With careermom as usual booked on Saturday AM he took his daughter to the book/record/movie-rental store to sit and read children's books suitable for the 4-ish. There was a tree of sorts in the quiet back corner with a table formed into a ring around it and the daughter would bring a selection--a huge stack really--and pore through them and he would sneak a book or two from the racks on the way himself for those moments when she occupied herself.

She preferred the books that "did things" to the ones with only words and pictures, at which his usual mixed emotion over her choices darkened a little every time. But as soon as he settled in (sitting there beside her at the low table designed for children) to a few pages she'd rouse and make him read aloud to her. Which was the case when the girl stocking selections from a cart began to seem to be eavesdropping.

At first she seemed moderately young but after a round or two of awkward glances he saw the had only the youth of the childless, that she was actually 30 or so. He could tell that she was observing them. He tried to appear more attentive to his daughter, reading with actual patience. Finally the woman ventured to bend down and speak to the daughter, firming her ponytail clasp to avoid hair in an overearnest face.

"Hi my name is Rebecca. I like books too, just like you do." His daughter looked up with a tentative smile, then refocused on the book at hand. She missed what her father saw: the facial tic at the end of Rebecca's sentences. "I work here. What's your name?" That time his daughter saw it--a neuromuscular thing, something long-term.

He wilted to see his daughter avert her eyes toward him, frightened. Don't, don't. Be nice. "Tell her your name, darling." Her eyes everywhere but on the helpless odd grimace on the woman's face. "You know, every Saturday like today at noon we have a reading here. (Grimace.) Kids come and I read a great new book aloud. It's like a party. (Grimace.) Would you like to come?"

"I think she would, wouldn't you darling?" The child's eyes followed her own finger across words on a page she couldn't quite read yet.

"It would really be fun. We have punch and cookies also." The grimace that swept her face would have been comical were it not so wrenched and grotesque. Fortunately it was short-lived. Unfortunately it came frequently. He refused to imagine a life puntuated with such a condition. But he was desparate for his daughter to respond in some kind way. "Maybe we could come some Saturday, I wish it could be today but it can't because of the custody thing you know? Have to have her back by noon, so we have to go pretty soon--"

"I understand." (Tortured grimace.) "Maybe some other time, uh---?"

"Tell her your name or,--" At last came a faint whisper.

"That's a beautiful name. I hope you can come to the reading sometime."

"We have to go, sweetheart."

"But. . ."

"Come on. I told you."


"Tell her goodbye."


That slump-shouldered look, and the facial tic--an ironic and accurate reflection of some internal state--rended him. They hurried out of the store. "Daddy, you're hurting my hand."


In the car: "Daddy, what's custody."

"Start hoping you don't find out."