Potatoes, spaghetti, cats and middle-aged people

He had Bekka for the weekend. She sat in the living room, tuned to Cartoon Network. She liked Road Runner and Justice League. Ira would sometimes watch her mesmerized face, the cartoons flashing on the creamy screen of her skin, her eyes still and wide, bright with reflected shapes caught there like holograms in marbles. He felt inadequate as her father, but in general attempted his best: affection, wisdom, reliability, plus not ordering pizza every night, though tonight he had again caved in. Last week Bekka had said to him, “When you and Mommy were married we always had mashed potatoes for supper. Now you’re divorced and we always have spaghetti.”
“Which do you like better?” he had asked.
“Neither!” she had shouted, summing up her distaste for everything. “I hate them both.”


He got back to the cats. “What should we name them?” One should always name food.
“I don’t know.” Bekka studied the cats.
Ira hated the precious literary names people gave pets—characters from opera and Proust. When he’d first met Marilyn, she had a cat named Portia, but Ira had insisted on calling it Fang.
“I think we should name them Snowball and Snowflake,” said Bekka, looking glassy-eyed at the two golden tabbies.
“They don’t look like a snowball or a snowflake,” said Ira, trying not to let his disappointment show. Sometimes Bekka seemed completely banal to him. She had spells of inexplicable and vapid conventionality. He had always wanted to name a cat Bowser. “How about Bowser?” In the pound someone with name tag duty had named them “Jake” and “Fake Jake,” but the quotation marks around their names seemed an invitation to change them.
“Fireball and Fireflake,” Bekka tried again.
Ira looked at her, he hoped, beseechingly and persuasively. “Really? Fireball and Fireflake don’t really sound like cats that would belong to you.”
Bekka’s face clenched tearily. “You don’t know me! I live with you only part-time! The other part of the time I live with Mom, and she doesn’t know me either! The only person who knows me is me!”
“OK, OK,” said Ira. The cats were eyeing him warily. In time of war never argue with a fireball or a fireflake. Never argue with the food. “Fireball and Fireflake.” What were those? Two lonely middle-aged people on a date.

Lorrie Moore, Debarking [w:] Lorrie Moore, Bark: Stories, Knopf; First Edition edition, 2014.

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