Tough and Dangerous Times from Issue 87
Thirteen-year-old Robin Morris knew for a fact that her father was screwing the nanny because she had read those exact words in her stepmother’s diary this afternoon after sneaking into their bathroom pretending to look for hair gel; Kim hid her diary in a drawer by the tub, next to her tampons, wrapped in an old Disney beach towel no one used. Robin hadn’t peeked at the diary for a week, but today she plucked it from its hiding place and flipped open to the most recent entry, only two sentences, dated last night: “Goddamnit, now that asshole is screwing the nanny + honestly, it’s easier to replace him than her. But I want to kill them both.” Robin had closed the black leather notebook and shoved it inside the folds of the towel, not being as careful as she usually was about replacing it just so. Then she stood for a moment, her heart beating surprisingly fast. This was why her father had come out of the guest room this morning mumbling about his back acting up.
It was all disgusting, though maybe it should also seem a little bit exciting, like she was in a TV show, and she tried to slow her breathing, tried to think; was she mad at her father for doing such a terrible thing? Did she feel sorry for Kim? Should she cry? Act like everything was fine? She was about the only kid in school without a cell phone, so she couldn’t text her friends for immediate advice. Besides, did she want them knowing this about her family?
Just then, her father had called for her to “do something” with her half-sister Moira. When she ran downstairs, four-year-old Moira was still in her tights and leotard, back from the dance class Paulina had driven her to. Her father had told her to distract Moira with a game or book for a few minutes. “Why?” Robin asked, but he walked into the den and shut the door, pretending he hadn’t heard the question. Kim, finally home from a boring lunch speech she’d given at some club, charged toward Paulina’s tiny bedroom in the back of the house.
“Let’s go,” Robin had said to Moira, feeling uneasy when she saw Moira’s delighted smile. Moira leaped and twirled down the hall, apparently still thinking of dance class, and Robin had slunk after her.
Now, inexplicably, they’d come for dinner at China Dragon: Kim’s idea. As she had escorted Paulina and her two overstuffed vinyl suitcases to the front door, Kim passed the family room where Robin was trying to play Trouble with Moira, letting her pop the die as many times in a row as she wanted, which still didn’t keep Moira from shrieking, “But I love Paulie!” Kim had paused and met Robin’s eye; Paulina stared down at her feet—she wore ratty flip-flops and only the toenails on one foot were painted red, the other toes still bare, as if Paulina had been interrupted partway through the job. “Okay, guys,” Kim said, her voice as bright as a lantern. “Special treat! Chinese for dinner, okay? Got it?” Then she swiveled her head back toward the den door and raised her voice: “Chinese! You hear me, Larry?”
She resumed her march down the hall, Paulina trudging after her, struggling with the enormous suitcases until finally she dragged them along the wooden floor as Moira screamed, “I love Paulie—don’t make her go!” and Robin held onto her so she wouldn’t run down the hall after Paulina.
Now here they were: being shown to a table for four, right in front, by the big picture window that looked out onto the street. No one was in the restaurant because it was only 5:10, because no one else in Bethesda thought it would be a “special treat” to eat a too-early dinner of Chinese food on a drizzly Saturday. The restaurant’s décor was so bland as to be forgettable even while looking around the room. The only item of note was the big, red, snarling dragon set on a table along the far wall. Every time Robin came here, something seemed slightly different about the dragon: today, it was angled so that its curled tongue pointed at her, as if it wanted to warn her about something—which was silly, but also spooky, and a chill tingled Robin’s spine.
So she looked at the waitress instead—a short Asian lady with decorative chopsticks sticking out of her bun—who handed them menus and said, “Oh, very nice,” as they settled into their chairs, first Moira, by the window, and Kim next to her; then Larry opposite Moira, setting the just-in-case umbrellas on the window ledge; and finally Robin. Moira immediately got busy picking her nose with her pinkie.
“What’s so nice?” Kim snapped as she plopped her giant purse on the table, knocking the spoon out of the bowl of hot mustard. No one picked it up.
The hostess was startled. “Nice family,” she said. “Nice table for nice family.”
“Oh, yeah, we’re nice all right,” and Kim yanked Moira’s hand away from her face. “Very nice,” and she glared at Robin’s father who had turned his head to stare out the window as if the drizzle out there were somehow remarkable. Kim was still wearing the business clothes she’d worn to her speech earlier in the day, and she looked sort of important, and Robin supposed that might be her intention.
None of them really liked China Dragon—a shimmering, greasy slick coated every dish—and Hunan King was better, but it didn’t have a parking lot as China Dragon did, which was useful in trendy, busy, downtown Bethesda. So more times than not, they ended up here for Chinese, so much so that they were all familiar with the menu and stuck to their favorites.
Moira said, “Dumplings.” She always got an order to herself and used a chopstick to poke a hole into each dumpling so she could suck out the meat, leaving behind an embarrassing mess of hollowed-out dumpling shells littering the table. Many times Robin had begged Kim to make her stop, but Kim had just said, “At least she’s eating.”
“We’ll order in a minute, sweetie,” Kim said.
“Two vodka tonics,” her dad said. He went by Larry, which Robin hated because Lawrence sounded classier, though she’d never said so to his face. He wasn’t the kind of father who liked to “talk” about things; he was more like the kind of father who came home late and stared at sports on TV. The kind who screwed the nanny. She had read the words herself. A person wouldn’t lie or make a mistake in her own diary. Maybe Kim brought them to the Chinese restaurant because she was afraid she’d kill him if they were alone at home. When Robin had asked why Paulina was being fired, Kim had said that it was “time for a change.”
“I need a Diet Coke,” Robin said. She always said “need” because that sounded more urgent than saying, “I’ll have a Diet Coke.”
“And one for her,” Kim said, pointing to Moira, who had resumed her nose-picking. Her face scrunched with concentration, turning wrinkly like a raisin. Robin hated that Moira had the same blue eyes that she and her father had. It seemed unoriginal of her somehow.
Robin picked up one of the heavy menus that the hostess had left. She typically got number twenty-two, cashew chicken, but she pretended to read through the dozens of numbered choices on the menu—moo shu pork, eggplant in hot garlic sauce, kung pao chicken—as she used the open menu to shield her face while she peeked over the top to spy on Kim and her father, hoping they’d talk about something worthwhile if they thought she wasn’t paying attention. But no one said a word. Kim finally picked up the spoon and slowly stirred the mustard.
Was anyone ever going to tell her what was going on? She might as well be Moira, picking her nose.
Her dad was still staring out the window at the drizzle. He was a lawyer, but not the kind who put crooks in jail, some other kind, and he didn’t talk about his job much. This endless silence was worse than Moira’s earlier shrieks, Paulina’s flip-flops flapping down the hallway, the suitcases scraping, the slam of the door and the too-fast twist of the deadbolt. Usually Kim wedged any gap of silence with chatter. Now she sat there, poking at the mustard while Moira pick-pick-picked away.
This was absolutely the world’s most embarrassing family.
The door to the restaurant opened and a shrunken elderly couple walked in; the woman leaned heavily on one of those canes with four prongs at the bottom, like the four claws on the red dragon’s feet. She could barely lift the cane, so she walked slowly. The man’s pace was equally labored. When the waitress with the chopstick-hair gestured to a table next to Robin’s family, the lady shook her head “no” and pointed to a table way in the back, about the farthest table from them, Robin noted. It took forever for the couple to get to it. They looked like they were about a hundred years old, or more, which would mean that even if they had gotten married when they were fifty, they would have been married to each other for fifty years. Way back then the only nannies to screw would be nannies like Mary Poppins, and a father just wouldn’t do it. Kim and Larry had been married for nine years.
Robin watched Kim watching the elderly couple as they settled in. The waitress brought them some tea that she poured into cups. “Very hot,” she said loudly, then said, “Pepper beef?” The man nodded, then, “Vegetable fried rice?” and the woman nodded.
Regulars. Maybe they’d been eating here for fifty years. Robin wondered if Kim was imagining herself as an old lady gumming a plate of fried rice all alone. She might never see Kim again, except as a shape in a car dropping off Moira for a weekend visit.
Kim wasn’t so bad. She had paid Robin to set up her iPod and even said she liked some of the bands Robin had snuck on to liven up that sleepy classical music. At the mall a few weeks ago, she had taken Robin, just Robin and not Moira, to the top floor of Saks and told the saleslady they were going to a black tie wedding in New York. Then they tried on fancy dresses and admired each other, getting silly and saying things like, “You look diviiine, dah-ling.” Robin was absolutely certain she could never pull that off without Kim.
Moira whined, “I’m thirsty.”
“Drinks are coming,” Kim said.
In a moment, the waitress brought a tray of glasses and passed out their drinks. After she left, Larry picked up his vodka tonic and raised the glass in the classic “cheers” gesture, but Kim sat still, drink on the table, leaving him to clink only with Robin and Moira. “Cheers,” he said loudly, and Moira and Robin echoed him, though the word suddenly sounded meaningless, like what cavemen would grunt while sitting around a fire.
Kim let out a heavy gust of air in a half-groan, half-sigh.
“Why do people say ‘cheers’ anyways?” Robin asked. She didn’t care about the answer—not that she expected any of them would know—but this silence was exhausting; she reworded the question to hear herself talk: “I mean, what does ‘cheers’ mean? Why ‘cheers’ and not something else, like ‘hippopotamus?’”
Moira squealed, “Tippohotamus!” and waved both arms, accidentally knocking over her Diet Coke; a puddle of brown liquid and crushed ice spread across the table. “Oops, oopsy.” But she smiled and seemed proud of herself as Kim slid paper Chinese zodiac placemats on top of the mess, then grabbed everyone’s napkins and pushed those in, too, until there was a sodden, sloppy mass of paper in the center of the table. She righted the red plastic glass and poked the straw back in it, then poured in half of Robin’s Diet Coke.
“Please,” she said.
“Oops,” Moira whispered.
“Let’s just order so we can get out of here,” Kim said, and there was a pause, as if she were waiting for someone to challenge that plan, as if she dared anyone to remind her that this dinner had been her idea. When no one did, she waved at the waitress with a few tired fingers, a graceful gesture that Robin mimicked under the table.
If Kim left, Robin would be alone with her silent father, living through days when no one would say a single word. It would be like living with a stranger. Wasn’t it weird to think of your father—the man sitting next to you right now in a Chinese restaurant who had the exact same blue eyes that you did—to think of him as nothing but a stranger, no different than the random old man over there blowing on his tea? But anything she knew about him was from Kim’s diary: how Kim wished he wouldn’t fall asleep in front of the TV every night, the fight about getting that big new flat screen, the lousy sex, the great sex with Kim’s new black garter belt. There was supposed to be another baby this year to go with Moira except it had died when Kim was pregnant, and that was another secret no one had told her about.
Originally, she had started reading the diary several months ago to see what Kim thought about her. But what she found was only stuff that Kim already said to her face, nothing secret: “I wish Robin would take more responsibility,” or, “Robin is so damn moody.” Reading pages and pages without seeing her own name had made her feel like a shadow flitting along the edges of Kim’s life.
Robin’s real mother had left when she was only three, so she didn’t have even one memory of her. Some years there was a birthday card with no return address, but mostly there was nothing. Which was fine. Or, not fine exactly, but it was what it was. There was a photograph of her as a baby, being held by her mother as she sat in a rocking chair that was in front of a big stone fireplace Robin had never seen. Her mother’s face was tilted down, blurry, and she wore a peasant blouse and jeans with a hole in one knee. Barefoot. She had long, thick, dark, shampoo commercial hair that Robin imagined was soft and smelled maybe of oranges.
Her father had explained that her real mother had run off to join a religious cult, which didn’t seem to explain why a mother left. But once Robin was too old to believe in lost princesses or space alien kidnappings, she had to admit she couldn’t come up with a better reason for a mother to run away—or any reason at all.
“She’s ignoring me,” Kim said to no one in particular. The waitress was standing to the side of the elderly couple’s table. “Yoo-hoo,” Kim called, “Miss!”, and she windmilled one arm, yet another embarrassing thing about this dinner though it was hard to top nose-picking and Coke-spilling.
The waitress finally came over with her notepad. “You ready?” She eyed the mess in the center of the table and called a sharp, unfamiliar word to the lurking Asian busboy, who strolled back into the kitchen. “We clean that up,” she said. “Ready to order?”
“Why were you ignoring me?” Kim said.
“Sorry?” Her eyebrows shot up, lifting her bun and chopsticks higher.
“Dumplings!” Moira screeched.
“Yes,” Larry said. He was still staring out the window, where the drizzle had shifted into light rain. “One order of fried dumplings, and I’ll have number forty-six with wonton soup and fried rice.”
The waitress scribbled a few strokes on her pad then glanced between Kim and Robin.
“Why were you ignoring me?” Kim repeated.
“Let it go and order,” Larry said. “You’re the one who wanted to order.” He gulped at his drink; he was always gulping at drinks, Robin had noticed, as if there weren’t enough beverages in the world to slake his thirst. “Slake” was an excellent word that she had learned last year in English class when they trudged through “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” But it was a hard word to drop naturally into conversation, so mostly she used it only in her own head.
Robin said, “I need”—and she was about to say “number twenty-two” when instead she said, “Eggplant in hot garlic sauce. Number sixty.”
The waitress wrote that down without comment, but Larry said, “Since when do you eat eggplant?”
Since when do you screw the nanny? she thought, happy that she had suddenly become more interesting than the rain out the window, but she shrugged as if she didn’t care. “Since always. You don’t know everything about me, you know.”
Kim said, “Why were you ignoring me?”
“Sorry,” the waitress said, this time not as a question but as a semi-apology.
“I don’t like being ignored.” Her voice was taut, like wire, and she looked directly at Larry as she spoke, each word a sharper barb than the last.
Larry’s face reddened, and he said to the waitress, “She’ll have steamed vegetables with steamed rice.”
Though steamed vegetables was the only thing Robin had ever seen Kim eat at this restaurant, Kim spoke sharply: “No. Give me eggplant with hot garlic sauce. Number—what?”
“Sixty,” Robin said.
Larry started to say, “You don’t even—,” then stopped.
“Don’t.” The word shot out of Kim’s mouth like a bullet; Robin imagined it flying across the table straight into her father’s heart.
Larry turned to gaze out the window again, and the waitress stood for a moment as if confused, but then she hurried off, glancing back once as if hoping the “nice family” had disappeared. Robin felt responsible for Kim’s peculiar order and for this awful dinner, though Kim had been the one who had demanded the family come here, and certainly she, Robin, had not done one single thing wrong. Well, except for read a private diary. And want to know what was going on.
Moira was a pretty annoying kid; maybe Robin wouldn’t miss her, or maybe seeing Moira only once a week would be enough. And Kim, too, could be annoying, like if you were watching TV and Kim didn’t like the program, she’d ask dumb questions all the way through, but don’t dare say a word when she was watching something she’d picked out; she’d bite your head off and spit it out at your feet. The way Moira ran into a room full of people shouting, “Everyone loves ME!” and Kim always said, “Yes, sweetie, we all do.” Would she miss that? Would her father miss that? She couldn’t imagine her father fighting for custody of Moira, but a lot of the fathers did to mess with their exes, so he might have to. But she, Robin, was a simple case: she would end up with him.
Paulina had only been with them for six months or so, since the new year, so it wasn’t like she was family or anything. Still. Now who would cart Moira around to all her play dates and swimming lessons and dance classes? Kim was also a lawyer, also not the kind who put crooks in jail, usually in a meeting if Robin ever called, constantly lugging around paperwork, so not her. Larry hardly knew Moira’s schedule; he was always saying something out of it like, “She swims?”
She glanced at her father. Paulina was twenty-three; Robin knew that for a fact, having asked her, because Paulina, who was from Kiev, looked barely older than Robin. “Twenty-three,” Paulina had said, her eyes darting around the way they did whenever she had to talk about herself. In case there was any confusion, she had held up two fingers on one hand and three on the other: twenty-three. Robin’s stomach did a nervous flip; no way was she going to be able to eat a plate of slimy eggplant.
It was more likely the one they’d all miss the most was Paulina, and right away. For example, besides taking care of Moira, there were the other things that Paulina did, like laundry. Who would go grocery shopping? What about dinner? Kim cooked sometimes, but what if Kim were gone, too? Robin didn’t want to learn how to cook. Kim made a lot of salads and liked to chop up vegetables; Robin could make quesadillas and that was about it.
When Kim and Paulina were at the front door, Larry had poked his head out the den and yelled down the hall, “Where’s she supposed to go?”
“She has friends,” Kim called back.
“At least give her some money,” Larry had said.
“Is that how you did it?” Then the front door slammed shut, then the deadbolt lock snapped into place, then another wail from Moira: “Paaaaullllie!”
Paulina wasn’t pretty; her eyebrows and eyelashes were pale, almost white, and her hair had a lot of split ends; she looked as if she needed a haircut, even when she’d just had one. And her teeth were crooked, though she talked about how if she won the lottery or married a man who got her a green card, she would get braces for herself. But she wore a lot of tight, shiny clothes, the kind Robin wasn’t allowed to, and high, rickety boots, and everyone knew guys liked that.
Guys like her father. Robin sipped her Diet Coke, going, going, going, until the straw made slurpy, bottom-of-the-glass noises, which she went on making for a minute. Her father was staring out the window again, and she wanted to scream at him, but what would she scream?
The Asian man came over, carrying a gray plastic tub, and with his bare hands, he scooped up the paper-sodden mess of Moira’s spilled Diet Coke and plopped it in the tub. He was thin, with inch-long bristly hair that seemed tinged with maroon dye. His T-shirt was faded black, with white letters asking, “What Do You Want?” Robin guessed he could be twenty-three also.
“Oops,” Moira said, and she smiled, cocking her head like a friendly bird, “oopsy-oops.” Moira had become used to people telling her she was “so cute”; it seemed to Robin that she expected a comment from every encounter with a stranger. But this man merely wiped the table with a dirty rag, set out four fresh placemats and four clean napkins, and then carried away his tub without saying a word.
“Thank you!” Robin called after him.
“Tank you!” Moira shouted. “Tank you!”
“Hush,” Kim said, rubbing tiny circles into her temples with her index fingers.
There was a long silence. Moira played with the sugar packets, sorting them into piles. Her father stared out the window and gulped at his drink until it was gone. Kim sat perfectly still. Robin knew everything about them, about their rocky marriage and the sex that was and wasn’t good, about the email Kim had received from her old law school boyfriend—now divorced—that she had finally answered last week, deciding after much self-debate in her diary that yes, she would meet him for a drink. Deciding, according to her diary, that if he wasn’t bald and fat, yes, she would sleep with him. Robin knew their secrets, and shouldn’t that make her feel as if she knew something?
Then Kim said, “It was because people were afraid of being poisoned.”
No one reacted until finally Robin said, “What?”
“Cheers,” she said. “Clinking glasses and everyone drinking at once. Way back when, during the ancient Greeks, people wanted the host to drink the wine first so they knew he hadn’t slipped poison into it. So he’d take a sip, then lift his glass and invite everyone to join in.”
“Wow, really?” Robin envisioned a party where all the guests had dropped dead on the floor, the host stepping over their bodies to turn off the lights before heading up to bed.
Kim swirled the liquid in her glass, letting the ice clink. Robin wondered if she would grow up to drink vodka tonics, too, or if she’d find her own drink that didn’t taste like metal. Her father sometimes allowed her one sip that she pretended to like.
“I don’t believe that,” Larry said.
“Look it up,” Kim said. Her voice was mean again. “Those were tough, dangerous times.”
Larry shook his head. “Every time is tough and dangerous. Just differently. We’re not anything special.”
There was a loud, strangled hacking from across the room; the elderly man was leaning over, clutching the table edge as he coughed, and Robin’s family watched him for a moment, watched as the woman’s face grew more furrowed, and she half-stood, supporting herself on the chair arms, and she looked around as the man choked and gasped, and finally she called out in a quavery voice, “Help! Oh, please.” The waitress raced over with a glass of water, and the busboy came through the swinging kitchen door. He stood behind the man and wrapped his arms around him in a hug, locking his hands together, then lifted and pressed upwards. The Heimlich maneuver in real-life, Robin thought, and she was disappointed she hadn’t run over there herself, since they had learned about it in gym class last year. She could have been the hero.
“Save my husband!” the woman said in her fragile, cracking voice. “Oh, please.” She clutched a napkin to her mouth.
But the man continued to gag: whatever was stuck in his throat wasn’t budging, and the busboy pushed again and again against the man’s body.
Kim and Larry looked straight at each other, their eyes meeting and locking. One of them should stand up, Robin thought, or both, one to help the man and the other to comfort the wife.
Then Kim dug out her cell phone from her purse and punched 911. “There’s a man here choking,” she said very calmly. “You need to hurry. The Heimlich maneuver isn’t working,” and she stood up and, high heels clicking on the floor, walked to the hostess stand where she read the restaurant address off the stack of takeout menus.
“What’s wrong?” Moira asked. She ripped one of the sugar packets, spilling pale brown sugar all over the table.
“Nothing’s wrong,” Larry said, smiling. Robin could practically see all his teeth. “Everything’s fine, honey.” His voice was soft, the way someone talks to an animal. “I think we better head home now.” He stood up, reaching for the umbrellas and Kim’s giant purse, juggling them in one arm as he reached out for Moira’s hand. “Come on. Time to go.”
“Where’s Paulie?” Moira asked. “I want Paulie!” and she started to shriek. “I want dumplings!”
Robin had remained seated, and Larry thrust the umbrellas and purse at her, then went around the table to pick up Moira, scooping her wiggly, melt-down mode body into his arms. “Come on, Robin. We’re going.”
She stood slowly. The elderly man’s face had taken on an unnatural bluish tint; he had no muscle, slumping like a rag doll in the busboy’s thin arms, and the busboy seemed confused about whether he should keep holding the man or prop him back in the chair. The waitress fluttered around, and she drank the glass of water herself. The gym teacher had said that the Heimlich maneuver wasn’t one hundred percent effective, especially if someone was very fat (everyone had turned to gawk at Tilda Jensen, who had to weigh at least three hundred pounds), or if something was trapped too far down the throat; “especially a piece of meat,” but the gym teacher was always trying to push kids into going vegan, so Robin hadn’t believed that.
The elderly lady twisted her arms together as if she didn’t know what to do with them; she still clung to that crumpled napkin. Robin had a quick sad feeling that she would never get to taste eggplant in hot garlic sauce; she would never order it again because it would remind her of this strange, awful day. Tears pushed at her eyes, and she blinked quickly, trying to hold them back. What did it matter? She stared at the red dragon, stared hard so she wouldn’t have to cry.
Kim called from the front door, now open; Robin heard rain, a downpour, the whish of car tires on pavement. “Come on!” Kim called. “Hurry up!”
“Dumplings,” Moira sobbed. “You said. Where’s Paulie?”
“Is that man going to die?” Robin asked, lingering at the table, staring at the dragon.
“No,” Larry said.
“Then why do we have to leave?”
“We’re not going to discuss this,” Larry said.
“He looks like he’s going to die,” Robin said.
In the brief silence Robin cut her eyes to the white wall. There she saw an unfocused image of the red dragon, but green—and though she blinked several times, it remained hovering before her. Like the dots after a camera flash.
Kim let go of the door and stalked back to the table. She wrestled squirmy Moira from Larry’s grasp and said, “We’re getting out of here. Right now,” and she walked to the front of the restaurant, backing her way through the door, and disappeared outside. Without Moira’s sobs, the gasping and crying at the other table became louder, as if someone had cranked the volume.
“The ambulance is coming,” Larry said, and he reached for Robin’s shoulder, resting one hand on top of it. The weight of it seemed heavier than just a hand. The green dragon was still there in front of her eyes, and she blinked harder until it was mostly gone.
“What will happen?” Robin asked, as her father led her to the front of the restaurant. She waited for him to say something bland and vaguely comforting like, Everything will be okay. That kind of sentence was like macaroni and cheese: soft and smooth, sort of babyish, but secretly what you’d rather eat than some healthy salad with a lot of chopped up vegetables in it or eggplant. It was what you wanted to believe.
They paused at the restaurant door. CHINA DRAGON, the words read, except backwards from where Robin stood on the inside. Outside, it was raining for real, coming down in a hard, steady sheet, and Robin looked at the umbrellas she held, at Kim’s purse with Kim’s car keys. Kim and Moira must be standing by the car in the parking lot in the rain; they would be drenched by now, Kim’s business suit turning limp and sad. But her father didn’t move, and neither did she. There was a siren in the distance, maybe blocks away. Robin imagined the ambulance dodging cars, rolling through lights, pulling up with a screech, burly men pouring through the door, racing to save another man’s life.
Finally, her father spoke. “We should go,” he said. But he still didn’t move.
Robin held her breath, imagining the choking man who couldn’t breathe, who might die—actually die—in front of her, in a Chinese restaurant that wasn’t even that good—and then her breath gusted out. “Dad, we have to help that man.”
“It’s too late,” he said.
The man was slumped forward, one cheek pressed onto the table, and the wife was sobbing on the shoulder of the waitress. The busboy stood back, his arms crossed underneath the slogan of his T-shirt, as if to emphasize it: What Do You Want?
The rain beat down, and through the glass door, she watched streams of water race along the gutters in the street, catching up and carrying bits of trash: an empty Cheetos bag, a Starbucks cup, several plastic bags. The siren. The world felt to Robin both too fast and too slow; she hated her father but she supposed that she would also always have to love him.
“It wasn’t too late a minute ago,” she said, the force of her words surprising her, and then she felt tears coming. She was sure her father was going to be mad at what she had said, but he simply stood there, silent. “What’s going to happen?” Robin whispered.
“They’re waiting for us,” he said.
“But what will happen?” Robin almost didn’t dare speak the words.
“You shouldn’t worry. Everything will be okay.”
They were the exact words she had been looking for, but without acknowledging him, she turned and pushed open the door, heading out into the storm. There was nowhere else for her to go. ###