By Megan Catana
In this hotel lobby, its glowing fireplaces and patrons’ laughter and clinking glasses standing guard against the cold December night, Dayvi’s adventure is drawing to a close. Her dad plants her in a striped throne of a chair and tells her to wait there while he goes to the bar.
It began early that morning when her dad, who went to Chicago for work all the time but this time for just one meeting, brought her along for the trip, which he’d never done before. A taxi glided up to their house in the darkness, and they were crushed into a hug by her mom, who stood in the driveway shivering in her bathrobe and waving, till they rounded the corner and Dayvi couldn’t see her anymore.
Her dad stormed the bustling airport like a general, forcing Dayvi to jog a little to keep up. She talked and talked, incredulous at this rare good fortune of getting him to herself for a day.
The plane from Detroit to O’Hare rose and descended so fast, Dayvi didn’t crack the Ramona Quimby book or M&Ms her mom had tucked into her backpack. Another taxi zoomed them downtown to an impossibly tall glass building, and her dad left her outside a conference room with a receptionist he called Ms. Nancy, who played Tic Tac Toe and Hangman with Dayvi, making her think it must be fun to be a receptionist. When the meeting ended, her dad reappeared and said to Dayvi, “I’m all yours.”
They shared fettuccini alfredo at the Rosebud Café and strolled Michigan Avenue, Dayvi exclaiming at its abundance of Christmas trees and lights and carols pouring from the stores out onto the pavement. She felt like the spinning, dancing girl inside the Chicago snow globe on her nightstand, the one he had brought home for her. He listened as she chattered and waited patiently when she stopped to look at things, like penny loafers in Marshall Field’s.
In no time he was sifting through his pockets for the shiniest pennies, and popping them into the loafer slots as they stood at the cash register, and suggesting she wear them out of the store if she wanted to. Back out on the street, clutching his arm, Dayvi said a little breathlessly, “I mean, they’re not really high heels, I know. But the soles are so thick that they’re kind of like high heels, a little bit, don’t you think, Dad?” And he smiled and said yes, a little bit, and that they were going to the hotel.
As she waits for him, Dayvi extends her legs, which don’t reach the ground, to admire her new shoes. She gazes around the lobby. The men here are wearing suits like her dad, even the man playing piano, and the women here are fancy, like this one at her dad’s side, a perfumed whirl of midnight hair cascading and gold jewelry jangling. “This is a friend of mine from the Chicago office,” her dad says to Dayvi, “Juma.” Not Ms. like the receptionist or Mrs. like her teachers and friends’ moms or Miss like her ballet teacher, just: Juma. Now they’re all sitting in the big, striped chairs and he hands Dayvi a tall, glittering glass like his but with a cherry, a Shirley Temple he calls it, and the snow globe around Dayvi disappears because her time alone with him is over.
Juma’s talk is a stream, moving so fast that Dayvi loses track of it, focusing instead on how Juma’s orangey-pink lip pencil is drawn on slightly outside of her lips. She loves Chicago, does Dayvi like it? Has she been here before? So much to do, too bad she and her dad are only here for one night. She’s heard a lot about Dayvi, knows she’s a good student, wants to know what her favorite subject is.
“English,” Dayvi stammers, and her dad interjects, “She loves to read. Tell Juma what you’re reading now, Dayvi.” And he grins broadly, but she can’t think of the name of a single book, and he says, “She loves school. Not like her old man.” Juma produces a tinkling wind chime of a laugh, and Dayvi shifts in her seat and starts to draw her legs beneath her. Juma reaches out and lightly taps her knees.
“Don’t, hon.” She motions to the chair. “That’s silk.”
The sting from this reproach is somehow sharpened by its pairing with “hon.” Dayvi waits for her dad to intercede, but he glides on, in a hearty, booming voice, to how much Dayvi loves ballet.
“Yes, your dad told me that,” Juma says, sipping wine, smiling again. “I used to dance. Have you ever been to the ballet?”
Dayvi looks hopelessly at her dad, who leans forward to prod her. She feels an inarticulate uneasiness that someone in their little group is auditioning for something. “My mom and dad take me to The Nutcracker every year.”
Juma nods, her smile flickering a little. “That’s nice. Maybe you and I could go see it sometime.” And Dayvi just looks at her blankly, because she just said she goes with her mom and dad, and suddenly, her stomach hurts a little, and her dad says he’s going to walk Juma out, she’s going ahead to the restaurant where they will all have dinner together. Dayvi sits rooted to her chair, penny loafers dangling, and watches them go. Her dad’s hand finds the small of Juma’s back.
As they reach the exit, he touches her upper arm and says something that makes her smile, not in the scorching, freezing way she did with Dayvi, but small, private, hardly tugging at the corners of her penciled mouth. And Dayvi feels suddenly vastly alone, her dad beyond grasp, these well-dressed people unable to help her, and her mom, whom she wants the most and who just felt so nearby, now a seeming ocean away, shivering and waving across the expanse.