Where do you live? Do you have any family? What street do you live on?
Ich lebe in über’m Rhein. Lesley ist meine Tochter.
Though Tammy had her headphones on while she mouthed the words of the exercise in response to the German speaker, she could still hear the floorboards squeak when her boyfriend walked through the living room and into their bedroom.
Meine Tochter heibt Lesley.
Her boyfriend wedged the door shut and it gave with a whine.
Wir leben auf Vine Street.
Do you like it? the speaker asked. His emphasis on the last two words suggested an impure interest, Tammy thought, though she didn’t mind.
She looked around their colorful living room. Lesley had just fallen asleep in her crib in the corner that Tammy’s mom had helped her daughter pick out that summer. Her mother had also paid for the large circular braided rug in the center of the room, the card table in the corner between the kitchen and the living room, and for the thrift store couch upon which Tammy sat and completed her homework assignments.
Tammy shook her head and rewound the tape.
DO YOU LIKE IT? the voice on the tape asked.
Ich mag meine Nachbarschaft. Wir haben ein Café. . .Tammy replied and then paused the recorder so that she could look up the word “home” and “near” in the German-English dictionary. . .eine Bibliothek und eine Schule in der Nähe unseres Hauses, she finished her first sentence.
“I’m going to bed now!” her boyfriend called from behind that sticky door.
“I just have to record a little bit of this now, sweetie.”
“Can’t you do that in the morning when I leave?”
“No,” Tammy said, too quietly for him to hear.
He must have heard something, though, because the door whined open. Thadeus. Er ist gross und stark und sehr gut aussehend. He was stripped down to his white boxers and a soft layer of skin smoothed over his chest to make his muscles seem like a suggestion of potential energy.
“I can go sleep somewhere else,” he told her. “That’s no problem.”
“I’m only going to be recording for a minute or two,” Tammy told him. “I already have the sentences written, I just have to say them into the tape recorder. Shit.” She hadn’t pressed pause.
He groaned and tried to slam the door to the bedroom, but, of course, you had to know a certain trick to make that door close softly. He kicked it or something and the door gave way to connect with the wood. Tammy caught her breath in the seconds of silence that followed and even imagined Thad was worried as well. Maybe. . .but no. The baby woke up screaming.
Tammy walked to the girl murmuring German words, which wrought a curiosity on the baby that usually ended up soothing her.
steigt mein Engel
“See ya,” Thad told her. He picked up his leather jacket and shoved his feet into his work boots and walked out without a glance over his shoulder.
Tammy covered the baby’s ears and whispered: “Fuck you” to the closed door with every canker in her soul. She let her chest boil with it while she watched the door, then, she looked down at her child.
“You’re hungry, aren’t you, oops, I meant, uh, bist du hungrig? Baby?” Lesley sniffled and raised her tiny claw to her mother’s chest. Tammy knew what this meant and started to lift up her shirt for the baby.
“There we go, honey. There we go.”
Meine liebe meine Tochter mein Kind.
(I love my daughter, my child.)