The scratch of her voice jolted me out of sleep. I’d been dreaming about shooting stars. Another in a long line of might visions around the same theme. Another short-lived thing.
“Daddy!” Came the tinny voice again and I threw my feet over the side of the bed, nearly cracking my knees against the wall. I reached up and pulled my robe down from the hanger, wrapping it around my shoulders as I stood up and tying it around my waist as I pushed my toes, one foot after the other, into my slippers. Still groggy, I stared at the slippers for a moment, thinking about the hand-me-down pair. They had been well worn by my feet long before I’d ever put them on. Should I call them hand-me-overs?
I sighed and reached down to turn off the baby monitor where it lay by the bed. Then I opened the door and shuffled out of the closet where my narrow cot lay and out into the hall itself. I glanced to the left, toward the closed master bedroom door and thought of the two of them, lying there, warm and comfortable for the next hour or two at least. It couldn’t be more than 5:30.
I turned to the right and opened up the door at the end of the hall. Juliet was standing at the edge of her crib and her little face lit up when she saw me. “Daddy, up!” She said, with her standard excessive level of enthusiasm, considering the hour. I smiled as I walked to the crib and lifted her over the bars. She nestled her tiny head of blond curls into my shoulder and I felt at peace. My time with Juliet was almost the only human contact I had any longer. Certainly my wife … but no, I couldn’t call her that. She wasn’t my wife. Not really.
I carried Juliet to the chair and sat down, and she lay leaning on my shoulder for a while. This was our morning habit; a snuggle, enjoying each other’s company before we started the day. I looked up at the books on the shelf over her crib, although I could barely make out their titles in the pre-dawn light. I knew them all by heart, since I looked at them compulsively whenever I had the chance.
There were the standard behavioral books, covering everything from getting your child to sleep through the night to teaching them how to read earlier than other children. Had to give her that edge after all. But it was the book on the end that held my gaze. It was the one I couldn’t look away from, that I couldn’t help but frown at whenever it so much as crossed my mind.
It was the one that taught parents how to make the second daddy go away. At some point soon, they’d have to start reading that one in earnest. I looked down at my forearm, where they’d tattooed my serial number when I’d been born. The hyphen-2 sat at the end like an exclamation point. Two year life span. Juliet was more than a year and a half old now. For all that time, she’d had two daddies. Soon she’d only have one and they’d have to explain what had happened. Transition her, as the book called it.
I often wanted to tell her that I was real, that they were going to tell her that I’d gone away, that she only had one daddy now, that her second daddy wasn’t important. I wanted to make her remember me. But I knew it wouldn’t matter. She’d never be able to understand and it would only ruin the time I had left with her. She was my daughter after all.