Winter 2011-2012

November 10, 2011

Who is here in the house?

D. Graham Burnett

This contribution to Cabinet’s “24 Hours” issue was completed in New York, New York, in 23 hours, 59 minutes.

On the day I am to write this piece, I am awakened a little before six by my older daughter, who calls to me from her room—“Dad! Dad? Are you here?”

Barely. I fell asleep about three hours ago. Francesca’s mother and I are in the middle of a divorce, and rest does not come easy these days—there is too much to do, too much to think about.

The little girl’s question—a call in the dark—is, in effect, a question about all that. About what she calls the separación. Who is here in the house? she wants to know. Reasonable enough, since the last five months have been disruptive in that regard. Answer, this morning: me. Her mother (Puerto Rican, hence the Spanish) put her to sleep last night, before heading off on a business trip; we effected the handoff in almost perfect silence.

I get out of bed in the dark and tip-toe to the girls’ room. “Sí,” I whisper (since the baby, Consuelo, is still asleep in her crib in the corner)—“estoy aquí.”

And bending down to give her a kiss, I wish Francesca a happy birthday. She is five. Today. It’s my mother’s birthday too. She is turning sixty-six. My mother and my daughter: birth, life, generations, anniversaries. November 10. Plus it’s the assigned window for my contribution to the twenty-four-hour issue. A felicitous coincidence, to be sure. I’ve mulled the question a bit, and am sure, once I get the girls to school, that I can come up with something good for my piece: cycles of time; matrilineal foldings; love and lineage. Something. It will depend on my prompt, which will come at 10 am.

By seven thirty, we are, all three of us, dressed, and we’ve eaten. Francesca requests a coffee-milk with honeyed toast (my breakfast too). On her bread I sprinkle a little celebratory colored sugar, and she munches on this contentedly under a banner I painted the night before: “Happy Birthday Francesca!” She seems happy enough. Consuelo eats the same toast, but prefers juice. They play together in the living room while I make a pair of lunches (and separate snack bags).

But when it’s time to go, Francesca pleads off: she can’t go to school today, she explains; she’s not feeling well. Really? Absolutely. Bring me the thermometer. She stands there with the little white thermometer under her tongue for a minute. Beep. Normal. We parley. The truth is, she is a little sick. Sniffles. Not sick enough that she’d have to stay home, but sick enough that she could. Further parley. “Francesca, I have to work today you know—if you stay home, I still have to work. Are you going to be OK with that?” She swears to me that she is. Fine then, why not? She has plenty on her mind. I certainly don’t blame her for wanting to hang out. And, to be honest, I’d rather hang out with her than do anything else.

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