If You Come Back While I'm Out

If you come back while I'm out, there is some roast left over from last night. It's in the fridge, on a plate with some asparagus. It's good asparagus, from that stand on Forest Grove Road near the place they fly the little planes in the summer. Do you remember how we went there and got those huge zucchini and you watched the farmer's sons fly those planes? And you cried when we had to come home, but it was almost six and you know how your father gets when dinner is late. Anyway you can put the plate right in the microwave for two minutes on high, and that juice you like is in a can in the pantry. The can opener is on the side of the fridge hanging on a string from the magnet you made for us at camp. The roast is maybe a little more garlicky than some people might like, but the recipe is from your father's sister, and she's a little much with the spices, if you ask me. She made it at Christmas and your father made such a fuss we just had to try it, but I say who makes a roast at Christmas?

There are also red potatoes in a separate plastic container. I kept them separate because Josephine says you told her you don't like them but I can't remember you ever really trying them so how can you say you don't like them? Anyway I guess at your age you can make up your mind about potatoes.

There are fresh towels under the bathroom sink and you can leave your dirty clothes in the hamper in your closet. I got that shampoo you like that smells like desert flowers, and the conditioner, though, Honey, with that hair you don't need anything. I know you don't agree, but you have that thick hair like your Aunt Carmen and you're every bit as pretty as the girl in the picture on the shampoo bottle, if only you'd smile once in a while. Everyone says so, it's not just your mother saying so because I love you and that's what mothers do. Some day you'll get married and have your own daughters and trust me you'll be the same way. Everyone thinks they're not going to be same as their parents, but everyone always is. Trust me.

I thought my mom was such a square. Oh, the fights we had, you don't know. All families fight, you can't let it get to you. The foolish things — how important it all seemed, what pants and what shoes I can wear, and how short a dress can be. But I tell you honestly I wish I could talk to her again now. I've made so many mistakes. God knows there are things I can still learn. Everyone can learn, if you give them a chance.

I might be late coming back from Carmen's, so there's pie for later on a plate in the bread box (if I put it in the fridge your father would get it and no one else would get a piece). It's pumpkin, which I made from real pumpkin and not the can this time. I remember how much you liked it at Ruth's, so I got the recipe from her and gave it a whirl — I hope it's how you remember it. Please have some, you can't worry every minute about your weight and there's such a thing as too thin. Believe me the boys will still make a fuss. Carmen said she thought she saw you on Water Street and you were so skinny she wasn't sure it was you, not that chubby little girl from the picture I used to have on the mantel of you with the ice cream. I know you hate that picture and I put it away, but someday maybe you can understand how I love that picture and the little girl who just wanted ice cream and was so happy all the time. Is that so wrong? Anyway, I put the picture in the attic — your father finally put his foot down, but I'll tell you, sometimes I still go up there when the house is empty and just sit on the little folding ladder and look at that picture, and the other ones, from camp and from school, right up until the ones where you don't smile anymore. Camp wasn't my idea, by the way. I know you hated it. Believe me, if it was up to me you'd never have been out of my sight, but your father just wanted a little peace and quiet for two weeks.

Your father would kill me, but there is twenty dollars in my jewelry case you can have, and take anything you want from the case. It's mostly junk, but there is a ring that belonged to your Grandmother that's real gold. I wanted to give it to you when you got married, but now it's been a while and I just want you to have it.

Or you could stay. I know that didn't work last time but I swear to God, Honey, things will be different, and your father's older now and not so mad all the time and he misses you, too. He doesn't say it like me, but that's the way he is and anyway it doesn't mean he doesn't love you as much as I do. Well, not as much as I do, maybe, but I'm your mother and no one can love a daughter like her mother. I drove around and around showing your pictures until your father found out.

So I stopped driving around and looking, but I know you've been here, too. I can tell from just being in your room, and the smell of you in the room when the windows have been closed like they have for so long. I'd know that smell anywhere — and it's not desert flowers or that perfume that boy gave you. It's you, your skin and your breath and your hair. You'll always have it no matter how many years you stay away and when you have children you'll know what I mean. Your love for them will be like a pain inside, like being hungry all the time, no matter how much you eat, no matter what.