eorge drew the Queen Frostine card, and immediately tried to shove it back in the pile before Beth could see. But too late: The little girl’s eyes caught the vision of the lavender-bedecked fairy queen and her face started to crumple.
“I wanted to get the queen,” she said, a whimper at the edge of her voice.
“I drew this card by mistake!” George cried, trying to put it in her hand. “Look, did you see that? It was supposed to be your card which means you would….”
He swooped her pink playing piece up into the air, bouncing onto the queen’s space and then hopping ahead. “…..jump all the way to the end which means you are the big winner!”
Beth broke down in giggles. “Oh, Daddy,” she said.
“Enough Candy Land? What do you say we go out for a walk? See if we can pick some flowers for Mommy?”
It was his day off and Taryn had taken the opportunity to go into town to get her hair done. He’d offered to drive her, figured that he and Beth could get an ice cream, take a stroll down Bath House Row and see what stores were starting to open up for the season.
But Taryn had said no, she could get there perfectly fine on her own, and she had other things to do besides: buy clothes to replace everything she’d left behind when she’d moved back in, look for something for his upcoming birthday. When he hesitated, she said, “Don’t you trust me, George? How can you be married to me, if you don’t trust me?”
She was right, of course she was right. So he’d smiled and kissed her and let her go.
Now Beth was shaking her head no, she didn’t want to go for a walk.
“How about we feed the fish? I bet they’re hungry after a long winter with no bugs on the water.”
Again, Beth shook her head.
“Well, what do you want to do? Play tea party with Bunny and your dolls?” Please God, he thought: anything but another round of Candy Land.
“Let’s play the sleeping game.”
“The sleeping game? How do you play that?”
“You lie here on the floor,” Beth said, “on your tummy. Then you close your eyes and I play with your hair and tickle your back.”
George did as he was told. It wasn’t until he was fully stretched out, lulled by the rock of the boat, his daughter’s delicate fingers drumming on his shoulders, that it occurred to him to wonder what was happening.
“Where did you learn this game?” he asked Beth.
“Sssssh,” she said. “No talking. Mommy taught me.”
“Mommy taught you? Do you take turns sleeping?”
“No, only Mommy sleeps, and I do the fingers.”
“And then what?”
“Then Mommy keeps sleeping, and sometimes I play with Bunny or watch TV until she wakes up.”
George bolted upright. He hadn’t wanted to think it, hadn’t wanted to believe it. But now all his suspicions came flooding in.
“Does Mommy ever take any pills before you play the sleeping game? Or smoke a funny pipe or anything?”
But she wouldn’t be smoking, probably not, and Beth, confused, just shrugged and hugged her bunny tighter.
George was on his feet, over to her dresser, rifling through the few clothes still there. But he found nothing. There was nothing in the bathroom either, and she’d taken her purse.
Maybe he was wrong about this whole thing. She might just have been trying to get a little rest in the middle of the day. God knows, in his long days alone with Beth, sometimes he’d concocted some version of the sleeping game himself.
And then another thought occurred to him. His safe. He didn’t think Taryn was even aware it was there, and he certainly, with all her troubles, had never told her the combination. But he moved to it now with a mix of hope and dread. Turned the dial. And saw with a jolt that, except for his crisp, pristine, pathetically unused passport, the entire thing was dead empty.