Thea, who has been digitally stored after death, is preparing to talk to her father for the first time since she died. She wants to convince him that she is still herself.
Her father was not exactly taciturn, but words, for him, were secondary. She could talk to him, rattling on about anything or nothing, but only because he enjoyed watching her speak.
It had never before mattered so terribly much what she said.
When he called, his voice hesitant and hoarse, his face pale, she dove into the memories and let her tongue follow.
Fireflies flickering in the trees like escaped and feral Christmas lights.
Stars, dozens of them or even hundreds, up in the hills beyond the city lights.
The ocean, her first true sight of a horizon, blue-gray under clouds, then translucent and startling blue-green in sunshine; and her father’s large hand reaching down to point at the sandpipers scuttling up and down the beach, their spidery footprints left behind in the sand.
Those hands, so firm in their grip, holding her in the surf, letting her ride lightly at the surface, bobbing up and down.
Those hands, squeezing her arms in reassurance and letting her go, to be tossed and tumbled toward shore.
A campfire, and a crowd of families around it, and her father playing some wild, stirring tune on his grandfather’s balalaika while the wood popped sparks into the air.
Another night, another campfire, and Thea improvising along with her father, playing her first flute.
Her father looming over her and shouting, the night she wandered off into the woods in a thunderstorm and a tree fell across her path home, and she had to climb over it, scraping her hands and tearing her clothes.
Her father looking out the window at Max and their loaded car, standing in front of the door with his back to it, unconsciously blocking her way, as they made ready to move into that first apartment.
“Not exactly. I knew I was doing it.”
She had almost forgotten, riding the river of memory, that she was speaking to her father, and why. What had she been saying? Oh! “You did? What was the point?”
Her father gazed at her, and it was the same gaze she remembered from that day. “I needed one more moment with my little girl. I wasn’t ready to let her go.”
“I’m here, Daddy. I’m still here.”
He closed his eyes, heaved a heavy sigh, and opened them again. “I know.” But he looked at her, still, as if she were lost instead of found.