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**PRINT: SMALL COUNTRY, by Lauren Pretnar, is No. 28 in our broadsheet series. Pretnar, a frequent contributor in recent months, has crafted a grand wedding tale, a deft rendition of the raw emotion of life forever tugged by the past, present and future. This issue comes with an excerpt from Spencer Dew's wonderful new book, Songs of Insurgency.

**WEB: WHAT DAY IS SUNDAY Lauren Pretnar
THE STORY Meghan Austin

Lauren Pretnar

Pretnar is the writer behind our 28th broadsheet and will be reading live with Chris Bower, Jill Summers, Fred Sasaki, Jacob Knabb and others at our Ronny's Chicago release party June 26. Click here for details.

The morning I left she had to be to preschool by nine. Her father dressed and fed her while I lay numb in our bed listening to their clanging and banter, my favorite part of the day. But I knew better than to open her yogurt and hand her a spoon one last time, brush her hair and pin it back from her face one last time, put my foot down about wearing tights under her tutu one last time.

Columbia College Fiction Writing Department

So I stayed where I was and tried not to think about things too hard and then he was clattering around in the sink and I knew they'd leave as soon as he finished the dishes. When I rolled over she was standing in the bedroom doorway clutching her favorite stuffed Velcro cake and balancing an armload of plastic plates.

"How long have you been standing there?" I said.

She just grinned and shuffled across the room to me. I held up one corner of the comforter and she slid her tea party onto the sheets before climbing in after.

When her father came to fetch her a few minutes later he smiled at the sight of us curled up together under the covers eating fake dessert. "C'mon, kid," he said gently. "Shoes on." She sighed and rolled off the bed. He motioned back to me. "Give Lauren a hug and a kiss. She's taking an airplane today, remember?" Isabel paused long enough to shoot me a dirty look, then turned on her heel and marched straight out of the room.

I didn't see her for seven months. She basically refused to speak to me the entire time. On my birthday, she sang to me like a champ but then handed the phone back to her father and said, loudly enough for me to hear, "I'll talk to her when she comes here." The handful of dictated notes that came folded into her father's letters or scribbled on the back of their envelopes were just different versions of the same message: "When is she coming, Papa? Ask her: when is she coming to visit? That's all, Papa. No, that's all."

As soon as I could afford it, I booked a flight and sent her father the itinerary. Within a few days my phone rang and there she was, chattering so fast I had a hard time keeping up.

"Lauren," she said, "when you come here I have Candy Land. Did I have that before? Oh -- oh, yes. But we can play more. Did you know Papa's computer is broken? And we borrowed one but it's old so it doesn't show movies. Will you bring yours? Except the movie store is closed and is never open again. Closed forever and I don't know why. But we can go to the big theatre where they have the one with the pickle that doesn't do anything. [Pause.] The pickle! [Pause.] That doesn't do anything -- it's a movie! Maybe Papa will make us popcorn to take. And I have something for you from Halloween but it's a surprise. You might like it for the movie. It's a nice surprise for you."

"Ise," I said after half an hour, "I have to go back to work. But I'll see you soon, OK?"

"Goodbye, then," she said. "Goodbye, I love you."

Bless his heart, her father keeps her home from school on Friday, hands me the car keys, the house keys, and heads off to work, leaving us with the whole day to ourselves. Just us. And it's like I never left.

"Lauren, look," she says. "I'm stuck." I ignore her. "Help, Lauren! I'm stuck!"

"Isabel," I say, "what am I doing right now?"

"You're driving."

"Exactly," I say. "And is it a beautiful, sunny day for a drive?"

"Nooo," she says. "It is a cold and rainy day and bad for driving."

"Very bad for driving," I say. "So I can't turn around and look at you every ten seconds, OK?"

"Maybe if you're at a red light," she says. "Or a stop sign?"

"Maybe then," I say, "but not every time. I can't be turning around to look at you all the time, even when we're not in the car."

She accepts this and goes back to work binding her left hand to the armrest of her carseat with a long piece of yarn. Even in my peripheral vision I can tell she's successfully cut off all blood flow to her fingers. I'm about to cave into my parental impulses and say something when she pipes up again.

"Do you have to go back?" I break my own rule and glance back at her. "You're not at a light!" she says. I swat her on the leg and she grins.

"Yes, I have to go back," I say.

"When do you have to go back?" she says.

"My airplane leaves on Sunday," I tell her.

"And what day is Sunday?" she says.

"Well, today is Friday," I say, "which means tomorrow is Saturday, and the day after Saturday is Sunday. So in two days I have to leave again."

"That's very soon," she says.

I reach back and yank at her rain boot. "I wish I could stay longer," I tell her. "Maybe next time."

"But we can go to the movie tomorrow," she says.

"You're with your mama tomorrow, Ise." She goes quiet. "Let's not think about it," I tell her. "I'll make sure we see each other again soon, OK?" When I glance back this time she is staring down at her discolored hand and nodding. I pull over. It takes nearly ten minutes for me to work her knots from the yarn.

We go to our favorite coffee shop, bead store, grocery store, pizza place, and ice cream parlor. We've been to our favorite bookstore already but we decide we'd like to go again. She runs ahead of me to the children's section where we've spent countless hours over the past few years hunkered down on the floor, her in my lap, me reading aloud until my voice gives out, my only reprieve the two minutes it takes her to put the last round of books back where they belong before grabbing another five.

By the time I get to the back of the store, she's made a pile of books and dragged over two miscellaneous stuffed dogs from who knows where.

"Five book rule?" I say.

She pats the stack and nods. "This is only five," she says. "And you get this doggie."

I sit down next to my dog and Isabel climbs into my lap. I adjust a slipping hairclip and then kiss her on the head. "You're a good kid," I tell her. "Thank you for being so sweet all day. You make me very proud."

"Here," she says. "Snow White first."

You might think you know what kind of parent you'll be but you absolutely do not. You have no idea until you're in it, until you let her cry herself to sleep so she'll learn to stay in her own bed, until she has an accident on the walk home and you teach her how to rinse her underwear in the public fountain, until she throws a tantrum in the grocery store and you make her play by herself for the rest of the day and go to bed without dessert.

Until you tell her it's time to put the books away, we're late to meet Papa, and she rushes off to do as you've asked, disappearing behind the bookcase where they belong. And you turn your back for five seconds to grab your things and make sure you're not leaving a mess for the nice people who are forever letting you use their store as a reading room. And you feel it so strongly all of a sudden, that she could disappear like that, right now, that she could already be gone. And when she's not on the other side of the bookcase, you tell yourself there's no way, she was only out of your sight for a second, she's almost five years old, and you panic. Because she knows better than to hide under a display table. She knows better because you taught her.