Another girl in senior AP English said her little sister was reading Anne Frank. I remembered reading it in fourth grade, my last year with my father.

He always talked when we watched a movie. Like “Which of these guys wrote the movie?” As if someone in the movie went on to write the story of them all. Sometimes you could guess. Like in Breakfast Club it’s The Brain. He writes the punishment essay for them all. In American Graffiti it’s Curt. He and a friend are booked on a plane the next morning, going to colleges on the far coast. Something’s bothering him all that last night, during the dance and after. He goes around to everyone, taking each one aside to talk. Curt is the only one with doubts and at the end the only one who flies out. He goes on to write their story, all the people he left behind that day.

If your life is going fine you just live it, you don’t go back and write about it. Only if something is missing. It’s like going back to the park at night with a flashlight, after the picnic, when everyone has gone home, because you dropped your pearl pendant somewhere, the last thing your father gave you.

My dad sounded like every dad with his advice, but with one big difference. He would let me poke holes in it. I could quiz him and try to trip him up. He wanted me to. That was smart of him, I see now. Like, by the time I chewed it up I had already swallowed it.

One time he was helping me with homework and I was stuck on something hard that I hated. I thought I would never get done.

ME: Do people still hop trains?

He laughed.

ME: You know, ride the rails? Join the circus?

HIM: Not so much.

ME: I would clean up after the elephants or whatever. Anything but this.

HIM (laughing): I know the feeling.

I didn’t look up.

HIM: I did have a trick that used to work for me.

So annoying, right? You’re crumpling under a load of homework and your father puts his one more little straw on top. Like that’s just what you need, one more thing to learn.

But I could try to trip him up. It was better than homework.

ME: OK what?

HIM: I would first think of ways to be interested in it for myself, not just for the teacher or the test or the grade.

ME: Not interested.

He laughed and went quiet.

ME: OK, try this one. The Diary of Anne Frank. Everyone says it’s so great, but not to me it isn’t.

HIM (laughs): Yeah? Why?

ME: It’s too upbeat. Always trying to be positive. Like she was just copying down her father. You know, stuff all fathers say.

He threw his head back like “ouch” and laughed.

HIM: Well, there’s two different versions. Maybe you got the wrong version.

ME: No, that’s OK. I’m almost done. I don’t really want to read it twice.

HIM (raising his eyebrows): You might be reading the cut-down version. It’s cut-down for schools, with most of the good stuff left out. Anne wasn’t always so nice. She was boy crazy and she was mad at her mother a lot. She thought she was smarter than anyone, and she probably was. She had a sharp tongue and could really hurt people with it. The grown-ups were afraid of her. They couldn’t escape her. She gave them her opinion, every move they made. She made it hard for her mother to keep the peace, if I remember.

ME: I thought her diary would be about the war, and her learning to be a journalist, investigating history where it’s happening all around her. She was right in the middle of a huge war, but she couldn’t see anything, hiding in those rooms. She sounded just like any girl.

HIM: Yeah.

He thought for a moment.

HIM: I had a hunch when I was reading it.

ME: What?

HIM: Step through it with me. How did we get this book? This diary?

ME: They went back to that attic later, and found it.

HIM: Who did?

ME: Her father, I think. Everyone else was dead.

HIM: He was away for years.

ME: Yeah.

HIM: Someone found it in that attic and saved it for him.


HIM: Think about that. Was the whole world saying, “Please, someone, see if you can find that famous book by Anne Frank?”

ME (laughing): It wasn’t famous yet. No one even knew about it. Only her father and whoever who saved it for him.

HIM (nodding): Right. Think about that. Why does Anne Frank sound so smart for her age? Why does she sound so grown up? How does she know so much about the grown-ups? How come she understands the grown-ups better than they do?

ME: From her father…?

HIM: Yeah, they talked, they were close.

He looked away.

HIM: Let’s step through it. He comes back from the war and everyone is dead, right?

ME: Yeah.

HIM: How does he keep going?

ME: Yeah.

HIM: Anne was his favorite.

ME: Yeah, he let her get away with things. He had all his hopes in her.

HIM: She was his future, his life to come. His life after.

ME: Yeah.

HIM: What does he live for now? What keeps him going?

ME: Her book?

He nodded.

ME: He edits it? He gets it ready to publish?

He nodded.

HIM: Think about the person who found it on the floor of the attic, right after he was taken away. She says she never looked at it. She didn’t think it was anything much.

ME: Yeah?

HIM: You’re the detective. Anything fishy about that?

ME: I would at least look.

HIM: Why?

ME: It had to be her building, if she could just go in.

He nodded, thinking along with me.

ME: She could be in trouble for hiding them. The book might tell on her.

He nodded.

HIM: So when she looks, what does she see?

ME: She thought it would never be anything much?

He nodded.

ME: Maybe it wasn’t? Maybe it was nothing much when she found it?

He nodded.

HIM: He bought her that book. It was a red-plaid book for autographs but she didn’t want anyone writing in it, only her. She wouldn’t let anyone see it either.

ME: Her father loved books. He had a lot of books. Their hidden door was behind a bookcase you could move.

He nodded.

ME: Afterwards he wants a book of her. To remember her.

He nodded.

ME: So he fixes it up. Makes it clearer. Adds whatever he can remember.

He nodded, thinking.

ME (slowly): So lots of it comes from him?

HIM: Did you know he saw her again? After they were prisoners?

ME: He did?

HIM: I heard that somewhere. In the camp. He watched her running around with her sister. He thought how long they had been cooped up, with no room to run. Now they had the sky. For a second he was happy for them.

ME: She was barely a teenager. She was still growing. She needed to run.

He nodded, watching me.

HIM: But some people wonder how that could be right. If he was in a different camp, or a different part of the camp.

ME: Maybe he just wished that for her. Finishing her book.

He nodded. Maybe.

ME: She was all he thought about.

He closed his eyes and nodded.

ME: He could imagine her happy.

He nodded.

ME: See her running and playing. He never got to see that.

He nodded.

ME: Hear her yell to her sister, and not worry who would hear.

He nodded.

ME: Scream with laughter.

He nodded.

ME: He could sit with her again, to help him remember things.

He nodded slower now.

ME: Look how much she had grown.

He nodded.

ME: Talk.

He nodded.

ME: Tell her everything he forgot to say.

He nodded.

ME: Times he was worried, and wasn’t paying attention.

He nodded.

ME: Fill up his years with her.

He nodded.

ME: Make her his future again.

He nodded.

ME: Watch her become everything he hoped.

He nodded.

ME: Show her his love.

He only stared now, behind closed eyes.

ME: So she would never forget.

He just stared.

ME: Dad?

ME: Dad?