I wake up in a funk, some amazingly sad Radiohead song spinning through my head.
I turn over.
She’s not there.
I look at the clock: “Ugh…”
I pull the covers back up and close my eyes.
The baby is crying: “Ugh…”
I get up and cross the bedroom to her crib. Her little arms are flailing about, tears mixing with snot as she begs for attention. I pick her up, clean her face, and hum the song stuck in my head. She quickly falls back asleep. What do you know: the kid’s got good taste. I lay her back down and search for my wife.
She’s not in the house. The car is still in the garage. There is no note on the fridge. I peek out the curtains of the back window. She’s in the backyard, bundled up, sitting on the bench.
I look at the thermometer: “Ugh…”
I put on my coat, slip my feet into my boots, and brace myself before opening the door, half afraid of the cold, and half afraid of “why?” She hears the backdoor open and looks up, then right back down: bad sign. I trudge towards her, shivering the whole way. I stand and look at her sitting on the bench, hoping she will say the first word, but she is silent.
“You must be cold. It’s still early. Why don’t you come back inside?”
She looks at me, tears and snot bubbles, not unlike those of our daughter, are crusted onto her cheeks.
“I want a divorce.” She stands up and goes inside.
I sit down in the same spot she sat, thinking it will be warmer there.
My ex-wife leans through the car window and reminds me, for the third time, just how long I have to spend with my daughter. I smile back while putting the car in gear, then drive away, imagining all the things I want to say, but won’t.
My daughter asks me where we’re going and I tell her the library.
She stares out the window: “Ugh…”
Only seven and already thinks she’s too cool for books. I know she wants to go see a movie with her friends instead, but I really want my little girl to find a book she can call her own. Besides, when she says she wants to hang out with her friends I think she means she’d rather not spend time with me. It hurts.
The closest library is only five minutes from her mom’s house, but they don’t have many kid’s books. So I decide to drive another thirty minutes to the big library across town. I hope this will give me a chance to talk to my daughter about something, anything, but my attempts are stifled when she pulls out her headphones. We ride in silence.
Upon getting out of the car I’m relieved to see her take off the headphones. I tell her thanks. She informs me her iPod battery is dead.
“What is there to do at a library?”
“Read books mostly. I think they have some CDs too.”
She doesn’t look too excited. I start to worry.
“You like music right?”
She nods once.
“So why don’t we start there?”
The music section is sparse but spread out to give the effect of being larger than it actually is. My daughter quickly finds the pop section. I keep back, trying not to bother her, flipping through the rock CDs.
They have Radiohead. I grab the CD and approach my daughter.
“You should listen to this sometime.”
She takes it and looks at it.
“It says 1995 on the back. I don’t like old music.”
She hands it back and starts looking at what I think is a Miley Cyrus CD.
I look at the Radiohead album once more, reminiscing, before putting it back where I found it.
After a few more minutes I suggest we go to the kids section and find a book.
She gives me that “I’m not a kid anymore” look.
I say I don’t think she is quite ready for War and Peace. Then I realize she has no idea who Tolstoy is, and may never know.
At the front of the kids section is a glass case. Inside the case is a fake skeleton, wearing nothing but sneakers, sitting on a bicycle. In place of the front wheel on the bike there is a fan which is connected to the pedals. If you press the red button the fan will turn on, causing the pedals to move and giving the illusion the skeleton is riding the bike, at least I think that’s how it works.
My daughter pushes the button. For the first time, after months of weekend visits, I see something other than boredom in her eyes.
After pressing the button three more times, she looks at me, wondering what to do next. I point, telling her to go find some books she might like. She doesn’t quite run, but sort of trots off.
I lean against the wall and watch as my daughter roams the Dewey decimal highways. I hope that whatever book she grabs is a good one, maybe Charlie Brown or Garfield. Even more I just hope she finds a book at all. I’ve never seen her read. There are no books in her room. I want to blame my ex-wife for this, but know that I am also at fault.
I see my daughter talking with a little boy, comparing the books they’ve found. She’s smiling. Responding to a call from his parents, the boy says something then gives my daughter a strange kind of high-five before jogging off. She picks her books up and goes looking for more. I smile, too.
She takes so long that I decide to sit down in a chair by the entrance to the kids section and wait. When she finally approaches me, she has an arm full of books, at least ten of all different sizes. She hands them to me. I look through them one by one, setting each down in a stack on the chair beside me. Some are about unicorns, some are about princesses. Some have pink covers, some have purple covers. Not my childhood favorites, but they are all books, books that she picked out.
“Can I get these, Dad?”
“Sure you can.”
“I don’t have a card.”
I look at my little girl, struggling against emotion, my lips tremble as I speak.
“Then I guess we’ll just have to go ahead and get you one.”
My daughter hugs me, and so I hug her back.
Leonard Owens III lives in Florida and has completed his second year at Daytona State College.
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