For a while I thought it could have been because I used to make you practice saying words. I’d say, Repeat after me: Egg, and you’d lean back ever so slightly like you were about to take off and then go, AIG!, an emphatic Oklahoman always, although each time for one split second (German: Augenblick, literally: blink of an eye) you’d just sit there waiting for my face to tell you whether you had done it right. And then I’d scowl, and you would look away. Remember?
Amy takes pictures of everywhere they go
They go to Lincoln, Nebraska, for their family vacation, and Amy takes pictures of the dinosaurs at the Museum of Natural History. Zoe always wants to be in the pictures, and usually Amy says yes, but sometimes Amy says no. Then Zoe cries until someone else takes her picture in the same spot. Amy on the other hand does not like to have her picture taken and rarely smiles when she is urged to pose.
Amy likes the dinosaurs but not the stuffed owls, which she says are disgusting because they are dead. Amy knows the dinosaurs are dead, too, but it’s different because they’re almost more like rocks. Zoe makes a face when Amy says the word dead or the word disgusting. She sticks her tongue out and scrunches up her little nose.
Their other grandparents live in Kansas in between Oklahoma and Nebraska, but their mom says she does not want to visit them on the way back because they’re assholes. Their dad says not to say bad words in front of the girls.
They go to the Porter Peach Festival, and Amy takes pictures of peaches until the dog runs away, and they all have to chase it. But when they’ve caught it, they all get to eat peaches with vanilla ice cream. Even the dog eats peaches. They are all sweaty and smelly and filled up with sugar. Amy and Zoe and their mother sing camp songs the whole way home until their dad turns on the radio.
At the Tulsa State Fair Amy takes pictures of the roller coaster and the stands selling corn dogs and cotton candy and of Zoe with cotton candy like spider webs in her hair. Zoe cries until their dad buys her some more cotton candy to eat. At the Fair there is a petting zoo where the girls get to feed farm animals, but their mom has to take away the food sometimes because Zoe gets confused and eats the little pellets of alfalfa herself. Amy howls with laughter, and Zoe’s eyes get wide.
At the real zoo Amy learns to stand like a flamingo, one foot in the crook of the other leg’s knee, and she can stand this way in silence just observing the birds for as long as it takes Zoe to run around the prairie dogs a dozen times.
They ride their bikes in the parking lot at the Tulsa Teachers Credit Union three doors down from their house when it’s not still business hours and their dad can take them. Their dad still rides his old green Schwinn with the baby seat on the back even though neither one of them is a baby anymore, and he calls it Gone with the Schwinn to their mom whenever they are heading out. Then they have races around the big post in the middle of the parking lot and from the dumpster to the main doors. You have to get up on the sidewalk to win.
Lately Zoe keeps talking about getting her training wheels off although Amy keeps reminding her that even with them on she always manages to find a way to fall over and if she hadn’t had her helmet on she probably could have killed herself a thousand times from a concussion, and besides, Zoe is only five, and Amy is eight and a half and just got hers off last year. But Zoe doesn’t care and keeps on talking about it.
Amy always has to remind Zoe repeatedly about everything. Like to drink the rest of her juice and to keep her shoes on and not to water the bonsai in their room so it will not drown like the last one. It is exhausting taking care of young children. Usually their mom and dad are too distracted so Amy does it, even though it leaves her barely any time to do her homework.
They go to Tahlequah for the Inter-tribal powwow, and Amy takes pictures of real teepees, tall as the sky. The Indians wear leather dresses with leather strings and turquoise beads and feathers and circles that symbolize things. The Indian children get to wear feathers, too. The Cherokees have lots of different symbols for different things. Amy wants to learn what each of them means. She begins to invent new symbols for her and Zoe only, so they can write notes to each other without their mother interfering.
Their mother has told them that one of the other counselors at Camp Waluhili got bitten by a black widow one time, and the venom spread so fast they had to cut out part of her leg. So she had a hole in her leg, and she kept secret things inside it, like messages. Now Amy twists this story around. To send and receive secret messages you do not need to get poisoned or have any particular place. What you need is a secret system, a network of secret shapes.
So she makes Zoe practice drawing the symbols for dog and home and mom and dad and grandparents and hungry and thirsty and Cruella De Vil and Garfield and Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy and Target and radio. The symbol for dinosaurs is a dinosaur because Amy can’t think of anything better. Zoe practices diligently at first and then goes off to play with the dog, leaving sloppy scrawlings all over the floor that Amy picks up, emitting a slow sigh she has learned from their grandmother, the slow deflation of a balloon.
The night before the girls go back to school their mom tells them what sex is and reads them a story about a woman in a car crash off a bridge
Good Housekeeping says if you crash your car off a bridge you should rescue your husband from drowning if you can, because if you have a husband you can make more children, whereas if you rescue your child you’ll only ever have that one. Their mom thinks about that a lot. What she would do if they got into a car crash off a bridge. The girls begin to practice how long they can hold their breath when they are alone in their room.