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running away with the circus (looking for dolphins)

There are three of them, a brazen woman with bright eyes and a big voice, a man going grey with a hop in his step and a younger woman who might be their daughter or their niece that twists her short hair into little tufts. They roam the hotel, sometimes in elaborate costumes, letting us know that there will be a secret dance party near the ballroom in an hour.

The older woman strolls in during dinner in a costume of blinking Christmas lights and exotic face paint. V stares up at her, convinced she is a princess or a fairy or maybe both. The next night, she is all in black, great horns wobbling on her head. She always has a pair of black Converse high tops on, as if they go with every costume or maybe they are the only shoes she owns.

The man is typically dressed as a pirate, in a striped shirt, maybe an eye patch. He is perfectly relaxed, like his limbs are made of silly straws. The younger woman is always smiling, her mouth a wall of metal braces and lip gloss. I imagine they sleep …

after the second cake

Flour, butter, eggs, sugar, vanilla, some berries, a container of sour cream, a packet of baking powder, a pinch of salt. Holding the knob down on the stove for an hour as it cooks because the knob is broken, my fingers grow numb. Sometimes the light goes out and I have to restart it. Looking out the windows for that hour I realize I need to wrap the rest of E's presents. And now the cake comes out, a wooden match thrust inside shows it is just done. It must cool with the kitchen windows open a little.

Later, melting chocolate with butter and a little powdered sugar, the frosting emerges - a cocoa sky, wet and thick. And yes, a tiny vial of golden stars is somewhere in the closets. I stand on a chair, sprinkling them from a great height. I laugh at my reflection in the window - the father cooking in boxer shorts in the middle of the day.

A wealth of stars for E this year. They drift down and stick in ragged clumps. I can't stop until the vial is empty.

A galaxy to wish inside.

There is a quiet party on her actual birthday, just E and N and me. But there are candles to blow out, as promised. The first in a string of presents are ripped open, the floor a sudden mess. Plates scattered across the table, half-melted candles in a sticky pile. The smell of burned matches. There is soft music playing. E is singing to herself. I like how she stares at the candles for some time, long after we have stopped singing. She makes slow, calculated wishes - then looks at me for a moment, a crooked smile spreading across her face. Only then does she blow them out.

The week dribbles on. The scene outside the windows shows sudden bursts of snow, hail, ice. The entire sky turns white. You cannot see anything, like you are inside a marshmallow. We call parents, send directions. N makes piles of cookies. I try to keep the house in shape.

And then Friday arrives, and E stays at home to decorate with me. To blow up an excessive bag of balloons. To tape banners to the closets and the windows. To eat a quick lunch. She takes a bath, surrounded by a troupe of dolls who act out a number of intrigues and scandals before she calls for me to help her out.

We select a dress, a green one with tiny flowers on the top. I take her picture in the hallway, wearing sparkly sneakers that she kicks off a few minutes later. She is six now. Last week she did not look like this. Last week she had tiny hands, size 29 feet. Last week she burst into tears for no reason and rested her head on my shoulder until she felt better. Today she stands with a hand on her hip - slanting towards the living room.

Friends and children arrive over the next hours. Ponytails and snowpants. Fresh pizzas from the oven, still holding that knob down to keep the flame working. There is a massive lego village being built in the doorway. I am playing The Rolling Stones in the kitchen, and have finally opened that bottle of Prosecco. N is shuttling back and forth. We are out of apple juice already.

A collection of instruments make their way into the living room. The kids put on a messy concert, more rhythm than melody. The tiny accordion is shared between them. Hard to predict that would be the popular one.

After the second cake, after the pile of gifts is opened, examined and released from their cardboard and plastic ties, after the guests have been stuffed with tiny sandwiches and tea and coffee, the kids all jump on the bed for a very long time.

I did that when I was little, mostly when I was five. I remember jumping on a bed with my brother and a girl named Astra for a very long time one summer day.

We are still friends.


Happy Birthday E!
The GreenGirlz wish you well!
Annie said…
How lovely. It is nice that she'll be able to read this when she is grown-up. I don't remember my 6th birthday, but I am sure my parents did all they could to make it special for me.
Mely said…
Happy Birthday E!
You are a blessed child.
Mother Theresa said…
Happy Birthday to E! It looks like that was a wonderful party, and the cake looks delicious. I used to love jumping on the bed with my sister when I was little too. :)

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