I could sense the question coming as soon as the woman started in on Stella’s eyes.
“Oh my God, them are the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen,” she pronounced with an oomph.
Stella dismisses her casually, as if she has been here before. I say thank-you, as if I’ve been here before.
“What color are yer eyes, boy? Let me see them eyes!”
“Hazel.” I say, without giving her a chance to see the pain.
“Oh, she must get them pretty things from her Momma then.”
“Yep,” I add, hoping my dismissive tone will be picked up on, ending our brief exchange as soon as it’s started. I’m weary of these kind of conversations now because I know where they lead. I avoid them at the park and the grocery store and just about anywhere else I go alone with Stella, even willing to act a fool, or a jerk, just to skirt around them. It’s not as if I mind going there, of answering the question, but I don’t want to put them through it. I don’t want to see their face. I don’t want to be what they think about for the next thirty minutes or two hours or the rest of the day. I don’t want to burst their bubble of innocence.
I look at her, pleading with my eyes for her to simply finish ringing our lunch through the checkout. My face contorts this way and that in a hapless attempt to express my misfortune without opening my mouth. Surely, I think to myself, after months or years in her profession, she has learned to evaluate the mood of customers and then act accordingly.
“Girl, come look at the eyes on this little girl.” The cashier calls for her friend, the barista, to come over for a peek.
“Oh, sweetheart, just look at you!” her friend says with almost the same sense of urgency and pizazz as her co-worker. These two are a match made in sanguine, extroverted heaven.
Stella can no longer shrug it off or resist this persistence. She has taken the bait and all but forgotten about her pizza and juice and one promised chocolate covered peanut. She laughs as big as ever, showing her teeth and puffy cheeks, giving them everything they asked for and more.
“Oh lordy!” the women shout in near unison as they raise their arms and sway their hips to Stella’s reaction. The main culprit’s big hoop earrings flail about, shooting in one direction and then another, signaling the climax of her blue eyed obsession.
I can visually see this scene unfolding before me. I can hear it. But I’m already drifting, wondering how I’ll answer the question that is inevitably about to rise forth out of this woman.
Just as she finally settles back into ringing the last of our lunch items through, she finally comes out with it.
“Is she your only one?”
My mind races, my mouth freezes.
“Is she your only one? You got any other beauties with blue eyes?” she asks again, laughing this time as she clarifies her question.
Under normal circumstances, with my family and friends and acquaintances, Margot is all I want to talk about. There have even been times when I want to talk about her to strangers, as if spreading her story around the city might keep her spirit alive a little longer.
I could be straightforward. Actually, no, my second child died three months ago and her eyes were as blue as the Mediterranean, I could say. I could just come out with my sadness and deal with her face and the possibility of a sweet or frustrating response and then eat my food a few steps away and walk out of the store.
Or I could tell her more gently, in a more removed, it’s in the past sort of way. I could tell that I have two kids, but only one who is living. And I could try and conjure up some sort of contentment in my face, as if I have made peace with the fact that my second daughter died.
But, as it happened, neither of these responses came to my lips.
“She’s my only one.” I say quietly.
As my lips utter this lie, I have this unexpected moment with Margot. It’s just her and I together, looking at one another playfully as if she is my little secret. I know you’re there baby girl, I say to her. I know Dad, she says with a wink. And before I can tell her how much I miss her, she is gone. Just like that.