When my father said any name, like Olga for example, he paused. Just before he ended his sentence, he took an enormous breath. One, two. He would say: Put your feet down. One, two. Olga.
Really, (one, two) Olga, my father repeated. A hill.
I told him he sounded medieval. He told me he was.
You’re what? I asked.
Medieval, he said.
I carved out the head of my strawberry. My father watched the ducks. We sat in silence for a while, me with my strawberry, he with his ducks.
I’m thinking, my father said slowly, about a little girl in my book.
I put the body of a strawberry under my tongue and tried to hold it there.
You’re twelve years old, (one, two) Olga, my father said. I nodded. Would you, at twelve, go to a bar?
I considered it. I had been a few times with my father and his friends to the bar on M street when Miss Babette had the day off. I had ordered ginger ales and listened to my father and his friends trouble over their plots, the structure of what they had made, which chapter must stay and must go. My father sipped his beer, and would consider each issue, slowly and carefully.
A bar? I repeated and felt immediately stupid. I wanted to be able to say exactly what I meant, an original sentence, the first time I opened my mouth. This never happened. I wouldn’t, I said finally, I mean I haven’t.
But would you want to? My father asked. Are you curious?
He swallowed a strawberry. A piece of bread had been caught in the current of the fountain-water. One of the ducks separated from the group. It pushed its head under the water, but the bread slipped away.
Curious, I said. I think.
Good, my father said. He crossed his arms. I noticed how long his eyebrow hair was and how it curled near his hairline. He didn’t straighten this hair like he did his moustache. My father ate another strawberry.
It’s hard to know, he said. What a twelve-year-old wants. The girl in my book wants to be older.
Together, we watched the duck dive for the bread stuck in the fountain’s current.
At home, Miss Babette and I walked through the field. The grass was tall with hidden bristles that cut my ankles. Miss Babette and I would often leave our shoes at the house when the weather began to warm. We were training our feet to harden.
We wandered back through the trees, chipping white with bark, to where a thin stream trickled over moss-rocks. I stuck my toe in it.
Tell me a story, I asked Miss Babette.
Yes, yes, maybe, she said. Maybe, but.
But what? I asked.
Miss Babette closed herself in her shawl, tied it across her chest.
Olga, you understand, Miss Babette said, that you are getting too.
Too what? I asked.