There are strange black insects coming from the bathroom, like miniature moths. They lay dead, scattered across the windowsills. They flutter randomly around the kitchen, even when there are no dirty dishes. E has been sick, nothing more than a thick cough and the need to curl up under the covers watching a Pixar marathon. We have been home together in our pyjamas for days as I work and cook and coax her into taking cough syrup.
There are bursts of snow flurries, banging against the windows like tiny bells. And then the sun returns painting the sky's hard edges. Autumn is almost over. It is time to surrender to the immortal winter. Time to pull the warmest coats around us. Time to soak beans for chili. Time to carve a pumpkin before they are gone, maybe make something from that collection of magnificent leaves we gathered one afternoon.
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On Saturday E's mother comes to take her for a night, randomly enforcing the schedule after leaving her with me for six days. My little girl is on the mend, and I will spend the evening with N. We will drive around the city, buying concert tickets, gifts for a child's birthday party. We get stuck in traffic, suddenly starving.
We sit for hours in the kitchen, long after dinner is gone. Just the smell of ginger and black vinegar, of smoke. Her hands turning in mine, it grows late. At this very moment I will learn that E is coughing terribly. I will find out that her mother gave her no medicine, just a dinner of cheap pasta. Nothing to drink but tap water. E will not sleep well.
On the next day we will gather her, feed her apple juice and tiny sandwiches. She will open her eyes wide her voice leaping into the room. I will dress her in new black tights and a party dress. She will dance in a room of older children, like a Lilliputian princess. She will win a few prizes. She will play for hours without coughing.
The grownups will hide in the kitchen, tossing back shots of cheap vodka, chasing them with crude slices of smoked fish. Some of the little boys will terrorize some of the other boys, strangling them, stealing hats and costumes, threatening to kill each other, to crush skulls against the floor. The girls are more quiet. Some will twirl in circles, working the karaoke machine in the corner. There will be competitions when they must blow matches through a straw and into a bowl. There will be dress-up games, counting games. A thousand pizzas will arrive and disappear. One is pepperoni, and not for them.
I sit with N, her fingers twirling around the back of my neck. We drink strong tea and clap our hands for the winners. Sometimes the tea spills on my leg.
The autumn sun is crashing through the windows, drawing silhouettes around balloons before they pop, around toilet paper mummies. I breathe deeply and close my eyes for a second, thinking I can hold winter off for a few more days. I wonder if I can hear E coughing. I open my eyes and she is there, and has won a fabulous pair of glasses.