My twin daughters are twelve—an age at the very beginning of something. I try to tell them this. Jenny rolls her eyes, shows me the whites, something she knows I hate. She’s picked it up from television, I’m sure, a symbol of an angst she doesn’t really have. Or maybe she does have it. Who am I to guess at her feelings? I have a mother. She usually guessed wrong.
Lisa, the other half, imitates her sister’s eye-roll, but she doesn’t have the constitution for it. She stops halfway through the roll, laughing, trying to catch me watching. I never see the whites. One thing about children: you do not have favorites, but you do have allies.
They’re both good girls. Some nights, they still crawl into bed with me, curl up like larvae on either side, and wrap their legs around each of my legs. I picture us looking like that Indian statue. What’s the name? I should know, but I don’t.
“Mom,” a twin says from the entryway, because the sound of their voices—unlike the rest of them—is truly identical, “the man is here again.”
I had a feeling he would return.
“Ma’am,” he says, tipping his head, like I’ve stepped into a Western. His hair is pushed back and he touches it now, as though missing a hat. I can tell, instantly, that he’s younger than he looks. It’s in the skin around his eyes.
“You’re back,” I say.
“I hope you got the pamphlet I left last time,” he says.
“Um, the babysitter had it,” I say, “I’m not sure where she put it.”
The first time he came, I was out with a date. We had Italian food. I came home early, and the girls recreated the man at the door in painstaking detail, like I was preparing to draw a police sketch.
“Your daughters are beautiful,” he says, “Jenny and Lisa, if I recall correctly.”
At the sound of their names—talismanic—the girls appear again. Lisa stands behind Jenny, kicks at the scuffed wood floor.
“Hello again,” Jenny says, showing him her teeth. She is less pretty than Lisa, but there’s an ease about her, even now, at eleven, an untroubled way of being in her body. I already know she will attract boys, and because of the boys, trouble.
“By chance, ma’am,” the man addresses me, “can I give you another pamphlet?”
“It has to be somewhere.” I scan the table by the door, covered in old mail and takeout menus.
“I can explain it to you if you want. It’s about our heavenly Father,” he says, “and our savior Jesus Christ.” His voice has become something firm and solid. My daughters look at him as though he’s grown antlers and a snout. They know nothing of religion, at least not the earnest, heavenly kind, delivered orally on doorsteps. They go to a liberal school in Los Angeles. Their best friend has two dads and spends Christmas in Key West.
“Whose father?” Jenny asks, suspicious if not downright rude.
“Everyone’s father,” the man says, and the girls look at each other, and then at me.
Fathers are a tricky subject in our house. When the girls were small, and all they knew of the world was what they saw from the backseat of my car, I would play Joni Mitchell and the Beatles on repeat, and tell them the song “Nowhere Man” was about their dad, who was nowhere. I was meditating at that time and this seemed like a good explanation—vague and wise. Plus the girls were young and trusting, they believed everything I said.
Recently, I heard Jenny telling her friend in the twins’ bedroom: “Our dad left us when we were too little to remember. He just up and left.” She must have gotten this phrase from television, or maybe from me. It turns out, it was not a smart idea to tell the girls their father was nowhere. It’s the same as saying everywhere, and now they’ll smash themselves against his absence for the rest of their lives.
“We’re okay,” I tell the man. “The pamphlet won’t be necessary.”
“Well I don’t mean to pressure you ma’am,” he says, like he means it. Then he hands me another.
“What church are you with?” I ask. The girls are still eyeing him, faces clouded over with interest. He’s not wearing any uniform I recognize—no short sleeve white shirt, no nametag. Just a flannel and worn-in jeans.
“I’m with the man upstairs,” he says, winking at the girls.
“Workin for The Man,” Jenny says, which makes him laugh. She’s picked that up somewhere recently. Whenever I ask her to do the dishes, she says, “Here I go again, working for The Man.”
“I might encourage you just to look at the pamphlet,” he says, “if you ever get a chance.”
“Okay,” I say, “I’ll keep it in mind.”
“It might change your life,” he says.
“Thank you,” I say. “Good to know.”
“It could be everything you’re missing,” he says.
“Okay,” I say. “I got it.”
He turns to leave, and the girls and I watch him walk down the street, until he’s the size of a flannelled stick-figure, until he’s the size of something I’ve pulled from the dryer—a piece of lint or dust. He walks very fast, like someone with a plan.
“Do you think he’ll come back?” Lisa asks, her voice quiet, reverential.
“I hope he comes back,” Jenny says.
“Why?” I ask them. “He’ll just keep asking us a question we have to say ‘no’ to.”
I look at the pamphlet. It looks homemade, like he took time to fold the photocopied pages, run his fingers over and over the crease.
“I don’t mind saying no,” Jenny says, “Sometimes it’s just nice to be asked a question.”
“I hope he comes every day,” Lisa says. “Even if all we get to do is watch him leave.”