“What?!” I say before she finishes two words. My food bedevils, this nautilus of rice, this sea of seafood. And chopsticks.
My daughter starts up again, but it's too fast, too much. Fifty-eight years I've known her and still every time she opens her mouth, I get lost in her throat. It's like when she was a baby. All I heard was cry, unfathomable forest never tree.
“I asked for a fork,” I say, stabbing a finger in the middle of her third sentence. The tablecloth's red buddhas rise up to defend me.
She stops, sighs.
“Mom,” she says. “I think you need hearing aids.”
“What?” I say again.
Which I regret. My daughter lowers her eyes, spreads her napkin, bears her grudge, eats. I try, hold the bowl close to my chin and shovel. Silence finishes us. She picks up the check. I pick at the rice under my dentures. She's angry. I want to say my jaws are disappearing. I want to say nothing fits. Everything gets caught in everything else, and no one wants to get me a fork.
It takes a couple of weeks, but we go to the audiologist. I get tests, put on earphones, hear tweets to the left, the right, behind me, like it's spring and there are robins everywhere. They whisper words to me.
“Pussy?” I answer.
It's a conspiracy, word and dam, flood and nonsense. My daughter watches. There's her face, that downturn – eyes, lips. I think I taught her to do that. Firmness, we used to call it.
The diagnosis doesn't include me. I sit, shuffle my feet. The glass door opens. My daughter comes out, more nothing.
I poke her shoulder and say, “What? What?”
It takes a couple of weeks, but I don't get hearing aids. We go back to that restaurant – Little Buddha, Little Bubba. I don't remember. All I know is that the tablecloths are part red, that forks are plastic and out of sight.
“I'll get rice under my dentures,” I say loud enough for the whole world to hear, like this is what I'm ordering.
My daughter shakes her head.
“Bring her dumplings,” she says to the waitress, “And soup. A fork and spoon, too, please.”
The food comes. I'm not hungry. Outside, the dark comes one tree at a time. I can't see my daughter's face for the forest.
“Eat up,” she says.
What, I think, What?
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