I was on a third date with a guy called Sam when it happened. My sister rang earlier that day, said it was a terrible idea to be dating someone with the same name as me. What will you call each other in bed? Meg was killed instantly nine hours later when a truck took a corner too wide. My brother-in-law died on the way to the hospital. They were coming back from the farmers market in Kona. Their backseat was full of fresh produce. Dark coffee beans, bananas, pineapples and creamy avocados all packed in around Leia, my six-month-old niece.

Sam and I were at a carnival in upstate New York. We rode all the way up from Brooklyn. He said he wanted to take me to his heaven. His family had a cabin up there. We went apple picking and then to a carnival. He said Honeycrisp apples were the ones that tempted Adam and Eve.

A text in all capitals: CALL HOME came while we were in line for the Ferris wheel. I ignored it. We were playing a game. I said kill the moon, fuck the stars, marry the sun. I was falling in love. My sister would have scolded me, told me I fall too fast.

I fell in love with Leia as soon as she was born. I flew out to see her straight away. She looks just like you, Aunty Sam, everyone said. It was me who picked her name. Leia, meaning child of heaven. If I could go back I would have named her anything else. Lucy, Laura, Lisa. Something generic and weightless.

I vaguely remember a dark subway ride, a burning hot shower, my roommate putting all my stuff into bags, cooing to me like I was the orphan.

But that was the next morning. Because not only did I ignore the message when it came, I ignored it while Sam took me back to his cabin, while Sam lit the fire, while Sam took all my clothes off. The last thing Meg said before she hung up was not to give it away too easy. And then she joked, oh Sam, oh Sam, oh Sam.

I called her in the morning after Sam walked me to the train and kissed me goodbye. I said his name in bed. I wanted to tell Meg. I wanted to make her laugh. I wanted her to call me a dirty little hussie. I left her a voicemail. I didn’t call my father until I was halfway back to Manhattan on the train. Meg never called back.

Twenty hours later my Dad picked me up from the airport with Leia in the backseat. He looked old and sad. It was the first time I’d ever seen him look the way he felt. He was always stoic, the man who raised us on his own. Moved my sister and I to Hawaii when Mom moved to Florida. He said our mother wasn’t going to be the only one living the good life. When I moved to New York at eighteen, a wannabe actress, he saluted me at the airport.

When I told Sam I grew up in Hawaii he didn’t go all wide-eyed the way everyone else in New York seemed to. He stayed cool, said he’d love to meet my family. You just want a vacation, I teased.

My Dad drove us straight to Meg’s house. I looked for her car in the empty driveway. Leia slept the whole way. She stayed sleeping in my arms as I carried her in. I kissed her head. I didn’t let my tears touch her face. I would not taint the child. We sat at the kitchen table and Dad laid out the papers. I was receiving sole custody of Leia and inheriting their entire estate. There wouldn’t be a funeral, they wanted their ashes in the ocean. I brought up my mother, her twenty years of absence. Dad shrugged. I shrugged. Leia woke up and started screaming.

Sam teased me when I screamed on The Twister, just before the ride turned us upside down, right there on top of the world, I had an image of the rest of my life with him.

My dad stood at his car for the longest time before he left. The living room was filled with intricate colored toys and books. My sister was a pediatrician, knew what she was doing. I stood in the doorway, lifted Leia’s tiny arm to wave to her grandpa. I was two days away from turning twenty-seven. I was a millionaire and a single mother. I looked at the sharp line of the ocean meeting the sky. Somehow I managed to think of Sam and the sweetness of those apples. The horizon became the line drawn through the life I once had. I often think back to that moment. It was the moment I realized there had to be a God, because something kept me breathing.

Eventually I called Sam, months and months had passed. Nice of you to call me back, he said, annoyed when he picked up. I’d been practicing what I would say. My heart still had something left and I wanted to give it to him.

Instead I hung up. I put Leia to my breast. There wasn’t any milk. I guess I was delirious. We both cried and cried and cried. After that, I started praying.

*

Leia asked me about heaven this morning, she is five today. Dad and I threw her a party with a cotton candy machine and a jumping castle. She’s refusing to take off her tiger costume. I didn’t cry. I took her onto my lap and told her heaven is a carnival in upstate New York with games and rides and the best apples she’s ever tasted.

 

 

 

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© Jennifer Chardon