Delia and I used to play a game called ‟Flying.” I would call her and she would run headlong at me at the full churning tilt her little legs could achieve. When she reached me, I would grab her under her arms and toss her up into the air, converting, it seemed, the horizontal energy of her run into a moment of vertical flight. And from below I would see in her face a high-level mixture of pure intoxicating excitement. I do not believe that I ever saw fear in the mix, for at the age of four she never thought that her father would not be there to catch her when she came kicking downward.
One day Delia and I stopped for lunch at a luncheonette in the suburbs. It was very hot outside and inside the air conditioning was roaring and the ceiling fans whirring, all without much success in combating the heat of the grill where a man in white aprons was sizzling cheesesteaks. We waited in a slow line. A bored young woman with her hair in a bun slouched at the cash register taking orders on a little green pad. She had one droopy eye that gave her face a dense, brooding, atmosphere. Her lack of interest in the task was clear. Her lack of interest in me was clear. Delia wandered away. I stood in line and waited. My mind wandered.
My turn finally came. I ordered a hoagie for me and a ham and cheese sandwich for Delia. Delia was ten yards away drawing circles in the condensation on the glass soda case across the room.
‟Dealster,” I called. I extended my arms.
She turned and ran towards me at full speed.
I scooped her up when she reached me and tossed her straight up in the air. But as she left my arms, I saw what I hadn’t noticed before: directly over my head there was a big brown whirling ceiling fan and I had thrown my daughter directly into its maw.
I tried to pull her back after she left my grip. I tore handfuls of air from the widening space between her feet and my reach. I let out a cry. ‟Oh, God. No. No.”
She flew up from my arms. Her face was lit with joy. My cry filled the space between us and her expression changed as she saw the look on my face below.
The was nothing I could do but watch with the horrible clarity that life reserves for such moments.
And then she hit the open blades.
There was a small sound – a little pop – nothing dramatic, and then she was falling.
I gathered her in.
‟Oh Honey,” I cried. She was wailing. ‟Are you okay?” I looked for blood, for mayhem, for gore.
She wailed and wailed.
But by then I had processed the sound I heard when she hit the fan and realized it was the sound that plastic makes when it is struck. The fan’s blades were plastic.
I comforted her. I shooshed her with kisses and hugs. I confirmed that there were no cuts or bruises or marks. My look from below – that moment of pure unveiled terror – was what had scared her into tears. She hadn’t even realized that she had hit the fan.
She gradually calmed down. And as she calmed down, I looked up and saw that the woman behind the cash register was looking at me. I did not like her look. It was a look that said that I was the man who could throw his daughter into a whirling fan. I was a man who was careless; I was a man who could not be trusted.
And when I looked around, I saw that it wasn’t just her. All the sad-eyed lunchtime crowd was looking at me.
The woman handed me the plastic bag with our sandwiches inside. She did not say a word.
I slunk from the luncheonette, holding Delia’s hand tight.