There was a grimy, cold day five years ago. My boots sucking in the grey sludge slathered across the streets, I took E from school. She was four then, and had just started to speak English. I was living in a tiny apartment, sleeping on a foldout couch. Her room was an alcove that we strung some christmas lights over. She told me we lived in a castle. I was learning to see what she saw, to take joy in the simple act of waking up with her in the same place, just the two of us and the silence of morning.
People were coming to dinner, a new friend and her daughter, and a stranger. A woman that spoke English. That was all I knew.
I put some chickpeas on to boil, roasted a pepper in the electric oven that always smelled like something was burning. I washed the plates and tried to make order in the lopsided kitchen. E sat at the wobbly table drawing girls with one eye.
The sky grew black above the busy street. At one point the doorbell rang.
E is nine now, coming up on ten. She sits at the kitchen table, a strong one, a new one. She draws with pencils now, not magic markers. There are little curli-cue letters in her tight handwriting, both Russian and English. I am rolling out pasta. I do this on every anniversary of this day. Some pumpkin is growing soft in a small pot. The kitchen smells of sweetness and good eggs.
N comes home, her cheeks red from the cold wind. I never remind her what day it is, a little game of chance to see if she remembers. Of course, she does and has played the same trick on me. She saunters into the kitchen, says something like "nichiwo sebya" (its not nothing). The Russian language works in the negative, even when the expression is a gentle compliment.
The water boils, salted and ready. I lower it, making the ravioli on the counter, some bigger some smaller, placing them carefully on a cookie sheet dusted with a shake of polenta grains to keep them from sticking. E has hidden the card behind the kitchen drapes. N sits and watches me cooking. We are making little jokes. E is sitting on her knees, hands waving around, all smiles and snorts, chirping half in Russian half in English.
And then the food is on the table, a fresh bottle of wine uncorked and splashing into my glass, a final grate of pecorino, a twist of black pepper and I make a toast to the day we met. E hands her the card and then N hands it to me. It says "I love you both" at the end.