G sits beside me in the gallery. There's something about her presence that quiets my mind. My dad used to be the director of this gallery, thirty-five years ago. He would speak his name and birthdate into a microphone to gain access. I'd sit on a chair in the inner office, kicking my heels against the chair legs. Dad's colleague, Mr. Burnside, would slip his hand into mine, take me downstairs to the ice cream machine, buy me an ice cream sandwich. Mr. Burnside was impossibly old. He knew how to listen to a little girl. I'd eat the ice cream sandwich and chat with Mr. Burnside, kick at the chair legs while Dad worked, the gallery dark and empty on the other side of the wall.
G sits beside me now, while her husband R climbs a ladder to tweak the sound levels. It's a sound installation, a dozen little speakers suspended from the ceiling like faces. My voice comes from one of the speakers. R interviewed me over the phone a few months back about my decision to change my name. I don't remember what I said - I was just talking - but it's been captured and preserved. G has spent hours and hours listening to my voice, choosing which bits to save. I like the distortion from the telephone, except when I laugh. It sounds like a cackle.
It's a strange, intimate feeling. I am aware of G's silent recognition of a cadence in my voice. Like she has been brushing and braiding my hair while I sleep.
Later, at dinner, I say "ooh." G and R laugh. "You said it just that way in the interview!" A response that didn't make the final cut. We're eating homemade soup and salad. Dessert is a canvas bag of citrus from friends in Southern California. G puts her head in the bag to breathe it in, passes the bag to me. I gulp down a greedy breath. It smells like Santa Barbara, like the house of a long-gone friend who lived in the middle of a citrus orchard. R rolls a juice-heavy orange in his hand, "Such stiff little oranges," he says. I peel a grapefruit, clumsily, the oil from the skin running down my arm. "Sweaty grapefruit," says G. R peels his in a long spiral. He squeezes a piece of skin into the candle, and it sparks, a dinnertable firecracker.
G did, once, brush and braid my hair. She made a hundred tiny braids. I was in a play and the braids made it easy to tuck my hair under the wig every night. We spent hours with her hands in my hair. I sat at her feet while she braided and we talked.
We sit around the little table in their white-walled kitchen, eating sweet sections of grapefruit, the candles burning down. There is, I think, nothing better than this.