I remember her as a baby and as a small child. I dream of her as a teenager and as a woman. Everyone said she looked like me. I didn’t see it. She looked like her. Except in sleep, when she sometimes reminded me of my mother. Most times, she looked like no one else. As yet unformed, her bones were soft, her hair picked up different colors in different kinds of light. Sometimes she looked like a boy, sometimes like her mother. Sometimes she looked like a stranger.
She is a stranger. My daughter. Our daughter. She was here, then gone. She would have been six years old now. The first year, I marked her birthday on my calendar. Her mother never forgets. Every year, she makes the little white cake with white frosting. Every year, she lights candles and closes her eyes and clutches my hand as if together we could will our daughter back. Every year, the candles burn down and the waxy cake goes in the trash.
I was a different man before she died. An engineer, a problem solver. Unemotional except with my baby girl, who turned me into someone we didn’t know. I mourn that man sometimes but mostly I mourn her. In private. Her mother cries endlessly, soaking my sturdy shirts and coats, changing the form of the fabric, leaving it worse, or at least softer, for the wear. She is not the same either, without being someone’s mother. We are not the same; we can’t figure out another way to love.
This year, I work strenuously and come home late, angering her mother, my wife. I move closer to the door every day, my arms in my softened coat, my hand on the knob. It’s still the two of us; soon it will be just her and just me in different places.
Lauren Becker is the author of the collection If I Would Leave Myself Behind. Her work has appeared in Tin House Online, Wigleaf, Juked, Best Small Fictions 2015, and elsewhere. She is working on her first novel.