Her seven-year-old eyes take me in from across the table. We look alike, though I’m not sure she knows it. The waitress asks us what we want to drink. She orders crayons and a Shirley Temple. I laugh and order coffee. Outside, past the parking lot, is a granite-tipped mountain speckled with snow. Past the mountain is a valley speckled with evergreens. Past the mountain and the valley is the plane that, in a few hours, will take me home. She looks at me and smiles, looks down and wrinkles her brow. Sunlight slices in from the window and reflects off the silverware in front of her. She tells me she’s going to order a grilled cheese sandwich. I tell her it’s an amazing choice. She beams—my smile, only prettier, better, straighter, without sadness. She picks up the blue crayon, challenges me to tic-tac-toe. She goes first. X. O. X. O. X. She laughs and pumps her fist. She orders her grilled cheese sandwich using the words “may I?” “please” and “thank you.” I order a salad. She says “eww!” and gives me a funny look. I laugh and shrug, ask her about school. She tells me. Ask her about her friends. She tells me. While we eat, I gaze at my daughter’s face. A constellation of freckles stretches across her nose. She takes the crayon and piece of paper and gets off her chair. Walks to my side. Climbs on my lap. My heart pounds like pouring rain. The last time I held her she was one. She is heavy. Her hair smells like apples.
Tim Hillegonds’ essays have appeared in r.k.v.r.y quarterly lit journal and RHINO. He’s currently completing thesis work in DePaul University’s MA in Writing and Publishing program. He lives in Chicago.