What do you mean? My father asked.
How do you know it’s true?
Anything can be true, my father said. You read science fiction, don’t you? Besides, nothing’s real anyway.
I counted the ducks. The Mallard startled awake when an engine backfired behind my father and me. Neither of us turned to it, but the duck shook its feathers. It considered the water, then slid into the pond.
The pond’s real, I said.
Yes, but it’s not new. A pond is a lake, which is an ocean, etc. It’s impossible to be real. These days, at least, (one, two) Olga.
Does she find him?
Who, my father asked.
Yeah, I said.
No, he said. She learns he’s dead. But it doesn’t matter at that point. She’s found herself, and so on. See?
On Miss Babette’s day off, she usually went to the movies with a few friends from the town: other nannies that Miss Babette and I met when I was younger, and a few young mothers who cared for their own children.
Miss Babette was already a town over at a friend’s house, when my father and I returned from the market. My father opened a beer by the kitchen sink and held the kitchen phone to his ear. His editor was on the other line. My father was laughing.
I spent the day in my room, pacing back and forth, and trying to imagine what it would be like to drive a car. I daydreamed about taking myself somewhere, to the rock beaches, out of the state, and down to the city. I would tune the radio to a pop station and fly down the highway.
I considered taking the Sweet birches back to M street, but I couldn’t imagine myself actually doing it, so instead I lay back on my bed, studied my fingers for a moment, counted them, and fell asleep.
In a dream, I held Miss Babette’s hair as she vomited into the toilet. I gathered the strands, which were dark and wet from sweat. When she was finished, she turned to me and I realized the skin of her face had slacked, slipped down to her chin. She was asking me to mold it. A kind of telepathy. I did as I was told.
Her skin was like gelatin, smooth and pliable. I pushed my fingers into her face, but the skin sagged. She couldn’t speak to me, but I understood that she was dying. Or if not dying, shedding.
When I woke, the sun was gone. My room was a pit of blue light. I had been so afraid of the dark when I was younger. This was my first thought when I opened my eyes. I thought: I was so afraid of the dark once, and now it seems impossible.
I figured, if I lifted myself out of my bed, I would regain some kind of energy I had lost while sleeping when the sun was out. I wondered if I had missed dinner, but then: two headlights. The light moved across my wall. I went to the window.