“Once there was a girl and her name was I Can’t Hear You, and whenever someone asked her her name she said I Can’t Hear You, so then they’d ask her again and she’d say I Can’t Hear You, and then ....”
“Honey,” I say, “I get it.”
“Do you think it’s funny?”
“Yes, it’s hilarious.”
“I made it up.”
“You’re a very clever girl.”
We walk on, she and I, west to east across the city, which isn’t as far as it sounds because we aren’t all the way west and we aren’t going all the way east.
I push some stray hairs behind her ears. It’s very windy out today but she wouldn’t wear a hat because the sun is shining and she wants to feel it on her head.
“Once I owned the sun,” she says, “no, not owned, I mean once we were friends and we played together all the time. Even when nobody else could see the sun I could because she was my best, best friend. ”
“What happened?” I ask.
“Hunh?” she asks.
“What happened with the sun? Are you still friends?”
“Of course we are. Can’t you tell?” She throws her head way back so that her face is exposed to even more of the sun's rays.
There’s an ice cream truck up ahead so I reach into my purse for my wallet, but she grabs my hand. “We can do better,” she says. It’s the first time she’s used this expression. I hear my mother’s voice in her; it makes me feel mushy inside, right next to my heart.
“Once,” she says, “there was a man and he wasn’t very nice and he carved an ugly face on a pumpkin, but then a fairy came and she made the pumpkin beautiful and she put the ugly face on the man.”
“That’s only fair,” I say. We stop for the light.
“I like red,” she says. “Red Bed Dead Said Red Led Wed Fed Red.”
The light changes and we hurry across. We’re holding hands. I give her fingers a little squeeze. I could say something about that one word, dead, but I keep my mouth shut.
“I like green, too,” she says, and she starts to skip in that hop-jump way she has. “Green Bean Seen Mean Teen.” She gives a little laugh. “Teen Teen Teen Teen Teen Teen.” She looks up into my face and says it again. “Teen.” This is her favorite word.
“One day when I grow up I will be a teenager,” she says, for the umpteenth time, and I say, “You surely will, Honey.”
I don’t think she knows any teenagers. Her cousins are eight and three, her babysitter is 54. Still, she knows being a teenager is the best thing in the whole wide world. She tells me this all the time.
“Once,” she whispers, so I have to bend over to hear her, which is very awkward, but I do it, “there was an old lady who lived in a shoe and when she went to sleep at night she had to lace herself in so no one could hurt her, but what do you think happened?”
“I don’t know,” I say.
“But what do you think?”
“Did someone come along and steal the shoe with her in it?”
“No, they did not.”
“Then I’m afraid I don’t know.”
“Don’t be afraid, I’ll tell you. A magic person found the shoe and sprinkled magic dust inside, in the holes, you know, for the laces, and in the morning when the old lady woke up she was an orange.”
“An orange?” I ask.
“Uh huh. The kind you eat.”
“Are you hungry?” I ask.
“Yep. But not for an orange.”
“We’re almost home,” I say.
A woman on the other side of the street is walking under a huge striped umbrella.
“It isn’t raining,” she says.
“She is wasting her umbrella.”
“Yes,” I say, “she is.”
“Once,” she says, “a very silly lady who was also foolish, and had once been an orange, decided she wanted to learn how to fly so she jumped up onto a little bird’s back, but the bird was in a tree and it wasn’t flying that day so the silly lady never learned how to fly.
Once,” she says, barely taking a breath, “there was a boy and he was very bad and his mommy made him eat nails, and they tasted like,” she pauses for a second to think, “they tasted like dirty nails.”
“Yuck,” I say, “that doesn’t sound so nice.”
“It isn’t nice, because you know why?”
“Because he wasn’t nice. He was — he was throw up.” I know where this is heading. “He was a big fat disgusting stinky blecky ball of throw up.”
“Okay,” I say, “that’s enough.”
“Is it?” she asks.
“Yes, I think it is.”
“I don’t think it is. I think it’s not enough.”
I give her hand a little squeeze and she squeezes mine back and she says, “Okay, it is enough, I guess.”
By now we’re at our corner and she waves to a stranger in the dry cleaning store. Whenever we walk past the dry cleaning store she waves, and if there’s no one to see through the big window she just waves at the window. She loves the dry cleaning store. She tells me every day that her favorite smell in all the world is the smell that's inside the dry cleaning store. I could worry about this, but I decide not to.
There are so many things I could worry about but today I decide not to worry about any of them.
We take the elevator upstairs and leave our sneakers in the hallway by the front door. We slip our feet into slippers. We both love doing this. She loved it first and I learned it from her.
She runs to the bathroom to pee. I can hear her singing from her perch on the toilet: “Tinkerbell Stinkerbell Honeybell Moneybell Vunderbarbell.” She has a clear, strong voice. She sings very loudly.
I’m preparing two bowls of vanilla ice cream. Baby marshmallows and blue M & M’s go in hers.
When she comes out of the bathroom we take our bowls to the living room and sit on the couch. Her feet don’t touch the ground. Not even close. For a second the sight of her legs dangling over the edge, in those blue dungarees with the cuffs folded back and the red plaid flannel showing, almost makes me sob. But then I laugh, instead. She wiggles her feet up and down until her fuzzy purple slippers fall off and she laughs, too.
“This was such a happy day,” I say.
“What happened today?” she asks.
“Nothing,” I say.