Excerpt from The New Quarterly, 118 – Spring 2011
Marion was upstairs in her study when she first heard it: a Japanese woman was singing in the hallway—high-pitched, melodic and achingly sweet. For a moment Marion lost her bearings: cherry blossoms hung low and heavy on outstretched branches, a temple glimmered in the distance.
“Watashi no shyumi wa jyoba desu. Watashi wa depato ni ikimasu.”
Marion opened the door. Isabelle, her ten-year-old daughter, gathered up books from the computer table then danced in slow elongated movements to her bedroom. The long golden hair that she hated to wash had been hastily jammed into a bun.
“I didn’t know who it was.”
“It’s just hiragana.” Isabelle did a quick pirouette.
“And katakana—ways to memorize names and days and stuff.”
She finished on demi-pointe, slender arms arched over her head. Marion drew Isabelle close, surprised by the delicate feel of bones beneath her t-shirt. She looked into her daughter’s face, fragile and gorgeous. As she walked back into her study the singing began anew.
The loathing was back. Voices yapping inside. Marion stared dully at the rain streaming down her windshield as she waited for thirteen-year-old Dinah outside the math tutor’s. She was remembering her dreams from before the depression, a burly dog driving her around in a cab, night after night, and she, incredulous, even in her dreams, wondering, why the dog?
And the ultimate irony: she’d agreed to a dog shortly afterwards. And now she lived daily with its skulky brown shadow, both girls at school, and it was just her and the dog, looking up at Marion as she put breakfast dishes away. Don’t you know, she wanted to say, there’s nothing left.
Dinah emerged from the house, book bag slung over her shoulder, affecting a cool, unperturbed stare. No doubt she imagined herself strutting down the runway of the upcoming school fashion show, a ridiculous idea as far as Marion was concerned and not something she’d ever imagined her own daughters doing. Dressed in army fatigues and high top runners, Dinah looked old. No longer her goose girl. Once they’d turned ten, Marion called her daughters goose girls, loving how it evoked heads bobbing on long legs, beauty bursting through the ungainly.
But I can still see her in there, she thought.