Conversation With Emily

Neal, a man in his late forties, is walking barefoot on a vast beach with his sixteen-year-old daughter Emily, who is barefoot, too. The day is sunny and warm, the ocean barely audible in the distance.

Neal: Could there be a more beautiful day?

Emily: A few feathery white clouds in the sky would be nice. Break up the monotony of the blue.

Neal: Ah yes. Celestial art drifting across the cerulean.

Emily: Hey Papa?

Neal: Yes, my darling daughter?

Emily: Do you ever miss Mama?

Neal: I did for a time, and then one day I realized I didn’t miss her anymore. I still think about her, but I don’t miss her. Do you?

Emily: I’m sometimes keenly aware she isn’t here, but I wouldn’t say I still miss her.

Neal: Why did you ask?

Emily: I wonder why you don’t find a new partner. I thought maybe it was because you still felt wedded to Mama.

Neal: I don’t think so. I think I don’t find a new partner because I’ve never looked for a partner. Your mother, as you know, pursued me, and I think something like that would probably have to happen again. Someone else initiating the proceedings. I’m formidably shy.

Emily: I know. (muses) I wish I could marry you and never have to leave when I get older.

Neal: You can live with me as long as you want, and you don’t have to marry me.

Emily: We are kind of married already. We just don’t sleep together.

Neal: We’re best friends.

Emily: True, but just so you know… I have kind of fallen in love with someone at school. Two someones actually. A boy and a girl. Well… he’s really a young man and she’s really a young woman.

Neal: And are they also kind of in love with each other?

Emily: No. They don’t know each other. But they’re both kind of in love with me.

Neal: Well that’s nice.

Emily: You would be okay with me being in a relationship with a woman?

Neal: Sure. I want you to be happy. Just so long as she isn’t a mass murderer or a Republican.

Emily: In some ways it’s much easier being in love with a woman. For one thing, we don’t have to worry about getting pregnant.

Neal: Oh. Are you…

Emily: Not yet. But we’re talking about it.

Neal: You and the young woman?

Emily: And the young man. We’re all sixteen. It’s what sixteen-year-olds obsess about, among other things. It’s what all the songs we listen to are about, all the books we read, movies we see, etcetera. I don’t know if that was true when you were sixteen, but it’s true now.

Neal: And you’re up to speed on the whole getting-pregnant not-getting-pregnant… system?

Emily: Yes, I’m well up to speed on that system.

Neal: Good. So… let me know if you need money for supplies or…

Emily: (laughs) Supplies? You make it sound like I’m going on an expedition.

Neal: You know what I mean. If you want to consult a doctor about birth control. I’m happy to help in any way I can.

Emily: I was thinking of getting an implant. No fuss no muss. No worry about forgetting to take the pill. Etcetera.

Neal: Well okay. Shall I make you an appointment?

Emily: I kind of already did.

Neal: Kind of?

Emily: Did.

Neal: With Dr. Ornstein?

Emily: No, at the women’s health clinic.

Neal: Great. And I really do appreciate you telling me about this.

Emily: Isn’t that why you brought me here today? To talk about this?

Neal: No. Not… specifically.

Emily: Specifically? That’s… perplexing. And by the way, are we going somewhere or just meandering?

Neal: (laughs) One of the great philosophical questions. Along with: What are we doing here? What is our purpose? Is there any meaning to life? And is there meandering after death?

Emily: At my age I’m more interested in being in love and being loved and stuff like that. So if you didn’t bring me here today to review the facts of life, why did you bring me here today?

Neal: What do you mean? We come to the beach all the time. Why does this feel like I brought you here for some special purpose? Maybe we came here because… we came here.

Emily: Papa, you are so transparent to me. I always know when you have something important you want to talk about.

Neal: Well I don’t know if it’s that important, but it is something I’ve wanted to tell you for a very long time.

Emily: (stops walking) What?

Neal: How we chose your name?

Emily: Mama already told me. I’m named after her favorite poet Emily Dickinson.

Neal: Actually that’s not who you’re named after.

Emily: (taken aback) Seriously? You waited until I was sixteen to tell me I wasn’t named after Emily Dickinson, after I’ve told everyone I’ve ever known I’m named after her?

Neal: Your mother asked me not to tell you, but after she was gone I decided I would. And I was just about to tell you when you bought not one but two Emily Dickinson sweatshirts and spent months on that big school project writing fifty poems in the style of Emily Dickinson, and you dressed up as Emily Dickinson, and you did your hair like Emily Dickinson, and you made those videos of you being Emily Dickinson reading her poems, and so… I just let it go.

Emily: This is upsetting, Papa. Why are you telling me now?

Neal: I’m not sure. Maybe I sensed you were becoming a sexual being and… I don’t know. I just wanted to set the record straight before any more time passed. And I might not have said anything about it today if you hadn’t brought up the whole meandering issue.

Emily: (sits down on the sand) So tell me.

Neal takes a piece of paper out of his back pocket.

Emily: You wrote a speech?

Neal: I copied something out of a book to read to you.

Emily: Is this book the source of my name? The true source?

Neal: Yes.

Emily: What’s the book?

Neal: Larousse Gastronomique.

Emily: That big fat cookbook?

Neal: Larousse Gastronomique is far more than a cookbook. It is an encyclopedia of the history of cuisine, specifically French cuisine.

Emily: I’m named after a French Emily?

Neal: Yes.

Emily: Well that’s not so bad. Unless she was some horrible queen or countess, and even that would be kind of cool.

Neal: I don’t actually know what she was.

Emily: Oh great. I’m named after somebody you know nothing about?

Neal: I know you’re named after somebody who happens to have the same first name as Emily Dickinson.

Emily: Read the cookbook excerpt.

Neal: But first I want to set the scene.

Emily: Which scene?

Neal: The moment when we chose your name.

Emily: Fine. Set the scene.

Neal: So your mother and I had been married for five months. She was eight months pregnant with you.

Emily: She got pregnant before you got married? No one ever told me that either. How do you know I’m yours?

Neal: You have my nose.

Emily: (laughs) I certainly do. Go on.

Neal: So we were sitting on the sofa together one evening and your mother was having cocoa and I was reading aloud to her from Larousse Gastronomique.

Emily: How romantic.

Neal: It was, actually. Food is a very sensual subject.

Emily: Did you do this a lot? Read to her from the big fat cookbook?

Neal: We read aloud to each other every item in Larousse from A to Z. It took us three years. We finished when you were two and a half. You liked to sit at your little table and draw with your crayons while we read aloud from the book.

Emily: That’s so sweet. I guess it is kind of romantic. So read the thing you brought.

Neal: Well we had gotten to the Cs on that fateful night, and I came upon the entry for conversation.

Emily: You mean like what we’re having now? People talking to each other?

Neal: Yes and no. So… (reads) conversation a small pastry with an almond filling. According to the Dictionnaire de l’Academie des gastronomes, they were created at the end of the 18th century, taking their name from the title of a popular work, Les Conversations d’Emilie, by Mm d’Epinay (1774) They consist of covered puff pastry tartlets filled with a rum-flavoured frangipane or with almond cream and topped by a layer of royal icing. The tartlets are decorated with thin bands of pastries crisscrossed over the top.

Emily: I’m named after a tartlet?

Neal: You’re named after Emilie from the popular work Les Conversations d’Emilie. Your mother heard that title and said, “Oh honey, if we have a girl, let’s name her Emily. I love that name.”

Emily: (gets up) And she loves that name because she loved Emily Dickinson’s poetry, so really the title of that ancient novel or whatever it was just reminded her of how much she liked the name. So I’m not really named after that particular Emilie but after all Emilys including Emily Dickinson.

Neal: Except not really.

Emily: Why not really?

Neal: Your mother… (hesitates)

Emily: Tell me.

Neal: Didn’t love Emily Dickinson’s poems.

Emily: But she told me she did.

Neal: She told you she loved Emily Dickinson. She identified with her as an unrecognized poet, as Dickinson was unrecognized until after her death. But your mother didn’t like Dickinson’s poems. They were too rhymey for her.

Emily: Rhyming was the style of the time when Emily Dickinson was alive.

Neal: I know.

Emily: So whose poems did Mama love?

Neal: Denise Levertov. Philip Whalen. Sylvia Plath. e.e. Cummings.

Emily: Maybe I’ll change my name to Denise Cummings or e.e. Plath.

Neal: Emily is a lovely name.

Emily: I appreciate your telling me the truth, Papa. I like the truth. And I have no regrets about my Emily Dickinson phase. I was only eleven and it was a way of staying connected to Mama even if Mama found Emily Dickinson too rhymey, which is not even a real word.

Neal: Ryhmish?

Emily: You’re an ass. Make it up to me somehow.

Neal: Shall we go to Chico’s for fish & chips?

Emily: Yes, and then I will forgive you for not telling me sooner.

Neal: I don’t think you were ready until now. Or I wasn’t ready. Or something.

They set off together across the sand.

Emily: I think it was more about you not being ready than me not being ready.

Neal: I think you’re right.

Emily: You don’t have to agree with everything I say. I won’t bite you.

Neal: So tell me about these people you’re in love with.

Emily: I’m not quite ready to tell you about them. I’m waiting to see if the infatuation lasts more than a couple weeks.

Neal: I remember.

Emily: What do you remember?

Neal: The fleeting nature of infatuation when I was sixteen.

Emily: It’s disconcerting how fleeting it can be. One day I’m insanely in love with someone, the next day I find them repulsive.

Neal: Shall we make a rhyming poem about that?

Emily: Good idea. Shall I start or you?

Neal: You start.

Emily: Oh it’s oh so disconcerting…

Neal: How fleeting love can be.

Emily: How fast the tide can rise and fall.

Neal: How changeable the sea.

Emily: Oh it oh so disconcerting…

Neal: When love becomes disgust.

Emily: And dreams of happy smooching

Neal: Are trampled into dust.

Emily: Oh will there ever come a time

Neal: When love is here to stay?

Emily: And dreams of happy smooching

Neal: Never fade away?

Emily: Some questions have no answers

Neal: Until one day they do.

Emily: And dreams of happy smooching…

Neal: Those dreams they all come true.


Simple Song (Shy)

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