Leonard hadn’t seen his only child since the night ten years ago when he pulled her out of a flaming car. His wife had been dead for a week and he’d been tired for years, but as Leonard pulled Leslie from the fire, he felt strong. He could barely remember that feeling now, any more than he could recall whether the car was a Ford or a Toyota or some other make.
Leslie never forgave him for saving her life. She snuck out that night and disappeared, and now Leonard knew Leslie was alive only because of the postcards she sent. The last, postmarked Seattle, said just
will be on tv. mixing it up. thursday the 14th 8pm.
Mixing It Up. Leslie and Dee’s program, now in its seventeenth season of baking showdowns. It seemed wrong and incredible that the show continued without his wife, the dramatic violin and bass drum thundering on even though the television’s light no longer played across the vacant screen of Dee’s face.
Leslie hadn’t written “love” or “yours.” She hadn’t signed her name. The picture showed the Space Needle at sunset. He would have preferred something less sharp. Pike Place or the Sound.
—No, he corrected himself. No, he wanted exactly what she’d sent: an opportunity to see her, even if merely as pixels on television transmitted across a great distance.
This was the fourth card with a Seattle postmark. No more San Francisco or New Orleans or Philadelphia or Los Angeles. No more Wichita. (Why Wichita?) Stability seemed possible. He wondered if the show had already been recorded, if she knew her result, if they shot in Seattle, or if she’d left town and was back now. He wondered if it had been hard for her to tell him the news or if she wanted him to watch. He would have liked to ask all these things, to hear again the irritation in his daughter’s voice because he didn’t know what she hadn’t told him. The postcards denied dialogue. He suspected that was why she chose them. They didn’t offer a return address. The television had been on for two hours, just in case she’d jotted the wrong time or the TV Guide listed it incorrectly or the show got bumped up for reasons no one could explain.
Leslie started cooking when Dee got sick. How old had she been then? Maybe nine? He would come home from campus, still in his army uniform, to find her making microwave popcorn and brownie mix. He’d change into civvies, hurrying into clothes that could bear his daughter’s grease-stained hug. Over those next months, Dee stopped talking and Leslie turned watchful. His daughter’s hugs grew rare as she proceeded through ever more difficult recipes: cheesecake, sourdough, baklava, meth. Her mother became like a child who could reach all the knives. By fifteen, Leslie had cooked herself into a different person altogether, equally comfortable fixing herself a martini, a shot of heroin, or a lemon meringue pie. He had talked and yelled and grounded, and nothing changed. She damn near cooked herself in the car that last night.
. . .