They look from the steps down the block.
“Did you bring Gran?”
June says Gran because that’s the main character.
They are reading The Lifters by Dave Eggers. They both love it.
“I didn’t. I thought the bus would come right away. I didn’t go to the bathroom either. I might pee my pants.”
June throws her head back and shows her teeth. McCormick thinks camp teaches her that laugh. Money well spent.
“Are you rooting for me?”
“Well, you are my lovey Daddy, but if you did pee your pants, that would be a great story…”
Maybe he’ll have to call Bruce Blend, the expensive mindfulness provider uptown. Blend helped with the environmental stuff two years ago. Now if the neighbors are loud McCormick doesn’t fear home invasion. If the heater goes out he knows Julie and June can snuggle under a blanket. No one’s freezing to death on his watch, but other perils have risen.
Will Bruce know their chances of having to flee an inbound missile? Will he downplay the harm of a race-baiting president? Does he know if there will be fish in June’s ocean? Guns in her streets? If she will hope?
June is impatient to add the oats. Keeps lifting her cup to the hot pan.
No. Let the milk bubble.
Then she wants to stir, moves her stool too close. McCormick endures the risk.
When the goop is in the bowl she arranges apple slices just like the picture on the box, but adds a few raspberries. Then declines sugar or honey.
Doing it herself is sweet enough.
At school he unsticks a zipper, puts wet boots away. She doesn’t turn her head or say a word. Just a backwards wave.
Always, there will be these leavings.
In bed that night, McCormick, nerves blazing, objects to tomorrow’s plans.
“The ferry to Jersey City? Why do you need your files? Then the subway uptown and back? You can’t put color in your hair anyway. And dinner with Alison? Julie, Jesus! After what we just went through?”
She uses the patient-but-not-really voice that will not be retired just because she’s so wrong this time.
“It was Braxton Hicks, Michael. Spotting is normal. They have chemical-free dye. This isn’t a health crisis. Women have babies every day.”
“Well, you might have one tomorrow. On a boat in the Hudson River.”
“You want her for her body right?” Scott Snow asked as the Oldsmobile chugged along I-90.
Talk like that about a girl made him feel queer. Especially about Winter. McCormick was seventeen. Going slow. He wanted her for her face.
And Snow was so Mormon. His folks were more uptight than even Barbara and Bill. How could he make Winter’s chest announce and her legs invite?
“Because she is truly terrible, man.”
In Billings they had Orange Julius, played Asteroids, then started home.
“We have to go to school tomorrow,” Snow said. “And you have to put that girl down.”
The greatest pleasure was getting back together, after having ached and cried and crawled back to the sonic womb of After the Gold Rush and walked down Senior Hall with his head under his arm day after Ichabod day.
Then Winter relents and comes back to his room. McCormick will never know physical relief more complete than the return of her long fingers to the small of his back and the points of her hips pressed to his, Jordache grinding against Levi, until 10:30 when Bill raps stern on the door and says “Time to break it up in there…”
June hears them first and pulls us into the square.
“Welcome to New York, Welcome to New York!” Two dozen big gay voices.
This is exactly why I moved to the Castro at twenty, and bought in the West Village at fifty. Freedom, like singing, comes from the drawing of breath.
Michael arrives for Empire State of Mind. We played it at our wedding.
He whoops for the top-knotted soloist, but I catch him eyeballing a hard-looking white-boy taking pictures outside the fence. He’s worried about an alt-right assault, I know it.
Dance with your daughter, McCormick. Fill your lungs.
McCormick roamed free in the backseat and had a cassette player and the bandana blanket his Yiayia made. How much longer? Bill would answer, Three Batmans, and he’d play them in his head.
He offers June this measure—two more Sophias honey—but this emphasizes the absent iPad, the actual princess. And she’s strapped into the car seat, a condition no blanket relieves. She responds with her signature hmmph.
McCormick owned that Mustang. June despises their Honda. But she has her own skills. Eyes closed, she composes…
Did you know that I love you? Do a painting all in blue…
Reading Harry Potter aloud. June tracks it, but only stops practicing headstands when there is a picture. Her favorite is a bleeding ghost.
The Hobbit had no illustrations, but Bill’s reading voice was smooth like his singing. Delaware nights. Couch up on cinder blocks, bouzouki leaning spot lit in the corner beneath a lamp.
McGonagall tells Harry he’s made the Quidditch team, like his father before him.
“Wow, now Harry knows what he’s really good at,” says McCormick, compulsive provider of object lessons.
“Now he knows he had a real family,” June answers, because she is where it all resides.
Freshmen year McCormick converted this to story:
Waking suddenly in a roadside motel (Vermont?). Ceiling tiles fallen down around around them. Barbara and Bill in opposite chairs, made visible by the cherry-red dots of their cigarettes.
Planning their next move, how to extricate a startled child in the middle of the rainy night? Assigning blame for the chaos? Anger and asbestos dust.
He doesn’t recall what they said or he wrote, but does remember sending a copy to Barbara (purple ink, yellow paper) and her reply, folded around a check for fifty dollars.
“I’m sorry you remember it that way.”