A Daughter
Dheepa Maturi

She conducted her usual surveillance: one mounted policemen, two elderly couples, a play group of eight children. No vagrants, no men walking alone. After weeks of inspection, Sheela had determined that Grifton Park had its sparsest traffic at 10:15 a.m. on weekdays.

“Do you know how to curtsy?” The girl had emerged from nowhere, outfitted in a too-large tutu, her sleek dark hair bobbed at her chin, banged at her brow.

“What? Um, no.” Sheela picked up the baby and soothed him back to sleep, while nudging the stroller with her foot to settle his twin. The twin mewled without waking. Relieved, Sheela placed a finger to her lips and smiled at the girl.

The girl swung her right leg behind the left, bent at the knee, and whispered loudly, “I think it’s like this. But Marla says it’s like this.” Placing her arms akimbo, she dipped a few inches in place. “See?”

“I, well, I . . . ”

“Are your babies sleeping?” Without waiting for an answer, the child spun three times in her cloud of tulle and ran across the grass.

Sheela sank back into her bench, chosen for its corner location backing up to a dense hedge, and relaxed in infinitesimal degrees. Yes, planned properly, Manhattan life was more secure than expected.


She’d resisted at first. “Sheela, you can’t stay in the apartment all day. And the babies need fresh air.” Neel’s exasperation impelled her to take up the routine: 9:30, load the double stroller with supplies, 10:00, pass the doormen (Wow, just like clockwork, Mrs. B!), 10:10, cross the street, and 10:15, enter the park.

The babies were approaching three months in age — much easier to handle, though she was always tired. This minor outing spent most of her energy, but she found that both babies went to sleep in their stroller as soon as she passed the park gates. During sleep, they shifted just enough to find one another, ending up belly to belly, just as the ultrasounds had shown them, which had prevented the determination of their gender while in utero. She remembered her hazy relief after the C-section, discovering the babies were boys. While Neel was out of the room, spending time with the baby who needed time in the oxygen tent, Sheela advised the doctor of her wishes to have her tubes tied.

Sheela felt guilty about her unilateral decision, but justified nonetheless. She hadn’t wanted children, but the combined longing of her husband and pressure of her mother-in-law had worn her down. It had felt like a cruel joke, discovering that she was expecting not one, but two.


The little girl appeared again the next morning, carrying an eggshell carton, a rectangle foam board, and a straw. She ran to Sheela.

“I’m doing a spearmint!”

“A spearmint?”

“Yeah, you know — when you test stuff.”

“Oh, an experiment.” Sheela chuckled.

“I’m making a boat. Then, I’ll find out how many rocks make it sink. Marla’s getting the rocks.”

Sheela looked around. “Where are your parents?”

The girl ran off.

What would it have been like to have a daughter?
Sheela felt dismay wash over her at the thought. She thought back to her own bubbling personality and a happy childhood — cut short by the visiting uncle who slipped into her room, who found her in the back seats of vans, in bathrooms, and on family room sofas amidst witnesses who did not see.

As she grew older, she’d tried to duck and hide and slouch, but she’d had a floodlight above her head. Hoots when she walked down the street. Leers when she paid for parking. Smirks from her office manager (My wife’s jealous — she thinks we’re doin’ something. But keep shaking your ass.) Sheela had looked down at the oversized sweater and the button that always scratched her throat, a variation of the daily outfit designed to obliterate her figure. It didn’t matter — they came anyway. In college, there were other students — at parties, in the street, in class — and even professors. You know you want it, they said. When they didn’t say it, she felt sure they would.

She’d squeezed herself into the smallest space she could occupy.

Neel had brought her to his suburban home in Nashville. She’d wept when, the following year, he’d told her they would move to Manhattan for his job. New York filled her with dread (though, had she really been safe anywhere?). Neel was reassuring — they’d live in a secure building, doormen inside and outside, guests always announced. Three locks on the door.

Then came the nausea, the bleary months of pregnancy, when her logical mind was hijacked and she’d sunk to her knees, even in her ninth month. Please, no, not a girl, not a girl, I can’t have a girl. No, no, no, no.

After the birth, Sheela’s gratitude knew no bounds. It made no sense, and she was not religious, but Sheela felt certain her pleas had thwarted any feminine souls hovering around her belly, repelled by her interdict, that the Divine had intervened for once on her behalf. Thank you, God, thank you, thank you.


This time, the girl climbed on the bench next to Sheela. “I’m going to be a ballerina and a scientist. Then, I’m going to be president of the world.”

“Well, I’m sure you can do all those things.”

The girl looked serious, nodded her head, then hopped off the bench.

“Hey, what’s your name?” Sheela asked, but the girl bolted as usual. Sheela watched her disappear around the hedge.

She’d saved those feminine souls, hadn’t she? The daughters she would never have were free to manifest their loveliness in the ether, to burst and spin in some distant Elysium. She knew the girl would not return.

Dheepa Maturi is director of a nonprofit fund in Indianapolis and a graduate of the University of Michigan (A.B. English Literature) and the University of Chicago. Her poems and essays have appeared in Every Day Poems, Tweetspeak Poetry, A Tea Reader, and Here Comes Everyone.