Claudia Smith

My father sends me pieces of the letter in postcards. The first card says, I am in and then the second says Poland even though he sent it from Toronto. Which, maybe he doesn’t know this, but is just as foreign to me as Poland.

He sends me an envelope filled with petals. I ask my mother what kind of flower they are from. She looks at me with shiny eyes. That’s the way she cries, squinting so that her eyes don’t run. She whispers on the phone to my aunt, she thinks I can’t hear or maybe she knows I can, she just thinks it would be improper to say it above a hiss. Onanistic, she says. I look up the word—it means coitus interruptus or masturbation. She never went to college, but she reads a lot and maybe she thinks she’s using the word properly but I’m not sure. Maybe she means, it’s all masturbation, him being around us.

He stayed with us for one week, a week in June. He gave me a nickname right away, called me Junebug. He wasn’t like any of my mother’s friends; his hair was cut to look shaggy, falling over his left eye in a sultry way. He smelled of kitchen spices. He said we had the same eyes. Not the color, he said, the shape. Once, when I was pretending to sleep, he came into my room and kissed my eyelids. It was weird, but nice, like a feather duster tickling.

So Toronto, I imagine, has very green grass and good coffee and it must feel clean and crisp to walk out there and not hot and sleepy, like it does down here. He told me that the sun is more direct in Texas. We were in a park, my Mom was buying us mango snow cones and we were lying on our backs, looking up at the sun. He is the kind of man who can do that without looking foolish. I looked up at the sky until my eyes hurt and then knit my fingers in front of my face. He told me he’d wanted to name me Iris, which was his mother’s favorite flower.

The third postcard is from Austin, Texas. Not far away, not more than two hundred miles away. It’s a photo of a bunch of people in burlap halters and dirty shorts dancing around bongos. Eeyore’s Birthday Party, it says. I haven’t been to Poland in a long time, it says. I don’t remember your birth date but I remember the day you were born. You made little fists and blew me bubbles.

The next postcard is just a corny painting of a bunch of flowers. I don’t know what kind they are, they look like wild flowers. It says, you almost make me want to go legit.

I don’t show that to her. I hope she doesn’t see the cards before I do. I check the mail every weekday as soon as I get home from school but I think she’s onto me.

I get another one, this time a card of rainbows and unicorns, and it says, if I’m right you are not a rainbow and unicorns kind of girl. That’s a good thing. I imagine most girls like that grow up to be dental hygienists and Dallas Cowgirls. But I’m in a card shop and I asked Dorothy, the saleswoman, to direct me to cards for a girl of fourteen and this is where she.

That’s the last card. The words are so tiny and crowded, I can barely make them out. I’m a sucker, I tell my mom. That week he stayed with us, she made him iced coffee with condensed milk the way they used to drink it together that summer he lived with her. One night, they went out to hear music and that’s the night he kissed my eyelids. That thing he said about Dallas Cowgirls was pretty nasty because when she was in high school, my mother was a drill team captain. She wore shining pantyhose and white boots up to her knees, and marched in the Cotton Bowl.

“He thinks he’s so quirky, but really, he is very obvious,” I say to her. She brushes my hair back, and then lets her palm rest in the nape of my neck, like a hug. I’m writing a report about the sun and the moon, and I keep on writing and she keeps her hand there for a long time.

There’s going to be a solar eclipse this Saturday. You’re supposed to look at it through cardboard, with your back turned. I tell her that’s what I’m going to do. But I intend to look at it directly.

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