Excerpt.It’s a scorching summer day, the kind with tangible heat hanging about and fat, humid droplets practically suspended in the air. I am sitting on top of the picnic table, picking at the flaking coat of paint, piling brown paint chips on the skirt of my yellow sundress. My father stands beside me, barefoot in the freshly mown grass, pushing hotdogs around on the barbecue grill. He is wearing the cheesy apron we gave him last month for Father’s Day.
“How many can you eat?” he asks me. “You look pretty hungry today, do you want four? Five?” He winks at me.
“No Daddy!” I squeal. “Just one, with lots of mustard.”
“Yes, yes, I know” he says, “extra ketchup for my little girl.”
“No! Ew, no Daddy, no ketchup!” I know he is teasing; he always teases me. I love it when he teases me.
“Okay, no ketchup, just relish. Now that you’re seven, you must learn to love relish!” he proclaims, gesturing wildly with his tongs.
I giggle, and spring up from my perch, dumping my carefully collected paint chips to the ground. I scurry under the picnic table to pick them up, and I enjoy the feeling of the soft grass tickling my knees. The cut grass smells so good and the table above me gives me shelter and shade. I spy a ladybug crawling up a leg of the table. I pluck a blade of grass and offer it to her; she climbs aboard. She is more orange than red, with only a few of the characteristic black spots ladybugs are famous for. I decide she is curious and friendly, and I scoot out from under the table to show Daddy my treasure.
“Look Daddy, a ladybug! Her name is Marlene!”
“How do you know it’s a girl?” he asks, dutifully studying the bug. “Not all ladybugs are girls,” he says, ruffling my hair. Daddy tells the silliest jokes.
I put Marlene back into the grass, and she spreads her wings and flies away. I watch her go until the speck in the sky becomes indistinguishable. The sun is so high and bright in the sky that I have to look away. The sky is blue and cloudless, and I am conscious of the heat all around me. Sweat has begun to pool behind my knees and down the small of my back but I'm not uncomfortable, only thirsty. July is a thirsty month, but luckily there is a tall pitcher on the picnic table, and Daddy has poured me a glass full almost to the top. I lift the sweating glass of ice-cold pink lemonade to my lips. It is tart on my tongue. A little stream makes its way down my chin and onto the front of my dress, but I don’t care. I drink and drink, hearing the ice cubes clink together, hoping to drain the glass all at once like Daddy can. Finally I can take no more, and I set the glass down, realizing it is still two thirds full. I pant to regain my breath.
Daddy picks up the glass and drains it in one big gulp. Little pieces of pink pulp are trapped in his mustache and he lets me brush them off with my fingers which are sticky from where I have spilled. We sit down to eat.
Mom and Vivi have gone to town this afternoon to shop, so it’s just him and me for lunch. He lets us have chips with our hotdogs, and he tells me it will be our little secret. He tells me great stories about all the dogs he had on the farm as a kid, all 8 of them named Bob, and how all the Bobs were jealous of his pony Bud, which he rode every day until he outgrew it.
“I want a pony, Daddy!” I say, as though it has suddenly occurred to me. As if I haven’t told him as much at least a half a dozen times already that day.
“I know you do, Sweetie, and as soon as we move to the bigger property, we’ll get you one. Do you promise to take care of it?” he asks.
“Yes Daddy! I will ride her and love her and brush her hair and feed her apples and sugar cubes every day.” I think about the plastic ponies I have in my toy chest, and how lovingly I braid their silky rainbow hair before I go to bed at night.
We finish our meal in the sunshine. I am careful not to drip mustard onto my dress, where the lemonade stains are quickly drying. I beg Daddy for more stories; I love to hear his deep voice filled with laughter just for me.
“Please just one more story” I say, throwing myself around the bench in restless anticipation. “Tell how you and Mommy met!” I ask of him, already hearing the story ringing in my ears because I knew every word of it by heart.
He tells me about meeting my mother, whom he calls Suzie just to hear me squeal with delight over the implied intimacy of calling her by the name she had before she was a Mommy. He tells me how he fell in love with her at first sight, and how the same would happen to me one day because my eyes are just as pretty as hers.