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Do Not Let Mother Dear Find Us
Mother dear, Nikolai said.
I was surprised. He used to only call me that when I wasn’t paying attention. But here I was, holding on to my attentiveness because that was all I could do for him now. I’ve never told you how much I loved you calling me that, I said.
What did you call Grandma?
When I was your age? Mamita, I said.
That was endearing, he said.
You have to get the name right when you find the person hard to endear, I said. Endear, I thought, what an odd word. Endear. Endure. En-dear. In-dear. Can you out-dear someone?
And fancy seeing you here, Nikolai said.
One of us made this happen, I said.
I blame you.
I laughed. Ever so like you, I said. I then explained the liberty I had taken to get myself here. For one thing, I had made time irrelevant.
I could be sixteen like you are, I said, or twenty-two, or thirty-seven, or forty-four.
I would rather you are not sixteen, he said.
I don’t want to feel the obligation to befriend you.
We can still be friends even if I am of another age.
I don’t like making friends with older people. Besides, one can’t really be friends with one’s mother.
Can one not?
No. The essence of growing up is to play hide-and-seek with one’s mother successfully, Nikolai said.
All children win, I said. Mothers are bad at seeking.
You did find me.
Not as your mother, I said. Don’t you notice the sign there (though I knew he couldn’t have—I had hung it up while talking with him): Do not let mother dear find us.
What are you then?
Oh, a runaway bunny like you. How else did we end up here?
Here, as I watched my neighbor leave, a box of fresh-baked chocolate cookies in my hands, was a place called nowhere. The rule is, somewhere tomorrow and somewhere yesterday—but never somewhere today.
I was neither the White Queen, who sets the rule, nor Alice, who declines to live by the rule. I was a generic parent grieving a generic child lost to an inexplicable tragedy. Already there were three clichés. I could wage my personal war against each one of them. Grieve: from Latin gravare, to burden, and gravis, grave, heavy. What kind of mother would consider it a burden to live in the vacancy left behind by a child? Explicate: from Latin ex (out) + plicare (fold), to unfold. But calling Nikolai’s action inexplicable was like calling a migrant bird ending on a new continent lost. Who can say the vagrant doesn’t have a reason to change the course of its flight? Nothing inexplicable for me—only I didn’t want to explain: A mother’s job is to enfold, not to unfold.
Tragedy: Now that is an inexplicable word. What was a goat song, after all, which is what tragedy seemed to mean originally?