With a tiny advance from a publisher and a six-week deadline, she felt like a caged animal hopping on electrified grates for the occasional food pellet. Her professional reputation was at stake: after this volume was published, she would probably be held up to ridicule in the New York Review of Books for her translation of this very poem. She could already see the adverb-adjective clusters: “discouragingly inept,” “sadly inappropriate,” “amusingly tin-eared.” One of the few Americans who had any command of this dialect, she belonged to a tight little society full of backbiters.
Although he bore plenty of battle scars, Captain Hook was a good-looking guy, and he treated Mom like a queen. I can see now why she was so into him, but at fourteen, I was mortified by my stepdad, and it wasn’t just the crocodile. He was forced to wear the standard issue postal uniform during the week, but on his days off he dressed in knee-length breeches, stockings, a red frock coat, and a wide-brimmed hat with a plume. His hair was even longer than mine, and it curled into black ringlets. My mom never seemed to notice the things that set her husband apart from other people—she saw only the man who’d rescued her from a lonely, loveless existence.
There was garbage on the lawn, or maybe a construction sign, or (now that she was close enough to notice the flowers and ribbons) detritus from a prom. But it was late August, not spring. And no, it wasn’t prom garbage, but a small cross.
His name tag said “Sherman Lampert (Barbara Rossovsky).” People were looking at him like he had two heads. Probably half of them thought he’d had a sex change operation. He’d be glad to go along with the idea if it would save him from anyone’s clucks of sympathy, the whole “Oh, you poor man” spiel he’d heard a thousand times (and that wasn’t much of an exaggeration) over the past eleven months. Enough, enough already with “I can just imagine the pain you’re in,” because the fact was, even he couldn’t imagine the pain he was in, and the thought that someone else might presume to understand it made Lampert almost giddy with contempt. He’d moved to a foreign country, the land of grief, and had burned his ships upon arrival, like one of the old Spanish conquistadors.
His children had advised him not to come to this high school reunion, and who could blame them? “It wasn’t your high school, Dad,” his daughter Franci told him. She spoke to him as if he had dementia.
It was the third dry year. There had been a stream once, made of snowmelt from the mountains to the north, but even the snow had been sparse the winter our coyote mother met our dad, a dog who had his own concerns. When he stopped showing up, it wasn’t because he didn’t want to, Mam said. His obligations conflicted.