Rebecca is moon surfing. Knees bent and always bending, she holds her arms out in an L, a backwards L, then slides them into a V. Her feet glide weightless along the narrow stone wall that reminds her of cream cheese.
“Oooh, I’m passing over Egypt!” she says.
“Careful!” he says.
“I am looking down,” she says. “It is so amazing. I see pyramids. I see camels.”
“Take plenty of pictures,” he says.
“Now I am passing over Africa!” she says. “Daddy, what would I see in Africa?”
“Well, for starters,” he says, “you might see Egypt.”
“Daddy!” she says. “You just tripped me off my moon. And it was the best moon of the day. You don’t always just get such a good moon. You have to be so lucky. Now I have to start all over again.”
“But you love starting over,” he says. “You always have a way of getting lucky again.”
“You’re right,” she says.
“You’re the best,” he says.
“Oh dear,” she says. “I’m sailing over Italy. It’s morning there. I want to land so I can eat cookies for breakfast.”
She holds her body like an ocean surfer riding an enormous and perfect wave, her legs relaxed and bouncing like coil springs, her slender torso twisting with verve, a big smile widening on her little face, her head dancing, her shoulder-length hair vibrating like gold filaments. But her arms, her skinny arms, are not like a surfer’s arms. He watches how they steady her, floating, more like wings. He doesn’t know how she does it. She actually looks as if she is riding the moon. He loses himself in a thought about her, about how she does it.
“Daddy!” she shouts. “You’re not looking at me!”
“Of course I am,” he says.
“No,” she says. “You closed your eyes. I saw you close your eyes.” She stops. She is no longer moon surfing. She is just a girl, crossing her arms, frowning, stomping on a stone wall, her head turned down.
“I was watching the whole time,” he says.
“I saw,” she says.
“I don’t see how it’s possible,” he says.
“With my little brown eyes,” she says. “I saw. You closed them.”
“Maybe I closed them for a second,” he says. “I was thinking….About you.”
“Still,” she says. “That’s not how this game goes. You have to watch. Or I fall from the moon. Do you want me to fall from the moon?”
“I don’t want you to fall from anything, ever,” he says.
“Oh, Daddy,” she says. “Then keep your eyes open. Remember, I am still in Italy.”
“Yes, you’re eating breakfast,” he says.
“Cookies!” she says.
The sun is gone, behind the ridge. The red fire of its descent is a billowy glow. The leaves of the trees are threading the wind, which is picking up with a hint of meanness. Oaks, mainly – strong, imposing oaks. But also a large sugar maple, which is leaning, looking ominous with its rough scaly bark.
“Could you make your way to France for dinner?” he asks. “We have to go in soon. You should stop for the night. You should stop in France.”
“No,” she says. “I am not going to France. Not ever!” she says. “Because they eat pigeons.”
“They are not the same pigeons you see,” he says. “They are special pigeons.”
“Who cares?” she says. “Don’t try to tell it’s different if it’s still pigeon.”
“France has the Louvre, a great museum. It has some of the most beautiful art in the world.”
“Okay, that’s important,” she says. “But they eat pigeon and frogs legs and – ooh! – slimy snails.”
“Okay,” he says, “Forget France. How about “Israel?”
“What’s that?” she says, her head turning toward something she hears.
The woods are unusually quiet. No crows crowing, no woodpeckers pecking, no squirrels crinkling leaves in the woods. The occasional car is passing on a nearby road, not their road, which is a dead end, but the windy road, the road into town.
A siren is sounding, getting louder. It is approaching. They don’t usually hear sirens in the
country. They hear them in the city, but not here. They look at each other, as if to say something bad must have happened nearer and nearer and nearer to where they stand. They look around, each of them in a direction, to see if they can hear how close. But they can only hear. Then the siren starts sounding less loud.
“Lucky.” she says. “It’s going away. It is not here.”
They stand in their stillness.
“Lucky is better than good,” he says.
“Good is my favorite,” she says.
Her arms are down. Her knees are straight. She is turning her head in all directions.
“I lost it, Dad,” she says, “that good moon.”
“You can find another,” he says.
“Dad,” she says, “I want to know why God took Aaron.”
“God wanted him up in heaven,” he says.
“But God is also down here,” she says. “God is everywhere. Isn’t he everywhere?”
“Yes,” he says.
“So?” she says.
“Heaven,” he says. “I said heaven.” He almost says heaven dammit.
“Dad, does plastic die?” she says.
“Do you mean what happens if you put it in the ground?” he says.
“I guess that’s what I mean,” she says.
“Then you mean does it disintegrate?”
“I guess,” she says.
“Yes,” he says. “But it takes a long time.”
“How long?” she asks.
“I’ll have to look it up,” he says.
“Don’t you know?” she asks.
“I think so. But I think it depends on whether it’s the thin clear plastic of a water bottle or the hard black plastic of a coffee thermos.”
“The thick one,” she says. “I don’t think that ever goes away.”
“You’re probably right,” he says.
“Dad, I wish we were made of hard plastic, but still ourselves,” she says.
He says nothing, only looks at her, at the seriousness in her eyes. He doesn’t know how he will pursue this conversation. He, still unready – always unready.
“I wish there wasn’t school,” she says. He is happy she has made this transition, away from the gravity of death to the lightness of feeble wishes.
“Oh,” he says.
“No school,” she says. “Just friends.”
He thinks he is off the hook. No serious conversation, just a school girl’s little sermon.
“And I wish parents couldn’t go out without their children, like to restaurants. “Do you wish that?” she says.
“Yes,” he says, not thinking, just answering, stuck in the habit of always intoning yes when she speaks.
“You do?” she says, jumping.
There’s a rustle, a sound bigger than a squirrel’s nervous foraging.
“Coyote!” she says. “Dad, it could be a coyote!”
“I don’t think it’s a coyote,” he says.
“Yes,” she says. “It is.”
“Even if it is a coyote, it’s harmless,” he says.
“No, every animal has a heart,” she says.
“I said harmless, not heartless,” he says.
“I know what you said, Dad,” she says. “Nothing with a heart is harmless. That’s what I’m saying.”