We are all together, celebrating deep into the night. E is chirping like a little bird, at one moment plinking the keys of a piano, the next swapping the costumes on a small army of dolls. N is chewing on dried persimmons, talking to an endless stream of relatives on her phone, all wishing great things for us this year. I slurp down champagne after champagne, not the slightest bit drunk.
I see everything with a cold eye. It has started to snow. A woman's lipstick is smeared. A bored teenage boy is about to fall asleep. There is a perfect handprint mark of flour on my jeans from the dinner I cooked earlier, in our apartment.
My thoughts run to the minutes just after midnight, driving to pick up E. She emerges from behind that door. She tells me her mother will leave her with us for the entire week. The madwoman claims to have fallen in the bathtub and her brain has been hurt, that she will soon go to the hospital and will only be better on Saturday. E winces at the transparency, the half-baked lie. It saddens her, but not as much as she feels good to spend a week off with us.
The dim light in the sky tells us nothing about the hour. The streets are silent. E is hungry for an egg sandwich. N will sleep for another few hours, her perfumed shoulders a warm mound above the blankets that I sneak in to kiss, wondering when she will rise.
And then after picking through the leftovers, after some board games and E has gone to sleep, we watch films late into the night.
The house is clean. The dishes are washed. There is nothing to do, for once. There is nothing to wake up early for.
A cautious optimism fills the hours. So many battles behind us. So many won. I see a march to progress in E's face, and in the drawings she makes. We are like water, eroding the hard edges of rocks. We bend, but never stop. We are wearing the monster down, molecule by molecule.