The Cabin at the End of the World(4)

Wen looks up from the jar and Leonard is staring at her. He’s bigger than a boulder, and his head is tilted and his eyes are either squinting in the bright sun or are narrowed like he’s trying to figure her out.

“What? What are you looking at?”

“I’m sorry, that’s rude of me. I thought it was, I don’t know, cute—”

“Cute?” Wen folds her arms across her chest.

“I mean cool. Cool! Cool that you use your dad’s first name like that. Daddy Eric, right?”

Wen sighs. “I have two dads.” Wen keeps her arms folded. “I use their first names so they know who I’m talking to.” Her friend from school, Rodney, has two dads, too, but he’s moving to Brookline later this summer. Sasha has two moms, but Wen doesn’t like her very much; she’s way too bossy. Some of the other kids in the neighborhood and at school only have one mom or one dad, and some have what is called a stepparent, or someone they call mom’s or dad’s partner or someone else without any sort of special name at all. Most of the kids she knows have one mom and one dad, though. All the kids on her favorite shows on the Disney Channel have one mom and one dad, too. There are days when Wen goes around at recess or the playground (but never at Chinese school) tapping kids on the shoulders and telling them she has two dads to see their reaction. Most of the kids aren’t fazed by it; there have been some kids who are mad at one of their own parents and tell her they wished they had two dads or two moms. There are other days when she thinks every whisper or conversation across the room is about her and she wishes her teachers or after-school counselors would stop asking her questions about her dads and telling her that it’s so great.

Leonard says, “Ah, of course. That makes sense.”

“I think everyone should use first names. It’s more friendly. I don’t get why I have to call people Mr. and Miss and Mrs. just because they’re older. After you meet Daddy Eric, he is going to tell me to call you Mr. Something.”

“That’s not my last name.”




“Never mind. You have my official permission to call me Leonard.”

“Okay. Leonard, do you think having two dads is weird?”

“No. No way. Do other people tell you that having two dads is weird?”

She shrugs. “Maybe. Sometimes.” There was one boy, Scott, who told her that God didn’t like her dads and they were fags, and he got suspended and moved into a different class. She and her dads had a family meeting and had what they called a big, serious talk. Her dads warned her that some people won’t understand their family and might say ignorant (their word) and hurtful things to her and it might not be their fault because of what they’ve been taught by other ignorant people with too much hate in their hearts, and, yes, it was very sad. Wen assumed they were talking about the same bad or stranger-danger people that hide in the city and want to take her away, but the more they talked to her about what Scott had said and why others might say things like that, too, the more it seemed like they were talking about everyday kind of people. Weren’t the three of them everyday kind of people? She pretended to understand for her dads’ sake, but she didn’t and still doesn’t. Why do she and her family need to be understood or explained to anyone else? She is happy and proud her dads trusted her enough to have the big, serious talk, but she also doesn’t like to think about it.

Leonard says, “I don’t think it’s weird. I think you and your dads make a beautiful family.”

“I do, too.”

Leonard adjusts his sitting position, twists around so he’s looking behind him at their black SUV pulled up close to the cabin in the small gravel lot, and then he eyes the length of the empty driveway and looks toward the obscured road. He turns back around, exhales, rubs his chin, and says, “They don’t do much, do they?”

Wen thinks he’s talking about her dads and she is ready to yell at him, tell him that they do a lot and that they are important people with important jobs.

Leonard must sense the building Vesuvius eruption and he points at the jar and says, “I mean the grasshoppers. They don’t do much. They’re just kind of sitting there, chilling. Like us.”

“Oh no. Do you think they are sick?” Wen bends to the jar, her face only inches from the glass.

He says, “No, I think they are fine. Grasshoppers only hop when they need to. It takes a lot of energy to jump like that. They’re probably tired from our chasing them down. I’d be more concerned if they were bouncing off the walls like mad.”

“I guess so. But I’m worried.” Wen sits up and writes “tired, sick, unhappy, hungry, scared?” in her notebook.

“Hey, can I ask how old you are, Wen?”

“I’ll be eight in six days.”

Leonard’s smile falters a little bit, like her answer to the question is a sad thing. “Really. Well, happy almost-birthday.”

“I am having two parties.” Wen takes a deep breath and then says, rapid-fire, “One up here at the cabin with just us and we’re going to eat buffalo meat burgers not buffalo style like the chicken, and then corn on the cob and ice cream cake and at night we’re going to light fireworks and I get to stay up until midnight and watch for shooting stars. And then . . .” Wen stops and giggles because she can’t keep up with how fast she wants to talk. Leonard laughs, too. Wen regroups and adds, “And when I get back home me and my two best friends, Usman and Kelsey, and maybe Gita, are going to the Museum of Science and the electricity exhibit and the butterfly room and maybe the planetarium and then ride on the duck boats, I think, and then more cake and ice cream.”

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