Photo by  Dana Cristea

Photo by Dana Cristea

There are two things you can do when she’s scribbled across the whole of the inside of the card, but one of them is a thing you shouldn’t do. One of them is a thing your father might have done, and though he would have told you afterward that it wasn’t yelling, that it was raising his voice — and though you’re sure you could have pulled off that distinction better than he ever did — you know better. You have always known better.

So, as her older sister panics about the card being ruined, you don’t yell. You don’t yell at either of them, though you have before, though you once yelled at the little one when she was a baby, trying to outmatch the screams that went on for hours, and saw stars for your effort. No, you don’t yell. You speak calmly to the older child, try to undo the damage you did when she was younger, when the yelling came fast and loose. You tell her that it’s alright, that auntie will understand, that she will even appreciate it, though you know that your sister will secretly be annoyed that she can’t read the trite words her niece has obscured with her graffiti, that she can’t read them and tease you about them throughout the year to come. You take the card, seal it in its envelope, and slip into the cubby hole of the door as your wife drives you out of the parking lot, onto the road, and off to what’s next.

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