ANGELA VERONICA WONG
When I was pregnant with my fifth child, Wendy was five. She still wore footsie pajamas; one day she came into the kitchen patterned all over with red birds. She gave me three little kisses on the cheek and said, J’ai un petit creux. It was the last time I heard her speak French.
When I turned around, she was gone. Her little face. An hour later, after the dishwasher was loaded, after the counters were wiped, I found crumbs and a little dirt all over the bottom stair, and I knew she had been stealing graham crackers from the pantry. I wasn’t mad at her; all the kids snuck food from the pantry, and it’s inevitable she learns stolen food tastes better. When I found her, she was under the folding chair by the washing machine, tracing letters on the seat. Her hair was damp and smelled like vanilla and dirt. Daisy washed my hair, she said. It’s time to get out of your pajamas, I said, grabbing her feet. She giggled, her hair trailing behind her head like muddy fingerprints on the wall. Don’t forget Daisy, she said, and I paused long enough for her to find her stuffed bunny friend, before leading my strange parade out of the laundry room.
Except the bunny’s name wasn’t Daisy. Daisy was her older sister, the middle child, the one who hated the sight of live fish. The bunny’s name, I’m pretty sure, was Mr. Mr., a name Daisy thought up before Wendy could speak. Where is Daisy? I asked Wendy as I tugged a t-shirt over her head. And where’s the comb? She shook her head and shook the bunny and pointed at the dresser. I found the comb on the dresser and started de-tangling her hair. Ow-ow-ow-ow. Wendy was poking the nose of the bunny. It squeaked in rhythm to my combing and Wendy’s ow-ow-ow-ow. Dirt dusted the floor.
We had a late start to the day, but when I finally finished dressing Wendy and watering the plants, we managed to get out of the house and run most of the errands. Wendy acted as the bunny’s translator. Daisy wants noodles for lunch she told me as we were leaving the shoe store. And she wants the pair with the pink flowers for her first day of first grade. Dutifully, I ordered a side of sauce-less spaghetti when we stopped for lunch, even though I knew the pasta wouldn’t be eaten. Wendy keenly disliked colorless food, and I had given up gluten. Wendy must have dropped some noodles on the floor when I wasn’t looking, because the plate was empty by the time we finished lunch.
Wendy’s sister was just starting first grade. After I put Wendy to bed, I looked at the bunny. It did look an awful lot like Daisy. And it was her time to go. Kids—at some point you have to let them go, and this way at least they are outgrown, and not outgrowing. I’ve had four kids, but never more than two at once.
It’s strange, because a younger child always knows about the change. They never ask what happened to their older sibling. I wonder if they are present for it. I’ve never asked.
There’s no real pattern to the change. I remember Tracy marching into the bathroom four years ago with a fork; I rushed to grab it away from him but he kept calling Karen’s name. The doctor had warned of unexpected complications to my pregnancies. I had found Karen holding a single lily bloom in a small pot. I rubbed my stomach, feeling Isaiah move. He’s ready, I think.
Around the time Isaiah turned one, I noticed Wendy stopped carrying the bunny around. She came into the kitchen with a box of crayons and some white paper. Where’s Daisy, I asked as she settled at the table. Lining up the crayons by color, she didn’t answer. Wennie. I walked over to her and stroked her hair. Where’s Daisy? She looked up at me and said in a clear voice, Mama, I don’t know who you are talking about. She started drawing a giraffe with snakes as legs. Mama, can we have spaghetti for dinner. The white paper was smudged with dirt.
One day when Wendy was at a playdate, I went into her room to tidy up a bit. I found myself taking everything out of all the drawers and the toy chest and off the shelves. There was no sign of Daisy, but there was a small pile of dirt between the sheets.
When Isaiah was two, I found Wendy sitting in a hole she dug up in the backyard. There were three child-sized holes and I had no idea how long they had been there in the backyard. Wendy did you do this? I asked. She looked up at me. I just found them here mama. I pulled her out of the hole. She stood so still as I shook the dirt off her dress. I stepped back to look at her. It was like she was lengthening before me. You’re getting so big, I said. She twisted her body left and right, left and right; her arms swung and wrapped around her. I’ll be eight next week mama.
The following Tuesday I found Isaiah in the living room holding a small white knobby thing and smiling. What’s that Iggy? I asked, picking up the toys he had abandoned around the couch. Wen-wen. He shook the thing at me. I turned around, but didn’t see Wendy. Did Wendy give that to you, Iggy? I asked. The sun emerged from behind a cloud, and I noticed holes pocketing the entire yard. I should fill them. Where is your sister, Iggy? Is she hiding? Isaiah happily waved the knobby thing at me. I picked Iggy up and put him in the playpen. No-no-no-no, he scolded. Just for a few minutes, I soothed.
He looked at me disapprovingly and pointed at the thing he had dropped when I scooped him up. I was surprised at its cold hardness. Where’d you get this turnip? I asked, handing it to him. I turned the playpen toward the window so he could see me in the backyard.
Mama will be right back, I said.
Wen-wen, he said.