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no invitation

We are at a 3 year old's birthday party in the back room of a cafe. Music is pumping from a tiny speaker. Balloon animals are popping, and waving in the air. A man in a yellow dinosaur costume dances wildly. Parents snap pictures with satisfied smiles on their faces.

A little girl approaches gingerly and stands in the doorway, straying from her parents somewhere inside the restaurant. She cannot be more than three. It must be hard to ignore all of the noise coming from this room packed with celebration. There is a perfect little pony tail at the back of her head. She hesitates, as one foot poises in the air and then rests back down. How to understand that she was not invited. How to understand the laughter, the loose jumping bodies, the presents piled high on the window. None of this connects to her. There is a little plate of food waiting for her back there, in the quiet restaurant. Maybe a warm bowl of soup, thick with noodles. I watch her for some time.

That night, her empty e…

red pen, red blanket

Rooting in the cabinets, I cannot find a red ballpoint pen. E sits on the edge of her bed, tears sliding down her cheeks and dripping onto her knees. She lets out a deep sigh.
I find another one, but it is dry. For some reason I put it back in the box instead of throwing it away.
"Aha, an orange one." I say in a big voice. "For one day that has to be ok, right?"
She slowly shakes her head.
"But what if your pen stopped working in the middle of a lesson, then what?" I ask.
She shrugs her shoulders.
"You're telling me that when someone's red pen dries up the teacher doesn't give them one to use for a few minutes?" I ask.
"I don't know." E mumbles.
"I don't think so." I say.
"I have to have a red pen for school tomorrow." She repeats.
"Well, on a Sunday night this is the best I can do." I explain, pressing the orange ballpoint into her tiny folded hands.
She sighs again.
"Ok, lets make meatballs already." I announce, and leave the room.

In the kitchen I toast pieces of bread in a hot pan. I grate pecorino, dice shallot and garlic and parsley. The bread is crushed into small pieces under a rolling pin. 
"Do you want to crack an egg?" I call out to her.
She appears in the doorway after a little bit, shoulders sloping down, pyjamas hanging off of her tiny body like a Raggedy Ann doll. I pat the green box once, and she takes an egg out. E breaks it against the edge of the bowl with a bang. Bits of shell fall in, and she stares up at me. I pick them out.

I massage the meat into the mixture and saute a little piece in the pan. We taste it, blowing hard to cool it off as it bounces around our mouths.
"Enough salt?" I ask.
She nods once.
I roll a ball in my hands, then dust it with flour and place it on a plate. E stares at me, frozen.
"Come on." I say. 
She looks at the wet meat, her lips screwing around.
I go to the drawer and pull out N's ice cream scoop. 
E's smile flashes, and she makes balls - flipping them around the flour bowl, placing them carefully on the white plate. I start to cook the first batch and the kitchen smells of olive oil and rendering pork fat, of salt and black pepper, of that sheep's milk cheese.

The second batch smells even better. I add some more shallot and garlic to the bottom of the pan. I tear fresh oregano over the pot. E stands next to me, quietly. I give her some oregano to smell, passing it under her nose. She nods once, approving.

I put a pot of water on, tossing half a handful of salt into it. 
E washes her hands, and dries them on a towel.

Chopped tomatoes go over the meatballs and I turn the heat down. 

E sits, watching. 
"I know you can't help it." I say after a while.
"What?" She asks.
"Imagining the worst." I reply.
"Yeah."" She whispers.
"At least you know you do it." I say.
She nods again, her chin screwing around as she reaches out to hug me. We stand this way for a little while. She sniffs a few times.
"Go blow your nose." I tell her quietly.
She trots off, to pull some toilet paper off the roll.
I suddenly feel exhausted. 
I tell E I am going to lie down for a few minutes while we wait for the pasta water to boil. 

In the dark room, I feel the covers cool beneath me. Traffic is shuffling below the balcony. I hear E's computer click on, and the sound of a familiar game. 

She pads into the bedroom, and I feel her red blanket being pulled across me. 
I keep my eyes closed.


liv said…
Those sweet and tender moments of an everyday, ordinary life - no one tells them like you, M.

Being a good parent is beyond exhausting sometimes, but taking little naps under red blankets can help.

Tears, oregano and red blankets - the stuff of life. Loved this piece.
expatlogue said…
A beautiful piece and a spot on comment - Liv said it all...

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