See this postcard of a hotel, this window circled in blue ink? That’s the room in which I realized I would leave your father. You were there with me, in fact, though I’m sure you don’t remember. You couldn’t have been more than three. Your father was in Chicago for business, and on a whim, I drove us out of town for the weekend. I’d never done a thing like that in my life. Once we were settled into the hotel, I walked you down the street, a sidewalk shaded by enormous elms, ginkgos , and maples, to this French restaurant where they served a fixed menu every evening. Three courses, three choices per course. And in between the salad and the dessert: a palate cleanser. In this case, a lemon sorbet served in a little blue goblet. The grin on your face when the waiter set that blue goblet before you! Your own little goblet. For the courses, I had given you bites from my plate. You had eaten that food dutifully, but only the sorbet made you smile—before you even tasted it. Because it was beautiful. Because it was all yours. That’s how I felt at that hotel. It was the first time in my life that I’d stayed at a hotel all by myself. Well, not by myself really. You were there. What I mean is I was the only adult. I was in charge. I could do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I could, for instance, take my toddler to a fancy restaurant that her father wouldn’t even take me to. It was a feeling I hadn’t known I was missing. And once I felt it, I wasn’t willing to give it up. Like how after that palate cleanser, when the waiter brought out that one chocolate soufflé for us to share, your grin vanished. Your face reddened. The waiter had barely even taken his hand from the plate. I saw the look of panic on his face. You were the only child in the place, much less the only toddler. It was not the kind of restaurant where one took children. I quickly pushed that soufflé toward you before you wailed.
Michelle Ross is the author of There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You (2017), which won the 2016 Moon City Press Short Fiction Award. Her fiction has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Colorado Review, Hobart, Electric Literature, and other venues. Her work was selected for the Wigleaf Top 50 for 2019 and was a finalist for Best of the Net 2019. She’s fiction editor of Atticus Review. www.michellenross.com.