Her name begins with A.
She was counting backwards from one hundred so they could be sure the drugs took hold. They told her later she wouldn’t let go of certain numbers, and then they froze, too, instruments and masks, over the gurney she was stretched out upon.
Ninety-one days in a season.
Someone joked that they should write them down so she could play them in the lottery. The doctor’s name was Stromboli. The nurse told her he was “very, very good.”
Sixty minutes in an hour.
The nurse was called Mary Jo. She had seen her coming in last night with a Styrofoam cup from Chick-Fil-A. Her mother’s name had been Colette. She said “Before you were born, I had no tether to the earth.” For a while, she was afraid to go inside.
Fifty-two weeks in a year.
“Most people don’t count that far back,” said Mary Jo. “It only takes a few seconds.” She could only see the world as it was. There was a thin line streaking away from her vein.
Thirty-one days in a month.
She and her mother were at the cemetery, digging a small hole at the base of her father’s grave so they could place the little box of cat ashes there. Her father’s name had been Daniel. The cat’s name had been Molly.
Thirty days in a month.
After Daniel died, Colette said she could not stop seeing the earth as it was. “Even the astronomers can stop,” she said, “when they’re sautéing mushrooms for supper, or when a hawk flies over with a snake in its beak.” Or when they are driven into sleep.
Twenty-nine days in a month.
What matters more, a number or a name? Take something away from her, and let her learn to go on without it.
Her mother said, “A girl’s name is made of more pieces than a boy’s.”
Twenty-eight days in a month.
When Colette was seeing the earth as it was, she went down to the gulf. The edges were the only places that made sense, where the curve could be perceived. She would not take her eyes off her enemy, gravity, watching it for signs of weakness. Her own old parents were gone, and Daniel’s had left with him. She was pregnant, and she was alive.
Twenty-four hours in a day.
Colette hadn’t worn her wedding ring since May.
An osprey flew over with a fish in its mouth. The fish was called black drum.
Twenty years in a score.
The things that remained clear to Colette still remain clear to her daughter. To her left, there was a young father trying to coax his terrified son into the water. Father had a shaved head, but Son’s hair came down over his eyes. Father was wearing cut-off jeans and his arms and back were covered with dark blue ink. Son was wearing a heavily sagging Spiderman swim diaper. Father let a cigarette drop to pick up his son and walk toward the water. Son struggled to get down, but Father spoke at him in a loud, wheedling voice, glancing over at Colette often as he did. He said, “He’s scared of the water.” What he said sounded like “skeered.” Father was called Daddy, and Daddy called Son something that sounded like Rambo. Rambo was holding an infant bottle filled with a green liquid. The bottle shook as he tried to twist away from Daddy, and the carbonated liquid went shooting from its nipple, making an arc from the bottle in his hand to a green string drawn in the sand.
Fourteen days in two weeks.
To her right, a willet, a whippet, a sandpiper or snipe was intently watching the sand, digging and spearing with its brutal big bill, swallowing the crabs whole. They could be seen still wriggling in its gullet.
Above, a small plane was pulling a banner. The pilot was alone, and Colette was alone, but nearly everyone else appeared to be with someone. Gravity, she thought, will bring the little plane to earth.
Twelve hours between midnight and noon.
Behind her, a woman’s voice said, “Destiny.” In front of her, parasailer floated pass, towed by a boat. The boat was called Betty. The woman said “Destiny” again, crossly. Destiny was on her left, down the beach, struggling to loop the elastic straps of a pair of pink and orange wings over her shoulders. She had found them washed up on the shore. The plane’s banner said A-1 Sub Shop. The parasail was a primary color pie chart. A faint line of thunderheads formed on the horizon.
Ten years in a decade.
Colette and Daniel had gone into the woods after they met, to look for a bird. He joked about what it would be like to take a toddler birdwatching. They had seen a couple trying to do just that at the head of another trail. Colette told her daughter then that she knew she would exist, but it was her own happy secret. She hadn’t named her yet. She didn’t name her in the woods. Colette named her daughter at the water, on that day at the beach.
Seven days in a week.
There were screams in the water. It was too bright to see. The border between joy and terror is there. From where Colette was sitting in the sand, she couldn’t see the line where the water got deep. She had spent yesterday at a cove where snorkelers lowered their faces into the water. The scuba divers were more serious. Equipment fanned out from their bodies. One of the divers had died yesterday and the company was closed for the day. We should measure time in names and not numbers. She called it the leap-of-faith year. The tide turned, and then the tide turned again.
Four weeks in a month.
There were some things Colette already knew then—the rock where the little plane came down, the rock where the diver died, that she was alone on the edge of the earth, a rock. She didn’t know then that she would go into the woods alone to look for a bird, or that the ravens would land at her side. She knew the bird they saw together was called a tanager. The bird she saw alone was called a thrush. The beaches were still crowded then, on the day her daughter got her name.
Three months in a season.
It’s a kindness, at times, to sleep through seeing the world for what it is. They were both always bad with numbers. Colette’s father was called Francis. Once, he gave her a problem to solve: The bus starts out with this many people and goes through its stops. He paced the narrative just slowly enough to make it challenging to keep up with the losses and gains. She was going to get it right this time. He wound up to the ending with a flourish. “And now—” he said, and she had her number ready—“What was the name of the driver?”
Two parts to before and after.
Take something from her, and let her live to go on without it. “The first piece of your name has more to do with angles than angels,” said Colette. She said, “You become for yourself what you lose: your own father, your own son.” When she thought back to the beginning, she understood, but it took a minute to remember. The problem had begun with: You are driving a bus. Can we start at the beginning again? This time, I’ll get it right.