Rose Lalonde: age three. At this point in time it becomes inescapable to enter the child into some sort of educational facility. Up until now her main companions were comprised primarily of textile. Her mother, April Lalonde: age forty one. Her main concern was the teasing of the other children, with which she had been briefly familiar herself, at various times too long ago to bother recollecting. Not a false concern by any means, but preceded by an equally pressing one, made all the more distressing by its unpredictability.
“Hello, little girl! My, aren’t you pretty!”
April Lalonde knew an instantaneous and overpowering dislike for the fawning kindergarden teacher and her irrepressibly cheerful cardigan. She smiled thinly.
“And does the little princess have a daddy?”
Rhetorical questions: April Lalonde’s lifelong nemesis.
The teacher caught her evasive silence, just late enough for optimal discomfort, but not quite enough for her to devise a dismissive answer, or even fake a convincingly aggrieved expression. Instead, she succeeded merely in looking irate.
“Ah,” said the teacher pointedly. She kneeled down to coo over the child some more, leaving April Lalonde free to let a tiny sigh escape her lips.
Thence doom was inescapable. Upon climbing into the back seat of the station wagon on her very first day, Rose Lalonde confronted her mother with the most abhorrent of all queries: “Where is my daddy?”
At age three, she was easily distracted by ice cream. At age four, she was essentially dissuaded by a transgenic pet kitten. At age five, she was predominantly preoccupied by being taught to read. Still, the question regularly returned to agitate and bewilder April Lalonde.
“Where is my daddy?”
“Who is my dad?”
“When can I meet my father?”
“Who sired me? By whom was I begotten? To what forebear do I owe my existence?”
The thesaurus proved to be a particularly unsuccessful distraction.
Finally: “Do I have a father?”
Rose Lalonde: age eleven. After years of pestering she had finally succeeded in asking her mother the only question to which she was obliged to give an answer. “Everyone has a father, Rose,” wasn’t going to do it. “In a manner of speaking,” would also prove woefully insufficient. “It’s complicated,” may have fared slightly better, were it not for the rules.
The rules dictated a precise formula for what fraction of the truth could be allotted to Rose Lalonde, as calculated by factoring both her age and the specificity of her demands. A quick calculation revealed to April Lalonde what she already knew: her child was too clever by half and had left her no wiggle room at all.
“Yes, you have a father,” said April, taking a swig from her martini.
Rose stood opposite her, perching her hands on the counter significantly. “Is he alive?”
“Yes, he is alive.” Although they had not spoken since their parting words twenty years previous, April Lalonde knew that he was alive, much in the same way that she knew anything else; he had to be, according to the terms of the agreement.
“Can I meet him?” said Rose, just a faint hint of a waver in her voice.
“No, you won’t.” Per the rules, she could not lie; she also could not reveal the full truth.
“I can’t,” said Rose difficultly, crossing her arms over her ludicrous demon pony T-shirt, “or I won’t?”
“You shall not,” said April, clearly enunciating every word. You shall not meet him before he dies.
A brief silence sank between them, in its way not unlike the olive that April plopped in her freshened drink.
“Does he have a name?” asked Rose, her tone acerbic but her eyes earnest.
April sipped her martini thoughtfully. This was not covered under the contract at all.
“Yes,” she finally said after some quick thought. “His name is Tom.”
The next day, she ordered a bar to be installed in her bedroom. And that was the end of that.