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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…

sunflowers (beauty and the beast)

There is a slim edge of morning light on the windows, and then it blinks away. I tiptoe past N who shifts to the center of the bed, swirling the blankets around her like frosting on a cupcake. Coffee grumbles into the red cup. E is fast asleep. 

The stove is lit, bread toasting now, a pat of butter in the middle of a pan. Egg cracks against the edge of a tiny bowl, a lone sound to punctuate the morning and then the happy splash of the fork. Into the skillet, rolling my wrist until it is a thin pancake then folded into a square. Bacon now, in the empty space that made room for. Turn the toast, or no just take it out. E likes it barely crisp. The square of egg goes on, a dusting of black pepper, the bacon, and then cut into two triangles. I finish off the coffee in a long gulp and bring it in to her. 

She is pretending to sleep now, betrayed by a smile as I sit on the edge of her bed. 

Her hair caught in a smooth ponytail, we are going downstairs. Outside I stretch my arm in front of us, trying to get the sunflowers and our faces in the frame, but failing to show her new leather motorcycle jacket. I look at her shoes, realizing we left her flats upstairs. E is howling with laughter, the last bit of egg sandwich in a plastic bag in her hand waving around.

Back up the elevator, smashing the keys in the door, hoping I do not wake N up, talking to myself in the dark hallway and then finding them, I go back down. We will not be early. The light is about to change on the busiest street to cross so I pull her hand and we run, the rest of the sandwich falling to the gutter and E skipping in giant leaps, her hand tight in mine.
"I ate most of it at least." She offers, once we are on the other side.

There are clusters of odd, awkward people approaching the school, entire families dressed in suits and long polyester dresses, children in ties or with mammoth plastic bows on the tops of their heads. Bouquets the size of beach balls flop around, bizarre and excessive combinations of flowers and berries, ribbons, colored paper and dangling bric-a-brac. Cameras dangle from wrists. Children are yawning, yanking at clip-on ties. An old man in a faded uniform is stumbling among them, medals dancing over both pockets.

We pass the same gypsy and child, sitting on a scrap of cardboard in the underpass.

At the front gate, I look for familiar faces and find some. "Ah, E's papa!" They announce as we pass.

E is jumping into the air on an imaginary pogo stick. The first year students are in a line, as flashes go off and families shove. We are waved inside and all at once here is E's teacher Larissa. She is tall, made to look like an amazon surrounded by the seven and eight year olds. E presents her with our bouquet of sunflowers and she accepts them with a measured grace. All at once, she says she will take the children upstairs and we can take them in the afternoon. I had expected another show like last year, maybe some speeches. E is already throwing her arms around me in a tight hug. I kiss the top of her head. Larissa sees it all, with a wise eye. She gives me half of a wink as they go.

Alone in the hallway, I gravitate to one of the walls. A mother calls hello to me. Last year I saw her twice, on the first day of school and the last. I begin to wonder how many parents here are divorced, showing up in awkward coordination, making appearances, trying to look like a family for the strangers to nod at, smiling those forced smiles in the pictures. There are things that are hidden here.

It is outside, after more glad-handing and awkward hellos that I begin the understand what has happened. There is the known, and being known. Everything falls back into place. An invisible undertow grabs at my legs, pulling me backwards from my knees as I realize E is in the second grade now. I pass more families with giant bouquets, thrust high into the air like hard-won trophies. I think of E and how I did not think she could carry more than three sunflowers last year or she might have tipped over.


Uncle Al said…
another beautiful & sensitive descriptor tying universal memories of first day of school happening around the world. a small glimpse keeping us close to Marco, E and N. I love this diary and how it measures time and culturre
liv said…
That was so nice to hear that she seemed happy to be going back. It was a good morning for her ... and you look happy too. Now my day has a good beginning.
Aisha said…
My J is just going into third grade. I have to pinch myself to remember she's not a 'little' one anymore - and yet there are times when it seems we both wish she were.
Why does each transition feel so monumental yet when we look back they're just small links in a chain?
Beautifully woven prose as always, from one of the many (I'm sure) silent admirers of your writing.

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