Close your eyes, he said.

I’ve lost something and Dad is helping me find it. This was years ago so I’m trying to remember what day this was, and what I was looking for.

We hiked up our favorite ridge this morning, so this is a weekend. He takes me to CCD Saturday mornings so this is a Sunday.

Mom is in Hawaii for two weeks, so this is the start of fourth grade. I said we could skip CCD and she wouldn’t know. He laughed and said we promised her. He had his reasons too. It was his chance to give me his view over Belgian waffles after.

One Saturday CCD was about Purgatory and he showed me two possible examples on YouTube, two ghosts, one at the start of Hamlet and one at the end of Our Town, where the girl Emily stands among the headstones on that dark hill with Mother Gibbs and Miss Soames and Simon Stimson and doesn’t feel the pounding rain that nearly drowns the line of living townsfolk trudging up the hill from her funeral.

Yesterday CCD was about the Trinity. He made a riddle for me. Who was Jesus more like, Batman or Ms Rossetti my math teacher? Stay tuned for the answer.

Mom won the Hawaii trip as a Shockley prize. It was for all of us but Dad kept me home. He said homework had gotten hard for fourth grade. If I got two weeks behind right at the start I might never catch up all year. I might have to file papers at the insurance office my whole life, like Christie at the summer job she hated. He thought that was funny. Mom and I didn’t laugh. We were mad at him.

So now he’s trying extra hard to make these two weeks fun. Every day we go to the grocery on the way home from school and pick something new to make. Not from the heat-and-eat freezers in the middle, only from the outside aisles around the store, something you have to cook. On nights with a lot of homework he always made me Mac-n-cheese with six cherry tomatoes for a vegetable. I said I could eat that every night for two weeks but he just laughed. One night we went out to eat where we had a tablecloth and candles and bubbling Pellegrino in glasses with a stem. He said fine dining was part of my education.

What was I looking for that day?

It’s night. I’m searching along his bookshelves with my LED lantern. His shelves are six feet tall and go sixty feet along three walls of our basement office. The small windows above the shelves are dark. We built my Huck Finn tent at the far end away from his desk, in the corner. We put a big mattress inside like a raft. We saw in a book, Huck and Jim had a tent on their raft. We tied a sheet to his wooden shelves on two sides, and the ropes make the wood creak when we climb in or out.

It’s past my bedtime. He has already read to me and now I’m allowed to read quietly to myself for a few minutes. I shouldn’t be out of bed though.

Belly our Maltese is following me along the shelves and jumping around on her back legs. I hold one finger to my mouth but she only gets more excited and barks.

How old am I here? Nine? No, I know. I turn nine at midnight. Dad and I have one more year and one more day together.

My birthday is the autumn equinox. I want to stay up until midnight but tomorrow is a school day, a Monday. My birthday is always the start of the school year in a new grade, when a lot of kids don’t know me yet.

How young Belly looks! I forgot she was ever this young. In another year she goes blind, then creeps slowly and quietly through the years ahead.

I keep my best books in with his, and the book of Chinese we are making together on thick watercolor pages, like the Chinese for moon on the M page.

I also hide things behind the books or inside some special book. What am I looking for tonight?


ME: Ummmm…

MY FATHER: Looking for something?

ME: Yeah, but I’ve almost found it.

He laughed. I laughed too.

MY FATHER: Want some help? Sit over here with me?

He works every day and he works nights. That’s how he can be with me whenever, all through the week, nighttime and daytime. Sometimes he tells me to please keep Belly quiet because he’s talking to a client at his computer, over the Internet, through headphones.

He sits on a giant white exercise ball behind his desk. I roll my smaller black ball closer. We look like two cowpokes bouncing down the trail on our horses, his big white horse and my little black horse. His beard is dark and he laughs a lot. I forgot he was ever this young.

MY FATHER: What are you looking for?

OK, I remember. That map.

ME: That map I made this morning?

He nodded.

He lets me lead when we hike. I have to watch for the blazes nailed on trees or painted on rocks, like this ▾ or this ▿. I went off track this morning but he let me go wrong for a minute or two so I would see what happens when you’re lost and what you do to find your trail again.

Instead I stumbled into a grove with storybooks everywhere, peeling off the trees in shiny gold slabs like the cover of the giant storybook at the start of Snow White.

Which way now, Dad laughed behind me.

Wait, I said, I want to find this spot again.

I got out my notebook of pages with no lines and drew lines that pointed to two big mountains. Where the lines crossed I wrote “Grove of Unwritten Books.” Then I used his Suunto to get the bearing to my two mountains. My girlscout leader Ms Donough gave everyone a dollar-store compass but we weren’t getting anywhere with them. We always called her Ms Uh-Oh-Don’t-Know. She just laughed her sad little laugh. I asked Dad to teach me his Suunto instead, and he agreed if I helped the others and didn’t make them feel bad.

I held his Suunto at arm’s length and looked for the radio towers on two ridges, then looked in the Suunto mirror and wrote down the number: 23 degrees and 57 degrees.

ME: Don’t I have to adjust between map north and magnetic north?

MY FATHER: Good question. Are you using a public map?

ME: Yes?

MY FATHER: A public map? That everyone uses?

ME: OK, no. Just my map, that I made.

MY FATHER: Can you find this spot again with just your map?

ME: I can. Maybe no one else, but I can.


That’s what I was looking for that day, that night in his lap. I was looking for my map.

MY FATHER: You think you put it in a book?

ME: Well, I wanted to hide it in the fat book with the maps of Napoleon invading Russia.


ME: You were coming so I didn’t have time.

MY FATHER: So you put it in a different book? Or somewhere else on the shelves?

ME: I think.

MY FATHER: Want to try something?


MY FATHER: Close your eyes.

I did.

Whatever you’re looking for, first look inside. For what matters the map is inside you.

This story is like that map. Maybe any story is. It’s a map to a treasure that only makes sense to the person who drew it. It shows the way to something you can’t see unless you close your eyes. Then your one little map makes sense to everyone else because everyone has a map of their own like that.

After CCD one day I asked my father if Protestants believed in miracles. He said he couldn’t say for everyone, but he personally knew one kind of miracle and that might be enough. It might be the only miracle you ever need.

He waited for me to guess but I couldn’t.

It’s a miracle of healing, he said. Something buried comes back to life in you.

So that’s my X in this story. What I’m looking for now, from far back there.

I hear the first of the fireworks from the village green on the far side of Mount Tom. I didn’t see how late it had gotten. My window looks north into woods, up Mount Tom, so it’s always a little dark in here. I only stopped typing when I heard the clack of Belly’s claws on the wood. I looked around in the dark when she didn’t scratch at my cuff, and then I remembered why.

I won’t be on the green tonight anyhow. I want this finished, with this date on it.

Belly never liked fireworks. She slept in the bathtub this night every year. When she was young we would find her there. Later when she went blind she would come ask us to lift her in. For years she asked my father. The years after him she scratched at my cuff.

Let’s stay in, my father said the first time we found Belly in the bathtub. The Fourth is his birthday so we let him decide. Belly never liked being left alone. She would disappear whenever she heard us leaving. We would come home hours later or the next day and find her food untouched and find her behind a corner table like a wounded deer under a shrub. A few minutes later we would hear her rattling the food in her bowl.

We got her when I was in first grade, when Mr Lucky got killed at my bus stop. My father drove me to school that morning to keep my mind off Mr Lucky but the whole class started to wail when I walked in. Most of them saw it from the bus windows, Mr Lucky all bloody, and everyone else had heard all about it.

Ms Patterson told Dad to take me back home please. For the next two days our whole house was hiding away like wounded animals until my father said come on everybody, let’s go find another Mr Lucky.

Bella was the closest we could find, the most like Mr Lucky. We drove two hours for her. I held her in back for the two-hour drive home. She was barely old enough. Dad drove slowly at first because their gravel under our tires growled like a hungry bear. I looked back and saw Bella’s mother running from window to window looking for her.

Bella would see me through my school years, he said that day. I wouldn’t see another dog of mine die, he meant. I would get the call at college.

He was forty-seven when I was born. He had just come through cancer. I was his life after, his next life.

Every year he was the oldest father in my class. I knew it my first day at Montessori. I was a month short of three and I was wrapped tightly around his leg below the knee.

That opening day Marge called us all together for a special announcement. She had been running the school for more than twenty years, she said, from the day the doors first opened.

She stopped for a breath then started again.

She had seen kids grow up and go off to college and come back, but today was a first for her.

She stopped again.

Today one of her toddlers came through those doors with a toddler of her own.

Everyone clapped. I looked up at that mother, and looked up at my father from somewhere below his knee.

ME: I guess you’ll be dead for my college?

He bent down to hear me better.

ME: It’s all right. I already know you’re old.

MY FATHER (laughing): Are you kidding? Listen for me when you bring your first child here, on her first day. I’ll be right behind you, clapping.

He was wrong about everything. All of it. I graduated from Paulie High two weeks ago tonight. Belly would have been eleven this year, almost twelve, which is still young for so small a dog, and he would have been sixty-five today.

Good night, you two, good night.

   Emily Elizabeth Richards

   Paulie, New York

   04 July 2017

OK, that riddle: Is Jesus more like Batman or my math teacher Ms Rossetti?

Answer: Ms Rossetti. Jesus was a teacher. Batman could never teach anyone what he did. Batman Jesus is a cop-out. You don’t have to learn, you just wait for Batman Jesus to swoop down. Like you could take Ms Rossetti along all your life, to swoop down and figure the tip or whatever. No, you have to learn for yourself whatever she shows you.

As Ms Rossetti warns us: Ask me while you can. I can’t come take your tests for you, can I?