By: Carol Guess
Anika—A woman in her thirties.
Officer—A man in his forties.
Security—Anyone in uniform.
A dingy, windowless room with one door, bare except for a metal table and two metal chairs.
ANIKA appears to be alone onstage, sitting in a chair, talking to herself.
ANIKA. The girl was so good in the car. Sometimes the dog barked, but the girl never cried. Well, not never. Once. Jenny and I were yelling at each other, yelling the old way, the way we thought the girl would fix, and she started crying, this high-pitched siren. Like she couldn’t fix the broken thing. We’d gone to the zoo, I mean the day Jenny and I started fighting again. We hadn’t had a fight in months. But it had all just gone underground. We’d been so busy with the girl, with living. We’d been too busy to fight about Chris.
Light illuminates the man sitting across from ANIKA.
ANIKA. I’m sorry.
ANIKA. The person Jenny was sleeping with. Out in the open. Everyone knew. I wanted Jenny to stop sleeping with Chris. It’s like breaking your diet. Once you start, you might as well keep going. Not that I diet, I mean, I resist those cultural messages. I’m going to teach my—
OFFICER offers coffee-stained napkin to ANIKA.
ANIKA. (Brushes the napkin away.) The fight at the zoo wasn’t important. It was just the day we started fighting again.
OFFICER. I understand. On the day of the incident, Jenny took a different route to work.
ANIKA. You keep calling it “the incident.”
OFFICER. What would you like me to call it?
ANIKA. Isn’t that your job? To name things?
OFFICER. It’s my job to—
ANIKA. Make up stories about Lizard.
OFFICER. Lizard was your daughter’s nickname?
ANIKA. What do you think? That we named her Lizard? You’re looking for more evidence of what terrible mothers we were.
OFFICER. I’m gathering information about the incident.
ANIKA. “The incident” again. Why don’t you call things by their names?
OFFICER. Is there a word you’d rather use?
ANIKA. It was an accident. Call it that.
OFFICER. I understand.
ANIKA. You can’t possibly understand.
OFFICER. I understand. I mean, I understand that I don’t understand.
ANIKA. Thank you for not understanding.
OFFICER. Did the explosion on Greenwood Avenue factor in? Difficulty sleeping, stress?
ANIKA. After the explosion we thought we were safe. Like our bad luck got used up on that one thing.
OFFICER. Would you say you were a careful parent?
ANIKA. I was bad cop, Jenny was good cop. Oh. Sorry.
OFFICER. No offense, ma’am. I consider myself a good cop. How did you approach—how did the two of you go about having a child?
ANIKA. Do you want to start with the egg? You want to start with the sperm.
OFFICER. I’m sorry if I asked—
ANIKA. We got pregnant in Florida. Jenny wanted to bring home a lizard, sneak it through security. For good luck. Like a lizard’s a souvenir, a t-shirt, or a postcard. Like a lizard’s not a living thing. So I said no, and we had a fight in the hotel, and she stormed off to a bar, and that’s where—
OFFICER. Jenny was the real mother, then?
ANIKA. We were both real mothers.
OFFICER. Birth mother, I mean. I’m sorry. I’m not up on the lingo. Continue? Please.
ANIKA. Jenny fucked some guy, a stranger, and got pregnant with Lizard in a bar in Palm Beach.
OFFICER. Was your wife—
ANIKA. “Wife” still sounds strange. I bet you say it all the time.
OFFICER. Was your wife—
ANIKA. Do you say the word “wife” without thinking about it? Does it slide off your tongue?
OFFICER. Was your wife—
ANIKA. Your wife. What’s her name?
OFFICER. That isn’t … Marie.
ANIKA. We were domestic partners, and the state rolled us over. The state made our partnership into a marriage after DOMA was repealed. We woke up and we were wives. We didn’t create it. It happened to us.
OFFICER. On the day of the incident—
ANIKA. Did you have a registry? You and Marie?
OFFICER. On the day of the incident—
ANIKA. Wine glasses, blender, those little forks for stabbing corn?
OFFICER. On the day of the incident—
ANIKA. I love it when people say “no gifts,” and everyone brings money in a silver envelope decorated with bells. Did you and Marie—
OFFICER. Stop asking about Marie.
ANIKA. Sorry. Officer.
OFFICER. On the day of the incident, Jenny’s car was in the shop. She took Lizard’s—what was your daughter’s proper name?
ANIKA. Taylor Astrid.
ANIKA. Astrid. Astrid was mine.
OFFICER. Taylor Astrid. It’s a beautiful name.
ANIKA. No, it’s not. They cancel each other out. “Taylor” and “Astrid” don’t belong to the same person. She was torn in half, there at the naming. She didn’t have a chance. Astrid was my Swedish grandmother’s name. She lived in Trosa. “Trosa” means “women’s underpants.”
OFFICER. I see.
ANIKA. I come from Swedish chicken farmers. We get up. We feed the chickens. We drown our kittens in the well.
OFFICER. Would you say that your daughter added joy or stress to your life?
ANIKA. My daughter was my life.
OFFICER. Would you say that your marriage added joy or stress to your life?
ANIKA. I used to watch Jenny read at night, hair falling in her eyes. Watch her lips move. I never stopped feeling that way. At the trial I still—I still wanted to be close to her. But she sat by herself.
OFFICER. On the day of the incident, Jenny’s car was in the shop. She took Taylor’s car seat—
ANIKA. Call my daughter by her name.
OFFICER. Of course. Which name do you…okay. She took Astrid’s car seat, and put it in the rental car.
ANIKA. Car-A-Mile. It sounded like candy.
ANIKA. No, sweeter. “Mile” sounds sweeter than “mel.”
OFFICER. Mile. Mel.
BOTH. Car-a-Mile. Car-a-mel.
OFFICER. I see your point. On the day of the incident, Jenny took the car seat and put it in the back of the Car-A-Mile. Then she drove to work, but she took Aurora instead of Greenwood because construction was still blocking traffic on Greenwood, due to the pipeline explosion a few weeks earlier.
ANIKA. That’s right.
OFFICER. It says here, that Jenny called in late to work. Your address was 523 Dayton, correct?
OFFICER. You’d been out of town for a week on business, scheduled to come back that night—
ANIKA nods her head.
OFFICER. And someone stayed with Jenny while you were—
ANIKA. No one stayed. Just Jenny and Astrid.
OFFICER. Someone named Chris.
ANIKA. Chris came to our house? That day?
OFFICER. No, Chris arrived the evening of the day you left—
ANIKA. And stayed.
OFFICER. Sometimes after an incident—
ANIKA. Accident. Accident, Astrid, Aurora. You’re missing all the A’s.
Officer: On the morning of the accident, Jenny called in late to work because—
ANIKA. Chris saw her, then.
OFFICER. Her car wouldn’t start. Then Jenny took the rental car with Astrid—
ANIKA. You think you know someone. Chris said goodbye to my daughter after I did. Chris was the second-to-last person to see her alive.
OFFICER. New information—
ANIKA. What good does knowing do? How do I go back?
OFFICER. Maybe Chris wanted—
ANIKA. It’s like those women who marry serial killers—the white dress, the house in the suburbs. Then one day, the sheriff shows up with a backhoe. You think you know someone. Then you learn they’re in love with their BDSM play partner. Then you learn what a BDSM play partner is. Then your daughter dies, and you pull out all your hair, and start eating dirt.
OFFICER. Once I left my gun at Starbucks. The barista ran into the street and almost got hit by a truck. Double homicide later that day, but not with my gun, and my coffee was perfect.
ANIKA. It’s not funny.
OFFICER. Sometimes the joke is just telling the truth.
ANIKA. It was an accident. It could happen to anyone. A few years ago, there was an increase in accidents. Because child safety laws changed. Air bag deaths when kids sat in the front. So everyone put their kids in the back, in car seats, faces turned away. Sometimes we forget what we can’t see. Different parts of the brain compete. The part that remembers competes with the part that has to forget, that needs to forget in order to focus. In order to drive, to navigate all the details we take for granted—stop signs, lights, red, yellow, green. How many minutes ahead we’ve set the clock on the dash. The name of the client at our first meeting. If the boss likes coffee black. There’s a push now for safer cars. For an alarm that goes off if your child is still in the car seat after you’ve turned off the engine. But it’s slow, the movement. Slow because people don’t want to admit it could happen to them. But everyone makes mistakes. Everyone forgets and later, remembers. What happens after that is random, good luck or bad. People forget, but the weather holds and nothing happens. Nothing at all. People forget, and their kids sleep in their car seats, don’t even wake up, never know, and maybe it goes unspoken. People run red lights, slip on ice, make peanut butter sandwiches, and kill other people. I can’t blame Jenny for something I might’ve done, you might’ve done. An accident.
OFFICER. You filed for divorce a year after it happened.
ANIKA. I filed for divorce because Jenny loved Chris. Loves Chris. Present tense. I lost my daughter and I lost my wife. She offered to stay. To split her time between me and Chris. Thought she was being generous when she offered me weekends. Jenny always had a plan. But I couldn’t live with half a marriage. I’d rather be alone. So you know what her version of our story is?
OFFICER shakes his head.
ANIKA. That I left her. “I can’t believe you left me,” she said. She said, “I would never have left you.” Because she offered me half the week. Because loving someone else, fucking someone else—somehow, that didn’t count as leaving. I wouldn’t have left her even though she killed our daughter. At first, my anger swallowed me alive. I tried to find out where Chris worked. I didn’t know anything about this person, this person Jenny loved. Loves. Who she was. Is. If Chris even existed. Exists. I wanted to kill her. Kill myself. And then, I realized, I was angry at Jenny.
OFFICER. So now you’re angry at Jenny. Not at Chris.
ANIKA. Being angry at Chris is like licking frosting off a knife. But I’m not angry at Jenny now, either. I can’t stay angry. If I let myself feel my anger, I’d destroy the whole fucking world. Can I tell you something? Something I’ve never told anyone?
OFFICER sips coffee.
ANIKA. Sometimes, I mean, it’s only happened once or twice, three times—sometimes I think I made the whole thing up. Not just Chris and Jenny, but Lizard, too. Like my life was never real. It always seemed too good, like I didn’t deserve it. After the accident I drove to Amit’s house. My high school boyfriend. I showed up on his doorstep and knocked and knocked and his mother answered and I asked about prom. I guess my brain just took a vacation. Like Palm Beach in winter. Can you imagine? I’m standing on the stoop, knocking on his door, waiting for my corsage, my first dance under fake stars. The theme was Cornucopia of Constellations, which makes absolutely no sense.
OFFICER. Themes never do.
ANIKA. I talked to his mom and kept asking where Amit was, why I couldn’t see him. “He has a job,” she said, like that explained it. While I was talking she dialed 911. At first, they thought I was drunk. Then they realized I was that lady. The one on the news, screaming in the parking lot. I dream about Lizard, wake up thinking she’s still alive. Sometimes I try to call her on the phone, as if she could talk, as if she ever spoke, but she was too young, and now she’s dead.
OFFICER. Eleven months—
ANIKA. I got off work early. Because it was Friday, and the first hot day. Everyone was headed to Gas Works Park or Alki Beach, but I didn’t care about the view. I just wanted to surprise my Lizard. My little girl. I drove to the daycare and parked and knocked on the door—it was yellow. Everyone’s always so pleased with the sun, but I like the rain, blue-gray swells on the Sound. The door was yellow. Tasha came out holding Jason on her hip. Dante stood behind Tasha and Jason, holding Sierra’s hand.
He said, “Hey, Anika, we missed Lizard today. We missed her, didn’t we Sierra?”
And I said, “Lizard’s here.”
Dante said, “I don’t think so, but let me check with Tasha.”
Tasha was standing right there, holding Jason. She looked confused. “No Lizard.”
“Lizard’s not here. Is she with Jenny?”
“She’s here. Jenny dropped her off.”
Tasha said, “No.”
Dante said, “Sorry.”
And I knew.
So I just left. Didn’t say anything else. I think they knew, too. I think we all did. They came to the funeral, Tasha and Dante, and they came because they knew in the same moment I did. We all felt it. There’s a knowing, a place you enter. A room. Later, I wondered why I didn’t stop it. Why I didn’t think of something else. I mean, the knowing felt so firm. My fault, as if just knowing was what made her go. Later, I wondered whether maybe, if I’d thought of something else, some other reason, like Take Your Daughter to Work Day, or Jenny home sick, or even Jenny leaving me for Chris, Jenny and Chris and Lizard all kidnapping each other in the Car-A-Mile—later I wondered whether maybe if I’d thought some other thought, it might’ve come true. I worried I killed her by thinking I knew. But I did. We all three felt it. So I raced out of there, so fast, I don’t remember but they tell me how fast, and I drove to TechSound. Looked for the Car-a-Mile. So many. Like five or twenty. I had to park in the guest lot and walk to the main parking lot. But I ran. Ran to the first one, blue—not that one—ran to the second one, gray—another blue one—fourth one—fifth one. It was the sixth. The sixth car was red. I think I knew she picked a red one. The sixth one was red. My daughter inside. By then five hours. The sun. All day. It never does, the sun never shines here. All it does in Seattle is rain. Gray skies might’ve saved her. I could see, but I couldn’t touch. So I dumped my bag on the ground and searched for the spare key to Jenny’s car, forgetting it wasn’t Jenny’s car at all. Forgetting. And I tried the key to Jenny’s car, kept trying to unlock. Wrong key. Wrong car. Kept trying to unlock the door. It was so hot that I stopped breathing. Screamed, they tell me. I don’t remember a thing after that.
OFFICER. A gun.
ANIKA. What gun?
OFFICER. A gun goes off. And sometimes the kickback is all you remember.
ANIKA. I’ve never owned a gun. But I had a daughter.
OFFICER. Forgetfulness can be a gift.
ANIKA. A gift? I want to see. I’d give anything to see her face.
OFFICER. Sometimes we forget what our bodies can’t handle. Our brains protect it. Store the memories inside.
ANIKA. A gift? What the fuck is wrong with you, gifting? I can’t remember what she looked like. All I can see is the red car, and keys, and someone breaking the window. And Jenny, running out the door—
OFFICER. A gun goes off. Someone shoots a gun and the bullet hits, but the shooter feels numb.
ANIKA. We make assumptions all the time. We assume we’ll see the ones we love again, but we don’t know.
OFFICER. We don’t. Marie—
ANIKA. I keep trying to remember. If I forget, it’s my fault, too. If I can forget my daughter’s face, I could’ve left her in the car. I’m no different. It’s my accident, too.
OFFICER. I just went numb when the gun went off.
ANIKA. What are you talking about? There’s no gun in this story.
OFFICER. When I’m in a room, there’s always a gun.
ANIKA. This is a story about me and my wife. The daughter we had and the life we lost.
OFFICER. You speak as if it’s your fault, somehow. If I were you, I’d be angry at Jenny.
OFFICER. It was an accident, but you have every right to your feelings.
Door opens. SECURITY enters.
SECURITY. How’s it going in here?
OFFICER. We’re fine. We’re getting the job done.
SECURITY. May I speak with you for a minute?
They step outside. ANIKA takes out a pack of cigarettes. Looks around nervously. Lights up, smokes. Waits a moment, then grabs his notebook. The notebook is blank. She’s confused.
ANIKA. Nothing at all. White on white. (ANIKA hears noise, puts notebook back.)
They enter the room.
SECURTIY. Well, then, I’ll leave you to it. Just making sure everything’s in order.
OFFICER. Of course. Thank you.
ANIKA. Why haven’t you written anything down?
OFFICER. No smoking inside the station.
ANIKA stares at him.
OFFICER looks down.
ANIKA hands him the cigarette. OFFICER takes a drag, then stubs it out on the table.
ANIKA. Why haven’t you written anything down?
OFFICER. I don’t need—
ANIKA. Who uses a notepad anymore? Where’s your computer? This doesn’t feel right to me.
ANIKA gets up, walks to door, puts hand on doorknob.
ANIKA. It’s just not right.
OFFICER. Okay, I can explain.
ANIKA. I’m not a prisoner. The door’s unlocked. I can leave anytime.
OFFICER. Of course, you can. Just a follow up interview. Strictly voluntary.
OFFICER. You’re free to leave at any time.
ANIKA. Voluntary? You asked me here to talk about the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, every parent’s worst fear, the most horrific—you asked me here to talk about it all over again after three years of nightmares and pills and—this is me doing you a favor. I don’t want to talk. I don’t want to remember. It’s been almost three years and I want to forget. I want five minutes where I don’t think about a fistful of keys.
OFFICER. I can explain. It’s not what it looks like.
ANIKA. It doesn’t look like anything. You called me here. You said this was part of the file on Jenny. I don’t love her anymore, but I did love her, and what she did was an accident. An accident. And the judge was right to let her go. Anyone can forget. You, me, Marie—
OFFICER. No more about Marie.
ANIKA. Why did you call me?
OFFICER. It’s part of my plan.
ANIKA. A man with a plan. Is this some sort of experiment to see how much pain you can put me through before I snap? Are you even a cop?
OFFICER holds up his badge.
ANIKA. That looks fake.
OFFICER. Because it’s real.
ANIKA. You should’ve called Jenny. It was always about her anyway: her guilt, her grief, her loss. Because she’s the birth mother and birth mothers mourn. Are you in AA? Are you making amends?
OFFICER. I’m on probationary desk duty. They took my gun. I called because I need help. Can’t sleep, can’t drive. Marie says—Marie says if I don’t get help—
ANIKA. You think I’m the help?
OFFICER. It sounds wrong when you say it.
ANIKA. Your notebook’s blank because it’s not about me.
OFFICER. Sometimes I can’t breathe. Marie says—
ANIKA. My wife killed our daughter. I tried to save her. Tried to break the windows of the car. When I got to the hospital my hands were bleeding. My nails were torn. I’d scraped the keyhole with my fingers. Pounded the windows. I attacked the car like it wanted to take me. My daughter. Inside.
OFFICER. I know how it feels to want to go back—
ANIKA. You have a gun. I’m just a mother.
ANIKA. Stop talking about Marie. You have no idea about marriage. How it feels to be denied, over and over. How your relationship means nothing. Not a goddamn thing. For so long. And then suddenly, boom, gunshot goes off and you’re married. And everything’s supposed to be easy. You’re supposed to know what to do. How to be a wife, how to be a mother. And then how to divorce. How to untangle ties you didn’t choose. We were together in a different way. The old way. The way queers have always—you wouldn’t understand. There was a community. We loved each other and we fucked. But we didn’t do this thing called marriage and look where it got us. Everyone’s getting divorced, all my friends, none of us were made for this—this thing. You made this thing. And you kept it from us, and then strangled us with it.
OFFICER. I have no idea what you’re talking about.
ANIKA. A gun goes off. Someone falls to the ground. You outline the body in chalk, in white. And when they move the body, the outline stays. After Lizard died, Jenny and I were just empty, hollow. An outline. We didn’t know how to be married. But Jenny had Chris. At least she had that. So, I let her, I just—I didn’t even try to stop them.
OFFICER. But it’s not like you were really—you know—
ANIKA. Really what?
OFFICER. Together. I mean, you were just—
OFFICER. You said yourself you weren’t really married.
ANIKA. We were really together. We loved and we fucked. And our daughter is dead.
OFFICER. I’m not a bigot.
ANIKA. I’m not saying you are. I’m saying that marriage wasn’t the structure we chose. We had ways of loving that were outsider ways. And the state changed us. Made us more like you. You and Marie. Your wife. That word.
OFFICER. Everyone’s an outsider somewhere. They know, the guys. I used to be one of them. But now I’m just a paper pusher. A secretary, like I’ll start wearing a skirt.
ANIKA. Did you hear what you just said?
OFFICER. They look at me funny. But that’s not why. That’s not why you’re here. It’s the grief—the guilt—
ANIKA. Who did you shoot?
OFFICER. I can’t—
ANIKA. Why not? You’ve read my file. You know where I live, my dead daughter’s name.
OFFICER. Pending investigation.
ANIKA. Have you talked to anyone?
OFFICER. You wouldn’t understand.
ANIKA. Try me.
OFFICER. Marie says if I don’t—If I don’t get help she’ll—
OFFICER. If she leaves I can’t—
ANIKA. Marie loves you. She loves you, that’s all. She’s sending you a message. A message and you have to reply. Like when someone texts. You don’t leave them hanging. You text back, little bubbles, and they see them, and they know you’re there.
OFFICER. I stand in the kitchen—
ANIKA. She wants to know you’re there—
OFFICER. I forget where I am—
ANIKA. And not a chalk outline—
OFFICER. I took the tablecloth once. It was white, white cotton. She says I pulled it off the table and put it on the floor. I was shaking. I covered the body but, when she lifted the cloth there was nothing there.
ANIKA reaches for his hand.
OFFICER. (Pulls away.) I don’t deserve your compassion. You’re innocent. You’re on that side of the line. Once you’ve crossed it, you can’t go back. I’m not supposed to say I’m guilty. But I can’t forget.
ANIKA. You’re not a monster. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s been three years. Why did you call me?
OFFICER. I asked you because I need to forget. And in order to forget I need your forgiveness.
ANIKA. Why me?
OFFICER. You forgave Jenny, so you’ll forgive me.
ANIKA. I don’t even know you. I have no idea what you did, or why, or if it was justified. I don’t even know what justified means. But forgiveness is supposed to be unconditional. I mean, if I can forgive Jenny, I can forgive you. Officer—wait. What’s your name?
OFFICER writes it down, slides the paper across the table.
ANIKA. (Looks up at him, back down at the paper.) Your name is Chris?
Fade to black.
Carol Guess is the author of eighteen books of poetry and prose, including Darling Endangered, Doll Studies: Forensics, Tinderbox Lawn, and With Animal (co-written with Kelly Magee). In 2014, she was awarded the Philolexian Award for Distinguished Literary Achievement by Columbia University. She teaches in the MFA program at Western Washington University and lives in Seattle.