door open and slam shut. She stood up, brushed off her skirt, and padded to the door.
The girl was hefting down a backpack.
“How was school?”
“You know.” The girl reached up for a kiss.
“Are you hungry? I bought some cookies.”
They walked to the couch. The woman sat where she’d been before and adjusted the pillow behind her. “How’s your mother?”
“She’s good. Only she caught the flu so Daddy dropped me off.”
The room was cold. The woman crossed her ankles and reached for a gold lipstick case hidden under a pile of unopened letters on the coffee table. The cap clicked as it opened. She twisted the gold case until the slant of red emerged and smoothed on in one quick motion. She hadn’t needed a mirror for years. She smiled at the girl next to her and put the case back on the table. Her curved lips were dark red.
“Are you sure you don’t want something to drink?”
“Maybe milk.” The girl pulled her legs up onto the couch and sat pretzel style.
On her way to the kitchen the woman dialed down the air conditioner and flicked off her bedroom lights. She took out the milk and two glasses. It poured out smooth with a bit of froth on top and seemed to glow. Carefully watching the glasses of milk she switched off the lights with the back of her hand.
Ankles crossed and back stick-straight the girl was holding the lipstick. She ran the gold case against her lips and smiled. She saw the woman enter with the milks. Her smile bent and she tried to cover the case in her hands.
“Here you go,” the woman said. She glanced at the girls’ clenched pudgy fists. She moved one milk closer to the girl. She held the other and leaned back to look at the girl.
“Do you remember Olivia?” the girl asked.
“From my birthday party. You remember. She has blond hair. She was sitting next to me when I opened presents.”
“Oh yes. Olivia.”
“She can remember being born.”
“She can? I don’t know anyone who can do that. What was it like?”
“Being born? Well. She said it was really dark and then she was wrapped in her blue blanket.”
The room was getting warmer. The girl had stopped shivering.
“And you know Kathy?”
“Kathy. Yes, I think I remember Kathy. Does she have red hair?”
“No, silly! That’s Libby. Kathy’s really really small. She came here one time.”
The woman leaned forward and placed her empty glass on the table. The rim was smeared with waxy red. She crossed her legs. The girl now held the lipstick loosely in one hand. She didn’t notice how visible it was. She glanced at the woman and picked up her glass of milk, then crossed her legs just like the woman.
“Anyway, Kathy remembers when she was one and her brother was born.”
The girl twisted her hands. “Could I have a cookie?”
They both went into the kitchen. The woman opened one cupboard for a plate and another for the unopened bag. She tore open the side and laid five out on the plate. The girl carried the plate into the other room. The woman put the bag back up and then followed.
The girl was nibbling the outside edge all around one cookie.
“Do you remember that time at the playground?”
“Last week? Of course.”
“Not last week. Way before that. When I fell.”
“When you fell? When was that?”
“You remember. You’ve got to.”
The girl finished her cookie and wiped her mouth with her hand.
The woman took a cookie. “So I heard you wrote a story for school.”
“Your mommy told me it was really good.”
The girl took another cookie.
“Do you think I could read it?”
A few minutes later the girl ran back dragging a Pocahontas backpack behind her.
“We did this in class today. Even Mommy hasn’t seen it,” she said.
The letters were large and clumsy. “I can read it?” the woman asked. The girl nodded.
“My oldest memry is from wen I was to. I went to the playground with my Grama. I slipped and almos fel but my grama was waching and she caut me. She is really strong becus it must have ben really hard to cach me in the midle of falling. Wen I gro up Im going to be lik her. That is my oldest memry.”
The woman looked at the girl. “This is wonderful. Really, I’m so impressed. But, sweetie, I don’t remember this at all.”
The woman nodded. “That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.”
“I could have forgotten. I forget little things all the time now.”
“This isn’t little.”
“Honey, it probably happened. I just don’t remember, is all. Don’t be mad.”
The girl’s face turned red and scrunched tight. As she ran from the room, the girl hiccupped, “Bathroom!” the word a small animal sob. The woman heard a door slam and lock. She stood up carefully. She shuffled to the door.
“It’s me. Please open up. Sweetie—“
“Come on, don’t be like that. Your mom is coming in half an hour.”
“It’s Daddy who’s picking me up.”
“Please come out.”
“ No. Not yet. Give me a minute, okay?”
“I’m going back to the couch.”
The window’s light now tinged the living room pink. The beige print on the walls became delicate, deep and slow like honey. The sprinkler turned on in the garden. A few stray droplets smacked the window and dripped slowly out of sight.
The woman picked the story up from the couch. The paper trembled—her hands were shaking.
She heard a click and then footsteps. The girl entered but stopped a few feet from the woman. The woman looked up and smiled.
“I remember now.” The girl didn’t answer, didn’t move at all. Her eyes were swollen and her face was blotchy pink.
“The day in the park. I remember the fall.”
The girl looked up. “You do?”
“Why don’t you sit with me? Your dad will be here any minute.”
The girl walked over but continued to stand. The woman could hear the sprinkler, the hum of the AC, her own harsh breathing.
“Do you want another cookie?”
“A cookie? I don’t think so. No, thank you.”
They both jumped at the sudden sharp honk from outside.
“That’ll be your dad.”
“I’ve got to go.”
“Yes, you had better leave.”
The woman walked the girl to the door, carrying the Pocahontas bag for her. She returned to the living room and settled into the couch with a sigh, and stared out the window until it was dark and the lawn outside was hidden, until all she could see was her own chalky reflection.