A late April snowstorm has melted in the sun and what’s left is freezing with the moonrise. The gravel alley is pocked and mudslick despite the steady dripping of a drainpipe grate. It makes that sound whether you’re standing over it, motionless, or not.
I look down past my feet and think, well that would be a bad place to die.
Two ducks touch wings and swoop, silent, overhead. You follow them into a blur of red and white car lights at the intersection – the one you crossed when, at age seven, you were first sent on your own to buy milk at the gas station.
Someone appears in front of a house wearing a neon cycling vest backed by a flashing red light. He’s on the phone promising his dad he’ll return for dinner next week. He does this while directing the bike with one hand toward a steep hill, in dim light. I stand aside.
I walk home. Beside the front walk there are two dozen neat miniature bootprints in the snow. You can image a line of little girls in rain boots standing there, saluting you, perhaps. In fact they are all my daughter, who knows nothing of salutes.
Inside I’m told she has requested a goodnight kiss, so I shake off my coat and scarf and pad softly into her room. If I snuggle her, she says, she knows she will be able to sleep right away, so can I just snuggle her for a minute?
Who could refuse this sort of question?
Her bed is pink and narrow and short, because it’s for kids, and although I hang off of it in several directions, I find it the most comfortable place in the house. She tells me she tried to keep her eyes closed but she just can’t, and I tell her that’s ok, you can just leave them open.
I tell her that the minutes before you fall asleep – before your eyelids get too heavy – those are the best part of the day. When you can think about how everything works and just look at the ceiling. You have nothing to do, and nothing you can do, really, except wait for sleep to come. And watch the dark fill up.
I tell her I’ll always protect her and help her, no matter what happens or where she goes. I tell her I think she’s amazing. I stroke her forehead and say I can’t wait to find out what will happen in her life; what she’ll learn, who she’ll meet, where she’ll end up, how she’ll get there.
This is my daughter, lying here beneath my right arm, breathing evenly, listening to me clumsily explain how much I love her.
This is my daughter falling asleep.