You are in a puddle on the floor when the girls flood the room. They slow to a stop when they see you, like they’ve just entered a room full of honey, and you look at each of them in turn, seeing beyond the girls as they are to the men you loved to make them. (Go to subsection 1).
She’s been drinking again, your oldest daughter says. She is your first born, the girl who caused your life to start, so she can say things like this and get away with them, though her words sting the worst for sounding so much like yours.
Get up, Mama, the oldest one says, and she hauls you up by the arm, which hurts a little, but you are too embarrassed to say so. The littlest one picks up the destroyed feather boa and her eyes are like pieces of tinfoil caught in the gutter on a rainy day.
I’m sorry, you say, to which you hear the expected chorus of, It’s okay, Mama. It’s okay. The oldest helps you down the stairs and through the kitchen and into your bedroom.
Sit with me, please, you say, you practically beg, and though your oldest daughter looks over her shoulder at the other room, the one without you, she sits, she stays. You know she wants to leave but you want more than anything for her to stay, so you tell her something true:
You were sixteen and had just learned about the baby growing inside of you, growing arms and legs and organs and eyes, and you were happy. Really you were. You were walking on the beach with your first love when you found a starfish, which you took as a sign that it was time to tell this boy about the baby you had made together. (Telling this story to your daughter now, you leave out this part about her biological father, who is not the father she grew up knowing, the good one with the gambling problem. You don’t want to break her heart again, do you? I know you love these girls, sweets. I know you think about them more than you think you do.)
This is the part you tell her:
The starfish you found was gold like the sand with this tiny suction mouth where its heart should’ve been. You tried to push your finger into the starfish’s mouth, this opening that should’ve led to the heart, but it wouldn’t take you in. It wanted nothing to do with you, and in your sadness you broke off the starfish’s leg. You tossed the body and the leg both back to sea, counting on some half-recalled idea of regeneration.
Your daughter stares at you with your eyes, but you can’t tell what she thinks of you, and this is the most frightening thing of all. You peel back your shoulders, trying desperately to open your heart, but the bones in your chest have been bowled too long and this attempt at opening threatens to break you.
Do you hold your daughter’s hands tighter and ask for forgiveness? Go to section K.
Or do you lean to the other side of the bed and pull up the cheap bottle of red stowed there, a signal that it’s time for your daughter to leave? Go to section E.