It is like driving in a snowstorm, at night. The headlights shining into that tumbling loop, showing no landmarks, no signs, just a few feet of the road ahead. My growing paranoia feels like that snow, growing, smashing into the wet pavement, then returning.
I am a passenger, and the doors are locked. We are just here for the ride, putting one foot in front of the next, manufacturing faith that things will turn out well. We have no idea what we are doing, or where we are going.
Outside the windows, the sun has suddenly disappeared.
A flock of black birds fly close together.
The sky is a giant washing machine flipping them around.
E is writing invitations for her birthday party. N has written the words out for her to copy.
We are sitting at the kitchen table. I am making gnocchi for dinner, with some roasted pumpkin.
E changes the words, instead of writing I like you, she writes I hate you.
This is my nightmare, that there is something broken inside her I cannot fix, that life in this wilderness has twisted something deep inside her that cannot be unraveled.
I get her to take a bath.
She curls up next to me in her pyjamas afterwards and we have a quiet talk.
"I don't know." She tells me.
I tuck her into bed, surrounded by stuffed animals she has dressed in her own shirts. A rabbit. An elephant. A tiny white kitten with giant eyes. They all have names.
I kiss her goodnight.
"I love you, kiddo." I say.
"I love you too, Pop." She says.
She has never said this before.
The next day, she changes the word hate, blotting it out with flowers and hearts so now it says like.
We bring the invitation for one girl, leaving the second at home.
Things slump back to normal. We practice guitar. We do solfeggio homework.
E's mother does not call for days.
On Saturday, when she should take her there is a sudden cough in her voice. She says she is sick, but maybe will be better in a few hours. E sighs, looks up me, hanging up the phone.
"She's not gonna take me today." She says.
"I know." I say.
"She's not really sick." E says.
I nod once.
E spends the afternoon turning the living room into a version of her kindergarden.
Later, her mother calls saying maybe she will take her on Sunday.
But Sunday comes and goes, and she never takes her.
I walk quickly on the wet sidewalk, my hands deep in my pockets.
A man is playing his accordion in the underpass by E's school. He sits in a tiny folding chair that is about to break and fall sideways. The song is fast, but I would not say it is a happy. The accordion opens and closes with a sort of labored breathing.
He stares off at the empty wall across from him.
His eyes are too big for his face.
No one gives him any money, but he is here every day.