I asked my six-year-old cousin for her autograph today. She didn’t know what an autograph was.

“Your name,” I said. “I want you to write your name.” I handed her my pen.

“What for?” she said, and then, “Okay.”

We were in a coffee shop named for Dostoevsky. A book sat at every table, like a centerpiece. It was almost December in Chicago, and the cold air blew in as each new customer came and left. My cousin shivered in her seat.

C A L L I E, she wrote on the napkin that had come with our tea.

“That’s a space pen,” I told her. “The same one the astronauts use. You can write with it underwater or upside down or in zero gravity. What do you think about that?”

“It’s silver,” she said. She took an extremely tiny sip from her cup.

“So do you have a boyfriend?” I asked her, like my dad would have.

“Mmhm,” she said. She was writing her name over and over again. Her blonde hair obscured her face. Mittens were buttoned to the sleeves of her jacket.

C A L L I E  C A L L I E  C A L L I E  C A L L I E  C A L L I E, she wrote.

“Are you still six?” I asked. “When is your birthday?”

She stopped writing and considered the question.

“Four weeks,” she said, holding up her fingers to show me. A Peter Pan Band-Aid was slowly unpeeling from around her thumb.

“Who are you inviting to your party?” I asked.

C A L L I E   C A L L I E

C A L L I E   C A L L I E

C A L L I E   C A L L I E , she wrote.

“I’m twenty-five now,” I said. “I hate my job. All my friends are getting married.”

Her tongue poked out from the corner of her mouth in concentration. The pen looked big in her little hand.

“My dad is building me a tree house,” she said without looking up.

Around the cafe, people sat alone. There was no line to order drinks; the barista looked bored.

“Let’s Instagram this,” I told her, pulling out my phone.

But she was already out of her chair at the sight of her mother through the window. Her shoes lit up as she skipped away towards the door. The napkin she left was wet at its corners.

C A L L I E  C A L L I E  C A L L I E  C A L L I E  C A L L I E, it said.

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