“Sweetheart,” he says.
“But she doesn’t. And we wait and wait, but she never comes, and we are all by ourselves and it gets dark.”
“Oh, Amy, baby.” He cups her face in his hands. “I will never drive away and leave you, never ever. And you know that Mommy and Daddy would nevernevernever—”
The phone rings and both of them jump. Amy will not let go of her father. She clings to him as he shambles down the hall.
“Yes?” he says. “What? Who is this?”
“Yes, this is Lowell Hawthorne.”
“Yes, that …”
“Yes, it is.”
Amy feels the muscles in his arm flinch and go still as he listens. He hangs up.
He remains leaning against the wall, and Amy, who comes to just above his waist, holds on to him so tightly that she can feel the button on his pajama jacket like a cookie cutter against her cheek. The pain reassures her. She wants to wear his sign. She can smell the wet animal smell again, mixed in with the smell of paint and paint thinner which can never be completely scrubbed off.
“Who was it, Daddy?”
He does not hear, or at any rate does not answer, but scoops her up and carries her back to bed.
“Daddy, who was it?”
“It was nothing,” he says. “Nothing to worry your little head over.”
“Daddy, if you don’t tell me, my dream will come back.”
That is the trouble with a curse, Lowell thinks: no eject button. You’re stuck with it. Around and around and around forever and ever amen.
“It was a hospital,” he says. “In Washington, D.C. Your Grandpa Hawthorne died.” Massive heart attack at the wheel … dead on arrival … fortunately no other cars on the road …
“How did he die, Daddy?”
“His car crashed into a tree.”
Lowell can hear the sound of impact, the flying glass. He remembers that in his dream he could not breathe.
Lowell thinks that his losses may have become simple at last. He thinks they may have become simple and respectable and therefore manageable. He thinks he will be able to speak of them almost lightly. My mother died in that airline disaster of ’87 when I was sixteen years old, he will be able to say, and the effect on my father was devastating. Our lives were never the same.
He tries out a version of this first with Amy and Jason three days after his father’s death, the day before he flies down for the funeral in Washington. His ex-wife has agreed to his pleas for an extra visit, “but try not to upset them,” she warns, when she drops the children off. “I mean it, Lowell.”
“I won’t,” he promises, and indeed, he has no intention of discussing dark matters, but Amy has her grandfather’s wrecked vehicle very much on her mind. From the window of her father’s apartment, she watches cars pass. “Which ones will crash into a tree?” she wants to know.
“None of them,” Lowell reassures her. “Your grandpa’s car crash,” he explains, “wasn’t an ordinary … it was a different sort of thing. It’s not the first time in our family, pun’kin. I’ve never told you how your grandma died, but she was in a terrible accident too, and that affected Grandpa, you see.”
“I don’t like cars,” Amy says. Her lips quiver. She hangs on to the sleeve of her father’s sweater with one hand. “Did Grandma’s car hit a tree too?”
“No. No, no, oh no, sweetheart, that was something totally different. Grandma was on a plane and the plane was hijacked.”
“Some bad men with machine guns wouldn’t let her plane fly back to New York.”
Huge-eyed, Amy digests this information. “Where did it go?” she asks.
“Well, it went to other places where it wasn’t supposed to go, and then it landed in Germany and all the children got off the plane, because nobody, not even bad men, wants children to get hurt.”
“Did Grandma get off the plane?”
“No,” he says. “The plane took off again, and then it landed somewhere else and then it blew up and everyone was killed.”
Amy begins to cry. “But maybe Grandma wasn’t on it then,” Lowell adds hurriedly, appalled with himself. “Maybe the bad men let her get off somewhere else first, because they said they did that. They took ten hostages off the plane before they—That’s what they said on TV. So maybe your grandma—”
Amy is sobbing convulsively, gasping for air. “I want Mommy,” she says.
“Yes,” Lowell says, panicky, “right. I’ll drive you back to Mommy’s place now, okay?”
“I don’t want to go in your pickup,” Amy sobs. She seems to be choking. A thin stream of bile trickles over her chin, and when Lowell wipes her mouth with a tissue, she throws up over his hand. “I want … Mommy … to come … and get us.”
“I’ll call her, I’m calling her now,” Lowell promises. Amy’s eye sockets look dark and bruised, and there is a bluish tinge to her lips. He holds her while he dials her mother’s number.
Rowena, his former wife, is exasperated. “I was afraid of this,” she says. “I’ll be right there.” In his driveway, she says despairingly, “For God’s sake, Lowell. As if their nightmares weren’t vivid enough. You have to tell them about planes blowing up.”
“Oh God.” Lowell rakes his fingers through his hair. He knows he is incurably inept.
“They already have counseling once a week,” Rowena says. “Jason’s been wetting the bed ever since you moved out.”
“That wasn’t my choice,” Lowell reminds her.
“Especially when you are flying down for the funeral,” she says. “When they know you’ll be on a plane.”
“Rowena, couldn’t you come too? Couldn’t we bring them? Don’t you think that might—”