My daughter Polly asks me what will happen if we die and there’s no water. She’s eight, four months out of her booster seat, and these are the kinds of things she wants to know.
“What do you mean?”
We’re at a gas station in Bakersfield, California. July, 9:30 at night. The middle of another drought. I’ve just paid $19.95 for a case of off-brand bottled water that should have cost around five bucks.
“Suppose in heaven, they run out?”
I’m not the religious type. I want to say that there is no heaven, that when we die, we die. But this isn’t the time. I pull out onto Bear Mountain Boulevard. We’re on our way home from day one of my wife’s funeral.
“When we die,” I say, “we lose all natural desires. We don’t need water anymore.”
Originally, I wanted to leave her at the house with my mother. She’s down from Seattle, staying with us the past three weeks. She and Polly get along great, and my daughter has picked up some of the clichés my mom likes to throw around: Be careful what you wish for. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
But Polly insisted. “You might need me,” she said.
She handled things better than I did. I was quiet and impatient and tense. Polly went from person to person, doing what her grandmother told her she should do. “Thank you for coming,” she would say. “I like your dress.” “We’re both fine.”
“I was really proud of you today.” I say.
“You sure you want to do this again tomorrow?”
“How ‘bout if we grab a pizza?”
“Let’s just go home, Big Guy.”
At a stop light, I look over. I expect to see her eyes filled with water. But she stares ahead, almost defiantly.
“What would happen if you crossed a Venus flytrap with an oak?”
“I don’t know.”
“I do.” She looks over. “You’d get a tree nobody would want to climb.”
She smiles at this and I give her the laugh she wants. The light changes. Polly undoes her seatbelt, and before I can lecture her, she’s reached into the backseat of the car, freed one of the water bottles, uncapped it.
“Here you go,” she says to me. “Live a little.”
Z.Z. Boone’s fiction can be found in the New Ohio Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, Potomac Review, and others. He teaches creative writing at Western Connecticut State University.