"Did she like dogs?" I reached toward the photographs again.
"Well, she had a cat," he said, nodding toward the picture.
"What was its name?"
"I can't remember."
In spite of Marilyn's careful training, I traced a finger along my mother's back. "What was her favorite color?"
"How the hell should I know?"
"I bet it was green. Mine's green. What did she want to be when she grew up?"
"I have no idea." He was quiet a moment. "She always knew you'd be a girl, though." He took off his glasses and cleaned their thick lenses with the edge of his dressing gown. "She'd had your name picked out since she was a little girl, not much older than you are now. You were named after a steakhouse. Kelly's."
I was disappointed to hear this. I thought I'd been named after the Kelly, a famous battleship he'd told me about.
"I'll always remember it. She was just a little girl—eight, nine. We were driving along the freeway and she saw a sign for Kelly's, and she said, 'That's what I'm going to name my little girl.' And I said, 'How do you know you're going to have a little girl?' And she said 'I just do.' She was stubborn that way."
That story made me feel better, that she'd known I was going to be a girl years before I was born, as if by magic.
He slipped the two photos into the pocket of his dressing gown. "It's getting late," he said and stood up. "You need to get in bed. Mommy will be upset if you're still awake when she comes home."
I knew Marilyn wouldn't be mad; she never was. But I knew, too, to get up and go brush my teeth. While I brushed, I counted how many naked women and men were in each row on the bathroom wallpaper in Marilyn's bathroom. I counted them all the time, the rows of men in a variety of mustaches and poses, women fat and thin, their nipples pink or black dots. It was something our landlord had picked out.
I was in bed when Marilyn came home. When she leaned over to kiss me good night, I fiddled with her wooden-bead necklace, the one with the small goat's horn charm that came from somewhere in Africa. I breathed deeply the dry-cleaning smell of her wool sweater, her minty breath, and the cigarette behind it.
"Good night, sweetheart," she whispered. "Go to sleep."
The next day when I got home from school, before my grandfather came home, I decided to look for more pictures of Michele, ones that would show her face. I was certain they were somewhere in his desk, that my grandfather had simply misplaced them. Marilyn had hundreds of pictures of me, after all, carefully labeled and filed in specially purchased photo boxes. I assumed the same had to be true of my grandfather and his daughter.
My hands shook as I sorted through the pile, careful to leave each paper in its original spot, careful to put the gun back where I found it. I sifted through bills and old magazines, scratchpads and newspaper inserts. There was nothing.
A few days later, I searched my grandfather's desk again and finally found some pictures. But they were the same two that he'd already shown me, tucked in the top drawer, creased and covered in fingerprints, as if he'd often touched them.
"Blood is important," my grandfather would sometimes tell me on those nights when Marilyn taught ESL and we were left alone. "Where you come from is important. It's who you are."
He'd sit at the head of the dining room table—a repurposed boardroom table—in his dressing gown, sometimes with his street clothes beneath, an empty ice cream bowl in front of him, a few drops of French vanilla spattered across his shirt. I'd sit sometimes in a chair, but more often than not on the red carpet beneath the framed technical drawings of German U-boats, next to Marilyn's electric typewriter on its stand, which rested in the corner right by my grandfather. I liked to sit on the floor, where sometimes Klutz the cat or Ugly the dog would deign to visit me. Across the living room, visible from the table, the TV would be set to a wildlife documentary, the volume turned low so that bugs ate other bugs in silent, slow-motion pantomime.
My grandfather didn't see very well, and when he didn't have his contacts in, he wore thick glasses with lenses that looked like the bottom of Coke bottles. It was hard to tell what he was thinking when he wore his glasses, because you couldn't see his eyes. You couldn't tell if he was looking down at the table or at you, but you could always tell when he wanted you to believe what he was saying, because he took off his glasses when he said it and looked straight at you with blind eyes. He always took off his glasses when he told me the stories of my family.