They open their folders, take notes when I talk, and say things like, Let me remind youÖ find a way forwardÖ in the childís best interest... appropriate developmental stage... manipulation.
The lawyer tells me Iím still playing the victim game, but I donít listen too hard because my daughter has changed her mind, doesnít want to go to boarding school after all.
Iím not sorry her father found out about her overdose from the school. Iím glad he was humiliated. I donít say so, donít need to. I am sorry I said terrible things about him to my daughter. I promise not to do it again, not because theyíre extracting the words from me, but because I made her cry. Mostly Iím relieved that the fightís gone out of this thing, because nobody can make a 14-year-old do what she doesnít want to do. No judge in the land. Thatís what the lawyer says.
I study a framed print of Beethovenís ear on the wall. Was he still alive when they sloshed his head in blue paint, making him lie sideways on the canvas? Was he already deaf? Already dead?
The notes of a symphony wander along the edge of his cheek, superimposed in silver. Strings of quavers cresting the helix and anti-helix, twirl about his ear lobe, and march out toward the frame.
Check these five words, I say. Kate takes the page in one hand, looking closer, holding a banana smoothie. Yam or yarn, she says. Iím doing a word puzzle, a linguistic charade. Three-letters, I say.
She looks at the next clue, says, What about horn? Horn-rimmed spectacles, maybe? A trumpet, a vuvuzela?
In America a hooter is a horn, I say.
In America a hooters are tits, she says. Youíd know this if you had a My Space page.
She nods and hands me the paper as she climbs under the white embroidered cover into bed with me, her bird on her shoulder. Has Pi had a crap lately, I say.
Yes, she says, irritated. You think Iím not a good mother? Pi thinks so too.
Why would I think that? Why would he?
Heís making a funny noise, like, not a happy noise, just cross, growling. She turns to kiss the bird. It squeaks. See? Like that.
Pi is hungry, I say. Put him in his cage to eat. I donít want him spoiling my bedclothes.
Ma-ahm. Heís not hungry. I already fed him a grape.
Shall we get back to the words? She picks at the pilling on her acid green socks, the same colour as the bird, flicking them onto the coverlet. I stop myself from telling her not to. She tells me that when fabrics are washed incorrectly, the fibres get tangled, like hair balls. We learned about it in Home Economics. Clearly you donít wash my socks properly.
Is that right?
The bird screeches in her ear, she pulls away, wincing, laughing. She looks at him, says, Why you growling, Pi?
Heís telling you to wash your own socks. Now take him to his cage.
But, she says, petulantly, I want him to stay with me; I want him to be happy on my shoulder.
Sheíd screamed at me when I told her no boarding school. Youíre so selfish. Youíre supposed to put my needs ahead of your own. Her father had told her I was disturbed. Itís not normal for adults to need their teen-age kids like your mother does.
Per Contra Summer 2007