“This is too spicy.” Clara pushed her plate a few inches away in disgust.
“It’s not spicy at all. There is nothing spicy here,” I told her.
She scrunched up her nose and panted. “Well it feels like my mouth is on fire.”
“Okay. Do you think it’s maybe the spinach that is making you hyperventilate like a dying fish right now, or is it maybe these mushrooms?”
“No,” she gasped. “I think there is garlic on this.”
I frowned. Of course there was garlic on it. Harmless specks of garlic were hidden under the cheese, and it was turning my apparently vampire daughter into a writhing gelatinous blob on the floor.
“Okay okay. Get up. There’s garlic on it,” I said. “Just give me your slice of pizza and I’ll split it with your sister. You know, the normal one.” Lydia smiled and nodded in recognition. She was casually picking her mushrooms off and feeding them to the dog under the table and then licking her fingers. “The kinda normal one.” I clarified. She smiled and nodded again, an exact copy of the first time. Like a life sized automaton child design to mimic human interaction.
Their mother had overheard our conversation and was already in the kitchen cutting a piece of the back up pizza for Clara.
“She has a very sensitive mouth,” I said referring to Clara.
“I have found that Clara is very sensitive all over actually,” her mom replied as she brought a new slice of pizza and slid it on her plate.
I tried to put my head down and enjoy a brief moment alone with my dinner, but I noticed out the corner of my eye that Clara was suddenly dancing for some reason. I glanced up and found her with both arms extended out to her sides waggling them about like a jellyfish.
“What in the world are you doing now?” I asked in polite frustration.
“I’m trying to see if this is me, or if it’s something around me.”
I put my food down and leaned back in my chair.
“If what is you?”
“Everything,” she said, rolling her head around on her shoulders as she continued to flail her arms. “This is what I do to find out if what is happening is just me, or if it’s something around me that is happening.”
I rested my elbows on the table and placed my chin in my hands and then blinked slowly.
She continued, “Sometimes things happen and I think that it’s something around me, and it turns out that it’s just me. And sometimes I think things are me,” she gave me a sideways look, her arms still wiggling like drunk noodles. “and it’s really something actually happening.”
She said these things as if the words had some meaning. As if she really felt that these sentences were conveying a point about life. Something universal to everyone. As if it was in anyway natural to have doubts about whether or not something was “you” as opposed to “happening around you.”
But, as I folded myself back into my pizza and the fog of parenthood closed back in around me the words echoed in my mind. Is the thing happening right now me, or is it something around me? How much of this real? Maybe the little girl is right. Maybe all of this is just a dream or some strange hallucination. It would explain so much.
I resisted the urge to throw my arms out to the side and wave them around for fear of what I might find.