“Joebie,” Little Miss asked me with a trembling lower lip, “Can we fly kites?”
“After I get home from work,” I say.
“But you are home from work.”
“No, hon, I’m at the office right now.”
A small brow furrowed.
“No, you’re here. You’re sitting next to the washing machine.”
“I don’t want to shock you, dear heart,” I said, rocking on my odd little Norwegian ergonomic chair that I have to regularly explain is not, despite appearance, a piece of play equipment, “but I’m not here right now—I’m sitting in a lab in College Park, Maryland.”
“You are not.”
“But you’re here.”
I shook my head. “I’m in College Park, Maryland, kiddo. Will be on the train in…about,” I said, looking to the corner of my monitor for the clock, “another twenty minutes.”
“But that’s forevvvver.”
“Time is relative,” I said, with a kind of detachment.
“How long before I can have playdates again, Joebie? I miss my friends.”
“I know, honey, it’s tough. I miss my mom and my sister and Will and Pam and Cleve and Tom.”
“But how long?” she asks, and I have no answer except to fall into surrealism, which I do often in her presence.
“What is time, really?”
In the absence of playdates, the conversations are more frequent, and my tendency towards patrician dadaism become harder to resist. I joke, when asked how we’re doing in the isolation of the pandemic, “Well, did you ever see The Shining?
At first, I liked to think that I was the deranged one, but increasingly, I fear that, when attempting to lurk in the bathroom long enough to read the news, an adorable pink axe is going to crash through the door.
“Honey, could you put out cat food?” I ask Little Miss in what will one day be a transparent move to get her to open the front door and witness the end result of the task I’d undertaken as she slept this morning. I watch her open the door and start, I assume because she’d seen the basket some large, overbearing rabbit had left there, with other things, and then watched the pause as machinery cranked along in her head as she hatched a plan into tricking me into opening the door.
“Joebie, don’t you want to feed the cat?”
“No, that task is pursuant to the terms of your contract,” I answer. I think, on some level, the reason I enjoy talking with her at all the wrong levels and using language both absurdly institutional and often laughably pompous or, at the very least, of an overstated Wodehousian vintage.
“Pursuant to the terms of your contract, honey. It means that you are contractually obliged to feed the cat, let you suffer penalties for early withdrawal.”
We continue on this exchange for a surprisingly long while before we get her to reopen the door and examine the contents of the doormat.
“Did the Rabbit of Easter leave you treats?”
“Yes, a whole basket! Also a bag of potatoes and onions? Why potatoes and onions?”
“I believe our Rabbit of Easter emigrated here from the Benelux countries. Perhaps Benelux Rabbits of Easter bring savories for the grown-ups?”
“What’s a ‘Benelux country’?” asks Little Miss, picking through her basket.
“It’s a region unusually conducive to Rabbits of Easter,” I say.
After a time, she opens a large plastic egg in the basket, finding a smaller plastic egg inside, and then a smaller plastic egg instead that, arriving finally at a Cadbury’s Creme Egg, a treat that I’d have wildly savored at her age, but after trying to eat one whilst composing her basket, I’d had to spit out a mouthful of awful milk chocolate and fondant.
“There’s an egg in an egg in an egg in an egg,” she says, counting the recursion on her yellow-painted fingertips.
“Oh, how meta,” I say.
“It’s short for metafiction,” I say, “Which is a kind of narrative that references the fact that there is a narrative and an external observer processing that narrative.”
“But what’s it for?”
“Well, it paid the rent for Michel Gondry and Charlie Kaufman for a time, but breaking the fourth wall is a long-held tradition of theater used to momentarily involve the audience in the action in a way that sort of reaffirms their commitment to being the audience…though I think Baudrillard might have said there is no outside to any narrative—just an infinite recursive loop of simulacra.”
“My eggs were meta, though?”
“Yeah, it’s eggs all the way down. In the end, aren’t we all just eggs?”
Little Miss looks at me with a combination of a frown and curiosity.
“No, Joebie. We are not eggs.”
“We’re not? Not eggs all the way down?”
Qid erat demonstrandum.