asked her parents to let her lie on her cushions, to let her be beautiful and quiet, but the parents shook their heads. No. Yes, they said no. It was too late.
Miss Babette wobbled on her rock and put her bare foot in the mud beside the stream to catch herself.
Is that it? I asked.
Yes, Miss Babette said.
That was sad.
Fairytales are sad, she laughed. You were asking, little bird.
I asked for a story not a fairytale, I said.
Most stories are fairytales, Miss Babette said. The ones that I know.
We stood on either side of the stream. It was too loud, suddenly. I heard every bird at once, every squirrel pawing the leaves.
I liked it, I said.
I could never be a writer, Miss Babette laughed, and I pulled a sound, something like a laugh, up from my stomach.
My father didn’t eat dinner with us. He was on a deadline. Every hour he was not walking with me to the market or asleep, he spent in his attic.
Miss Babette and I ate our potatoes and cabbage without speaking to each other. She balanced her head on the palm of her hand. I tried to eat with a kind of engrossed and serious look on my face. I tried to seem lost in thought, poking at my potatoes.
When we finished, I stacked the dishes and walked them to the kitchen sink. In the other room, Miss Babette tuned the radio to a woman singing low over violins, maybe a piano. I was thankful.
Above us, I heard my father’s footsteps on the attic stairs, which were old and spit dust under him. Maybe he had heard the radio, I thought. He liked a third to Miss Babette and I – some object or sound that rounded us, gave us something to do with our ears and eyes.
He lit a cigarette on the landing. Miss Babette asked if he would like his vodka and soda now or later. He made a gesture to the kitchen.
My father and I stayed in the living room, while Miss Babette went to the kitchen to prepare his drink. He settled himself on the couch.
Look at you, (one, two) Olga, my father said.
Yeah? I asked. I had spread out on the carpet, pretending I was concentrated on the radio.
You’ve grown, he said.
No, I haven’t, I said.
You have, he said. Every day, you look more like your mother.
In the other room, Miss Babette popped the lid of a soda can. My father tapped his cigarette with his famous finger.
That’s a good thing, I said.
Yes, he said. She was pretty.
My mother and I looked nothing alike. She was a pillar of good looks, classical and slim in her face. She wore enormous bug-eye sunglasses in nearly every picture we had of her. My skin was oily and calloused – on my face, my hands, my arms. I was, somehow, both flaking and wet.