Mommy didn’t let me out of the car for five minutes after we got there. Daddy said it was because I’d been screaming I WANT A WOMBAT FULL OF GRILLED CHEESE for lunch the whole way there. So I need to stay inside to learn to be quiet.
But that wasn’t my fault, right? I DID want a wombat full of grilled cheese for lunch-- oh no, it’s that creepy man with the squirrel on his chin. He keeps smiling at me. I hate him.
I spent my five minutes drawing Norse gods on the frosted windows and trying to avoid looking at the squirrel-man.
Mommy says it’s Uncle Jorge but I think she’s lying. My Uncle Jorge has a nice mustache not a squirrel on his chin. Uncle Jorge lets me sit on his lap when he plays his fiddle. He lets me dance with him. He doesn’t look scary like that man does.
I don't like these family reunions because Uncle Jorge the Squirrel-Man is always there.
Aunt Ruby’s coming over. She’s nice. I like her.
“Hi, Harriet,” she says to me.
I bury my head in my daddy’s leg. She laughs and swings me up to her hip and I giggle. I like Aunt Ruby. She is tall and pretty and better than Uncle Jorge her husband.
“Have you seen Jorge’s new beard?” she asks, her red mouth smiling at me. I nod.
She leans in and whispers that she doesn’t like it either. I grin.
I say, “It looks like a squirrel.”
She throws her head back in that way that makes Gramma say, “that Ruby” and she laughs and laughs and laughs until I think she must have a Laughing Leprechaun-- I read about those-- inside of her because she will not shut up.
Aunt Ruby leads me over to the firepit where Grandfather is roasting me a marshmallow. He says Open wide and I do and the marshmallow is so hot I spit it right back out and watch the flames swim over it until the thing is nothing but ashes.
Grandfather frowns at me until I almost start to cry, and then he laughs and tickles me. He puts me on his shoulder and I can see so far it’s beautiful. I can see the treetops, all golden as syrup and red as blood. Blood like the time I fell off the roof to see if I could fly like selkies do and split open my head. The leaves are so lovely and look like pumpkin spice from Grandfather’s big shoulders.
He points up to the roof of the house-- my Aunt Zilla’s house, where we all stay until she kicks us out. She lets us come for Thanksgiving but not for Christmas. She goes away for Christmas. She calls it something else. It starts with an H. I can’t remember the word exactly.
But she has a big house with a roof perfect for practicing flying off of. I think all of my cousins have done it. All of my cousins have broken their arms at least once. Aunt Zilla’s house is little and white with red geraniums and a tall roof with a loft underneath for visiting kids. I love sleeping there but usually my mommy makes me sleep in a tent with my other cousins outside.
There, perched like a great big bird, is my cousin Donahue. He is Uncle Jorge’s son and he plays the fiddle and the cello. I like it when he plays the cello.
Donahue raises his bow and lets out a shriek. My Aunt Ruby laughs and then yells, “Everyone!”
Everyone pops up and, as Donahue plays a song, starts dancing. I shy away from Uncle Jorge as he comes to dance with me, and Grandfather says, “No, Jorge, she’s dancing with me.”
He swings me by my waist up high and asks how kindergarten is going for me.
I tell him Bad. I don’t like it there. The teacher doesn’t believe me when I say I can already read, that my Grandmother taught me, that I hate Jane and John and their stupid dog, that I like flying selkies and thieving faerys and trolls that live under bridges and ask the monkfish the answers to riddles.
The house roof is so, so big, so tall. It is a giant. An enormous, mossy-teethed troll-size. But my Aunt Melly, my favorite aunt because she is young and not married to a man with a squirrel on his face and taught me how to tango and how to pronounce mythology, takes me up on her back. I hold her neck and she climbs up the ladder, her shoulders moving without difficulty, and sets me next to my cousin.
He smiles down at me.
His face is like a pizza. It is splotchy and red and very kind. I think he will be a great daddy one day. Donahue smiles and finishes the song with a squeak.
He holds out the bow to me.
I swing my leg over the ridge of the roof and straddle it, Aunt Melly holding my waist, and I take the violin and the bow. He shows me how to hold my fingers and wrists and then helps me draw the bow over the strings.
A foghorn noise comes out, and then a squeak that hurts my ears.
Donahue says, “Do you want to know how to play a song?”
I nod and he draws the bow, making “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” come out. It is magic!
“I want to learn to play the violin!” I say loudly.
I hear my daddy laugh down below. He calls out, “Harriet, play a song!”
Donahue shows me how to play “River” and then my daddy is all of a sudden up there with me. He takes the bow and makes a polka come out. All my aunts and uncles and grown-up cousins and grandparents and great-grandparents down on the ground all like arms and suddenly there are three circles spinning down there. Everyone is laughing and jumping and saying, “Play faster!”
That’s all I remember, that’s all I remember. They tell me that next I fell off of the roof when I stood up and danced, that someone couldn’t catch me, that the reason I am sitting here in this stupid chair with wheels is because my back is broken and I cannot walk ever again.
That I cannot dance ever again.
That is fine, that is okay. I can't dance anyway. It’s been a year since I fell and though I HATE sitting still, Donahue makes it better. He comes round once a week and gives me cello lessons. He says I'm pretty good, that I could play for a president sometime.
Do you know what a president is?
Oh. I thought that a president was a Faery King with wings of chopsticks and a body made of a wig. What you said makes better sense.
Yes, I love the cello. My favorite piece is by Chopin.
Yes, I am six.
The symphony? What’s that?
You want me to play there?
Will it be scary? Will there be men with squirrels there?
Okay. Okay, I’ll play for you. But not for very long. I have to go to bed at eight thirty. Mommy says so.