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the empty

The fat girl as they call her, came to school with a hypodermic needle in her backpack. It may have been to defend herself, it may have been to instigate something. She comes from a broken home and this is her second or third school. E steers clear of her, and the bullies she tangles with. It was never understood  - how things began, who threw the first insult, the first punch, the first grabbed book but the end is a chronic cycle of violence. At one point, the girl's mother got the police involved and this was seen as offensive, a step too far. The police did not resolve anything so it was all just a lot of saber rattling. That is the most common sound here. The empty threat.

Last week, there was a sobrani, sort of a cross between a parent-teacher conference and a school meeting. I was busy, so E went by herself and took notes. Five minutes in she messaged me, that I was wise not to be there. Nothing about this girl was going to be resolved.
"Boys will be boys" was all …

How to believe in shooting stars


E's fever passes sometime in the middle of the night. 
Coughing and sneezing, she follows me around the apartment all morning. I peel her a mandarin. I wash dishes. I read the letter she has written to Santa and make sure he will understand everything she has described. 

N sleeps under a mound of covers, not even a foot exposed. 

I make pancakes, with E hovering next to the plates, draping a towel over them to keep them warm. N appears, stretching, her eyes half-open, her hair a messy question mark. I pour hot water into her tea cup.
"Been a long time." I say to her.
"Since what?" She asks.
"Since we all had pancakes together." I answer, lifting the last two from the pan.
N clicks her head back and forth, her personal way of saying something smells good. 
"Can I have blueberry jam?" E asks, between coughs.
I show her that it is already on the table. She spoons into the jar and sweeps jam across her pate in one dramatic gesture. 
"Looks like a shooting star." I tell her. 
She nods, chin tight to her smile. This is exactly what she wanted me to see.

We spend all of Sunday together, N knitting a scarf, E tucked into bed sipping juice from long straws, me working in the same room. 
E falls asleep at eight.


She coughs in the middle of the night, and cannot stop. I bring her warm cups of water with lemon and honey. She sits up in bed and slurps down spoons of cough syrup.
"I'm ok Pop." She assures me.
I put a Christmas film on for her.
"But watch with your eyes closed." I whisper.
She looks at me, eyes wide.
E's arms thrust out into the air, and she wants me to hold her.
I click off the lights with one hand and carry her around the house. Her chin digs into my shoulder, then she rests her cheek there. I think of that first time she got sick when she was almost one and how she only wanted me to hold her. I carried her for almost a day, treading the hallway in that Greenwich apartment, turning into a room, making a few circles, looking out the windows, humming a Tom Waits song, then into another room. Her mother sat in chairs by windows, jealous and angry that E refused to be held by her. Exhausted, I would place her in the crib but then she would wake up and stretch those tiny arms out to me again.

I place her in bed, pulling three blankets to her chin. Her forehead is cool. She looks at me for a little while.
I sit in the big red chair next to her and wait for her to fall asleep.
E waves a hand around for a moment.
I sit on the edge of her little bed.
"Pop - tomorrow is still Christmas, right?" She whispers.
"Yes, kiddo." I tell her, smoothing the hair on her forehead.
"Ok, but if I don't go to school will American Santa still come?"She asks.
"Of course." I say, half laughing. "Just like American tooth fairy. They know you are a good kid and they make a special detour for you."
She squeezes my hand once.
"Ok." She whispers. "I believe you."







Comments

liv said…
American Santa. He's on his way, I'm sure of it. I'm also sure that pancakes with blueberry syrup are practically miraculous in their healing powers. She made a great shooting star!!!

Hope she feels better soon and that everyone's wishes come true this Christmas Eve.

All my best and a very Merry Christmas to all of you!! Thank you so much for all the gifts you have given this year with your beautiful writing and dear friendship.

Love, Liv xxx

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