Count to Twenty

When she was a baby, I could just cover her eyes with my hands and then take them away. Peek-a-boo! It astonished her. I disappeared and then reappeared. Magic.

When I first taught her to play hide-and-seek, she would hide under the desk. And then, before I had finished counting, she’d jump out and tell me she had hidden under the desk. This would continue until I showed her a new place to hide.

Eventually she learned to hide where I hid, which was usually behind a door or barely concealed behind a chair, and even then, if I pretended not to see her, she would make noises until I noticed her. And then she would laugh hysterically.

There came a time when I tired of such antics. We didn’t play the game for a long time.

It was a ugly, dreary, frigid winter Sunday. Everything to be done while shut up indoors had been done weeks ago. “How about hide-and-seek?” I suggested.

“You count,” she said.

I counted to twenty slowly. I opened my eyes and looked under the desk. Not there. I looked behind the bathroom door, in the coat closet, under the bathroom sink. Not there.

I thought I might actually enjoy this.

I looked in the pot drawer in the kitchen, and behind the couch, and under her bed, then under my bed. I looked in the bathtub, in the clothes hamper, in the sliver of space between the bookcase and the wall where she might fit.

I looked behind the coats in the entry, in the pile of dirty clothes in the laundry room, beneath the sofa cushions she’d pull off to make forts.

I looked in the dryer, where I had hidden once as a child, much to the dismay of my mother. I looked in the toy chest and in the sock drawer and in the crawl space I told her never to go into. I looked in the trash can outside, though I had told her not to go outside.

I double-checked behind all the doors and under all the furniture and the corners of every closet. When younger, she had often said, “Make a sound!” when she couldn’t find me. I almost said it now but that would be weakness.

As I wandered the house, looking in places an octopus couldn’t squeeze into, the rooms were changed. They were hollowed, like a corpse in which just an hour before life had been. I did call out, “Make a sound!” but no sound came. Her shoes were still by the door; the door was still locked.

I ended up in my bedroom and sat on my disheveled bed. A doubt and a panic rose up in me. It was as if she had stepped through a mirror, slipped into a shadow, been raptured. I had closed my eyes and she had disappeared.

Something moved by my hand. I felt the lump. She laughed and stuck her head out of the crumpled mass of covers. “You found me!”

I scooped her up. “You’ve gotten so big!”

She wriggled out of my arms. “Dad! Let me go.” She pushed her hair out of her eyes. “It’s my turn to count.”

“Just count to ten slowly.”

“I can count to twenty. I’m not a baby.”

“No. Of course not.”

She closed her eyes and began to count, forcing me out of the room.

Originally published at 4CountyMall on January 31, 2017.

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