Phil refuses to play Red Light Green Light but is convinced by What Time is it Mr. Wolf. The girls run barefoot in the grass, squeal with terror when he turns to chase them. He grabs P and throws her over his shoulder, she can’t breathe through the laughter.
Phil, P and I press our noses to the glass sides of the school pond, see a small spotted turtle float near the surface, poke its nose out of the water. Its body is covered with stripes, dots, a splash of orange along its cheek. Two crayfish snap at each other along the tile floor.
M and J work on two ends of their rainbow loom, comparing careful patterns. I read aloud to them while they weave bracelets for friends, sisters.
M and J are invited to a Narnia party. They dress as Susan and Lucy, matching plaid skirts, knee socks, hair in pigtails. M straps a bow and arrow across her chest and rolls a piece of brown construction paper into a horn. J borrows a plastic sword from the neighbours and ties a small brown bottle of anise extract to her belt. Phil makes a label for it, juice of the fire flowers. They hold hands and run down the driveway. P and I wave goodbye, then drive to the ice cream shop. She orders blueberry and pistachio, adds mini marshmallows. We sit in oversized red chairs, take pictures of each other, trade bites of ice cream.
Our family is in charge of the Family Service at our church. We procrastinate our planning, print out papers late the night before, practice songs for the first time that morning. M stands up front to lead the liturgy, a priestess in khaki shorts, bare feet. Phil and I play guitar and piano, the girls stand in front and belt out Jesus Loves Me. J starts giggling when it’s her turn to start Old Turtle, looks at me with panic, but takes a breath and reads with a voice that rings through the chapel. Later Sam and Melody kneel on orange pillows while the children take handfuls of jacaranda and bougainvillea petals that the girls collected in straw baskets, and drop them on their heads, a downpour of colour. Sam sobs. My voice breaks as I speak words of old blessings.
After church we eat Ethiopian food with our fingers. The shiro stains our fingers orange.
We sit outside with friends as the light fades to dark. In the living room I see M hard at work, writing, drawing. Later I read her story about a girl who “lives in Gloom because her parents are more boring than a lump on a log.” The other kids play Playmobil, disagree, come running for hugs and mediation, build small worlds.
I tell the girls to stay in bed and not interrupt us because we’re watching an important lecture. M comes silently, quickly, drops a note in my lap and scurries back down the hall. She has written it on behalf of J. On the outside it says “Subject: Picture Books.” She is requesting I bring some books for J to read. The note is funny, articulate. I gather my favourite books: Big Momma and Lila and the Rain, place them in J’s warm hands, kiss the girls one more time.
P comes out of the bedroom, tugs on my shirt, and whispers in my ear “I don’t want Sam and Melody to leave.” I hug her for a long time, tears dripping down both our cheeks. After I tuck her back into bed, I can still hear her whimpering down the hall.
J tells me that she is writing an adventure story about her and her sisters going to the Arctic. She giggles and catches her breath with the excitement of it all, announces that no grown ups are allowed to come, but she’ll let me read about it.
P and I walk the prayer labyrinth. She presses her palms together at her heart, walks with her eyes half closed. We meet at the centre and make patterns out of flower petals, sticks, curled leaves. We take pictures with my phone and walk back barefoot along the stone path. It is the holiest of spaces.
There are six bronze mannekins in the clay bowl that holds millet seeds. They are small, chattery. Their feathers make perfect designs brown, white, black. They peck at the millet hiding beneath sea shells, fly away at the same moment, return a few seconds later. A bright yellow weaver bird lands on the banana leaf above their heads, then swoops through the valley. I hope that weaving season has begun.