I sit on my father’s lap at the kitchen table, facing him. It is evening, after supper and it’s just him and me. His face is large, more square than round, up above mine. I bend my head a little to look up at him, his eyes, laughing eyes, are cast downward to meet mine.
We are playing a game. My father points to his eye and I try to remember the Hungarian word. Usually I can’t remember and he must remind me, laughing, though I like it best when I do remember. Then he points to his nose, then his mouth. Some of them I can always remember, some are hard, like ear and neck.
Hungarian people come to our house sometimes. They are my father’s friends, mostly, that my mother has made friends with, sort of. My mother is always on the edge of these small parties in our living room where the men wear suits and the women wear skirts. They drink drinks and talk in Hungarian and if I am lucky Robert Major, who has grey hair, will do coin tricks for me.
Sometimes I sit amongst them, looking at the way they across their legs. I look at my own legs that stick out straight when I sit in a chair. I would like my legs to be adult enough to at least bend over the edge of the chair. I try crossing them anyway.
My mother is the only one who does not speak Hungarian so sometimes they speak English. My mother is learning Hungarian from a book and she tries out phrases.
I would like my mother to blend in better somehow. There is a way that things could easily fall apart and my mother is the fault line, the place where the seam could break. If she could be different, part of the other side of the fault line where my father lives and where things seem to be bright and move easily.
She would be less serious. Her face would be younger. She would be more girlish instead of often wearing shorts and sneakers and kneeling in the garden. She would not pull leaves off bushes as she walked to chew on them.
Then my father would laugh with her and she would laugh back, maybe everyone in the room would laugh and look to her for the next joke.
But is it not like that. My mother sits on an arm of the couch while the others chatter. This is not her place like it is my father’s place. Her place is out in the woods.
One morning my father tells me how the night before, when it was dark and I had gone to bed, he had waltzed one of the ladies all the way down the driveway.
He tells me the story with the big smile he has when he is pleased with himself – happy and proud of who he is and how nobody else is like him. He waltzed another lady – of course not my mother. Of course, someone else.
And all the way to the end of the driveway. He did this. No one else even thought of doing it.
His eyes are focused outside the house. People beyond us get his attention. He does turn back and gaze at us – me, my mother, my little sister – from time to time, but my mother is never dressed right and my little sister is a duplicate of her, on the edge and shy. Then there is me, and him. His eyes light up as they meet mine and make me feel that I can do the things he does. Maybe. Almost. If I am to hold his gaze.